Author's Chapter Notes:

Hello everyone! I hope you enjoy my take on what could happen at a boring company Christmas party.

I'd like to thank Alice's White Rabbit for betaing, and Kherisma for being my super awesome VB. Both ladies are like snow on Christmas morning :D

Onto the story ...

A Holiday Liaison

I'm doing this for Mike. He helped me out, and it's only fair. I'm a good friend ... maybe too good. That's what I keep telling myself as I curl my hair and plaster makeup on my face. Back in July, when my friend, Mike Newton, pretended to be my boyfriend at a party my ex showed up to, he did me a huge solid. When I saw the look on Jake's face as Mike smacked my ass and threw me over his shoulder, I knew there was no way I could ever repay him. Mike assured me there was. I was so in debt to him at the time. Agreeing to be his date for his company's Christmas party seemed easy enough, but now, here it is the middle of December, and I couldn't be dreading the night ahead any more.

Mike's always had a thing for me, but we, meaning I, decided long ago we were much better off as friends. Tonight, he's merely using me as an accessory to make someone he works with notice him-some Jessica chick, who thinks she's too good for him. Knowing Mike, she probably is.

Either way, a deal's a deal, and I always make good on my word. If this Jessica thinks Mike isn't good enough for her, then we'll do our best to convince her she's missing something. My friend, in all his profundity, dreamed up a plan for tonight. I would spend the first part of the evening fawning all over him; then, by the time everyone was good and liquored up, I would make a scene and break up with him, hopefully leaving Jessica to pick up the pieces of his broken heart.

"Okay, so you remember the story, right?" Mike asks, adjusting his tie; his eyes are fixed on the crowded room we haven't yet entered.

"Yes. I'm your long-distance girlfriend, on break from a grueling semester at Harvard where I study law," I say and roll my eyes. "Honestly, Mike, why did you make me a law student? What the hell am I supposed to say if anyone asks me about the legal system? I'm an accountant, for Pete's sake."

Mike puts his hands on my shoulders. "Don't worry about that; I'll handle the conversation. All you have to do is look gorgeous and pretend I'm the greatest guy you've ever met."

"Well, I'm no Meryl Streep, but I'll do my best," I say, and he narrows his eyes with a sardonic grin. Mike yanks my arm through his, and we make our way inside the Edgewater Hotel. The east ballroom is decked to the nines in tinsel and lights, and we're immediately greeted by a couple of his co-workers.

"Newton, you piece of shit, what took you so long? I thought you were going to meet us early to get an edge on the shrimp cocktail," a wirey, Asian fellow says, and I have to hide my grin against Mike's arm.

"I told you I had to pick up my girlfriend from the airport. Bella, these are my co-workers, Ben Cheney and Tyler Crawley. Guys, this is my Bella."

Both boys' jaws are on the ground, and their ogling makes me uncomfortable. It's like they've never seen a woman before.

The taller guy, Tyler, speaks up first. "I-we thought you were fake."

"I'm sorry?" My eyes slide to Mike, but he's glaring at Tyler.

"It's just ... I mean, we've never actually seen you. Mike talks about you all the time, but no one actually believed you existed," Ben explains.

Suddenly, I feel sorry for Mike. He hasn't had a real girlfriend since college, and it breaks my heart that he's lowered himself to pretend relationships. Because it's a week before Christmas, and I'm feeling extra fucking jolly, I decide to help the poor sap out.

"Well," I say, ghosting my fingers up the length of Mike's tie to his chin, playing with the sparse hairs on his jaw, "I don't think Mike would call what I did for him on the car ride over fake. Isn't that right, sweetie?"

Mike looks down at me. "What happened in the car?"

Jesus Christ. You try to throw a dog a bone ...

"Just shut up and kiss me," I say and yank on his stupid reindeer tie until his lips are pressed against mine. Before he can take advantage and wiggle his tongue into my mouth, I break the kiss and pull him past his salivating friends. I need a drink.

"What was that?" Mike asks, glancing over his shoulder. He has the biggest shit-eating grin on his face, but the look I give him dissolves it.

"I felt sorry for you, that's all. And, seriously, find some gum. Do you want to approach your dream girl with garlic breath? Let's get a drink and take a moment to go over a couple rules," I say, taking a seat at the bar.

"Rules?" he asks, ordering a beer.

I wait until my rum and Diet Coke is in hand before elaborating. "Yes, rules. What I did back there was of my own accord. I wanted to show those scrawny fucks you aren't just some joke. As long as you're comfortable with it, I'll continue to make those types of calls as I see fit. Tonight, you're no joke. Tonight, you're my boyfriend."

"You're the best, Bella. I can't believe how cool you're being."

I shrug. "Well, you're a good buddy, and who knows when I'll need you again. I guess this is kind of our thing." Just thinking of Jake with his beautifully exotic girlfriend makes me shudder. Before Mike can respond, I give him a pointed look. "That doesn't mean you can act like a fool. You need to be sharp-on your game. And try to keep the conversation away from me at all cost. This is about her; I'm merely your arm candy."

"Can we dance?"

"No dancing."

"Two songs."

"No songs; it's not happening. And, God forbid, if there is another kiss, you will not even think about using your tongue. That is one line not to be crossed. It would be like kissing my retarded brother, or something."

Mike takes an affronted swig of his Bud. "Come on; haven't you ever thought about it before-you and me?"

This guy. I try hard to not look as repulsed as I am. "Absolutely never."

He stares at me with a smirk, waiting for me to break, but of course, I don't. "I'll show you retarded brother ..." he mutters, sighing. "Fine. I'll keep it PG until you take it further. But if Jessica suddenly appears, and I need you on the fly, don't freak out on me. Maybe we can use some sort of signal, or something. Yeah, like the bat signal!"

Mike's getting a little too excited, and I roll my eyes. "We don't need a signal; just don't be an idiot." I sink the rest of my cocktail and order another before turning in my seat to scan the room. "Do you see her yet?"

Mike takes a look around, and when his face goes all soft and gooey, I know he's spotted her. I follow his eyes and take in the infamous Jessica. She's cute-brown hair, brown eyes, a round face, and a soft figure. She's pretty, but even from across the room, it's easy to see she's the kind of girl who totes around false confidence-the same kind of girl who draws attention to herself in every given situation merely for the sake of reassurance. Hell, in the short time I've been staring at her, she's fixed her dress three times and is currently studying her face in the back of a spoon. I thought the idea of making her jealous was stupid, but she's exactly the type of person this kind of thing works on.

"Let's go say hello, shall we?" I say, nudging Mike out of his wet dream.

"Yeah," he says through a breath, and I grab him by the arm before we go any further.

"Here, I wasn't kidding." I dig around in my bag and he accepts the piece of gum with no qualms.

As we make our way to Jessica's table, I instruct him to put his arm around my waist, and he does as he's told, though his eyes never leave his dream girl. She's talking to a group of Mike's co-workers and looking around as if searching for someone. Her eyes land on the two of us, and her brows knit together at the sight of me.

"Lean down and whisper something in my ear," I tell Mike through a fake smile.

He leans down and whispers against my neck. "I don't know what to say." At least his breath is better. I giggle, as if he just suggested we sneak away to the utility closet, and push him away with a playful shove just as we join the circle.

"Hey, Mike," Jessica says slowly. "Who's your friend?" She gives me a tight smile with no warmth. I had her pegged right; I can practically see her measuring herself against me. She really doesn't have to be so self-conscious; she's even prettier up close. I can see why Mike was taken with her.

"Hey, Jess; hey, everyone. This is my girlfriend Bella; I'm sure you've all heard me talk about her," he says, smiling down at me. I look up at him with googly eyes and a shy smile, and he continues. "Baby, this is Jessica Stanley, Angela Webber, and you've already met Ben."

Jessica sticks her hand out to shake mine. "So, Bella, Mike tells us you're in law school. That's ambitious; when do you graduate?"

Uh-oh, she's determined to sniff me out.

"Um, next spring," I say at the exact same time Mike says 'two more years'. With a look that begs him to let me handle this, I turn back to the confused crowd. "Well, I'm hoping this spring, but I may end up spending the next year abroad, which would push it back a little." There, that's convincing, right? Ugh, the eyebrow Jessica throws me tells me it's not. Fuck.

"I didn't think they allowed sabbaticals in law school. How interesting."

Before I can string together another bullshit answer, a man so striking steps up beside Jessica, wiping drops of rain from his brow. "Sorry that took so long. The valet station was empty; I had to drive around three times until I found a spot."

Jessica beams a full, thousand-watt smile and puts her arm through his. "That's okay; you're just in time to meet my friends. Edward, this is Angela, Ben, Mike, and Mike's date, Bella. Everyone, this is Edward, my date." She looks at me with a pointy smirk. "He's an attorney."

Mike's hand tightens around mine like a vice; he's just as dumbfounded by the guy as I am. We both stare at him like a couple of idiots, and I can practically hear Mike's testicles clambering into his body.

This is starting to get creepy. I seriously have to stop staring at Edward, but at the moment, I can't think of anything worse than taking my eyes away from him. He's just so enigmatic, so intriguing, so-wait a minute! Hold the phone. Did she just say he's an attorney? Shit on me; now what am I going to do?

When Mike nudges me, I come to and realize it's not just Edward staring at me; everyone else is, too. "I'm sorry, what?" I ask, flailing to find my footing.

Jessica snickers at my idiocy. "I was just telling Edwardthat you're an attorney, as well."

The crooked smile Edward graces me with is sheer perfection, and my face is as red as the giant glass ornaments that hang all around us. "Well, not yet," I mutter through a chuckle, turning to Mike. "Baby, can you help me find the restroom? It was nice meeting everyone." With a wave to the group, I grab Mike's hand and pull him away. The two of us need to reconvene and get our collective shit together before we ruin everything. . . . Okay, fine. Before I ruin everything.

"Bella, wait. Slow down; you just passed the ladies room."

I spin on my heel and we nearly collide. Grabbing his arm, I pull him to a nearby alcove and stab him in the chest with my finger. "Mike," I hiss through my teeth. "Who the hell is that? You didn't tell me she has a boyfriend. I didn't agree to break up a relationship, dammit." I'm pacing a tight line in front of him, and Mike throws a quick glance over his shoulder.

"I have no idea who that guy is. Jess is always going on about the drags of single life and how she's constantly being set up with losers. Just last week she was joking with Ang about how her dog would make a better date to the Christmas party than the guy she had dinner with the weekend before." Mike sighs and rubs his eyes. "Fuck, I'm toast. How in the hell am I supposed to compete with that guy? He could model underwear, for fuck's sake. This is my life; I'm going to be stuck in Friendville with her forever," he says miserably, his composure crumbling before my eyes.

I mull over what Mike said and take a deep breath. Maybe this isn't what it looks like. "Okay, we both just need to calm down. So, to the best of your stalker-knowledge, Jessica is single, right?"

"Right."

"I mean, clearly, if that guy is her boyfriend, you would've heard of him by now, right?"

Mike shrugs. "I'm pretty sure. I sit right behind her at work, and Jessica talks about her personal life more than anything else. If they're a couple, I'm positive the entire twelfth floor would know every detail about him. Do you think maybe he's a blind date or something?"

I chew on my bottom lip, trying to make sense of it. "I guess that could be the case, but why would a gorgeous attorney have to resort to a blind date, especially to a lame Christmas party? It just doesn't seem logical." I look up through my musings to see Jessica and the other chick, Angela, exit the party and head into the restroom. "I'll get to the bottom of this. She and her friend just went into the bathroom. You go back to the table and feel Edward out; I'll do a little recon." Shoving Mike toward the ballroom, I veer left to the restroom and walk in mid-gush session.

"My gosh, Jess, he's gorgeous. How did you manage to snag him with such short notice?" Angela asks, and when I appear behind them in the mirror, both girls look up. Angela gives me a big, warm smile. "Bella, join us. It's so nice to finally meet you after all the talking Mike's done. Don't worry; he only has the best things to say."

I give her a shy smile. "He's so sweet. I really don't know how I got so lucky. Even when we're a continent apart, he has a way of making me feel like he's right beside me," I say and notice a twinge of longing in Jessica's eyes. It's gone in a flash, and she continues touching up her face.

"We were just talking about Jessica's date. Isn't he dreamy?" Angela asks with a sigh of whimsy.

Jessica throws her a look, and I step up to the vanity and casually check my own makeup. "Totally dreamy. And I'm glad to meet all of you, too. Mike's always telling me about his office friends." I give Jessica a fleeting glance with just a hint of feigned jealousy. "Especially you, Jessica."

Jess pauses for a nanosecond but doesn't look my way. "Does he now? Really, I'm not surprised. Mike's had a crush on me since I started-used to follow me around like a lost puppy. He's a good friend, but a little too ... immature for my taste-always goofing around." She stops applying lipstick to look at me with a false smile.

What a bitchy thing to say to someone's pretend girlfriend. This is going to be fun.

Angela seems embarrassed by her friend's inappropriate confession, and her laughter is full of apology. "Of course, that was all before you came along and stole his heart."

"And probably his virginity," Jessica says with a snort, amused by her own insult.

I smile at her and turn to Angela. "Trust me; Mike was no virgin when I met him. I thought I knew everything there was to know, but I was wrong. The things he can do ... that man discovered hot spots I never knew I had. One night with him, and I was a new woman." Tossing my mascara into my bag, I turn to Jessica with a shrug. "I guess Mike has a soft spot for brunettes; I'm just lucky you didn't snatch him up first. Although, sometimes I can't help but feel that I don't quite measure up. He's always telling me I need to gain weight-that he likes a girl with some padding-but I can't seem to put on the pounds no matter what I do. I would kill to have thicker curves like yours, Jessica," I say, tsking at myself in the mirror. From my periphery, I see Jessica's smile flat line, and I continue, "You and Edward make a great-looking couple, by the way. How long have the two of you been together?"

I mentally count to twelve before she answers. "Not long." Jessica glances at Angela in the mirror, and it's clear she isn't happy about where my question is headed. I wonder if Jessica would give a different, more embellished answer if it were just the two of us. Alas, she's tethered to the truth by her wide-eyed friend, and I wait for her to continue, but she doesn't.

Angela giggles and pokes Jess in the side. "Yeah, you two go all the way back to, what, twenty minutes ago?"

Ah-ha. So they're not in a relationship. Perfect! "Blind date?" I ask, and my inquiry is a perfect blend of innocence and sympathy.

"No." Jessica glares at me. Her reply is so sharp, even Angela is taken aback, and she sighs. Her shoulders sag ever so slightly, ushering in her insecurity. "Well, kind of. If you must know, a friend of mine set us up. She showed him a picture of me, and he said he'd be delighted to take me out."

Now I feel like the bitch, but I've got to hold on to my game face if this night is going to end the way it's supposed to. "Well, I hope it works out for you; although, statistically, these things rarely do. But you do look great together."

Jessica raises her chin slightly and keeps her focus on the mirror without a reply. My compliment is backhanded enough to keep me on her shit list, and I'll need to stay there if Mike has any hope of gaining her sympathy when I pretend to break up with him later tonight.

Three older women enter the bathroom, and Angela stuffs her powder back into her clutch. "All right, girls, I think we're fabulous enough to go back to the party. Let's get out of here."

I bring up the rear as we head back to the ballroom; Jessica loops her arm through Angela's, picking up the pace. She can't wait to get away from me, and as much as I hate being a cunt, I know Mike's plan now has a leg to stand on. If I can just get Edward away from Jessica long enough to give Mike some alone time with her.

Bing Crosby has just finished crooning about a white Christmas as dinner ends, and I lean into Mike to watch the dance floor fill up with couples. Well, I'm only pretending to watch. We're seated directly across the table from Edward, and while he's distracted by his chatty date, I take the time to drink him in.

Mike, Ben, and Tyler are currently arguing over which Kardashian is the sluttiest while Jessica tries her best to include a very bored Edward in whatever work-related gossip she's spilling at the moment. Casually, he checks his watch, and I almost smile. It's easy to see he doesn't want to be here, and I wonder about the circumstances surrounding his set-up with Jessica. Of course, all of these thoughts are mere whispers in my head as I concentrate on calculating and cataloging his every perfection.

His incredible gray eyes are almost silver under the soft glow of a thousand twinkling lights. I've never seen anything like it. His bronze hair is sculpted, yet slightly disheveled, and when he speaks, his thick brows weave gracefully up and down, animating his every word. When he smiles at something Angela says, it once again prompts a smile of my own. I want to brush my fingers over those lips, taste them. I want to trace the dimple of his chin and run my hands through his hair. I want to feel the skin of his back under my fingers. God help me, I want him inside me.

Jesus Henry Christ, Isabella. Keep it together. My blatant staring is wildly inappropriate, but he has me in a trance I'd be content to stay in forever. After all, how often does one get the opportunity to eye-fuck a real-life Adonis?

Edward takes a sip of his drink and glances around the table. His eyes meet mine, but I'm too enraptured to look away. Giving me the once-over, the corner of his lips tug skyward, and he mouths 'Hi'. With a pounding heart, I mouth 'Hello' back. I should be ten shades of red with embarrassment by now, but I'm inexplicably not. We hold onto each other's gaze as long as possible, until Jessica is once again in his face with blather that only she cares about.

Edward gives a vague chuckle at whatever she's said and takes another drink, peering at me again from over his glass. The blood finally rushes to my face, and I have to look away in order to keep my shit together. When an obscenely upbeat song blares from the DJ's sound system, Jessica is on her feet in a flash.

"Come on, Edward, let's show these fools who's running this show," she says, grabbing Edward's arm. A fleeting look of panic steels across his face before he gently removes her hand from his bicep.

"Oh, uh, sorry, Jessica, but I don't dance. Ever," he says with beautiful, apologetic eyes. Even the sound of his voice is like poetry-deep, velvety poetry.

"What?" Jessica puts her hands on her hips and huffs her indignation. "This is a Christmas party. Everyone dances at Christmas parties."

Chagrined, Edward takes her hand, and I'm shamefully envious of Jessica Stanley's manicured fingers. "Well, I guess that makes it everyone except me. But why don't you and Angela hit the floor together; that's something I'd love to watch."

I glance at Angela just in time to see Ben pull her away, and a brilliant idea dawns on me. I give Mike a sly wink before my eyes slide back to a very miffed Jessica. "Say, Jess. Why don't you do me a favor and dance with Mike. He's been begging all night, but I'm pretty much in the same boat as Edward." I turn to Mike. "Baby, there's nothing you can say that will get me on that dance floor."

Jessica's eyes narrow. "You want meto dance with your boyfriend?"

I shrug with indifference. "Sure. It sounds like a solution for all parties involved. What do you say, Mike?"

Mike straightens his tie. "Uh, well, sure. If you don't mind and Jessica is okay with it, I'd be happy to."

Jessica throws Edward one more irritated glance before looking at Mike, who's already standing and holding his hand out to her. A blush spreads across her face at Mike's eagerness, and her answering grin displays her huge, brilliantly white teeth. "Oh, why not? Let's boogie, Mike."

I know he'll have no trouble following through with his part of the plan. Mike won't be able to keep his hands off her which, in turn, will throw me into a fit of jealousy. I may even toss my drink in his face for good measure.

Aside from Edward and myself, the table has cleared, and I finish my drink in one large swallow. Thank God the company Mike works for was kind enough to spring for top-shelf booze. The Bacardi is already making my head swim, and it'll only be a matter of time before it fills out my cojones, as well. Watching the dance floor, I smile as Mike dances past us like an utter goon with Jessica cracking up at his antics. He's keeping her close, which is great, and she seems to be smitten with his buffoonery. Excellent. It won't be long until I can make my move and get the hell out of here.

With a sigh, I turn back to the table to find Edward sitting right beside me in Mike's designated seat. I'm too stunned to greet him. His beauty is only heightened by the close proximity, and I sincerely hope that's a drop of rum on my chin and not drool.

"Hello," I finally manage, dabbing my chin with a cocktail napkin.

"Bella," he greets with a nod before looking around with a smile. "So, is it just me, or are these people a little odd?" he asks with a laugh.

I'm thrown by his casual joviality, though I shouldn't be, and nervously play with the pendant on my necklace. "Uh, yeah, I guess. I've never met any of them before tonight, so it's all new to me."

"Ah, that's right. Law school. You're visiting from the East Coast, correct? Harvard?"

Fuck. Shit. Damn. "That's right. It's so nice to be home again," I say, glancing around for a server. I'm going to need another drink. Stat! Edward notices my empty glass and throws two fingers in the air. A waiter appears out of nowhere, and he orders me a Hendricks with a twist. I loathe gin, but before I can tell the waiter otherwise, he's gone.

Amused, I raise my eyebrows at Edward. "Do you always presume to know what a lady is in the mood for?"

He gives me the most fantastically lopsided grin I've ever seen. "I think you need to loosen up a little. You seem a little tightly wound," he replies with a smirk. "I hope gin is okay with you; it's my favorite."

"I hate gin."

"You're going to be a lawyer, Bella. You'd better learn to start liking it. Of course, if you're not ready to play with the big dogs, I'll order you something ... softer. Cosmo? A Shirley Temple, perhaps?"

Is this guy serious? The only thing I know for sure at this moment is that I'd love to smack the beautiful smirk right off Edward's face. Or lick it off, my subconscious chimes in. "I can handle the gin, thank you," I say and turn to watch Mike and Jessica again. They're slow dancing, but their hold is painfully platonic. Come on, Mike, grab her ass already so I can kick you in the nuts and forget this night ever happened.

Edward leans in extra close, and my skin prickles when fresh, minty breath swirls around my neck. "So, you and Mike ..." he says, leaving his thought unfinished, and I turn my head slightly to look at him. Edward doesn't seem to know the meaning of personal space; we're literally two inches apart.

"Yes, what about it?" I ask, though my voice is nary a whisper as I study his face in all its magnified glory. My bottom lip has found its way between my teeth-nervous habit-and I watch as Edward stares at my mouth. Sweet baby Jesus, who turned the heat up? It's hot as a crotch in here.

Finally, he drags his eyes away from my lips to meet my gaze. With a shrug, he exits my bubble and leans back in his own chair. Edward surveys Mike, giving him a thorough appraisal, and shakes his head. "I don't buy it. Not for one second."

"Excuse me? What don't you buy?"

Edward remains smug, his arms crossed over his chest, as he elaborates. "Just look at the guy. He's a total boob. Did you know while you were gone, Mike spent the better part of twenty minutes talking to me about his comic book collection with no inclination I was even remotely interested?"

Goddammit, Mike. He was supposed to feel Edward out, not bore him into an early grave with the source of his nightly nerdgasm. Still, I'm affronted. Who does this guy think he is? "He's just trying to be friendly. So what?"

"So, do you honestly expect anyone to believe a clown like him could ever dream of putting his dick anywhere near someone as divine as you? Sorry, princess, but I'll say it again: I don't buy it," he says, swirling the ice in his empty glass.

What the what? I'm utterly gobsmacked, but my glare holds strong. I'm equal parts pissed off and turned on; I can't figure out if I want to punch him in the face or crawl under the table and give him the best head of his life. Leaning forward, I cock an eyebrow. "You've known me all of five minutes and you think you have me figured out? What if I like comics, too? What if it's something we bond over?"

"Is that the case?"

His eyes penetrate mine like two silver bullets. I cannot tell this man a lie, and my shoulders sag in defeat. "No."

A glass of gin is placed in front of me, and without thinking, I take a huge drink. That's what I call a regretter. The gin burns my throat and nose, and I nearly choke trying to force it down. Watching my display with amusement, Edward offers me his napkin, and I snatch it from his hand.

"What's the deal, then, Bella? Enlighten me," he says.

The gin mixes nicely with all the rum I've consumed and my balls have officially dropped. "You are horridly presumptuous, do you know that? What about you? Why don't you tell me what the dealis with you and Jessica? Do you honestly expect anyone to believe a mouthy cow like her could ever dream of bedding someone as unbelievably fuckable as you?" Shut the fuck up, Isabella Marie! my mind screams from beneath a sea of spirits, but of course, I don't listen. "You hardly seem the type to be hard-up for a date, so what's your deal, Edward? You lose a bet, or something?"

Holy crap, my balls are huge!

Twice, Edward opens his mouth, but immediately closes it. I don't think he was expecting that; I know I certainly wasn't. He smiles at me with drawn brows, seemingly impressed by my apparent insight. "Actually, yes. In a rare turn of events, I lost a bet to my sister, and this is my punishment." Edward gestures to his date, who is currently twirling around the dance floor with mine. "Jessica is nice enough, and certainly willing, but we're worlds apart. She's not my type at all."

My throat is parched, and though I'm afraid to take another drink of the poison in front of me, it's either that or choke on my own tongue. It's not so bad going down the second time around, and I'm liking the ambiance the gin has brought to the party. I feel uninhibited-reckless, even."Enlighten me, counselor. What exactly is your type?"

Edward cocks his head thoughtfully to the side as his eyes take me in. "I do love a brunette. No ridiculous highlights or streaks; just a natural, rich mane the color of espresso. And eyes-I'm a sucker for brown, as well, but not all squinty," he says, and I realize he's describing Jessica. "I like them to be open and honest, full of mystery, like yours." His words still me. My face softens, and I feel myself melting into the chair. Edward notices the change in my disposition and gives me a dapper smile. "I can read every single person in this room by their eyes alone-the good, the bad, the fakes-and you're unexpected." He leans in and fingers the lock of hair resting on my shoulder as he finishes that thought. "You're too genuine to be able to lie well, or keep up with charades."

Damn, he's good. "What else do you like?" I whisper. I need to keep him talking; the sound of his voice is captivating.

"Well, curves on a woman aren't a bad thing."

At that, I glance down at my string-bean arms and flat chest. Well, this sucks. I thought we were getting somewhere, but I have the body of Olive Oyl; no curves for him to enjoy here.

"That being said," he continues. "There's something distinctly feline about a figure like yours; long, lean, nice ass, small, pert tits, lithe, graceful legs. . . ." Edward watches his own finger blaze a trail from my shoulder to the column of my neck before raising his eyes to meet mine. "To answer your question, Bella, you are my type."

Breathe. Breathe. Breathe. In, out, in, out. Okay, maybe this isgoing somewhere. His nearness is unsettling, but I somehow manage to hold onto his gaze; though, I'm at a loss for a response. Luckily, Edward keeps the ball rolling.

"In fact, I think Jessica and Mike would make a far better couple with each other than they would with either of us. Don't you agree?"

Edward has so thoroughly disarmed me; my bag of lies is long forgotten. "Yeah, well, that's the plan for tonight." Instantly, I realize my slip. My eyes widen, and a knowing grin spreads across his face.

"Gotcha," he says, leaning back and releasing me from his gravity. "I knew you weren't really with him."

My chin juts ever so slightly, and I grab my glass, dumping its remaining contents down my throat. I only need a second to catch my breath this time. "Fine. Mike and I aren't together. I'm doing him a favor. He's in love with Jessica, though I have no fucking idea why, and I'm here to help him get her attention."

"Hmm, I see. Well, maybe I can help."

I narrow my eyes, intrigued but suspicious. "How so? Jessica is queen of the hill tonight with you on her arm. Why would she settle for a vanilla pudding cup when she can have the crème brûlée instead?"

Edward throws his head back and laughs, and I want to plant my lips right on his Adam's apple. "Oh, I don't know," he says. "They look pretty cozy to me. I don't think it'll be too hard to keep them focused on each other."

I search them out on the dance floor and gasp when I see the two of them wrapped around one another, swaying to the slow melody of an old Mazzy Star song. Wow, Go Mike! "Holy crap, that was fast. I'm supposed to pretend to break up with him at the end of the night, but now looks like a perfect opportunity to get it over with."

Edward gives a lazy smile, and I'm lost in his stormy eyes. "Let's let them simmer for a bit-let the flavors develop. There's a terrace on the twenty-second floor. If the rain has stopped, would you care to join me for a drink outside?"

The nod I give is automatic, a spinal reflex, and he stands, offering me his assistance. I place my hand in his and watch it disappear as he folds his fingers around mine. Throwing a glance over my shoulder, I'm glad to see Mike is too engrossed with what's in front of him to notice my existence, let alone my departure. We make a stop at the bar where Edward orders two more doubles, and he leads me out of the ballroom.

A thrill of adrenaline pulses through me as we walk the halls, and I feel naughty-like we're breaking the rules, or sneaking around where we aren't supposed to. I take a deep breath, and Edward gives me a mischievous smile that tells me I should prepare myself for the unexpected.

Wrapped in Edward's suit jacket, I take in the sweeping, panoramic view of Seattle from the twenty-second floor terrace. The skyline is big and glorious and lit up like Christmas morning. A soft voice sings to us from hidden speakers, and Edward's warmth is suddenly pressed against my back.

"Dance with me, Bella," he whispers, his breath hot and humid against my skin.

I turn my head just slightly. "Neither of us dances, remember?"

A deep chuckle vibrates against me, and I shudder. Edward's lips are nearly pressed against my ear. "I'm willing to make an exception for you, if you'll make one for me."

All I can do is nod, and Edward turns me around by the shoulders. "Good." Snaking one arm around my waist, he takes my hand and presses his lips against my icy fingers. "You're so cold. Do you want to go inside?"

Little does he know, my cold hands have nothing to do with the temperature and everything to do with his proximity. Shaking my head, I look at him from under my lashes. "Not yet. You're keeping me plenty warm."

"Your cheeks turn the loveliest shade of pink when you're nervous." He releases my hand to caress my face with surprisingly warm fingers, and I lean into his touch. "Do I make you nervous, Bella?"

Does a bear shit in the woods? Of course, he makes me nervous. Closing my eyes, I nod again. "Yes," I manage, my voice catching in my throat.

Edward leans in, and he's so close to me, my fingers reach up to feel the stubble on his neck. His smile has disappeared, and his eyes are on my lips. "I'd really love to kiss you right now."

The air whooshes out of me in a quiet gust. "I'd love that, too," I whisper and close my eyes once again. Before I can open them, soft, warm lips are pressed against mine. His hand is now cradling the back of my head, and I slide my hands up his chest and around his neck, opening myself to him.

With a soft, reluctant moan, he pulls back an inch or so, and his breath warms my face as he speaks. "You make me nervous, too-among a vast array of other emotions I'm not used to feeling. I don't have a category for you; I don't think one exists. It's frustrating and intriguing at the same time."

"Oh," I mutter. We've stopped swaying to the music and are just staring at one another. The thought enters my head that maybe the reason he can't read me is because I've been lying to him and everyone else all night. He knows Mike and I are a sham, but that isn't everything. I can't go on until I spill my shame. Taking a breath, my eyes fall to his chest. "I'm not really in law school. That's just part of my fake story."

Edward hooks his finger under my chin, forcing me to look at him. "What is it that you do, then, Bella?"

His eyes are so filled with desire; it's hard for me to concentrate. "I'm an accountant-CPA, actually. Numbers, math ... it's my thing."

Shaking his head with a smirk, Edward grasps my chin with long, lovely fingers. "That is so fucking hot."

Once again, his mouth is on mine, hot and hungry. I'm glad to know he doesn't mind the truth, and I run my fingers through his hair, grabbing and pulling him as close as I can get him. His hands travel down my body and slide around to grip my ass. He pushes himself against me, and I lean into the huge, hard bulge between us, and moan against his mouth. Fuck me, I'm already wet. In fact, I don't know how much more teasing I can handle before I explode. Luckily, Edward and I are on the same page.

"Why don't we go find a place where we can warm up," he says, pressing his forehead to mine.

"Let's do that," I reply eagerly, and he takes my hand, pulling me back into the hotel. We pass an elderly couple in the hallway, and I smile politely, as if I'm not about to go do the deed with a complete stranger. Edward glances at me from over his shoulder and shakes his head again, picking up the pace.

We round a corner, and halfway down the random hallway, Edward comes to an abrupt halt in front of an unmarked door. He glances around to make sure we're alone before turning the ornate knob. Lucky for us, the door is unlocked, and it swings opens with a low creak. Edward turns around and pulls me into his arms. Grabbing my ass with rough hands, he lifts me up, and I wrap myself around him.

This is crazy. This is insane. This is not the kind of thing I do, or have ever done before. What is it about Edward that made me toss my inhibitions over the balcony of the twenty-second floor? I realize the answer to that question is everything. His astounding hotness, the velvety sound of his voice when he says my name, the way he feels against me, his perfect mouth and the way it molds against mine like corresponding puzzle pieces. Even his earlier cockiness made me want to lick the man from head to toe. He's my every fantasy, and in the confines of whatever room we're in, my wildest dreams are about to come true.

Without breaking our kiss, Edward stumbles around with me in his arms. A small window provides a sliver of blue light; he sets me on my feet, and I look around. How appropriate; we're in a utility closet stuffed with what must be the leftover Christmas decorations. Edward finds a bundle of lights and shakes them out, searching the wall with his hand until he finds an outlet and plugs them in. The soft glow of the slowly flickering lights is just enough to illuminate his tall frame.

Sauntering toward me, Edward pushes his jacket off my shoulders and it drops to the ground. "That dress looks fantastic on you, but I'd much rather see it on the floor. I want to see all of you."

I reach behind myself and unzip the dress I bought last week. Taking down the thin straps, I let the garment fall to my feet; it spreads around me like a puddle of deep plum silk.

Pure lust as I've never seen before darkens Edward's eyes as he loosens his tie. "My God, you're beautiful." His finger trails between my covered breasts, down my sternum to my stomach, tracing the line of the black lace across my hips.

I reach up and begin to unbutton his shirt, and when I reach the bottom, I move on to his pants, unbuckling his belt and slowly drag the zipper down. He's as ready for me as I am him, and with delicate fingers, I slide my hands down his boxers, unearthing his glory. Holy Moses, he's big. It's thick and long and, for the moment, all mine. I wrap my hands around it-yes, both of them-and look into his eyes as I sink to my knees in front of him.

Working him with my hands, I place a kiss on the head of his cock, taking just the tip into my mouth and swirling my tongue around. His stomach muscles clench, and I can hear the air hissing through his teeth. He gathers my hair and wraps it around his hand to get a better view of the show. I drag my tongue up the vein that runs the length of him, base to tip, before opening my throat and consuming him entirely.

Edward's shock of pleasure is released in one long, shuddery breath. "Jesus, baby, that's perfect. Fuck me, you're perfect."

I'm really starting to get into it as I slide not-so-little-Eddie in and out of my throat at a nice, steady pace. I have no gag reflex, which makes me somewhat of an expert at oral. Though I've only used my gift on a handful of people, I've always enjoyed giving blow jobs; whoever happens to be at the business end never fails to be amazed by my superior skills. Edward is no exception, and I can tell by the way his balls are twitching in my hand that he's close to losing it.

I could finish him off and take my protein shake like a pro, but I decide to be a tease instead. With a loud pop,I remove his dick from my mouth and stand, taking a few steps backward. Edward's breathing is haggard and he's trembling. He looks at me like he's ready to pounce, but I bite my lip and shake my head. First, he's going to watch me get naked.

Unhooking my strapless bra with one hand, I toss it to the side and run my hands over my breasts and down my stomach. Edward clenches his teeth together, and I can see the muscles in his jaw flexing as he exercises self-control. Hooking my thumbs into the sides of my panties, I slowly pull them down and step out of them. I turn around and, with my back to Edward, walk toward a promising pile of glittering gold garland, flinging the thong over my shoulder in his general direction.

In an instant, he's at my back, and his hands are all over me; one is kneading my left breast while the other slides down to my pussy. His erection is pressed against my ass, and I can't help the cry of need that escapes when he slips two fingers deep inside me.

Edward growls against the side of my head. "You're so goddamn wet."

The only response I can manage is an incoherent moan. My knees buckle, and my ears start ringing when he locates my hot spot. "Edward, I'm going to come in about two seconds if you don't stop."

"Then come for me, Bella. Let go," he says, working my clit with his thumb as his fingers pick up the pace, fucking me harder and harder.

Reaching up, I grab a handful of his hair for support. My insides have turned to mush, and the only thing keeping me from melting to the floor like a snowman in the desert is the hand inside me. My hips buck and rock against Edward's expert fingers, and the room around me becomes a blur. My orgasm takes over, and I throw my head back against his chest, crying out in ecstasy as the jarring pleasure rockets through me.

Edward gives me a moment to get my shit together before taking his fingers out of me. He turns me around to face him and holds his hand up for me to see. In the soft glow of the lights, his fingers glisten with my juices. Trapped in his silvery gaze, I watch as he puts the two fingers in his mouth. Fuck, that's a lot hotter than I thought it would be.

"I can't wait any longer to be inside you," he says, gripping my chin with his freshly cleaned hand and kissing my mouth.

I break the kiss and run my lips along his jaw to his ear, whispering, "Fuck me, Edward."

He groans as I claim his mouth once again, and we sink to the floor. The pile of garland and tinsel is a perfect mattress, and Edward lays me back on our makeshift bed of silver and gold. Teasing my mouth with his, he brings his hand to the side of my face and stares deep into my soul. I can see so much in his eyes-lust, wonder, the yearning for more-and I wonder if he sees the same in mine.

Without a word between us, Edward begins kissing my neck and shoulders. Delving lower, he takes each of my breasts into his mouth one at a time, teasing my nipples to hard points. The way his tongue caresses me sends shivers throughout my body; the need to feel him inside me is unbearable.

Sensing my anticipation, Edward reaches into his back pocket for a condom before doing away with his pants altogether. Once he's suited up, his body covers mine once again. Sliding his hands beneath my back, his magic fingers curl around my shoulders, and he positions himself for action, lining up with my slick opening. He covers my mouth with his, and with one hard thrust, Edward is deep inside me. My cry of shock is muffled by his tongue, and I can hear him groaning as well.

Edward pulls away, sucking hard on my bottom lip, and begins to move. God, he feels so good, so right. Each thrust is deep and intense, and I use every muscle in my body to match the beat of his sensual rhythm. I would do anything to make this moment last-to never have to let him go. Just as I'd imagined earlier, the skin of his back is smooth as satin under my fingers, and his muscles flex and extend under my grip.

"Edward?"

"Yes, Bella?" he replies, his voice husky with sex.

"Please don't ever stop," I say, dizzy with passion. I know my request doesn't make any sense, but I never want this to end.

He brings his lips to my neck, digging his fingers into my shoulders even harder. "I don't intend to, love. Not until you come for me again." He picks up the pace and growls against my ear when I say his name in a strangled gasp. "You have no idea what that does to me, baby. You're so goddamn sexy."

I grab a handful of his hair and pull his head down so his ear is resting on my mouth. Licking the outer rim, I whisper his name again and again between pants as I begin to unravel once more. Edward growls deeper and sits up on his knees, taking me with him. Grabbing my waist, he swirls his hips and moves me up and down, plunging into me with every long, hard thrust.

My impassioned whispers become louder as the blood rushes to my core until I'm screaming his name. With ringing ears and quivering thighs, I come completely undone, and my body explodes in a frenzy of light and sensation.

Edward isn't too far behind, and he throws his head back, gasping my name as he unloads deep inside me. Once he's empty, he falls forward, laying me back on the tinsel and resting his arms on either side of my head. Scanning my face, unable to find words, Edward drops his head and kisses my shoulder.

His hair is a sexy mess, and I push it away from his forehead, searching his stormy eyes for something, but I don't know what. "You're an incredible lover, Edward. I don't normally make a habit of fucking complete strangers, but I'm glad I took a chance with you."

"Neither do I, but I find you impossible to resist. And I'm glad you took a chance on me, too. You turned what I expected to be a shitty evening into a night I'll never forget."

I smile at his sweet proclamation, until his reminder of the shitty evening we're supposed to be in the middle of sinks in. "Holy shit! Mike! We've been gone so long!" Panicked, I wiggle out from under his body and sit up, running a hand through my thoroughly fucked hair. "I have to go. We both have to go."

Edward props himself up on one elbow and watches with the crooked grin I've already come to adore as I scramble to find my clothes. "I'm sure they haven't even noticed we're gone."

I throw him a wry look as I hook my bra and step into my dress. I have no idea where my underwear went and begin the hunt. Damnit, where the hell did they go? Edward finally stands up and pulls on his pants. He steps behind me and pushes my hair over my shoulder so he can zip my dress. I nearly forget about Mike all over again when his lips graze my neck, but my subconscious scolds me into keeping my focus.

Putting my shoes on one at a time, I grab Edward's jacket off the ground and hand it to him. He fixes his tie and tucks in his shirt. "I think I'm ready; how about you?"

I look around once more for my thong and give up with a sigh. "Yeah, I guess; though, someone's going to get quite a surprise one of these days when they come across my panties."

Edward looks at me with hooded eyes. "How do you expect me to control myself down there, knowing you're going commando?"

Smiling, I brush a dust bunny off the lapel of his jacket. "Well, you don't have a choice. Your date is waiting for you, and I'm supposed to be Mike's girlfriend," I tell him with a smirk. "I'm ready. Let's go."

With a hand on my ass, Edward unplugs the lights and guides me out of the small storage room. I glance around the hallway, making sure no one from the party has wandered our way. Thankfully, the coast is clear, and we make our way to the elevator. I'm sad but excited about the last little bit of time we'll have together as we take the ride back down to the ballroom, but the elderly couple we saw earlier boards the car with us at the last second.

Edward pulls me close, and with a light chuckle, he pulls something from my hair. It's a fine strand of gold tinsel. I gasp and cover my mouth, and Edward shoves the long piece of glitter into the inner pocket of his jacket. "A souvenir from the best surprise sex of my life; I'll cherish it forever."

With wide eyes, I steal a glance of the old folks behind us. The woman looks appalled, but the old man is grinning ear-to-ear. I shake my head at him as the elevator dings and the doors slide open. We head through the lobby, but as we approach the door to the ballroom, I pull Edward aside.

"I'll go first. Wait a minute or two before coming in," I say, but Edward is looking at something behind me with a surprised grin.

"I think now is your opportunity to dump Mike," he says, pointing over my shoulder.

I follow his line of vision, and my jaw drops when I see Mike and Jessica making out behind the large Christmas tree. They think they're being clever, hiding from the party, but Edward and I have a perfect view through the large glass wall.

I can't help but smile. "He did it! I can't believe he actually got her." I clasp my hands under my chin and start toward the party, but Edward takes my elbow, halting my procession.

"Hey, wipe that smile off your face. You're supposed to be the pissed-off girlfriend, remember?"

"Oh, right! Shit. Okay, no smiling." I purse my lips and try my best for an angry glare, but Edward only laughs at my attempt, and I put my hands on my hips. "What?"

Swallowing his chuckles, he pulls me close again. "Nothing; you're just way too fucking adorable to pull off the right kind of indignity."

"Oh, yeah? Watch this," I say, turning on my heel and marching toward the ballroom with my fists balled in what I hope is fury. Edward is laughing behind me, and it takes everything I have to keep a straight face.

Once in the room, I stand in front of the Christmas tree with crossed arms. "Michael Andrew Newton, get your sorry ass out from behind that tree right now," I yell, making sure everyone in the room can hear me. This isgoing to be so great.

About ten seconds pass before Mike steps out from the tree, shame written all over his face. Jessica is behind him, nearly vibrating with embarrassment at the crowd I've drawn, and Mike holds his hands up. "Bella, where have you been? I've been looking everywhere for you."

"Oh, gosh, Mike, I'm so sorry I worried you. For your information, asshole, I was in the bathroom throwing up all night."

"Really?" Mike asks, breaking from character with real concern. I cock my head to the side, and he quickly remembers himself, glancing at Jessica. "I swear, baby, this isn't what it looks like."

"Don't baby me. How could you do this to me?" I say and pause to fight the tears that aren't coming. "Do you think you're invisible? That no one can see you through the fucking window? I saw the whole thing; you had your tongue shoved down that whore's throat."

"Hey!" Jessica says, affronted.

"Shut up, whore." I walk up to Mike, smacking his face and grabbing his tie. He's more than surprised by my performance, but I'm having way too much fun to stop. "Look at you; you're covered in lipstick."

"What's going on in here?" Edward approaches us, and I turn to him.

"Your date was making out with myboyfriend; that's what's going on in here," I say dramatically, and Edward looks at Jessica with raised eyebrows. She has no recourse and looks at her feet in shame.

"Wow, I'm sorry to hear that," he says, shoving his hands in his pockets. "I guess that's my cue to leave, then. Sorry it didn't work out." Edward glances at each of us, and his eyes linger on me just a little longer as he backs out of the fabricated situation and leaves the ballroom.

Fuck, I didn't even get his number.

Mike looks at me again, his eyes begging me to tone it down. "Bella, I don't know what to say. I guess I've liked Jessica for a while now, and you're all the way across the country ... I'm sorry."

I shake my head with perfect indignity and wipe the tears that, again, don't exist. "Don't be sorry. I should've seen this coming. You're just ... too much of a man for me, Michael." I look to Jessica, who meets my eyes with total fear, not knowing what I'll do next. "Be good to him, Jessica. Don't let him get away like I did," I say and bury my face in my hands, running from the ballroom, wailing like a lunatic.

Once I'm out the door and around the corner, I double over and burst into laughter. I listen as the party slowly picks back up and laugh once more. Finally composing myself, I straighten up and fix my hair with a sigh. I wonder if the front desk will call me a cab, but before I can go find out, slow applause from behind startles me, and I spin around to see Edward.

"I retract my earlier comment; that was some show. I caught the whole thing; well done. And making him look like a stud to all his buddies, instead of a piece of shit ... nice touch."

I'm smiling like an idiot, still in shock at the sight of him. "You're still here. I thought you left."

"How could I leave if I didn't get your number?" Grabbing my hands, Edward pulls me to him. "Besides, it looks like you could use a ride."

Once again, I'm swept away in his sea of gray, and my thoughts turn to mush. "I was going to call a cab."

"Not anymore." Edward scans my face and it seems he's lost in space right along with me. After a short moment, he blinks and releases a slow breath. "I don't even know your last name."

"Swan," I murmur.

"Bella Swan ... I couldn't have put it better myself," he says, ghosting his fingers along the side of my face. "Well, Bella Swan, I'm Edward Cullen. It would be an honor to drive you home."

I smile and hold onto the hand that's now caressing my cheek. "That would be lovely."

Edward's smile is like the sun, and he weaves his fingers through mine as he leads me from the Edgewater Hotel. This day will live on in infamy. Even if I never see Edward Cullen again after tonight, a part of me has changed forever. The night is a part of my history now, and I can only wonder if we will someday be able to call it our history.

Chapter End Notes:

Thanks for reading, guys! I hope you liked it. Bella and Edward are definitely on Santa's naughty list this year, yeah?

Leave me a review and let me know what you think!

**My WIP, The Space Between, is currently on hiatus. If anyone is curious, I have been going through major RL stuff, including my first surgery as an adult. Now that it's almost behind me, I'll be able to start working on it again soon. Thanks for your patience!

By the way, I made the banner for this story; although, I can't take credit for the amazing manip of Bella. I found it when doing a random search on Google. Whoever you are, I'd love to give you credit. Thank you for your superb talent!

See you next time, everyone!

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