The mountain lion was perched on the top step of the ancient stone temple. Asleep. Legs and tail dangling. It was the perfect shot. I tried to focus the lens, but my camera felt so heavy and the viewfinder kept fogging up. I was so hot. I wiped the finder with the hem my shirt and looked again.
"Stop pointing that fucking thing at me. You said you were putting it away." Edward sat on the step with a bottle of Jack Daniels between his legs.
I pulled the camera down and looked at it again. This time I wiped the lens. I tried once more. As I focused my lens, Edward was taking a pull straight from the bottle and the mountain lion was curled at his feet. I clicked off several rapid shots as Edward slammed the bottle down, shattering it. The lion, now awake, growled as it lifted its head and its ears shot up. I braced for it to pounce on me. Instead, Edward jumped from the top step. In one leap, he was on top of me, pinning me to the dusty ground. My camera rolled from my hands, away from us. His hands gripped my arms. I was encased by him.
"Why are you following me?" he demanded. His eyes were cold and his voice was rough even though his body was radiating warmth and softness. The contrast left me confused and paralyzed.
I should have been afraid. I should have been fighting to get him off me. But I couldn't. I was lost in his smell and the weight of his body on mine. It had been a long time since a man had been on top of me. "I'm not. I'm...I'm...I'm trying to help you," I attempted to explain.
"Can't you just leave me alone?" He leaned closer. His face was so close. I could feel his breath on my cheek. "You don't even know who I am!" He pulled back slightly and for some reason that wasn't what I wanted. There was a sadness in his eyes now. A familiar sadness.
I wanted to make his sorrow go away. I wanted to kiss it away. I put my hands up and softly stroked his chest feeling the muscles beneath his soft shirt. I pulled him closer until I could almost press my lips against his neck. "I want to know you. Let me know you." I couldn't get close enough to him.
He pressed back into me. "Why?" he asked. "Why should I let you in?"
Why indeed? I didn't have an answer, but I knew one thing for sure. I wanted to press my lips against his. Just once. Just because they were right there. I closed my eyes and puckered my lips, tilting my head so our lips would connect.
Just then, the mountain lion hissed. Instinctively, I opened my eyes.
I was awake.
I was in my tent.
I wasn't alone.
I blinked a few times, gaining focus on the tent ceiling. Dawn was breaking and the tent walls were glowing yellow. I wasn't cold anymore. In fact, I felt all warm and cozy. Edward was draped over me like a warm blanket. My camp pillow was gone and in its place was his right arm. His head was resting on my left shoulder and his leg was draped across my abdomen. Sweet Jesus. His left hand was gripping my hip. What the hell was he dreaming? He was climbing me like a tree! My own dream came slamming back into my head, and I took stock of my position. I could feel his skin under my left hand, which was tucked under the waistband of his shorts. My right was halfway up the front of his sweatshirt. I flexed my fingers and felt muscle, skin, hair. I had also twisted my legs around his in a shameless attempt to keep warm.
I have to get out of here. Out of him. Out of this tent.
Trying to control my growing panic, I began to untangle myself as carefully as possible. As much as I enjoyed his warmth, it was his unpredictable wrath that motivated me to scoot out from his clutches. I managed to wiggle my legs, but he was laying on my left arm. I managed to almost pry myself free when I felt my bracelet get stuck on his sweatshirt. NO! I hadn't taken this bracelet off in almost three years. It was just a simple charm bracelet, but it was something I bought for myself a while ago traveling in France. Over the years, I added charms to remind me of where I had been and celebrate my independence. I loved this bracelet and all it represented. I was willing to never see it ever again if I could just get free without waking this sleeping lion. After struggling for a few minutes, I laid back irritated.
Why is this happening? Why are they on my mountain? Why did they get lost? And why the fuck is he all over me like butter on toast?
My panic and heart rate were rapidly increasing. Part of me wanted to just shove him the hell off of me and wake his ass. But I knew he'd find some way to put this back on me. In a final attempt to be stealthy, I gently pushed against his chest. Before I had a chance to react, he let out a sleepy sigh and pulled me even closer and looped his leg back over mine.
At this point, my heart was drumming so hard I could feel it in my ears. Don't wake up. Don't wake up. Hello God, it's me Bella, please don't let him wake up! Fuck.
He squeezed my hip again. "Mmm." His head shifted into the crook of my neck while his hand moved from my hip up towards my waist. My jacket had ridden up at some point during the night and now Edward was going to first base in his sleep. This just kept getting worse. I might have noticed how soft and warm his hand was against my skin if I wasn't at DEFCON 1. Lights, alarms, sirens all going off in my head and chest. His fingers caressed my ribcage and his thumb brushed across my chest.
"Mmm, you feel so good..." he mumbled while nestling his nose further into my neck.
You have got to be kidding me. Please stop talking, you hate me.
"Touch me...right there..." he breathed. Oh, for the love of God!
His face tilted up to turn and his hand was about to round first when his eyes started to flutter. I lay paralyzed and squeezed my eyes shut afraid to see what would happen next. His lips barely touched my neck as he lifted his face to mine. I opened one eye and saw his green ones looking back at me. Confusion, sleep, and lust mixed with some of that all too familiar animosity was evident in the look he gave me as he assessed our current situation. His hand stilled, froze actually.
"What the fuuuck?" he whispered harshly. I wasn't sure if he was talking to me or himself.
"Um, good morning?" I mumbled, smiling meekly.
He roughly removed his hand from my chest and rolled away from me. My bracelet was still attached to his sweatshirt and my arm was now pinned under his back. I peeked over at him. His cheeks were pink and his eyebrows pinched together as he avoided looking anywhere near me. He sat up and pulled his knees in towards his chest running both hands through his hair. I turned to my side, quickly trying to keep my bracelet from breaking while I tried to unsnag it.
"Jesus, can't you keep your goddamn hands to yourself?" he snapped.
I looked over my shoulder and made sure Emmett is still asleep. He hasn't moved all night. I hope he's still alive. Turning back to my hand, I finished working the piece of thread back through my bracelet, finally freeing it.
"Will you be quiet? You're going to wake him up." My hands were shaking. I was so embarrassed and uncomfortable and mad as hell that he was making me feel like this in my own home … or tent.
"Well, it should have been him you were getting all friendly with. Not me."
"I'm pretty sure that it was your hand up my shirt, pervert," I whisper yelled. He looked down at me with wide eyes. "And you talk in your sleep, too, by the way. Don't try and put this all on me." I glared back at him, waiting for his next snide remark, but it never came.
He clenched his jaw and pursed his lips tightly. He was practically breathing fire through his nose. I watched him struggle with his boots as he pulled them on and tried to stand up. The tent was only three feet high at its peak. He swore as he pulled on the zipper and strode off, leaving the tent door flapping behind him.
I laid back on my pillow, and I tried to quiet my heart and racing thoughts, sorting through what had just happened. What a bonafied asshole, telling me to keep my hands to myself? I bet that man would start a fight in an empty house. I took a deep breath and steeled myself. I was not going to let him get in my head. I just needed to get Edward and Emmett back to their car and out of my life.
His hands did feel so nice. Arg! Focus!
I rubbed my hands over my face and grabbed my boots. I had to pee and really wanted a cup of coffee. I checked on Emmett and covered him up with the sleeping bag. I shook my head and smiled at his ability to sleep or laugh through all the drama. I grabbed my toiletries bag and closed the tent behind me.
Feeling much better with fresh breath and empty bladder, I made my way back to the campsite. I slowed my pace when I saw Edward sitting on a rock with his sweatshirt pulled up under his chin as he scratched chest. It was obvious he had a good body, but seeing it was a different story entirely. He raised his eyes to me as I quickly averted my eyes to his face. He huffed and swiftly tugged down his sweatshirt.
His eyes narrowed into emerald slits. "What exactly happened last night?" he spat.
I stopped in my tracks and let out a nervous, ridiculous cackle-laugh. "Nothing, you delusional oaf! What are you talking about?"
Sitting up straight, he closed his eyes and took a deep breath. When he opened them his eyes were still cold, but his voice was more controlled.
"Did you do something last night while I was sleeping? To me?" he practically accused.
This time my laugh was more like a shout. I felt my anxiety kick in as my heart revved its engine. "You either have multiple personality disorder or you're fucking insane." My voice escalated in sync with my heart beat. "Either way, I didn't do anything to you except share my food, my tent, my coat, and my sleeping bag!"
I was mindful of a sleeping Emmett but couldn't help the fury from bubbling over. I could feel my eyes prick with tears and my throat constrict at his accusations. I tried to rein in my emotions. I had a tendency to cry when I got angry or frustrated, and I was maxing out on both. Edward had an uncanny ability to push all my buttons, good and bad. Add that to the fact that I really didn't sleep last night and I was teetering on the edge of meltdown. I held it together by a thread, motivated that there was no way in hell this man was going to see me cry. Maybe I just needed some coffee. Now.
"Then explain this!" he hissed jerking his sweatshirt back up revealing red and aggravated skin along his abdomen. "You were the one with your hand glued to my back. You gave me a fucking rash or something!"
I walked closer to him and bent my knees to get a better look. Uh-oh. I looked around his waistline. He had an angry rash wrapping around his lower back and creeping up his chest. His eyes followed my movements closely with an angry scowl on his face. "So? Can you explain this?"
I ignored him and swallowed the lump in my throat as I looked closer at his legs. Several splotches of raised, red patches covered his calves. I wanted to take a look at his back. This is such sweet justice.
I looked back up at him. "Yes, City Boy. You are obviously severely allergic to me. You've broken out in hives probably just from the close proximity. Since you were sleeping on top of me last night with your hand up my shirt, it's real bad." My tone dripped with sarcasm.
He glared at me. His chest was rising and falling with deep controlled breaths, but his face couldn't hide his temper.
I stood up and folded my arms across my chest. I held his stare. "Or..." I paused before delivering my revelation with smug satisfaction "...you have poison oak."
Edward's face went from red to white as his jaw dropped. He bent over and immediately began inspecting his legs. "Fuck!'' He looked back at me, panicked. "Are you joking me right now? You think I have poison oak?"
"I know you do." Poison oak took about a 24 hours to surface and caused an unmistakable rash.
He began frantically scratching up and down his legs. "What are we going to do?"
"We?" I asked incredulously. "What are we going to do?"
He looked back at me with a mixture of anger and remorse. He totally had this coming to him for being such a colossal dick, but I did feel a smidgen of pity for the man. He was going to remember this trip because he would be itching for at least the next two weeks. He moved both hands to his back and began scratching under his sweatshirt.
I rolled my eyes. "Stop scratching. You are going to make it worse. Take off your sweatshirt and let me see how bad it is."
For once he didn't argue with me. He reached behind his neck and pulled his sweatshirt and undershirt off in one swoop. I walked around him inspecting his exposed skin. His back didn't look as bad as his legs but there was a bumpy red line that disappeared under the waistband of his shorts in back.
"Do you itch anywhere else?" I hinted.
He pulled his top lip into his mouth and looked at me with wide eyes. "What do you mean?"
I raised my eyebrows at him. "I mean do you itch anywhere else? Anywhere I can't see?"
We stood about a foot apart staring at each other for several very long moments. He knew what I meant and there was no way in hell I wanted to help him there. It felt like a standoff.
I shifted my feet and tossed my arms up. "Well? It's not a trick question, Edward. I don't want to see it. I'm just trying to help you." Those words felt like a deja vu in my mouth. I rubbed my eyes. "Just forget it. If you do itch...there...um, just don't, you know, scratch. Okay?"
"I fucking itch everywhere!" he shouted at me.
"Well, don't yell at me! I didn't give it to you! You probably got it traipsing around God knows where with Emmett. And, maybe you should be more careful where you drop your pants!"
If possible, his glare hardened and he opened his mouth to argue. "You don't know..."
I rolled my eyes and held up my hand to stop him. "Oh, just relax. You make me nervous when you yell at me," I snapped, revealing too much. "Let me see what I have in my first aid kit. Just sit still and don't itch."
"How do I not itch?" he asked frustratedly.
"Whatever. Don't scratch." I stalked off to get my bag from the tent.
When I opened the tent door, Emmett rolled his head towards me. He was still all wrapped up in the sleeping bag. He must have been smiling because his eyes were twinkling, but I couldn't see the rest of his face.
"Morning, Bella. What's up?" He arched his back and stretched his arms over his head. "You need any help with breakfast? I am starving."
I smiled at his uncanny ability to make me forget his asshole of a friend. "I'll start breakfast in a bit. Do you drink coffee? I am dying for coffee." I fussed around in the tent until I found my bag. More digging. I pulled out my first aid kit and searched for something that might help Edward.
"Are you ever coming back?" Edward squawked from outside.
Emmett chuckled. "What's going on?"
I rolled my eyes and continued my search. "Well, your boy woke up with poison oak adding pain and suffering to his charm." I looked back to Emmett. "You better check yourself to makes sure you don't have it."
Emmett's blue eyes grew wide before they disappeared as he started shaking with laughter. "Aw man, that sucks! Edward with poison oak, that is awesome! I love it!" He sat up suddenly and began looking over his legs. "Oh shit, what if I do have it?" His mind was on rapid fire this morning. He pulled up his fleece and shirt, not bothering to unzip his jacket. His chest was chiseled to perfection and it flexed each time he twisted or moved.
Please God, let him have just a little on that chest so I can rub some calamine lotion on it. It was also clear of any of the telltale red patches of poison oak. Damn.
"I don't itch anywhere." I wasn't sure if he was having a conversation with me or himself.
I concentrated on looking for the lotion because I could feel the drool pooling in my mouth after looking at Emmett's chest. Jackpot! I found a mix of poison ivy and oak swabs as well as some scrub that should work on Edward.
"Helloooo? What are you doing? I'm dying out here, and you told me not to scratch!" Edward bellowed from outside the tent.
I giggled. "You sure know how to pick 'em, Emmett! I better go check on him before he breaks out in hives too."
Edward was sitting on his rock again, sweatshirt back in place and looking very uncomfortable. He was twitching and squirming but stilled himself when he saw me approach. His face was unreadable, but his eyes followed my every move like I was his prey. It completely unnerved me. I quickly tossed him the packet of swabs and the bottle of ivy scrub. He caught the bag and began to look through it.
"I'm going to make some coffee. Do you want any?" I asked as I began prepping my camping stove for breakfast. I laid out a pan for pancakes and grabbed a large pot to fetch some water from the creek. I pulled out the eggs and carefully placed them in another aluminum pot. Edward had not answered me. When I glanced over at him, I froze when my eyes met his. The intensity in his stare was enough to melt glass and the scowl on his face felt unwarranted.
"What?" I asked. "You're not speaking now?"
He licked his lips but still said nothing.
The hairs on the back of my neck stood up and and I could feel my arms break out in goose bumps. When I shivered, I couldn't tell if it was the chill in the air or the hostility radiating off of him. An hour ago, this man was lying on top of me and now I felt like he wanted to punch me. I didn't know if I wanted to lick his lips or bolt for the hills. My heart started to pound and my legs began to shake. I could feel myself unravelling for the second time this morning.
"How about this? I am going to fill this pot up with water because I just can't deal with your shit if I don't get some caffeine. You need to use that scrub. You can follow me down to the creek or you can sit up here and scratch." I grabbed the pot and, with an exaggerated swing, stomped off in a huff.
Drawing the cold stream water through the purifier was cathartic. I needed to let off some much needed steam and the methodical push and pull of the water pump was calming my nerves. It took some effort to get safe drinking water in the wilderness but it was worth it. Putting pills in water to make it clean just didn't make sense to me. Plus, they made the water taste funny. I had the pot about half-way filled when I heard the crunch of the gravel behind me. I didn't bother turning around or looking up but eventually saw Edward in my peripheral vision.
He didn't speak, but I felt him looking me. The water purifier felt the brunt of my anxiety as I filled up the rest of the pot in record time. My bicep started to burn, so I stopped pumping and stood up, holding the pot in one hand and the filter in the other. Just be nice.
"Hey," Edward began softly. "Look, I'm sorry. I, um, yeah, I'm sorry." Edward stuttered while he looked at his boots before meeting my eyes and waiting for my reply.
I was taken aback. That was not what I was expecting. I let out a deep breath and smiled softly at him. He was a mess of a man.
"Wow. I am sure that was really difficult for you." I spat.
Bella! Be nice.
I tried again. "Look, it's not that big of a deal. I just so don't understand you. But whatever. Emmett said you have some issues so I guess I'll chalk it up to just that - your hang-ups." I paused because I could feel myself going down the wrong path again. "So, you're going to want to use that scrub soon. It says the earlier you wash with it, the better your chances are for a quick recovery. Just strip down here and put it everywhere and scrub hard before you wash it off."
Edward nodded his head and looked at the tube in his hands. His face was soft and thoughtful as he seemed to struggle for something to say. "Thank you, Bella. I mean it. And I am really sorry for being such a dick." He pulled his hand through his hair before absently scratching his lower back. "I have no excuse. I just..." He closed his eyes and shook his head.
"Like I said, it's no biggie." I saved him from his apology because it was making me even more uncomfortable than his temper. The pot was becoming heavy in my hand, so I set it down. "Poison oak would make me ugly, too." I covered, knowing whatever was making Edward so hostile went well beyond an itchy rash.
He chuckled softly. "Ugly. Yeah. It is driving me NUTS right now!" He pulled off his sweatshirt once again. "Is it really bad? You've seen worse right?" His eyes looked so vulnerable in that moment. His moods changed faster than a wolf at midnight, but when he looked at me like that, humble and sincere, I wanted to move mountains for him. And that feeling really freaked me out, so I quickly shook it off.
"Well, I'm not a doctor, but it looks like it could be worse." Out of his sight, I cringed. I hadn't seen poison oak this bad … ever. He looked like he rolled in it. He was destined to be hurting for a long time. I took a moment to appreciate his back. His shoulders were broad and his back was lean but well, very well, defined. As my eyes traveled down his back I focused on the mean strip of skin just about his waistband. It looked like he had been sleeping with sandpaper. The majority of the rash was in the middle of his back and the backs of his calves. "Well, you really have it worse on your back." I told him as I bent closer to get a better look.
"So do you mind … um … I mean, I can probably reach it if you just show me … I would rather you than Emmett ..." He fumbled over his words.
At this point, I was convinced that I was the one on the emotional merry-go-round because instead of being annoyed at his half-assed apology and audacity to ask for help, I found him endearing. I had an inexplicable desire to be the one who could make him happy.
"Here," I commanded, reaching my hand out for the tube. "Move down towards the stream, and I can at least get you started."
We walked down to the stream and Edward took off his shoes and stepped his feet into the cold water before I could warn him. "SHIT! That is fucking freezing."
"Hmmm." I couldn't offer more because I realized I had just committed to basically giving him a rubdown in the wilderness. This idea was better in theory. It had been a long time since these hands had touched a man's back, or a man's front for that matter. Aside from the poison oak, his skin was flawless. It was alabaster pale, but perfectly smooth. My hands shook as I tried to decide where to begin. I squirted a goop of the soap into my palm and forced my hand onto the middle of his back. I meant to be gentle, but I was so nervous I basically slapped him. His muscles twitched and flexed when I made contact and goose bumps broke out across his skin. I froze instantly.
"I'm sorry." I apologized quickly. "Did that hurt?" I wanted a reason to quit.
"No, it's just so fucking cold," he said roughly. "Just keep going." I could see his breath as he exhaled with a shudder.
"Um, okay. I'll work fast." I quickly and a bit haphazardly applied the cream, working the middle of his back, silently avoiding the stretch of skin above his waist band. He held himself stock still while I rubbed his back with the sandy scrub, making me more self-conscious of my movements. I had shared more intimate moments with this man in the past 12 hours than I had with anyone in the past two years. After a few seemingly endless minutes, I stepped back, holding my hands out to the side.
I breathed out heavily. "There. I think you'll survive." I laughed nervously.
Edward twisted his head back trying to look down his back. "Really?" When he looked back up at me, I realized how close I was standing to him. Before I could answer him, I was momentarily hypnotized by his warm breath as he exhaled. I stepped back quickly, tumbling over my pot of water. I screamed as I landed on my ass in the puddle.
Before I could catch my bearings, Edward hoisted me up by grabbing me under my arms like a rag doll and putting me back on my feet.
"You okay?" He looked at me intently, his hands were still under my arms, but now they felt too close to my boobs.
I could not look at him. He was shirtless, covered in goop, and practically feeling me up. I felt my entire body break out in a hot flash.
"Yeah, I'm fine," I clipped, bending down to pick up the pot. "I'm mortified, but I'm fine." I walked back over to the stream and began to clean off my hands.
"You should rinse," I said, changing the subject.
There was a comfortable silence between us as I refilled the water pot and Edward focused on his poison oak remedy. I had no clue how to have small talk with him and I still couldn't figure out if we were even friends or not. He clearly didn't like or trust me.
"So, you and Emmett?" Edward interrupted my thought rambling and completely caught me off guard.
"What? Why would you think that?" I scoffed.
"You know he dated Penny Hale for a long time. Then fucked around with Stella Brandon." He said, ignoring my question, but making me even more confused.
I looked up at him. He was drying off his chest with t-shirt, but his eyes were on me. I had no clue who he was talking about but knew that he wanted it to matter to me.
"Am I supposed to know those people? And even if I did, it concerns me … how?" I prompted, quirking my eyebrow at him in question.
"He's just not that serious with girls." He shrugged. "And he only dates celebrities."
Again, I was flabbergasted by the sharp direction change of our conversation. "Who said I wanted to date him? Maybe I just want to use him for his body." I wanted to blow raspberries at him and had to tightly purse my lips to keep them from doing just that.
He ignored my comment and continued. "All he does is work out. He is obsessed with his body, flexing all the time. Looking in the mirror. He also blinks a lot when he gets nervous and when he doesn't know what you're talking about, he rubs his chin and says something like 'Yeah, I read about that in the Journal.'" He mimicked Emmett's supposed habit, making a face and deepening his voice. "As if! He doesn't read the Wall Street Journal or any other newspaper! He doesn't even read." Edward was on a roll.
I couldn't help the grin that spread across my face. "Gosh, Edward. What do you really think? I thought Emmett was your friend."
Edward stopped his rant and looked up at me, then blinked, multiple times. Interesting. He regained his composure and pulled his sweatshirt on over his head and squared his shoulders.
"He is my friend." He backpedalled. "We are friends. But we mainly just work together."
This sparked something. "Yeah, he mentioned that too. What is it you do?" I stood up and motioned to him that I was ready to head back to camp.
He looked at me funny, questioning. He didn't answer me, but he reached out and carefully took the heavy pot of water from my hands. His fingers grazed over mine and sent chills up my arm so fast, I almost spilled the pot again. He never took his eyes off of me. I could tell something was brewing behind those green eyes, but I could begin to label it.
"Tennessee Daniels?" he asked softly, tentatively.
I brightened, recalling my word association game with Emmett. "Yes!"
His face instantly fell and he stepped back. We started to walk back to camp in silence. I was confused by his vacillating moods but wanted to keep the energy between us on a positive note.
"So, Emmett mentioned you work in Temple or for a temple?" I tried to recall our conversation last night.
Edward stopped walking and looked at me. "A temple? He actually said I worked in a temple?" It felt like he was studying me, but it was I who would either pass or fail. It made me very nervous.
"Well, yeah sorta … with troubled kids or something." I stammered, wracking my sleep-deprived brain.
He narrowed his eyes at me and then sucked in his cheeks, which caused his lips to do this beautiful pouty thing. I felt my heart hammering in my throat. I began to feel foolish and the heat wave began anew.
"That's not what you do is it?" I asked, embarrassed.
"No. It's not what I do," he replied, his eyes softened.
"No troubled kids?"
He shook his head silently.
"Ooookay." I was held captive by his gaze. I waited for him to continue the conversation like a normal person, but he didn't. He just looked at me. This was another standoff. Again, I was the one to cave. I closed my eyes and filled my lungs with the cold mountain air. "I need coffee." I declared and strode off into camp to make Emmett-who-only-dates-celebrities and his co-worker breakfast.
"That was soo awesome!" Emmett pushed his chest out and stretched his hands above his head. He had put away six eggs, about five pancakes and two bowls of oatmeal. He certainly lightened my pack. Edward ate his share too; he was just not as vocal about it. Where Emmett moaned, mmmm'd, and smacked his lips, Edward just chewed silently and smiled when I asked him if he wanted seconds. I just kept loading his plate up until he stood quietly and scraped his plate clean into the bushes.
"Did you get enough? I think I have more oatmeal," I offered.
"Nope. I am all good." He stretched and stood up as well. "So how long is our hike today?"
"I think we can get back to the cars in just under four hours." I began separating some of my leftover food into a pack for lunch. If we left soon, we'd be back around 1:00 this afternoon. It felt like we had been out here forever. It was hard to believe it was less than 24 hours since I ran into these two at the trailhead. My stomach tightened as I wondered if I would ever see them after this. Why do I even care? Edward is just like a bad penny, always turning up.
It had been a long time since I had hiked with others. I loved the solitude of trekking through the forest and losing myself in the sights, sounds, and smells that made each trail unique. Hiking with Edward and Emmett was anything but peaceful. Mo and Larry would have been better companions on a hike, but I couldn't say they weren't entertaining. We had packed out of camp relatively fast, and had been hiking, if you could call it that, rather slowly. Emmett was a bottomless pit and had stopped twice to get food out of his pack. Edward, on the other hand, was very concerned about mountain lions, bears, and lack of water. We had already stopped once to refill his water bottle from stream once and three times to pee. Our four hour trip was going to take more like seven at the rate we were going.
"Trust me, Edward. Any cat, doesn't matter which kind, screams emo-pussy-whipped-Mama's boy! You have at least a 75% less chance of getting laid if you have a cat as a pet." Emmett turned and pointed his finger at me. "And that statistic goes for up chicks, Bella."
"Noted, Emmett. No cats equals more sex." I smirked, rolling my eyes. I doubted my lack of cats was contributing to the number of men who had not graced my bed lately.
These two had been debating which pet would attract the most sexual partners for the past two miles. I kept quiet trying to determine how to steer the conversation off of sex, but no matter how I tried, one of them managed to bring the topic back to how to get more girls into bed.
"I'm not buying it!" Edward sounded amused. "Where'd you get that statistic, Em?" He turned to me, beamed, and lifted his eyebrows.
"Uh, I believe it was in the Wall Street last week," Emmett said soundly. "Sexual statistics or something like that." Totally convincing.
I couldn't help but laugh at the fact that Edward's prediction had come true.
"Hey, speaking of the Journal, did you read last week's article about Gibson's guitars getting raided in Memphis? They are really cracking down!" Edward's eyes were blazing and he licked his teeth before grinning widely waiting for Emmett's response.
I chanced a look at Emmett and almost laughed out loud because he was a blinking fool. He stopped walking and rubbed his eye.
"Emmett are you alright? Did you get something in your eyes?" I managed to sound genuinely concerned.
Emmett shook it off convincingly. "Yeah, I think it was a bug. Can you take a look?" He smirked before the bent towards me and opened his eyes wide.
Damn these boys and their pretty eyes.
I played along and steadied myself putting my hands on Emmett's shoulders looked into his eyes. "Look up."
"He doesn't have a bug in his eye," Edward whined. "Come on. We're wasting time, and I itch like a motherfucker. I want to take a real fucking shower." He started to scrape his hand across his lower back.
I kept my eyes on Emmett and put my right hand on his cheek and gently pulling down the skin under his eye. There tucked near his tear duct was a tiny gnat.
I smiled triumphantly and lightly ran my index finger across the bottom of his eye and got the bug out. I held my finger up for him to see. "Got it!"
Edward almost fell over trying to see the evidence, but Emmett just grabbed my face and kissed me square on the lips. "Bella, you are a lifesaver!"
If Emmett had not been holding my face in his big hands, it would have hit dirt. He pulled back from me all teeth and dimples. While I was completely stunned, I immediately began rationalizing that it wasn't really a kiss ... it was more like a … shit, that was a kiss. My lips were wet. It was definitely a kiss.
I touched my lips with my fingertips but tried to play it off as I began down the trail again. "All in a day's work, Emmett!" Edward was in front of me unmoving, mouth agape. I didn't want to even acknowledge the awkwardness, so I just gave his chest a friendly shove and told him to keep moving. He snapped his mouth shut, and I saw his jaw tense before he turned and began walking in front of me. As Emmett began to whistle behind me, I could feel the tension rolling off of Edward. His body language was clear. Head down, shoulders hunched, hands were trying to find his pockets.
"So, I did read that article you were talking about," I began timidly. For reasons I couldn't explain to myself, I didn't want Edward thinking I invited that kiss from Emmett.
Edward kept his head down and didn't reply to my comment so I continued, "Yeah, the wood they are using for the guitars is endangered. So, I think the executives should be sanctioned, but it is stupid to arrest the factory workers. Like they can tell the difference between zebra wood and ebony."
Edward stumbled on a root but quickly found his footing and rubbed the back of his neck. He didn't turn around, but he did finally engage me in the conversation he started. "I actually agree with you about the sanctions, but I have a zebra wood Gibson, and there is no mistaking it for ebony. I'm sure the workers can tell a difference but aren't willing to risk their hourly wage to blow the whistle."
Speaking of whistling, the pied piper had quieted down a bit behind me. I turned to make sure was was still with us. Emmett had his head down, but I could see the smirk on his face. I turned back around and decided to ask Edward about his guitar.
"So, you're a musician then? What kind of music do you play?" He didn't look like a country music kind of guy, but Tennessee Daniels sounded pretty country to me. He obviously was pretty good. Is that why Emmett only dates celebrities?
Emmett coughed loudly. Edward looked at me over his shoulder. "I mess around here and there."
"Have you cut an album?" I asked, applauding my use of the word "cut." I read Rolling Stone on occasion. I was so going to search Temple of Trouble on iTunes when I got home. Everything was making so much more sense. He was some sort of rockstar. That's why he was so defensive about being photographed. It also explained why those little girls were all over him when we first met. Maybe he sang teeny bopper stuff. That was a little less cool but interesting for sure.
He chuckled, stopped, and looked at me. "Um, …"
His sudden stop caused me to misstep and my boot caught a rock. I heard myself scream before I went barreling into him, face to chest. His arms wrapped around me as he staggered back. I thought we were going down, but he steadied us, slowing righting my feet to the ground. With one strong arm securely wrapped around my waist, the other hand carefully brushed my hair out of my eyes and settled on holding my face.
"Are you alright?" I felt his thumb gently rub my cheek.
His eyes were soft, genuinely concerned. So different than they had been. My mind began to swirl reality and fantasy together. I thought about the way our bodies laid tangled together this morning. I remembered the heat and the comfort being in his arms gave me. I imagined how his skin would feel under my hands. I pictured his hands, his fingers sweeping across my body, leaving goosebumps in their wake. More than anything, I wanted to remain in his grasp with his hand on my face as he kissed me. Oh how I wanted him to kiss me. Slowly, sensually. I wanted it hot and wet. I wanted him to fuel the fire that was already burning in me.
"Bella?" His voice even sounded soft, like melted butter. Mmmmm. Whoa, Nellie. Snap out of it! I moved my hands from his back to his biceps and looked down to make sure my feet were steady. My fingers tensed slightly, feeling his muscles beneath the fabric of his sweatshirt. I felt my face heat with embarrassment, not from the trip but because I felt so transparent.
"I'm okay," I said shakily, even though I was anything but.
"You really have no idea who I am, do you?"
I wanted to know him. I wanted to know everything about him. "You're Edward," I mumbled like an idiot.
"And I'm hungry!" Emmett shouted, giving Edward a good shove on the shoulder as he passed us. Edward dropped both of his hands, breaking the spell he had me under.
"We really should try to get a little farther before we stop," I said clearly. Our eyes met one more time before he turned and started following Emmett.
"I think we should keep going, man. If you keep eating the way you've been, you're going to have some nice love handles."
Emmett laughed loudly, scaring some birds in the nearby trees. He turned around, walked backwards, and grabbed his crotch. "This is the only love handle this body is ever going to see."
And somehow we made it full circle, back to the sex talk. Fabulous.
The sun was setting by the time we made it back to our cars. I was bone tired and so ready for a mattress, but I was still hesitant to say goodbye. I could feel a sense of panic rise in my chest as I wondered when I would see them again. I heard the telltale sound of a car's beep and saw lights blink as Edward or Emmett unlocked their car remotely. My eyes followed the flash and landed on a big white Jeep. Emmett walked over to the car, opened the back and sat down on the tailgate. He began to take his boots off and unload his pack. Edward fell in step with me as I made my way over to my truck.
I pushed my hair behind my ear and looked up at him, trying to figure out what to say. His head was down, but his eyes found mine, and he smiled softly.
"So, it was nice..."
"Bella, I really want..."
We began simultaneously and I immediately pressed my lips together as whatever I was going to say was surely to be lame.
"You go," we said at the same time. We laughed and there was no way I was going to speak until he did this time. I raised my eyebrow and waited.
"Thank you seems kind of insufficient given the fact that you probably saved our lives, but thanks for putting up with us, with me. Thanks for getting us here. Thanks for helping me out with the poison oak." He seemed a little flustered. "Yeah, just … thanks."
I was touched by his sincerity but I couldn't let myself get emotional. This was goodbye. Time to just let him go.
"It wasn't so bad. But you're right. You probably would have been eaten by a mountain lion if you had not found me, or a bear ..." I started out strong but when I saw the look in his eyes, I faltered. "Um, yeah, so … you're welcome."
He shook his head and smiled. Thankfully, I could at least humor the guy now.
"My house is finished. You know the one Peter was telling you about?" I nodded, surprised he was bringing it up. "Um, you should stop by if you want, if you aren't busy sometime. I know I was a real ass about it last time, but I think I'd like you to come see it. Maybe I can make you dinner, repay you for helping us out here?"
Where was Emmett? Is Edward really asking me over for dinner or just being polite? When did this turn into him asking me out? My fear of saying goodbye was suddenly replaced by a panic of measuring up to a date with this man on his turf. Now I was the flustered one.
"Yeah, I'd love that. I mean, I would love to see your house. You don't have to cook me dinner. It was really no big deal." I hated how I was so easily knocked off my game around this man. The thought of spending time alone with him made me more anxious than excited. Be careful what you wish for...
His smile turned into a grin. "Hey now, saving Emmett might not be a big deal but saving my life? That's a big fucking deal. I'm serious."
Oh my, now he had this crazy sense of humor? He made me giggle. Like a girl. What was happening to me? Could this even go anywhere? Was I getting ahead of myself?
"Oh, trust me. I know how fucking serious you are, Edward Cullen," I mocked. "You are as serious as that rash I know is on your ass even though you won't admit it. I've seen you scratching."
His eyes went wide and his cheeks turned bright red. "Wow, you have spent way too much time with Emmett."
"I think I'd like to spend more time with you." I couldn't believe the words as they came out of my mouth. I knew my cheeks were rivalling the color of his.
"Is that a yes? Will you come? Over … to my place?
"Only if you promise to let me help you. I don't know you well enough to trust your culinary skills. I'm pretty picky … about my food."
"Deal," he agreed without hesitation.
Before anything else could be said, Emmett was lifting me off my feet, seemingly appearing out of nowhere. Maybe it was the fact that I suddenly only had eyes for one of these guys. Emmett was smooshing me in his overly muscular arms while Edward's face fell. I was afraid my ribs might crack under the pressure when he loosened his hold and he nuzzled my neck. This man knew no personal boundaries.
"Mmmmm. It was like divine intervention that we found you, Bella," he said into my neck.
"It was hardly a miracle since you basically stalked me up the mountain, Emmett." I rolled my head in the opposite direction, trying to put some space between us.
I could feel his chest shake as he laughed out loud. "Touche. But you are still my little Flo Nightingale. Feeding me. Sheltering me. Making out with me."
That was it. I pinched his waist and he dropped me as he yelped. "I did not make out with you," I protested.
"But you wanted to, didn't you?" his eyebrows waggled and I had to laugh.
"I told you, you get nothing until you buy me dinner."
"So, let me buy you dinner. Better yet, come by Edward's and let me make you my specialty." He beamed.
"What would that be?" Edward interrupted. "Chicken flavored ramen noodles or your famous pigs in a blanket?"
"My pigs in a blanket are fucking awesome and you know it!" Emmett argued, though he was laughing. "Pillsbury crescent rolls, some Oscar Meyer wieners, and my secret sauce."
"How is mustard a secret sauce?" Edward asked incredulously.
"Hmm, tempting offer, but I don't eat wieners," I replied, smiling.
Edward covered his mouth to stop his laughter but was unsuccessful.
"Don't knock it until you try it." Emmett was trying to be serious. The twinkle in his eye gave him away, though. "My phone's not on me, why don't you give Edward your number? He can put it in his phone and we can catch up with you. Wieners, no wieners, we should definitely see you again, Bella."
"Well, that sounds like an offer I can't refuse."
"You really shouldn't." Edward fished around before handing me his phone. I entered in my name and phone number. As I handed his phone back to him, his hand grazed mine and my heart skipped a beat. Before the awkwardness of a prolonged goodbye could set in, I decided I wanted to be the first to leave.
"Well, I should probably get going. Parting is such sweet sorrow, gentlemen," I said in an attempt at being cute. I took a step backwards towards my truck.
With an unmistakable look of desire, Edward filled that space between us. His voice was so soft, I was sure Emmett could not hear because the words were spoken directly to my heart. "The pain of parting is nothing to the joy of meeting again."
I felt the air leave my lungs. "Dickens," I whispered to myself in disbelief.
Hearing my spoken thoughts, he smiled softly and bit his bottom lip. It was like he was a completely different person than the one who woke up this morning. Charming, sweet, sexy. All of my coherency was gone. I was beyond dazzled and had the feeling he knew the effect he was having on me.
"And I look forward to it Bella," he said quietly. He lifted his eyebrows and licked his bottom lip with a chuckle and turned to walk away. I watched as he headed back towards his car. He must have said something to Emmett, who was waiting for him behind his car door because he turned back to me and waved.
Caught gawking, I quickly tucked my chin and got into my car to leave. Would we meet again? While I considered the possibility like a silly lovestruck teenager, my phone beeped in my pack. I fumbled around and pulled it out. There was a text message. My heart thumped against my ribcage as I read the words he sent.
Emmett's not invited.
A/N: I don't own Twilight.
I am such a computer fail….I never remember how to upload these chapters. Thanks and love always goes to Troublefollows for making me post this and for making it funny and sweet (the lame parts belong to me!)and for realizing that kale tastes better than crow. More love to Jayhawkbb for calling me out when I need it and for indulging of my neuroses but for calling me out when necessary.
Thanks for reading and reviewing :)