A/N Thank you to MissAlex who came out of fic hiatus to edit for me. It's been a long time, but I've had a burst of inspiration.
Even though it was months ago, I would love to thank the ladies of The Lemonade Stand for nominating Everything I Never Knew I Wanted for fic of the week. I didn't win but that's all right. I was honored anyway. Also another thank you to IndieFicPimp for well, pimping me. LOL!
The drive couldn't have been more awkward - from my end, at least. Edward looked altogether too cool, calm, and collected, humming away to the warbled melody of the steel guitar blasting from the blown speakers. I wished he would turn it down a little bit. I fidgeted, wringing my fingers in and around each other. There was something about this cowboy that put me off, but I sensed that maybe his cool façade might not be as controlled as he wanted to seem. He was tapping his thumb against his thigh almost nervously and definitely not with the beat of the music. He was also biting his bottom lip which I really wanted to not be entranced by, but it was useless. His bottom lip was so plump and pink, very soft looking…
I diverted my eyes right before he glanced in my direction. I could see him in my peripheral, his head trained my way for a brief moment before he turned back to the road; fingers still drumming the uncoordinated beat on his thigh. My face flushed, and a light sheen of sweat starting to bead over my upper lip. I hated this. Why did I agree to come with this guy? He was making me feel anxious. I don't do anxious. I do confidence. I do seduction, not sweat like a pig and have the tummy flutters. I discreetly dabbed the sweat with the back of my hand and started to fan myself.
"You're warm?" Edward observed, turning the radio down. I sighed in relief. Sweet Jesus, my hearing might be saved after all.
I waved him off, even though sweat was dripping down my temple. "No, no. I'm fine, really."
"Here, let me –" Edward hit the window button and both of our windows came all the way down. Immediately, a gust of wind swept across the truck, whipping my hair all over, thick pieces sticking to the sweat. "There, that'll do it."
Trying to tame my wild hair, I dryly responded, "Gee, thanks."
I guess he picked up on my sarcasm because his eyes bugged out of their sockets. "Oh, no! Golly, I'm sorry. Your hairdo or –" he gestured toward my head, "your hair… whatever is going on there, is everywhere. I don't have A/C, it broke last summer. I usually roll the windows down and I'm good, you know," Edward chuckled. "The heat or wind doesn't bother me. I always wear hats."
"I never roll my windows down," I replied. "It's too much of a hassle to keep my hair from flying all over." I gathered as much of my hair and held it in my hand like a ponytail holder. I harrumphed when wayward strands kept getting caught in my lip gloss and I tried in vain to blow them free from my lips.
"I got this." He pointed toward my feet. "You can wear it if you want to." Edward picked up a John Deere ball cap off the floor. He dusted it off by slapping it against his thigh and handed it over to me. I didn't know what to say, I was awestruck.
He did dust it off, I thought.
At this point, my hair was a loss cause until I could find my brush so I accepted the hat. I put it on and tucked backed some of my hair behind my ears.
Edward nodded. "You're welcome. I'm not used to having company with me. I wasn't thinking about…your hair."
"It's no big deal." I smiled for extra reassurance.
Edward spared another quick glance at me, a smile poking out of the corner of his mouth before he looked back at the road.
"What is it? Do I look stupid?" I tipped the brim of the ball cap down, hiding my face.
Edward coughed and cleared his throat. "No, you look good. The hat suits you."
My face must have turned pink because he started to backtrack. "I mean, it matches your dress. Black dress, green hat…high heels…yeah, you coordinate well."
I laughed. "I don't think Alice would appreciate John Deere as much as you do."
"That's a safe bet." Edward's eyes crinkled with his megawatt grin. His face completely transformed when he smiled. It was almost alarming how good it made me feel. Warm and safe.
I shook my head at the thought.
So far, I hadn't paid much attention to where we were going. It seemed that once I sat in this rusty truck, all time ceased. All I noticed was that we left the main part of downtown Washington and were traveling down a fairly deserted country road. We passed farm houses and fields, horses grazing in pastures, and the odd mobile home peppered in the sprawling hills. I had no idea where we were going, and highly doubted that we were headed anyway near a Starbucks or the local library. Hell, I would have settled for Wal-Mart if it meant Edward could drop me off, and I could stop feeling this… this uneasiness, if that's what I thought it was. Either way, I didn't like it.
Maybe the unease was a giant flashing neon sing telling me I should look for signs of serial killer tendencies. Edward didn't look like a psycho, on the outside at least. It's always the quiet ones, I'd always heard. I mentally went through the contents of my purse hoping that my mace was still in there, just in case.
Keep the guard up, Bella, I thought over and over. You're steel, you're stone. Impenetrable. No man will get the best of you.
Then why was I swooning at how warm his smile made me feel and those lips?
I really needed to get my priorities straight. Was I, though? Nope. I was basking in the smell of him after he rolled our windows down and wondering if my breath smelled like the sun-ripened tomato cream cheese I smeared on my bagel this morning.
I discreetly cupped my hand to smell my breath.
I was good.
Edward reached over and turned the radio back on. I groaned. He noticed. Shit. "You're not a country music type of girl." It was a statement, not a question.
"No, not really." I shrugged. "I never could get into it. They all sound the same to me. Man loves his truck, his country, his dog, or his woman, whoever licked him first." I laughed, hoping he would follow suit.
He didn't. Instead his eyebrows shot up and his mouth dropped open before he completely changed the subject. "You know Whit, huh?"
"Whit." He exaggerated the T. "Do you know him?"
I frowned. "I heard what you said, you don't have to act like I'm too stupid to understand you," I snapped. "I just wasn't expecting you to ask about Whit out of the blue like that." It was almost as if he was accusing me of something.
"Look, Bella, it's just that when I saw-"
"Yes, I met him recently," I said hastily. "He has been nothing but genuine and gentlemanly toward me."
Well, he sort of was, if you call stuffing your tongue down someone's throat an act of chivalry.
"You don't know him."
I scoffed. "And how is this your business?"
Edward grunted and pulled into a gravel driveway. I looked ahead, still hot under the collar, and saw a quaint modular home at the end of the drive. It was the kind of modular home that looked like a real house. It had shutters on the windows and everything.
I bet it has running water, too, I joked silently.
I snorted but tried to cover it up with a cough.
"You okay?" Edward asked, putting the truck into park.
"Yeah." I mocked hitting my chest with my fist. "I'm just getting over a cold."
"Um hmm," Edward responded. He opened his door and exited, slamming it shut.
God, why was he so mad? What the hell did Whit have to do with anything?
I was left sitting in the car, feeling unsure of what to do next.
Where were we? Whose house is this? Do I get out of this car now that Edward has proved that he could be a total loon?
I yelled out the window, "What are you doing?"
Edward stopped, turned, and squinted his eyes toward the sun that had started to peak through the clouds. "You wanted coffee and books," he waved to the house, "I have coffee and books."
I opened the truck door and stepped out. "This is your place?" I asked, astonished. I wasn't expecting he would bring me to his house. Suddenly, I felt even more uncomfortable.
He took my astonishment as criticism. "I'm sorry but my sprawling country estate is under construction; this is what you get." He crossed his arms over his chest.
I felt terrible that Edward thought I was implying that his home wasn't good enough. It was actually really cute. The landscaping was neat and orderly, the lawn was mowed, and the home itself looked new.
I grabbed my purse and closed the truck door, walking up to him quickly. "Look, that's not what I meant. Your home is very lovely. It's just I wasn't expecting you to bring me to your house. I thought that you might take me to a coffee house or something. We're strangers so I thought - "
His arms fell to his sides, his stance less stiff. "You're Alice's friend, so we're not strangers. Besides, the local coffee house closed up and the library is closed after one. So…" He paused, rubbing the back of his neck.
"So…?" I said, urging him to continue. What did the coffee shop or library being closed have anything to do with him bringing me to his house?
"So… I have lots of books and I can make coffee. I have a little bit of work to do; you can have the living room to yourself and read. It's more comfortable than hanging out at McDonalds or some place for four hours until the reception."
I looked at the truck and then back to Edward. He looked honest enough. Alice wouldn't have sent me off with someone she didn't trust. As much as I really wasn't sure about being in a strange man's house, I had to be honest with myself; I did it all the time with perfect strangers I picked up at bars. Edward hadn't given me any indication that he was interested in me other than putting up with me because Alice asked him.
He went to unlock the door and looked at me over his shoulder. "I wasn't expecting visitors; it's kind of a mess in here." Edward swung the door open and allowed me to enter first.
Messy was an overstatement. His home looked immaculate. If this was his mess, I would have hated for him to have seen my place, or my room. Christ, I needed to move out of my parent's place.
The front door opened up to a great room that was furnished with a beautiful distressed black leather couch and a mint green accent chair. The coffee table was maple and looked custom as well as the side tables. He had stylish silver lamps on each table and a lone potted plant by the window. Of course there was the obligatory giant flat screen TV sitting on an ornately carved wood console. A bachelor staple that even this cowboy wasn't immune to, I mused. Other than that, nothing adorned the plain white walls except for a gigantic mounted deer over the TV. No pictures, no art, nothing, just a huge buck.
The open great room led into a decent sized kitchen that was pretty sparse in contents. It had stainless steel appliances, white cabinets, and black granite countertops, but it was obvious that either it wasn't used much or Edward liked simplicity. I didn't even see a coffeemaker.
"Ahem." Edward scooted behind me through the front door. I moved out of his way as he flipped on a lamp and threw his keys on the coffee table.
"Sorry." I stepped out of his way, hugging the wall. "You have a very nice place."
"You're sorry I have a nice place?" Edward looked quizzical.
"What? No, no that's not what I meant. I meant you…"
He smiled. "I know what you meant, I was just kidding with you."
"Oh, you're funny." I laughed a little more heartedly.
Edward smiled in return. Damn that warm smile of his. "Good. I hoped that I cut it."
I scrunched my brow and asked, "Cut what?"
He started to walk backward toward the kitchen while loosening his bolo tie. It was remarkable how different he looked without the tie with his hair all windblown from the open windows in the truck. He looked infinitely more handsome. "The tension. We seemed to have created a lot of it on the drive over here. Starting off on the wrong foot, and all. I'm not really so abrasive with new people. I'm sorry for that." Edward threw the tie on his black kitchen table. "And I don't bite. So you can relax." He grinned again as he opened a cabinet and took out a glass jar, placing it on the counter.
I put my hand on my hip and followed him into the kitchen. "I'm relaxed."
Taking two mugs from the sink, Edward started filling them with tap water. "Uh huh."
Letting my hand fall from my hip, I softened my posture. Maybe I was a little stiff. "I am. See?" I wiggled my arms and legs, loosening up my limbs. "Like Jello."
Edward put both mugs in the microwave and pressed a few buttons, revving it to life. "What flavor?"
"God, help me." He chuckled. "Do I have to repeat myself all the time with you? What flavor are you?"
I rolled my eyes, and leaned my hip against the counter, crossing my arms over my chest. "As I can recall, this is only the second time you repeated yourself."
"So stubborn, aren't you?" he observed, also leaning his hip against the counter, sharing a playful smile.
"No!" I lamented.
The raise of Edward's eyebrow told me he didn't believe me. I huffed. Really, though, I was as stubborn as an ox. My dad always claimed I inherited it from my mother. He said that it was so cute seeing my mom thin her lips, stomp her foot, and blow steam out her ears when she didn't get her way with him. Apparently I did the same thing, especially when someone challenged me, like Edward was doing now.
"Okay. Maybe a little bit." I admitted.
"So, what flavor?" Edward egged me on.
"I don't know?" I rolled my eyes again. "Jell-O's Jell-O."
"Come on, Bella. There's always room for Jell-O."
I laughed. He was cute. "I never really thought about it. What do you think I am?"
Edward took two steps closer to me, only inches away, and looked down at me. The mood in the room instantly changed. I bit my lip and hugged my arms tighter to my chest. "I would say you're like cherry."
"Cherry." I repeated.
He nodded, looking toward my lips for a split second. "Sweet like a ripe cherry."
"Oh?" I whispered. I didn't think I was cherry, but who cared? I liked the way he said it. Interested in what he would say next, I inched closer to him and dropped my arms. Our chests were barely touching, but the closeness still ignited a chill across my skin. My heart was beating out of my ribcage.
When did this conversation turn so heated?
As Edward moved almost impossibly closer and drew in a breath, the microwave dinged.
Fuck! No! Stupid fucking microwave!
He blew out a gust of air and said, "Saved by the bell." He stepped away and turned to get the mugs out of the microwave. With his back turned, I tried to get my bearings, placing a hand over my still erratic heart. I hadn't felt that kind of uncontrollable excitement around a man in a very long time. I quickly grabbed the dish towel on the counter and tried in vain to dab the flush from my skin. I then watched Edward unscrew the lid of the glass jar that I now could see had a Taster's Choice label.
"Is that instant coffee?" I asked, placing the towel down.
They still made that crap? I thought. Only my grandma drank instant.
Taking a spoon out of the drawer, Edward answered, "I hope that's okay. I don't drink coffee." He spooned some coffee grounds into both mugs and stirred. "I just keep this around when my dad comes over." Ah, figures. "I don't even have coffeemaker."
Taking the offered cup, I asked, "If you don't drink coffee, why did you make yourself a cup?"
Edward replied like it was the most obvious answer in the world. "It would be rude to let you drink alone."
"But you don't like coffee."
Taking a sip, he said, "I'm fine."
Bringing the mug up to my lips, I said, "Edward, don't be silly. I won't be offended if you drink something else. I probably wouldn't have noticed if you didn't say you didn't drink coffee."
Edward shrugged and took a sip.
"All right, but seriously, please don't do anything special for me." I tasted the bitter coffee and grimaced. "I don't want to put you out. I mean, you didn't have to do any of this. You can drink something else. I don't want to be a burden on you. I know you said you had some work to do…"
Edward took two more big gulps and put his empty cup in the sink. "You're not a burden and it's just paperwork I have to get done in the other room. Come with me, you can find something to read."
"Okay." I put my mug on the counter and followed Edward down the hallway. As he walked in front of me, he pulled his shirt free from his pants, giving me a peek at his defined back.
I stumbled over my feet.
Edward looked over his shoulder. "You good?"
"Yep!" I said too brightly.
"Here we are." There were three doors, two open and one closed. The first one led into a small bathroom and the other led into what looked like his office. The third room, I assumed, was Edward's bedroom. I wondered what it looked like. "Ladies first." He gestured toward the office as he leaned on the doorjamb.
"Thank you." I ducked by him.
"You can pick anything you want to read. I don't really have them in any particular order so you may have to do some digging to find something you like." Edward nosed to the stacked built-in bookshelves that lined three out of the four walls in the room. The opposing wall held a built-in desk and some more shelving filled with more books. He wasn't kidding when he said he had books. There had to be hundreds here. His computer and other electronics were scattered over the desktop. "I just have invoices to go over and payroll to log. I'll be in here for a while, but make yourself at home."
"Sure." I nodded and started looking at the books. Edward settled into the desk chair and started shuffling paper or whatever he was doing. He certainly had a wide range of books, from the classics to self-help to fiction. I stifled a giggle when I saw a book on the Kama Sutra. I peeked over my shoulder at him and wondered if he used it.
He also had a couple of knickknacks displayed throughout the books: an old baseball, a couple trophies, a picture of what looked like his parents, and also another picture of two little boys posing by a jungle gym. Their toothless smiles were as big as the sun, their tiny bodies dirty from play, and their arms around each other's shoulders. One clearly was Edward - the hair color gave that away - but the other little boy had curly blonde hair. I squinted a little, looking a bit closer. The blond boy looked really familiar, but I couldn't place him.
"You find anything?"
I shrieked and jumped a foot in the air, spinning around to come face to face with Edward.
"Jesus, Edward! You might want to make some noise when you sneak up on someone."
"Sorry. Did you find a book?"
"Um, no, not yet. I was just looking at your pictures. Was this you as a little boy?"
I was hoping he would tell me more, but he didn't.
"Is that your best friend or something? The blond boy?"
"No," he said rather harshly.
I blinked. "You're brother, then?"
Edward cleared his throat.
"Do you need help picking a book?" He grabbed a paperback off the middle shelf. "Here, this is the new Dean Koontz. I haven't read it yet, so let me know what you think." With finality, he turned and sat back down at his desk.
"Oh yeah, sure." I held the book tightly to my chest. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to pry."
He didn't say anything but his head bowed and his pen paused on the paper.
So much for trying not to be abrasive, Edward, I thought. The tension was certainly impenetrable now.
What had turned his mood so fast?
Whatever. I'm stone, remember. He's just like any other man, nothing for me to concern myself with.
"I'll just go in the living room." Without looking back, I took the book and left.
Trufax from this chapter:
One of the first things I saw walking into my husband's house was a frickin' huge mounted buck.
Hubs won't let me drink alone.
I'm so not a cherry.