ENTRY FOR THE CURVACEOUS AND BODACIOUS BOMBSHELL FIC CONTEST

Story Name: "Isabella Bites"

Penname: GreenPuma

Rating: M for Mature/NC-17 for lemons

Genre: AU-AH, Romance/Hurt/Comfort

Pairing: Carlisle & Bella

Total Word Count (fic only): 9239

Summary: "Isabella Bites" was more than a television show—it was Carlisle's religion—and he worshipped from afar at the altar of its host, chef extraordinaire and Rubenesque goddess of the kitchen Isabella Swan.

Author's Note: Extra special thanks to MaBarberElla, my fic wife and Twih00r in crime. She was the one who convinced me to enter this contest. She's another Carlisle/Bella shipper and author of the best CxB ever written, "The Hummer" . Special thanks also to Kiki the Dreamer for illuminating the breed of Carlisle's dog. If not for her, Cujo would probably have been cast as a labradoodle…

o/o/o/o/o

It was a delicious sleep, the kind that could only be achieved when the day was settling and the breeze swirled a mix of warmth from the sun and coolness from the sea. The hammock upon which Carlisle lazily napped swung gently with his weight, the pages of his forgotten book stirring with the wind. He had missed this tremendously, his cozy home on the water, but work kept him away. But now he had a month—four glorious weeks!—to unwind and enjoy his peaceful home.

It was Cujo's faraway bark that roused him—far away, not as in faint through the haze of Carlisle's dream—far away, as in no longer in the vicinity of his master. He woke himself more fully as he realized that his dog must have wandered off of his land. When not terrorizing sand crabs or chasing gophers through their holes, the feisty beagle liked helping himself to the vegetables in Mrs. McCarty's garden.

Mrs. McCarty. Carlisle did not relish the thought of knocking on her door, though if Cujo had misbehaved, presenting himself to apologize would be the only decent thing to do. There was nothing decent about Mrs. McCarty—not the revealing clothes she wore in Carlisle's presence, and especially not her repeated propositions. The woman was married, a fact of which Carlisle had reminded her many, many times. And he had no wish to run-in with her husband, Emmett, so he kept his distance whenever he could.

Slipping on his leather sandals, he placed his book on the porch's edge, next to a half a bottle of beer that had long gone warm. He pocketed his sunglasses as he set his lips just so for a long, loud whistle for his dog. The houses here were far apart, though close enough that he might see Cujo's movement in Mrs. McCarty's garden. He looked left, scanning the near corner of his neighbor's yard, surprised when a familiar answering bark came from the right.

He blinked in slight disbelief, not knowing how he hadn't seen it that morning. Lawn furniture and other signs of life now graced the adjoining yard. The house must have sold while he was away. His new neighbor had arrived.

The house next door had been vacant for quite some time. It was prime waterfront real estate, but with the economy what it was and many of the homeowners who bought in Longport using their properties as second homes, it was of little surprise that such a lovely (and expensive) house would sit awhile on the market.

Making his way down his back steps, he followed Cujo's bark, ducking through some hedges along the property line that afforded each home a bit of privacy. A woman whose face was obscured by a wide-brimmed sun hat and wavy brown hair sat sideways on a long pool chaise, facing his dog. She was scratching his scruff and serving him morsels from her own impressively-appointed plate. The little beagle's tail wagged happily behind him.

Cujo barked again, before relieving the woman of what looked like a succulent cube of beef. She looked up, but before Carlisle could thank her for her grace in sharing her dinner with Cujo, he froze. The sheepish smile belonged to Isabella Swan!

o/o/o/o/o

"Isabella Bites" was more than a television show—it was Carlisle's religion—and he worshipped at the altar of its host, chef extraordinaire and goddess of the kitchen Isabella Swan. Though he traveled days at a time for work, he found solace from an emotionally taxing job through perfecting the art of cooking. He braised; he flambéd; he fricasseed. He paired his creations with fantastic wines. With him every step of the way was "Isabella Bites". He found tremendous enjoyment in preparing the recipes from the show, and truly idolized its host.

Isabella was everything a woman should be—all confidence and curves and a true classic beauty to boot. He had often admired her generous proportions and everything that perfected them—those vibrant eyes, that gentle voice, and her mane of thick, dark hair. She was the type of woman whom he compared other women to, the kind of woman who spoiled a man from ever wanting to settle for less. The lady herself was as much a work of art as the confections she baked. She was exquisitely Rubenesque.

"In my defense, he's got some of the best puppydog eyes I've ever seen," she quipped somewhat nervously, a gorgeous blush staining her cheeks. "I hope you don't mind that I fed him."

Already, Carlisle felt smitten.

"Cujo is shameless," he remarked finally, his voice edged with wonder. "His begging left you with little choice."

She laughed, and it was music, its true melody amplified far beyond what could be heard on TV. It tickled him, prompting a sudden and genuine smile that felt fantastic to let show. Joking and lightness had little place in his everyday.

"Cujo? Really?"

She bit the corner of her lip to conceal what seemed like extreme mirth. The tiny gesture charmed him beyond reason.

"You didn't know him as a puppy," he murmured, fully taken with the beauty before him and astonished by how easily they'd begun to converse.

"Well, he seems like a sweet little thing now," she said, refocusing, for a moment, on petting him lovingly.

As her skilled fingers tousled the canine's fur, Carlisle felt more than a little jealous.

"In any case, please let me know whether his begging ever becomes a bother," he recovered. "He enjoys food nearly as much as his master."

A brief silence fell upon them, though it was not altogether uncomfortable. She blushed slightly, but continued smiling, holding her gaze upon him as he greedily drank in her face. He marveled at her faint sprinkling of freckles, the way the sun lightened the ends of her hair, and the familiarity of her espresso eyes.

"I'm Carlisle," he said finally, holding out what he hoped was a dry, steady hand. "And I'm sorry if I stared. I have seen you so often on television, as a celebrity, that it's somewhat strange to fathom that you've bought the house next door."

When she snorted, she even made that sound delightful.

"I'm hardly a celebrity!" she laughed. "And I'm just renting, actually. I'll have it for the rest of the summer."

She stood to greet him, returning his handshake with a soft but strong grip. She smelled of citrus and jasmine. The corner of her light-colored skirt billowed gently in the breeze, shifting against lickable calves. Carlisle's indulgent eyes followed them upward, caressing her shapely thighs.

"Well, I really enjoy your show," he posited, hoping that sincerity, and not lust, colored his voice. Worse yet, he didn't want to come off like an obsessed fan boy—few things were more shameful than a thirty-five year old man sounding like a twelve year old girl with Bieber Fever.

"You cook?" she asked with what seemed like genuine interest.

"I dabble." he shrugged modestly.

"Outstanding" she nodded. "So I can count on you if I ever need to borrow a cup of sugar?"

Several critical organs stirred when her teeth closed down on a succulent bottom lip. Was it just wishful thinking, or could Isabella be flirting?

"My kitchen is at your disposal," he breathed.

The faint sound of a bell could be heard from the direction of their houses. She frowned a bit when it rang.

"Well, it's nice to meet you, Carlisle. Sorry to cut it short, but I need to go check on my cake."

His disappointment was immediate. He did not want her to leave.

"Isabella," he stated earnestly, "…the pleasure is mine."

She removed her hat and shook out her hair before fixing her eyes on him once again. Another delicious wave of her aroma crashed upon his wanting shores.

"You can call me Bella."

o/o/o/o/o

Carlisle was a slave to epicurean delights, and no place offered such hedonism as home. How he had missed his double-headed shower, his fine English soaps, his 1,050 thread count sheets of Egyptian cotton! After spending his first hour of wakefulness luxuriating in his pillow-top bed thinking scrumptious thoughts about Bella, he cleaned himself thoroughly, had a wonderful shave, and made his way down to his beloved kitchen to brew his morning cup.

He didn't use a machine—didn't believe in them. Carlisle only ever made his coffee with a gravity drip. Grinding, then spooning precisely three and a half scoops of the aromatic beans into a bleach-free paper filter, he filled the tea kettle with water and set a high flame to boil it on the stove.

The slow brew of his coffee would allow him just enough time to whip up his favorite breakfast. The butcher in town sold a divine thick-cut applewood smoked bacon; he liked to have it with a cream-scrambled egg and freshly baked pain au chocolat.

Under normal circumstances, he would plan to sit on the back porch and enjoy his meal over the morning paper. But, today he had something else to contemplate—what to do about his feelings for Bella Swan. He'd been starstruck and surprised in the first moments that he met her, but his preconceptions had quickly faded. Their brief encounter had left him with a dozen things to like—to desire—about her, all of them completely new.

She was as much a sucker for dogs as he was, a fact he knew from the way she fed Cujo without hesitation and the lovingness she displayed when petting and pampering. She was humble—he'd noticed that she seemed genuinely humored to be called a celebrity, though he knew for a fact that her cookbooks had been published in multiple languages and that her show was currently number one on the Food Network. She was easy to talk to—he loved how effortlessly they'd fallen into light conversation. She was congenial, and seemed eager to connect around cooking despite her skills being way out of Carlisle's league.

It had been a long while since Carlisle had met a woman with such qualities—Carlisle rarely met any desirable women at all. He seemed to attract the Mrs. McCartys of the world, which saddened him for as often as he was lonely. He knew it had much to do with the path he had chosen—the path of humanitarian aid was fulfilling but not without sacrifice.

And then, there was the attraction. However much he liked her personality, her body ignited his. His mind eagerly recalled her voluptuous splendor. Isabella had been a fantasy, but Bella—she was real. Carlisle's only sadness was that her stay in Longport was temporary, that when he returned from his next trip she'd be gone.

Making quick work of his dough, Carlisle set it to rise as he started in on his bacon and eggs. He was appreciating the tang of fresh chives awakening his senses as he chopped them, when he heard a faint knock at the door. He contemplated ignoring it on the off-chance that it was Mrs. McCarty; whenever Emmett was out of town, she arrived on Carlisle's doorstep with a bevy of tasks needing his attention. She'd dropped her wedding ring down the drain "by accident" no fewer than seven times.

But it wasn't Mrs. McCarty. When Carlisle swung his front door open, he was delighted to see Isabella.

"Ready for that cup of sugar?" he grinned, eyeing the glass measuring cup in her hand.

"Can we make it a coffee instead?"

As she had the day before, Bella had on a flowy knee-length skirt—this one darker but just as flattering in revealing her long, tanned legs. Her sandals were pretty—a leather thong with colorful beading that looked like ones he'd seen Moroccan women wear.

"I just ground the last of my roasted beans," he replied, waving her inside, and placing his hand at the small of her back as he closed the door.

"You roast them yourself?"

As she went ahead of him farther into his home, he surreptitiously enjoyed the fit of her skirt and the sway of her backside as she walked.

"A friend in Tanzania sends me the raw berries from his farm."

When they entered the large, modern kitchen, his eyes shifted to her face, searching for signs of her reaction to his work. He'd poured his heart and savings into remodeling his kitchen—it was the soul of his home and his personal pride and joy.

Her eyes scanned the large double stainless steel fridge, the magneted knife wall, and the full size wine refrigerator. They blinked disbelievingly at his industrial grade stove, complete with a pot filler, and a double oven that flanked its side. They scanned foot after foot of countertop, dark granite fit for preparing a feast much larger than his modest dining room would allow. Finally they circled back around to his, their brown pools full of questions.

"You dabble?" she accused.

"Perhaps we can talk over coffee?" he asked, trying not to sound overly eager. "I'd be happy to brew you a cup. You're welcome to stay for breakfast as well—it's just eggs and bacon, but I have plenty for the both of us."

She nodded, giving the kitchen another once over before sitting in the proffered stool at the island where he was working. He brought her the steaming cup that had just finished dripping.

"I put in mint and cardamom in—is that alright?"

She nodded.

He resumed chopping chives before lowering the heat on his griddle. She hummed as she took her first sip of coffee.

"This is wonderful, Carlisle," she said, and, internally, he rejoiced. "Please tell me…how did you learn to cook?"

"My aunt Alex…" he began. "She left me this house. She was my mother's sister, and I came here every summer. She always loved to cook, but when my uncle died and left her a widow, she used the insurance money to open a restaurant to earn a living."

Recognition crossed Bella's face. "Your mother's maiden name didn't happen to be Piccarelli…"

So she'd heard of the restaurant, Carlisle knew then.

"Yes, it was," he admitted. "My aunt's maiden name was Alessandra Piccarelli. She named Piccarelli's for her father."

"You're a Piccarelli…" Bella said incredulously. "That restaurant was legendary. I ate there once—about a year before it closed."

"Then you were one of the last to eat there before aunt Alex passed. We only tried keeping it open six months after she was gone. People still came, but it wasn't the same without her," Carlisle said his voice a bit sad.

"So she taught you?" Bella asked kindly, her eyes full of compassion.

"Everything she knew," he nodded. "She called me her little helper. See that stool over there?"

He pointed to a weathered wooden stool that had once been yellow but was now graying from all the years.

"I stood next to her on that for two summers, before I was tall enough to reach the counter."

They both smiled—she in imagination and he in remembrance.

"Of course, I couldn't have been much help at five years old, but she always gave me a job to do, always made me feel like I contributed something important. In the mornings we cooked and in the afternoons, we worked in her garden. She never used recipes, though…she cooked with her senses, and I learned how to do the same. She taught me how to feel the food…"

Carlisle moved around the kitchen with ease, pulling ingredients from the fridge, adding a little here and there to his unbeaten eggs. She was quiet for a long time, making him wonder what she was thinking as her lovely eyes followed him thoughtfully around his kitchen.

"So…is this what you do?" curiosity lacing her voice. "Yesterday, you made it sound like a hobby."

He buttered a hot saucepan, tilting and turning it until the pan was coated.

"No," he said somewhat wistfully. "Once upon a time, I considered culinary school, but my calling was to become a doctor."

"Do you have a specialty?"

"Cosmetic surgery," he admitted studying her face.

"Hmmm…I guess that makes sense," she mused softly.

"It does?" he laughed. "You must tell me why…"

She covered her face with her hands, blushing. "Don't make me say it!"

"Now you have to," he implored.

She groaned softly, pausing for a long moment. "It's just…you look kind of perfect. It doesn't surprise me you help other people do the same."

Part of him knew it was wrong to take advantage of her embarrassment, but it was too easy and she was too adorable when she blushed.

"You think I look perfect?" he teased.

She scoffed, but he saw the hint of a smile behind her petulant veneer. "I guess I might if I were into tall, blonde men with great bone structure and clear blue-green eyes."

He laughed again, unable to remember the last time he'd been paid a compliment that made him flattered.

"You're very kind, Bella…but I don't Botox and boob jobs."

"Oh?" she blushed.

He shook his head, adding more seasoning to the eggs.

"I do reconstructive surgery for children born with cosmetic birth defects…cleft palates and the like. Most of my patients are in the third world. I just got back from India—I travel for a few months with the non-profit, and then I'm off for a month or two at time."

"Wow, that's…" she began, before her voice softened. "That's really important work."

He shrugged off her reaction, before smiling, slightly uncomfortable from her praise. They fell into companionable silence as he continued to work on their meal. He beat his eggs and set his bacon on the griddle. Before plating their breakfast, he uncovered his dough and began rolling it out. She raised a questioning eyebrow.

"Pain au chocolat," he said simply.

He wondered what she was thinking as she watched him work—wondered whether she was noticing his technique, or noticing him.

"May I help with anything?" she offered.

"Uh-oh…am I doing something wrong?" he half-joked.

"No." And then in an almost inaudible voice, "you're doing everything right."

Her praise made him breathless, as did the idea of her cooking in his kitchen. Still, he politely declined.

"Not this time. This morning, you are my guest."

Five minutes later, they were seated at the small dining table on his back patio, digging into their breakfast fare. Carlisle found it extremely erotic to watch some women eat—one of his favorite parts of Bella's show came at the end, when it was time for her to taste the food. Watching her was like experiencing a visual of how he felt when he himself savored wonderful fare. Her face registered the delight of champagne bubbles, the texture of cocoa threads in chocolate, the salty pop of osetra on the tongue.

"So, how about you, Bella…what brings you to Longport?"

"A cookbook," she said around a small mouthful of food. "An Italian cookbook, actually. I never had an aunt Alessandra, but I'm named for my maternal grandmother, Isabella."

"So, she taught you how to cook?"

"I wish!" Bella laughed somewhat bitterly. "She died before I was born, but she did leave me her cookbook."

"What about your parents?" he frowned in amusement. "Her recipes weren't passed down through your mother?"

"My mother was useless in the kitchen—it's the pinnacle of irony. She grew up in a big Italian family with great food, but she always rebelled. She didn't exactly get along with her parents. They were conservative and she was a free spirit. When her mother died, they hadn't spoken in twelve years. I never got to know them…truth be told, I still resent my mother for it."

Now it was Carlisle's turn to nod in compassion.

"Anyway…my show only tapes a few months out of the year, in LA. The rest of the time I spend researching or writing, so I actually just got back from Florence. So, here I am, in a peaceful town with great produce, and a beautiful place to write my book."

"Longport is beautiful…but you don't prefer to cook at home?"

She shrugged and looked down at her plate. He suspected he'd stumbled upon a tender topic.

"Most chefs are pretty flexible to cook in any kitchen. And I'm kind of between homes right now."

He hated that she looked sad. Reaching across the table and covering her hand with his, he waited until her eyes rose to meet his once more.

"Well, Bella, I'm very glad that you've come here."

Her eyes changed then, unveiling a sincerity that Carlisle rarely saw from people in the western world.

"And I'm very glad to have met you, Carlisle."

They spent the rest of the meal talking about her.

She was self-taught until the age of twenty, when she finally went to culinary school after serving as the sous chef in a popular Seattle restaurant, a fact which had Carlisle quite impressed.

"I've considered a mini-course in culinary school," Carlisle admitted when he returned to the porch, the croissants fresh from the oven in tow. "But I hardly have time to spend at home as it is. Plus, I'd miss Cujo too much."

She smiled briefly before looking pensive.

"It sounds like you're open to more experience…" she said cryptically.

"More than open."

He wondered where she was going.

"So, I have an idea…and I won't be offended at all if you decline, but…" she bit her lip, "how would you like to be my assistant?"

o/o/o/o/o

When he awoke the next morning, Carlisle still couldn't believe his luck. Bella Swan, his culinary idol, had asked him to be her helper as she tested recipes for her book. She'd put out an ad with some culinary schools for an assistant to do prep and help her with documentation, but after learning he'd been a student of Alessandra Piccarelli, she'd been eager to hire Carlisle.

He'd refused her money, of course, despite her protests to the contrary, insisting that the honor would be his. And it would be—observing Bella cook was the opportunity of a lifetime. He could only imagine all the things he would learn!

She was, by far, the most formidable woman he'd ever known—his admiration for her had grown by the minute. The way her eyes lit up when she spoke about food made him awestruck, aroused, and even a little in love.

That last part could be a problem, though Carlisle hoped he wouldn't let it be. His attraction to her was powerful, but his respect for her was immense. Her womanly assets appealed to his every primal instinct but he knew he had to keep himself in check. He didn't want his neglected libido and hero worship to mess up such a good thing.

"So where do we start?" he asked Bella as he handed her a steaming cup of coffee, laced with cardamom and mint again, at her request.

The pair sat side-by-side on stools at his kitchen island. As it turned out, she had rented the house next door on account of its fabulous kitchen, but Carlisle's was so much better that he had agreed to let them work out of his home. She'd also admitted, rather sheepishly, that she liked the idea of cooking in what had been Alessandra's kitchen. Carlisle had laughed when she'd said his home should be protected as a culinary landmark.

"Pasta," she said, staring into his eyes with eager resolve. "Not just the ingredients and technical prep—the art of making it fantastic. It's an imprecise science with more nuances than most cookbooks handle, but I want to really tackle it."

He nodded in agreement. "Pasta is simple, but not easy…it's just flour and eggs, but it's hard for a lot of people to get right."

And, so they began. The process was surprisingly scientific. Bella had come prepared with no fewer than five different flours. She explained to him the tradeoffs one made in writing a cookbook—the best ingredients were often ones that most people couldn't get a hold of or that were prohibitively expensive. There was a fine balance between requiring what would work best in the kitchen and probably taste the most authentic, and how far most people were willing to go to make great food.

They started by making a basic pasta with each of the flours and setting up a tiny portion of each to taste. Bella taught him how to do a formal tasting, how to score not only taste, but texture and presentation. She looked for overall consistency and how easy it was to eat. Carlisle was pleased when he was able to contribute, sharing wisdom that had been ingrained by his mother and Alessandra, on certain hallmarks that would make the pasta identifiable as authentic.

Having spent the morning settling on a pasta, they spent the afternoon replicating the recipe. She ran him through the rules of recipe writing, of ordering ingredients and composing the accompanying instructions. When they cooked the final test batches, they worked in lockstep. She went through each action and together they negotiated the wording that would go in the recipe. In between wordsmithing and editing, she answered his technical questions and gave him tips on making sure it all came out right.

The final step was photographing the plated food once it was perfected for presentation. Bella thought professionally modeled food looked too fake and preferred to take charge of her own photos. When she found out that Carlisle knew his way around a camera and saw some of his own plates that he'd photographed, she added it to his list of responsibilities. It would be much easier to get the shots if Bella had only to focus on the food.

By the time 3PM came, they were exhausted, but satisfied with their accomplishment—they had created the foundation upon which many of Bella's recipes would be built. The next day, they'd tackle flavoring the basic pasta for certain dishes, and techniques for adjusting the consistency in order to achieve different cuts.

When every dish was washed and the ingredients put away, Bella hesitated as she made ready to leave. Carlisle took a chance, before he could think about its wisdom.

"I have a lovely Nebbiolo. May I offer you a glass while I fix a sauce for our fettucine?"

He studied her face, getting the sense that she wanted to stay but didn't know whether she should. Was his attraction to her palpable? Was she afraid that he would ask her for something more than she wanted to give? The last thing he wanted was to make her uncomfortable.

"We've only had pasta all day, Bella. We probably need some protein. How about a Carbonara?"

He saw on her face the moment she made a decision.

"You can pour me some Nebbiolo, but please, Carlisle…let me cook with you?"

o/o/o/o/o

And, so went their days: they would test in the mornings and perfect in the afternoons. Each evening they would cook a meal together, sometimes light, sometimes hearty, but they always shared a bottle of wine. It didn't take much for them to drop their defenses—it wasn't before long that Carlisle felt that he had known her for years. She opened up to him as well, and he felt for the first time in a long time that in Bella he had found a true friend.

Yet, cooking with her was, at once, the direst agony and the most delicious pleasure; the joy of discovering how much they shared in common tempered Carlisle's constant need to quell his desire.

Sometimes Carlisle felt the universe was laughing at him, the way what started as the most innocent of exchanges ended with him hard and wanting. He'd stopped letting her reach for things on the higher shelves of the cabinets lest the sliver of creamy skin it exposed cause him to sport embarrassing wood. One day he made the mistake of asking her to grate the fontina. The jiggling of her bosom as she worked the cheese over and over against the cuttings—the rhythmic intensity of her breath as she push, push, pushed—the way her tongue darted out to lick bits of cheese off her fingers nearly gave him an attack.

But Bella didn't even have to do anything suggestive to get Carlisle's juices flowing. Sometimes the fantasies came to him, unbidden. He wanted her laid out on his countertop, bent over his Viking stove. He was convinced that if she swung from his pot rack, she'd be at just the right height to taste.

Though rare, there were times when he thought that maybe she felt something more than friendship, thought he discerned that her eyes were hooded with lust; he remembered the one time when he definitively caught her checking out his ass—her blush had given her away. But she never made even the slightest overture, which Carlisle took as a sign. Attraction or not, for one reason or another, she wasn't taking the next step.

So Carlisle kept it to himself, waited until she went home, waited until he was alone to let the feelings flood in. Not only the lust, but also the loneliness, the realization as he luxuriated, quiet, in his bed, that he wanted Bella there.

"Can I ask you a question?" she began softly on one of the times that she accompanied he and Cujo on their nightly walk on the beach.

"Anything, Bella," Carlisle murmured in response, still slightly buzzed from the prosecco they had shared after dinner.

"Why isn't there a Mrs. Cullen?"

Though her voice was calm curiosity, there was something he could not read in her brown eyes.

"There was, once—Esme. We were married for three years. But, for a lot of reasons it didn't work out."

She nodded, but didn't speak. They walked a few more steps. There was something she wasn't saying.

"Anything, Bella," he coaxed gently.

"Are you still in love with her?"

He smiled, but shook his head. "No."

They stopped when Cujo did, watching the canine splash in the sunset-lit surf.

"We married because I was in love with the idea of her, and she in the idea of me. We didn't see that at the time, but it didn't take long to figure out that we didn't have a future together—not a happy one, at least."

He turned to look at Bella meaningfully.

"I promised myself then that I wouldn't settle for anyone less than who I really wanted."

"And you've never found that person?"

"Not with the schedule I keep—with my work, I'm never in any one place long enough to grow roots."

"You have roots here," she offered.

"Bella, the only woman interested in me in Longport is Mrs. McCarty."

"I think we both know that's not true."

He startled a bit, daring to wonder what she meant. Realizing quickly that he would never deign to ask for clarification, he moved on to the question he knew was fair game.

"How about you?" he asked, attempting to sound as casual as she had. "Why isn't there a Mr. Swan?"

"Honestly, Carlisle? The few relationships I had all started out good…this last time, I even came close to being engaged. But once they find out what it's really like—the crazy schedule, the travel, even living in my shadow—none of them are in it for the long haul. It usually ends with the same ultimatum: it's either me or your career. Mike was clingy. James was jealous. Edward was controlling. I'm like a magnet for insecure men."

He didn't want to feed her the same platitudes he was sure she was used to.

"It's not easy, is it?"

He pulled her into a hug, feeling warm when she melted into his arms.

"No."

o/o/o/o/o

"What the fuck am I doing wrong?" Bella asked midway through their second week of work, looking back and forth between the two pots of Bolognese sauce sitting on the front burners of the stove.

The left had been cooked by Carlisle, the right cooked by Bella. Her tasting spoon sat, forgotten, in her hand.

"Do these not look the same?" she asked exasperatedly.

Though he nodded affirmation, she was obviously on a roll.

"Smell the same?"

Another nod.

"Did we not go through each and every ingredient together?

He nodded again.

"Have we not tried this experiment twice?"

"We have," he replied as solemnly as he could.

"Then why does your sauce still taste better than mine?" She looked up sharply. "Don't laugh at me, Carlisle!" she warned.

"I can't help it," he apologized weakly, chuckling through sweeping breaths.

Sighing dejectedly, she flopped down on her stool. "I don't understand what I'm doing wrong."

"You're not doing anything wrong," he soothed, tugging the end of her ponytail in a gesture that sat deliberately on the right side of friendly. Though, truth be told, it was getting harder and harder to keep things clean.

"But there must be something you're doing, that I'm not."

Carlisle hesitated, knowing it unwise to go where he was thinking.

"I'm going to share a family secret with you—do you want to know what it is?"

She nodded her head lightly, in a question. His heartbeat sped as he prepared to utter a dangerous word. Whereas his mood had been joking just moments before, his next words held the solemnity of truth.

"The secret ingredient is love."

But, upon hearing his secret, her eyes only saddened.

"What if I'm fresh out of that?" she whispered, her voice catching slightly at the end.

He lifted his hand to her ponytail again, not tugging this time but stroking, softly, down.

"Then I'll put in enough for the both of us…just until you get yours back."

She swallowed, still facing the sauce, her face turned slightly away from him.

"Can you show me?"

He reached toward the stove, gently placing his hand upon hers where it lay upon a long wooden spoon. Lifting their hands in tandem, he placed the spoon into Bella's batch of sauce. Slowly, so slowly, he stirred their hands as he stepped in closer behind her. He closed his eyes as he bent his head lower, inhaling the scent of her hair.

"Close your eyes, Bella," he commanded gently.

They stirred half a rotation.

"They're closed," she uttered in soft response.

"Now, think of who you're cooking this for, what a gift this will be to all who taste it, what a gift it is to have plenty of food to eat…"

Their hands kept stirring, with Carlisle's guiding, but Bella's slowly taking over. He continued his tutelage.

"…think of the people you like sitting down to a meal with—people you love and people who love you…"

Though she exhaled shakily, she seemed to relax, her body melting a bit into his. He relished the weight of her in his arms, the width of her substantial body beneath his hands, the other of which he had let fall to her hip.

For what seemed like minutes, they stirred on; Carlisle closed his own eyes and he was lost, in her scent, in the heaven of their bodies so close, in the intimacy of their shared breaths. Though they kept their pace steady, some energy was building between them, working them towards something different than what they were.

"Can you feel it?"

"Yes," she whispered.

"How does it feel?"

"Like nothing I've felt before."

"Now, taste it," he whispered, lifting his hand from the spoon. "Tell me how it is."

His eyes remained closed as he listened to the sounds of her lips smacking against the new taste.

"No offense, but it's better than yours, I think."

He kissed the top of her head and murmured, "Twice as much love…"

o/o/o/o/o

Carlisle spent much of that night wondering whether he shouldn't make his feelings known after all…the more time passed, the more he became convinced that there was something real between them. But, the more he found out about this dynamic woman, the more complex the issue became. She wasn't in a relationship by choice, and she had her reasons.

"Change of plans," Bella said, her voice light but commanding as she breezed into the kitchen the next morning. "We'll do Tiramisu tomorrow. Today it's Capezzoli di Venere."

Carlisle's Italian was rusty, and he wondered whether he'd heard right when his mind contemplated the translation.

"Nipples of Venus," she confirmed, busily removing ingredients from her bag.

He noticed she didn't immediately meet his eyes.

"Roman chestnuts in brandied sugar," she explained, gazing up finally with something he hadn't seen before in her eyes.

"It's a difficult dish," she continued, ignoring the fact that he had yet to speak. "The sugar has to be molded so it forms a hard shell on the surface, but is so soft inside that you want to lick out it's creamy middle. The chestnuts are sweet too, but their hint of salt makes them slightly savory, and placing them in the sugar can be a bit tricky."

If he'd wondered whether the night before would change things between them, Carlisle had his answer. But, to what extent and in what direction, he wasn't sure. She had to know how he felt about her, but he had no clue what it was she wanted. They'd grown too close for a fling, but neither of their jobs would realistically permit anything more.

"I'm putting you in charge of tweaking the nipples."

Holy fuck, he thought.

But, he followed her lead, not knowing where she was taking them but certain that this was her trip.

"So, tell me." he asked cautiously, once they got started. "What led to this change of heart?"

"Tiramisu is so predictable," she said, her voice losing some of its muster. "I thought maybe it was time I took a risk."

"Does that scare you?"

He knew that she knew that he knew that they weren't talking about recipes and cookbooks.

She laughed ironically. "Everything scares me, Carlisle. I thought you had figured that out.

"Do I scare you?"

She didn't laugh this time. "You scare me most of all."

Since we're being honest, Carlisle thought, "If it's any consolation, you scare me too."

They worked in silence, Bella molding the sugary mixture, with Carlisle handling the delicate confections like glass as he placed the chestnuts. When he was finished, she used a fine brush to seal the assembly with caramelized liqueur.

"Time to taste," she proclaimed after they got through half a dozen.

He picked up two pieces—so carefully—from the plate before placing one in her delicate hand. Their eyes remained locked as each one took a bite. It was the size of a bonbon—his teeth sliced into half, his senses rejoicing in the drunken sweetness that melted across his tongue. He watched as her lips curled into a beatific smile.

"They're perfect," she breathed. And, indeed she was right.

His second bite was less guarded—he took out the base but left the nipple. He had yet to taste the chestnuts, but he wanted to save them for last. Watching as she devoured the last of hers, Carlisle followed her lips as they slowly moved. Lazily, he fed himself his last bite.

"Twice as much love…" he murmured again.

At some point, he noticed that her eyes were fixed on his lips, her tongue now slowly traversing hers.

"You missed a spot," she whispered, extending her finger to point to the corner of his mouth.

He let his own finger run the length of his bottom lip before licking its tip with his tongue.

"Did I get it?"

She shook her head, eyes still glued to his mouth. "No."

And then their lips were sealed together. Her kiss was hungry—to be sure—but not as hungry as his. Before he could contemplate what he was doing, he'd grabbed her by the waistline fold of her apron and pulled her close. Their tongues stroked deeply, with urgent fire, each of their mouths refusing to let the other one's go. Her soft moans caused him to pull her in closer as his arousal hardened impossibly. With the sounds that he made, she tightened her grip where her twined fingers pulled on his hair. He could tell from her grip that she would be rough—feisty—and, God, did that turn him on.

"Bella…" he whispered. "You have no idea the restraint it's taken to stay away from you, nor how close I am right now to losing it."

She nuzzled his neck, and he gulped, gripping her hip with one hand and the counter behind him with the other. His hold on her hip was tight and he no longer knew whether he was holding her at arm's length or pulling her in.

"So, please…if this isn't going far…let's just stop. Let me stop while I still can…"

"Do you want us to stop?"

She licked his ear and he shuddered. "No," he pleaded.

"Then, shut the fuck up," she breathed.

She dove in for another kiss, which he eagerly met, covering her lips this time without hesitation. The next thing he knew, he was untying strings and her apron was on the floor.

"I want to make a slow meal out of you, Isabella," he crooned, leaning in deeply to kiss her lovely neck.

They were up against the counter; Bella bowed back to receive him, exposing to him her luscious expanse. He pushed her shirt up and over her head, revealing a lacy, green bra, its pattern and hue in the likeness of vines of cascading ivy. More gorgeous than the pretty thing that had teased him from beneath the edge of her shirt was her ample bosom heaving gorgeously from above the intricate top.

Freeing an itching hand, he slid his fingers from her hip up her pillowy flesh until her more-than-a-handful weighed magnificently in his palm. He gloried in their buoyant substance, in their perfection—they were just like risen dough. When her nipples pebbled he lowered his teeth to her opposite breast, grazing the tip with a playful bite.

"Next time," she commanded, after letting loose a strangled groan. "You can make a slow meal out of me for dinner if you want. Right now, I want you. Please…I want you right here."

With a speed and agiity he never knew he possessed, Carlisle divested Bella of her clothes. She helped him, too—untying his apron before unbuttoning his shirt and his jeans. He panted lightly as her one hand traveled up his chest as the dominant one reached into his boxer briefs. So slowly, she ran the heel of her hand from the swollen tip down the underside of his cock. Though her palm was firm, her fingers as they grazed his balls were fantastically light.

He moaned helplessly, halfway gone but needing to experience this as fully as he could. His eyes followed her wrist from where it emerged from his shorts, up her soft arm, across her lovely clavicle, quickly to her face before dropping down to her perfectly weighty breasts.

But, he didn't stop there-he let them drop farther, down her tanned, smooth stomach, to her womanly thighs. He couldn't help thinking that Bella had lovely childbearing hips. His hands reached out to touch them and his erection jerked at the feel of their fleshy softness.

He could smell her.

"You are the sexiest woman in the whole wide world," he moaned in utter sincerity.

He slid his fingers inward, and upwards, toward one of many places in which he wished to get lost.

"I'm on the pill. And I've been tested."

He lifted her onto his kitchen counter.

"I've been tested too. I'm clean."

He slid his head up and down on her slit, making a small circle each time he reached her swollen nub. When she crossed her ankles behind his back and arched up toward him, Carlisle held his breath and plunged inside.

Though mindless with pleasure, Carlisle had faint awareness of the loaded words that teased the tip of his busy tongue, words as true and instinctual as his actions, forbidden words that he managed to keep at bay. His pace was controlled, but eager, and his thrusts were deep. He moved inside her with abandon. He watched her receive him, experience him, in the same way as she did food.

It didn't take long (but then again she hadn't wanted it to, and it could have been difficult for Carlisle to make last)…didn't take long before they were uttering soft, united cries and shuddering into a desperate embrace. Didn't take long for them to know that things, irrevocably, had changed.

o/o/o/o/o

It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship—or at least a more beautiful expansion of an already beautiful friendship. It took them two weeks to act on their feelings for one another, which meant they had two weeks left. They got into the habit of cooking more efficiently in the mornings to make time to spend the afternoons in bed.

And, what afternoons they were—they acted out every last one of Carlisle's fantasies after exhausting Bella's own long list. They grew even closer, snuggling in bed in the afternoons and at night, and talking at length when they were not making love or sleeping. She confided the brutality of culinary stardom, and her loneliness. He confided the atrocities of the third world.

She was an anomaly, the juxtaposition of the many indulgences of her manner in stark relief to her personal sorrows. Carlisle felt they were the same, their lives both charmed but much of their experience incredibly flawed.

They finished the book four days earlier than Carlisle had to leave on his next trip, which was one day earlier than Bella was due to fly back to Los Angeles. They went through all of the recipes and photos, arranging them neatly before sending them to Bella's editor. For half a day, she sequestered herself on the back porch to write the foreword and introduction.

Even after it was all done, neither of them spoke of goodbye—they dwelled only upon what they could share. And since they couldn't share a life together, or a home, or a family—anything that most others took for granted as normal—Carlisle kept his "I love you"s and "I'll miss you"s to himself. It didn't matter, he reasoned. Bella had become his dearest friend. It wasn't like she didn't know.

"What do you think of wine tasting tomorrow? I know the winemaker at Fez Estates. He'll let us taste the good stuff…not that you need my connection. I'm sure they'd roll out the red carpet for you."

They were snuggled in his bed—since they'd made Nipples of Venus, she hadn't slept a single night in her rental.

"I could be cajoled into wine tasting," she yawned, "…but if we go out that way, there's a bakery I want to stop at. A friend from culinary school owns it. I'd planned to drop in weeks ago, but someone's been keeping me busy."

He squeezed her more tightly.

"Oh, yeah? Well, some insatiable person has no one to blame but herself."

"I'll show you insatiable," she muttered saucily.

And, so it started again.

Carlisle drifted off to sleep that night perfectly content, perfectly sated, and perfectly secure that he would wake up with Bella in his arms the next morning. But he was wrong. The next morning, Bella and all signs of her were gone.

o/o/o/o/o

The fall in Longport was still beautiful, not for its sunshine but for crisp breezes, rolling clouds in gray skies, and lingering flocks of the orange-billed western gull. Cujo liked the whipping wind, the firmer sand, the sticks and bull kelp that washed up from stronger tide. Carlisle liked the low temperature, the salt air, the feeling that he could breathe.

Yet, his respite was temporary. He'd been home from the last trip less than a week only to discover that it had become less of an escape from his work and more a reminder of Bella. On his back porch, in his kitchen, and especially in his bed, Carlisle could not escape bittersweet thoughts of her.

They had not spoken—not since she left. He should have resented what voyeuristic contact he'd had, should have resented that her Facebook page and blog postings proved that her life had gone on and that his role had barely been a blip on her radar. Should have resented the letter that arrived in the mail three days later—a cowardly, apologetic goodbye.

But he didn't resent her—not really. After all, he'd known she would break his heart…or rather, that he would break his own. He'd been far down the road of admiring her, respecting her, revering her, before they had even met. He couldn't have honestly expected her feelings to equal his—not in a month, maybe not even in a year. He'd known it would end like this, but he'd taken what he could get.

They were halfway up their stretch of beach when Cujo stopped his leisurely sniffing and broke out in a barking run back toward the house. When Carlisle got closer, he saw a dark figure on the back porch. He kept his slow pace, disbelieving his eyes as long dark hair and bitten lips came into focus. Watching him with unreadable eyes was the one person he wanted most to see again, but never expected to—it was Bella.

He never once slowed his pace, wanting to make this moment last—before, he hadn't been given the chance to memorize her lovely face. He'd planned to take some photos during their last days together, but never got the chance. But now he'd take the time to drink her in. He'd remember her as she was at that moment, all windblown loveliness and pale wintry skin, before she said whatever it was she'd come to say.

"I missed you too, boy…" Carlisle heard her say softly to Cujo, her voice carried on the wind.

Yet, by the time Carlisle climbed his steps, her eyes were fixed back on him. They stared at each other, so meaningfully, for moments with things that had not been spoken, the same things which, before, neither had dared to speak. Should he say them now? Carlisle wondered. Should it ever be told at all? Before he was forced to decide, she graced him with her voice.

"Hot off the presses," she said, reaching behind her for a small bag, which she handed to Carlisle to inspect. He knew its contents the moment he reached in.

A lump rose in his throat as he pulled it out. He felt it was one of the most beautiful objects he'd ever seen. Pride surged through him as a photo he'd taken, in his kitchen on his china graced the cover.

"Cooking with Love: A Tribute to Your Mother's Italian Kitchen"

by Isabella Swan

Photos by Carlisle Cullen

He touched the book softly, carefully, like the precious thing that it was, both cherishing it and afraid that if he opened it he might break down completely. He couldn't believe what she'd done.

"Will you sign it for me, please?"

She shook her head tightly.

"Just open it," she commanded gently. "Read the dedication."

To Carlisle, for teaching me the most important ingredient

"I will treasure this, Bella," he uttered finally, bringing his eyes to hers. "Forever."

"I didn't want to sign it yet," she whispered, her eyes misting over. "It felt too much like goodbye."

He warned himself not to hope.

"And you don't want that?" he asked in a measured voice.

Her face crumpled a little when she looked down and shook her head.

"You don't know how sorry I am, Carlisle. I never wanted to hurt you. At the time, I told myself I was doing what was best for you, but I should've trusted you to make your own choice. Leaving like that was so such a shitty thing to do. I couldn't handle it all, so I just…ran."

Bella seemed focused on the past, but Carlisle cared only about one thing. He stepped towards her, closing the space between them, bringing a cool finger to her warm, soft cheek, no longer able to watch her cry without wiping away her tears.

"Is that why you're here, darling? To apologize? To give me a copy of your book?"

He had to know—did she want to mend fences or did she want to come home?

"I couldn't eat…" she gasped softly, eyes low an ashamed, "…couldn't sleep without you. I thought it wouldn't work if we tried…but trying to live without you is the only thing I really couldn't do. I'm so fucked up. I don't know how to be in a good relationship. Until you…I'd always felt alone."

She looked up at him then, a new spark in her eyes—that familiar determination. "Tell me what to do, Carlisle. Tell me if there's even a snowball's chance in hell you'll take me back. I'll quit my job. We'll travel together. We'll—"

He cut her words off with a kiss. First her lips, then her tears, then he nuzzled at her neck, as he pulled her close into his arms.

Lips close to her ear, he whispered, "Isabella, shut the fuck up," before kissing her again and ushering her inside.

o/o/o/o/o

Author's Note: So, there you have it—I didn't want to write a fic about a curvaceous Bella with low self esteem. I wanted to write a Bella who needed no convincing as to how bodacious she was, and an homage to the many, many men who like a woman with a little meat on her bones. As many of you have probably figured out, my title is a play on "Nigella Bites" in honor of chef Nigella Lawson, who proudly embraces her curvaceous bodaciousness. Thanks for reading.

Voting is Open! If you'd like to vote for "Isabella Bites" in the Curvaceous Bodacious contest, please go ahead and vote at fanfiction – dot –net – slash – u – slash – 2729331 – slash – CurvaceousAndBodacious#

(.net/u/2729331/CurvaceousAndBodacious#)