I awoke from one of the best dreams I've had in ages, and instantly my mood switched to annoyance at being woken up before it got to the good part. Sex during slumber was useful and saved me having to sit through another boring date with my current sex provider, Mike.
Great way to start the day.
It's still dark, and it's far too cold to budge from under my continental quilt, and face the day.
My eyes flick around the 'apartment' quickly, as they always do when I first wake up, and nothing is out of place. Front door closed, locked, alarm activated. It's tiny green light flashes comfortingly, letting me know it's keeping the rest of the world out, and keeping me safe within.
The clock in the 'kitchen' area shows it's almost seven a.m.
The kitchen benchtop is littered with wine glasses and empty bottles, which is par for the course when we finally solve a case. I do have a dishwasher but apparently it takes female genes to load it and I had been a little unsteady on my feet last night.
That was down to Edward and the fact it had been his turn to buy the wine, and so, naturally, it had been expensive and an excellent vintage and he really had not had to encourage me to overindulge.
I have much better control of my drinking when it's my turn. Supermarket wine really doesn't hold much appeal, so those nights it's more talking and congratulating one another, than actual drinking.
So, my throbbing head today is down to Edward. DI Edward Cullen, my partner on the Murder Squad.
I listen to his breathing, and know he is faking it. He's not asleep, just hoping I will be fooled that he is, and then I'll get up and make the coffee.
My pull-out couch cannot be very comfortable to sleep on, I bought it originally just for that reason. I was thinking of cousins who turn up out of the blue and want a bed for the night, or old school chums you hardly knew back then and have even less interest in now, who always seem to be too cheap to pay for a motel room, and so it's "Hey, let's go sleep at Bella's".
I figured if the only spare bed was uncomfortable, they'd wake up with kinked spines and happily move on the next day, and hopefully cross me off their list of free lodgings.
What I didn't take into account was, my partner.
At six foot three, sleeping on a pull out has to be extra torture, but what can I do? More often than not, he seems to prefer to curl up here than face the night and make the long drive to his fancy shmancy apartment that contains actual rooms, and not just the one open space that caters as my bedroom, kitchen, diner, and sitting room, all rolled into one.
I do have a separate bathroom, thank the Gods. When I was house hunting, I actually almost went with the other studio apartment in this building, where even the bathroom was incorporated in the one stop room as well, and that would have been just embarrassing.
Edward and I have worked together for three years now and we have discussed every facet of our lives with one another, but that does not mean I'd want to pee in front of him.
I wrap my blanket tighter and wonder if Edward remembers it's my turn to make the early morning coffee. He was pretty out of it and I was the one doing him the favour, after all.
I could have kicked him out the door and made him face up to the drive home, and possible encounter with his latest spurned bedmate, Jessica, who apparently just doesn't get Edward's one unbreakable rule.
One night of Paradise is all he offers in his amazing antique brass bed that I'd give an arm to own myself. No, not an arm. Maybe a finger or two.
I need all my limbs.
I know you are probably thinking Edward is just another typical commitment phobe, like most of the male race in their thirties these days, but he actually has a valid argument.
Murder squad is hardly the job for married men.
Of course, girls are always impressed when they hear what he does for a living, when he's on the pull in bars and clubs, but as many of our fellow workers have proved time and again is, being married to someone who gets called out at any hour, day or night; who puts the job first and forgets birthdays and anniversaries; who works closely with a female partner for years and knows more about her than about his own wife; yeah, it does not make for Happy Families.
Either the marriage hits the rocks, and she storms out and goes looking for a nine to five accountant type next time, and he never sees his kids again; or every time he goes home he's confronted with an angry wife with a list a mile long of things he has neglected to do while he's busy off playing superhero, catching the bad guys.
We are simply not what anyone would consider 'a good catch'.
Mind you, Edward is ridiculously gorgeous, so one night in his bed should be looked upon as an honour anyway. I'm sure he makes that night unforgettable, so in a way it's his own fault that sometimes a 'jessica' turns up and wants more.
Silly girl. If she knew him better, she would know sometimes when he's stressed out and on the pull, he actually does allow some girl whose face he has long forgotten, a second night, but only because he hasn't recognised her.
So far, this has only led to one single instance of actual bodily harm, when he failed to listen as the tall blonde from Jack's Bar was chattily reminding him of their other night together, months earlier, so when he started his usual seduction spiel, she immediately realized he had forgotten her and thought he was taking home a complete stranger. Bad luck for him that she was a black belt and not used to being forgotten.
He'd crawled into work black and blue the next day, and of course the jokes had started. The most common theme being that I'd finally succumbed to his charms and given him such a workout he needed a few days off to recover from the injuries a night in my bed had inflicted on his pretty body.
Yes, hilarious, I know.
We actually drew the line in the sand soon after we were teamed up together, something I occasionally regret when he's all gussied up in his pretty clothes, and has actually run a comb through his bedhair, and of course, he has to have just scruff, not that hideous actual beard he grows when he wants a rest from the ladies.
It works, too.
Hiding his awesome jawline and half his face seems to tone down the pretty factor quite a lot, and when he pulls on a baseball cap to hide the hair every women wants to drag her fingers through, the beautiful Edward can look almost ordinary.
On some cases, it's necessary that he doesn't stand out and become memorable; but on the other hand, nothing loosens a female witnesses tongue like a shiny, clean shaven Edward doing the questioning. Their brains seem to shut down and they tell him everything, even if their words put their nearest and dearest in the frame for whatever crime we are investigating.
"Bella, have mercy."
A voice from the mound of covers heaped over my couch.
"It's your turn," I hiss hopefully. Alcohol consumption tends to mess with his brain cells the day after, and he gets confused until that first caffeine hit gets them working.
"I got it last time. Remember? I even went out in the snow storm to get decent stuff from the shop."
I owe him, but he needn't think he is getting anything but instant. I should just buy a coffee machine but then, I'm not a coffee addict like some people. I can function just as well on a well brewed cup of tea.
Anyway, I wrap my quilt around my body and head for the electric jug in the far corner, and fill it.
"Remind me. Do we have to go in today?" he mutters, his pretty face half hidden against the cold.
"Just briefly. Marcus wants the 'i's dotted and the 't's crossed as always but I can do that alone if you are not feeling up to it."
The room is filled with the aroma of whatever expensive coffee beans Edward has bought and left in my coffee canister. Nothing but the best for this boy. It smells pretty amazing, so I leave my teapot unused and pour myself a cup of this ambrosia instead, then hobble to where he is half propped upon his pillows, (European, he bought them himself because my chain store pillows don't cut it) and hand him his wake up elixer.
Edward's long fingers cradle the cup and he takes his first, tentative sip. I know he thinks I could even fuck up his best coffee beans, but he nods and gulps the scalding liquid down , like it is the difference between life and death. It may be. Edward is not pretty when deprived of his drug of choice.
He reverts to a whining toddler.
I sit on the edge of his makeshift bed and feel his feet with my spare hand. As always his toes have stuck out from the blankets and are white with cold.
My hands are warm from the coffee cups so I massage his feet and he makes a noise much like I imagine he makes when entertaining his lady friends. His legs are too long for couch sleeping. You'd think that alone would send him home but he likes to stay here, for some reason.
I guess he misses his family and isn't used to living by himself even after three years here in Boston.
I have no such ties with my own parents. My Mom did a midnight flit with some sports player when I was an infant and Charlie, my Police Officer dad, did his best to raise me alone, but we don't have the type of close bonds the Cullen's have with their son. I've met them numerous times, when Edward has dragged me along to various family occasions back home, and I always get a pang for what I missed out on. I come back feeling cheated.
His mother, Esme, treats me like a daughter, and his Dad is always happy to see me sitting in Edward's passenger seat. They know it's nothing more than a working partnership, but apparently, the few times he has taken 'girlfriends' home, they have not been quite the quality his parents hoped. Back in the days before he joined the Murder Squad, he still thought he could have it all; family as well as the job he wanted, but once he transferred in, all that went by the wayside, and he had to face the reality we saw every day in our other team members as marriage after marriage hit the rocks. Kids were moved far away, wives demanded divorces and went looking for replacement husbands who came home every night, not whenever a case was finally solved and we had a brief hiatus until the next dead body turned up.
It's played Hell with my own dating schedule, and like Edward, I have no intention of ever letting anything get serious with any of the guys I go out with.
Unlike him, I don't draw the line at a single night of pleasure; I have always managed to keep things simple and friendly and only backed off when whoever my current beau starts on the "I think we'd be good together on a more permanent basis. You could look for a more sociable job...I know the library is looking for staff..."
Yes, because I could slip seamlessly into that life; one where I read about crimes instead of solving them.
My current 'boyfriend' for want of a better word is starting to get huffy already, having called in early one morning and caught Edward asleep on my couch.
To be fair, it was a warm night and he'd stripped off down to his boxers, and he was clean shaven and pretty. I guess it had been hard to imagine any woman had the self control to not sneak under his covers and avail themselves of a night of Edward Bliss.
I had no trouble managing.
It's simple. Sex fucks things up, and our partnership is vital to the job. I love working Murder and I would never do anything that would jeopardize us being teamed together. You need a partner you trust implicitly. Your life is literally, often in his hands and you don't want his brain clouded by the fact you two just broke up or he's jealous of the attention you are paying someone else, or any of that shit. It could be the difference between him pulling the trigger, or hesitating for just one second too long, so we have never and will never, go there.
Edward arches his back and lays down again, moaning with pleasure as his feet pink up and become warm again. Then I remember and head to my chest of drawers and pull out the pair of hand knitted socks my mother had sent me the day before. They are knitted in lolly pink and lime green, and way too large for my feet but I slip them onto Edward's and they fit him snugly. He wiggles his toes and laughs at the colour combination.
"Really, Swan, you knitted me booties? How come you didn't give them to me last night, before my toes froze?"
"I was a little under the influence," I growl. "Your own fault. That wine was pretty amazing."
He grabs my hands and sits up, folding his arms around my torso and kissing the top of my head.
"See, you do love me. Now get me more coffee."
I wriggle free and take our empty cups back to the grandly named 'kitchen area' and boil fresh water.
Edward turns on his phone and it beeps wildly.
"Let me guess. Jessica has sent you a dozen pleas for you to go home and fulfill her dreams," I joke. Edward frowns and hits the delete key repeatedly.
"Fifteen, actually, not twelve. Bloody woman. I made it perfectly clear it was a one off and she should not expecting anything further, and she agreed. Why do women do this to me? I don't get it."
"Maybe you are so hot in the sack you wipe away all memories of all the guys they shagged before and all they can think about is your no doubt impressive package," I suggest.
He considers this and shrugs.
"You are probably right. What can I say?"
I hand him his second cup of the morning brew and head to my bathroom to shower and dress. Marcus wants at least one of us in early and it seems it will be me, so I flip through my sparse wardrobe of work outfits that I keep hanging on a rail in the bathroom so the steam from the shower irons out the wrinkles and saves me the bother.
Black pencil skirt, conservative white blouse, low heeled pumps.
Marcus likes his ladies to look like ladies. No jeans and hoodies when we go debrief.
The shower is red hot for once and I wash away the remnants of the night before, swallow a couple of painkillers to subdue the echo of pain in my head and pull a brush through my hair. The steam makes it fight back, and attempt to fall into the stupid curls that are the bane of my life so I plug in my hair straightener and wait for it to reach full heat.
"Bella, you have a visitor," Edward yells and huddles back under his nice warm covers that he has not had to emerge from fully yet. He will. Two coffees and a shit load of wine last night; at some point his bladder will force him out into this frigid air.
"You could have gotten up and opened the door," I chastise him as I walk past the couch.
"I didn't think it would go down well if it's Mikey Boy. He already thinks we are doing it. Me answering the door half naked is not going to convince him otherwise," Edward mutters, pulling his fancy pillow over his face.
"Isabella, good morning," Mike Newton says, leaning to kiss my forehead.
"I'm about to head into work," I tell him and he put his hands into his trouser pockets and smiles at me.
"Then I can give you a lift. I came to ask you if you have any plans for tonight? The orchestra is back in town and I have two front row tickets."
I know he means well and his upbringing is such that opera and orchestra's are what he thinks of as a good night out but I'm more your My Chemical Romance fan. A good night out to me is standing next to the stage as some screamo band deafens us and leaves our ears ringing for an hour after the show.
"Damn, I have to work," I shrug. "Normally I would love to go with you, but you know how it is. Marcus needs to hear all the gory details of this latest case and it will take hours."
"But you are going in now? Will it really take all day and the evening as well?" he questions.
"I'm actually going to the dentist this morning, and heading into work later. I have all these chores I have to get through today before the debriefing," I babble.
"Hmm. Maybe I could swap the tickets for tomorrow night," he muses.
"Tomorrow's out as well, unfortunately. We have a new case. Edward and I have to head over to Cambridge and take over from the local lads in the morning. We might be gone for a week or more," I lie convincingly. Just last night I had been bitching about how the time had come to shake off Mike, before I started falling asleep during our terribly exciting dates. The sex was mediocre at best. Not worth the hours I had to listen to the Gospel According to Mike Newton.
I hear Edward sigh loudly and next thing I have a hand on my arse and an arm slung over my shoulder, as my partner kisses my neck and licks my earlobe.
"Hey Dollface, come back to bed. It's lonely in there without you. I have nothing to play with."
Mike reddens to his hairline, and his mouth gapes like a fish out of water.
"I knew it. I knew he couldn't be sleeping over so often if you two weren't..."
"Sorry Mike. It's new, we just got together last night, honestly. I never lied to you."
Mike looks incredulous and I catch Edward's expression. He's doing the 'say what? This has been going on for months' look.
I reach back and pinch his abdomen, which is not easy with his abs being as hard and tight as they are. The man has no fat or saggy skin to torture with my fingernails.
He reacts by slobbering on my cheek and winding his fingers through my hair.
Mike looks appalled.
"I guess we have nothing more to say to one another. I'm very disappointed in you, Isabella. I thought we were something special."
I shrug and close the door. Edward cups my face between his hands and kisses me full on the lips before stepping back and flopping onto his couch.
"You can do better. Find yourself a real man who doesn't think Opera is a treat. How the Hell did you endure sitting through it?"
"I go to my happy place in my head," I reply.
Edward doesn't believe me.
"Okay, I listen to my favourite band through my iPod ear buds while the fat lady sang on the stage. It made it bearable."
I rush to the bathroom to use my straightener before it automatically turns itself off, and we have to begin again. My hair succumbs to the hot iron and falls into place in long straight locks. A little make-up and I'm done.
"I liked the curls," Edward mutters from his nest.
"Bad luck, I hate them," I reply, kissing his cheek chastely. "See you later. I will bring home takeaway for lunch if you are staying that long."
"I'll cook," he growls. "I would prefer to eat something that I know what's in it. I'll go buy some real food. Be home by noon."
He cradles my face again and I turn away so his kiss lands on my cheek and I break free. He has never kissed my lips before and it's shaken me up in a way I don't understand or particularly like. It feels like he has inched his toes over our line in the sand and that cannot happen.
Marcus looks up as I knock on his door and he beckons me inside.
"Tell me what I want to hear, Detective Swan. Tell me there's no way the perp can wriggle his way out of this charge."
"No sir. It's all done and dusted. He was cautioned before he coughed to the murder and we have all the evidence plus more than we will ever need in court. Once his sister came on board and blew his alibi out of the water."
"I'm guessing Detective Inspector Cullen's green eyes are to thank for that," he replied knowingly.
"She was putty in his hands," I agree. "I don't think she even realized what she was saying. Edward did the Killer Smile routine and she was panting to give her brother up. There's no way he was at her house when his wife was killed. When we told him his alibi was a lie and his sister had landed him in it, he just crumbled."
"Family loyalty is no defence against Cullen's charms," the Boss replied.
The rest of the morning was spent going over every aspect of the case and by noon, Marcus was a happy camper. No chance of anyone finding a single loophole in our case, it was a done deal.
"So, if nothing else comes up urgently, I guess you and Cullen deserve a few days off. Report in next Monday and we'll talk about your next assignment. Oh, tell Cullen to leave his phone turned on at all times."
"He's having a slight problem with one of his temporary girlfriends," I inform our superior. It's nothing new, but it does remind me to go buy Edward a second phone to keep just for his floozies so they don't interfere with the job.
The aroma of something amazing hits me as I climb the stairs to my apartment. Damn, the man can cook. My taste buds are on full alert and I swallow the saliva pooling in the back of my mouth.
I can't remember when I last ate. I know we had intended ordering in last night but after a couple of bottles of wine, I guess we forgot.
"Honey, I'm home," I call as I enter my apartment and stop in shock at the sight of a brunette sitting on the sofa bed. It's been converted back to a sofa, at least but still, it was an unwritten rule that Edward never brings his women here at all.
"Bella, this is Jessica," he emphasizes. "She spotted me when I was out grocery shopping for us, and followed me back. I have explained to her that I never should have cheated on you, and that I regret it , and we are working through this momentary indiscretion together."
I get it. It's my turn to play the outraged cuckolded lover.
"Edward, I said I would try to forgive you," I replied, putting on my sad face. "But you and Jessica have to swear you will never see one another again."
Uh oh. Her eyes light up. She's one of those women who thinks it's a challenge to steal another woman's man. She's looking me over and assessing her chances. Her impressive rack alone is making her feel superior and she thinks she's in with a chance. She has no intention of backing off just because we are a 'couple'.
Now to see where her line is. Maybe she possesses some morals.
I rub my completely flat abdomen and try to concoct a tear or two.
"We have to think of the baby. It can't grow up without it's Daddy. Promise me you two will never speak to one another ever again."
Edward is at my side, his hand over mine as we guard the fictitious embryo. He bends and kisses my stomach.
"I'm so sorry, Baby. I promise to be a wonderful father and never stray from Mommy again. I just panicked. The idea of having to stay with just one woman the rest of my life...and a baby! Can you understand, Jessica? I wasn't of sound mind. I hope we can agree to never contact one another again, for the sake of this little one inside my Darling Bella."
"A baby? How could you?" Jessica rants "That's so low. God, Bella, I'm so sorry. I thought he was single and free. He never mentioned you or the baby, I swear."
She scrolls through her phone and deletes his number and stomps from the room, slamming the door as she mutters all kinds of painful ailments she hopes will befall my partner.
"So," I state. "Seeing I'm pregnant and all, I expect you will be cooking every meal on our week off. I saved your bacon yet again."
"Thanks," he sighs, and returns to his cooking.
"Some detective," I mutter. "Couldn't even shake off your stalker. How did that happen?"
"I guess I was thinking about other things," Edward replies, his piercing green eyes gazing into mine. I have to shake myself before he works his ridiculous panty dropper dazzle on me.
"And no more lip locking. You and I don't do that," I warn.
Lunch is a subdued affair and anyway, the cuisine deserves all of our attention.
"You could be one of those Master Chefs and have your own TV show," I mumble around a mouthful of chicken in creamy white wine sauce, the food of the Gods.
"I'm considering a change, actually," he replies and I freeze.
"No, Edward. Why? We work so well together." My chest hurts and I unconsciously place a hand over my heart to hold the skin together.
"You are never going to allow anything to happen between us while we are partners, are you?" he says.
I have to think fast and get it right.
"Come on. We are great together professionally and we are best friends, Edward. Why risk that? . You know relationships never work for members of the Murder Squad. I'll never be looking for anything serious while I'm on it, and I have no intention of a career change."
He taps his fork on the tablecloth and avoids eye contact. This is just a momentary glitch and we have been through them before. Sometimes one of us gets confused and caught up in the great camaraderie we share, and we momentarily delude ourselves it could lead to more. It's up to the other partner, with the clearer head, to defuse the situation. All this playacting for Mike and Jessica has sent him off balance. It happens.
"You're right. Sorry. I guess I overindulged a little too much last night."
"It's fine," I assure him, glad the moment has passed. "What do you want to do this week? Assuming nobody offs their missus for the next seven days, we have time to chill out and relax."
"I'm thinking of going to see Carlisle and Esme. It's been a while. Mom's phone calls are starting to sound like it's time to visit or suffer through a guilt trip. She wants to spend some 'quality' time with me."
I get the message. I'm not invited on this trip home with him. Maybe he needs some space between us at this point.
"Sounds great. I guess I should check in with my Dad."
"He won't be home. It's the fishing competition this week. You should remember that."
Charlie lives and breathes fishing and he spends fifty one weeks every year waiting for the week of the challenge. His partner, Billy Black, is the only other resident in town that ever manages to catch as many fish as my Dad so each year it was really a two man race, and one or the other always took the trophy. When the rules changed, stating every competitor had to partner up, they teamed up together. I'm pretty sure the judges had assumed Charlie and Billy would never consider working together, and they had hoped their partners would water down their catch totals and allow someone else to have a chance to grab the prize, but it had backfired badly. Now the winners were completely predictable, and the men took turns at keeping the shiny gold statue at their houses.
Edward knew every detail of my life, often better than I did myself.
"Well then, maybe Renee will be up for a visit." I had yet to see her latest house. She and Phil moved about, always looking for the perfect location, and for a while, it would be. Then Mom would get itchy feet and start searching the internet for 'somewhere better'.
"You'll never last a whole week," Edward smirked, coming back to his usual good humour, thankfully.
"I bet I can," I replied.
"No way. You and your Mom are too different. She knows you have never warmed to Phil, and anyway, if any of her friends found out she was old enough to have a kid your age, she would die of shame."
"I'll wear my old school uniform and do my hair in pigtails and play a lot of Justin Bieber songs," I answered.
"You could pass for a teenager at that," Edward agreed. "I'm sorry about Jessica turning up here. It was stupid of me not to be aware of my surroundings. I was just thinking about how different things could be if one of us..."
"It's cool. Just don't let it happen again. My fold-out is not suitable for you to share with anyone, anyway. You'd end up with a spring sticking into your bony arse."
"You are assuming I like girl on top," he said with a wink.
"TMI," I shouted, slapping at him.
I stacked the dishwasher and turned it on. Edward lifted down my tattered old suitcase from the top of the wardrobe, and I started tossing things in haphazardly.
Edward growled and tipped everything out again and folded my clothes, rolling up my few dresses, and packing it properly.
"Good thing your women can't see you now, they'd assume you were totally gay," I teased.
"And anyone seeing you pack would assume you were a complete slob, Swan. I don't get you. You refuse to iron yet you throw your clothes into your bag in a way that guarantees you will have to learn that skill once you arrive."
"You forget. I have a guilt ridden mother who wants to do anything to make up for deserting me as a baby. Renee loves doing my ironing."
Edward stood still and I kept my distance as it looked like he wanted to cradle my face again.
He frowned at the gap I was keeping between us.
"Have fun. I'll sleep here tonight if that's okay, and clean this place so you don't come home to a smelly apartment. There's more to cleaning than leaving a window open to blow away the dust, you know."
"Hey it works for me," I replied, reaching for my bag.
Edward picked it up and carried it down to my car and I opened the trunk.
"Yea Gods, don't tell me you brought home the body. This is disgusting," he moaned, shoving food wrappers and God knows what aside to fit in the suitcase.
"So gay, Cullen, so gay. I can't believe you manage to even attract women in the first place, with your ugly face and pathetic scrawny body, and your cleaning fetish. Do you insist they shower before you shag them?"
He blushed and I knew I'd hit the jackpot.
I kissed his cheek hurriedly and jumped in the driving seat before he could return the gesture.
"Say hi to your Mom for me," I called and eased my car into the traffic.
The first time I walked into Bella's apartment, I was gobsmacked that anyone would choose to live in such cramped quarters. She earned good money on the Murder Squad, and could have afforded something a lot larger and nicer. Initially, I'd panicked and wondered if someone was blackmailing her thus diverting her funds but when I walked inside and looked around, her bank statements were laying on her counter top and that clearly was not the case.
Apart from a regular mortgage payment taken by her lender, her funds were building up impressively.
I hadn't meant to look, but she had intrigued me from the day we met and I wanted to know everything about her. She felt like someone I had to protect.
That day, she had gone straight from work out on a date and had slung me her house keys so I could drop off some case notes we had to work on later, so she calmly told me her address and I swung by, intending on merely dropping the file off and leaving. Instead, I'd wandered around the almost square room that provided her with everything she actually needed, and looked at her stuff.
She could hardly be accused of wasting her money. Her white cast iron bed frame was probably the most expensive thing she owned. Her bed was covered in one of those patchwork quilt things women seem to like but underneath was a thick, fluffy white, commercially made comforter. She liked pretty, but not at the expense of being cold.
Her pillows were generic, and both were covered in the most basic unadorned plain white pillowslips.
Her cupboard was half full of generic branded clothing, not a single frock among her jeans and T shirts and hoodies and winter coats of various lengths and thicknesses. The royal blue fitted trench coat was a quality item, my Mom had one the same.
Once again, she had spent money to ward off the cold.
It was a shame she didn't like dresses, because even in the jeans she always seemed to prefer wearing, I could see she had great legs. Very shapely and feminine.
Her underwear was in an open tray on the floor of the wardrobe she had failed to close, and was divided into two piles.
Practical cotton on one side, mischievous lace on the other.
Her bathroom strangely seemed to be used as hanging space for her work clothes but I soon realized she hung them there to take advantage of the steam. The room was badly ventilated so I dare say her garments got a good long steaming after she showered.
Her sofa bed was one of those cheap annoying types that has a mattress you could spit through, ensuring a lousy night's sleep, but I already knew she wasn't fond of guests.
In the kitchen corner her pots and pans were of an excellent brand, and her appliances were new and high quality.
The only truly personal items were on a shelf across the dining alcove wall.
Nothing expensive or ostentatious, just little knick-nacks she had collected during her high school years, I guessed. A framed photo of herself and her father, I would come to learn when I met him that Summer. A second photo of a man in a baseball uniform and a woman who looked something like Bella, only she lacked the beauty her daughter had been blessed with. Bella had her father's colouring and her mother's daintiness.
The third photo was of a teenage Bella with a shy smile and a long haired Indian boy pushed up close to her side, who worshiped her with his eyes. He looked like he was looking at his idea of nirvana.
Who could blame him, she was beautiful even them, with her slightly chubby face that had slimmed as she hit her twenties, and her deep brown liquid eyes that hadn't changed at all.
They were holding hands; he proudly; she slightly embarrassed maybe.
Next to the photos were a collection of hand carved creatures. A lone wolf, with every hair on his body accentuated individually. Three squat bodied birds, all different, all perfectly carved. They'd been gently painted with a colour wash of some type, their feathers so realistic you would almost expect these little gems to take to their wings and fly away.
A painted pebble, washed smooth by the sea, bearing a heart and J.B. Loves I.S 4 ever. I turned it over. "Jake loves Izzy."
I knew someone had once loved her, it was inevitable.
It was even more obvious these days, three years later. After the fiasco that was Riley, I'd watched her date a succession of non-threatening nobodies, and I suspected she had carefully chosen each and every one of them because they lacked whatever she had once been looking for.
Nowadays, she was only in love with the job. She lived and breathed it and came alive whenever Marcus threw our next case our way. Her personal life stopped until the perp was handcuffed and everything had been checked and rechecked and run by Marcus.
Often she forgot dates she had promised, and she would frown , irritated, when a message came through on her personal cell phone. If they were lucky, they got a brief text stating she was working, would be for days or weeks yet, so, yeah, it's been fun. Don't let the door hit you on your way out.
If she was too busy, they just got deleted.
On the odd occasion, after a case was over and neatly tied with ribbon, I would drive Bella home and some forlorn guy would be sitting on her doorstep, flowers in hand, waiting in case today was the day she finally came back home, and she'd panic and turn to me.
To be fair, it had often been weeks or months since we'd been home, so it wasn't that surprising she had forgotten her current beau's name. Too much had happened on the case and she had too little invested in her 'relationships' to think about the man she'd left behind.
That's how the whole fake relationship had begun.
I'd jump out of my car, rush around to open her door, sling an arm around her shoulders or waist and kiss her neck, and she'd blush and stammer out an apology to Mr Right Now and he'd blush and hand her the flowers, as his eyes flicked back and forth between us, and he'd leave, never to be heard of again.
I kept things far simpler. I used women for sex but only ever for a single night. I never wanted to mislead them, and I always hooked up in bars or clubs where girls went for fun, not for a happy ever after. Husband material did not hang out at these places, and so I assumed, neither did potential wives. I preferred the widely known hook up joints, so there was already no expectations of hearts and flowers, but still, I always made very sure the girl in question knew this was a romp in the hay and nothing more.
There had been a time when I wanted what many other men did; the white fence, the house, the wife, maybe in time I would have even wanted kids, but for reasons of my own I took the place offered to me on Murder Squad knowing it was a death knell for happy marriages, and became a playboy instead.
It was like eating tofu instead of steak. It kept my urges satisfied but it was tasteless and emotionally unsatisfying at best. It had been what I needed at the time. All I had been capable of coping with. No promises, no commitments, nothing invested. At worst it was an episode of bad sex. At best an episode of good sex.
Mostly it didn't bother me, but more and more lately, I have started to literally dream of a better future, with Bella.
I know it's not possible if we both stay on Murder Squad, but until today, I thought if I transferred to White Collar Crime or Forgeries, she would consider dating me. However, it seems she has no interest in transferring out herself, and thus it's a moot point. I'd rather stay in the squad and work with her than never see her again.
She does something to me that no other girl ever has, though it's hard to put my finger on exactly what that is. I guess she feels like home.
You know how you feel when you go back to visit the parents and instantly it feels like you have just been wrapped in a wooly blanket and you know these people will always be on your side and want the best for you, yet allow you to choose your own future, even if they would rather you had chosen a safer career path? Well, that's what it feels like in Bella's apartment when she's there.
When she's gone and I'm there alone, it has an entirely different feel.
It's just a place. It's just bricks and mortar and a roof to keep out the weather, and it's furnished with generic furniture and nothing special at all. Then she steps inside and suddenly everything takes on a sparkle. Her things look prettier because they belong to Bella.
In the last three years, I have felt bonded to her in a way I have never felt bonded with anyone else before, even my Mom. It's different, of course, with Bella, because although she is my new home, she is also a sexy and beautiful woman who makes my heart bleed every time she starts dating some fool like Newton, who definitely does not deserve to be allowed to touch her.
I'm always more than happy to play whatever role she wants me to, in order to shoo these boys away and free her again, but I'm starting to realize it's only a benefit to me in so much as she has more spare time to spend with me.
She's never going to consider me as anything more than a friend and partner.
I've worked with women partners before and my policy had always been, get it over with early. Sleep with them, then you can both get down to the job and not have any awkward sexual tension building up, clouding your heads.
Once is enough, in fact, I have always tried to make sure I never entertain the same lady twice, but slip ups have happened now and again. It's hard when none of them mean anything to me other than a night of fun. Their faces morph and merge and I rarely get the hint that I've been there before, though usually they tell me and I abort the mission and head home alone.
Just sometimes I'm worked up from a day and a night of being in close proximity to Bella on a stakeout or such, and my needs over run my good sense.
Two nights can mean something to a girl, and if there's anything I have to avoid it's having any of them want more from me. I don't do more.
They are nothing more than distractions; a means to an end. A tool to allow me a few seconds unthinking release. I don't cuddle afterwards, I never sleepover and the few that make it home to my bed find a taxi waiting at my door for them as soon as the deed is done.
I fucked up with Jessica and left my phone in the bedroom while I showered, and she took my number and put hers in as well. I deleted it, but I knew her knowing mine would not end well.
Maybe a small part of me wanted Bella to see I was attractive to girls, because she acts like I'm nothing special, and a lifetime of being told otherwise by every woman I meet and a majority of the men, tells me otherwise.
I know she hates the beard, but all the same, she seems to relax more when I have it, and stupidly I let that cloud my vision. I assumed she was afraid she would be overwhelmed with passion if I stayed clean shaven or scruffy. I know she loves the scruff; she never misses an opportunity to stroke it, seemingly in jest, but I know she just likes me best that way.
Her eyes change and light up when I walk into work or her place, with a days stubble instead of the beard. She may not even know that herself.
I spend my days turning into some needy girl around her, over analyzing her every word, every look, every action. I'm like a teen girl watching her favourite pop star and trying to make everything he does a sign that he knows she exists and maybe he loves her.
Wait, I don't love her.
That's too extreme. I like her, a lot. I fancy the Hell out of her, and would do anything for a night in her bed. But on the other hand, I already know one night would never be enough, and it would fuel the flame instead of extinguishing it.
She breaks all my rules.
I always pictured myself with a tall, willowy, pencil thin blonde nymphomaniac with a large rack.
Instead my ideal is a five foot two inch tall brunette who hates her curly hair and has no idea how beautiful she is. She throws herself away on loser guys and shakes them off like they are nothing more than raindrops she copped when out walking.
She never mentions them in any meaningful way. She's strictly with them solely because she needs someone to scratch her itch and she likes dating, but the first time anyone starts throwing around the 'L' word, she is gone.
I know she isn't happy with her solution, and I know she would love to be in love and have someone special, but she has to keep a balance and the job will always win. She'd never stand having some guy she loved sitting around waiting for the phone call that says we got unlucky and the perp shot her rather than came along quietly, and her deepest fear is having a child and leaving it motherless. She knows meaningful relationships end in marriage and marriage nearly always wants a kid and that would mean she had to quit and become a desk jockey at best; a librarian at worst.
She's great at what she does and honestly, I would never want a better partner. I trust her completely to always have my back, as I always have hers. I'd take a bullet for her any day, without thought. The world would be a dark, empty place without Bella.
Just as I sit down to eat the reheated leftovers from last night's dinner, my phone beeps.I have a new text message.
Bella has arrived safely, and she assures me, it's great seeing Renee again.
Now for the countdown. First days are always great, Day 2 Renee starts with the 'when are you going to grow up and settle down' routine, Day 3, it's 'you have to meet my friend's son, he has a safe, steady job and you will like him', Day 4 it's all "don't be ridiculous, how can you say he's boring? You had one date. Now go change into a dress, I've invited him for dinner tonight and Phil and I are spending the night at a friend's house so you two can bond', and that's when Bella runs back here.
"Great. See you' ...let's see,today is Monday, that makes running home day Thursday...'Thursday"
"Haha Cullen, you wish."
I do wish, actually. But anyway, I will never know because tomorrow I'm heading back to visit my parents and Esme will probably insist I stay the whole week. Bella knows this so she will keep sending me texts every day pretending she has managed to stay at her Mom's, while in reality she will be here, laying in bed, eating Ben and Jerry's to get over the trauma of the visit, watching Casablanca.
After dinner, I strip her bed and stuff her sheets into the washing machine in the kitchen corner, and get a fresh set from her linen press in the bathroom. Just for reaction purposes, I make up her bed, short-sheeting the bottom sheet so she'll be so annoyed she'll call to yell at me, and give away the fact she's back home here.
Then I start cleaning. I don't get why guys who clean are considered 'gay', not everyone can live in a sty. Not that Bella's place is dirty, it's just a bit dusty around the edges. By the time the bathroom is gleaming, the wash cycle is done and I transfer the sheets into the dryer and wash her randomly abandoned clothes that lie around the room.
I'm about to convert the sofa and I realize, tonight, just for one night, I could sleep in her bed. Well, on her bed. I don't want to undo my handy work with the sheets, and also, I don't want her smelling me on her sheets and giving the game away so I lie down on top of her quilt and put my comforter over my body, and push her horrible pillows aside and substitute my own.
Casablanca is indeed in her dvd player so I watch the movie and fall asleep, dreaming of myself sitting behind a grand piano, smoking, watching the girl of my dreams walk into my 'gin joint'.