SM owns Twilight, I don't.
SunKing and Sarahsumbrella deserve so much love for helping me with this monster. Thank you, ladies. I love you (but you still can't sit in my lap).
This was written last year for Team Iceward for the FGB auction. Thank you, ladies, for your generous donations and to Swino, who organized the team late in the game. She did a lot in a short amount of time for a good cause.
My heartfelt gratitude to all of you for spending these last few months with me and your support of the story. It means more to me than I can say, and believe me, I tried to come up with something that express my appreciation. Words fail.
The Proposal - A Future-shot
I was going to be late.
I was late.
I ran across manicured patches of grass between buildings and down weathered sidewalks. I got a few startled and curious looks—a grown man in a custom-made suit booking it through the streets, dodging people, children, and small animals. The looks might also have been because I was sporting the beginnings of what promised to be a spectacular black eye. I also had a nasty gash high on my left cheekbone held together with a strip of bandage hastily applied by our team doctor late the night before. The battered face and the elegant suit clashed, but that was my life. Bella deserved only the best, and this was my best suit.
The graceful old building was just ahead, and I ran up the steps three at a time, skidding to a halt in front of the heavy, closed doors. I wasn't out of breath, but the humidity had made the fine, hand-tailored shirt cling to me, and my hair was in disarray. I ran my hand over my head, knowing it was hopeless, but making an attempt to tame the wild strands anyway. My fingers rubbed through the thickening scruff on my cheeks and chin, and I mentally shrugged. I couldn't shave my playoff beard, and there was nothing I could do about it at that point, anyway. I knew it added to my disreputable look, especially with the blackening eye and ugly cut on my face. So goes the life and times of a professional hockey player.
I smoothed the jacket of my suit, knowing that it, at least, was appropriate for the ceremony. I took a deep breath and opened the heavy, ornate door. It was cool, much less humid—thankfully—and quiet in the small lobby. I pushed my way through the second set of doors and found myself in a small hall-like auditorium. I noted the approximately one thousand or so graduates sat in their caps and gowns on the main floor as I made my way to the aisle that led to the stadium-style seating along the sides. I got quite a few dirty looks as I climbed over people to the one empty seat I had spotted. As I sat, I heard the whispers start.
"…won last night…quite a hit…"
"…even better looking in person…"
I still hadn't gotten used to being recognized. I ran my hand through my hair and ducked my head self-consciously. It made me uncomfortable when people went on and on about my looks, although I knew I had them to thank for the many—and quite lucrative—endorsement deals my agent had procured for me. Garrett was my and Emmett's agent, and he had done a terrific job with both of our respective contracts and endorsements. His goal was to make us just as well known as the Manning brothers, and it was a job he was taking seriously. I still wasn't sure about the well-known part, but I had to admit the money was really nice.
My eyes searched the seated crowd on the main floor below me. I knew my chance of picking Bella out in the sea of caps and gowns was slim, but I hadn't seen her for a few days, and I was desperate for even a glimpse of her dark hair and sweet face. My late entrance and minor celebrity must have caused a stir because a few heads turned my way, and all of a sudden, I saw her. My heart jumped, and I barely refrained from leaping out of my seat and waving frantically. Her brown eyes met mine, widening in surprise and happiness, and I winked. She blushed, smiled, and turned back to give her attention to the speaker at the podium.
I slouched uncomfortably in my seat for the next hour, waiting for the graduation ceremony to be over so I could touch her again. I let my body relax and unwind as much as I could. The previous twenty-four hours had been hell. We'd won our first-round playoff series against the Canucks on the road in Vancouver in five games. I'd been on the go ever since the last one ended, trying to make it back to Michigan, and her graduation, on time. I concentrated on Bella , watching her movements, the swing and sway of her hair, the motions of her hands, until it was time for the graduates to walk across the stage and receive their Master's diplomas. I clapped and whistled when it was her turn, inordinately proud of her achievement.
After the ceremony concluded, the graduates made their way outside to the large open area in front of the building. I finally found her under the canopy of trees, talking with a group of friends. I couldn't help the smile that curved my mouth as I approached, taking in her flushed, happy profile. Christ, I wanted to see her face fill with color, see that glow in her eyes as I held her underneath me and entered her. I had to get control of myself, because it looked like it would be a while until I could get her alone. I didn't want to take away from her day, so I fought the urge to just do a scoop and run, toss her over my shoulder, and have my way with her behind a bush.
This wasn't about me, I reminded myself. This was her accomplishment. She'd wanted this ever since the day I had gone with her to the Pacific Northwest Trust offices our senior year in high school to apply for financial aid for college. She'd been so set on a Literature degree until then, but meeting with Stefan, who had been running the Trust for our family for as long as I could remember, had been an eye-opening experience to say the least. Bella developed an endless fascination with how the Trust ran and the wide range of benefits it provided to so many different people. It was all she could talk about for days afterward. The visit had stirred her interest in being involved with an organization that assisted people who just needed a little help, not unlike her situation with college, and who didn't have the support system we did. She had also been very interested in helping people who had been though a similar experience as we had earlier that year—support to help victims of violence.
I knew how her mind worked, and I wasn't the least bit surprised when she asked if I would sit down and talk with her and Charlie one day during our senior year in high school. Charlie had been surprised but intrigued when she told us she was considering a Business degree and looking into a career with an organization similar to PNT. I told her later she probably wouldn't have to look far; Stefan and the other Trustees of PNT had been just as taken with her as she was with them. He'd even started including notes asking about her with the account statements he sent to me. Not only had she impressed them enough to get financial aid to attend Dartmouth, but they had also promised her an interview with them upon graduation. She had been working her way up through PNT ever since getting her undergraduate degree in Business, and had gone back to school here in Michigan for her MBA. We'd both been putting in long, hard hours over the past six years, but everything was finally coming together.
She must have sensed my presence as I approached from behind, or seen the guy she was talking to look up, because she spun suddenly and squealed when she saw me. She ran the last couple of steps and jumped into my arms. I laughed as she covered my face with kisses, wrapping her legs around my waist and her arms around my neck.
"Edward!" she gasped, leaning back to look at me. Her eyes narrowed on the bruise around my eye and the cut underneath it. He fingers came up to trace the marks gently.
"It's fine," I assured her as her gaze flew to mine.
"It is not fine!" she snapped, carefully pressing her lips to the wound. For some reason, my cock twitched. "What the hell was wrong with that guy?"
I shrugged. Leave it to Matti Wilhelm, one of Vancouver's defensemen, to get ornery. He'd been running rampant with the elbows, pokes, slashes, and cross-checks until Coach sent me out to put a stop to it.
"It was worth it," I said. "He got a double penalty, which let us score the game winner." I juggled her to get a better grip on her ass so I didn't drop her. She felt so good against me, and I wasn't ready to put her down.
She arched a brow, which clearly conveyed her opinion of how much it was really worth. "I know. I saw the game last night."
"You did?" I was pleased despite myself.
"Of course." She rolled her eyes and smiled down at me. "Like I'd miss seeing you play, especially in the playoffs."
I leaned forward to capture her mouth, ignoring the fact that crowds of people surrounded us. The hot, sweet taste of her filled my head and my heart. I sank into her, feeling her arms tighten around my neck and her fingers twist in my hair. I took a staggering step forward, looking for something to brace against, wanting to get my hands under that God-awful polyester gown she was wearing. A loud cough brought me back to reality.
I reluctantly lifted my mouth from hers and felt great satisfaction at the sight of her face. Her eyes were heavy and wanting, lips wet and pink.
"Hi," she murmured.
"Hi." I couldn't resist one last kiss to her lips.
"You were late."
"I know." I grimaced. "I'm sorry. There was a weather delay in Vancouver. The plane couldn't take off until really early this morning. I came right from the airport." I'd had our team car service pick me up from the terminal and bring me here, while the rest of the team went back to Joe Louis Arena in downtown Detroit on our private bus to pick up their cars and go home.
She hugged me, and I lowered her to her feet. "It's okay, Edward. I know it wasn't easy for you to get here. I'm just glad you made it."
"I wouldn't have missed it. I'm so proud of you." I was, too. My beautiful, brilliant, big-hearted girl. I bent my head to kiss her again.
That annoying little cough sounded once more, and I glanced behind her in irritation. There was a small group standing in a loose circle staring at us with wide eyes. Coughing-Boy—tall, lean, dark haired, with a pair of intellectual-looking glasses—was giving me the stink-eye. Huh.
"Oh." Bella blushed and pulled out of my arms. Now I had even more reason to be annoyed with Coughing-Boy. "Sorry, guys. Edward, this is my study group. We've put in a lot of hours together over the past couple of years. You remember Sam and Emily. This is Paul and Embry. Guys, this is my boyfriend, Edward."
I'd met Sam and Emily before. The four of us had gone out together on a couple of occasions. Embry was really tall, really skinny, and really pale with really bad hair. Coughing-Boy, however…Coughing-Boy was eyeing my girl. And he wasn't unfortunate looking.
I didn't offer my hand, instead wrapping my arm around Bella's waist and pulling her to me. She gave me a quizzical look as she placed her hand on my chest, over the lapel of my suit jacket.
"Boyfriend?" Coughing-Boy questioned with a lift of his brow and a pointed look at the bare ring finger of her left hand. "You guys aren't—"
"Hey, are you going to come celebrate with us? I think there's a bottle of champagne or two with our names on it," Emily stepped forward with her fiancé, Sam.
I glared menacingly at Cough…Paul. I was sure that my battered face only added to the threat as his eyes widened and he took a step back.
"I don't know." Bella looked up at me uncertainly. "Edward's been traveling all day and all night to get here from the West Coast."
"Do you want to go?" I asked quietly. I was exhausted and only wanted to be alone with my girl whom I hadn't seen in what seemed like forever, but this was her night. I'd gladly put aside my discomfort to celebrate her achievement.
"Well…" she bit her lip and glanced at her friends.
"Come on, we'll go for a little while," I encouraged.
"You're sure?" she asked, but a happy smile spread across her face. I could deny her nothing when she looked like that.
"Yeah. Of course."
"We both have something to celebrate," she said. "My MBA, and you winning the playoff series."
I nodded, smiling after her as she went over to Emily to find out where we were heading. I noticed Paul watching her with longing and avarice on his face, and I narrowed my eyes. No one looked at Bella like that but me. I thrust my hands in my pockets, clenching them into fists so I wouldn't be tempted to pop him one right in his covetous face. My fingers closed around the small, delicate ring I'd been carrying in my pocket for the past few months. It was my lucky talisman, my Grandmother Cullen's engagement ring—the ring I wanted to give Bella. It calmed me somewhat, and I was able to restrict my need for violence to a steely glare.
Paul's friend—Embry—nudged him, noticing my warning look, and he turned a startled, sheepish face in my direction. He blinked rapidly, but I had to grudgingly give him some credit as he lifted his chin and tried to match my glare. No chance, kid, I thought. I'd gone up against the biggest, baddest, toughest enforcers the NHL had to offer over the past three years. Coughing-Boy would have to do a lot better than that if he thought he was going to intimidate me. A lot better.
"What are you doing, man?" Embry muttered in his ear. They'd taken a couple of steps away from me, but I could still hear them. "That's Edward freaking Cullen. You know, the playoff game we watched last night? He's the one who got into that fight. What's wrong with you?"
"He looks like a moronic thug," Paul muttered petulantly, eyeing me standing in my expensive suit with a bruised and battered face. My eyes widened in surprise and then narrowed in anger.
"He graduated—early and with honors—from Dartmouth, you idiot," Embry hissed. "And that was before he signed on as a defenseman with the freaking Detroit Red Wings."
"He doesn't scare me," Paul muttered defensively, but his eyes dropped from my laser stare.
"Then you are fucked in the head, my friend." Embry shook his head and walked toward the girls. I forced my face to remain impassive, my eyes hard and cold, until Paul looked away and shuffled after his friend.
That's right, I thought. Stay away from what's mine. I held the ring in my fist as I transferred it from my pants to my inside suit coat pocket for safekeeping.
"Edward?" Bella walked over to me, glancing curiously at Paul and Embry who were arguing in whispers as they stood with the others waiting for us. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing." I took her hand and pulled her to me for a quick kiss. "I think your study partner has a crush on you."
"Embry?" Her incredulous gaze flicked back and forth between us.
"No, not Embry. Paul."
She leaned back and looked at me in concern. "Did you get hit on the head last night or something?"
"Nah." Her incredulous and dismissive response went a long way toward restoring my good humor. I gave her one more kiss because I could, and we walked over to her friends.
"We're going to one of the local bars," Emily explained. "Do you guys need a ride?"
Bella looked up at me, and I shook my head. My car was back in the lot at the arena. I'd had the same service that brought me here give Bella a ride from the townhouse to the graduation ceremony, thinking I'd be taking her home myself. Since that hadn't exactly worked out like I'd planned, I'd just have Jeff, the driver, drop us off at the arena later that night to pick up the Volvo.
"No. I've got the car service tonight. We'll just meet you there. Do you know where it is?"
She nodded, and we turned to go our separate ways before meeting at the bar.
"Car service," I heard Paul scoff, and I shot him a look. Embry grabbed his arm and dragged him down the street. I thought Paul had better watch it, or he was going to get my foot right up his ass.
I called Jeff, and he pulled the limo up to the curb where we waited within minutes. Once inside, Bella gave him the location of the bar and shed the ugly gown that covered the lovely halter dress she wore underneath. I took that as permission to lose my tie. I started getting a little aroused—we were kind of undressing—and grabbed her close to kiss her neck and bare shoulder.
"I've never kissed a MBA before," I murmured against her smooth skin. "Wanna be my first?"
"You already kissed me," she pointed out, but her voice was breathy as I ran my mouth up her neck. "Edward…"
"That didn't count," I said, cupping her face in my hands and bringing my lips to brush over hers. "This one will, though. I missed you, Bella. And I am so proud of you."
I kissed her with small bites and glancing touches. She sighed as I moved one hand to the back of her neck, tilting her head and sliding my tongue into her mouth. I started slow and easy, enjoying her instant response, the warm slick feel of her, before overwhelming need took over as it always did between us. I pulled her closer, into my chest, and was entirely caught up in the kiss until the limo came to a jerking halt.
She sighed again when I pulled away, her eyes blinking as she became aware of her surroundings. Holy fuck, I wanted her. It had been too long, and I loved her too much. I glanced up at Jeff with a raised brow—he never jerked the limo—and saw him trying to hide a smile. It was a good thing I knew him well.
"Thanks," I said dryly as he got out, and helped Bella from the vehicle. "I'll call when we're ready."
"Of course, Mr. Cullen." He was definitely smirking, and I shot him an amused, warning look.
"Come on," Bella urged with a smile, taking my hand and pulling me inside the building.
The Blue Moose appeared to be a typical college-town bar, but Bella assured me they had excellent food. There were quite a few overdressed graduates celebrating that night, and it was a little crowded, but the service proved to be excellent as well. Our waitress came to our table promptly, taking my order for their best champagne and some food with a lift of her brow, assuring us she would be right back with the bottles and some glasses.
"Yeah." Bella looked at me in amusement when I mentioned how quick the service was despite the crowd. "I think it might just be the handsome fella sitting next to me that's the cause of that."
The waitress returned with our champagne and a secretive wink for me. I shifted uncomfortably, glancing at Bella. She was watching with amusement in her eyes, and she hugged my arm tightly to her side as the waitress gave us an encompassing glance.
"I think it's probably the suit," I whispered jokingly as the waitress went about her business with one last glance over her shoulder.
Her eyes heated as they roved over my form. "You know I love you in that suit," she said huskily, tracing her finger along one of the pinstripes that ran down my chest. I had to adjust the semi hard-on that suddenly made itself known. Her eyes followed the movement and focused between my legs. "Don't," she moaned, brushing her hand over me, and it wasn't a semi any longer.
"Hey guys." Emily pulled out a chair and sat down across from us. Sam, Embry, and a shuffling Paul followed closely behind her. Her eyes darted back and forth between Bella's flushed face and my clenching jaw. "Is everything okay?"
"It's fine!" Bella exclaimed a little too enthusiastically, yanking her hand from my lap and causing me to grunt and sit forward. Subtlety had never been her strong suit.
"Uh-huh." Emily's eyes were knowing as she looked at us, but we were saved from further embarrassment as Embry spotted the two chilling bottles of champagne on the table.
"Sweet!" He grabbed the glasses sitting next to the ice buckets and started passing them around. His eyes went back to the bottles as he got to the last couple of glasses, and his movements slowed. He peered closely at the labels. "Oh! Uh…Holy crap, we can't afford this."
"No way," Paul agreed, and Liz looked wistfully at the sweating bottles.
I leaned forward and grabbed one out of the ice, removing the cage and popping the cork. "No worries, guys. It's on me."
I filled each of the glasses and then opened the other bottle, motioning for the waitress for another round. I noticed the chagrined embarrassment on Emily, Sam, and Embry's faces, and the resentment on Paul's. I felt bad about the other three, but my black little heart swelled with happiness that Coughing-Boy was jealous. He damn well should be, and not because I could afford bottles of Veuve-Clicquot. It was all about the amazing woman sitting next to me.
I paused, not wanting her other friends to be uncomfortable. "It's my graduation gift to you, and my thanks for helping Bella when I've been gone over the past couple of years. You've all worked hard; you deserve it."
"Well," Sam said with a grin, reaching for a glass and saluting me. "When you put it that way…Cheers!"
We ate, drank, and celebrated. After a while, Emily and Bella got up to go to the bathroom, and I went up to the bar to get a draft. I'd had enough champagne while celebrating our playoff series win the night before. As I waited for the overworked bartender to get my beer, Paul came up beside me to lean on the bar. He looked at me belligerently, blearily, and I realized with a sigh he was well on his way to being drunk.
"Paul," I acknowledged when he just continued to stare at me.
"Guys like you, Cullen…" He belched with what I'm sure he thought was discretion behind his hand. "Guys like you…" He shook his head in disgust.
"What about 'guys like me?'" I asked, turning to face him and reminding myself to stay calm.
"Guys like you… Everything comes so easy. Everything. You're just lucky, you know. So damn lucky. That's all it is."
I took a firm grip on my temper as I felt my jaw clench and raw anger ripple though me. I had it easy? All of the thousands upon thousands of hours I'd put in on the ice since I was old enough to walk, constantly training, constantly focused, constantly in pain throughout my life. The things I'd had to give up in order to practice, to travel, to play, to get to that level, that point in my life. Easy…the year I'd spent in rehab after getting attacked by a maniac wielding a lead pipe. The three years in college—at Dartmouth—going to school and studying year-round, even during summer terms, so that I could graduate early and start my professional hockey career while I was still young, healthy, and in demand, all the while still training and playing for the Dartmouth hockey team.
Lucky I'd give him, no problem. Easy…not so much. I was lucky to be where I was, and lucky to have someone like Bella in my life. She'd stuck with me through it all, that terrible year after the attack when I wasn't fit company for anyone, when I drove myself harder than I had any right, when she should have left my ass for someone who could have given her all the time and attention she deserved…Yeah, I was a lucky bastard.
"Look, Paul," I said in a low, dangerous voice. I wanted to pound his stupid, girlfriend-coveting face, but I also felt some sympathy for him. I had her, and he never would. "I can't blame you for being a little in love with Bella."
"I'm not!" he protested automatically, flushing hotly.
"I don't blame you for that. She's amazing," I continued, ignoring his words and taking a step toward him. I squared my shoulders and straightened to my full height. He took a belated and alarmed step backward, coming up hard against the bar. "But listen to me, Paul, and listen good. I love that girl. She's mine—she always will be. And I look after what's mine. Just so you know."
He scowled in mock bravado. "That's barbaric. 'She's yours.' What era are you from, anyway?"
I shrugged unapologetically, keeping my gaze level on his. "You might have noticed I am a little barbaric." I lowered my brows, knowing it would make the black eye more apparent. "Admire all you want, Paul old buddy, but keep your hands and your thoughts to yourself. Yeah?"
I clapped him on the back and maybe gave a little squeeze—just a little one—to his shoulder. I left him spluttering as I noticed Bella and Emily arriving back at our table.
"Edward!" She spun to me with a happy grin as I approached, a little unsteady on her feet. Her cheeks were pink and her eyes sparkling as she stood up on her tiptoes to wrap her arms around my neck.
I eyed the empty plates and bottles of champagne and then the buzzed girl in my arms. "I think it's time to call it a night," I said to Sam, who had his arms full of Emily.
"I think you're right." He grinned at me and reached for his back pocket. "Are you sure we can't chip in for the bill?"
"No." I waved him away and moved Bella to my side, where she happily laid her head on my shoulder. "Really, it's my pleasure. Congratulations." I was glad I could do that one small thing for them.
"Thanks, Edward." He reached out and shook my hand, and Embry did the same.
"Bye!" Bella called as they made their way to the door. Paul fell in behind them with a grudging nod of thanks in my direction. "I'll talk to you soon!"
"I've got to pay the bill and then we can go," I told Bella. She clung to my side as I made my way back to the bar to hand the bartender my credit card. I pulled my cell phone out of my pocket while I waited to sign the charge slip, letting Jeff know we'd be ready to head back to the arena and my car in a few minutes.
I had just slipped the phone back into my pocket when someone approached. "Hey, aren't you Edward Cullen?"
"Um, yeah." I felt Bella's hand had slip inside the placket of my shirt and rub over the thin cotton undershirt I had on, poking around in my navel. It was very distracting. I tipped my head at the bartender when I caught his eye, silently asking him to hurry with my card.
"Oh, wow, I thought so. Hey, guys! It is him! It's Edward Cullen!" he shouted across the bar and I winced, waving my hand at the bartender. Normally I was thrilled to chat with fans—it was still kind of new and exciting to be recognized—but Bella was feeling frisky from the champagne, and I was exhausted from playing, celebrating, traveling all night, and celebrating again. I just wanted to be in the back of the limo relaxing with my girl. The bartender finally arrived with my card, and I signed the receipt quickly, sliding it back to him with the pen. He glanced down at my signature and then back up at my face.
"It is you," he commented, and I barely refrained from rolling my eyes. He just had my card with my name embossed on it, hadn't he? "Hey, do you mind signing this?" He thrust a menu in my hand.
"Yeah, will you sign?" A chorus broke out behind me, and I saw that a crowd had gathered. Bella peered around my chest in interest at the commotion, leaning heavily against my side. I sighed, picking her up by the waist and setting her on the bar so she wouldn't fall over and I wouldn't lose her.
"Sorry," I murmured. "Give me just a second, okay?"
She smiled and kissed my nose. "It's okay, Edward. They're your fans. You have fans!" she squealed in delight. I'm sure she meant to say it quietly in my ear, but she wasn't using her inside voice.
I hid a smile and signed the pieces of paper, books, napkins, and menus that were thrust under my hand. I nodded as the events of the previous night's game were reviewed, analyzed, criticized, and praised as if I hadn't been there myself and was hearing it for the first time. I noticed Bella was swaying a little from her perch on the bar, and I took a step back to lift her down, tucking her under my arm.
"Thanks everyone," I called, lifting my hand in a wave. "Gotta go. Thank you. Thanks." I eased my way through the small crowd that had gathered until we finally made it outside to the sidewalk. The lightly populated street was a welcome relief.
Jeff had the limo waiting curbside, and I opened the door to help Bella in before he could come around to do it himself. I slid in behind her as she scooted across the leather seat, feeling immediate relief in the air-conditioned interior. The night air had cooled somewhat, but the humidity was still brutal. Bella curled up against me as we settled in and the limo pulled out into traffic.
"Thank you," she murmured, all warm and soft as she hugged my arm to her breast and scooted even closer. "Thank you for coming, and thank you for tonight at the bar."
I put my arm around her shoulder and kissed the top of her head. "I wouldn't have missed it, Bella. Miss MBA. My little Miss MBA."
I kissed her head again and frowned. She should be my Mrs. MBA. Damn it. Coughing-Boy's little comment and snide glance at Bella's ring finger had really gotten under my skin. I imagined I could feel the weight of the ring I was carrying in my breast pocket. I stifled the urge to run my fingers over the smooth, cool metal and hard stone as had been my habit lately. I wanted to ask her right then, right there, in the back of the limo, but stifled that urge, too. I wouldn't ask her to marry me in reaction to a fit of jealousy caused by some good-looking, intellectual jackass. She wanted me to ask her right the first time, and I intended to—because I intended it to be the last time for both of us.
She shifted, and I loosened my arm around her as she swung to face me, straddling my lap. She gripped the lapels of my suit in her hands and tugged, bringing her face down so the tip of her nose brushed mine.
"You do know that champagne makes me horny, right?" she whispered, tantalizing us both by hovering her lips a breath away from mine.
"I am aware of that fact, yes." I teased her by moving my head and maintaining the infinitesimal distance between our mouths as she tried to kiss me. I grunted as she shifted her hips meaningfully against my lap.
"Kiss me, Edward."
Who was I to argue? It was her night, after all. Her hands gripped, twisted, and pulled my hair as I opened my mouth over hers, tasting the sweet sourness of the alcohol on her lips and absorbing the flavor that was so familiar and all Bella. I grabbed her hips and rocked against her before I managed to tear my mouth from hers.
"I missed you," she breathed in my ear right before she sank her teeth into the lobe.
I shuddered. "Jeff," I managed to say as she continued to suck on my ear and neck. "Back to the arena, please. And you can put the divider up for the rest of the drive."
"Of course, Mr. Cullen, sir." I saw the smirk as the darkened glass rose between the driver and passenger's compartments. I was so going to get shit for this, but I didn't care as she ground against me.
She lifted her head to smile mischievously when the divider was firmly in place.
"What?" I asked, leaning up to capture her mouth again.
"Mm." She pulled away with a satisfying, wet smacking sound and started nibbling along my jaw. I tipped my head to give her better access. "What would you like me to do?" she asked in a low, soft whisper as she brought her mouth back to my ear. "Mr. Cullen." Her voice was slow, pure sex. She kissed my lips, and slid her cheek along mine to murmur into my other ear. "Sir." The word was husky, heated, and heavy with sensual meaning.
Holy fuck. I bucked up against her, and she laughed—she fucking laughed, a full, throaty rumble—as I attacked her mouth. We made out like teenagers in the backseat of the team limo, her knees on either side of my hips, rubbing and grinding, laughing and gasping. I found the intriguing set of tiny buttons that fastened the halter strap of her dress behind her neck and twisted them loose. She leaned back with a soft smile curving her lips, her hands holding the material to her chest. I kept my eyes on hers until she lowered the straps, exposing her beautiful white breasts. They were supported by two lacey scraps of...something that seemed to be stuck to her skin underneath, holding them up, exposing her hard, erect nipples. My fingers traced the supporting scrap of material—it was stuck to her skin, offering that delicious, melting, feminine flesh up to my mouth. I thought that there was no way it could be comfortable, and that it really wasn't going to be fun to peel off later, but then the limo hit a rough patch of road and her breasts swayed. The motion drew my attention unerringly back to them.
Her skin was cool against the heat of my mouth as I placed it over one hardened tip, and I brought my hand up to cover the other. She moaned, rolling her head back, arching her hips against my erection, and reached down to the button on my pants. I reluctantly moved my hand from her breast to wrap my fingers around her wrist. I still had enough wits about me to know that there was no way my naked ass was going to be anywhere near the seat of that vehicle. I knew what went on in there—pretty much what was going on in there at the moment. And I really didn't want to show up at the dry cleaners with come—from both her and me—all over my custom-made, multi-thousand dollar suit pants. Her hand ran up and down my shaft, gripping and stroking, and my resolve on that last one wavered.
She eased back, pulling her breast away with a soft pop, and then kissed my bereft mouth. She cast a wry glance over her shoulder at the divider before turning back to me with a lift of her brow.
"Edward…" her hand lifted to brush my cheek, and she kissed me again. She sat up, her eyes regretful on mine as she slowly lifted the straps of her dress back around her neck. My fingers touched the smooth, soft skin of her breasts as she covered them.
She gave me one last, lingering kiss as she slid off my lap, and I blew out a breath as she once again tucked herself under my arm. She placed her hand on my chest, resting her cheek over it, and sighed herself.
"Later," I whispered, unable to keep my lips from touching hers.
"Yes, sir," she murmured, and I groaned.
She laughed and looked up at me. "Tell me about the game."
"Tell me about your night," I countered, wanting to keep the evening about her. "I'm really sorry I couldn't be here earlier to celebrate."
"You were here for the best part," she assured me, and then frowned thoughtfully. "But maybe it was the best part because you were here."
I hugged her, and we talked about our day until the lights of downtown Detroit reflected in the windows. I squinted as Jeff pulled up to the gate that surrounded the secured, covered parking lot where the players left their cars, trying to decide if the window tint was darker than I thought, or maybe dirty, or if it was…foggy outside? The limo stopped next to the Volvo XC60 I'd bought when I went to play for Detroit, knowing I'd need the SUV's all-wheel drive for the winters. It was the only car left in the small, private lot as everyone else had already returned from the airport and gone home. Jeff opened the door for Bella, helping her out, and I followed closely behind. I slipped him a generous tip for his discretion and assistance.
"Thanks, Jeff," I said, clapping him on the back.
"Thank you, Mr. Cullen." It still felt weird being called mister by someone no older than I was. "Be careful driving home, okay? This stuff is getting thick."
It was foggy out, the mist rolling in from the Detroit River just on the other side of the arena. I nodded as he got back in the limo, pulling out through the gate, and I watched as it closed behind the vehicle. I turned to see Bella standing in the middle of the lot, her arms out, turning in leisurely circles with her head tilted back. I stuck my hands in the pockets of my pants and admired her slim, graceful form. She stopped her slow rotations and faced me with a smile.
"It's very foggy."
"Very," I agreed, not moving.
"I like the fog." She tilted her head as she watched me.
"Do you?" I made no attempt to move. I just took in the sight of her, enjoying the intimate atmosphere the mist created in the secure, walled lot.
"Do you remember…?" Her voice trailed off, and I arched a brow in question as she took a couple of slow steps toward me. "Do you remember the parking lot at the Forks ice arena? When we were in high school?"
I knew exactly what she was talking about. I removed my hands from my pockets and took my own steps toward her. "The night after the hockey game. In the fog."
"Mm-hm." She stopped a few inches away, her face glistening in the orange glow of the lights cutting through the damp haze. It was eerily similar to that night.
"We were going to the movies in Port Angeles," I recalled. "We were waiting for Jasper and Alice. We danced."
I reached out and took her hand, raising it over her head and guiding her into an easy twirl. The skirt of her halter dress billowed out and tangled around my legs as I pulled her close. I put one hand on her waist and held the other against my chest as we took slow, measured steps in a close circle, dancing to silent music. She smiled up at me, and then laid her head on my chest as she sighed happily.
"It was the first time you told me you loved me."
"I still love you," she said softy. "More than ever, if that's even possible."
Jesus. I stopped, taking her face in my hands and kissing her. I remembered that night, how nervous and upset she'd been thinking she'd ruined the moment, the two of us dancing together in the thick fog. Silly girl. She was so brave—so much braver than I was or ever would be. I had been in love with her forever, but she'd been the one with the courage to tell me first. She always had been the strong one.
Her strength, her faith, her unwavering conviction… She was everything to me. Suddenly, I realized I was yet again letting my worries and my fears get the best of me. I loved her, and somehow she loved me, too. I'd been so concerned with setting up the perfect moment for a proposal and getting it right—asking her right the first time so she would say yes. I'd been so caught up in my worry that if it wasn't perfect she would say no. And that was chicken-shit.
I twirled her slowly a couple of more times and then dipped her, bending her over my arm so that her long hair almost touched the concrete. I brought her back up, her face flushed, sparkling, and laughing. One more spin, and as she faced away from me, I made use of my excellent reflexes and reached into my jacket pocket, pulling out the ring I had been using as a talisman for the past couple of years. She stumbled slightly as I brought her against my chest, gasping in surprise as she crashed into me. I took a deep breath in an attempt to settle my suddenly nervous stomach and held the ring up between us. Her eyes focused on it, her smile slowly fading. Her gaze shot to mine, to the ring, and back to mine. I felt her body tremble as her eyes filled with moisture and her hand pressed against her mouth.
"I love you." My voice was gruff. I swallowed past the lump in my throat. "Then, now, and every day of forever. I want you to be mine in every way that matters, because I've been yours ever since that day I ran into you my sophomore year in high school. I love you, Isabella. Marry me."
"Edward…" her voice was a breathy wisp of sound.
"There's nothing more I want in this world than for you to be my wife. Legally. Officially. I've wanted to ask you. I've been carrying this ring around with me for more than two years." I shook my head at my own stupidity. "Two years! I've been so worried about making sure the time was right. I wanted to be sure we were both ready, and that I wasn't getting in the way of what you wanted—what you needed—to do first. But I know…" I swallowed again. "We both know life's too short."
I felt her hand clench convulsively on my lapel. We didn't talk much about the attack that happened when we were juniors in high school, or about the time I spent in the hospital and the long recovery and rehabilitation I went through to be able to play hockey again. We didn't talk a lot about it, but there was no denying it had profoundly affected us both.
"I've been so worried about asking you right the first time, like I promised, that I forgot to simply…ask you." I knew she didn't need or want an elaborate production. She didn't need an exotic locale, or twenty thousand witnesses at a sports arena. She just needed to be asked, sincerely and from my heart—and she already had that. It was the asking that needed to be done.
"Marry me, Bella."
The fog swirled around us as she stared at me. Her hand came up to cup my cheek, and she kissed my lips gently. "You did ask me right the first time, Edward, and I told you yes then. Remember?"
It only took a second to realize what she meant. I had asked her in my own way, years ago in a sunlit meadow outside of Forks, Washington. Those recollections still had a dreamlike quality to them. I never really knew if that was because of the perfection of those moments, or because of the subsequent memory loss I experienced only hours later at the hands of James Lucard. To this day I recalled only bits and pieces of the attack…but those were memories that had no place in my head that particular evening.
Her fingers stroked my brow, drifting through my hair to curl around the back of my neck. Her fingertips touched the spot where I had suffered the injury that almost ended my career—and my life. I should have known she would realize exactly where my thoughts had gone.
"I love you, Edward Cullen. I always have. It doesn't matter when you ask me, or how. I'll say yes every time. Yes. I'll marry you."
I stared at her, my mind incapable of processing anything other than her yes. I was stunned and thrilled right down to my toes. I grabbed her up off her feet and crushed her to me, using her body to hold my heart inside my chest. I laughed shakily, overwhelmed with love and relief and Bella.
"You'll marry me?"
It was her turn to laugh. "Of course I will, you silly man. I've been waiting ages for you to give me a damn ring."
"I'm an idiot," I said, setting her down and unclenching my fingers from around the ring.
"Sometimes," she agreed, her eyes fastened on the circle of diamonds and gold in my palm. "Oh!" Her breath caught. "It's beautiful, Edward."
"It's my Grandma Cullen's. Mom and Dad offered it to me years ago, and I had to have it. It reminded me so much of you," I said softly, taking her hand and bringing it to my lips. I kissed her palm, opening her fingers and placing them on my cheek. I placed another kiss to the inside of her wrist and met her wet eyes. "If you'd prefer another…"
She shook her head vehemently. "N-no. I want that one. I want you."
I took her hand in mine once again and brushed my lips across her knuckles. She held her breath as I slipped the ring over the third finger of her left hand. I couldn't take my eyes off the band that said she had agreed to be mine, that she had chosen me one last time. Possessiveness swelled inside me, and my eyes flew to hers.
"I want you." I echoed her words, but my meaning was more literal. I was suddenly quivering with the need to claim her physically. It was huge and undeniable.
"Yes," she said simply, and I had to shake my head to clear it from the scorching lust that roared through me.
"No, I mean I want you. I don't think I can wait until we get home. I want you, Bella."
"Yes," she repeated, her eyes locked on mine. "Right now, Edward. Please."
Fucking hell. She knew how that please did me in every time. The sparkling diamond in her ring flashed even in the dim, muted sodium lights in the fog, and the need to stake my claim on her in the most basic, primal, and definite way overtook my good sense. I bent at the knee and grabbed the back of her thighs, pulling her up against me and wrapping her legs around my waist so that the heat of her covered my raging erection. I slid my hands up her legs to her ass, moaning when I felt the silky slide of her thigh-high stockings give way to smooth, bare skin. I cupped her in both hands, pausing for a second in surprise when each palm was filled with firm, sleek muscle, soft flesh—and nothing else. I jerked my head back to stare at her.
"You aren't wearing underwear?" I asked incredulously, my body shaking with alternating hot flashes and cold chills at the thought she had been sitting next to me, in my lap, all night with nothing but Bella underneath that halter dress.
"Mm." she hooked her hands around the back of my neck and smiled, her eyes closing halfway. "I have something on underneath this dress, but I'm not sure there's enough of it to qualify as underwear."
A low and feral growl escaped me as I stumbled forward until we came up against the Volvo. I sat her on the hood and brought my hands up to frame her face, tilting my head and taking her mouth hard and fast. She moaned, her hands coming up to grab my hair, yanking, twisting, and demanding. Her ankles locked around my waist and her legs flexed, pulling me into the haven of her thighs. I lowered my hands to grab her hips, grinding against her. I bunched the material of her full skirt in my fist, pulling it up to pool around her waist and sinking my teeth into her lower lip, drawing it between us as I slowly eased away. She tried to follow me with that desperate, needy sound that did very good things to my ego. My hands came up to her bare shoulders, which were warm and slightly damp from the wet, heavy air surrounding us. I gripped her biceps and eased her back to lie across the hood of Volvo, staring down at where I was pressed against her, where she was exposed to my gaze and the night air. I wanted to see what she had worn underneath that dress for me.
It was a little lacy scrap of…nothing. A very tiny strap of red elastic banded each hipbone, moving down into a V shape over her sex. To call what held them together material would be incorrect. It was a fragment, a wisp, a…fantasy. I stared, and was only brought from my lust-induced stupor by the slow undulation of her hips. I wanted to tear the thong off with my teeth. I wanted to taste her. I wanted her in my mouth. I wanted to bite her and leave a bruise. I wanted…but I didn't have the time. There was no way I could fight off the need to be inside her for very much longer.
"Edward," she breathed, her hands lifting above her head, her back arching. I used one hand to pull the red lace aside while the fingers of the other slicked along the bare flesh between her legs. I tickled gently, and she laughed and groaned, pushing down onto me as I slid my fingers inside her body. "Ohh," she moaned, her eyes fluttering shut. "Almost…it…"
I set up a deep, steady rhythm, watching the changing expressions on her face with greedy intensity. The writhing of her body gradually slowed, and the rapid rise and fall of her breasts stuttered and held. I knew she was close. I flicked my thumb over her clitoris, rubbing and then pressing as I twitched my fingers. I bent down, taking her into my mouth, and she came with sharp jerks of her hips.
Her panting resumed, only to gradually ease into deep, sighing breaths. I kept stroking her as my other hand frantically fumbled with the fastening and zipper of my suit pants. I finally got them undone and let them fall to my ankles, grabbing one side of the waistband of my briefs and tugging them down to my knees. I grabbed my shaft, unable to stop myself from giving a quick, firm stroke as I moved back between her parted thighs. I took in the sight of her draped over the black hood, legs spread and arms outstretched. I dimly realized I was about to fuck my girl in the parking garage at Joe Louis Arena—secured team area or not—after just having promised to spend the rest of my life taking care of her. What the hell was I thinking?
I wasn't, obviously.
My eyes flew to hers, only to find them narrowed and heavy with desire. She stared back at me, searching my expression, and she bit her lower lip between her teeth. My cock leapt despite my self-castigating thoughts.
"Do it," she whispered, her eyes steady and sure on mine. "Edward. Do it. Now."
There was absolutely no way I could stop, not after hearing that. I surged into her, grasping her hips and pulling her onto my cock. My shout of pleasure mixed with her groan of satisfaction and bounced off the concrete walls surrounding us. I tried to go slow, to savor, but she felt so good, so tight, so wet, so mine, that I could do nothing but thrust helplessly inside her, again and again.
"Mine," I gasped in time with the tempo of my hips.
She was mine, and she belonged to me, just as I had belonged to her since I was sixteen years old. I leaned over her, putting my hands under her hips to hold her to me as I scraped my teeth over her left nipple, which had hardened quite noticeably against the material of the halter dress. I bit down, causing her to arch into me and increase the contact of our still partially clad bodies. I brought my mouth up to suck at her neck, and she retaliated by nipping my earlobe. I moaned. I felt her lips brush against my ear as she gripped my biceps.
"Mine," she echoed forcefully, snapping her hips and causing a bolt of sensation to scorch every nerve ending in my body, rendering me weak and senseless. My knees buckled, and only the grip I had on her ass kept me from sliding out of her. I met her eyes, and they glowed with an intensity that made my heart stop. "Finally," she said distinctly.
My hips slowed as we stared at each other. I remembered those were the words I said to her in the hallway of Forks High School after our first date, her first hockey game, our first kiss.
"Then," I breathed, thrusting into her hard. She moaned and her eyes fluttered before she forced them back to mine. "Now." Another slow withdrawal and quick, forceful stroke forward. I leaned over her once again, tipping my head as I brushed my lips lightly over hers. "Always, mia Bella."
I kissed her, shaping her lips, pressing along them with my tongue before I slipped it inside and resumed rocking into her. She clung to me with her hands, her mouth, and her body, until the pulsing detonations of her orgasm prompted mine. The rush of euphoria that overwhelmed my senses was intense and profound, and my body trembled and shook in the aftermath. I felt her soft and warm underneath me, her legs still wrapped around my upper thighs, her arms around my shoulders and fingers sifting lazily through my hair. I didn't want to leave the sanctuary of her body; I felt compelled to stay deep inside her long after the aftershocks of our climaxes had subsided. There was more here, more than just me, more than just her, or even us. There was more than a desire to claim each other physically. This moment of the two of us together had metamorphosed into so much more. I had never been so certain of anything in my entire life, except for Bella.
I lay half on top of her for a long time, until I became aware we had just engaged in semi-public sex and my ass was exposed to the foggy night air. I hadn't bothered to unbutton my shirt or take of my suit jacket, so I was still mostly covered, but my pants were in a puddle around my ankles and Bella's skirt was wadded up around her waist. I surreptitiously glanced up at the corner where I suspected a security camera lurked, and was somewhat relieved to realize that, while there could be no mistake about what we had been doing, nothing too embarrassing was hanging out—I hoped. I also hoped that there would be no reason for anyone to review the security tapes from that night, and it would be recorded over in the next few days.
I straightened and finally slipped out of her body with a sense of regret. I smoothed her skirt back down around her knees before bending to grab my pants and pull them around my hips. Bella sat up and swayed slightly, running her hands through her hair and adjusting the bodice of the dress. I cupped her face in my hands, giving her a tender kiss before taking her left hand in mine and raising it to my lips. I kissed the ring on her finger and placed another to the center of her palm, closing her fingers in a fist to hold it.
"I love you, Isabella."
She wrapped her arms around my waist and pressed her head into my chest. It was the best feeling in the world to have her nestled so trustingly, so lovingly, against my body.
"I love you, Edward. We're getting married," she marveled, lifting her head to look at me.
I smiled at the expression on her face. "We are. As soon as possible." I wondered if she felt the connection, the meaning, the significance of what happened that night. What we had done…What I knew, deep in my soul, we had created together.
"Good." She looked completely satisfied as she slid off the hood of the car onto her feet. I steadied her, pulling her into my body for one last hug. I just couldn't get enough of her. Even after all the years we'd been together, I wanted this woman like a drug addict needed his next fix. I hoped that feeling would never fade.
Her hands gripped the bottom edge of my shirt where it hung outside of my pants. I felt her fingers slip underneath to tickle the bare skin of my sides.
"I can't believe we just did that," she whispered into my chest.
"It's been quite a night," I said, putting my hand on the small of her back as I punched in the keyless entry code on the pad on the car door. "You got your MBA, a marriage proposal, and sex on the hood of the Volvo in a semi-public place, all in about eight hours."
I guided her around to the passenger side and opened the door, holding her hand until she was seated securely. I leaned in and kissed her before shutting the door and making my way around to the driver's side.
"Yeah, well, you got another playoff series win, a cross country flight, a fiancée who happens to have just gotten her MBA, and sex on the hood of the Volvo in a semi-public place, all in about twenty-four hours," she returned as I started the car and drove out of the parking area.
I hid a satisfied smile. I got something else tonight, too, something that was better than all of the other things—except maybe the fiancée part. I knew on the surface the chances were slight, but birth control failed all the time. And I had a deep certainty that just wouldn't be denied.
"So, what are we going to name him?" I reached over and placed my hand low on her belly, turning to look at her with a raised brow and a small smile on my face.
Her head whipped around, and her mouth fell open as she gaped at me. "What are you…? Why would you…? How do you…?"
Her jaw snapped shut, and she narrowed her eyes on mine. She was silent as we just stared at each other, neither of us backing down, neither of us looking away. A deep, meaningful silence filled the car.
"How do you know it's a him?" she finally asked, acknowledging that she felt the same thing I did—the bone deep knowledge that we had made a child together on the hood of the car, in the fog-laden parking garage in downtown Detroit. A flare of joy shot from my heart to my groin.
I stroked her stomach, leaning over to kiss her before I straightened in my seat and shrugged. I couldn't stop the grin from breaking out over my face or the happiness tightening my chest as I hit the turn signal and pulled out of the parking garage, heading for home.
"Well, we're not naming him 'Volvo' or anything stupid like that," she grumbled, crossing her arms around her waist. It was an unconscious, protective, and embracing gesture. The pride and possessiveness for my future wife and child swelled immeasurably.
I couldn't hold back the bark of laughter. "Not even 'XC', or 'Sixty'?" I teased, referring to the model of the Volvo. "Maybe his initials could be XC, like Xavier Cullen."
"No!" Her tone was still put-upon, but I could detect the humor underneath.
"That's okay," I said, reaching out and stroking my fingers along the inside of her thigh as I hit the freeway. "We'll think of something. We've got nine months, after all."
I didn't tell her I already had the perfect name for our son. There was no way we were going to name him anything other than Joe, after the grand old arena where he was conceived. Joe Cullen.
I took her hand and placed it over her belly, settling my much larger one over it. I gave a gentle, meaningful squeeze. She smiled at me, her lips trembling just the slightest bit, and so did mine as I returned it. It was a moment I'd never forget, not as long as I lived. It was a moment filled with love, hope, and anticipation for the future.
My future. My son. My Bella.
Some of you have been kind enough to ask about my future plans. I do have some outtakes, past shots, and an idea of their college years and future, but I'm not sure what form they'll take or if they'll be worth posting - I'll have to see. I am going to take a break to deal with some RL stuff and work on some original stories I'm excited about.
Thank you again so much for your interest and for all of your support for Iceward and his Bella.