32

Warnings and Disclaimer:

The Twilight stuff belongs to Stephenie Meyer. No copyright infringement is intended. I own Cooking Competition Encounter.

Cooking Competition Encounter

A/N Thanks to Project Team Beta's ChloeCougar and Mel/mcc101180.

BPOV

"Hello!" I heard from the door, followed by an immediate loud slam.

Jeez. Why had I agreed to room with Alice again? More than once, stuff on the bookcase next to the door had fallen over upon her arrival. Well, maybe it had more to do with the cheap furniture that had to be put together rather than Alice's entrances. What else could college students afford?

"I'm in the kitchen," I called. I was waiting for the cabernet to reduce down for the sauce on my burgers. I had been working on this recipe for my chance to win a hundred thousand dollars.

Alice entered and leaned against the counter next to the stove, peeking around to see what was cooking. "That smells SO good! What's this recipe for?"

"It's a gourmet burger for the 'Build the Best Burger' contest. The top prize is a hundred grand," I said as I smiled at her, imagining how that would help with my college loans.

She scrunched her forehead. "So you're going to build a Bella burger?"

We burst out laughing.

"That sounds so wrong, but I'm not really sure why." I laughed as I turned back to the cutting board to chop the shallots.

Alice reached for the cheese that I had already sliced, but had left sitting on the counter in its plastic wrapping.

"Don't!" I screamed. She dropped it quickly and slowly licked the creamy goodness off her fingers, her eyes widening as she looked at me.

"I'm sorry, but I only have enough Camembert for the burgers. All this is pretty expensive." I sighed. I knew it was irresponsible to put recipe ingredients on my credit card. But shallots, Portobello mushrooms, wine and arugula all added up to a pricey grocery bill. I'd be eating ramen noodles for a week.

"My bad. I should know better. Do I get to try one?"

"Absolutely! Well, half of one." I was only making a recipe for two and would triple the result to enter the contest, since it was supposed to be for six.

She nodded and jumped up to sit on the counter. "Good. After all, if it hadn't been for me, you wouldn't have ever entered that first contest to begin with."

I smiled. "Yes, I owe it all to you... " I rolled my eyes dramatically. She knew I was kidding, but I really did owe it all to her. She had insisted I enter the National Chicken cooking contest after watching the competition on the Food Network.

I had only submitted my recipe to shut her up and was shocked to make the final. Unbelievably, I had come in third place, taking home a five thousand dollar prize. As a result, I had continued entering competitions and had made a bit of a name for myself in the cooking contest world.

Nevertheless, a "big" prize had eluded me. Mostly, I just ended up enjoying the free trips and being wined and dined during the competitions. While it was fun, I really, really wanted to win this contest and pay my parents back for college.

EPOV

I finished chopping the garlic and put it into a small bowl next to the other ingredients laid out in my mise en place. I relished the orderliness of cooking. In a way, it reminded me of how all the instruments were laid out for surgery.

While I enjoyed my residency as a cardiac surgeon, following in my father's footsteps, I hated how so many of my patients refused to put limits on their diet. I hoped to help them by creating healthy alternatives. Hamburgers were one of the big offenders, and I knew I could come up with a better option.

I started to cut the deer meat into small pieces so I could grind it myself for the venison burgers. I cut rhythmically, in time with the classical music I had playing. This always made the time pass quickly as I cooked.

I began to mix the burgers for my recipe after making the pistachio pesto and crumbling the feta. The aroma from the fresh basil lingered in the air. I paused and took a sip of my zinfandel.

Yes, food should be enjoyed, relished even, but within limits. To think that so many people ate fast food daily, gobbling greasy hamburgers and fat fried potatoes, made me nauseated.

If they saw what this food left in their bodies, veins clogged almost closed completely with the remnants of what they consumed, they would never eat that way again.

I enjoyed my work, but in a way, I wished it was unnecessary. If people ate better food, they would not need someone like me to perform heart bypass surgery. The last time I ate red meat, over a decade ago, I was a rebellious teenager, refusing to eat the healthy food my mom, Esme, always cooked.

It was intriguing to come up with a recipe and compete, but I really wanted to win to show my parents that I now embraced their philosophy on eating. Actually, I had taken it further.

BPOV

Alice and I brought the plates from the kitchen, each with half a burger on them. Rose and Jessica looked at the food with evaluating expressions.

"So... this is supposed to be a fancy gourmet burger, right?"

"Yes, Jess," I said. I didn't like her all that much, but she still hung out with us at UDub occasionally, since we all came from Forks. Begrudgingly, I had to admit she had an excellent palate. She gave me good comments about my food on a regular basis.

"I like the bright arugula and tomato on top, contrasting with the more neutral colors of the burger. We eat with our eyes first."

Alice looked over at me, and I tried to keep from rolling my eyes. Jess heard someone say that on TV and used the phrase every time we started to eat.

We each picked up our half-a-burger at the same time, glancing at each other before taking a bite in unison.

"Mmm..." we all moaned together. We sounded like some porn movie.

"Bella, this is so good," Alice mumbled as she licked the melted cheese from the side of her mouth. "How do you put these decadent concoctions together?"

I thought about that as I slowly chewed, enjoying the mingling of flavors from the richness of the Camembert, the tartness of the dressing, and the crunch of the cashews.

"I just close my eyes and imagine tasting the food, the combinations and how they would taste on my tongue, lingering as I chew." I realized my eyes were still closed and opened them suddenly, only to see all my friends staring at me. I blushed and tried to find the right words, shrugging. "I think food is a visceral experience."

Rose blinked. "I guess. You kinda made me hot for you! And I've never had a thing for women."

"Good to know," I said as I smirked at her, although I hated to think what Emmett would have to say about this. He would probably tease me about a threesome.

We tried to eat slowly, enjoying every bite. I leaned back in my chair, enjoying my full stomach, and watched my girls chat and laugh. Good food and good friends - this was perfect.

EPOV

I sat at my mahogany dining table and eyed my concoction. The burger was a perfect collaboration of lean meat and vegetables, with just a bit of low fat cheese to add an extra zing. I took a bite, chewing slowly to let the flavors meld as I enjoyed the blend.

This would be a burger worthy of the competition. I finished most of it and then brought what was left to the garbage disposal, scraping it off the plate. I flipped on the switch and added the other five burgers, breaking them apart to fit down the drain more easily.

It was important to practice the recipe for six, since that was what was required for the entry. Too bad there had been no one else here to enjoy it. I guess I could have invited my parents and not wasted the food, but they had a social engagement this evening. I sighed.

It would be nice to have a social life too. The hospital kept me so busy I never seemed to have the time. It had been months since my last date, and that had been a disaster. It was easier to focus on work, spending what little extra time I had exercising... at least that way I was too tired to think about sex.

I wanted a wife and family in the future, but I just didn't know how I would achieve that considering how I lived my life today. I was almost thirty.

I filled my wine glass and collapsed into my favorite leather chair, continuing to listen to the music. When I woke up to my phone alarm the next morning - I was still there. I guess sleeping in a chair was OK - just as good as a lonely bed - but surely there was someone out there for me?

I walked to the kitchen, put my wine glass in the dishwasher and then headed to the shower.

BPOV

"I GOT IN!" I screamed. Rose and Alice came out of their respective rooms, eyes wide.

"Got in what?"

"'The Build the Best Burger' contest! I'm a finalist." I performed a happy dance, arms extended, one hand still clutching my cell phone.

"I knew you would make it. That burger was decadent. This is the one. I just feel it," Alice said.

Still laughing, I excitedly asked, "What do you feel, Alice?" Alice always thought she could predict the future. She was usually wrong.

She looked at me with a surprisingly serious expression and stated, "This is a turning point for you, so I guess you're going to win."

I looked at her and realized she wasn't joking, but before I could comment, Rose announced, "We need to celebrate. Get dressed and be out here in ten minutes!"

I hurried to my room as Alice screamed about not having enough time. I ripped off my t-shirt and changed into a cami, grabbing a sweater to put on over it. I dabbed some concealer under my eyes to cover up the results of my late night paper writing. I loved my girls. I loved my life. Looking in the mirror, I smiled at the result. I looked pretty good. I had a good figure, and my brown hair fell past my shoulders in waves. Now, if only I could find someone to love. Sigh.

I was a senior, and I still couldn't seem to find the right person. Rose was head over heels with Emmett and Alice had been dating Tyler for years, but they had just recently broken up. At least she understood my yearning.

Three hours later, we were still dancing at our favorite college bar, having consumed the free drinks bought for us by the guys we ran into there. We celebrated, we screamed as we danced, and we finally collapsed in our beds in the wee hours of the morning.

I was happy to have such good friends, happy to get a chance to win some college money, but sad that I was alone again. I closed my eyes and hoped to dream of someone who would be my equal, my partner, my lover. Surely there was someone out there for me.

EPOV

I held my cell phone as close to my ear as possible, my finger in my other ear as I jogged down the hall. "I'm sorry. Who did you say you were?"

"I'm Jane, from the 'Build the Best Burger' contest. You're one of the finalists!"

"Oh... hey... that's terrific," I said evenly. I was glad to get in, but I was rushing to an emergency, a guy with a massive heart attack. The EMTs kept him alive, and I was racing to perform open heart surgery. I knew he had a poor chance of survival from the information I had, so I was worried. "Look, I'm busy right now."

"That's OK, I can wait. I'm sure you want to hear all the details," she continued.

"Well, I do, but I'm sorry, I'm on my way to an emergency surgery, and I really don't have time to talk."

"Oh my. Are you going to be OK?"

"I'm performing the surgery," I hissed. "I'm a doctor."

"Oh, well, I'll let you go then," she crooned. "There will be a packet FedEx'd to you, and that will have all the details you need. Let me know if you have any questions," she purred. Yeah, once they knew you were a doctor, they got all seductive. Shit, she didn't even know what I looked like. I could be a fifty-year-old bald guy who stood five feet tall!

"Fine. Thanks." I closed the phone and pushed through the doors of the OR, heading to the sink to begin the scrubbing routine.

Four hours later, I opened the door to my condo and trudged in. Walking over to the bar, I wrapped my fingers around the neck of the vodka I'd pulled out of the freezer. I took a long gulp then leaned my forehead on my arm against the wall.

"Call it, Edward." I ignored my father as I called for another round of epi and yelled, "Clear!" Another shock and his heart was still in defib.

"Edward, call it. There's nothing more we can do. It's been too long."

I sighed. "Time of death, 21:37." I pulled my gloves off and hit the doors, heading to the doctor's locker room to change.

"Son, please wait."

I stopped, not turning around to face him.

"Sometimes, there's just nothing we can do. There was too much damage. I'll go talk to the family."

"Thanks, Dad. I appreciate it." I hated talking to the family, telling them I'd failed; that I'd killed another person.

I filled my glass, staring out of the windows at the Seattle landscape. I should be happy. I was close to finishing my specialty; I had a great place to live and no student loans to pay back, thanks to the trust fund left by my grandparents.

But here I was, all alone again. I wanted to find someone to be with, but I had so little time for that. Besides, it seemed anyone who threw themselves at me was a bimbo with plastic surgery and no brains, after me for my money and my looks. Yeah, I knew I was good-looking. But it offended me that they didn't even bother to look deeper.

I leaned with my back against a wall and slid down to sit on the carpet taking another gulp of vodka. The man who had died today had a wife and family. The man you couldn't save; the man you killed. At least he had enjoyed his life. He was not alone. But I was.

BPOV

I logged on to the conference call to talk with the contest supervisors and the other contestants.

I heard, "Hello, Isabella."

"Mmm... hi." I then heard a few more greetings from the others.

"So, why don't we start? Let me introduce myself. I'm Jane and I will be your liaison. If you have any questions, I'm the one to ask."

"Wait, are we all here? I only counted eleven." I heard a male voice ask.

"Mike? Right? Yes, Dr. Cullen may not be able to join us." Hmm... a doctor is in the contest? That's interesting.

"Well, la tee dah, I guess he can't be bothered," he rudely replied. Yep, that had to be Mike. I had run into him at the chicken contest, and I did not like him. At all. He was a slimy guy who thought he could get into my pants. Unfortunately, he came up with good recipes.

After about forty minutes of discussing details, there was another ding, signifying someone had joined the call.

"Dr. Cullen?" Jane asked.

"Yes, sorry to be so late." His voice was smooth and sultry, lovely really.

"No problem. Let me tell you, and everyone really, that I will email all the questions and answers and everything we discussed today. So don't worry about missing anything."

"I just wanted to know if you found a purveyor for the deer meat?"

"Yes, don't worry." Hmm, I guess he's making a venison burger. While I had researched the other contestants in the beef category, I hadn't looked at who was competing in the alternate one.

"Well, any more personal questions from the bigwig doctor?" Mike clearly had an issue with him.

I heard a sharp exhale of breath. "I apologize for my late arrival. How inconvenient of my patient to have a heart attack when I was supposed to chat about burgers." His voice was now lower, angry and really hot. I didn't blame him.

"Of course. We understand. OK, everyone, are there any more questions?" After an awkward pause, Jane said, "I think we have everything. Thanks for joining, and like I said, you'll be getting my email soon."

I signed off and left the call, still holding my phone and wondering why I liked the sound of the doctor so much. Was I one of those girls who was impressed by credentials? I didn't think so. Maybe I just liked sexy voices.

One month later, I found myself at SeaTac airport on my way to compete.

"OK, you're all set. We're gonna drive up Friday night, and we'll see you at the winery on Saturday morning to watch you cook." Alice gave me a big hug, followed by Rose. "Now go have fun and win!"

"Thanks. You two are the best. I really appreciate you coming out. I know it's out of the way."

"It's not exactly a hardship, Bella. It'll be a fun road trip. Besides, Emmett loves to drive, so we can just enjoy the ride. And the competition is at a winery! How fun is that!"

After hugs, I made my way though security, holding my first class ticket in my hand. I hated to admit to myself that I was excited about flying in luxury, but I was.

Rose and Alice thought I should have more fun. Not just win, but have fun, socialize and then win. They're right. Ever since Jake and I had broken up, I'd been a bookworm. I never went out unless we were in a group, and if I talked to a guy, he seemed to always have a sleazy line. Not everyone could be an asshole like Jacob Black. I just hadn't found him yet.

I sat down in the generic plastic seat and waited to hear the call for us to board. I put my iPod ear buds in, having learned it was the best way to ignore unwanted advances. As I paged through my playlists deciding what to listen to, I noticed a tall man walk to our gate. He sat down and began texting on his iPhone.

I hated to stare, but he was really hot. He was tall, lean and muscular. He wore what looked like expensive jeans, a white button down linen shirt, and a deep brown leather jacket that looked new but soft. I longed to let my fingers rub along the jacket. His hair was a really cool reddish-brown and a bit disheveled, but it worked for him.

As I watched him type with his long fingers, he suddenly raised his eyes and caught me looking at him. Crap. I blushed and quickly looked down and began to search in my purse for something. I wasn't sure what, but I had to look like I was doing something. A mint! Yeah, that was what I needed, and I placed one in my mouth. Just in case I need to speak to someone at a very close range.

EPOV

It had been a crazy day, and now I was behind the schedule I had meticulously organized for my trip. Even though I'd left the hospital later than I'd planned, I was able to get to the airport before boarding. I narrowed my eyes at my phone, feeling the vibration as I received yet another text or email.

I was responding to a simple question from the staff about one of my patients when I felt like I was being watched. I looked up and saw beautiful brown eyes looking at me. They grew wide and then the woman looked down, pink gracing her face. She continued to look in her purse until she found what looked like a breath mint and placed it in her mouth.

I didn't know why, but I was mesmerized. She was lovely, wearing jeans with boots and her sweater looked comfortable, yet clung to her slim curves. I was startled when my flight was announced but as first class got to board immediately, I had no time to make her acquaintance. Too bad.

As I picked up my carry-on and headed to the gate, I found her ahead of me. I handed my ticket to the agent, trying to catch a last glimpse of the brown-haired beauty as she disappeared in the tunnel.

"Welcome, Dr. Cullen," the agent said after glancing at my name on my boarding pass. "Have a wonderful flight. Hope you'll be back soon." She said the last words far too seductively. I gave her a tight smile and walked down the ramp.

I headed to my row, trying not to be rude to the overly-friendly flight attendants, and smiled as I saw who was in the seat next to me.

Putting my carry-on onto my seat, I retrieved my reading material and my snack: homemade hummus and pita cut into triangles. Airline food was terrible. I could feel my neighbor's eyes on me, but I willed myself not to look up, keeping focused on my task.

Before I was even in my seat, anticipating speaking to the young woman, I was interrupted.

"Can I get you something to drink? Or anything at all?" The flight attendant lingered on the last word. I looked at brown-haired girl and saw she had nothing.

"Would you care for a drink?" I asked. She looked at me and smiled softly.

"White wine?" She posed it as a question. As if they wouldn't have any.

I turned back to the overly made-up woman and asked, "What whites do you have?"

"Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, White Zinfandel, if that's what you would like." She addressed the last part to the woman at my side, and I hoped she wouldn't request that awful type.

Her nose wrinkled slightly at the mention of the pink wine, and she asked for the former selection.

"Do you have a Pinot Noir?" I asked.

"Of course."

"What vineyard do you carry?"

"We're proud to pour Venturi wines."

Maybe that was a good omen, since their winery sponsored the cook-off. I nodded and turned, effectively dismissing her. I held out my hand. "Hi, I'm Edward."

"Bella. Nice to meet you."

"I'm afraid they won't have great wines on board, but they're fine. You headed to San Francisco for the weekend?" That was a good question. Nothing too forward.

"Actually, I'm going to Napa."

"As am I." I smiled. The return of the attendant interrupted our conversation. She opened Bella's wine, and splashed a bit in her glass. She then took an excessive amount of time with my wine, gently letting it pour in as if the glass were fine crystal. Rather than looking at her, I picked up Bella's small wine bottle.

"This isn't bad, but I'm sure you'll get some better wine this weekend. Where are you planning to visit for your tastings?"

"Actually, I'm there on business. But I hope to have some good food and wine, too. I'd like to learn more about wine." She looked down but looked sort of embarrassed.

We talked the whole flight, and I loved how easily our conversation flowed. She was smart, she was funny, and she was beautiful. I wanted to forget the contest and spend the weekend talking to her. We discussed wine and then moved on to food and then literature, since she was an English major. I skirted around what I did for a living, merely stating that I worked at the university. I couldn't remember when I'd had such an interesting conversation with someone I'd just met.

She even seemed to enjoy sharing my snack.

BPOV

When the handsome guy from the waiting area had walked onto the plane, flight attendants had fallen all over themselves trying to help him to his seat. I imagined this was a bad sign, the start of a terrible weekend. He probably knew how handsome he was and was a cocky bastard. Alice must have been wrong about everything being perfect this weekend.

But he pretty much ignored them, not in a rude way, but just kept focusing on his task. He was also polite, making sure I had something to drink, since the flight attendant hadn't bothered to ask. He moved to his seat, gathered what he needed for the flight, and then placed his bag in the overhead compartment, and I watched the muscles in his arms flex. Embarrassed, I looked down and swirled the wine in my glass. Jeez, I was as bad as the flight attendants.

He introduced himself, and I loved the feel of his hand in mine, not really sure why it was so much better than other handshakes.

I sipped my wine and we chatted for a while. We were given warmed nuts and offered cheese and fruit plates since the flight was relatively short.

"Don't eat that."

I paused with a piece of melon speared on my fork only a few inches from my open mouth.

He stared for a moment and with a guilty expression finally said, "Ugh.. sorry. I really wouldn't trust the airline caterers. Please, share my hummus if you like. It's healthier than high fat cheese, anyway."

"'Kay... thanks," I replied, slowly lowering my utensil to the plate.

He smeared some of the bean spread on a piece of the pita and handed it to me. I moaned with pleasure. It was really good hummus, not some packaged grocery store stuff that had been sitting there God knew how long.

"This is really good. Where did you get it?"

He arched an eyebrow. "It's homemade."

"You made this? I thought you must have gotten it from some deli or restaurant." I finished chewing as he looked at me with an easy smile. He seemed a bit embarrassed.

"Impressive. So you cook?"

"I think it's important to eat food that's close to its source. I hate preservatives or anything prepackaged," he said with a shrug. "That means a lot of cooking."

Oh no, he's gay. He is dressed perfectly, he cooks, he brings his own food and he ignored the slutty flight attendants. We're headed to the San Francisco area! Damn, why are the great-looking ones always gay? I sighed in resignation, giving him a small smile while I sipped more wine.

EPOV

Why was I talking about food? No one is that interested in healthy food, at least not when you first meet someone. She was just smiling to be nice. I switched topics to something more interesting, and our conversation resumed its easy flow.

Much sooner than I would have liked, our plane began its descent and I tried to figure out how I could ask this terrific person for her number - or the name of her hotel or something - without sounding like a crazy stalker.

As we walked toward the baggage claim area, I tried to chat. "Did you rent a car?" That wasn't creepy.

"Uh, no, I'm taking the wine country shuttle." She smiled and turned back to watch for her bag.

"I'm driving up. You're welcome to join me." She looked shocked, so I backtracked. "I'm sorry, that's forward. You don't know me." I shrugged, glimpsing my bag turning the corner on the conveyer belt. At least I could avoid embarrassment by occupying myself getting it.

Bella's bag followed and we headed to the car rental/shuttle area. I didn't know what to do, or say - I had no idea why I was so unsure. This was one of those situations that would surely not end satisfactorily... for me, anyway.

"Well, it was nice meeting you," I said slowly. I didn't think I could ask for her number. I'd already overstepped by inviting her to ride with me.

"Yeah," she replied, looking at me with a pensive expression.

She walked away and toward the wine country express line as I went to the end of the car rental queue. I guess I was never bold enough to get the girl I wanted... I only got airheads throwing themselves at me. I suddenly realized that, despite our conversation, we hadn't even shared what business was bringing us here. It was obvious I would never see her again.

BPOV

I'd loved talking to Edward; we'd had such an easy conversation on the flight, but when he asked if I wanted to ride with him, I was shocked. No one had ever asked me something like that. Well, not the guys I wanted... the guys I didn't want always did. But before I could answer, he backed out.

I must have looked like I didn't want to go with him. I'm so stupid sometimes! We parted and I thought about asking him for his cell number but couldn't seem to get up the nerve. I walked away and headed for the shuttle, cursing myself.

That's when I saw him! Effing Mike Newton! After dealing with him at the chicken competition and listening to his rude comments on the conference call, he was the last person I wanted to talk to. And there he was, waiting for the same shuttle. He was handsy, obnoxious, and the thought of having to ride all the way to Napa with him made me sick to my stomach.

I turned and looked back at Edward - gorgeous, interesting Edward - waiting in his car rental line. I didn't know him. I didn't even know his last name. He could be a serial killer, right? A gay serial killer? Well, maybe he wasn't gay. But why would I hitch a ride with someone who was practically a stranger?

Then I looked back at Newton. Hmm... I'd never given much thought to how I would die. But dying in a place with someone I loved to talk to seemed like a good way to go. Dying sitting next to Mike Newton? Not so much. I took a deep breath and walked back toward Edward.

I tapped him on the shoulder and said, "Is that invitation still good?"

He turned and gave me the brightest and most sincere smile I had ever seen. "Absolutely."

"I don't have anything going on 'til tomorrow, so, I thought why not? I mean, who wants to be on a bus with God knows who?" Like Mike Newton. "I enjoyed talking with you and... jeez, I need to shut up."

Edward chuckled. "I know what you mean. Thanks for joining me... I would love the company."

And that was how I found myself driving to Napa in a convertible and going to dinner with a handsome man I'd just met on a plane.

I texted Alice, telling her I'd met someone on the plane and was driving with him, just in case I went missing. Not that I really thought that was a possibility. I did like telling her though... she and Rose had been pushing me to take chances in my life.

I watched Edward's hair move in the breeze as we drove. He looked otherworldly in his beauty. What if he was straight! I still wasn't sure - I'd always had terrible "gaydar."

My rambling thoughts were interrupted when he spoke."I was planning on having dinner at Twilight. I have a reservation. It was for one, but I'm sure I can change it to two, if you'd like to join me."

"Twilight? Are you kidding? It takes months to get a table!" This was turning out to be great. Alice was right; I do need to take more chances.

He immediately called on his bluetooth enabled cell, and they happily accommodated his request for two. I felt like jumping up and down and clapping, instead, I gave Edward a smile. I hoped it looked sophisticated and sexy. I'm not really sure it was, but that was what I was going for.

"Do you mind if I stop and check in first? I could only get a room and at a bed and breakfast. They don't really have a late check in." He smiled at me with an embarrassed look.

"Sure."

He pulled off the highway and stopped in front of a Victorian style home in a residential area. Grabbing his luggage, we walked to the entrance through a small yard. There were blackberry bushes and an herb garden that filled the air with wonderful smells, and I spotted a gazebo tucked away off to the side.

I followed a few steps behind, and waited as Edward checked in. Picking up a card from the counter so that I would have the address, I also took a card for a local cab company, thinking I could use it for my trip to the winery hotel later.

The owner, a woman in her fifties with an air of hippie about her, walked through the courtyard to a bungalow. After having the amenities pointed out to us, Edward shyly led me back to the front of the house.

"The restaurant is just a few blocks from here. I planned to walk, if that's OK? I was hoping to drink wine and don't want to drive."

"The weather is perfect; I'd love to walk."

"I didn't even ask where you were staying. Is it far?"

"No, just up the highway a few minutes. I'll get a cab after dinner."

He looked flustered. "I didn't mean to leave you stranded here. I'll drive you. I'll just have one glass of wine."

I laughed. "Seriously? You saved me the cost of the shuttle, and you wouldn't even let me pay for gas! A short cab ride is nothing. Really." I placed my hand on his shoulder trying to show how sincere I felt about it. He felt really good - muscular, despite his lean build.

EPOV

It had been kind of awkward in my room with Bella. The king-size bed was the focal point of the romantic room and I was glad to be outside again. The sun was setting and there was a slight breeze.

"I ordered the chef's preset menu, because Kate's selections are always outstanding. Is that OK with you?"

Bella looked at me and smiled, her face glowing. "That sounds wonderful!"

"I believe there's a choice of entree, so you do get some say."

The restaurant was already crowded when we walked in. A man was arguing with the hostess, not knowing he needed reservations. Bella tapped me on the shoulder and leaned in close to my ear so she could be heard.

"I'm going to run to the bathroom. I'll be right back."

I gave my name to the hostess, she cocked her head, giving me a knowing look.

"It'll just be a moment." I nodded and turned, looking around at all the well dressed people crowding in the foyer.

A few minutes later I heard, "Edward!"

Kate came rushing toward me and gave me a hug, complete with air kisses, and we garnered stares from several customers who recognized her.

"Look at you; so grown up. A surgeon and creating recipes! You changed your reservation to two? Who is this new person?"

Wow, take a breath between those sentences. "Kate, please don't tell her about why I'm here or what I do for a living. We just met on the plane..."

"Man of mystery, huh?"

I shrugged, but before I could explain any further, Bella came up to join us. "Bella, this is Kate, the owner of Twilight."

Bella's eyes were wide. "Wow, Kate Ferguson. It's so nice to meet a real celebrity chef! I really admire your philosophy of cooking - using ingredients from local farmers and purveyors whenever possible." She blushed. "Sorry... I'm a big fan."

I shook my head, surprised at what I was hearing. Bella must be really interested in cooking. No wonder she seemed to know about food.

"Bella, you're so sweet. It's lovely to meet you. Edward here tells me you met on the plane?"

"Yes, then we drove up together."

"How nice. I'm honored that you came to eat here first. There are so many wonderful options in Napa."

Bella glanced over to me. "Well, it was Edward who had the reservation."

Kate grabbed each of us by the arm and began walking us through the restaurant. The whole place had a rustic feel to it, with oak paneling on the walls, but it was like being in a huge winery since there were racks of wine everywhere. Even though they looked like they were open to the room, they were actually separated by glass doors that also protected the wine and kept it at optimal temperature.

Bella lingered, looking at the bottles as we passed. She stopped, and a small gasp escaped from her lips. "Look at that bottle," she said softly, almost reverently.

"Ahh... Eclipse. You know your wine. That's a wonderful cabernet."

Bella giggled. "Um... no, I just thought it was such a wonderful design." Her delicate fingertips touched the glass. "See how the corona on the label continues all around the bottle."

"It's intriguing," I agreed. "What used to be utilitarian has now turned into artistry. Wine labels have taken on a life of their own."

"You need to continue this discussion at your table," Kate said as she nudged us to continue. She turned to Bella. "You know, I've known him his whole life. His mother and I were college roommates." Ugh, please let's not go into my history.

"Yes, yes, Kate," I interjected. "You don't want to bore Bella to death with stories about me. What have you put on the menu this evening?" I gave her what I hoped was my most charming smile.

My attempt at distraction wasn't necessary, since she stopped in front of a table in the corner before she could reply.It wasn't just any table. It was the table. The most romantic in the room. It resembled a small gazebo, and we had to step up to enter. Grapevines and draped fabric added to the seclusion.

Why was she doing this? This was the most requested table in the place; countless couples had gotten engaged here. Even though it would be great to eat here with Bella, it seemed like overkill for a first date. Was this a date?

I began to ask Kate to give us another table when Bella spoke in a breathy whisper. "Wow. This is so lovely."

Her fingers floated over the leaves trailing down the arch as she stepped up and her face had a look of wonder as she looked around at the tiny white lights hovering above the table. She smiled softly and then turned to look at me.

My previous thoughts disappeared as I took her hand and helped her into the curved seat, settling next to her.

When I looked up, I caught a knowing smirk on Kate's face.

"Enjoy!" And with that, she turned and escaped to the kitchen.

BPOV

Edward and I sat down and an awkward silence settled upon us. This would be the perfect place for a romantic date, but we'd just met. I looked over at him and watched as he unfolded his napkin and placed his silverware perfectly.

My ogling was interrupted by our waiter. "Welcome to Twilight. I understand this is your first visit?" he said, looking at me.

"Yes." I was feeling a bit intimidated.

"This is the menu for the prix fixe meal tonight," he said as he handed us each a sheet of textured paper.

We murmured our thanks as we scanned the wonderful selections and before I could absorb what was printed there, he spoke again.

"The sommelier has a wine pairing for each selection as well, or you can choose your own, of course. We have over forty wines by the glass in addition to an extensive menu that can be purchased by bottle only." He placed a thick padded book on the table, next to Edward. I knew very little about wine. It was just too expensive to try anything more than everyday types, and so I was in way over my head.

After pouring water, the waiter gave us a few minutes to make our drink selections.

"Um... I really don't know that much about wine. I think I'll just go with Kate's recommendations," I murmured. The cost of the dinner would barely be covered by the per diem given to us by the contest to cover travel from the airport and meals not provided at the winery. But I remembered what Alice and Rose had said: Have fun!

"Choosing wine can be a challenge, especially here in Napa. The wine lists can be as thick as a phone book. But, really, it should come down to what you enjoy, right?" Edward replied.

"I guess that's true. I'm more confident with food."

"Chef would like you to enjoy an amuse bouche while you decide on the entree." We turned to find the waiter with two small plates.

"This is a wedge of fresh fig, with Maytag blue cheese and toasted walnut, drizzled with twenty-five-year-old Balsamic. Enjoy."

Edward ordered the wine pairing selection for our courses but stated he would wait to pair our entree.

I put the wedge of fig in my mouth and bit down, holding the stem, and I hummed in appreciation. "A perfect single bite."

"For the start of a perfect evening," Edward responded as he looked at me, his eyes twinkling.

His statement was a surprise. Maybe he was interested in me. I looked down at the first course listed, oysters on the half shell.

"I've never eaten an oyster. I've always wanted to try one."

"Then why haven't you?"

"Um... I guess I was worried I would do it wrong. I had a bad experience trying my first artichoke leaf in public." I smiled, shaking my head as I remembered the incident.

He laughed. "Well, I can see how that might have been a problem... it's not really intuitive. But don't worry; I'll lead you." I gave him what was probably a goofy grin, thinking I would certainly love to follow him. Anywhere.

EPOV

Bella was enchanting - she was so full of life and eager to try new things. I gave her some basics of wine tasting, showing her how to swirl the glass, discussing the "nose" and the different aspects of the sauvignon blanc we had been served. She had an excellent palate, picking out the citrus and grassy notes.

Despite her concern, she enjoyed the oysters, wishing there were more than two.

"Have you decided on your entree?" The ever present waiter had returned and Bella perked up, clearly excited.

"It's so difficult; they all sound wonderful! But I've always wanted to try Kobe beef."

They continued to talk, but it was like white noise to me after she ordered. Kobe filet! It was considered an extremely tender type of meat—so much so because of the excessive marbling and fat.

Whenever I took someone out to dinner, I was always clear that I would never allow beef at the table. This hadn't been a problem so far, since they knew I was a heart surgeon and how passionate I therefore was about avoiding red meat. But I had never told Bella. I hated to kill her excitement - she was almost bouncing in her seat.

Beef was the forbidden fruit. I had first tasted it in high school after rebelling against my parents. Once I'd had a burger with my friends, I was eating beef almost exclusively, progressing to processed and fatty foods. After a few months of bacon, sausage, and hotdogs, my body had rebelled. I had gained weight, felt sluggish and had even started developing acne for the first time. I quit cold turkey and never ate that stuff again.

"Edward, are you OK?"

"Oh, sorry. I was thinking about something." I quickly ordered the ostrich steak and selected the cabernet that Bella had looked at earlier. Luckily, she didn't see the four hundred dollar price tag.

I put the thoughts of succulent beef out of my mind and enjoyed the soup, salad and fish courses with Bella. The servings were small, but the wine pairing was a regular glass. We had finished four glasses of wine by the time we were poured the cabernet. If I was feeling the alcohol effects, then I knew Bella - who was much smaller than I - would be feeling them as well.

BPOV

Edward and I swirled the dark cabernet in our glasses. When we held them against the white table cloth, we could see how the color deepened to almost purple at the thicker part of the glass.

"Watch how the wine forms 'legs' down the side of the glass when you straighten it back up." Edward breathed softly next to me, his face inches from mine as we stared at the ever-changing image running down the glass.

He nudged the glass in front of my nose. "Breathe, Bella."

I was assaulted by the smell. "Mmm... woodsy... dark cherry... something kind of spicy and earthy. It smells wonderful."

"Taste."

I took a sip, letting the wine caress my tongue, breathing in through my slightly open mouth like Edward had instructed so that the aroma would enhance the flavor.

"I have no words," I whispered, melting into his deep green eyes.

The spell was broken when the server reappeared. I'd supposed with this many courses he would be at the table often, but damn, I really thought Edward might've kissed me.

I looked at Edward's plate. "That's ostrich? It looks like beef!"

He gave me a small crooked smile as if his mouth were drunk. "Even though it's poultry, it's dark in color, with a meatier taste. Here, try it." He cut a piece and brought it to my lips.

It had a gamier flavor than turkey or duck; more flavorful. "I like it. So unique."

"I'm glad."

EPOV

I watched as Bella's mouth closed around my fork, chewing slowly, eyes closed and making wonderful little moaning sounds. I was mesmerized. This girl drew me in like a magnet.

The wine had dropped my defenses, and I imagined what it would be like to kiss her, long and deep, not some sweet peck on the lips.

"Here, you have to try this. It just melts in your mouth."

Oh no, beef! I stared at the juicy morsel of Kobe on her fork, glistening just inches from my mouth. The aroma assaulted me at this distance. My mouth was watering and I licked my lips, still eyeing the beef as it called to me.

"Don't be shy... here." She moved it closer still. I should have just told her that I didn't eat beef, and she may have stopped tempting me. But, I wanted to take this from her... to share the food and flavors with her.

I moved closer and swallowed the saliva that filled my mouth as I debated what to do. I wanted it. Realizing I couldn't resist anymore, I took the meat in my mouth, slipping it slowly off her fork. I moaned as the taste exploded on my tongue, and my eyes closed as I masticated the tender flesh.

"See, fabulous, right?"

I looked over at her, her eyes bright, a rosy glow on her cheeks, and I brushed her face with the back of my hand. "Amazing," I said, not knowing if I meant her, the beef or both.

Without another thought, I moved my hand to the back of her head and pulled her toward me, kissing her deeply. Bella offered no resistance, opening her mouth as our tongues danced. She tasted of the wine, and the blend of all the flavors from our meal. It was intoxicating.

We finally separated, both breathing heavily.

"This is the most decadent meal I've ever had," she murmured.

I agreed with a simple, "Mmm..."

We finished our food, alternating using our forks, and then each others as we fed each other. We had the wine re-corked and I paid, despite protests from Bella. However, once she peeked at the check, her face registered shock.

"Oh my God! That wine was four hundred dollars! Edward, I had no idea."

"Well worth it, sharing it with you. Besides, we still have half the bottle left." I held up the packaged bottle as we walked out of the restaurant toward the B & B.

Walking back, we wrapped our arms around one another in an effort to keep warm—and to steady ourselves as we weaved slightly. We hardly spoke, only sharing periodic smoldering glances.

As we entered the gate, Bella ran to the herb garden and began to brush some of the leaves, crushing them slightly. The smell was unbelievable - sage, basil, thyme and oregano.

"Open the bottle," she said, holding out her hand.

"You want more wine?" I chuckled.

"No, I just want to smell it," she purred. "It has such a wonderful nose." She slurred the last word, drawing it out.

I pulled the cork out and took a deep breath from the bottle, leaning toward the herbs. The combination was heavenly.

"You're right."

She smiled wickedly as she grabbed the bottle to copy my actions, leaning out far toward the basil before she overcorrected. What happened next seemed to pass in a flash.

As she righted herself, her foot slipped from her heeled sandal. Her arms wheeled to regain her balance, and the bottle of Eclipse cabernet went flying in the air. We each instinctively went to grab it, but her fingertips caught the bottom, causing it to spin raining red wine all over her face and sweater.

Since I was farther away, my grab was a second behind hers, and I batted the bottle in the opposite direction, causing it to continue to spray over her and then down on me. Then the bottle crashed on the sidewalk, leaking what was left and soaking the sun label.

We looked at it and then at our disheveled appearance, and Bella broke out in sobs.

"Oh my God, what have I done? I've ruined everything!" She covered her face with her hands, still crying.

I reached out to her, pulling her hands away. "It was an accident. Please, don't cry."

"B...but the whole evening was perfect. I can't believe I broke that bottle. Just look at us." She gestured toward our clothing, each of us sprayed with varying sized spots of wine.

Without thinking, I kissed her cheek with an open mouth, tasting what was there - wine and tears and Bella. "Come in. You can clean up here."

The bathroom was connected to the bedroom with an open archway. I started the shower as she opened her bag, and she pulled out clean clothes to change into. She was defeated.

I took her by the shoulders, turning her toward me. "Please, stop. I have never enjoyed an evening more than I have with you tonight. The wine... it'll be memorable." I shrugged and then kissed her forehead, pushing her hair back and smiling as I felt more wetness, more wine.

"You are the sweetest man." She grabbed the lapels of my jacket and pulled me to her, kissing me hard. Suddenly we were all arms and lips, pulling off clothes, pulling each other closer, and kissing one another all over. We stepped into the shower, melting together as we let the hot water wash away the sadness.

"Bella," I mumbled against her skin. "What are you doing to me? You tempt me like no else ever has." I kissed along her jaw and nibbled on her earlobe. I held her tight, one hand at her back, the other slipping over her breast as we moaned in unison.

"I want to touch you all over."

"Yes, please," she mumbled against my lips.

My hand moved down her stomach, then lower, finding her aroused, her clit swollen. I continued to kiss her then moved down her neck to her breast, sucking her nipple.

BPOV

After being mortified for ruining the evening, Edward and I ended up in the shower and the best night of my life promptly resumed. It had been months since I'd been with Jake, and he'd rarely made me orgasm. After resorting to self-love, I found I could experience what I always called a mini-orgasm, but I seemed to stop at the peak of pleasure. I never seemed to crash over to the other side.

Now, under Edward's touch I was unbelievably aroused and felt myself coiling and building. I felt the familiar peak and was slightly disappointed as I once again stopped there. I leaned against the wall, still in Edward's arms.

"No, baby, you're not done. I can feel it." He breathed huskily into my ear. "Feel it; don't stop. Let go."

He continued his touch slipping a finger inside of me. I tensed, all sensations rising over the edge, and then I shattered as the strongest orgasm I'd ever had crashed through me. My head fell back and I screamed, collapsing as Edward held me up.

"Good girl." He continued to caress me gently.

"That was so good. Edward, I don't want to stop. Do you have a condom?"

"Shit. I don't. I... crap... I didn't really plan on this." This admission kind of made me happy. At least he wasn't a man-whore, searching for one-night stands.

"Ugh, me neither. My roommates keep telling me I need to be prepared. Why didn't I listen to them?"

"Bella. " He stopped my words with kisses. Considering my options, I slipped down his chest, licking and sucking as I went, until I was seated on the built-in shower bench. It was the perfect height. I licked the tip of his cock and was rewarded with a groan.

I peeked up at him and he looked so hot, head thrown back, bracing himself against the shower walls, glistening as the hot water streamed over his skin in rivulets.

He gasped. "Fuck, that feels so good."

I had never been a big fan of blow jobs, but with Edward it was different. I wanted to please him. I sucked and licked, adding my hands at the base since I was unable to put his entire length in my mouth.

In what seemed like just a few minutes, Edward mumbled, "Bella, I'm close," and he began to pull away from my mouth. I stopped him and then his hot stream exploded into my mouth. I couldn't help the continuation of evaluating tastes - he was salty, with a mixture of sweet and spice.

"Jesus, argh..." His legs seemed to be shaky for a moment as he leaned more heavily on his arms. I stood up and we held each other, our hands never stopping their caresses.

We finally began to wash, shampooing and then using a washcloth with the high-end shower gel. We hurried to rinse off as the water began to turn cool. Wrapped in huge fluffy robes, Edward continued to towel dry my hair.

"Stay," he whispered.

I nodded and he reached around from behind to hug me. I reached for my toiletry case to brush my teeth and as I pulled out my toothbrush I noticed a small box. What was this? Edward peeked over my shoulder in response to my small gasp.

There in my hand was a box of condoms with a Post-it note:

Bella,

You need to have some FUN! ;-)

Rose and Alice

Edward and I looked up at one another. He had a slight smirk, his green eyes growing dark with lust. Then he picked me up and carried me to the bed as he kissed me deeply. I held him close, running my hands through his damp hair.

I guess the shower gave us a second wind despite all the wine we had consumed. We were passionate, insatiable, as if we hadn't just had a release in the shower. It was well after 2:00 AM when we collapsed, sated and exhausted.

I woke to my phone alarm, the sound of a soft harp because I hated loud alarms. Edward didn't even stir... he was breathing softly.

I dressed, after texting the cab company and requesting them not to honk. I decided it would be best to just slip out. Reality would probably be awkward as Edward realized it was just regular Bella Swan he had spent the night with. This way, the memory would remain wonderful.

I'd had my fun, like Alice and Rose had suggested, but I needed to concentrate on the reason I was in Napa - to compete, and hopefully win one hundred thousand dollars.

Edward was like a magnet, and he would pull focus away from my goal. I couldn't imagine trying to cook with him right there watching.

I left a note and shut the door quietly.

EPOV

I woke from the best sleep I'd had in a long time. I had been exhausted, working extra shifts to cover the weekend I would be away. But when I reached over for Bella, the sheets were cold. I sat up and looked around... the room was empty, her suitcase gone from the bathroom.

Then I found a note.

Dear Edward,

Thank you for the most wonderful evening of my life. I will never forget it.

Bella

"Noooo!" I moaned, my head falling into my hands. She was gone and she hadn't mentioned what hotel she was staying at. I didn't have her cell number, or even her last name. I only knew she attended the University of Washington and was a senior English major.

I sat on the bed slumped over as I shook my head slowly. Originally I hadn't wanted to give her too many specifics about myself and now it had backfired.

I had considered skipping the competition, and inviting Bella to spend her free time with me. But now I had no way to contact her and wondered if I would ever see her again?

Sighing, I went to get ready for the meetings and interviews planned for today. I would fulfill my obligation, like I always did, but it would be with a heavy heart.