A little Christmas one-shot for you. Hope you enjoy it, loves!
As always, thanks a million to my beta Rhi.
Stephenie Meyer owns all things Twilight.
All I Want for Christmas
He tapped on the window again, and I groaned in aggravation. "I said we're closed!"
He tapped again, and I felt my temper go off. I marched over the door and angrily unlocked it, wrenching it open.
"Are you deaf? I said we're closed."
"I'm begging you. It's Christmas Eve. Please? I'm desperate."
"Listen, I have a life as well. I'd like to get home and feed my cat."
That hadn't come out quite like I'd planned. That had actually sounded pathetic.
He stepped into the dim toy store and shivered mightily from the cold. He brushed some snow off his shoulders and then scrubbed his hands through his hair. His face. So handsome. Whoa.
"I'm so sorry. I hate to put out your…cat, but I'm in desperate need of some gifts for my nieces and nephews."
I let his handsomeness and soft tenor voice distract me for a moment, and then I shook my head to clear it.
"Talk about last minute. Why not just go to Wal-Mart?"
"Because I need help. I have no idea what to buy little kids, and I thought a toy store could give me some guidance."
"Why so last minute?"
He shrugged. "I just got into the country. I've been overseas doing an appraisal of an English estate's art and collectibles."
"Oh." I felt my annoyance disappear. "Well. That's a fancy job. I guess you've got plenty of money. I'll help you, but I better get a hefty tip from this."
"You can have anything you want, angel," he said with a smile, and I nearly swooned.
"Uh, let me lock up. I'm not letting anyone else in here. You're my only hard-luck charity case this Christmas Eve."
"Lucky me," he said. Again with that smile.
I turned from him and tried to reassemble my stupid brain he'd just turned to mush. Those pale green eyes, that pretty red hair -I'd always had a thing for gingers- that handsome face, that killer smile. And he was tall. Such a package he came in. Definitely swoony. I'd try not to make a fool out of myself in front of him. At least I hoped I wouldn't.
Help this nice man get some toys for his nieces and nephews and then go home and feed your cat. You can make a cup of hot cocoa and listen to Johnny Mathis singing Christmas songs…alone. Forever alone.
"It's warm in here. Do you mind if I take off my coat? It's dripping onto your floor from the snow covering it."
"Sure. Give it to me, and I'll put it behind the register."
He pulled his gloves off his slender, long-fingered hands and then tucked them in his pockets. He uncurled his scarf from around his neck, and not figuring out what to do with it, he held it out for me. I hesitated a moment, then took it from him. He then unbuttoned his coat and slid it off. He stood there in a black cable-knit sweater and jeans, and damn me if he didn't almost make me swoon again.
His wife must be the luckiest woman on the planet flew through my mind as I slyly checked him out.
He handed the coat to me, and I quickly took it from his hand. I locked the door, then stepped behind the counter and placed his coat on my chair I kept back there to sit and read between customers. I draped the scarf over the coat and turned around to find him in front of me.
I jumped in surprise.
"Sorry. I didn't mean to scare you, angel." He shot me an apologetic grin, and it was just as swoony as his friendly one. He held out his hand for me. "Edward Cullen."
"Bella Swan. Not Angel," I replied. He still held his hand out for me, but I did not want to touch him.
He shot me a curious look, and his smile wavered. Making a decision, I quickly grabbed his hand and gave it a firm shake. Mistake. I knew it would be. Tiny tendrils of…something curled between our joined hands. He placed his other hand over ours, cupping mine in a warm cocoon of Edward-ness.
"Well, Angel may not be your name, Bella, but you're my angel this evening. You're rescuing me from a very awkward family gathering tomorrow, and I'm deeply in your debt."
"I'll remember that," I said.
"So will I."
I tugged my hand out of his soft, warm fingers. "So. I need to know the ages and whether they're boys or girls."
He nodded. "You better get a piece of paper ready."
How many nieces and nephews can one man have? I wondered.
I grabbed a notepad from under the counter and the pen I kept for people to sign credit cards slips. My long hair fell down in a curtain as I bent over. When I stood back up, I gathered my hair, tossing it over my shoulders. I turned to him to find him observing me.
He slid his eyes over my face and hair, then down to my left hand now holding the notepad.
"No husband?" he asked with a point to my ring finger.
"Uh, no. No boyfriend, either. He told me my thighs were getting fat and hated my cat. He's history."
"He's an idiot."
"He is," I agreed. "Why are you asking me that?"
"Oh. I just didn't want to keep you from a loved one," he answered vaguely and turned his head away.
"Why didn't you just get your wife to do this toy shopping?" I asked as I came out from around the counter.
"That would be because I don't have a wife."
"You always this inquisitive?" he asked with a little laugh.
"Pretty much, but then, so are you. No wife, huh? Doesn't hold out much hope for other men. I mean, if you of all men can't find a wife, there's not much hope for the rest of the single guys out there."
He blinked and then laughed again. "You know, you're pretty great."
"I bet you say that to all the girls you meet," I replied dismissively.
"No. Only angels who rescue me on Christmas Eve. Shall we begin?"
"The list of nieces and nephews…"
"Oh, right." I blushed a bit, feeling like an idiot. I grabbed the paper and pen to hide my embarrassment. "Ready."
"Okay, there's Mia. She's ten. Then Holly. She's, uh, seven. There's Brandon. He's eight. No, nine! Gabby. She's just three. Kylie. She's a baby, just born four months ago. Noah. He's, hmm, eleven. And Cody. He's five."
I looked up at him. "Wow. Uh, you're right. Lots of shopping to do. Hope you've got plenty of money."
"Money is no problem."
"None. Just help me find the perfect gifts for each of them. Cost does not matter."
This will be one good sale with Mr. Moneybags willing to spend some cash this Christmas eve.
"Okay, then. Let's start with the boys." I flipped on the lights and led him upstairs.
"Damn, that's a lot of pink."
I laughed. "This is obviously the girl's floor. We're going up the third floor to begin. I think you'll be more comfortable there."
I flipped the switch for the third floor, and again, he followed me up the stairs.
"This is more like it." Edward rubbed his hands together. "Footballs? Train sets? Sport equipment? Help me out."
After getting a picture of the personalities of the three nephews, I guided him toward a remote-control car for Noah, a miniature car race track for Brandon, and a Jedi costume and fake light-saber for Cody, who apparently was a huge Star Wars fan.
"These are perfect. Thanks. Now the girls?" he asked with a cringe.
I laughed. "I think you'll survive the pink. Let's go. You get to carry, by the way."
"Seems fair enough." He scooped up all the presents and gave me a serious look. "I'm not going to get you in trouble with your boss, am I?"
"Uh, no. I am the boss. I own this toy shop."
"That's a relief. Nice place," he said with a look around.
"Thanks. Follow me."
We went back down to the second floor, and he sat down the boys' presents.
"This room scares me."
I giggled, winning a grin from him. We held each other's eyes for five precious seconds. I was the one to look away first.
"So, Mia, Holly, Gabby, and Kylie. We'll do oldest to youngest, because oldest are the hardest to buy for. Tell me about the three oldest ones. The baby will be easy."
He nodded and briefly descried each niece.
"Hmm. Mia. How about an iPod shuffle for her and an iTunes gift card?"
"Okay, and Holly loves Barbie's so that's easy. How about one of these special edition ones?"
"The princess one. Definitely."
"Two down." We picked out a baby doll for Gabby and some learning baby toys for Kylie.
Edward looked at the pile of gifts and let out a sigh of relief. "I don't even know how to thank you." He gave me a small smile.
"It was nothing. I was glad to help. You need these wrapped?"
"Would you really do that? I'd be endlessly in your debt."
I didn't know this Edward Cullen, but I sure liked him. I shot him a little smirking smile. "I think I quite like having you in my debt."
He slightly tilted his head and raised his eyebrow. "I think I'd quite like to…"
He shook his head. "Just me having foolish, hopeful thoughts. Let me help you wrap these, angel, and then you can continue on to your evening plans."
Plans? I had no plans. A sudden depression settled over me at the thought of going home alone. Not even the thought of my cat, Lily, could cheer me.
"Hey. You, okay?"
I shrugged. "Sure. Let's wrap these. I have all the stuff downstairs."
We gathered up all the presents and carried them downstairs to my back workroom. I had a long table back there and a radio tuned into a local station playing all Christmas music. We quietly worked, me wrapping and him handing me pieces of tape. I tried very carefully never to directly touch him.
"What are your plans for Christmas day tomorrow? Family?" he asked, breaking the silence between us.
I paused for a moment. "Me, Lily, a turkey sandwich, and watch some Christmas movies."
Then he was the one who paused. "Lily is your cat?"
"Yes. I'll share my sandwich with her. She likes turkey," I replied quietly, trying to keep the tears out of my eyes at how pathetic that all sounded.
"Bella, where's your family? Your friends?"
"It's just me this Christmas. I have no family, and my best friend Angela that I would sometimes spend Christmas with is in New York. Her and her new husband went there to spend Christmas with his family." I hadn't been able to look at him as I said all that.
He was silent for some time, lost in thought.
"Angel, if I asked you another favor, would you do it?"
"That would depend on the favor."
"It's kind of a big one. My mother has been driving me crazy wanting me to marry and settle down. I kind of told her I had a girlfriend to get her off my back, but that wasn't true."
"What does this have to with me?" I asked in confusion.
"Well, I thought, perhaps, if you would, you might go with me to my parents' tomorrow and be…my girlfriend."
"Hear me out. Just for tomorrow. Just a one-time thing. You'd be doing me the biggest favor in the world, and I'd owe you big time."
"But, your family…"
"They're quite nice, I promise. You like kids, or you wouldn't run a toy shop. All you have to do is wear something nice and spend the day with me."
"But, as your girlfriend? I'd have to play a part? Like act?"
I was unexpectedly pulled into his arms, and a quaint kiss was placed upon my lips. "This. Some hand-holding. You okay with that?"
I was staring at his sweater, trying not to shake from the feel of his arms around me and the tingle of my lips he had all too briefly kissed.
Why did he keep calling me that? I slowly lifted my face to find his eyes full of concern. "You think I'm nuts, don't you? It is a pretty crazy idea. And I'm sorry for holding you. How rude of me."
He stepped back, and I nearly wept from the loss of the warmth of him. I was still silent, and he began to look worried. He reached up and tucked a lock of hair behind my ear. His hand rested there for a moment, lightly cupping my cheek.
"Forgive me. That was surely the craziest thing you've ever been asked."
"It was," I agreed. "Why me?"
He looked down and smiled to himself. "That's a loaded question. One I'd prefer not to answer." He played with the tape dispenser, keeping his eyes averted.
I stood there and let my mind try to wrap itself around this crazy past hour. I'd met a rich, handsome man who seemed to love children, and he wanted me to be his pretend girlfriend for the day. I'd never heard something so crazy. I'd never done something so crazy in my life, but what he'd offered sounded almost fun, exciting even, and Lord knew I needed some excitement in my life.
"I'll do it," came rushing out of me.
His surprised eyes met mine. "Really?"
I nodded. "It sounds like fun and much more interesting than the day I had planned."
"Thank you so much. You really are an angel. Give me your cell number and your address, and I'll pick you up at 11 a.m., if that's all right with you."
"Uh, sure. What should I wear?"
"Whatever you like." He shrugged. "I'll be in dress slacks and a button down."
I ran through my mind my clothing choices and cringed. I wasn't one much for dressing up. "I'll try to look my best."
"You won't have to try very hard," he replied with a small smile.
I wasn't sure what to do with his compliments and smiles. "Let's tally your bill, and then you can be on your way."
"Sure. We're being rude to Lily, who must be getting antsy."
Was he teasing me? I gave him a side-eyed look and could see him carefully watching my face with shining eyes. He was teasing me. Well, I could tease back.
"She must. I'm surprised she hasn't called asking where I am."
Edward let out a laugh. "Can't wait to meet her."
"You don't have to kiss my ass. I already agreed to help you," I replied with a chuckle.
"I'd quite like to…" He trailed off and rubbed the back of his neck. "Uh, so what do I owe you?"
I handed him the bill, and he pulled out his wallet and peeled of three one-hundred dollar bills from a stack of them. "Keep the change."
"Uh, what did you say you do?"
"I'm an appraiser."
"Right. Business must be good. I think I'm in the wrong field," I muttered to myself. I paused and thought about his last name. Cullen. I'd heard that name before.
"As in the Cullen Foundation? As in the wealthy socialite Cullen family of Seattle? Those Cullen's?"
"Yeah. That's my family."
"Oh." I felt my stomach drop. I had nothing nice enough to wear to meet billionaires.
"What's wrong?" He gave me a concerned look.
"I don't have anything nice enough to wear to meet your family. I don't want to embarrass you."
"You won't. Just wear whatever. It's not that big of a deal."
"Right," I muttered as I counted out his change. I handed it to him, but he held up his hand to stop me.
"No. That's your tip, and thanks again."
"But this is a lot of money."
"Not to me. Can I please have your number and address?"
"You sure you want to do this?"
"Okay then." I jotted them down and handed him the paper. "You're not some psycho killer, are you?"
He laughed. "No. I'm just a boring antique and art appraiser. Cross my heart." He made the motion on his chest. "Feel free to Google me, angel."
"I just might. Will I find anything shady?" I teased him.
"Well, there was that one time I knocked over a liquor store, and then the time I robbed that bank…"
"No. Mostly stuff about art and antiques, I would think." He looked the paper over and then shot me a grin. "See you in the morning, Bella."
"Sure. See ya."
He stepped up to me, and something passed over his face. "I can't wait."
He placed a chaste kiss on my cheek, then reached around me to grab his coat and scarf. He bundled up and grabbed his bags of gifts. I followed him to the door and let him out. He turned to look at me one last time, and then he was gone. I closed and locked it back, just leaning against it, lost in thought.
I spent a frantic night standing in front of my closet, trying to figure out what to wear. I finally settled on a deep blue cashmere sweater paired with a pair of black slacks and heels. I did end up Googling Edward, but like he said, only found things related to his profession and time at Harvard. I had a fitful nights rest, finally giving up and arising early.
I gave Lily her presents of cat treats and a catnip-stuffed mouse. As I watched Lily play with her new toy, I leaned back against the counter and sipped my coffee, wondering if I'd lost my mind. Did I really give a complete stranger my number and address? Did I really agree to play Edward Cullen's girlfriend for the day? And to spend the day with billionaires? Was I crazy? Talk about being a fish out of water.
I texted Angela, wishing her Merry Christmas and telling her my plans for the day, just as a precaution. I really didn't think Edward Cullen was a serial killer rapist, but best to let someone know who to look for to find the body.
After my coffee and a piece of toast, I went and took my shower and started to get myself ready. I took much care applying make-up and then blow drying and arranging my thick chestnut hair. It was a bit unruly today, seeming to spite me, so I finally decided just to pull it back with a silver clip at the nape of my neck. I picked out some silver hoop earrings, a long silver necklace with a diamond snowflake that had been my mother's, and a couple of my favorite rings.
I stood in front of my mirror and inspected myself, so glad I'd lost twenty pounds this past year and slimmed down my frame. I still wasn't what anyone would call skinny, but I thought this weight looked good on me.
The doorbell chimed, and I took a deep breath before going to answer the door. I unlocked it and pulled it open to find Edward there, looking dapper in dress clothes and a long black coat. My eyes widened, and I swallowed at his dashing handsomeness.
"Hi," I said shyly. "Come in."
"Hello. Merry Christmas." He gave me that smile of his, and I blinked.
"Oh. Merry Christmas to you."
"It is now. You look terrific."
"Really terrific. I have gifts."
"Gifts? For me?" I asked nonplussed.
He nodded and pulled a bag from behind his back, handing it to me. I took it with a perplexed look. I went and sat it down on the dining room table and pulled out…cat toys?
"Oh. That was sweet."
"Lily!" I called, and she came running out of the kitchen. She stopped when she saw Edward and then cautiously made her way over to me, eyeing Edward suspiciously.
"Look what Edward brought you." I opened the toys and placed them in front of her. She sniffed them, then turned and strutted off toward the bedroom.
"She's a tough sell," Edward said with a grin.
"That she is. She'll play with them when she's in the mood. Thank you."
He handed me another bag. "This one is for you."
"For me? Why? Where did you get these things? When?"
"So curious. Of course for you. Why? Because I wanted to. Where and when? I managed to find a couple of places open this morning."
"Oh." I just stood there, unsure of what to do.
"Please accept my gifts. It's the least I could do for all your help."
I hadn't expected any gifts this Christmas and was more than a bit touched that Edward had thought to bring me some. With shaking hands, I pulled three boxes out of the bag.
"This one first," Edward said, pointing to the biggest one.
I opened it to find a beautiful glass snow globe. London. I've always wanted to see London. I turned it upside down, then righted it, watching the snow flutter down.
"It's beautiful. I've always wanted to visit London. What made you choose this?"
"I'm glad you like it. I noticed your calendar of London on your desk. This one next," he said with a point to a long, rectangular-shaped package.
I opened it to find a gorgeous silk scarf in bold, primary colors. I held it in my hands and nearly wept. It was exactly something I would have picked out for myself.
"I love it," I said softly. "I'll wear it today." I tied the scarf around my hairclip, letting it fall down my back.
"Does it look okay?"
"Yes," he replied. "More than okay." He picked up the smallest box. "Last one."
I took it from him, wondering what beautiful thing he was gifting me with next. I realized that it was a large square jewelry box and hesitated to open it.
"Go on," he said with a grin.
"What is it?" I asked, afraid to know.
He took it from me and pulled it open, then turned it over so the hinged jewelry box slid into his other hand. I had failed to notice the name of a famous jewelry store on the front until then. He opened it and then spun it around. I gasped. There nestled around a velvet oval was the most beautiful bracelet I'd ever seen.
"It's white gold, diamonds, and sapphires."
I went to touch it and paused. "Edward, I can't accept that. It's too much."
"Bella. I can't go to my parents with my girlfriend and not have something to show how much I admire her. This is a small token of my appreciation. Please accept it and wear it."
This must have cost a lot of money. I can't keep it, but I'll wear it today to show his mom and family what his present was and then give it back to him tonight.
"I'll wear it. Thank you."
He looked almost smug as he clasped the bracelet around my left wrist. "I should have bought the ring that matched it," he said to himself as his fingers ran over the bracelet and stroked my inner wrist. "Next time I will."
Next time? What?
"Edward. This is pretend. Remember?"
He lifted his eyes to mine, but didn't reply to what I said. "You ready?"
"Yes." I reached out for his arm, then tugged him to me for a hug. "Thank you. You've given me a fine Christmas."
Edward wrapped his arms about me and rested his head against mine. "Good. That makes me happy, angel."
I lifted my head, and for one brief second, I saw something, something wonderful in his eyes, right before his lips met mine. It was a slow, deep kiss, and I felt myself fall into it, into him.
"Bella," he said softly. He held my face and placed a kiss on my forehead. "Where have you been all my life, angel?"
"Here. Right here," I answered in a hopeful whisper.
He gave me grin and one more soft kiss before he let me go. "We should go. Mom hates it when I'm late."
"I'll get my coat."
We left, and I stood there staring at a gorgeous red convertible. "What is this?"
"This is a Maserati GranCabrio Sport."
"Wow. It's lovely."
He opened my door, and I slid in. "My one indulgence. Well, until now," he said with a little grin.
He got in and started the car and I made busy snapping my seat belt, lost in thought. I needed to stop reading into things he said. I looked down to my lap. "You need to tell me about yourself to keep me from tripping up today."
"Yeah, that makes sense. Let's see, orphan that grew up in foster homes, like my brother and sister, until we were adopted by the Cullen's. Was a bit nerdy as a teen, better than average student in school. Attended Harvard and now I own my own appraisal business. I have no pets, my favorite color is blue, my birthday is June twentieth, I'm thirty-two, and I love music, all music. You?"
"I need to know everything about you, angel."
"Everything? There isn't much. My parents died five years ago. Average student in school, didn't attend college. I've had a series of terrible boyfriends, my best friend is Angela, my favorite color is red, my birthday is September thirteenth, I'm thirty, and I too love music. Oh, and I collect books. I love reading."
He reached over and covered my hand on my thigh, giving it a squeeze. "It's hard, isn't it?"
"Being an orphan. Losing your parents."
I turned away from him to hide my face. "Yeah," I replied quietly.
I felt him raise my hand and kiss the back of it. I turned back to him, meeting his eyes, and a look of understanding passed between us, knowing the pain the other carried inside of them. He let go of my hand to shift gears, and I found attention gratefully diverted to the car.
"This is what you call a 'sweet ride.'"
He shot me a small smile. "Yeah. I admit to my love of it."
"I bet it drives like a dream."
"I'll let you drive it sometime, and you can see for yourself."
I just stared at his profile. Why did he keep assuming that we were going to keep seeing each other? This was pretend, right?
He shrugged, once again not answering my question. He was starting to freak me out a bit over this.
"You need to tell me about your family before I meet them."
"I think they're going to really like you. Well, there's my dad Carlisle and my mom Esme. My brother Emmett and his wife Rosalie. Their kids are Noah, Mia, Brandon, and Holly. Then there's my sister Alice and her husband Jasper. Their kids are Cody, Gabrielle, and Kylie."
"Is that all?"
"Trust me. That's enough," Edward laughed.
I looked down at my wrist, touching the beautiful bracelet. "What should I talk about? How should I act?"
"Just be yourself. I like Bella Swan very much. I think my family will as well. And yes, we're rich, but not snobs, so don't worry about that."
I nodded, but kept my fears to myself.
We reached our destination, an enormous white mansion, and Edward parked in front of it. He reached over and squeezed my hand. "It'll be fine. Trust me."
I nodded, but wasn't able to hide my nervousness.
"Come here, angel," he implored softly. He leaned toward me, and I found myself gravitating toward him. "You're lovely."
"Oh. So are you," I whispered as he studied my face.
He slightly grinned. "I promise it'll be fine."
I didn't reply, and he sighed. "I guess I need to distract you a bit." He gave me a wicked grin, and then he kissed and kissed me, making my heart thump madly.
I had my eyes closed and felt Edward place a kiss on each of my eyelids. He needed to quit. This was pretend, and he was wasting precious kisses on something that wasn't real.
"You really should stop kissing me if this is just pretend," I whispered.
"Hmm. No. I love kissing you. Order me to stop and I will. Until then, kisses." His lips found mine again, and I nearly swooned from the force of that kiss.
When he pulled his lips from mine, he just watched my face. "I didn't hear a 'stop.'"
"No, you didn't," I replied and placed my lips back on his. He let out a soft moan and pulled me closer, his kissing more purposeful then, as if claiming me, making me his own.
A knock on the window made me jump. Edward sighed and let me go, rolling down his window. A very large man with short dark hair was grinning at us as he leaned down looking in Edward's window.
"The party out here?"
Edward laughed. "Yeah, and you just crashed it. Emmett, this is my girlfriend, Bella Swan. Bella, my brother, Emmett."
"Nice to meet you, Bella." Emmett shot me a wide smile.
"Nice to meet you," I replied shyly.
"Better get inside. Mom's wanting to serve the meal."
"We're coming." He got out of the car, and I followed his lead and got out as well. He frowned at me as he came around the car. "You should have waited for me."
"To let me out of the car?" I asked.
"Yes." He shut my door and took my hand. "Please allow me to always attend to you. You're a lady and deserve to be treated as one."
I didn't even know what to reply to that, but it didn't even matter, for we were entering the front door. My nervousness hit me again, and I felt as if I'd be sick. I gripped Edward's hand tightly for support causing him to turn to me with a look of concern.
"Do I need to kiss you again?"
I blinked. "Don't you think that's enough kissing for one day?"
Emmett laughed. "Aww, it's Christmas, Bella. Let the poor guy have some more sugar."
I blushed and looked down shyly. Edward placed a finger under my chin, raising my face to his. "It is Christmas, after all, angel," he said playfully.
I suddenly remembered I was supposed to be playing the devoted girlfriend. "Oh, fine. One more. Don't forget to save some up for later," I said with a flirty wink.
"I've got lots to give you later. Endless kisses…and more," he said huskily as a promise.
I found myself in his arms, his mouth on mine.
A clearing of a throat had us pulling apart, me blushing again.
"Mom. Dad. This is Bella Swan. Bella, my parents, Carlisle and Esme."
"Bella," Carlisle said with a small smile.
"So nice to meet you, Bella! I was beginning to think you didn't exist. I didn't even know your name," Esme said.
"Oh. Well, here I am, Edward's real girlfriend. Very nice to meet you both. Thanks for allowing me to share your Christmas."
I felt Edward stroke my back.
"You're most welcome. Come in and meet the rest of the family."
Suddenly, children seem to spill out of everywhere.
"Uncle Edward! Uncle Edward! Did you remember presents this year? Who's this? Can we eat now that Edward is here? Cody, give me back my car! Stop pushing! I want to hug Uncle Edward…"
I grinned. I was used to kids and enjoyed their energy. Edward was laughing and trying to hug each one and answer their questions.
"Kids, this is Bella. Be nice to her. I love her and don't want you to frighten her off."
My mouth fell open as I stared at Edward in shock. Pretend, I reminded myself, mentally giving myself a smack.
"It would take a lot more than this to frighten me off. I love kids. Guess what?"
"What?" Several of them asked.
"I happen to own a toy store!"
"You don't!" the eldest girl said.
"I do. Ask your uncle."
"Does she really?" A tall, dark-haired boy asked.
"She really does. Now, hold still and let me introduce all of you to her." Edward pointed out each child, and I carefully made note of their names. I was good with names. Once I learned faces, I never forgot the name that went with it.
"What's all the commotion?" a beautiful blonde woman asked. She was followed by a petite dark-haired woman and a lean, dark blonde-haired man.
"Edward arrived with his girlfriend Bella," Esme said, sounding as if she still couldn't believe it. "Bella, this is Rosalie, Alice, and Jasper."
"Nice to meet you all," I said with a small smile.
They all replied back the same, and then Esme shooed us all into the dining room to eat. I was mostly silent during the meal, just sitting back and watching the Cullen brood interact with each other. There was much love and genuine affection amongst them all, and it was a joy to behold. I felt my heart clinch in pain for a moment and looked away. To have this…they really had no idea how fortunate they all were.
I felt Edward rub my shoulder. "Hey, you okay?"
"Yeah. Your family is great. It's so nice to be amongst a family at Christmas." I heard my voice break, and I went to get up, but Edward stopped me and pulled me against him, holding my head snuggled under his neck.
"Is everything okay, Bella?" Esme asked, concern in her voice.
I pulled away from Edward, unable to bear his pretend comfort any longer. I got my bearings and took a deep breath before replying to Esme. "Yes. I was just thinking about my family and how lucky you all are to have this."
"You couldn't see your family for Christmas?" she asked with a look of understanding.
"No," I replied quietly and looked down. "I have no family."
"Bella lost her mom and dad five years ago," Edward said.
I didn't want to ruin their Christmas with my sob story. "It's fine. Really. I have my best friend Angela, and I have Lily and my toy store. I have more than most."
"Lily? Is that your daughter?" Alice asked.
"Uh, no. Lily is my cat, and I'm going to stop talking now because I'm sounding pathetic and ruining your Christmas."
"You are not ruining our Christmas! We're so happy to have you here with us. And you have Edward as well now. Don't forget that," Esme reminded me.
The untruth of that was too much for me, and I excused myself to find a restroom to try to gather myself back together. I didn't make it far down the hallway, before Edward caught up to me. He pulled me into what looked like a study and closed the door.
"Bella. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to bring you pain. We can go."
"No, we can't. This is Christmas with your family, and you need to be here. But, Edward, oh, I had no idea how hard this was going to be. It's not real, and the pretending is just too much for me. I keep slipping and forgetting this is all pretend, and every time I'm reminded it's not, it's a little worse."
He held out his hands, taking mine and curling his fingers around my smaller hands almost protectively.
"Then stop pretending."
"Let it be real."
"Let what be real?"
"You and me. Be my real girlfriend."
"Are you serious? I just met you last night!" I said in shock.
"I'm completely serious."
"Give me one reason why not."
"Well, there's…well…" I couldn't think of any reason not to.
"See. You can't think of a reason any more than I can. Come, angel, and let's rejoin the family."
"Are you sure? Me? You'd choose me?" I asked doubtfully.
"Every time, angel, without hesitation."
He grinned and gave me a soft kiss. "Did I tell you how beautiful you look today?"
"Listen. I think I just became your girlfriend, so you don't have to bullshit me."
He laughed. "No bullshit. You did just become my girlfriend, and you do look beautiful."
One more kiss, and then he led me back into the dining room. The adults in the family shot me looks of concern.
"I'm better now. Edward made everything better." I shot him a grateful smile, and he blinked.
"Keep smiling at me, angel. I love it."
"Have a seat, you two, and finish your dinner," Esme said with a smile.
"Then can we open presents?" Noah asked eagerly.
"Yes," Carlisle said with a laugh. Loud cheers erupted from the children and even Emmett and Alice. "I think the adults are worse than the kids," Carlisle said to me with a wink.
The meal was quickly finished and cleared away, followed by a mass stampede for the family room. Edward and I followed along at the back, my hand in his. I found myself suddenly pulled into a doorway and Edward's lips on mine.
He pulled back with a boyish grin. "Sorry. I just couldn't wait another minute to kiss you."
"You know, you're pretty damned cute."
"Edward! Stop kissing Bella and get in here!" Emmett called, and we broke out laughing.
"She thinks I'm cute!" Edward called back.
"She clearly needs to see an optometrist, poor girl," Emmett said suddenly in front us.
"Come on, angel, before my brother insults me more." I went out first, and then Edward followed, but not before he and Emmett had some sort of laughter filled shoving match.
"Boys, both of them," Rosalie said to me with a roll of her eyes.
I agreed and found myself studying Rosalie's strikingly beautiful face. She looked regal, like a princess, with grey eyes and flowing blonde hair.
"Something wrong, Bella?" she asked.
"No. I've just never seen anyone as beautiful as you."
"Marry this one, Edward," Rosalie ordered Edward. "She's a keeper." Rose gave me a quick shoulder hug and strutted into the family room.
I found myself blushing hard and looking at anything but Edward.
"Did you have to, Bella?" Emmett asked me with a sigh. "There'll be no living with her now." He gave me a wink and then followed his wife into the family room.
"I can't imagine anyone being a bigger hit with my family than you."
"I like them. Come on. I can't wait to see the kids open presents." I grabbed his hand, tugging him into the family room. Edward led us over to a sofa, pulling me down beside him. I was content with his arm around my shoulders, just watching everyone open their gifts, when Esme walked up and handed me a present.
"For you," she said with a smile.
"Oh, thank you," I said quietly and took it from her.
"Next year, you'll have as many as the others," she said happily, making me blink. She continued on passing out gifts, and I just sat there holding mine in my lap. Next year.
"Aren't you going to open that, angel?"
I turned my face and gazed at him. I hadn't known him twenty-four hours ago, and yet, here we sat, his arm around me, calling me 'angel' and his girlfriend, sitting in the midst of his family. And I found, as odd and astounding as all of that was, I was happy. Happier than I'd been in a very long time.
"For what, Bella?"
"For this day. For being so kind and generous with me. For…everything."
"I made the best decision of my life when I knocked on your store window." He reached up and gently touched my face. "No need to thank me. I'm just extremely pleased to have you here with me today."
I looked down and started opening my gift to distract myself from my churning emotions. Opening the box, I gazed down in wonder at the beautiful, antique glazed porcelain teapot. I skimmed my fingers over the rural scene painted on the side and nearly wept. It was one I had been looking for. I collected teapots, and I'd been trying to find this particular one forever.
"Do you like it?"
I looked up at Esme and blinked the tears out of my eyes. "It's beautiful. Thank you. I've been looking for this one. How did you know?"
"Edward told me about the teapots. That one was one I've owned for years. It's lucky providence that it happens to be one you wanted."
"I can't accept this."
"Nonsense. It's yours now," Esme said with a pat on my hand.
She walked away, and I turned to Edward. "How did you know?"
"I'm an appraiser, Bella. I couldn't fail to notice your collection of teapots. Very nice collection, worth a bit of money, I might add."
"Oh. Edward, I can't take this. It's your mother's."
"She gave it to you. So, now it's yours."
"What did Edward give you?" Alice asked with a plop down on the sofa beside me.
"Uhm, a glass snow globe, this scarf, and this bracelet." I held out my left arm, and Alice inspected my bracelet.
"White gold. About seven karats of diamonds and four of sapphires. Very nice."
"What?" I asked in astonishment. Just how much did this bracelet cost?
"Alice, go help your kids open presents," Edward said.
She giggled and then leapt up and went back to take Kylie from Jasper.
"Edward. Just how much did you spend on this?"
"It doesn't matter, Bella. You're worth it."
"It's yours. I picked it out just for you. Please, no more talk of cost."
I nodded and let the subject go for now.
It was getting up in the day, and Emmett and Alice had to head to their in-laws for Christmas with them. Edward and I left as well. I was quiet on the ride home, lost in thought.
"You did well. The kids all seemed to love their presents."
We didn't speak any more until we got to my apartment. Edward parked, then came around for me. I slid out, cradling my precious teapot in my arms. Edward took it from me as I unlocked my door. We stepped inside, and I flipped the switch for the lights that also turned on my Christmas tree. I sat down my purse, and Edward sat down my present.
After that was an awkward moment that I didn't know what to do with. We'd left here this morning as strangers and came back this evening as…I wasn't sure, but it was something a bit more.
"Would you care to stay for a bit? I could make us turkey sandwiches and hot chocolate, and we could watch a Christmas movie."
"That's the best offer I've ever gotten. I'd love to stay."
I nodded and then slid my coat off, tossing it on a chair, Edward following suit. Again, an awkward moment where I didn't know what to do.
"Angel. Come here," Edward implored, holding out his hand for me. I just stared at his hand and knew that once I took his hand, I was taking a step into my future, my future with him.
"A little leap of faith, Bella. It is, after all, Christmas."
I hesitantly placed one foot in front of the other and then found myself running to Edward and flinging myself into his arms. He grunted in surprise, but his arms wrapped around me firmly, clutching me to his chest.
"My angel. I find myself falling in love with you."
"Yes, I feel the same."
He pulled back and gazed down into my eyes. "It's wonderful, isn't it? And so unexpected."
"Yes. Perhaps that's why it's so wonderful. Like a surprise gift."
"You're beautiful to me, you know. From the moment I saw your face, you bewitched me."
"You never needed a pretend girlfriend, did you?"
Edward chuckled and gave me a soft kiss. "No. I just wanted to spend Christmas with you by my side."
"I called in a favor to a friend who owns a jewelry store."
"So much you've given me today. I feel myself overwhelmed with it all, but it's a good overwhelmed. There is one thing I'm sad about, though."
"What? Tell me what's wrong, and I'll try to fix it."
"You're sweet, but you can't fix this. I don't have any presents for you," I replied sadly.
He reached up and gently held my face as he placed soft kisses over it before capturing my lips for a deep, passionate kiss. He pulled back and gave me a beautiful smile.
"My angel. Beautiful Bella. I don't need any presents. You're my present. All I want, all I ever want, for Christmas is you."
He kissed me again, and I felt all become right with my world.
A loud meow startled us both, and we broke the kiss. I glanced down at Lily looking between me and Edward.
"Well, hello there, miss." He leaned down and picked up Lily, scrubbing his fingers over her head and under her chin. She started to purr loudly and settled herself into Edward's arms.
"She likes you. She approves," I said with a grin.
Edward laughed. "I'm glad. Merry Christmas, Lily," he said and sat her back down on the floor. He then pulled me back to him. "Thank you for making this the best Christmas ever."
I felt something, something good, something wonderful flow through me until it burst out of me with a wide joyous smile. Edward gasped, then gazed at me, wonder on his face. I laughed out loud in absolute joy in the moment. I gripped his face and gave him a hard kiss, because he was my boyfriend, and I had every right to do that.
"But you're not even counting the Christmases to come."
"As long as those Christmases will all be with you, then they'll all be the best."
"You're so sweet. You trying to make me fall in love with you?"
He grinned. "Yes. Absolutely. Please."
I giggled. "I don't think you'll have to try very hard."
"You won't have to try at all." I nearly swooned. Good thing he was holding me.
"Come. Let's get some food and cocoa and watch 'A Miracle on 34th Street.'"
"Yes, let's. But first I have to do this." He captured my lips, and I let myself fall into him. He pulled back with a happy sigh and kissed the tip of my nose. "Merry Christmas, Bella," he said softly.
I snuggled my head under his chin and let out my own happy sigh. "Merry Christmas, Edward," I whispered as I gazed at the glittering Christmas tree, a smile upon my lips and happiness in my heart.