The Purple Banana Hammock
Summary: Like most women, I always found Speedos to be equal parts hilarious and horrifying. That all changed the day I saw Edward Cullen wearing one.
Rating: M. For gratuitous speculation about pork-swords and the eventual whipping out of one.
Disclaimer: If I owned them, I'd keep a certain sparkly emo vampire handcuffed to my headboard. Alas, I do not. (Also, I did not attend Northwestern; the details herein are a combination of artistic license and Google search results.)
*This is un-betaed, so any and all mistakes are mine. That said, I'm looking for a beta for some other pieces (one-shots as well as multi-chapters), so if any experienced betas are interested, please let me know.*
"Speedo padding on the swim team?" I muse, scanning the last few lines of the document open on my screen for typos.
"Actually, that's a good one," Angela muses from behind an enormous iMac. "Though I can say, having done extensive first-hand research, that at least one member of the team needs to do no such thing."
I roll my eyes as I click "save" and eject my jump drive. "Angela, I really don't want to know about what Ben may or may not be packing in his swimsuit."
"Oh, he's packing plenty," the disembodied voice mutters with a chuckle.
"Too. Much. Information."
"Where are we on the profile of the new Trustee?" she asks as she switches gears and dons her figurative editor's cap.
"Done and ready for next week," I reply. "Rose is getting the head shot; copy's in your inbox."
"Great. What about the tuition hike?"
"Waiting on a call back from the president," I reply.
"A return call that will be a long time coming."
"Don't I know it," I mutter, logging out of the network and powering down for the night.
"Do you think we'd get away with it?" she asks absently after a moment, punctuating the question with an audible click of the mouse.
It takes me a beat to realize she's referring to my only marginally serious suggestion for the weekly "Lighter Side" column and shrug, even though she can't see me. "Not much they can do once the story runs, is there?"
"You're devious." Knowing Angela like I do, I have no doubt that her comment is more compliment than admonishment. "You want to take the lead on that one?"
"No." My answer is instantaneous, and I flush when her amused eyes find mine from around the side of her monitor, her lips twisting and one skeptical eyebrow quirked over the rim of her violet tortoiseshell glasses.
"Methinks thou doth protest," she taunts, disappearing back behind the behemoth screen and clicking her mouse once more.
"I really think a story like that belongs in the hands of someone who has a little more first-hand knowledge of the… subjects. Like Jessica."
"Bite me," comes the response from a few computers down, and I spin in my wheeled chair to smirk at her.
"Just think of it, Jess. You could finally put all that 'field reporting' to good use with a story. In-depth background research at its finest, and most useful. You'd be doing the ladies of Northwestern a service." I punctuate "field reporting" with air-quotes, and Jessica flips me the bird.
"Crowley: not padding. Newton: definitely padding. Or should be, if he isn't. I can offer no further details on any of the rest of them," she spits.
Angela's head appears around the side of her screen once again, both eyebrows arched this time. "What about Edward Cullen?"
Jessica flushes slightly. "I have no first-hand knowledge." Her face is bathed in a soft bluish glow as she returns her focus to the screen before her. "Not for a lack of trying on my part," she adds in a mutter, and Angela snorts while I giggle. "I think he might be gay," she continues, heaving a tragic sigh.
"I have it on very good authority that he's not," Angela argues, leaning back in her chair and stretching her arms over her head; the crack of her spine is audible in the large space that constitutes the newsroom of the Northwestern University student paper.
Jessica glares at her and pops her gum. "Lauren's a liar," she says after a moment. "She never slept with him, unless you count crashing on his bed with him after he'd already passed out drunk."
My head is following the conversation with the dedicated back-and-forth of a Wimbledon spectator and comes to rest on Angela, who rises from her chair and disappears into the small office reserved for the editor-in-chief, which she uses more for storage purposes than actual work; she says that she prefers to be among the "worker bees," and she's not even half-kidding. She grabs a camera from atop the filing cabinet behind her desk, packs it into its padded carry case and winds the strap around her shoulder, flicking the light switch to throw her small office into darkness. "Sounds like this should definitely be a collaborative effort," she muses. "Girls, it's all yours."
"Wait a second," I say, at the same moment Jessica interjects with, "No freaking way."
"Problem?" Angela pauses on the far side of the long conference table that occupies the middle of our newsroom and is usually peppered with empty boxes from Dunkin Donuts and a smorgasbord of the various other junk food offerings that fuel the deadline-driven.
"You can't seriously be entertaining the idea of running a story on," here, Jessica's normally borderline-shrill voice drops to a near-whisper, "penises."
"It's 'The Lighter Side,'" Angela defends, referring to the regularly ridiculous, often satirical, and sometimes borderline depraved weekly column that graces our Op-Ed pages and has landed us in hot water on more than one occasion. It comes as no surprise, given our target audience of college undergrads, that it's the most popular column on campus. "It'll be a hit, and it'll be the first time we've run anything sports-related on the Op-Ed page, which is also worth doing."
"And you think penis size is the appropriate way to cut that ribbon?" My tone leaves no doubt as to my misgiving.
"I do." Angela pulls her car keys from her satchel bag. "And it's yours." As we both open our mouths to protest once more, she holds up her hand. "Jess, you have the inside track – so to speak – and Bella, having never fooled around with any swimmers, gives it the credibility we wouldn't have if you and Lauren were on it together. Unless, Bella, there's something you've neglected to mention?"
The roll of my eyes is all the answer she needs, grinning as she makes her way to the door. "Great. We're obviously not going to have any art for this one, so I'm thinking a team shot? It would be in remarkably poor taste to run close-ups of their Speedo-clad junk, I'd imagine."
"In worse taste than speculating about the penile lengths of the entire team?" I argue, increasingly sorry for my smart-ass suggestion.
"Absolutely. Check the sports schedule taped to the side of Adam's computer; I'm pretty sure they have a couple of home meets this week. You can go to one and we'll run it ahead of the next one. And check with Rosalie to see if she has a team shot archived. Good luck!" With that, our fearless editor disappears into the normally bustling hallway that is all but deserted due to the hour, and Jessica and I gape at each other.
"Nice one, Bella. Not only do we have to go to a swim meet, but we're probably going to get reamed by the administration."
My eyes roll, despite the fact that I'm no more comfortable with our new assignment than she is. "You aren't a real Daily reporter until you've been chewed out by the dean at least once," I say, with far more bravado than I feel. "The man practically has Angela and me on speed-dial." It's not an exaggeration; while I have received the occasional call from Dean Pritchett, Angela hears from the man at least once a week. Given how rarely she's actually home I usually field the calls, and it's reached the point where I can tell who's on the line before he speaks just from the weary sigh that precedes his greeting. Rising from my chair, I cross the small space to look at the winter sports schedule. "Yep. Home meet tomorrow."
Jessica's nose wrinkles in at attempt at affronted distaste. "I can't believe she actually expects us to do background by spending hours staring at a bunch of cocks," she huffs. If I didn't know her I'd think she was genuinely insulted, but since I do know her, a grin stretches across my face.
"Like you don't do that in your down-time anyway. At least now you have a legitimate excuse."
"Bite me," she says again, and I laugh as I shrug into my coat.
"See you at the pool," I toss over my shoulder as I leave.
The smell of chlorine hits me like a wall when I enter the Norris Aquatics Center, and as I step inside I shrug out of my winter coat, the air warm and damp around me. Purple and white flags stretch across the pool and purple and white lane dividers bob gently on the surface of the water. Banners with the Northwestern logo and the Big 10 conference seal adorn the walls and the diving platforms, and the mascot bares its teeth at me from another flag on the wall behind the bleachers. A quick perusal of the stands finds Jessica sitting near the top; for all her protestations, she appears to be taking her assignment to heart, studying her subjects with single-minded concentration despite the fact that most of them are still wearing pants over their… points of interest.
"You know, it wasn't until this exact moment that I realized how truly unfortunate it is that our mascot is named Willie," I say without preamble as I dump my messenger bag on the bench and lower myself to sit beside her.
"Or entirely fitting," she replies, eyes still trained on the prize. "You'll admit that it lends itself to any number of clever headlines."
"Clever bordering on cheesy," I amend, peeling my sweater off over my head to leave me in a green long-sleeved thermal top, the sleeves of which I immediately roll up my forearms. "Seriously, it's like ninety degrees in here."
"At least we won't have to worry about shrinkage," she says absently, and I snort out a laugh.
"Not until after they dive in, anyway."
"You know, I wasn't a huge fan of the movie Juno, but 'pork swords' is certainly an apt moniker," she observes as Eric Yorkie slides his warm-up pants down his legs and begins stretching his quad muscles.
"Though perhaps not for Max Schulberg," I argue, and after a beat she rolls her eyes in response.
"Fine, if we're going to attempt to be culturally sensitive, we'll refer to his as a 'schlong.'"
Almost at once the absurdity of our conversation – and, by extension, the absurdity of what we're doing – hits me, and I face her. "Are we seriously about to write an op-ed speculating on the genitals of the men's swim team?"
Blue eyes find mine. "I guess cultural sensitivity is kind of rendered null and void in the face of general journalistic depravity, huh?"
"I'd say so."
We fall into amiable silence as a few more members of the team begin shedding their warm-up suits like snakeskin and stretching, bodies taut and muscled, shoulders flexing and backs arching. And, of course, royal purple Speedos gleaming under the buzzing fluorescents. I tear my eyes away momentarily, attempting to gather my nerve and my wits, and my gaze drifts over the electronic scoreboard before flitting to the records board; I am surprised to see Edward Cullen's name beside the 400-meter individual medley.
"Edward Cullen is a record-holder?" I ask Jessica, impressed despite my complete lack of interest in athletics in general and swimming in particular.
She looks at me like I've lost my mind. "Bella, we ran a full-length sports feature on the guy last winter when he set that record; where the hell were you?"
I frown. Granted, I don't really read the sports pages unless I'm proofing them, but even I'm surprised I managed to miss something that's clearly a big deal. "I have no idea," I admit.
"He's close to breaking Olsen's record for the 200-meter butterfly, too," she says, her eyes dancing over the swimmers mulling about on the far side of the pool until they settle, presumably on the object of our discussion. "People say he'll do it by the Big Ten Championships."
Admittedly, I'm impressed. While my lack of knowledge about sports is surpassed perhaps only by my utter lack of interest, I am nevertheless somewhat awed by the apparent superiority of a classmate I've never met. "Which one is he?" I ask Jessica, and I can feel her stare without turning my head.
I attempt a disinterested shrug. "I don't spend much time hanging around the pool, Jess."
"Honestly, if I didn't see your byline every week, I'd think you lived under a rock," she mutters before leaning in conspiratorially, a flash of girlish excitement in her eyes. "See the tall one with the fucked up hair?"
I scan the gaggle of lean bodies; of the twenty or so gathered, I can eliminate nearly half based solely on the fact that they're already wearing purple swim caps. Then my eyes alight on the swimmer leaning against the ladder leading to the lowest diving platform whose hair is admittedly fucked up – or perhaps just-fucked – an absolutely riotous russet mess. As my eyes fall on him, his head tips back and he barks out a laugh; my breath hitches somewhere between my chest and my throat, and Jessica chuckles.
"Yep. That's him. Edward Cullen."
Edward Cullen, in addition to being a record-holding swimmer, is also what Jessica would generally refer to as "fuckhot." Everything about him is long: his neck, his arms, his torso, his legs. The only thing I cannot unilaterally confirm as being on the same scale as the rest of him, hidden as it still is by the black Adidas warm-up pants he has yet to shed, is precisely the detail on which I am duty-bound to report. Apart from the hair that doesn't look like it will cooperate too well with any attempt to coax it into a rubber swim cap, the only features I can make out with any clarity from this distance are his well-defined pectoral muscles and a set of abdominals my grandmother could have used on her laundry days. There's also something ridiculously appealing about the way he has draped himself against the metal rungs of the ladder, all lean, sinuous muscle and fair skin. As I am staring at him, an older man I can only assume is the coach claps him on the shoulder and Edward nods, straightening his posture and untying the drawstring below his belly button as he turns his back to us. Black pants slide down long legs, and another purple Speedo is in clear view; for perhaps the first time in my life, I have no desire to laugh.
"I know, right?" comes the suddenly breathy voice from beside me.
While I'm sure no one but Jessica can tell where my focus is, I feel a telltale heat creeping up the back of my neck and I glance around me for reassurance that my bug-eyed perusal went unnoticed by the rest of the bleacher crowd. In desperate need of a distraction I rummage in my bag for my trusty Moleskine notebook and a pen, pleasantly surprised when my hunt unearths a pack of gum. Offering one to my partner in journalistic crime, I give the process of unwrapping the stick of Juicy Fruit far more concentration than it generally requires as I attempt to will my skin to return to its normal shade of pale.
"It would be an absolute sin if that's not natural," Jessica whispers conspiratorially into my ear, and I fold the now-unwrapped gum into thirds before popping it into my mouth and sinking my molars into the sugary square. Taking a fortifying breath, I let my gaze return to Edward Cullen, who is much closer to us now, standing behind the diving block of Lane 4. Seemingly against the laws of nature his once-riotous hair has been tamed by his swim cap, and tinted swim goggles rest against his forehead. My traitorous eyes catalog the details that were less noticeable from a greater distance: the definition of his shoulder and quad muscles, the laser-focused eyes that stare at the clear water as he scissors his arms back and forth in front of his torso, the faint happy trail leading into his swimsuit. My knee bouncing, I allow my gaze to trace that line down his torso, following the thin line of hair to the front of his Speedo. And I nearly inhale my gum.
Jess swats me on the back as I sputter and coax the wad back to the front of my mouth, and even through my mortified wheezing I can feel a damp sweat at the back of my neck. "Absolute sin," she repeats, and all I can do is nod, taking a deep breath to regain what little composure I may have had before I shamelessly checked out Edward Cullen's junk. "Okay," she says, clicking her pen and flipping to a blank page in her small notepad. "So we're going to place Edward Cullen in the non-padding column, if only out of sheer optimism, right?"
As I stare at my friend's expectant face and the pen hovering over her notebook, our reason for being here seems ridiculously stupid. "Jess, we can't do this." I shove my own notebook back in my bag and reach for my sweater as she wraps a gentle hand around my wrist before I can catapult myself out of my seat.
"Bella, it's a joke, okay? These are Division I athletes; they shave their body hair, for crying out loud. They're certainly not rolling up tube socks and stuffing them inside their tiny little swimsuits."
"Then what the hell are we doing here?" I all but hiss.
Jess shrugs, and I'm finding her nonchalance increasingly irritating. "It'll be funny. It'll sell papers. It's a counterpoint to the heavy news. Take your pick."
For some unknown reason, my mind hits the brakes and comes to a screeching halt on one particular detail from her statement. "They shave their bodies?"
"Yeah. To eliminate drag."
I snort. "Seems like men shaving their legs puts them squarely inside the drag category, if you ask me." Still, I'm grateful for her ability to talk me off the ledge and I retrieve my notebook, pointing toward a freckly freshman standing in the wings. "Definitely padding," I offer, and Jessica beams.
"The dean will see you now," Mrs. Cope says as she hangs up the receiver of her phone, gesturing with the other hand toward the closed door behind which sits my sometime phone buddy and current biggest non-fan.
"Thanks, Mrs. Cope." This isn't the first time I've been sitting in the waiting area outside Dean Pritchett's office, though it is the first time I've been summoned here for something other than an interview for a story. This time, I suspect, I've been summoned for a reaming of the highest order. My nerves are tempered only by the fact that Jessica is a trembling mess beside me; for all her bluster when we were writing the piece, the idea that we may actually be in trouble for it has sent her bravado packing. Taking pity on her, I enter the dean's office first, my shoulders squared.
"Hello, Dean," I greet, and shrewd blue eyes find me from behind wire-rimmed glasses. His plaid bowtie heaves with a sigh as he leans back in his leather chair, gesturing toward the two chairs facing him.
"Ladies. Please have a seat."
I situate myself in one chair as Jessica does the same in the other, and I gaze at him expectantly; for all his administrative prickliness, I like Dean Pritchett. He reminds me of a nerdier version of my dad, Charlie: no nonsense, just the facts, save-me-the-political-bullshit-and-let-me-do-my-job. I also get the genuine sense that he likes college kids, and likes education, and wants to help people wherever he can. I can picture him minus the bowtie, grilling burgers for his grandkids on the Fourth of July, and it's made me develop something of a soft spot for the old coot. Even when he's glaring at me.
"Ladies, was this really necessary?" he asks, sighing again.
"What exactly are you referring to, Dean?"
His glare becomes a frown. "Miss Swan. Please tell me there isn't another story in yesterday's student paper that should concern me more than the piece hypothesizing about the… particular anatomical merits of our student-athletes?" His lips twist when he says "anatomical merits," and I have to tamp down on a smile.
"We didn't name any names," Jessica points out, and I shake my head at her slightly. Sometimes the dean just needs to say his piece.
"Which is the only reason this is simply a matter of poor taste and not something altogether more serious," Dean Pritchett barks, and I can see that he's genuinely irritated. As I open my mouth to remind him that not only is "The Lighter Side" a column that is generally accepted to be satirical in nature but the student paper doesn't answer to the administration for its content, I am cut off by the sound of the door behind me opening and a smooth voice cutting through the quickly-growing tension.
"Dean Pritchett. I'm sorry to interrupt, but Mrs. Cope assured me that you wouldn't mind if I joined the meeting and I think you'll agree I have a vested interest in this… matter."
If it's possible, Mr. All-American Swimmer looks nearly as obscene in street clothes as he does in a tiny pair of royal purple spandex briefs. Dark-wash jeans hug hips, a near-threadbare Northwestern Swimming t-shirt hugs pectorals and shoulder muscles, and I want to hug him. Among other things.
"Mr. Cullen, of course." The dean gestures toward another chair pushed against the wall. "Please, have a seat."
Edward, however, does no such thing and instead approaches the desk, standing between my chair and Jessica's and gazing down at the face of the older man impassively. "Listen, sir, I gave the newspaper staff the go-ahead for the story."
The dean's eyebrows are somewhere around his hairline, and the mouth-agape look of shock on his face is probably a pretty close mirror image of my own expression as I turn wide eyes on Edward's profile. This is the first time I'm really seeing him up close, and I'm instantly distracted by all the details not afforded me from my bleacher seat a few days ago: brown-sugar stubble peppering a ridiculously angular jaw, a neat row of white teeth bracketed by pink lips, green eyes fringed with lashes longer than mine. I am choked by a ball of words and breath as Edward gazes calmly back at the man staring at him from behind the desk.
"You did what?"
Those defined shoulders shrug and Edward cocks his head to the side slightly, the tendons in his neck on display. So now, in addition to hugging him, I want to bite him. Again, among other things. "I thought it would be funny. And it was. And sir, it's worth noting that the turnout at our meet last night was the best we've had at a regular-season event in the four years I've been here. I just checked with the Athletic Director and we haven't made that much ticket revenue in close to a decade." I don't know if it's the idea of added revenue or the assurance that we didn't just completely go rogue on him, but the dean visibly deflates, leaning back against the padded leather chair once again. "Plus, our Invitational Tournament is this weekend, and the sudden increase in interest – regardless of the reason – is a good thing, sir. Really, the only issue is that I didn't run it by the rest of the team first, but I'm the captain; I made the decision. So that's on me. These ladies did nothing wrong."
Wire-rimmed glasses are dragged off the dean's face and he pinches the bridge of his nose, his eyes falling closed. The familiar sigh escapes his lips and the office is silent for a beat before those eyes open again and find me. "Miss Swan. Miss Stanley. I apologize for any implication that you are lacking in… integrity." He pauses to slide his glasses back on his nose. "And I can appreciate the... humorous nature of the column in question. But may I at least request that your staff keep the… anatomically-focused pieces to a minimum?"
"Yes, sir," I promise. I've just been saved from having to talk about penises in the office of the Dean of Students; the least I can do is promise not to make a habit of writing about them. Unsurprisingly, it's not a hard promise to make, and I let loose a sigh of my own. "I prefer hard news, anyway."
I hear a snort from the space between Jessica and me, but when I glance at him Edward's features are carefully schooled into a neutral expression. Delicious looks and a dirty mind: I'm beginning to see what all the fuss is about. You know, in addition to the obviously admirable contents of his non-padded banana hammock.
Once we have exited the dean's office and made our way to the sidewalk outside the administration building, Jessica launches herself at Edward, grabbing his bicep with both hands. "Edward, that was seriously awesome. How did you even know we were about to get ripped a new one?"
He shrugs and grins. "I heard Rose mention it to Emmett. Didn't seem right," he says before his gaze falls on me where I'm standing hugging my coat around my body. "I don't believe we've met," he says, holding out his hand. "I'm Edward Cullen."
"Bella Swan," I respond, accepting his handshake. His fingers, it's worth noting, are also long. In keeping with the trend, apparently. "Um. Thanks. For doing that. It was nice not to have to say 'penis' in front of the Dean of Students."
He snorts again. "My pleasure. Really, I should be thanking you. I wasn't blowing smoke in there; last night's meet was the most well-attended in my four years here." He pauses, a small crease of a frown appearing between his brows. "Even if some of the guys were unusually hesitant to strip down."
"We didn't name names," I defend half-heartedly, and he smirks.
"Believe me when I tell you a guy knows when his body is being talked about, even if there's no name attached."
Jessica steps in. "So you could tell who we were talking about in which case?"
"For the most part. I have to applaud you: you were just vague enough to avoid being libelous, but detailed enough that it's pretty easy to guess which speculation belongs to whom. You guys are good." The smirk deepens. "And you were pretty spot-on, so no one can say your story was defamatory."
Suddenly I recall what we wrote about him and my face flames; I am instantly grateful beyond belief that the story has two names to its byline, and Edward will never know it was me who wrote those undeniably complimentary things about him. In fact, given the way Jessica's panting over him, he probably assumes it was her. I'm also uncharacteristically impressed with his correct usage of the word "whom," though judging from the enthusiasm with which Jessica is lobbying for the status of Edward Cullen arm-candy, I shouldn't get too attached.
"Listen, Jess, I gotta run. I have class in twenty minutes and I have to print something out beforehand. Edward, thanks again, it was nice meeting you. Good luck this weekend." I offer them both an awkward wave and beat a hasty retreat down the sidewalk toward the computer lab.
Later that evening, as I am juggling my bag, a stack of mail, and a bag of clean laundry while I wrestle with our apartment door, I hear the shrill ringing of our phone from inside. Cursing the lock for which I've been meaning to buy some WD-40 for about a month, I finally manage to wrench the door open and snatch the cordless phone from the table just inside the entryway.
"Hello?" My voice is breathless, and I immediately hope it's not my mother; she always manages to assume I've answered the phone in the middle of a steamy rendezvous when I sound winded. Which is ridiculous for a number of reasons, the most pressing of which being the notion that I would ever answer the phone during sex. Particularly sex good enough to make me breathless.
"Hello, could I speak to Bella Swan, please?"
"You got her," I reply, dumping my keys on the kitchen counter and shrugging my bag onto one of the mismatched chairs around our kitchen table.
"Oh. Hi, Bella. This is Edward Cullen, we met this afternoon?"
Does he honestly think I don't remember the man about whose bulge I raved in print? "Hi, Edward," I say as I slip out of my coat.
"Hi. I, uh, wanted to thank you again for the positive press. We really are enjoying quite the popularity surge; according to Emmett, the football team is pretty jealous."
"Well, I should thank you again for saving our asses with the dean, so I guess we can call it even," I say, crossing the small kitchen and opening the refrigerator door in search of sustenance. "And football pants leave only marginally more to the imagination… maybe this story should be the first in a series. We could mollify Emmett and boost our readership in one fell swoop."
"Though you did promise the dean not to expand on your… coverage."
"True." I sniff a container of leftover chicken lo mein I don't remember ordering and wonder if it's Angela's. And if it's growing bacterial cultures. I put it back on the shelf; the last thing I need right now is an intestinal parasite.
There is a pause, and I can hear shuffling on the other end of the phone before Edward's voice comes through the earpiece again. "The team would like to extend an invitation to you and Jessica to join us for our after-party following the Invitational next Saturday night."
I pause in my perusal of the refrigerator's contents. "That might be the most formal invitation to a college party I've ever received."
"Well that, Ms. Swan, is a tragedy."
I begrudgingly accept that there is nothing edible or appealing to be found in the fridge and close the door. "Are we to be tarred and feathered in a public square? Or the student union?"
He chuckles. "This is a friendly crowd, I promise." He pauses. "Well, mostly. A few of the guys are suitably… humbled. Though they'd never admit to being the ones with the less-than-stellar reviews, so I hardly think they'd confront you."
"This might be the most win-win story I've ever written," I say, the thought only just having occurred to me. "The people we say nice things about invite us to parties, and the people we don't refuse to say anything to us at all."
"So you acknowledge I'm one of the more favorably-reviewed subjects, then?"
I'm glad he can't see my face, which experience tells me probably looks right now rather like a fire hydrant. "Um."
He laughs. "I'm kidding. Saturday, though. Would you join us? You can come to the meet and then follow me back to my place."
"Hang on," I interrupt, but he cuts me off.
"For the party," he hastily adds. "Sorry. That sounded bad. The party's at my house. Mine and Emmett's house. We're a little off the beaten path, so following us will probably be easier than giving you directions."
"Okay." I have no idea what I'm doing, never having been the type to go to either swim meets or team keggers, though an irritating voice at the back of my mind whispers something about the opportunity to see Edward in a Speedo again. The voice, unsurprisingly, sounds like Jessica's.
"Great! Okay. That's great. Could you, uh, extend the invitation to Jessica as well?"
"I was wondering if you wouldn't mind extending the invitation to Jessica," he repeats, and I frown.
"You don't want to invite her yourself?"
There's an awkward pause and my confusion mounts as he clears his throat. "I uh, don't want my invitation to be misinterpreted," he says finally.
"Misinterpreted?" I echo, though I suspect I know where he's headed with this. Jessica's not exactly subtle.
"Yes." It's all the explanation he offers.
"Thanks for the invitation."
"See you next Saturday, Bella."
After the following Saturday's Invitational, in which a certain swimmer came within four-tenths of a second of the record he's aiming to break and during which I shamelessly ogled the contents of that very swimmer's swimsuit on more than one occasion, I find myself behind the wheel of my car following Edward's black Audi along a paved road that seems to be leading us deeper into the woods.
"I've heard their house is ridiculous," Jessica says, peering through her window and into the inky darkness.
"Cool-ridiculous, or might-catch-some-sort-of-skin-fungus-if-you-touch-anything-ridiculous?" I ask, my eyes trained resolutely on the glowing red taillights ahead of us.
"Boy drives a $60,000 sports car, what do you think?"
I don't answer as Edward's brake lights illuminate; suddenly the trees open up and we're staring at the face of a house that looks like it belongs to a well-to-do family instead of a trio of male undergrads.
"Holy shit," Jessica breathes, leaning forward to gaze at the house.
"Seriously." I throw the car into park and unfasten my seat belt as I watch Edward unfold himself from the driver's seat of his car and turn to face me. I kill the engine and slip my keys into my purse as Jessica pushes her door open and slides out of the car. After a beat of hesitation, I follow her lead, rising from the car and hugging my coat around me as I make my way to where Edward is still standing beside his car.
"I didn't drive too fast, did I?" he asks, extending a hand toward the porch steps.
"No," I reply, glancing at Jessica, whose eyes are darting between Edward and the looming brick façade of the house.
As we step into the warm, bright foyer, Jasper Whitlock appears at Jessica's side and slips behind her, curling his fingertips around the collar of her winter coat. "Hey, Jess, I'm glad you could make it." She freezes for a moment before allowing him to slide her coat off her arms, and as he folds her discarded coat over his forearm he extends the other elbow toward her. "Can I get you a drink?" She glances at me and I gaze back at her for a beat before she smiles at Jasper and accepts his proffered arm.
"Sure, that'd be great."
I don't miss the look Jasper throws at Edward before he escorts Jessica away, but as I tip my face up to look at him he grins down at me. "May I take your coat?" I shrug out of it quickly and hand it to him; he mimics Jasper's actions, draping it over one arm, but instead of offering me his other, he holds it out toward the doorway. "After you." He's very gallant, this Edward Cullen. Despite the fact that I have no idea where I'm going, I move in the direction he indicated and toward the telltale rumbles of a small party. I step into a bright kitchen, where a few couples and small groups lean against counters and a gaggle of girls sit around the kitchen table listening to Rosalie talk. I turn to face Edward, who has deposited my coat somewhere, and he glances around before arching an eyebrow at me and nodding toward the kitchen table, atop which sits a keg and a row of various liquor bottles.
"A beer would be great," I nod. I've never been very good at drinking liquor, and if I'm going to be driving home, two beers is my absolute max.
"So, have you been an avid swim fan for long?" he asks as he grabs a red plastic cup and presses on the tap of the keg.
"That was actually my first time," I admit, leaning against the edge of the table. "I'm not much of a sports person. I was there on assignment. As you know."
"Did you like what you saw?" he asks, handing me the full cup and grabbing another from the tower of them beside the keg.
In the dim lighting, I could swear he blushes. "The swimming. Sorry, I meant the swimming. Not the… budgie-smugglers."
"Australian slang for Speedos," he explains, filling his own cup. "I meant did you like the swimming?"
"Oh. Yeah, actually, I did. It's exciting to watch."
He nods. "It's easy to get into, even for non-sports people. Not a lot of rules to learn or anything." The smirk I'm beginning to believe is his trademark makes a reappearance. "The Speedos are really just an added bonus."
"For some," I amend, and his grin is positively wolfish.
"For some," he acknowledges, and the elephant in the room is enormous. The thought has no sooner crossed my mind than I am choking on a mouthful of beer at the mental image that trails in its wake. "Whoa, you okay?" He awkwardly claps me on the back.
"I'm good." I will the flames licking at my cheeks to buzz off as I take a smaller sip and follow him from the kitchen and through the living room, where Emmett has organized a game of Survivor Flip-Cup around a long piece of plywood doubling as a makeshift table.
"Edward!" he greets. "You guys want in?"
Edward glances at me and I shake my head. "We're good, man. Thanks." Emmett nods and returns to explaining the rules.
"Thank God," Edward murmurs, and I follow his gaze to where Jessica is hanging off Jasper's arm at the opposite end of the table. He seems far more pleased by her attention than Edward, who leans down toward me. "Want to sit outside?" he asks, then, off my dubious look, he adds, "We have an enclosed porch."
I agree and he nods, leading the way through the throng of people and out the back door onto a deck enclosed in sliding glass doors. Despite the darkness beyond the panes of glass, I can see that the deck overlooks Lake Michigan.
"Wow," I breathe as Edward turns on one space heater before crossing the room to turn on another.
"Do you mind sharing?" he asks, holding up a fleece blanket and nodding toward a suspended bench swing. I shake my head; my voice has left the building at the mere notion of being beneath any kind of blanket with Edward Cullen.
"Can I ask you a question?" I say once we are settled, the plaid blanket stretched over our laps and the space heaters slowly taking the chill off the room as we swing infinitesimally, the sensation not unlike the gentle rocking of a boat.
"Why invite us at all if you didn't want her to get the wrong idea?"
He takes a sip of his beer and licks his lips before responding. "I wanted to invite you, but I got the impression that this wasn't really your scene." He turns those green eyes to my face. "I thought if I extended the invitation under the guise of a group thank-you, you might be more likely to come." I'm taken aback by his candor; I don't know if it's the journalist in me or the woman, but I find it refreshing and not a little bit of a turn-on. "I also really did want to thank you for the complimentary review; I've been on the receiving end of a fair amount of positive female attention this week."
"Something tells me that's not a new development," I reply before I can check myself, and he blushes. I can't resist pushing his buttons. "Besides, how can you be so sure your review was complimentary?"
"'It is the opinion of the Daily staff that a certain star swimmer is a record-holder in more places than the scoreboard,'" he recites, and my eyebrows climb.
"Do all athletes memorize their good press?"
"They do when it hits a subject matter close to home," he says, devoid of embarrassment. "And it doesn't get much closer than that." I laugh and a comfortable silence falls between us as we sway gently, sipping our beers and gazing out toward the shadowed lake. "You're really good," he says after a moment. "Genital speculation notwithstanding. You're a journalism major?"
I nod. "International studies minor," I add. "I'd like to cover world news."
He lets out a low whistle. "So you could be the next Anderson Cooper, huh?"
"Christiane Amanpour," I correct, and he holds up his hands with a grin.
"What about you?"
"Biomedical engineering," he says. "Music minor."
"Diverse," I say. "Curing cancer while playing guitar?"
Almost instantly the humor is gone from his eyes and he looks away from me. "Something like that." For the first time since I've met him, his voice is flat, and I sense immediately that I've struck a nerve.
He takes a sip of his beer, but his eyes gaze out into darkness. "My father is a doctor and my younger sister has acute lymphocytic leukemia. I guess the combination heavily influenced my decision. I'm a cliché," he finishes, and my hand finds his beneath the plaid fabric before I can worry about the implications of it.
"Not at all."
We sit in silence for a few minutes before I realize I'm rubbing circles on the back of his hand with my thumb; as I move to pull away he twists his wrist and grasps my hand in his. "She's in remission now," he says after a moment, the pad of his thumb tracing my knuckles as he continues to gaze out into the darkness.
"Where do they live? Your family?"
"Chicago," he says simply. "They actually own this house. My parents lived here when they were first married before moving somewhere bigger after Alice and I were born. They'd been renting it out and when the tenants left they offered it to us."
The realization that he stayed so close to home for college doesn't escape me, but I choose not to comment on it.
"How long have you lived with Emmett?"
"We were paired up freshman year," he says, putting his cup on the table beside him, gravity still sitting around his shoulders like a scarf, and I curse my stupid mouth. "They tried to put athletes together, and ours was one of the matches that actually worked out. Jasper moved in with us at the start of our junior year; he'd been living with some of his baseball teammates, but one dropped out and the other transferred." He glances over at me. "And you live with Angela?"
I nod. "We actually went to high school together and ran the school paper there. When we both got into Northwestern, we decided to room together. Thankfully, it's worked out well for us."
A small smile lifts the corners of his mouth. "So, less Amanpour, more Woodward and Bernstein?"
I grin, despite the lingering guilt over my insensitivity. "Possibly."
We sway for a few more minutes before he breaks the silence, smirk back in place. "Can we get back to talking about my cock now?"
Something about hearing him say the word "cock" sends a flash of heat through my body and I gape at him. "Has anyone ever told you that your ego is enormous?"
"My ego?" He tips his head back and squints at the ceiling in mock consideration. "No. Other parts of me, however, have recently been described as considerable in size."
Our hands are still clasped together and his shoulder is pressed up against mine as we sway gently in the gradually warming air. I am searching for an appropriately witty yet charming response when Emmett's voice cuts through the silence.
"Cullen, get your sweet ass off that bench and rally the troops. We're polar-plunging."
Edward groans and I frown in confusion as I glance at his face and pull away slightly. "Polar plunging? What's that?"
"It's a cute way of saying we're going to freeze our nuts off by jumping into Lake Michigan in the dead of winter," he sighs, glaring at Emmett. "May I ask why?"
Emmett shrugged. "Freshmen are here. They haven't done it yet, and it's a rite of passage. Let's go, Golden Boy."
"Isn't that dangerous?" I protest as he lifts the blanket and unfolds himself from the seat beside me.
"Not really. Ill-advised, yes. Dangerous, no. Provided you don't stay in too long and get hypothermia, but the water's fucking freezing so nobody's ever been stupid enough to stay in for longer than a few seconds."
Rosalie's head appears around the doorframe and she rolls her eyes in Edward's direction. "Can't you talk him out of this?" she asks. "Honestly, you guys are worse than five-year-olds."
"Ouch," Edward replies. "And Rose, darling, believe me when I tell you that you have at your disposal far more numerous – and more effective – methods of persuasion when it comes to Emmett than I do."
She huffs and disappears back inside the house as Edward extends a hand to help me stand. "Well, this should be very interesting for you, at least."
He grins. "It's right up your alley. You're about to see about twenty men voluntarily shrink their most prized body parts to the size of cocktail wieners. Think of the exposé you could run."
"Excellent. Just what this night's been missing: fodder."
His grin widens and I follow him back into the house where the majority of the swim team has congregated in the living room. "O Captain! my Captain!" Emmett booms, and I'm vaguely impressed that he can quote Whitman, even in brief. The few freshmen on the team stand huddled together, sporting varying expressions of dread, and Rosalie stands just behind the group, arms crossed over her chest as she rolls her eyes periodically. Jasper is sitting on the arm of the sofa, index finger crooked around the neck of a half-full beer bottle, his heel bumping against the side of the couch. Clearly his status as a baseball player has exempted him from this particular act of hooliganism. I move to stand between Rose and Jessica, who is still firmly stationed at Jasper's side.
"Gentlemen." Edward's voice is stern, and if I hadn't seen him roll his eyes mere moments ago, I'd believe he was taking this seriously. "Disrobe."
The upperclassmen begin stripping off layers of shirts and sweaters, and after a brief moment of hesitation, the freshmen follow suit. They move to unbuckling belts and unbuttoning pants, and with the precision of homing radar my eyes find Edward. His shirtless chest is nothing I haven't seen before, but as I watch him undo his belt buckle a telltale heat licks at my neck. For some reason, it's infinitely sexier than untying the drawstring of his warm-up pants, and in the brief moment it takes him to unbutton and unzip his jeans, it occurs to me that I'm about to see Edward Cullen in his underwear. A damp heat gathers at the small of my back, and I pray that the flush on my face is minor enough to be explained away by the season. He hooks his thumbs into the waistband of his jeans and pushes them to his thighs, letting them drop the rest of the way to the floor.
Calvin Klein Boxer-briefs.
I can't imagine there's water cold enough to shrink the bulge that fills the front panel to anything resembling cocktail-wiener size, but I suppose he'd know better than I would. I tear my eyes away from his crotch in hopes that no one noticed, and my eyes fall on his roommate.
"Wait a minute," I whisper, leaning in toward Rose. "Emmett's not even on the swim team."
"No," she agrees. "But he's never found a stupid prank or dare he wasn't willing to be a part of. Slap some Greek letters on his chest and point him in the direction of the nearest case race and he's basically your typical frat boy." She rolls her eyes and huffs again for good measure, but I note that her eyes trail up and down Emmett's considerable frame with something that doesn't look much like irritation. I fight a smile as I focus once more on the gaggle of college boys standing around in their skivvies.
Rose and I have been friends since our sophomore year, when she moved onto the hall Angela and I were occupying; Angela convinced her to join the newspaper staff when she walked by her room and saw some breathtaking black and white landscape photos of the Pacific Northwest hanging above her desk. She stopped to find out if Rose had ever heard of Forks and learned that she'd taken the photos herself, and shortly thereafter Rosalie turned up in the newsroom as our newest – and, as we quickly learned, best – photographer. She and Emmett have been together since the spring of freshman year, during which Emmett happened upon her being assaulted in a parking lot by her then-boyfriend. No one but the two of them knows much more detail than that, but they've been inseparable ever since.
"You're going to want to grab your jacket," she says as the boys begin moving toward the back door of the house, and I retrieve it from where it's been draped over the back of an armchair in the corner as Jessica does the same. Rose shrugs into her own and we follow her through the closed-in porch, where it occurs to me to snatch the discarded plaid blanket off the bench swing, and onto the deck, where we join the row of other female party guests watching the crowd of boys half-running, half-stumbling down the sloping property toward the water's edge, silvery moonlight glinting off the bare skin of their backs and shoulders as they nearly disappear into the night.
A few moments later, whoops and hollers break the darkness, alerting us to the fact that they've reached the water's edge. Just as I'm starting to feel a telltale numbing in my ears and nose, we hear the noises and hushed curses of young men in varying states of inebriation and near-frostbite making their way back up the sloping incline with considerably more difficulty than they'd had going down. I scan the dripping faces for Edward's, noting the blue lips and chattering teeth of his teammates. A small pinprick of worry is just beginning to bubble up in my chest when he appears trailing behind Emmett, the last one to make his way back up the hill.
"H-h-h-hey, b-b-b-b-abe," Emmett greets Rosalie. "W-w-w-water w-w-w-was g-g-g-great."
"You're an idiot," she replies as she drags him inside.
Edward draws to a halt in front of me, and I arch an eyebrow as I hold the blanket out to him. His blue-tinged lips stretch into a smile despite the fact that his teeth are chattering and he wraps himself up as I lead the way back inside the warm cocoon of the enclosed sun porch. "You kn-kn-know," he says, attempting a conversational tone, "b-b-b-body heat would g-g-g-go a long way at a t-t-t-time like this."
I take a page out of Rosalie's playbook and roll my eyes, even though the idea of being wrapped in a blanket with him is far from unappealing. I rub his upper arms in an attempt to coax some warmth back into his skin, and the shivers racking his body begin to subside somewhat. "I like this sweater, and I don't particularly want it tainted with lake water."
"My skin is p-p-practically dry, and I can lose the boxers," is his chivalrous offer as he shrugs the blanket off his shoulders and wraps it around his waist, tucking the end in like a towel.
I snort. "Aren't you worried that we might be forced to print a retraction?"
"A retraction?" he asks, his brow furrowed in confusion. I look pointedly to the section of blanket covering his lap and he smirks. "B-believe me, Bella Swan, a few minutes wrapped in a blanket with you in nothing but my birthday suit and any… reduction in that particular region would be swiftly remedied." I bite the inside of my cheek and he grins again, offering me his hand. "Come on."
Wordlessly, I follow him through the house and into the foyer; it doesn't occur to me until I'm halfway up the wooden staircase that he's leading me to his bedroom. My steps falter and he glances back at me. His lips still haven't quite returned to their usual pink color, and his skin is a canvas of goose bumps; the blanket sits low on his hips, and I can see the twin indentations above his tailbone. His eyes find mine, one eyebrow arched, and I flush. His face splits into a pleased grin. "I promise to be a gentleman," he says, despite the fact that there's a heat in his eyes that is completely at odds with his chilled body.
I follow him to a closed wooden door at the far end of the hall and he pushes it open, flicking a switch inside to throw the room into a warm glow. The bedroom is far from what one would expect of a college-aged man; there are no piles of dirty laundry, no garbage, no food debris. No video game system or adult magazines littering the floor by the bedside. Instead, there's a neatly made queen-sized four-poster bed with a black and gray comforter, a cherry wood dresser and a matching desk beneath the window; a large cherry bookcase stands on the far wall, lined with neat rows of books and a few photo frames. A Northwestern pennant hangs over the bed and a bedside table sits beside it, a single lamp and a bookmarked copy of A Farewell to Arms on its polished surface. I glance around, and my pleasant surprise at its neatness is suddenly tempered by a less pleasant suspicion; I turn to face him, my arms crossed over my chest.
"Is it always this neat?"
He glances around and shrugs nonchalantly. "I'm not really here all that much," he says. "It's easier to find what I need if it's organized." I watch him carefully, looking for signs of untruthfulness, and when his focus returns to my face he must notice my scrutiny because his eyes narrow slightly before they widen in surprise. "You think I straightened up in case I got laid tonight!" He jabs a long finger at me, and his expression is equal parts indignation at my skepticism and delight at calling me out. I blush. "Bella Swan, I'm offended."
"No you're not," I scowl, even as I feel my face heating.
"I am," he argues, smirk in place as he crosses his arms over his chest. "You think I'm a slut. I'm absolutely offended."
"I didn't think boys could be sluts," I reply, desperate to redirect the conversation, or at least regain partial control over it.
"Manwhore," he amends with a dismissive wave of his hand. "Player. Whatever."
"Well. Are you?"
His eyebrows climb, and it takes him a beat to respond. "Wow. You're very direct."
I shrug. "Occupational tool. Roundabout bullshit tends to make my job more complicated."
"What about your personal life?"
Edward considers me for a moment as the smirk slowly evaporates, his face suddenly serious. "No," he says finally.
"No. To the manwhore-slash-player inquiry."
I shrug. "Nothing. Just 'hm.'"
"The reports of my prowess are greatly exaggerated," he says after a moment, a hint of sheepishness coloring his normally cocksure countenance.
"Is that so?"
He nods. "You're on the newspaper staff, so I'm guessing you've heard that I slept with Lauren Mallory." It's not a question. "Which I did not."
He arches an eyebrow. "What else have you heard?"
I shrug. "Not a lot," I answer truthfully, and he seems surprised.
"So one supposed conquest was enough to make you assume I'm a playboy who lures willing women up to my overly organized lair of sin?"
I shrug again. "It wasn't so much the rumor mill," I admit, ignoring for the moment his all-too-accurate use of the adjective "willing."
"Then what was it?" Suddenly I find the contents of his bookshelf fascinating, my eyes breaking our stare to peruse the spines of the books organized there. "Bella Swan." A small shiver works its way up my spine at the smile behind his voice, and I feel him behind me, close but not touching. I am all too aware of the proximity of his bare skin. Squaring my shoulders, I set my jaw and turn to face him.
"You're a jock," I say.
"A good one."
"And you're very popular."
"And—" I trail off, searching for tact where there is none to be found. "Well, that," I say, gesturing to the blanket that is beginning to dip dangerously low around his hips.
He pretends to misunderstand. "I look good in plaid?" he guesses, but his smug look belies his bewilderment.
"There are just…" I search for the word. "Precedents," I finish.
"Which is a nice way of saying 'stereotypes,'" he says, and I can't tell if he's insulted.
"Hm." He doesn't offer anything more, and we stand facing each other in an awkward silence until he sighs. "I should change. If you wouldn't mind?"
I spin around so quickly I nearly trip into the bookcase I was once admiring, and right myself before leaning in to look at the framed photographs lined up along one of the shelves. "Is this your family?" I ask, studying a shot of a younger Edward standing with his arm around the shoulders of a younger girl, two beautiful people I can only assume are his parents standing on either side of them like bookends.
"Yeah," he replies, and I hear a drawer open. "That was when I was in high school; we went to France for the summer." The drawer closes. I move to the next photo of Edward and Emmett and Jasper standing in front of Wrigley Field, and I open my mouth to comment but the words die on my tongue as I realize that in the reflection of the small pane of glass I can see the faint image of Edward's bare back behind me. And, as I straighten slightly, his bare ass. As is becoming a regular pastime of mine I shamelessly ogle him, at once hoping and dreading that he'll turn around. I've never been an ass woman, but from what I can tell in the makeshift mirror, his rear end is as perfect as the rest of him. It hardly seems fair, really; surely he must have a flaw somewhere, and Lord knows it's probably not in the only part of him I have yet to see uncovered.
I sigh in relief and disappointment as he pulls up a dry pair of boxer briefs and go back to perusing his bookshelves. "Who's this?" I ask, tapping the third frame, and my breath gets caught in my throat when I feel his bare chest press against my shoulder.
"My grandparents," he says simply. "And you're safe now."
I turn, my eyes widening in surprise to realize he's still in his underwear, and he frowns slightly. "Sorry… you've seen me in less; I didn't think…" He trails off as he grabs a pair of jeans from his bed and steps into them. "Sorry."
I shake my head. "No, it's fine." I take a step toward him. "Edward, I'm sorry." He straightens, buttoning his fly before beginning to weave a belt through the loops.
"Sorry for what?"
"Making a stupid assumption."
I'm relieved when a smile touches the corners of his mouth. "Forgiven," he says simply. "You're not the first woman to be operating under that particular misconception." He pauses and shrugs. "To be perfectly honest, it's not that I haven't been presented with the opportunities. It's just… not my style." He trails off as he dips his head to buckle the belt; when he lifts his face I see he's biting his lip, and I realize it's the first time I've seen Edward look even remotely unsure of himself. He slides his hands into his pockets, and it takes a considerable effort on my part not to let my eyes trail down his toned stomach. "That's not to say I wouldn't really, really like to kiss you right now." I have no verbal response, and he takes a step toward me. "Of course, I wouldn't want to perpetuate my apparent reputation as a shameless lothario." I bite my lip and his eyes darken as they drop to my mouth. "I also wouldn't want to get you into trouble with Jessica," he adds.
"Screw Jessica," I breathe, and I can tell he's fighting a smile.
"If it's all the same to you, I'd rather not." He lifts a hand to cup my jaw. "As it turns out, I'm quite taken with her friend." His thumb traces my chin. "Whom I have yet to truly thank for the glowing review." His eyes flicker to mine before returning to my mouth. "You have about two more seconds to stop me from compromising your journalistic integrity," he murmurs.
"Compromise away," I reply, and the words barely escape before he presses his mouth to mine. Despite the return of their normal color his lips are still cool, and my breath catches when he gently takes my top lip between his own. I feel warm breath washing over my mouth as his opens and his warm tongue slides along my lower lip. I moan and his other hand finds its way around my waist and to the small of my back, where it flattens against me and pulls me into his body. When I open my mouth his tongue dances along my upper lip before entering the cavern of my mouth, finding my own and sliding against it. He groans and his warm hand slides from my jaw to cup the back of my head, winding his fingers in my hair as his other arm tightens around me. Our tongues move against each other until his lips leave mine to find the skin beneath my ear. I feel my eyes roll back as I tip my head to grant him access. "God, Edward," I breathe, and his hand leaves my hair to join his other around my waist, pulling me even more flush with his body. My arousal surges when I feel the seam of his fly pressed against my lower stomach, a telltale hardness beneath the denim. I feel a slight pinch as his teeth nip at the skin of my collarbone and I whimper into the room as his lips soothe the same patch of flesh.
"I just wish I could be sure I'm thanking the right journalist," he murmurs, and suddenly he's pulling away, unwinding his arms from around me and placing his large hands on my hips.
"What?" I am flustered, aroused, and not a little bit peeved. "What the hell?"
He takes a step back and plants his hands on his own hips. "I'd hate to be laboring under a misapprehension," he says. Cue the smirk. "After all, the story had a joint byline; there's no way to be sure that the particular piece of reporting I'm so thankful for was even written by you."
"You're right," I say, leaning back against his bookshelf. "Perhaps you should be thanking Jessica, after all."
"Maybe I should." He folds his arms across his chest and gazes at me, a smug smile twisting his lips into something altogether too self-satisfied.
"Fuck," I hiss. "Fine. It was me."
"It was you who what?"
"It was I who speculated on the size of your…" I trail off, gesturing at the fly of his jeans, which I can't help but notice is considerably more prominent than it was moments ago. "Junk."
"My junk?" he mimics, a mix of mock-surprise and triumph.
"Package," he repeats, dumbfounded.
I huff. "Your cock, okay?"
His eyes darken considerably. "Oh, God. Say it again."
My mind flashes to earlier, and my own response to hearing him say the same word. Suddenly emboldened, I take a step forward and reach out a single fingertip to draw a line around his belly button before leaning in to whisper in his ear. "Your cock," I breathe, and his body goes rigid. "I wrote that you have a particularly impressive cock." As I move to step back, his hands wrap around my biceps.
"And yet you have no first-hand knowledge," he pants, his eyes trained on my mouth.
"That's more Jessica's department," I murmur and he shakes his head.
"Not where I'm concerned," he says and I tamp down a smile.
"Good to know."
"It seems," he says, easing his grip to run his hands up to my shoulders, "that a good reporter would do a little more research before speculating on something of such a… delicate nature."
I glance down between us. "Delicate?" I allow my fingertip to follow the line of hair that disappears into the elastic of his boxer briefs peeking over the waistband of his jeans and he sucks in a breath. "I suppose that was rather irresponsible of me."
"It was," he agrees. "Though I'm willing to help you resolve that particular oversight."
"That's very big of you."
"So I've been told."
"And what would I owe you in return?"
He snorts. "Believe me, I'm fairly certain that the satisfaction of helping you in this particular endeavor will far outweigh any hardship on my end." One hand leaves my shoulder and traces the line of my clavicle to the center of my chest.
"You should know I don't generally do this," I say, even as my fingertips are reaching for his belt.
"You should know that neither do I," he replies, his hands sliding under my shirt to find the bare skin of my back. He lowers his head to bring his lips to mine, but before they can connect there's a knock at the door.
"Edward!" Emmett's voice is tentative, and I'm grateful beyond belief that he didn't just walk right in. Or show up thirty seconds later.
"Shit," Edward groans, then, raising his voice, "What?"
"Uh, the cops are here. I think the neighbors complained about the plunge. They want to talk to the person who owns the house."
"Son of a bitch," Edward mutters, pulling away to look into my face. He chuckles then, resting his forehead against mine. "Please tell me we can come back to this."
"I'm not sure I've met my burden of proof yet," I admit, and he beams as he pulls away from me, running a hand through his sadly not-yet-fucked hair.
"True enough." He grabs a long-sleeved thermal shirt from the bed and slips it over his head before holding a hand out to me. "Let's go meet some of Chicago's finest."
By the time Edward has mollified the police that his parents own the house and that the party is quiet and under control, most of the attendees have scattered and Jessica is ready to head home, Jasper having crashed and no other prospects in sight. She disappears to find her coat and purse and Edward shoves his hands into his pockets.
"Sorry," he says softly, and I shake my head.
"It was probably a good thing," I say, and his face falls. I hasten to reassure him. "I like to do a little more background on my subjects before I delve into the meat of the story."
He snorts. "Seems to me like you started with the meat this time."
He cups the back of his neck and I try not to notice the way his chest muscles ripple beneath the thin cotton of his shirt. "Can I take you to dinner?"
Unable to stop the unexpected swell of delight that surges through me, a pleased smile stretches across my face. "I'd like that."
He grins, then frowns slightly. "We have a meet in Wisconsin next weekend, but the weekend after that? Are you free?"
"I am," I say, and he takes a step toward me.
"Friday night? After the meet?"
He dips his head and his lips find mine briefly before I hear a muffled squeak from behind me. Jessica stands in the doorway, her purse clutched in her hand and her eyes as wide as saucers. Edward smiles lazily at her before planting a soft kiss on my forehead and stepping back. "I'll call you," he murmurs, and I nod before stepping through the front door.
"Oh my God, Bella," Jessica squeal-hisses beside me as we descend the porch steps and I hit the keyless entry remote to unlock my car. "As your friend and your fellow reporter, I'll be expecting confirmation of the finer points of our story."
I flick the headlights as I turn the key in the ignition and smirk into my rearview mirror as I shift the car into reverse. "Trust me, Jess. Confirmed."
True to his word, Edward calls. Monday night, when it's the slightly awkward and occasionally stilted conversation of two people who had what essentially amounts to a random hook-up and are trying to find comfortable conversational ground. Wednesday night, when he lets me vent about a freshman reporter whose lack of fact-checking almost got me in serious hot water with Angela and, by extension, our faculty adviser. Thursday night, when he tells me about the time he begged his parents to take him to see one of the Freddy Krueger movies and couldn't sleep in his own bed for a month. Friday night, when I find out he lost his virginity when he was fourteen, and when I admit that I gave it up more out of a desire to get rid of it than anything else during my freshman year at Northwestern. He calls from Wisconsin on Saturday afternoon, and I can hear a couple of his teammates ribbing him in the background. From the road on Sunday, when he tells me that he wishes our date was this weekend instead of next. By Monday, I find that I'm expecting his call, and he doesn't disappoint.
I run into him in the dining hall on Tuesday, dumping his garbage as I'm looking for a table. He grins at me and my knees go to jelly; I spend the rest of the day thanking my lucky stars I didn't drop my lunch all over the black and white checkered linoleum floor. On Wednesday he appears in the newsroom, smelling like chlorine, his damp hair curling at the back of his neck, bearing an enormous thermos of coffee that he says will fuel me into the wee hours. On Thursday, he calls just as I'm getting into bed, and we talk about more seemingly insignificant nothings until I fall asleep with the phone pressed to my ear. Friday morning, I wake to the sound of muffled grunts and a sleepy voice emanating from the speaker.
He chuckles, a low, raspy, sleep-rumbly laugh. "I can't believe you're still there."
"Mmm." I'm not particularly coherent before my morning coffee. There is a pause before his sleep-roughened voice comes across the line again.
"Would it be presumptuous to say I really hope I wake up to your voice again tomorrow morning?"
It occurs to me suddenly that it's Friday, our official date night, and I stretch, arching against my sheets as warmth suffuses my body. "That could be arranged," I murmur, hoping my voice sounds sexy-sleepy and not dopey-sleepy. "After all, I have unlimited minutes."
Another chuckle, and I think I could get used to waking up to a laughing Edward. "Good to know."
That afternoon I make my way toward the Aquatics Center feeling increasingly like a swim groupie. At a big university like Northwestern, where the major sports like football and basketball garner a considerable amount of support – and a considerable number of fans – being an avid swim team follower is sort of like being an indie rock band groupie, showing up at concerts no one else realizes are even happening and wearing t-shirts people squint at and ask you to explain. That being said, recent weeks have seen an increased interest in the swimmers, a fact for which I really have no one to blame but myself. And Angela.
As I step into the pool area, already shrugging out of my coat, I nearly crash into the back of Emmett's hulking frame; he and Rosalie are standing just inside the door scanning the bleachers for a place to sit. We exchange hellos and I follow them to an open row near the far end of the pool. Once we are situated, I reach up to gather my hair into a knot at the nape of my neck; scanning the swimmers, I see Edward standing beneath the scoreboard, waving his arms around in giant circles and still dressed in his warm-up suit.
A few races take place, none of which Edward participates in, and I watch attentively, clapping and cheering even as I spend more time sneaking glances at him. At times he seems more like an assistant coach than a participant, clapping some teammates on the back after they compete, engaging in serious conversations with others prior to their events. On a few occasions he seems to be giving pointers on technique, moving his arms a certain way or crouching down as if he is on the starting blocks. Nearly an hour into the meet, he sheds his black outer layers and begins stretching, his defined muscles shifting fluidly beneath the smooth planes of his skin.
I watch him closely, grateful that there's no longer any reason to pretend not to. He bounces on his toes and tips his head from side to side, stretching the muscles and tendons along his neck before scissoring his arms in front of him. I dip a quick look to his swimsuit, and when I lift my gaze to his face again his eyes are on me. I flush, and a small smile pulls at his mouth.
"Edward said you guys are going out to dinner tonight?" Rosalie's voice interrupts my blatant eyeballing, and I break his stare to smile at her.
"That's great." She pops her gum and I return my focus to Edward, who is talking to his coach. After a few minutes, a nasal voice informs us over a loudspeaker that the next event will be the 200-meter butterfly.
"It would be great if he could break it before the Big Tens," I hear Emmett say from the other side of Rose, and my eyes flicker to the records board on the far wall. According to the list, 1:45.04 is the time he's trying to beat, and I suddenly wish I knew more about swimming. Moments later a shrill whistle cuts through the hum of noise echoing in the cavernous space, and he makes his way to the starting blocks, snapping his goggles over his eyes. A few voices call out from the bleachers around us.
"Let's go, Edward!"
"You got this, Cullen!"
"Here we go, E!"
I watch, rapt, as he steps up onto the block, edging himself forward until long toes curl around the edge of it; I see his cheeks puff out as he takes a quick, deep breath and blows it out. On the official's command he curls his long body forward, gripping the edge of the platform with his fingers. After a breath the buzzer sounds, and he is flying through the air before smoothly breaking the surface of the water. He reappears a few moments later, and the sudden roar of the crowd is deafening. Even the usually unflappable Rosalie is standing in the bleacher space beside me, bouncing on her toes, her hands clasped together in front of her chest. I leap up to stand beside her, the sudden excitement in the pool area coursing through me.
"Go, Edward!" Rose screeches.
Emmett is standing next to her, his booming voice echoing her sentiment as others in the bleachers cheer fervently. I bounce alongside Rose, watching as Edward's swim cap appears and disappears beneath the water. I glance at the clock; I have no idea if he's making good time, but the people around me seem to be getting increasingly animated, and the feeling is contagious.
"Go, Edward!" Rosalie's voice is an octave higher this time, as Edward approaches the far wall of the pool and disappears beneath the water, executing what I assume is a perfect flip-turn and reappearing to head in the opposite direction. His long arms break the water's surface like wings and plant out ahead of him, dragging the rest of his body through the water with seemingly little effort. He is a good body length ahead of the next closest swimmer, and the distance seems to increase slightly with every pull of those muscled arms.
He reaches the starting end of the pool and flips to turn again.
"Holy shit, he might do it!" Emmett exclaims, and I feel a sudden squeeze on my bicep, where Rosalie has grabbed my arm.
"Come on, Edward!" she screeches as he slices through the water, and I find my own voice.
"Go! Go! Go!" In any other situation I'd feel ridiculous, but I can't deny the exhilaration coursing through me as I watch Edward and feel the hopes of the crowd building around me. "Go, Edward!"
His lead has extended to three body lengths, and yet even I realize that he's not racing his opponents anymore but the clock on the wall, ticking off time in hundredths of seconds. "Go!" I screech, and as he approaches the wall for his third and final flip-turn, I feel as though my heart might beat right out of my chest. "Go, Go, Go!"
Edward turns and breaks for the final length, his shoulder muscles bunching and water sluicing off his sculpted back.
"Holy SHIT!" Emmett hollers, just as Rosalie begins a steady chant of "Come on, come on, come ON!"
The screams of the crowd around us match ours as the place reaches the realization of what could be about to happen. I stop bouncing and stand stock still as I watch, suddenly wordless as I hold my breath and Edward's arms make one more arcing swoop through the air and disappear into the water to drag his body to the finish. The clock stops as his fingertips touch the wall, and there is a brief nanosecond of collective held breath as everyone in the stands looks to the clock.
And it's absolute pandemonium. Rose and Emmett are screaming and hugging and then Rose is hugging me as we jump up and down, the bleachers rumbling beneath us as the rest of the crowd has a similar reaction. I see Edward whip off his goggles and glance at the clock before pumping one fist in the air, turning as he treads water and scanning the bleachers. He finds us and points with both hands, Emmett pointing back at him while Rosalie and I clap above our heads, still screeching. Edward beams, his eyes meeting mine for a split second before he breaks eye contact to scan the crowd again. His gaze falls on someone a few rows down from us and his smile softens slightly as he again pumps his fist and points a finger before winking. I crane my neck but am unable to see over the still-celebrating rows of people ahead of us and return my focus to where Edward is being hauled from the water by his coach, who grabs him in a bear hug and claps him repeatedly on the back.
The announcement over the speaker about the milestone is nearly drowned out by the cheers that still ricochet off the walls, and I continue to watch Edward as he accepts congratulations from his teammates, the confident competitor I'd seen in the water suddenly giving way to a head-hanging, humble college kid.
"Oh my God, I can't believe it," Rosalie breathes beside me as she wipes beneath her eyes to erase any errant traces of mascara. "He did it."
Emmett is still beaming at Edward's back. "That's my boy," he grins, leaning forward to meet my eye around Rose. "You must be his good luck charm," he adds, and I flush. Good luck charm or no, I'm suddenly so, so happy that I didn't miss this.
As the bedlam gradually dies down and another heat of swimmers prepare for their race, I resituate myself next to Rose and crane my neck once again, glancing down the rows of bleachers ahead of us. Unable to identify anyone I recognize, I lean into Rose slightly. "Do you know who Edward was pointing to down there?"
Rose glances down the sloping seats and scans the crowd, frowning slightly until a smile lights her face. "Hey, his family's here! Emmett, look, they came!"
"Where?" I ask, still scanning the sea of heads.
"See the blond guy in the front row?" Rose says, pointing, and I follow the line of her finger to a head of styled fair hair in the front row just to the left of where we're sitting. "That's his dad. Carlisle. Next to him is his mom, Esme, and that's his little sister, Alice." She glances at me, her expression guarded. "Alice had cancer," she says after a moment. "That's why her hair is so short."
I glance at them again, noting the just-too-short-to-be-intentional pixie-like style of the small, dark-haired girl. "Yeah, he told me," I reply, and when I glance back at Rose her eyebrows are nearly at her hairline.
"He told you?" I nod slowly, somewhat taken aback by her surprise, and she shakes her head slightly. "Sorry. I'm just surprised. He doesn't really… tell people that."
"I don't think he planned on it," I admit, remembering my unintentional but significant faux pas. Our conversation is halted by the starting buzzer of the next race, and we return to being dutiful fans for the duration of the meet. Once the last race is over and the swimmers have slipped back into warm-up suits and dispersed, I see Edward making his way toward the bleachers, the strap of a black duffel bag slung diagonally across his torso. He finds my face and offers me a small smile before dropping his gaze to the faces of his family members who are standing below us. Almost instantly, the younger girl launches herself at him and wraps her arms around his neck; I can see his smile as he bands his arms around her waist and lifts her off the floor, holding her tightly for a few moments before lowering her and letting go to ruffle her short, spiky hair. I see his mother wrap her arms around him and hold him for a few beats before stepping back and his father reaching out to shake his hand before pulling him into an embrace and slapping him heartily between the shoulder blades. As he lets go, his mother cradles his jaw in the palm of her hand and says something and I can see a faint blush spread across his cheeks as he murmurs something in return.
"Come on," I hear Rosalie say as she grabs my arm again. "Let's go say hi."
"Um." I hesitate, and Rose's grip tightens.
"Don't be a chicken, Swan. Come on."
Even if I had a valid argument I know better than to disagree with Rose, so I grab my coat and follow her carefully down the bleacher steps, my mind flashing briefly to the sea of embarrassment I would drown in if I were to trip and tumble ass over teakettle down the makeshift staircase. As we approach Edward's family, Esme's smile grows even wider when she spots Emmett and Rosalie.
"Congratulations, buddy!" Emmett booms as he claps a hand on Edward's shoulder; Edward, in response, turns to face us, a smile splitting his beautiful face.
"Thanks, Em," he says, as Rose steps in to hug him and Emmett reaches out to shake Edward's dad's hand.
"We're so proud of you," Rose says, hugging him tightly before stepping back and pushing me toward him as she steps forward to hug his mom.
"Congratulations," I offer, my voice suddenly blocked by a knot of nerves at the back of my throat.
"Thank you," he says gently, and I am vaguely aware of Emmett and Rose making small talk with his parents and sister as we stand a foot apart, staring at each other until his mother's voice breaks our silence.
"Edward, aren't you going to introduce us?"
I'm all set to welcome the blush, but Edward's arm suddenly appears around my waist and he pulls me into his side ever so slightly. "Mom, Dad, Alice, this is Bella Swan. Bella, these are my parents, Carlisle and Esme, and my younger sister, Alice."
"It's nice to meet you," I say, drawing strength from the way his fingers curl around my hipbone – a fact that doesn't go unnoticed by his mother, whose gaze dips to his arm before lifting to my face with a bright smile.
"Oh, it's lovely to meet you, too," she breathes, and her glance at Edward tells me he's going to be on the receiving end of a maternal inquisition as soon as the spotlight of his record-breaking night has dimmed. "We were just going to ask if we could take you out to dinner to celebrate," she says to Edward, who glances at me and back toward his family.
"Uh, I sort of made plans with Bella tonight," he says, and I can tell from his tone that he feels badly. I also see Alice's face fall.
"Oh, God, no, don't worry about it," I say, waving my hand in the space between us as I step away from him slightly. "You go to dinner with your family. This is a big night! We can hang out another time." Even as I'm saying the words, I can feel the edge of disappointment nagging at me.
"Oh, goodness, dear, I meant all of you," Esme says quickly, waving her hand to indicate not only me, but Rose and Emmett as well.
"I never turn down an offer of free food," Emmett pipes up, and Rose swats him.
I am opening my mouth to protest when Edward leans down and ghosts a kiss over my temple before breathing into my ear, "Have dinner with us." I glance at his mother, who has witnessed the entire exchange and whose eyes are alight with a blend of badly-disguised curiosity and glee. I can only nod, knowing even as I do that I'm signing up to join Edward in the hot seat of the coming inquisition.
"Your family's really great," I say as Edward throws the car into park and turns off the ignition.
He beams at me. "Yeah, they are."
"It must be nice to have them so close," I add, unbuckling my seat belt.
"It is," he says, and his smile becomes slightly more devilish. "Though their unannounced arrival tonight put a bit of a crimp in my plans for the evening." He unbuckles his own seat belt and leans toward me. "I had big plans to kiss you over a small dinner table."
"Would you settle for a gearshift?" I half-joke, leaning slightly toward him.
His lips stretch into a smile for a brief second before they settle over mine, and when his mouth opens and I feel the warm, wet swipe of his tongue against my lower lip I am powerless against the small whimper that bubbles up in my throat. He deepens the kiss, winding his long fingers into the loose hair at the nape of my neck as his mouth slides over mine, and we make out in the front seat of his car for an indeterminate amount of time before I pull back, gazing into his face. His eyes are hooded, his cheeks are flushed, and his lips are kiss-bruised and swollen and perfect. I lick my own and his eyes flash as they drop to my mouth.
"Would you like to come in?" he asks my mouth, and I nearly laugh at the absurdity of his question.
"Edward, I left my car at the pool. What do you think?"
Those swollen lips spread into a grin and he pushes his door open as I do the same and follow him up the front steps and into his house. He has barely closed the front door behind us before I'm pinned up against it, his hungry mouth on mine and his hands in my hair. I give as good as I get, sucking his bottom lip between my teeth and relishing in the growl that escapes him. His mouth trails down the side of my neck and he bites gently at my collarbone as I glance around at our surroundings, the foyer shrouded in darkness.
"Edward," I breathe, and he grunts. "Edward, where are your roommates?"
"Don't know, don't care," he mutters into my skin, and I bring my hands up between us to push against his chest. He steps back slightly and gazes down at me, arousal thick and heavy in his eyes.
"Take me upstairs," I breathe, and he wastes no time in grabbing my hand and dragging me up the staircase and down the hall to his door. He all but throws it open, pulling me inside and slamming it behind us before pressing me against it in an instant replay of his actions in the foyer. He swoops in to claim my mouth again, but before he can I press on his chest to halt him, a frustrated growl rumbling in his chest as I attempt to gather my nerve.
"You had a big night tonight," I breathe, watching his chest rise and fall with his slightly labored breaths.
"Yes," he says, his fingers finding the hem of my sweater and lifting it as he lifts an eyebrow in question. I nod slightly, allowing him to pull it up and over my head, gratified by the way he exhales in a rush as his eyes fall on my tank top-clad breasts. "God," he breathes.
"A record-breaking night," I add, though he refuses to be distracted from staring at my chest.
"Will you get a medal?"
His confusion is enough to draw his focus away from my breasts and to my face. "What?"
I trail a single fingertip down the side of his neck and trace the neckline of his t-shirt. "Will you get a medal or a trophy or something?"
A slight frown creases his brow. "I don't know. They'll probably give me a plaque or something. I really don't know."
I continue the path of my fingertip, running it down the soft cotton covering his chest and veering to one side to run a light circle around his hidden nipple. He sucks in a breath. "I only ask because," I pause to span his chest and circle his other nipple, "it seems like you deserve a reward of some kind."
The small crease between his brows remains for mere moments until my implication hits him and his eyes widen slightly, a smile pulling the corners of his mouth up. "I do," he says after a moment, his hands finding the hem of my tank top and slipping beneath it to the bare skin of my stomach. "I absolutely do."
"And I was thinking," I continue, making a valiant effort to ignore his wandering fingertips and keep my voice steady as my own hands lower and grip the hem of his shirt. "I could… reward you and complete my research at the same time."
"That's awfully industrious of you," he breathes, and I take the opportunity to slip his top over his head, delighting in the way it tousles his already-disheveled hair as it slides up and off.
"You should know that I'm very thorough in my research," I continue, hoping I'm still making sense because his hands have returned to my skin and are skating upward, cupping the tops of my ribcage directly below my breasts.
"I can imagine," he says, and my hands flatten against his chest, rubbing over his torso and moving down his chiseled stomach to his waistband. I hesitate for only a moment before ghosting a touch over the button and pressing the heel of my hand to his button fly, where I can feel him straining the denim. He gasps and his head falls back, his eyes closing and his Adam's apple bobbing in his throat.
"I should also tell you that, based on the research I've already conducted, you're in a unique position to break more than one record tonight."
A smug smile is his response, though he doesn't open his eyes. "I'm delighted to hear it," he breathes, and after a beat I undo the top button. When he doesn't stop me, I undo the rest of them and tug gently on the denim, allowing the jeans to fall and pool at his feet. He steps out of them and I eye the considerable swell beneath the dark gray cotton of his boxer-briefs. Tearing my gaze away from the prize that awaits me, I meet his smoldering green eyes and lick my lips as I spin us so that his bare back meets the wood of the door.
"Ready for your prize?" I whisper, and I drop to my knees and reach for his waistband.
"God, yes," he breathes.
When I finally see Edward Cullen's junk without the barrier of purple spandex, it might be the first time in my life that my expectations weren't too high. In fact, I'd say he was being smothered by that tiny strip of fabric, and I'd probably be concerned for the well-being of my own brief-covered parts if I weren't so turned on.
I plant soft, chaste kisses to the insides of his thighs, enjoying the harsh sounds of his breathing, and when I bite the skin at his hipbone a jolt of arousal courses through me at his answering hiss. I lick the skin I've just bitten before running my lips across his pelvis just above where he's straining for me and do the same to his other hip, biting and licking away the sting as he moans. I gently scratch my nails up the insides of his thighs as I plant another kiss to the hair-lined skin beneath his belly button and I hear him whimper softly before I finally pull back and wrap my lips around the weeping tip of him.
He sucks in an audible breath and I hear a muffled thud as his head falls back against the wooden door. I swirl my tongue around the end of him and his fingers tangle themselves in my hair, but I pull back and return my mouth to his hipbone as a harsh groan comes from above me. I trail my mouth along his skin, following it closer and closer to the center of his body until his arousal is sliding against my cheek; I break the contact and go to his other hip and repeat the same pattern as he thrusts helplessly into the air when the skin of my other cheek slides along his length.
"God, Bella, you're killing me," he moans as I take his tip between my lips again, rolling my tongue around the end of him and tasting the salty proof of his excitement. His fingers tighten slightly against my scalp and I smile inwardly at the surge of lust-fueled power rocketing through me. I shift slightly, the ever-mounting evidence of my own arousal damp between my legs and I glance upward to see his eyes on my face. Not breaking our gaze, I pull off him and slip my tongue out from between my lips to flick at his head once before spreading my lips and taking him into my mouth, deeper and deeper until his tip hits the back of my throat. His sudden grip on my hair is nearly painful as his head slams back into the door and his hips twitch as if he is trying to hold himself back from thrusting into my mouth.
"Fuck," he moans, and I can see the muscles and tendons in his neck straining against his skin.
I hold him in my mouth for a few breaths, getting used to the feel of him in my throat while I remain still, before I pull back slightly and begin to let him slip in and out of my mouth, swirling my tongue around his rigid skin and gripping the inches of skin near the base of him that I know I won't be able to fit into my mouth. He grunts as I increase my suction and slide my hand up his thigh to cup his balls, rolling them gently in my hand as I slide the other one up his chest and run a fingertip around his nipple. Despite his efforts to hold back his hips twitch toward my face and I bring my hand back down his body to cup the back of his thigh and pull him into me.
"Fuck, Bella," he moans, taking the cue to begin thrusting shallowly into my mouth. "So good." I continue to stroke and suck and fondle him and his thrusts grow more erratic in time with his breathing as my own arousal continues to climb. "Oh, God. Bella, I'm getting close."
I keep up the rhythm but increase my suction around his shaft slightly as I hear him hiss through his teeth, his hands gripping my hair tightly as his hips continue to buck into my mouth. "Unh," he moans, and I can feel the thigh muscles beneath my palm tensing. "Unh." His legs begin to shake, and I hear him gasping. "Bella, God, fuck, Bella, I'm coming."
I pull him into me and suck hard, taking him as deep into my throat as I can. I feel him pulse and throb before the warm ribbons of his release coat the back of my throat and he roars, his head finding the door once again, his face a rictus of ecstasy. I swallow around him and he shudders; I run my tongue languidly around his softening length and he trembles above me as I slowly pull back, sliding the length of him out of my lips before placing a chaste kiss to the skin beneath his belly button.
"Jesus," he breathes, his head still tipped back; I rise and plant soft kisses to the side of his neck. Punch-drunk green eyes open and focus on me, and a lazy, satisfied smile slides across his face. "Who needs a medal?"
I return his smile and cup his jaw in my hand. "You liked your reward, then?"
His smile widens and his head lolls back and forth against the wood of the door. "I'm too blissed out to bring the banter," he says, "but I'll break every record in the book if it means I can experience that again." A giggle escapes me and he leans forward to press a kiss to my mouth; I hesitate, knowing I taste of him, but he pushes and his tongue enters my mouth, setting my own arousal aflame. "And I find myself indebted to you again," he murmurs against my lips. "What do you say we see about settling the score?"
"Aren't we even?"
"Does it matter?" he says, backing me toward his bed. "If so, consider it a reward for your due diligence." The backs of my knees meet the edge of his mattress and I allow myself to tumble backwards as his nimble fingers make quick work of the button of my jeans, sliding them down my legs and leaving me in a tank top and panties. He pauses, gazing down at me, and suddenly the playful Edward is gone and a more serious Edward is in his place. "God, you're beautiful," he mumbles, almost to himself, as his hands find the hem of my top. He slides it up and off and as he stares down at me lying in the pool of moonlight filtering through his bedroom window there's a fire behind his eyes. "So beautiful."
He steps toward me and I scoot back to his pillows, reclining on my elbows and watching the muscles of his shoulders bunching as he crawls up the bed toward me. When his mouth finds mine, I wrap my arms around his neck and lay back, Edward settling his weight on top of me, his naked body held in the cradle of my thighs. One of his hands ghosts down between us and slides over the damp strip of black satin between my legs; he grunts as I moan and wraps his fingers around the waistband of the briefs, hesitating for only a moment to give me a chance to stop him before he is sliding them down my legs. I kick them off and he angles his body to one side, those long fingers sliding back up my thigh and then through slick folds as his eyes roam my face.
"God, Edward," I breathe, bucking my hips slowly into his exploring fingertips, gasping as they slide over the bundle of nerves screaming for his attention. "Yes."
"Yeah?" he breathes, lowering his head to take my earlobe between his teeth and continuing his torturously slow circles against my flesh.
"Please," I whimper, trying to speed things up by lifting my hips. He slides his fingers around me once, twice more before dipping them down to slide two inside my body. I arch off the bed, bowing into his hand as he slides slowly in and out of me before adding a third finger and I cry out, loving the feel of being filled by him at the same time I want more. "Please," I say again, and I can feel the hot length of him against my thigh, hard as steel again already.
"Please what?" he murmurs, his hips rocking slightly against my thigh as he continues to finger me, picking up the pace and using his thumb to tease my clit.
"I want you," I say, my hips shamelessly meeting the thrusts of his hand, my fingers clutching the dark gray bed sheet.
"What do you want?"
"Please," I whisper, breathless, and as his fingers thrust in and out of me I can feel my peak approaching. "I want to come around you."
"Fuck, Bella," he gasps, continuing to fuck me with one hand while his other reaches toward his nightstand and fumbles in the drawer. "God, I want you." His fingers leave me trembling and needy as they work to unwrap the condom; as he slides it down his sizeable length, I bite my lip, realizing that I'm about to have every inch of Edward Cullen inside me. I should be apprehensive, but I'm too damn turned on to think about anything besides coming around the length of him.
He braces himself over me with his hands beside my head and presses his hips to mine, bending down to suck a nipple into the warm cavern of his mouth. I whimper and arch up into him, pressing my wet core against his body, delighting in his gasp. He moves to the other side and captures my other nipple, biting slightly at the peaked flesh before lowering himself to frame my head with his elbows. "Put me in," he breathes into my neck, and I slip a hand down between our bodies to find him, hard and pulsing and pressed between us. I line his tip up with the heart of me and guide it in before sliding both my hands to cup his hips. "God," he breathes, pressing his forehead to mine as he slides in a little farther. I shift as I adjust to his entry and he grunts as I move around him, murmuring "so tight" into the pillowcase beside my ear. He slides deeper and my breath hitches; it's been awhile, but even if it hadn't, he'd still be stretching me. He pulls back to look into my face. "You okay?"
I smile. "My assessment was right," I breathe, as the slight discomfort gives way to immense pleasure at being so full. "Record-breaking."
He snickers, but the laugh dies on his lips as I experimentally clench my inner walls around him. "Holy shit." He slides the rest of the way into me and pauses for a moment to let me adjust before he begins his retreat, sliding nearly all the way out before returning until our hips meet. My eyes drift shut as I focus on the feel of his rigid length sliding in and out of me, and when I begin to meet his thrusts he speeds up slightly, sliding his arms in to curl his fingers around my shoulders.
"God, Edward," I moan, my clit rubbing against his pelvic bone and spreading a familiar warmth through me; suddenly he angles his hips and his thrusts pick up speed and I cry out as he finds the spot inside me.
"There?" he asks, pulling back slightly to look at my face for confirmation.
"There," I pant as he continues his rhythm, hitting where I need him over and over as his pelvis continues to graze my clit. "Oh, God, don't stop."
"Come around me," he grits out, his words increasingly breathless. "I want to feel you come around me."
"Yes," I breathe, the steady slapping of our meeting skin audible in the darkness, green eyes boring down into me as his hips piston in and out of me, flattening me against his mattress. "So close."
"God, so close," he echoes, and I can feel his rhythm faltering slightly.
"Coming," I gasp, clutching at the skin of his back with my fingers as he drives into me, holding himself deep and swiveling his pelvic bone against my flesh as I seize and shudder around him. "God, I'm coming." My body is shuddering and my shoulders nearly arch up off the bed as waves of ecstasy flow over me, my inner walls contracting around the thick, hard length of him. "Fuck, Edward."
"So fucking hot," he gasps as the tension leaves my muscles and the tremors become less intense. He resumes his thrusts and I gasp as he slides against my hypersensitive flesh. "I need to come," he begs and I clutch his ass as he pistons in and out of me.
"Yes," I urge as he brings his chest flush with mine, burying his face in the crook of my neck. "Come inside me," I say, claiming his earlobe between my teeth, and he hisses and curses and goes rigid as I feel him throbbing and pulsing and emptying into the condom inside me. After a beat he goes boneless on top of me, his weight pressing me down into the mattress, and I wrap my legs around his hips and ghost my fingertips up and down his back. He moans, a satisfied, blissed-out moan this time, and I smile at the ceiling.
"Incredible," he murmurs into my hair, and he we stay joined for a beat until he pulls back, holding on to the bottom of the condom as he slides out of me, kissing me on the mouth before rolling toward his nightstand and grabbing a tissue to dispose of it.
"Long live the banana hammock," I reply and he chuckles, rolling back toward me and gathering me in his arms to kiss me lazily, his tongue dancing around in my mouth. We lay in his bed, blissful and spent, sharing languid kisses and caresses and ghosting touches across the planes of each other's skin until I feel him begin to harden against my hip again. He releases my mouth and drops a line of kisses along my jaw before lowering his mouth to my neck.
"If I may be so cocky," he breathes, descending to place a close-mouthed kiss on my sternum. "I do believe you implied that I broke more than just one record tonight." Another kiss, slightly lower this time. "There was my record for speed," he murmurs, kissing the skin between my breasts. "Then my record for size." He kisses the underside of my left breast. "It seems to me," a kiss to the underside of my right, "that there is at least one more to go." He kisses the expanse of skin between my ribs.
"What would that one be?" I ask, the breathless quality of my voice nullifying any cheekiness I was going for.
He pins me with a stare as his hands pin my wrists above my head. "Multiplicity."
And break it he does.