Fandom 4 LLS Submission 2012
Stephanie Meyer - She dreamed up the Twilight Universe and all of its amazing characters. She owns it all. And she's been nice enough to let us borrow them and put them in the sweetest and even craziest circumstances we can imagine. Huge thanks to her for letting us enjoy them in this way.
This oneshot is dedicated to EternallyAddicted, my writing cohort and my Food Network watching partner
In the Here and Now:
"Let's go!" Edward urged from the hallway. "We're going to be late. Actually, we are late. If you don't get a move on, we're going to miss the reveal entirely."
"I'm almost done," Bella replied as she continued to brush her hair in the tiny bathroom of their small apartment. They loved the view and the closeness to work but they both agreed a little extra space would make it heaven.
Other than the size of their apartment, there was little they agreed on right away. They were both passionate people with strong ideas and neither wanted to give in until all options had been exhausted. And tonight, Bella wasn't brushing her hair so much as making a last ditch effort to win in her desire to stay home. Until about an hour ago, she had been excited for tonight. But as the time to leave had drawn closer, her nerves had increased and now she wanted nothing more than to stay here in the safety of their apartment.
A sigh had her looking into the mirror. Edward was leaning in the doorway with a knowing smile on his face. "Want to tell me why you're dragging your feet?"
"I'm not. I'm just having trouble with my hair."
"You don't care enough to have trouble with your hair. Besides, it looks perfect. Now tell me the real reason for your sudden lack of enthusiasm for tonight's festivities."
Bella put the brush down and turned to face him while absentmindedly wondering why she was surprised he'd figured her out when that was all he'd been doing from the moment they'd met.
"That bad?" he asked as his hands settled over her hips and drew her body into his.
She tried to smile but it was too hard to do that and keep the tears in her eyes. "What if I win?"
The grin that made her swoon every single time graced his face. "I'll be very proud of you and enjoy bragging about you to everyone I know. And we'll both enjoy the celebratory sex I'll present you with when we get home tonight."
"What if you win?"
He brought his lips to her forehead and pressed a sweet kiss just above her teary brown eyes. "You'll scowl and say you were robbed. And then you'll smile and tell me how proud you are of me."
He stood up straight and he was once again wearing that bone-melting grin. "And then comes the really good part because the next thing you'll do is kiss me. And it won't be some public peck either. It'll be long and warm and just a little wet since we are in public. Most of all, it'll show me how proud you really are of my accomplishment."
"What if I don't? What if I'm really jealous this time? What if it ruins us?"
He laughed and it was such a genuinely happy sound that it helped her to relax a little. "Have you forgotten how we met? Competition can't ruin us because it created us."
Her eyes were wet for a different reason when she looked at him this time. "I'll never forget how we met, Edward."
His happy smile never faltered as he leaned in and kissed her sweetly. "Je t'aime, Belle."
She smiled and pressed a quick kiss to his lips. "I love you too."
"Are we good now? Because I'm pretty sure I've addressed all of your worries and I even threw some French in there for you."
She laughed and nodded. "We're good."
"Then let's go before we really do miss it. I'll even let you introduce me as Abs if it'll make you move faster."
"Don't tell that story tonight. Please!"
He gave her the smile she had dubbed wise-ass trouble grin and said, "But it's an integral part of the story of how we met. It must be told."
She let out a loud groan but then smiled, knowing full well he would tell the story his way—just one more thing she adored about him. She'd never thought for a second when she'd first met him that she would even see him again, much less end up loving him so completely and irrevocably.
Then again, no one ever really knows the importance of another until they've spent a little time together.
For Bella and Edward, one week in New Orleans told them all they needed to know to decide on forever together …
The Not-So-Distant Past:
Edward regretted agreeing to workout with Emmett even before they stepped foot into the hotel gym. His larger than life friend tended to be even larger and louder in new surroundings and a small, enclosed elevator was no place for a man like that.
Emmett hadn't even finished belly-laughing at his own joke when he turned to Edward and asked, "Wardo, are you epicurious?"
Thankfully, they were the only two on the elevator at the moment or else Edward would have had to endure awkward smiles from people wondering what the hell a bi-curious weirdo was and did. According to Emmett, Edward should be called "Wardo" because he was the perfect mix of two iconic classics—Ward Cleaver with his sensibility and responsibility and the biggest, baddest Daddy-O party rocker ever born. Emmett often had strange thoughts but he was the most loyal and steadfast friend Edward had ever known.
After slowly breathing in and out to garner his patience, Edward put his hand on Emmett's shoulder and tried to reason with him in the one way his friend responded to—a threat. "For the millionth time, do not call me Wardo in public. It's too close to Weirdo. And we had a similar conversation about your use of epicurious before I let you on the plane back in Austin. So unless you want to have to find and pay for a room here all by your lonesome, cut the crap."
"Why you always gotta ruin my fun, Ed? Why can't you just enjoy my sense of humor?"
"Because your sense of humor is detrimental to my dating life."
Emmett opened his mouth to refute that but stopped at the daring look on Edward's face. "Alright, alright. I'll behave."
Emmett was quiet until they reached the gym. "You know what's detrimental around here? Your cooking."
Edward made sure to keep his laughter low so they wouldn't interrupt the people around them. "How do you figure that one?"
"I was a perfectly svelte man until you answered my ad for a roommate and attacked my waist line with your foods. Your evil, delicious, evilly delicious dishes of amazing yummy goodness."
"If you'd stick to a single serving, you wouldn't have a waist issue. And you were never svelte. I've seen pictures from before we met."
"Dude! Edible-logically speaking, a single serving is impossible. It's like a tease to the taste buds. Just when they're getting all good and wet and ready for you to bring it on home, it's over and the happy ending is missing."
Edward levied him with dark look.
"Right, right. No comparing your food to sexy time fun in public. Sorry."
"I hate that we're friends."
"Shut the front door," Emmett replied with a grin and a shove to Edward's shoulder. "You love me and you know it."
"Just pick a treadmill and shut up. I want to get at least five miles in since we're going to be drinking tonight."
"Always with the working out before the fun time," Emmett grumbled as he climbed onto the nearest treadmill.
Edward ignored him, focusing instead on finding just the right music for his run.
"Hey, isn't that the brunette from the lobby last night?"
He nearly dropped his iPod in his haste to get a look at the woman Emmett had spotted. "Where?"
Emmett gave him a cross look while pointing to the glass wall directly in front of them. "Walking right past us."
At first Edward wasn't sure because the wind had wrapped the woman's hair around her face. She seemed to be the right height and build but it was hard to tell since she had already walked a bit past them. Suddenly, she turned toward the building and he was able to make out her heart-shaped face and pink cheeks.
It was her smile that had caught his eye last night and made him want to put a name to the beautiful face. He'd even started across the lobby to introduce himself. But then Jacob had arrived and Edward had been forced to help him get his bags to the room they were sharing. He didn't even like the guy, not really. Jacob tended to be as pretentious as he was a hot-head, and it was only for financial reasons that Edward was splitting a room with the guy. At least Emmett was here to be a buffer, even if Edward had to listen to him whine about sleeping on the small couch in the room.
"You should go after her and introduce yourself," Emmett suggested.
"Yeah, no. Not the best idea, Em."
"For one, women don't like it when strange men chase them down the street. For another, I'm in workout clothes. No one looks good in workout clothes."
"I beg to differ. Men who visit the gym for maintenance and firmness look damn good in workout clothes. In fact, guys like you and me tend to put a woman's libido into overdrive."
Edward laughed in disbelief. "Where the hell do you get these crazy ideas?"
"Personal proven studies, my friend."
After a quick shake of his head, Edward picked out his running music and popped in his earbuds. He set the treadmill for a fast yet steady pace and started his run. He enjoyed running because it cleared his head out and allowed him to do some of his best thinking.
Not even a minute later, he was being tapped on the arm and forced to remove one of his earbuds. "Yeah, Em?"
"Whatcha listening to?"
"Music," he replied with a roll of his eyes as he put his earbud back in. The tap came again and so did having to remove his earbud. "Prodigy, alright! Now let me run."
"Prodigy is good but that's not the mood I'm in. I think I'm more in a Chevelle mood right now."
"Then listen to them and let me get my run in, Dude."
Emmett waited until the earbud was almost in before saying, "Just one more thing, Ed."
His exasperation with his friend was clear in both his tone and facial expression. "What?"
"Next time we see the brunette, you go talk to her. No excuses."
"Yeah, fine, whatever," Edward agreed, just wanting to be left alone. He had no way of knowing his agreeing would lead Emmett to make absolute sure Edward and the mystery brunette met before the morning was over.
By the time Edward had clocked his five miles in, he was feeling clear-headed and even optimistic. Since he'd spotted the brunette twice already then chances were he'd get another shot at meeting her. There was just something about her, something different that made him want to meet her.
Just as Edward stepped off the treadmill, Jacob jumped onto it. His idea of a proper greeting was a shitty grin followed by the words of a first class ass. "Thanks for warming it up for me."
Emmett's right. Dipshidiot is a real word and it applies to Jacob, Edward thought.
Emmett was never one to filter himself and now was no exception. "Dipshidiot say what?"
"What?" Jacob asked with a confused look on his face.
Emmett laughed while Edward pretended to be extremely interested in the screen of his iPod.
"What's the plan for tonight?" Jacob questioned.
Edward continued to be fascinated by his iPod so he could avoid answering; he had no intention of spending time with Jacob outside of what was required.
The next thing Edward knew, Emmett had a handful of his shirt and was yanking it over his head. "Give it here," he demanded.
"What the hell? Emmett!" Edward's attempt to find out what was going on was thwarted by Emmett relentlessly pushing him toward the gym's doors and telling him to hurry upstairs to be on time for his important phone call. Only Edward wasn't expecting a phone call.
"Hold the door!" Emmett bellowed, shoving Edward forward so hard that he would have slammed face-first into the elevator door if it hadn't opened back up right then.
While a confused Edward struggled to get his bearings, Emmett was happily blocking the hallway and keeping Jacob away from the elevator. He'd caught the jerk checking out Edward's brunette through the glass wall of the gym. No way in hell was any guy going to talk to that woman before his best friend had a shot at it.
"McCarty, would you get out of the way?" Jacob barked.
"What?" he asked, pretending to be confused as he turned to face Jacob. "Sorry, man. Didn't know you were behind me. I was trying to decide if I wanted to head up for a shower or head out for a bite."
"Well since Edward is going to be on a phone call, we better head out for a bite."
"Great," Emmett replied with a smile. While he had zero interest in spending time with Jacob, he was completely pleased with having made sure Edward met his brunette.
I hope my eyes aren't as freakishly huge as they feel, Bella fretted, chewing on her lower lip and surveying the man leaning against the opposite wall of the elevator.
Was it this hot in here before?
Am I staring? I'm totally staring. I need to stop staring.
And to breathe.
But only so long as breathing doesn't lead to drooling.
And where the hell is his shirt?
The sweaty, shirtless man with the sculpted chest smiled and Bella's only concern became keeping her mouth shut to keep the drool locked away.
She could only nod in response—talking was impossible when she was fighting with herself to stop staring, keep breathing, and stop blushing.
"This your first time in New Orleans?"
It was hard for her to tell if he was making polite conversation or if he was rambling because her staring had made him feel awkward. She managed to nod in response to his question despite her worry.
"What brings you here?"
The word flew out of her mouth, "Abs." As mortified as she felt in that second, she managed to add, "Solutely the food. The culinary creations here are amazing."
You didn't fool him. And your face is even more flushed. Face it, you are an epic fail when it comes to talking to guys. The urge to hang her head in shame was nearly overwhelming and the only thing keeping her from doing it was that she wouldn't be able to see him any longer. Not his bone-melting smile or his green eyes or his … ah hum … abs.
To her great shock and happy surprise, he didn't seem to notice her blunder. "Have you tried the raw oysters yet?"
Her nose involuntary scrunched. "No. No, that's not my thing."
"It's … I don't like cold, wet things."
"I'll admit it doesn't have the most appealing plating, but the taste is superb. Your taste buds will never forgive you if you don't try some while you're here."
"I'll think about it." It was his smile that caused her reply, she was sure of it—there was no other explanation for her to say such a thing.
"Well if you decide to give them a try, go to Casamento's and tell them Edward sent you. They'll make sure you have a good experience." He sounded so sure about the place and that they would know who he was from just a first name that it piqued her curiosity.
"Are you from here?" she asked.
"Just visiting. But I've been a few times before. Made friends with a few of the locals." The elevator dinged loudly as it came to a stop on the sixth floor. "This is my floor," he said, pointing to the elevator door as it began to slide open. "I hope I'll see you around the restaurants."
He smiled at her again and then took a step toward his floor.
Never to be seen again, Bella lamented, expecting him to exit quickly.
Only he was still mostly in the elevator. He had one foot in the hall and his hand was right up against the door, making sure it couldn't close. He smiled again and she prayed he couldn't hear the sound of her knees knocking together; no guy had ever smiled at her that way, as if she was someone he was really glad to have met.
"I just thought you should know so there isn't any confusion, my name's Edward, not Abs."
Her face went from flushed to inferno red but she was determined not to sound rattled no matter how much she looked it. "Yeah, I kinda figured that. Any particular reason you're taking the time to clarify?"
He shrugged but she could tell from the sparkle in his eyes that he wasn't just making conversation; he definitely had a plan. "I've found that when you're in a new city, it's nice to know at least one person."
"I hardly think an elevator ride qualifies as knowing a person."
His smile changed and became a crooked, cocky grin. "Oh, I know you … You've always secretly wanted to try oysters but you've been afraid of not liking them and having the mystery of their appeal ruined. You're here to try the food, but you're also reluctant to go too far out of your comfort zone. You want a push and a friend to take the journey with you. I know you and I know you'll come to the restaurant tonight, whether you try the oysters or not."
"You're crazy," she said, laughing him off even as her stomach twisted with the truth of his words.
"Tell me your name."
She had thought his smile was bone-melting but it was nothing to the piercing look in his green eyes at that moment. "So I'll know what to call you when I invite you to sit at my table."
He scrunched his face and shook his head before grinning at her once more. "I like the French version better. See you tonight, Belle."
He stepped completely into the hall and then stood there smiling at her until the elevator door closed.
Bella was on autopilot for the rest of her elevator ride, the walk down her hallway, and the entrance into her room. A strange, handsome, shirtless man had gotten onto her elevator, smiled a few smiles, gotten her name, and then somehow planted a desire to go to a restaurant to try oysters with him.
"Would you get out of your head, already?" Rosalie bellowed as something flew past Bella's face. "Classes don't start for two more days and the competition portion isn't until the end of the week. You can relax and be normal until then."
"Rosalie, don't be inconsiderate. Maybe she had a bad trip to the market," Alice suggested, looking at Bella over the top of her latest fashion magazine. "Did you not find what you were looking for?"
Bella shook her whole body to clear her head from the fog Edward had induced. "No, the market was fine. I just … I met a guy on the elevator."
Rosalie and Alice both dropped what they were doing and moved their chairs to sit directly in front of Bella. "Begin," Rosalie said with a flourish of her hand.
"I'm not really sure …" Bella quickly replayed the conversation in her head and of all that had gone on, the very end was what she shared first. "He changed my name. He said he liked the French version better. He called me Belle." Thinking about his playful smile as he'd called her the name was making her cheeks pink up again.
"We have a level two blush," Rosalie joked with a laugh. "Whatcha thinking about there, Bella? Oh, excuse me. It's Belle now."
Bella groaned and dove for the sofa, hugging one of the throw pillows to her face. There was no way she could blow off the encounter as meaningless and they would be able to tell. She was positive that once they heard he'd practically invited her to dinner, they'd make absolute sure she went to that restaurant. And really, what would be the harm in going? Like Rosalie had mentioned, class didn't start for two more days. She could afford to be a little distracted until then.
"Bella Marie, I'm not joking," Rosalie said, tugging on her arm. "You have two seconds to get up and release the pillow before I take it from you and beat you with it."
"This is not the time to be shy. This is the time to dish to your friends," Alice encouraged as Bella got to her feet.
"Why? Why can't we just leave it at I met a guy?" Bella asked while Rosalie moved her to stand directly in front of the chairs again.
"Because you don't meet guys. You compete against them and beat them over the head with your abilities," Rosalie replied. She kind of had a point since it had been almost a year since the last time Bella had dated anyone. In her defense though, dating was almost impossible when you worked odd hours in a kitchen.
Alice smiled encouragingly at Bella and said, "Proceed."
"And don't leave a single detail out," Rosalie warned. "I'll know if you do," she added, pointing first at her own eyes and then toward Bella's.
Bella did just as she was instructed, relaying every word each had said and admitting to every blush and thought that had come into her head during the encounter. She ended by saying, "I think he invited me to have dinner with him."
"You think?" Rosalie asked with a laugh.
"Well it's not like he asked me to go with him. And he didn't say for sure he would be there."
"He'll be there," Alice and Rosalie said in unison. Then Alice added, "And so will we."
Bella smiled but it was only to mask the queasiness she was feeling. She was bad enough at talking to guys when she was one-on-one with them. Trying to do it with her two interesting, composed friends in tow would leave her invisible and unmemorable; she didn't want that with this guy. She wanted those green eyes of his to look at her the same as in the elevator—as if she was the most interesting woman he'd ever met.
The bell above the door dinged and Edward jumped to his feet so he could see who was entering the restaurant. He was starting to worry this was making some kind of permanent change in him to where he stood at the sound of every bell ringing but he just couldn't help himself.
He sat down heavily and sighed, having found once again that it wasn't the cute brunette.
"Dude, relax," Emmett encouraged, putting a hand on his shoulder. "All your damn fidgeting is starting to make me nervous. Plus, you keep interrupting my conversation every time you jump up to look for her. Just stay seated and relax. You smiled, you flirted, and you implied you knew French. She'll be here."
"It's not called implying when you really do know the language, Em."
"Hate to break it to you, but until you say more than her name in French, it's implying."
Edward rolled his eyes, knowing it was fruitless to argue with his friend.
"Look just relax and have fun," Emmett encouraged. "She'll get here when she gets here."
"You're right. It's early still," Edward replied with a nod.
He looked down to check his watch to make sure of that and a shadow fell across the table; his heart lurched, hoping it was Belle.
But it was only Jacob. "Finally found you guys." He sat down in the seat Edward had been saving, completely oblivious to the death glare he was receiving. "I had to show Emmett's note to like a half dozen people before I found someone who could read the chicken-scratch."
"The note was just to let you know you had the room to yourself for a few hours," Emmett told him. "It wasn't an invite."
Jacob shrugged. "I'm here now. Order me a beer while I find the restroom."
"Sure thing." The evil grin adorning Emmett's face had Edward shaking his head.
"Em, just let it go and order the beer."
"Oh, I'm gonna order that dipshidiot a beer, alright. A corona special."
"Let's just ignore him. He'll get bored and leave."
"How about we just change tables instead?" Emmett suggested, already moving to stand.
Edward grabbed his forearm to stop him. "Because it would be childish. And it wouldn't do any good. He'd just sit down at the new table."
"Why the hell did you invite that dick to room with us?"
"I didn't invite him. He was the only one I could find that was coming to the class. And you know, it's really your fault he's here. If you hadn't spent your whole paycheck, you could have split the room costs with me."
"Ed, there is no way I could have known that Sandra's few friends would turn out to be an entire women's beach volleyball team or that it would be their first weekend off from training. I thought I would be buying like five or six beers, not paying a five-hundred dollar bar tab."
"Well it's done now so let's just make the best of it. I'm gonna get his beer. Do you want another?"
"Thanks, man. I'm going to pay you back for all this. Eric's lining up a part-time job for me to help some guy remodel his condo. Wants to make it live-in girlfriend friendly."
"I know you're good for it, Em. No worries," Edward said as he stood.
Emmett grinned and then started singing just loud enough for Edward to hear…
It means no worries
For the rest of your days.
It's our problem-free
"You're a strange, strange man, McCarty." Edward left the table laughing and shaking his head.
Bella spun around to go right back out the door she'd just entered but Rosalie was blocking the way. Her friend laughed and asked, "What's your hurry, Belle?"
"Stop with that, will ya?" Bella barked.
Rosalie leaned forward with a wicked smile on her red lips. "I'll stop saying it when you stop blushing at it."
"Could you two get inside? I don't want to stand on the street all night," Alice called out from behind Rosalie.
Bella immediately tried to go outside while Rosalie moved forward—it was no competition and Bella found herself pushed further into the restaurant.
"Where's the elevator hottie?" Rosalie questioned, smiling as she put an arm around Bella. "I know he's the reason you tried to turn tail and run."
"Ooh, point him out," Alice urged.
Bella titled her head in his direction. "Over there standing by that table."
Alice's response came out as a breathy whisper. "Oh my gawd."
"Oh my gawd is right! Look at that man!" Rosalie exclaimed. "His shoulder is as big as your head, Bella."
Bella had memorized everything about Edward during their short elevator ride so she knew without turning around that her friends were looking at the wrong man. "No, not him. The tall one next to him."
"Oh. Well, he's cute too," Rosalie replied. "Should we invite Abs over for a drink?"
Bella's cheeks went from pink to bright red. "Don't call him that. Please don't call him that. I'll pay you."
"Yes, you will," Rosalie promised with an evil grin.
"Alice, help me," Bella begged. "Please tell Rosalie she has to behave."
Alice moved to stand in front of them and then said, "Rosalie, behave."
Rosalie's smile widened as she made the sign of a halo above her head.
"See?" Alice asked Bella. "It's all good. She's promised to behave. Now you need to introduce us to your elevator hottie."
"Edward. His name is Edward," Bella whispered while being propelled forward by her friends' hands on the small of her back.
Here goes nothing, she thought as she waited for Edward to notice she was headed his way.
"Was I right or was I right?" Emmett asked as he popped Edward in the chest with the side of his fist.
Edward followed the direction of Emmett's thumb and saw Belle walking towards him with two other women. He barely saw the others, only noticing that one was blonde and the other had black hair. His attention and his smile were for Belle alone; only Emmett would be able to see the little bit of uncertainty lurking behind his grin.
He met her halfway and placed a barely-there kiss on her cheek in greeting. "Bienvenue, Belle. Glad you could make it."
She smiled in return as if she'd liked it but then her eyes grew wide and she jumped away from him. "Sorry. My friends," she said, glancing between the women and him. "This is Alice and Rosalie," she said as she pointed to each of them.
"Hello, ladies. I'm Edward." He shook each of their hands and then invited them all to sit at his table. He had just thought of how they'd have to push a couple together when he noticed Emmett had already done it.
They all exchanged introductions again with Emmett and then sat down with the guys at the ends and the ladies seated so that Belle was next to Edward, Alice was beside Emmett, and Rosalie was in the middle. The arrangement lasted maybe ten seconds and then Rosalie and Alice changed seats. It seemed she might have taken notice of Emmett the same way he'd noticed her. Edward hadn't missed the way his friend had done a double-take over the tall blonde.
Now that Belle was sitting right here beside him, the confidence Edward had felt with her in the elevator returned to him. "So, Belle, are you going to split a plate of oysters with me?" he asked with a smile.
She blushed and dug her teeth into her lower lip, looking somewhere between nervous and pleased. He wanted to bring out her smile and hoped what he said next would do it.
"Alright then. Half an order in case you chicken out and the trout. You'll love the trout."
She rewarded him with the smile he was hoping for. "How do I know you've really had them before? For all I know, you could chicken out."
"You're just gonna have to trust me, Belle."
Her blush was back but so was her smile. She seemed like she was going to say something to him but Jacob chose that moment to show just how much of a dipshidiot he could be.
"Hey! I know you," he said to Bella while shoving a chair between her and Edward. "I saw you walking past our hotel earlier today." He practically forced her to take hold of his hand. "I'm Jacob."
Edward liked that she didn't seem happy about the interruption and he really liked that she hadn't used his name for her.
"Are you from New Orleans?" Jacob questioned. He didn't even give her a chance to respond. "This is my first time here. I like it okay. Some of the town's kind of run down but I guess people like that or something."
Bella almost looked insulted by his words. "I think it gives the city beauty and character. It's a reminder of just how long it's been here, providing homes, jobs, food, and fun to generations of families."
"I guess." Jacob's behavior was seriously starting to piss Edward off.
Rather than slugging the ass, Edward got up from his seat and offered his hand to Bella. "We better go and place our order."
"Sweet. What are we getting?" Jacob asked as he stood too.
"We already know what we want. You stay and get orders from everyone else," Edward said, making it clear with his tone and expression that it wasn't a suggestion.
Or at least he'd thought he had. "Let Emmett do that. I want to get to know Bella some more."
"Hey, Jacob!" Emmett called, gaining about a hundred guy points in Edward's book right then. "Come get your beer. It's getting warm."
While Jacob was distracted, Edward slipped his arm around Bella's waist and quickly disappeared down the short hall with her. She laughed and urged him to hurry, trusting him already with no idea of where he was taking her.
He wasn't going far with her, though—just into the kitchen to introduce her to the men and women behind the food they would eat tonight. "I thought you might be less afraid of the oysters if you saw how they were shucked," he offered as an explanation.
After introducing her to everyone, they sat down on a couple of stools to watch a worker open some of the oysters in a process called shucking. He did the first few as he normally would, working so fast that it was hard to tell how he was getting the shell open. For the very next, he not only worked slowly but he also explained each step. For the last, he let Edward give it a try and when he failed, he let Belle have a go at it. They laughed over having failed at it and then found a plate set between them with the last two oysters ready for eating with a side of the restaurant's homemade sauce.
Edward put just a little of the sauce on each oyster and then lifted his from the plate. "I will if you will," he offered.
Belle made a face but lifted her oyster as well. "I can't believe I'm doing this."
"We'll do it together," he promised, taking hold of her free hand. "On three."
He didn't want to let her have time to rethink her decision so he skipped the first two numbers and went straight to the last. They opened their mouths, titled their shells, and slid the oysters in. Edward took his time, letting it sit on his tongue long enough to taste the sauce and the oyster, and then bit into it a couple times before swallowing it down.
Even as he'd been cataloguing the taste and texture in his head, he'd been watching Belle closely. She'd been squeamish at the first feel of the oyster on her tongue, then surprised by the unexpected flavors, and then unsure about the texture as she chewed. Finally done with it, she had decided it was pretty good. He knew all of this from her expressive face and the beautiful smile she was currently wearing.
"Ready for a whole platter?" he asked.
"Not just yet," she replied with a nervous sounding laugh. "Can we get a couple beers back here?"
"Sure. If you don't mind leaving your friends hanging alone with mine," he mentioned, not wanting her to feel bad for ditching them. He didn't feel bad at all but that was because he knew Emmett understood and he didn't give a damn about Jacob.
Her smile widened. "They're big girls. They can hold their own."
"Maddie, I need a beer for Belle and me."
"Get your lazy ass up and get your own beer, cher. And then you get over here and help. If you're in the kitchen, you're working," Maddie told him. She was just across from them with both of her hands hidden by the huge metal bowl she was using to batter the fish.
Belle immediately hopped off her stool as if she'd done something wrong.
"It's alright," Edward assured her. "You can just relax and watch."
"I'd rather help, if that's okay," she replied.
"More than okay." He quickly grabbed a couple beers from the freezer in the front of the house, careful not to be seen by Jacob, and then headed back to spend more time getting to know Belle.
There was nothing like spending time in a kitchen with a woman to get a sense of her personality. Would she not want her hands to get dirty? Was she a take-out eater who was lost in a kitchen? Could she have some prowess, maybe taught by a family member? Edward didn't know, but he couldn't wait to find out.
Rosalie and Alice were waiting on the sofa when Bella entered the room. "So?" they asked, both of them scooting forward to sit right on the edge.
Bella laughed at how excited they were to find out how her night had gone. It was usually her sitting on the sofa waiting to hear all about their adventures.
"She's happy. That's a good sign," Alice said as she clapped her hands together.
"I am happy," Bella replied, a little shocked at the realization. She wasn't thinking about class or worrying about making it into the competition. She was only thinking of Edward and their wonderful night spent in a restaurant kitchen. It was hands down the best date she'd ever had.
"Tell us everything," Rosalie demanded. "Where did you go? What did you do? Are you going to see him again?"
Bella kicked off her shoes and then got comfortable squeezed in between her friends. "He brought me into the restaurant's kitchen and we spent the night talking to the cooks and each other."
"Did you try the oysters?" Alice asked.
"Yes," Bella replied with a laugh. "It was a really weird texture but the taste was just as good as he'd promised."
"I can't believe he got you to try them," Rosalie said with a shake of her head. "The man has skills."
"He actually kind of does," Bella agreed. "We ended up helping the cooks to prepare some of the food and he wasn't half bad. I mean, he's no professional for sure. But it was easy to see he was having fun and enjoying it."
Rosalie suddenly gasped. "You didn't tell him," she accused, pointing a finger at Bella. "He has no idea what you do or why you're here."
Bella shrugged as if it was nothing but then she turned right around and chewed on her lower lip. She didn't feel like it had been a mistake but she was worried she couldn't explain her choice properly to her friends.
"Why didn't you tell him?" Alice asked.
"Because …" Bella could feel the blush starting high in her cheeks as she thought of Edward and his smile. "He was just so sweet thinking he was teaching me how to prep the foods. I couldn't bring myself to tell him and mess that up. I didn't want to beat him over the head, like Rosalie said." She started giggling, garnering odd looks from her friends. "It was so hard not to comment, though. He was really awful at chopping tomatoes. No two slices were the same size."
"You are so OCD," Rosalie said, laughing and smacking Bella with a pillow.
"Are you going out again? Please say you are," Alice practically begged.
"I don't know. He said he needed to check with his friend Emmett because he'd planned some things for them tomorrow. He said he'd call and let me know."
"Maybe you can tag along," Alice suggested.
Rosalie shook her head. "She's not going to do that. Not unless you and I can tag along too."
"You're only saying that because you want to see Emmett again," Alice accused. "I saw you two eyeing each other up. Well, at least when I wasn't having to fake interest in the drivel coming from that Jacob guy. I can't believe they're friends with him."
"They're not," Rosalie assured her. "He's just sharing a room with them for financial reasons. Edward and Jacob are here to do some job and Emmett just tagged along to hang out with Edward during his off hours."
Bella's cellphone rang then, causing Rosalie and Alice to squeal and Bella to smile wide enough to make her cheeks twinge. She jumped up from the sofa and headed into her room, not wanting Edward to overhear any of the comments she was sure her friends were going to make.
"You called." She immediately blushed, not having meant to say that out loud.
"I told you I would."
"I know but …"
"Yeah, sorry it took so long. Emmett was in the shower and I had to wait for him to get out."
"So listen … He kind of made plans that we can't cancel because his parents actually booked it as a gift to us. But he's totally fine with you and your friends coming along. We're doing a culinary tour and it's gonna be full of great New Orleans cuisine. There'll be muffulettas, pralines, beignets, the works. It starts early tomorrow morning and finishes up in the early afternoon."
"I'll have to ask Alice and Rosalie and see what they say. Do you know what the cost will be?"
"Emmett wants to take care of it. Says he feels bad he can't let you have me all to yourself."
Bella laughed. "How does he know I want that?"
"He mentioned something about keeping me in the kitchen all night. I don't know."
She could just imagine Edward on the other end of the phone, his bone-melting grin firmly in place. "You let him think it was all my idea, huh?"
"Maybe a little. So … What do you think the chances are that your friends will agree?" He sounded nervous to her and she found that she really liked that—she liked that his nerves could get the best of him just the way hers sometimes did. It made him more genuine in her eyes.
It also made her want to answer him now. "We'd be happy to come along. What time do you want to meet in the lobby?"
"That's great. And thanks for the invite. And for earlier tonight too. I really had fun."
"You're welcome, Belle. Sweet dreams and I'll see you in the morning."
She hung back in the room for a little longer, working out exactly what she would say to her friends after signing them up without talking to them first. Honestly, though, they couldn't be mad since they had done it to her plenty of times. And Alice had said something about Rosalie liking Emmett so chances were good that they wouldn't care at all.
And if worse comes to worse, I'll just go alone. The thought scared her a little because it wasn't normal for her. It was especially out of character considering she wasn't in her home city and had only met Edward today. Regardless, she trusted him. She knew instinctively that he was a good guy and was honestly interested in getting to know her. Bella smiled as she headed to the living area to break the news to her friends. She was excited to tell them—and to spend more time with Edward.
Edward waited until it was almost time for class to start to head inside and pick a station. He was hoping it would ensure he wouldn't be anywhere near Jacob. After listening to him go on and on for almost an hour last night about how he would breeze through the classes and stomp his competition, Edward was ready to stomp him! It hadn't helped matters that Jacob had also been making comments about Bella and talking about asking her out.
Sitting there waiting for the instructor to appear, Edward's thoughts drifted to Belle and the time they'd spent together yesterday. He really did like his version of her name better but that had more to do with her resulting blush and smile than the pronunciation of her name. She had such an expressive face and it had made taking the cuisine tour with her twice as much fun since he'd known most of her opinions before she'd spoken them.
He'd learned a couple of surprising things about her yesterday too. The first was that she really knew food. She had a sensitive pallet and on more than one occasion she had been able to name the spices in their food before he could. He was pretty sure she'd also researched New Orleans because she had rattled off the history of some of their most important ingredients like one of his culinary instructors might have done when he had been in school. She'd impressed him and it had been a very long time since a woman had done that.
The second thing he'd learned was that she was very structured. She liked things to be just so and would make sure of it without even realizing. She had straightened napkins and chairs at each of the places they had gone. She had also checked her watch constantly, looking to see if they were on time at each stop and if they should be leaving for the next. He could imagine where that would be annoying to some people but he understood it. He liked to be on time for things himself—he just didn't make a big deal if he wasn't.
The only part of yesterday that he hadn't enjoyed was when he'd tried to make plans with her for the rest of the week. She hadn't come right out and said "no" but she had been really vague, saying she'd call if she found herself with some free time. He'd thought she was here on vacation but maybe it was more of a working vacation like his. He wondered why she wouldn't just say that though. Was she worried he wouldn't understand and would try to demand time from her that she didn't have to give? He hoped not. He wouldn't do that to anyone, but especially not to her.
"Welcome to your week long culinary class in historic New Orleans." Edward's jaw literally dropped open when he looked up and found that the owner of the male voice was the Bobby Flay. The man was a legend! Iron Chef, successful restaurant owner, television personality … And Edward's personal hero in the culinary arts. He couldn't believe Bobby Flay was standing at the front of his class. Sure the brochure had said it would be a celebrity chef but never in his wildest dreams had Edward expected this. Although, now that he was thinking about it, Flay was a master of southwestern and Cajun cuisine.
"While you're here, you'll have the opportunity to learn all about the unique ingredients that make up Cajun cuisine," Bobby continued. "It's a style of cooking full of history and passion and not everyone can master it. It requires a delicate balance between the heat of the spices and the natural flavors of the proteins indigenous to this area."
"Now I want you all to take a good look around this room," Bobby instructed. "These are not your classmates. These people are your competition. You're here to learn but you're also here to prove yourself."
A female chef at a station a few rows ahead of Edward caught his eye. She seemed familiar, though it was hard to tell for sure with the way her chef's jacket hid her build. There was also the issue of her attention being fully focused on Bobby, leaving the back of her head the only thing Edward could clearly see.
"First thing we're going to do today is learn to properly skin and filet a catfish," Bobby announced, causing Edward to smile. He was pretty sure he'd be at the top of the class today since Maddie's husband Troy had taught him to work with catfish on a previous trip to the city. With his mind focused on his class and impressing Bobby Flay, Edward forgot all about the woman for the rest of the morning.
"What am I going to do?" Bella had been begging her friends to answer that question for most of her lunch hour.
"It's not as big of a deal as you're making it," Rosalie assured her. "Just go back to class early and wait for Edward to show up and then tell him."
"It's not about that," Bella replied, tossing her fork onto her plate. "I don't think he'll care that I didn't tell him I'm a chef. But he is definitely going to care about me being his competition. I saw his skills in that kitchen the other night. How's he going to handle it when I make it into the top two and win?"
"Was he that bad?" Alice asked.
Bella thought about that night so she could answer honestly. "No, he wasn't bad. He just wasn't … He wasn't competition level."
"You're assuming he was showing you his best work," Rosalie pointed out. "What are you going to do if he wasn't and he makes it into the top two with you?"
"I'm damn sure not going to throw it just so he doesn't feel 'beat over the head' by what I can do," Bella replied, crossing her arms over her chest. "If he makes it there and wants to win, he's going to have to bring his best because I'm damn sure going to bring mine."
"Then be fair about it and tell him right away that you're his competition," Alice urged.
"This sucks," Bella grumped, slumping in her chair. "Bobby Flay is teaching my class and I should be going all giddy fangirl over that instead of worrying about what another chef thinks."
"He's not just another chef, Bella," Rosalie replied. "He's a guy you might be falling for. You practically said so yourself last night."
"All you have to do is balance your fledgling relationship and your chef abilities," Alice told her. "Try not to be a know-it-all, but don't let him think you aren't just as good as he is."
"And don't scowl if he's in the lead. You don't have to smile exactly, but don't look like you want to take one of your sharp knives and filet him," Rosalie cautioned.
"Smile a little though," Alice encouraged. "Guys like girls who smile."
"Okay, I have to get back," Bella said as she stood. Her head felt crammed full of advice and warring thoughts and she just wanted to get back to her station and have her mind clear of everything not food related.
But first she had to talk to Edward.
She was halfway back to the building their classes were being held in when she spotted Edward ahead of her. She thought about calling out for him but she didn't want him to get one look at her coat and then take off without listening to her explanation. She really hoped he wouldn't be like that but she wasn't sure and didn't want to risk it.
She sped up her walk and managed to reach him just before he opened the door to the building. "Edward."
He turned around and smiled at first but then he became wary. "Belle, what are you doing here?"
"I'm here for the class, just like you."
He seemed stunned at first but then he started grinning in a cocky way. "You're my competition, huh? I'm liking the prospects for this week more and more."
She smiled while warning him. "If you think for one second that I'm not real competition for you, you better think again."
"Is that right?"
Before he could reply, that Jacob guy came up and interrupted them. "Edward, you finally figured out Bella's in our class, huh? We're sharing a station so I can show her all my techniques."
"Actually," Bella said as she looked at Edward, hoping he would approve. "Edward's already invited me to share his station this afternoon."
He did not disappoint. He smiled wide and put an arm around her. "Sorry, Jacob. You're too late."
"We'd better get inside," Bella urged, reaching for the door. She didn't want to give Jacob an opportunity to find some way to end up next to her like he had this morning. The guy did not shut up and she couldn't take an afternoon next to him.
Edward grabbed the handle first and opened the door for her, giving her a wink as she passed by him. She was so relieved that he didn't seem upset and she was pretty sure his earlier comment had been in jest, that he didn't really think she couldn't compete against him.
They didn't get to talk for the rest of the afternoon but she still learned a whole lot about him. Edward wasn't a technical chef—that she knew with one hundred percent certainty. He didn't measure with spoons and cups or really anything with any discernible measuring capacity. He used his fingers, his cupped hand, the blade of his knife … pretty much anything he had handy at the moment. Honestly, it had driven her nuts to watch him work that way and she'd had the hardest time not forcing him to borrow her measuring cup.
The other thing she had learned was that she could be in big, big trouble in a one-on-one competition with him. Despite his unconventional methods and his lack of technical abilities, he was a phenomenal chef. The cut of his catfish and the taste he'd put into a simple piece of fried fish … He really had impressed her and that hadn't happened for her in a long time. Even more amazing was how modest he'd been about it. Bobby Flay had declared Edward's fish the best in the class and Edward had simply smiled and thanked him. There hadn't been any bravado about his skills or bragging about his schooling—he was honestly humble.
"So … How are you feeling about having the number three fish in the class?" Edward asked, the two of them walking back to the hotel side-by-side.
"I'd feel a lot better about it if Jacob hadn't been number two," Bella admitted. "Sorry, but he's kind of an ass."
Edward laughed and nodded. "Emmett calls him the dipshidiot, a combination of a dipshit and an idiot."
"Oh that's perfect," she replied with a laugh.
"Yeah, the guy's a jerk. No doubt. But he's also a descent chef so watch out for him."
"If only I had been braver with the cayenne. I really think I would have had the flavor Bobby was looking for if I'd taken the risk."
"Cayenne is a tricky spice, though. If you haven't worked with it a lot, it's easy to overuse it. Trust me, you'd rather have Bobby tell you to spice it up more than have him red-faced and choking from the heat."
Bella couldn't help staring at Edward. He'd been top of the class today and he wasn't rubbing it in at all—he was offering her advice.
"What?" he asked when he noticed her staring.
"Nothing. I was just thinking that I still can't believe Bobby Flay is our teacher."
"Right!" Edward replied excitedly. "The man is a legend."
Bella laughed. "Do I sense a bit of fanboy coming from you?"
"Oh like you aren't a fangirl."
She decided not to answer that. "I hope you're prepared to fall behind tomorrow because I plan to be top of the class."
"Do you now?" he asked with a laugh. "You know, I think we should make a little wager, Chef Belle."
"What kind of bet?"
"If I make it to the finals and win, you have to go out with me. Just the two of us. No friends and no night in the kitchen. A real date."
"And if I win?"
He shrugged. "What do you want?"
The answer immediately came to her. "You agree to let me teach you some technical skills. Starting with proper measuring techniques."
"Oh come on! My free-style measuring is the best."
"It's not and it's going to get you in trouble eventually. Measuring tools exist for a reason."
"Rules aren't rules in the culinary world, Belle. They're only guidelines and they're meant to be ignored from time to time. It's how chefs stand out and make their own marks."
"I've got plenty of time to make my mark," Bella replied with a cocky smile of her own. "But I've only got one week to beat the pants off you."
"Hey, if you want my pants off, we don't have to wait a whole week for that."
"What I want is a shower," she said, not really thinking about it. But as soon as she realized what she'd said, she quickly added, "Alone."
"If you must," Edward teased, smiling at her. "Dinner tonight?" he asked as he opened the hotel door for her.
"I don't know if I should be fraternizing with the enemy."
"I'll let you pick the place," he offered.
She could tell he really wanted her to agree but she was worried it would end up being a distraction for them both; they tended to lose track of time when they were together talking. "Only if we go as a group and we're back at the hotel by nine. You and I can't afford to skimp on sleep this week."
"Alright. A group outing it is. Call me with the when and where after your lonely shower."
She laughed at his silly grin as she pushed the numbers for their floors. She was very thankful he was taking their competing against each other so well. She had hated to think they would spend the rest of the week without talking to each other. She just hoped he would take his defeat as well when she won at the end of the week.
"We've been waiting long enough," Rosalie announced, looking right at Belle. She'd learned pretty quickly that she couldn't intimidate Edward into answering her questions. "Who's competing tomorrow? One of you? Both of you? Neither?" she asked.
"Seriously, Ed. This 'we'll tell you later' shit is wearing on my nerves," Emmett added.
"Just tell them already so we can stop talking about it," Jacob demanded. He'd once again wormed his way into a dinner invite but thankfully tonight he was sitting by Emmett and away from Edward—and from Belle.
"Well we know he didn't make it," Alice whispered. The only reason Edward heard her was because she was sitting right beside him. She seemed kind of quiet but when she did speak up everyone around her listened.
"At least tell us who was today's class badass," Emmett pleaded. "Come on, Ed. It was you, man, right?"
"Actually, it was him," Belle admitted, turning to Edward and smiling. He'd been a little worried she would be deeply competitive and unwilling to concede his wins but she was exactly the opposite. She acknowledged his abilities, even if she didn't always understand how he managed to win. Her structured style made it hard for her to accept that his unconventional style could really work, but she couldn't argue with the taste and presentation of his food.
"She gave me a run for my money, though," Edward told them. "If her meringue had been just a little stiffer and not so sugary, she might have caused Bobby Flay to have to do a tie-breaker between us."
"You would have loved that," Bella said, laughing and rolling her eyes. "I only thought I was bad about being competitive. You try to turn everything into a competition. Today, he wanted to compete over who could peel an apple better."
Edward shrugged. "It's nice to be recognized for your abilities."
"So wait," Alice demanded. "Bella grabbed Tuesday and Wednesday while Edward won Monday and today. That means you guys are battling each other tomorrow."
"Hot damn," Emmett exclaimed, slapping his large hand against the table and making the silverware rattle. "That's my boy right there."
"Yeah, we'll that's our girl," Rosalie said, staring him down. The two of them were hilarious to watch because they were both so damn stubborn and sure they were in the right.
He tried not to, but Edward couldn't help thinking of how they probably only had a couple dinners left to hang out with each other. He wasn't sure when the girls would be leaving—he hadn't been able to bring himself to ask Belle. He found it was easier to be in the moment when he didn't know the end date. He wished he could say they could continue on long distance but he knew that would never work—not for two chefs in two different cities. The long hours and the inability to visit more than a couple times a year just weren't conducive to a successful relationship. It was a real shame too because he honestly felt they could be good together and for each other.
"Mr. Unconventional, wake up," Belle urged, laughing and poking him in the side. "You're missing Emmett ranting about why you should win tomorrow."
Edward smiled and refocused his full attention on her. "The one who wins tomorrow will be the chef that brings it all. I don't know if that's going to be you or me, but I'll be proud either way."
"You really mean that, don't you?" she asked. He hoped he was reading the look in her eyes correctly because if so, she was both impressed and touched.
He turned his chair to face her fully. "Look, we love what we do. And we're really good at it. We have different styles and different ideas about how to make spectacular food, but our end goal is the same—a memorable meal. If you win tomorrow, it means your food had better presentation and taste. To me, that's admirable and something to learn from."
She chewed on her lower lip for a bit before saying, "I don't know that I can be that gracious. I came to learn and win. If I don't win, what was the point?"
"Meeting me?" he suggested with a smile.
She smiled back but he could see it was hesitant. "I can definitely say that meeting you has been one of the best parts."
He didn't want anything to mar tonight in either of their memories so he tried his best to move them past this topic. "You know what? We battle tomorrow. That's the truth. But tonight, we're just Edward and Belle. Let's just be two people enjoying a good meal with great friends."
"Ed! I'm talking to you," Emmett bellowed. "Can we come watch tomorrow or what?"
"I already told you, you're not a student so you can't come. Just how thickheaded are you?" Jacob barked.
"Hey, no need for that," Belle admonished. "He's excited for his friend. Something you should be as well."
"Oh, I'm excited alright," Jacob replied. "I'm excited to be your sous-chef and help you beat him."
Belle started chewing on her lip again and Edward knew she was feeling bad about the Jacob thing. The dipshidiot had basically badgered her into agreeing to let him be her sous-chef. But as Edward had told her earlier, she didn't have anything to feel bad about. Jacob was a great sous-chef and a valuable asset. If they didn't know each other, chances were she would have picked Jacob anyway to increase her chances of winning. Edward couldn't and wouldn't fault her for that.
"Edward, who's your sous-chef going to be?" Alice asked, probably trying to calm the conversation down.
"It's this guy named Ernesto. He hasn't been out of culinary school long but he's been helping in his family's restaurant for years." He smirked at Belle as he added the last bit, "And his knife skills have earned Bella's very strict approval, something I have yet to do."
"That's what happens when you free-style," she teased. "And while we are on the subject of your techniques, what's with the writing on the envelopes?"
"That's how I like to plot my meals. Each recipe gets its own so I can spread them out along the counter. Plus they're thicker than paper so if they get wet during my prepping, they don't fall apart."
"I get that. But did you always do it that way or is it just an attempt to suck up to Bobby?"
"What does Bobby have to do with it?"
"Oh come on!" she exclaimed, pushing on his arm. "You really expect me to believe you're a fan of his and didn't know he writes on envelopes?"
Edward really had no idea before Belle had told him. "I honestly didn't but I like him all the more now. Bet you stop bashing on my free-styling now that Bobby shares it."
"In your dreams! He might do a few unconventional things, but it's nothing like your stuff."
"That's because I'm original."
"Oh, okay. If that's what we're going with," she said while laughing.
"We can't all be as structured as you with your leather-bound notebook," he teased.
"I'd buy you one but something tells me you wouldn't use it."
"I would if it came from you, Belle," he promised, meaning it one hundred percent.
His words brought out her blush and he found himself struggling not to lean over and kiss her. It was definitely something he wanted to do before they had to go their separate ways, but not right here in front of everyone. He wanted it to be a moment that was just for them.
"Well ladies and germs, it's time to head back to the hotel," Rose announced as she stood. "Our future champion here, Chef Bella Swan, needs her beauty rest so she's at maximum butt-kicking level tomorrow."
"Fat chance, blondie," Emmett replied with a snort. "Edward's gonna be the champion and you're gonna buy his celebratory beer tomorrow night."
"I'm starting to think they have more at stake on this than we do," Belle whispered.
From the stare-down going on between Emmett and Rosalie, Edward was pretty sure she was right. He wondered if they weren't the only ones who had made a bet over tomorrow's outcome.
Bella had started out her morning calm and serene but as she approached the building her nerves started doing the salsa in the pit of her stomach. This was it. This was the last day. The big competition. Possibly the last time she would see Edward; she wasn't sure since she hadn't been able to gather the courage to ask when he was leaving.
She was surprised by how sad it made her to think of him leaving. Sure she liked him and thoroughly enjoyed his company, but she had never fooled herself into thinking this was going to be anything more than a fun week with a new friend. She knew there was no such thing as long distance relationships in their line of work.
"Thinking of conceding already, Belle?"
Bella smiled as she turned to face Edward, glad to have his teasing to focus on. "Not a chance. I'm looking forward too much to my victory dinner tonight."
"So then why are you standing out here instead of inside getting your station ready?"
"I was waiting for you. I wanted to wish you good luck."
He seemed surprised and happy. "Thank you. I appreciate that."
"You're welcome. It's been a lot of fun to cook beside you."
He laughed. "You can be honest. It hasn't been as much fun as nerve-wracking for you."
"It's honestly been both."
"Good." He shifted his weight from one foot to the other, looking a little nervous to her. "Listen, I just want you to know I really meant what I said last night. If you win today, I'll be happy for you and proud of you."
Hearing those words again and seeing once more how much he truly meant them had her deciding to stop waiting on something she'd wanted to do for days now.
Using the sides of his chef's jacket to steady herself, she lifted up on her toes and pressed her lips firmly to his. He didn't hesitate to kiss her back and it was one of the best kisses she'd ever had. All that passion she'd watch him put into his food this week could be felt in his kiss. If not for the alarm on her watch, they probably would have stood there all morning and both missed the competition.
"I didn't do that to distract you. I promise. I just couldn't wait any longer," she said as they stepped away from each other.
He smiled as he opened the door of the building. "I'm glad you couldn't wait. And don't worry. It's less of a distraction and more of an encouragement."
He gave her that bone-melting smile and said, "Because I'm definitely getting a good night kiss after our date."
She laughed at his confidence and walked just a little closer to him until they had arrived at the competition area. They still weren't sure exactly what kind of competition it would be, only that they each would be allowed to have one person helping them.
Edward opened the door and they both stopped dead in their tracks. "It's Kitchen Stadium," he whispered in her ear.
"Doesn't change anything. We're still two badass chefs. We just have to be a little more badass than anticipated," she whispered back.
"Good luck, Belle."
"Good luck, Edward."
"Morning you two," Bobby greeted as he pulled them into a football huddle. "Welcome to our version of Kitchen Stadium. I'm sure you are both familiar with Iron Chef."
"Yes, Chef," Edward replied, looking at Bobby with full-on fanboy awe. Bella would have teased him if she wasn't feeling her own fangirl awe.
"Good. I'm going to tell you both the secret ingredient and then give you twenty minutes to plan meals with your sous-chefs. You cannot start prepping until I call you up and formally explain the rules."
"Yes, Chef," they said together.
"Today's ingredient will be cooked crawfish tails," Bobby revealed. It would have taken at least three hours to turn live crawfish into meals since they took a long time to boil and remove from their shells.
Bella had eaten some boiled crawfish with Edward just the other night at dinner so she knew the crustacean had very little natural flavor of its own but was extremely absorbent. They were typically prepared boiled but could be fried as well. She had no knowledge of them ever being used in a dessert so that was going to be a problem.
She glanced at Edward and she could see the gears were turning in his head. She also knew he liked whatever he was planning because he was smiling.
"Get to your stations and use your twenty minutes wisely," Bobby instructed.
As soon as Bella set her knives down on the counter, Jacob popped up next to her. "Ready to beat Cullen?"
"I'm ready to compete against him, yes."
"You should know, he doesn't have strong technical skills. All you need is one really great dish to blow him out of the water. Maybe do something like an apple swan and it could play on your name and be a killer dish."
"Don't sell him short, Jacob. He may not know how to do an apple swan or a rose radish but it doesn't matter. The real competition with him is beating the flavors he infuses into his food. If the secret ingredient is one he knows well, it's going to be very hard to beat him no matter what I do."
"I still think it'll put you a leg up in the competition."
"We'll see but I don't think an apple is going to go with crawfish."
"Damn. Could Bobby have picked a worse ingredient?"
"It's a challenge, Jacob. It's supposed to be hard."
"This is more than hard. What kind of dessert can you do with crawfish?"
"I don't know yet so let's plan the other four dishes and come back to that one." She pulled out her notebook and started writing down the names of her plates and the ingredients they would require.
The twenty minutes seemed to fly by for Bella because Bobby was suddenly calling for his chefs. "I need my two competitors to step over here."
Bella was more than happy to get away from Jacob for a few minutes. She knew he would be a big help with the cooking but until then he was a grating presence. He had still been going on and on about the dessert even though he hadn't come up with a better idea.
"Chefs, you've both worked hard to make it here today," Bobby began. "This week we have seen some amazing dishes from you both. Edward, your strength so far has been packing a lot of flavor in a small amount of time. That's going to be especially key for you here today."
"Thank you, Chef," Edward replied. His face remained neutral but Bella could tell from his eyes that he was beaming on the inside and wanted nothing more than to smile.
"Bella, you are one of the calmest chefs I've seen in ages. You've shown an ability to stay aware of your time and manage your meals wisely. We've also seen you attack complications quickly and adjust yourself accordingly. Do that today and Edward will definitely have some stiff competition.
"Thank you, Chef," she said with a nod.
"You'll both have sixty minutes to prepare five plates, including one appetizer and one dessert. You must use the secret ingredient in all of your plates.
"I've picked three local chefs to be our judges for today. You'll have the chance to earn up to fifty points based on taste, creativity, and presentation. The chef with the most points wins. Any questions?"
They answered together, "No, Chef."
"Let's reveal the secret ingredient then." Bobby lifted the large silver cover from the small table next to them, uncovering a large plate of crawfish. "Your secret ingredient is cooked crawfish tails. Good luck, chefs. Your time starts now," Bobby announced.
From that moment on, Bella and Edward were true competitors. They weren't thinking of each other or what might come later. They were only thinking of crawfish and five different ways to prepare it.
Bobby called time and as Edward put his hands up, he glanced over at Bella. She was smiling and seemed proud of her work. He looked down at his own plates and found he had a lot to smile about as well. He turned quickly to Ernesto and shook his hand, thanking him for all of his help.
And then his attention was on Bobby Flay, waiting to see which of them he would call to the judging table first.
Turned out, it was Edward. "You've got this," he told himself as he moved toward the judges' table."
"Judges, Chef Edward Cullen," Bobby introduced. "Chef, tell us what we have before us."
"Appetizers should be light but should also awaken your taste buds for what's to come. With that in mind, I've created for you Crawfish Thermidor. It's crawfish tails braised with fresh mushrooms in butter and white wine, then spiced with red pepper flakes. It's typically served in a bowl but I decided to serve it on toasted French bread instead."
Unlike on the Iron Chef television show, the judges didn't share any comments about his food. The nervousness he'd felt earlier came roaring back with a vengeance—he wasn't used to having to wait for an opinion of his food.
"What's next, Chef?" Bobby asked.
Through the next four plates, it was the same. Edward introduced them and the judges remained quiet and composed. And his nerves got just a little worse.
His first meal was a Crawfish Roll with homemade potato chips. He'd chilled the crawfish tails then mixed them with mayo and lemon juice, and spiced them with a little cayenne then served it on a dinner roll. He paired it with a side of homemade potato chips that were baked to keep them light and sprinkled with just a little natural sea salt.
For his second meal, he made a stuffing of the crawfish with celery and onion and put it into a few of the empty shells. The rest of the tails were left whole to ensure the rich, creamy soup he made would be meaty enough to serve as a meal.
He went all out with his final meal, preparing an andouille sausage and crawfish jambalaya seasoned with onions, celery and bell pepper and garnished with chopped green onions. He paired it with a fried pistolette bread stuffed with crawfish and cheddar and mozzarella cheeses.
Dessert had definitely given him some pause but once he'd come up with an idea, he'd known it would be a winner. He made a traditional bread pudding from French bread with the crawfish tails minced into it, and then coated it with a homemade spiced rum sauce.
Edward was sweating more walking back to his station than he had the entire time he'd been cooking.
"How was it?" Ernesto asked.
"Brutal. They didn't say a word."
"I'm sure they'll have some really positive feedback for you when they announce the results."
"I hope so," Edward replied. I hope Belle keeps her nerves in check. She tends to forget what she's saying when she blushes because she feels awkward about the redness of her face. He crossed his fingers for her as she stepped up to the judges' table.
Bella's fingers hurt from how hard she'd had them crossed during Edward's presentation. She had expected at first that she had them crossed for herself but the longer she'd stood there, the more she'd realized she was actually wishing good luck on him. She definitely still wanted to win, no question about it. But she no longer felt like she would be completely disappointed if he did somehow beat her.
She couldn't think about him right now, though. She needed to be fully focused on her food and the descriptions she'd prepared for her dishes.
"Judges, Chef Bella Swan," Bobby introduced. "Chef, tell us what you've made for us."
"I believe appetizers should be fun and light so I've made for you today mini crawfish pies using crawfish and sweet Vidalia onions mixed with garlic and parsley, then baked in mini puff pastry shells."
Bella tried to look at all three judges at once as they bit into their pies, hoping to get some sign of whether or not they liked her first attempt with crawfish. She had realized pretty quickly that they weren't speaking to Edward at all so she'd had time to prepare herself for the silence. Unfortunately, her preparation was turning out to be useless and the urge to chew on her lower lip was getting stronger with each passing, silent second.
"Next," Bobby said once the appetizers had been removed and the first meal was placed before the judges.
"This is a crawfish and broccoli casserole made with a cream of mushroom base and fresh celery and bell pepper, topped with butter and French bread crumbs."
More silence ensued and the urge to bite her lip increased. She fought it, though, reminding herself that she was proud of her food and the flavors she'd created.
Soldering on, she described her next two dishes just as she'd practiced in her head while creating them.
Her second meal was a simple fried rice with crawfish tails, paired with a Cajun twist on a Mexican cornbread. She'd mixed crawfish with jalapeno peppers, diced pimentos, and cheddar cheese to create a unique cornbread.
She had put a little extra effort into her third meal, knowing it was a local favorite. She prepared a crawfish and shrimp jambalaya seasoned with onions, celery and bell pepper, and sprinkled with a little cayenne for heat.
Her dessert plate was either going to be a surprising hit or a massive fail—the urge to bite her lip was at its strongest as she took a breath before describing it.
"For dessert, you have a fig preserve cake with nutmeg-infused crawfish and a fresh, buttermilk glaze."
After the judges had taken a couple bites, Bobby dismissed her with a simple "Thank you, Chef."
She managed to hold off on chewing her lip until she made it back to the safety of her station.
"You did fine," Jacob assured her, putting his hands on her shoulders.
She ducked away and politely smiled at him. "Thanks for your help, Jacob."
"No problem. Hey, you know, I was thinking we could get a bite to eat after this. Reminisce about our week and stuff before we leave."
"Actually, I already have plans with my girlfriends. Kind of a girls' night out since we're leaving soon."
"Really? Cullen's not tagging along this time?"
Bella looked over at Edward while fighting the urge to laugh. If anyone around here had been tagging along, it had been Jacob.
"I think he has plans with Emmett," she said, hoping that was vague enough to keep Jacob from asking more questions.
He gave her what she assumed to be a cocky smile—it was just the smile of a dipshidiot to her. "Guess I'll just head downtown and sample the local flavors."
The amazing legend that was Bobby Flay gave Bella another reason to love him right then by calling her and Edward up to the judges' table. She happily left Jacob behind and hurried over.
Edward was smiling and shaking his head at her as he walked up.
"He's your friend," she mouthed to him.
"Is not," he mouthed back.
"Chefs, you both did an amazing job today. It was easy to see you both put a lot of thought and passion into your dishes. It would be great if we could declare you both winners based solely on the hard work you put forth today, but only one of you garnered enough points to be our champion."
Edward completely shocked her by reaching out and taking hold of her hand. As much as she wanted to see the expression on his face at that moment, she didn't dare look away from Bobby Flay.
"Based on taste, creativity, and presentation, Chef Bella Swan was awarded a total score of forty-seven points," Bobby announced.
Bella stopped breathing and probably wouldn't have started again if not for Edward squeezing her hand to the point of distraction.
"Chef, you received eighteen points for taste, nineteen for creativity, and ten for presentation. You did an amazing job and you should be proud."
Bella knew right then that she had lost. She felt heartache and disappointment but she also felt that she had done her absolute best and did her best to stay focused on the last.
"Chef Edward Cullen was awarded a total score of forty-eight points, making him today's champion," Bobby announced.
Edward looked completely stunned and even more so after Bella gave him a hug and whispered "congratulations" in his ear.
"Chef Cullen, you received twenty points for taste, nineteen for creativity, and nine for presentation." Bobby held his hand out to Edward. "Congratulations."
"Thank you, Chef," Edward said as they shook hands.
"Chef Swan, you really should be proud," Bobby told her, shaking her hand as well.
"Thank you, Chef."
Each of the judges took a moment then to share their thoughts on Edward and Bella's strengths and weaknesses with their dishes, giving them both valuable advice to take back to their kitchens. Bella planned to put all of their critiques to good use, especially those that came from Bobby.
Bobby addressed the entire class next. "Thank you all for joining me this week. I hope you all walk away with a love for Cajun cuisine and a better understanding of your skills as a chef. It was a pleasure to teach you all. Congratulations again to our champion and his competitor. Enjoy the rest of your time in New Orleans."
He and the judges left the room, along with most of their classmates. A handful stayed behind to talk to Edward and congratulate him and Bella used the opportunity to head back to her station so she could clean and pack her knives. And figure out exactly how she felt about losing.
Emmett was waiting for Edward outside of the building and as soon as he saw him, Emmett lifted Edward off his feet and let out a whoop that was heard for blocks. "I knew you would do it, man. I knew you'd win."
"Thanks, Em. Can you put me down now?" Edward asked while laughing.
"I'm really proud of you, man. I know it couldn't have been easy going up against a woman you like but you didn't puss out. You brought your A game and I know she did too."
"Have you seen her? She disappeared while our classmates were talking to me."
"Yeah, she headed back to the hotel about twenty minutes ago. Said she needed to get out of her jacket and take a shower to get the crawfish smell off. Seemed kind of down too, but that's expected right?"
"Unfortunately," Edward replied with a sigh. "Let's get back. I wanna grab a shower and then go talk to her."
"What's the rush? I thought we'd stop and share a couple beers to celebrate on our own before we meet everyone for dinner."
"I don't want to risk not having a moment alone to talk with her. I don't know when she's leaving."
"What's it matter? You'll see her around town."
"Emmett, I hate to break it to you, man, but none of us live in New Orleans. We all have to go home."
"Yeah, I know. That's what I'm saying. You'll see her around Austin."
"Wait! What?" Edward stopped walking and forced Emmett to do the same. "Speak proper English."
Emmett rolled his eyes. "We live in Austin," he said, pointing between him and Edward. "The girls live in Austin. Rosalie and Bella share an apartment while Alice lives with her guy. Turns out that part-time job Eric has for me is with her fiancé, a dude named Jasper Whitlock."
While the news was the second-best he'd heard today, it was also too good to be true. "Emmett, don't fuck with me right now. I really will beat the shit out of you if you're playing with me."
"You've really got it bad for this girl, huh?"
The dark look on his face had Emmett swearing on his holiest objects. "Edward, I promise on the life of my Xbox and my Wii and my collection of football memorabilia that Bella Swan lives in Austin."
Edward smiled and smacked Emmett on the shoulder. "I really love you right now."
"Wait!" Emmett yelled as Edward raced away from him. "Where are you going?"
"I've gotta talk to my Belle."
He ran all the way back to the hotel and thought about taking the stairs but decided to save his energy and ride the elevator instead. He stood right at the door, waiting to jump out the second the cab reached her floor.
He sprinted down the hall and turned the corner so sharply that he nearly ran right over Rosalie and Alice.
"Whoa there, Champion Chef," Rosalie said with a laugh. "Got a fire to put out we don't know about?"
Edward planted a kiss on each girl's cheek. "Thank you for living in Austin."
Alice giggled while Rosalie rolled her eyes.
"We would have told you guys sooner but Emmett and I agreed it needed to wait until after the competition," Rosalie shared. "Emmett didn't want you to come on too strong and start talking about dates back home and I didn't want Bella to freak and start thinking of all the ways things could go wrong."
"So …" Edward couldn't bring himself to ask the question.
"No, no," Rosalie assured him. "She absolutely wants to be with you. She just hasn't had a lot of luck with relationships because of the hours she works. But you get that. You probably even have similar hours."
"Just go slow with her," Alice cautioned. "Don't go straight into scheduling a month's worth of dates. Just get her to agree to one and the rest will follow."
A plan started to form in his head and he looked to Rosalie. "You're sweet on Emmett, right?"
"Why would you think that?"
"Because you plotted with him. Emmett doesn't make plans that involve me with just anyone and I bet you're the same way with Bella."
She was obviously determined not to concede the point. "Maybe. What of it?"
"Trade tickets with me."
"Trade plane tickets with me. Let me fly home next to Belle and you fly home next to Emmett."
"Oh, how romantic," Alice squealed. "Rosalie, say you'll do it. Go on!"
"You really are hard up for our girl, huh?" Rosalie asked, eyeing Edward closely.
Edward smiled. "We're going to be amazing together."
"Alright," she said with a grin. "You've got a trade."
"Thank you, ladies." Edward quickly kissed each of their cheeks again and then continued toward Belle's room, excited to share his plan with her.
Bella struggled to get her shirt on so she could stop whoever was pounding on her door. From the sound of it, she figured it was Emmett looking for Rosalie. She suspected the two of them were way more than casual friends and wondered if they would continue their relationship after tomorrow. Rosalie worked as an insurance agent so she could take off pretty much anytime she wanted as long as she had her computer and a Wi-Fi connection.
"Come on, Belle. Open up."
Why is it Edward?
Do I want to see him right now?
What could be so urgent he has to bang on the door?
Is he upset I left without saying anything? I thought he'd understand.
If she wanted answers, she was going to have to open the door.
But she didn't have to open it much or invite him in. "Hi."
"Belle, really?" he asked, tapping his finger against the door.
She sighed and opened the door to let him in. "Listen, about earlier—"
"Don't worry about it. I totally get it," he assured her. "And anyway, I'm not here to talk about that."
"Then why are you here? And what was with the pounding?"
"I wanted to make sure you heard me in case you were still in the shower." He put his hand on her arm and led her to sit on the sofa. "I think we've both been avoiding talking about what happens when we leave here. I know why I haven't brought it up and I hope it's the same reason you haven't mentioned it."
"Edward, really, I can't do this right now." The disappointment of losing had hit her hard in the shower and the last thing she wanted to do was start crying again—especially not in front of him. She really was happy for him but that didn't make the heartache for herself any less.
"No, listen, I think right now really is the perfect time. Belle, this doesn't have to end. We don't have to end. When we leave here, we're both going to Austin. We have the same home city."
"Edward, that's a really sweet thought but I don't have a lot of time to do things like date."
"Neither do I. I know it'll be hard with our demanding schedules, but we can make time. I've already started. Rose and I are going to trade plane tickets so I can fly home with you."
"You're so sweet but I just can't."
"Why not? Don't you enjoy being with me?"
"I do. You know I do. But we work crazy hours and we go to classes and compete in our off time and those things just cause relationships to end in disaster."
"Not for us," he argued, shaking his head. "We understand the crazy hours so we're not going to feel resentful about it. And we can go to the classes and competitions together. I know it hurts to have lost today but I also know you pushed yourself harder than you have anywhere else because that's what I did. I wasn't just trying to beat you, Belle. I was trying to make you proud."
"You did make me proud," she said, wiping at a stray tear. "But it's impossible not to feel disappointed too."
He took both of her hands into his. "I know. That's expected and it's okay. If you decide tomorrow that you're mad at me for winning, that'll be okay too. Because I know what's going to stick is your pride, not your hurt feelings."
"I really can be a sore loser sometimes," she admitted.
He grinned. "So can I. Just ask Emmett about playing Madden."
She was surprised to find herself laughing. "You really are different, you know."
"Come on, Belle. Really make my day. Promise we'll date when we get home."
"Pretty sure your day has already been made."
"I'll admit it's been a great day but it's missing something that only you can give me."
"You really want to try this? You want to try to battle crazy hours and demanding jobs?"
"Haven't I already proven I love a good competition?"
She laughed again and she also leaned into him, letting him put his arms around her. "Yeah, you kind of did."
He put a finger under her chin and tilted her face up. "So that's a yes?"
"Yes," she answered without hesitation.
He kissed her then—long and deep and full of such amazing passion that it made her feel dizzy.
When they had both regained control of their breathing, she looked up at him. "In the interest of full disclosure, you should know I have a thing for Bobby Flay."
"What kind of thing?"
"The kind where I fantasize about heating things up with him."
Edward put his hand over his heart and faked a stricken look. "Belle, you've ruined Bobby as my chef hero forever. I don't think I'll ever recover from this."
She laughed as she grabbed his hand and put it over her own heart. "I might have had a couple fantasies about him but you're the one I've kissed."
He smiled and leaned down until their noses touched. "I'm going to be the only man you kiss from here on out."
"Don't you think it's a little early for prophetic statements like that? We've spent the week together but we hardly know each other."
"Belle, I learned everything I need to know about you from watching you in the kitchen."
"You sound awfully sure about that."
"I am. Plus I have faith. And some really great advice—hold on tight to the good things in life because they don't always come around often. And you, Belle, are a very good thing."
"I'm not a thing," she said as she got to her feet, knowing they needed to head downstairs to meet their friends. "I'm a chef."
"A great chef," he corrected, standing and pulling her back into his arms.
"A superb chef," she joked. "And you are so going down the next time we compete."
"I look forward to the challenge."
"You know you're going to have to let me teach you technical skills, right?"
"And you're going to have to let me show you how to relax and not be so structured."
"I can live with that," she said, giving him a quick kiss before towing him to the elevator. When the cab started moving down, she turned to him and asked, "Did you have any idea things would turn out this way when you got on the elevator that first time?"
"Absolutely none. But I'm really glad with how things have turned out so far."
"Just for the record, I was totally robbed today."
"Completely," he agreed, smiling too much to mean it.
"I guess we should probably celebrate your win," she said as she linked her arms around his neck.
"I hope you have something special in mind."
"Crawfish?" she joked, making him laugh.
"How about just a kiss instead?"
"For now. There will be plenty more to come back home."
"You sound awfully sure about that."
"I know you, Belle," he said sincerely. "And I know we're going to be great together."
It was strange, but after only a week with him she really did feel like she knew him. She also trusted him. If Edward said they were going to be great, then he meant that he was going to do everything he could to make them great. And so would she.
In the Here and Now:
"No, man, I'm serious. She thought my name was Abs for at least three floors," Edward joked, talking with a fellow chef.
Bella rolled her eyes before reaching out to touch his arm to let him know she was there.
"There she is," he said as he turned toward her. "Tonight's Culinary Master." In her ear, he whispered, "Je suis extrêmement fier de vous, Belle."
"What kind of proud?" she asked. It kind of sounded like 'excited' to her but that didn't make any sense. She really needed to set aside some time for him teach her more French.
He put an arm around her waist and pulled her against his side. "I said that I am extremely proud of you."
"I don't know how you do it," Chef John said with a shake of his head. "I've been in three competitions with you guys now and I have yet to see either one of you show even a little disappointment when the other wins."
"There's disappointment," Edward assured him. "There's always some when you put all you've got into your dishes and still come up short. Sometimes we can even be sore losers and not really speak the next day or two. But when those short-term feelings clear out, what's left is happiness for the other's win and pride in how well they did."
Bella added, "And when we're really being level-headed, we ask to learn the winning dishes. My win tonight is partially his because he taught me how to make my dessert of grilled pound cake with strawberry-rhubarb sauce."
Edward snorted. "Man, you should have seen how big her eyes got the first time she saw me put a slice of pound cake on a backyard grill."
"Just one of the many ways you've earned your 'Mr. Unconventional' nickname," she said, smiling up at him.
He gave her a quick kiss on the lips then asked, "You ready to go?"
"Absolutely." She wanted to have some time with him all to herself. Plus her feet were really starting to kill her after all the mingling and then having to pose in heels for pictures for a good fifteen minutes straight.
"John, it was good to see you again," Edward said as they shook hands.
"Yeah, it was. I'm sure I'll see you guys around soon. And, Bella, congratulations again."
"Thanks, John. Have a great night," she replied, giving him a wave.
They were almost home and were stopped at a red light when Edward woke her from the light doze she'd fallen into the moment the car had started down the road. "You know, you didn't have to do that."
It wasn't like him to use such a quiet tone so she opened her eyes to see what expression was on his face, but it was hard to tell in the green glow of the dashboard lights. "Do what?"
"Give me credit for your win like that. When you win, it has everything to do with you being the better chef in that moment. It's yours and I don't want you feeling like you have to share it with me. I don't want your accomplishment lessened in any way. Even more, I don't want to risk us. We work because we don't have resentment toward each other."
She reached over and pulled one of his hands from the steering wheel and held it tightly in hers. "Don't be silly, Edward. Sharing my win with you isn't going to cause me to resent you."
"It might if you feel like you're only winning with my help."
She didn't mean to do it but she couldn't stop the loud bray of laughter that shot out of her. "I guess you forgot my win before this one came from my technical skills—my so-called structured approach that you try to avoid at all costs."
He parked the car and then turned to face her. "I didn't forget. I just … You were acting weird before we left and then you gave me credit in front of John which isn't something you typically do." He reached over and cupped her cheek in his hand. "I love you so much, Belle. I would quit competing before I'd ever risk losing you."
She smiled and put her hand over his. "And I'd quit before losing you. I promise that if I ever for a second feel anything other than pride for your win, I'll tell you right away so we can decide on how best to handle it. And I'm sorry for acting weird. It's just that I was looking at the calendar and our first anniversary is coming up. I don't know about you, but this is the longest, most stable relationship I've had. I guess I just got scared."
"And giving me credit that way?"
She snorted. "Yeah, Rosalie's been on my ass about being more gracious. She says if I don't learn it now, then I'm destined to become a crotchety old woman who hits people with a cane and never gets visitors."
"You two," he said, grinning and shaking his head. "Next time, talk to me before implementing any Rosalie-suggested changes, alright?"
"I'm sorry I worried you."
"Then you should kiss me to make it up to me."
"Just one?" she asked, reminding them both of a night in an elevator in New Orleans.
"For now," he replied, grinning and drawing her face closer to his.
"Je t'aime, Edward."
"Perfect inflection. I'm impressed and proud."
"That's nice. Can we kiss now?"
"Call me Abs first?"
She narrowed her eyes at him but couldn't hold it more than a couple seconds before smiling. "Even making out with you is unconventional."
"Ooh we can make out in the car? Finally!"
"Would you just kiss me already?"
He smiled and said, "It would be my extreme pleasure, Belle."
She had time for two quick, fleeting thoughts before his lips touched hers … The French version really is better … I love this unconventional man completely and irrevocably.
A/N: Thanks again to all those who donated to Fandom 4 LLS!