Saturday, June 30, 2012


~Chapter 67~

“I may have let you get into that dress all by yourself, but there’s no way in hell I’m letting you get out of it alone,” Edward growls, spiriting me down the hallway toward the  bedrooms. “I’ve been jealous of that thong lodged between your ass cheeks since you started teasing me five hours ago.”

Me? Teasing you? How about your hot lips and fingers on my neck at the opera?” I retort, turning off into the guest room. Suddenly, he’s no longer beside me.

I spin toward the door, where Edward is still standing, gripping the doorjamb anxiously.

“What?” I ask, confused by his odd behavior.

“I didn’t want to just… assume that you wanted me to follow you in here. This is your space.”

Tossing my clutch onto the bed farther from the door, I saunter over to where he’s standing. “This reminds me of those vampire shows where they have to wait to be invited in,” I tell him, allowing a slow smile to spread across my face.

“Gee thanks,” he answers, regarding me uncertainly.

I grip the sides of his bowtie in my hands, caressing the soft, heavy material with my thumbs. “Edward,” I say, looking deeply into his unexpectedly shy green eyes, “you don’t ever have to ask again. You are always welcome in here or anywhere else I happen to be.”

I tug on the ends of the tie, opening the bow and leaving it to dangle around his neck. Sliding my hands down the placard of his pleated shirt, undoing one button at a time, I reveal his white sleeveless undershirt.

“Sexy,” I whisper, leaning in to kiss him.

He pulls me into his arms and crushes my body against his. “Driving…” he kisses me, “…me,” tongues pressing against each other “…crazy.”

My hands dig into the satin band at his waistline, tugging the shirt and undershirt roughly from the confines of his slacks. My hands find his bare stomach, and Edward lets out a low hiss.

His insistent fingers work down my zipper, and the wide collar begins to slip over my shoulders. Before the gown can slide to the floor, Edward catches the fabric in his hands. He looks hungrily at my bare breasts before dipping his head to take one nipple into his mouth, a loud groan accompanying the gesture. He’s tender and needy all at once, and my hands find their way into his glorious hair, transmitting my appreciation and encouragement with every stroke. The soft lapping of his warm tongue feels like heaven compared to the heavy lining of the brocade imprisoning me all evening, and the gentle nips of his teeth along my flesh make me moan and beg.

When he pulls away to ease my dress over my hips, I protest with a loud growl of frustration. Edward looks up from my belly and shoots me a sexy smirk. “Don’t worry, sweetheart,” he whispers, “I’ll be back.”

His lips trail after the “V” of the gown’s bodice, making their way down my front, lingering at my navel, then lower. He cups his mouth over the thong and nuzzles his nose and warm, moist breath over the fabric.

“Never mind, just stay there!” I whine shamelessly.

But of course, he doesn’t. He drops soft kisses between my thighs, knees, calves and finally, ankles. A chivalrous hand reaches up to balance me. “Step out.”

He sweeps away the dress and sets it gingerly across one of the beds, pulling open his cuff links as he turns back to regard me. “Jesus, that’s what I thought,” he marvels, his eyes moving from my panties to my heels and back up to my chest. “Still need help with your thong?”

He is so ridiculously sexy right now, untucked, disheveled, green eyes gleaming with desire. “Sure, baby,” I answer, no intention of denying this man anything.

He pauses to savor the moment before stepping around behind me, skimming his palm across my shoulder blade  and landing at my neck. Distracting me with more soft kisses just below my ear, he cups my ass with his free hand, softly caressing the bare skin and teasing closer and closer to the middle. The other hand glides down my spinal column, leaving a trail of goose bumps in its wake.

If Isabella had any idea this was how I pictured her all night, she might be tempted to knee me in the nuts, which is exactly why I’ve wisely kept that thought to myself. My fingers catch at the top of her thong and she gasps as I work it upwards; not roughly, just baby steps, tiny little bursts of friction at her front and a noticeable pressure along the crack.

“Is that helpful, sweetheart?” I croon into her ear, licking the lobe for emphasis.

“Oh, God,” she mumbles, as I slide two fingers inside the tiny triangle pinched uncomfortably between her lips.

“Jesus, you’re soaked.” I circle her clit softly, while the other hand teases at the string in the back. It’s times like these, I could really use another pair of hands so I could touch her everywhere all at once. “Grab your tits for me, baby. Run your thumbs over your nipples.”

I resist the urge to rut against her, though I’d love nothing more than to trade places with that slip of floss between her cheeks. Watching Isabella touch herself is an enticing view, and if I weren’t too greedy to give up her wet pussy, I might switch places with her. Alas, I’ve been dreaming all night about getting her off this way, and when her breathing picks up and her soft moans turn into a low wail that spirals higher and wilder and louder; when her legs start to shake with the effort of holding herself up through it; when her muscles clamp around my fingers and she bucks into my hand and screams out, “Yesssss!," I know I’ve made the right decision.

Besides, I’ve just had a most delicious idea for our scene on Saturday night.

“Thank you,” she whispers, eyes closed and bliss written all over her face.

“My pleasure.”

“There’s more where that came from,” she grins, spinning to face me and pushing my shirt off my shoulders.

“Are we leaving this on again?” I ask, plucking at my wife-beater and quirking a teasing eyebrow.

“No,” she hums. “I just want you tonight.”

This answer pleases me greatly. “Me, too,” I tell her, though giving up the thong and spiky heels will be a bit of a sacrifice. It's been too long since Master's pranced the princess around in slutty heels. I pull off the tank and manage to open my pants while she slides off her thong and sits on the edge of the empty bed to unbuckle her shoes.

“Hey,” I say softly, prompting her to look up. “Let me.”

She smiles and falls back onto her palms, watching me undress. She’s leering, really, and not feeling the least bit embarrassed about it. Apparently, my cock doesn’t mind the attention—go figure—and I stroke myself once or twice as I step out of my pants and silk boxers and toss them next to her gown on the spare bed.

“Hey,” she says, echoing my tone, “Let me.”

I step closer to her, my eyes on her cocky smirk. She wraps her hand around me as I cup my hand near her calf and she lifts her foot obediently. I make quick work of the buckle while she strokes me rhythmically with enough pressure that the tension begins to mount. I release her shoe and drop it gently to the floor, sliding my hand up her calf to the back of her knee. I have to stop and close my eyes, enjoying the skillful hand job and forgetting my task for the moment. It’s not till her other shoe taps at the side of my thigh that I remember my duty. I force open my eyes only about one-quarter of the way, just enough to get the job done.

No sooner have I got the second shoe off, then she drops to her knees on the floor and takes me all the way into her mouth. My hands find her shoulders as she works her way up and down over my tip and shaft, lavishing me with her warm tongue and rolling my balls in her hand.

“That…feels…amazing,” I grunt out. “But I want to feel all of you,” I add, bending to take her face in my hands and gently pull her up to me. She kisses me along the way, teasing at my chest with her wet mouth and burying her nose into the crook of my arm as I envelop her in my embrace.

I regard the double bed warily; it’s close by, and right now, that’s a giant plus in my book. However, it’s not the luxury of the master king mattress, nor will it give us much room to frolic.

I wiggle my thumb at her lower back and she looks up at my face. “Should we take this next door? This bed’s kind of small.”

“Actually? It’s just the perfect size for what I need tonight,” she replies, reaching one hand behind her and taking hold of one of mine. Looking coyly over her shoulder, she leads me to the bed and pulls down the covers with her other hand. She slips between the sheets, settling onto her stomach and bringing me with her, so I’m extended along the length of her back. Isabella purrs as our skin connects everywhere.

My girl needs a good smothering tonight, and I’m more than happy to oblige. I hook my feet around her ankles and tightly grasp the hands tucked under her body, her bent elbows nestled inside mine.

The soft skin of her back feels like satin to my chest, and the gentle contours of her ass provide a welcome landing place for my very grateful cock.

I only let go of her hand long enough to reach down and situate myself inside her slick opening. She lifts her bottom to provide an angle for deep penetration. Isabella clutches me tightly against her as our bodies slide with and against each other, building up to a steady, deep tempo. The mattress springs squeal and the headboard knocks against the wall. Cheek to cheek, our lips can’t connect for a kiss, but our warm, low grunts jump back and forth from one set of lips to the other.

The intoxication of our fairy tale evening swirls in my head as the tension builds. The headboard bangs insistently against the wall with each of my deep thrusts. Isabella’s voice is low and raw, and my need is suddenly overpowering. I wrap myself as tightly around her as I can and take possession of every part of her. In the desperate moments just before my peak, I declare my love over and over again.

In the aftermath, she rocks us both onto our sides, still joined, and pulls my arms securely around her middle, a human safety belt. She breathes in deeply and exhales with a contented sigh. “Happy?” I ask.

“Mildly,” she teases, twisting her head just in time to watch a smug smirk form on my lips. “You know, I think your dad might be a little jealous of you and your mom.”

“Please tell me you weren’t thinking about my parents this whole time.”

“Nah. Just that last part at the end.”

Excuse me?” I ask in mock horror, and she giggles.

“I was just feeling grateful to the people who put you on this planet.”

I hook my chin over her shoulder, drop a kiss by her ear, and inhale the sweet intimacy.

No matter how delicious the afterglow, there comes that moment where a man realizes he’s about to overstay his welcome. Just before that happens, I disembark as gracefully as possible. “I think we’ll sleep better in the other room.”

I felt a wee bit naughty waking up in Edward’s bed this morning, knowing his parents are just down the road, well aware of our illicit activities—some of them, at least. Sure, we’re in our thirties, haven’t lived under our parents’ roofs for more than a decade, and obviously we have both had previous partners. Still, it feels strange. Thank goodness, the Cullens aren't sleeping across the hall.

Across the hall, that is, where my boyfriend surrounded me with his entire perfect self last night while we christened the guest room. My escalating need for him might worry me, if not for the fact that he seems so well equipped to fulfill the ever-demanding requirements of keeping both his girlfriend and his submissive one satisfied, happy woman.

I really need to lock away that memory for now and turn my attention to the focus group. Multitasking is really not my forte; even if I could tune my receiver to more than one station at once, Edward Cullen would easily occupy every frequency all by himself. Sly bastard, donning that Black Velvet tie once again, rekindling my flame for his trusty alter ego dom. Though I suppose, if truth be told, I did the same with my souvenir thong. Still, invoking Black Velvet has me thinking once again about the concept of a mentor, separate from Edward and Master, and the titillation does me absolutely no good right now.

“Bella, Earth to Bella…” Jessica snaps her fingers in front of my face. “Ah, there you are. Okay. Everything else is all set. Your laptop is set up in the board room, and your Power Point is loaded and ready to go. The flipcharts are on easels. Handouts are collated and distributed around the twelve places at the table.”

Twelve. Twelve critical faces, twelve harsh reviews, twelve opinions that will either build my team’s confidence or send us frantically back to the drawing board over the weekend.

I used to not mind so much working on the weekends, but now that I have Master to serve for a solid twenty-four hours of it and Edward for the rest, I have less than zero desire to rethink Warwick. This has to wow them.

“The participants will be arriving at 9:30, and it’s 9:10 now, so your team will be assembling in five minutes upstairs. Is there anything I can get you, do for you…?”

“Thank you, Jessica. You’ve done more than enough. I’ll see you on the other side.”

Jessica laughs nervously. “It sounds like one of us is about to die.”

“That would be me,” I answer.

In a deliberate movie-narrator voice, Jessica says, “Walk…toward…the light.”

I roll my eyes at my assistant’s playful attempt to relax me and I feel the vibration of an incoming text message in my pocket.


My heart leaps into my throat—it’s from Jasper.

How’d you know?

You always get performance jitters before a big presentation.

Of course! Jasper’s sitting in on the focus group.

And nobody could calm me like you, I text back. I have to give credit where credit is due. And already, I have to admit, that old, familiar sense of composure is settling in around me.

I’ll be there and you’ll be great as usual. C u soon.

True to his word, as always, Jasper does see me soon. He’s waiting outside the door to the board room when I get upstairs, leaning against the doorjamb with his hands tucked casually into his pockets.

“How you holding up?” His eyes hold concern.

“I’m okay.”

He nods. “Is your team ready for this?” My gaze jumps over his shoulder through the glass window where my team is arranging themselves and our materials.

“Honestly, I cannot think of anything we haven’t considered and tackled. I’m actually looking forward to the critique.”

He chuckles lightly. “Well you’ll get plenty of that with this bunch.”

“You’ve seen the list?”

His eyebrows lift. Of course, he’s seen the list. I sigh heavily, and Jas makes a reflexive move to comfort me, taking a half-step forward and pulling his hands from his pockets before halting and staring at me helplessly. He mumbles something under his breath that I can’t decipher, and then says aloud, “You know I’ll have your back in there.”

My shoulders unclench and the spinning in my stomach slows to a manageable whirl. “Thank you, Jasper,” I whisper.

He winks, turns, and heads toward his office. Right up until he rounds the corner, I watch his retreat, enormously grateful for his friendship and generosity.

“How’d you like Bar 89?”

“It was perfect. Your mother’s still raving about the Oriental Tuna sandwich two hours later. I had a bistro burger smothered in caramelized onions and Swiss cheese—heart attack on a bun—but we’re on vacation, so what the hell?”

“Did you send Mom to the bathroom?”

Dad’s laughter rings through my Blackberry. “You don’t have to send people at our age, son. A half-glass of water does the trick. But yes, she came back with a big grin on her face, so I had to go to the men’s room and see for myself. Pretty damn clever, whoever thought of those fogging stall doors. Kind of weird, though, if you ask me.”

“Think so?”

“I mean, you’re sitting inside there, doing your business, and you can see out perfectly. So even though you know nobody can see you, it still feels like you’re on display.”

“Well,” I can’t contain my wide grin, “I suppose it appeals to a certain type.” Aaand, we’re changing the subject. “So, what are you and Mom up to now?”

“We’re in a taxi heading back to the hotel. We’re going to dump all our packages and change, then head out to the grocery store.”

“Ask him if Isabella has any food allergies,” Mom chimes in.

“Mom wants to know—”

“I heard. No, she’s good. Doesn’t like olives, but neither do I.”

“How about religious restrictions?”

Dad doesn’t bother repeating this time.

“Is this Mom’s sneaky way of asking about Isabella’s background?”

Dad laughs. “Maybe, but I really think she is just trying to plan a menu that won’t be offensive to your girlfriend or land her in the ER.”

It occurs to me that the topic of God, beliefs, or spirituality in general has never come up in conversation. “Tell Mom she’s never objected to anything on religious grounds up to this point. And she is not a squeamish eater; she’ll pretty much try anything once. Besides, Mom’s brought enough leftovers to feed all of us three alternative meals if Isabella doesn’t care for whatever’s served.”

“True,” Dad agrees, chuckling.

“What did he say?” Mom prods.

Dad covers the phone with his hand, but I still hear a muffled, “They’re planning on attacking the leftovers after dinner so it doesn’t matter what you make tonight.”

“Hey, I didn’t say that,” I protest.

“Give me the phone!” Mom argues.

“Now, look what you’ve done.” I sigh.

“Hang on, your mother wants—”

“I’m rethinking my decision to make you a fresh batch of Toll House cookies!”

“Awww, Mom,” I complain, watching the delicious treats slip through my fingers.

“Oh, Esme, stop torturing the boy.”

Mom harrumphs into the phone.

“Chocolate chip cookies are Isabella’s favorite.” That was kind of unfair, but I’m pretty sure it will work.

“Fine.” Mom lets out a resigned sigh.

“See you around six, Mom.”

Domenic is ready and waiting at the curb, door open. “Evening, folks,” he greets cheerfully.

“How’s the missus?” Edward asks politely.

Domenic’s grin grows broader. “All is well.”

Edward fist bumps him. “Care to share with the class?”

Domenic’s eyes drift over to me, but Edward quickly reassures him, man to man. “Bella’s cool.”

Not sure if I really want to encourage this conversation, I nod nonetheless. If Edward wants to get it out of Domenic, he will. I might as well not gum up the works.

“Okay.” Domenic leans forward, inviting us closer and dropping his voice to a hushed tone. Both of us lean in to hear. “Have you seen the trailer for that movie coming out this summer? About the…male strippers?” The last two words are barely a whisper.

Edward and I look at each other cluelessly. Domenic rolls his eyes and adds, “Magician Mike? The missus thinks it’s hot.”

I clamp my teeth down hard around my lower lip to avoid laughing, but Edward has no such inhibition. He barks out loud and asks, “So, are you going to take her to see it?”

Domenic reels back. “Oh hell no. Ahem…er, that’s a negative,” he quickly corrects himself. “She’ll go with one of her girlfriends from church, no doubt.”

Edward’s head bobs up and down in an Attaboy! motion while he says, “But you’re getting your money’s worth out of the trailer.”

“Every. Penny,” Domenic enunciates.

“Um, honey? Your parents…?” I place my hand on Edward’s forearm.

“Oh right. We better hit it,” Edward says, following me into the back seat.

Once we’re on our way, Edward asks, “So the panel was mostly favorable?”

“Yes, mostly.”

He shifts in his seat to face me, and makes a who-do-I-have-to-cut expression. “Mostly?”

“Down, boy. It’s all good now. One of the women—I think she was a clerk from Accounts Receivable or something—started attacking Roger’s sales projections—”

“Ah yes,” he interrupts, “hand a microphone to the girl who sits in the dark corner all day reviewing aging reports. I’m so not a fan of the straw man poll.”

“So, anyway…”

“Sorry, go on.”

“Jasper got on her right away, supporting our data with statistics on company collection history and industry trends and basically setting every argument to rest.”

“He cut off her legs?” Edward asks, visibly impressed.

“No. That’s not how he operates. He validated the concern, but then rebutted every issue.” And the poor girl actually swooned in the process, but I don’t need to report that to Edward.

“Well, good for him. I’m glad he was there for you.”

I search his face for jealousy or resentment, but find not a shred. “Me, too. He was really great. He’s always seemed to have this way of just…I don’t know, settling a blanket of calm over me. I can’t really explain it.”

“You mean, I don’t have that effect on you?” he smirks, knowing full well how keyed up  I feel just being near him.

“Nope. That’s not your particular gift.”

“I suppose not,” he responds. “And truth be told, I might’ve pounced on  ‘receivables girl,’ so it’s probably a good thing I wasn’t in the room.”

“Probably,” I agree.

“So, how did your revisions meeting go afterward?”

“Not bad. We still have a few more bells and whistles to add, but we can do it at the hotel on Monday after we arrive.”

Edward smiles with the realization that I’m not planning to go into work. “So Master’s got you all to himself this weekend?”

Oh hell, the ‘M’ word. It’s as if someone’s just set a pair of sunglasses over my eyes; suddenly everything is a shade darker and slightly obscured.

“As soon as your parents leave,” I answer, feeling off balance at the awkward layering of Master and Edward.

“They’re heading back  after lunch tomorrow. That gives us most of the day to play.”

“And into Sunday, right?” Oops, eager much?

My Dark Prince swoops down into the back seat and basically obliterates my boyfriend, at least for the moment. “Absolutely, my greedy girl.”

“You have a plan, don’t you?” My body responds in a hundred different delicious ways to the thought of our next overnight scene.

He grabs my hand and insinuates his fingers between mine. “Oh yes, princess. I have big plans for you.”

The elevator opens on my floor and I am instantly hit with a thick wall of savory herbs and cooked apples. Good ol’ Mom.  I start walking, admittedly a bit too quickly, toward my unit, when I hear a cascade of warm laughter behind me. Oops.

“Sorry,” I say sheepishly.

“No worries,” she responds. “I know better than to get between you and your next meal.” There’s a heated gaze between us as we both time jump to our recent scene.

“Could you please not rouse the beast? I have to go and face my mother.”

“Yeah, so do I,” she retorts.

“Let’s both try to behave then, shall we?”

She gives me a challenging stare, which I probably deserve, but she accepts my outstretched hand and lets me pull her to the door. As I’m inserting the key in the lock, I remember to ask, “Oh, by the way, you don’t have any ethical objection to eating pork, do you?”

“You mean, will my rabbi be angry with me?”

I pale for a second, my mind racing for clues. Swan…doesn’t strike me as Jewish, but you never know these days.

Isabella giggles again, clearly at my expense. “Yeah, I’m not Jewish. Or Muslim. So I’m all good with pork, but thanks for asking.”

“Okay,” I answer numbly, still a bit shell-shocked.

“Hey, would it have mattered?” she asks, more seriously.

“Of course not.”

“So, do you want to ask me what I am?”

“I already know what you are,” I answer, kissing her suddenly. I pull back and smile at her surprised eyes, happy to have turned the table to a more comfortable position—me in charge.

“What’s that?” she asks.

“You’re mine.”

I leave her with that thought as I push open the door.

The domestic scene before us is certainly most welcome; it just feels like we’re all inhabiting the wrong space for it. Dad’s lounging on the couch, at least three newspapers strewn around him. Mom is puttering at the stove, stirring and releasing delicious scents into the atmosphere.

“Hi, honey. We’re home!” I call out, and they both drop what they’re doing to join us at the door.

My attention is monopolized by Dad’s mad scramble to dig out from under his unruly fortress of current events, so much so that I completely miss what is going on with Isabella, until I feel her squeezing the life out of my fingers. I turn back to see what’s up, and I find a wide-eyed, beet-red picture of mortification. I follow her appalled gaze, and the path leads me straight to my dear old Mom.

“Something wrong, dear?” Mom asks sweetly.

Friday, June 22, 2012


~Chapter 66~

It’s not opening night or even a weekend, but I’ve never been to the Met and I want to put my best foot forward. While I’m at it, I wouldn’t mind knocking my ever-steady man at least a little bit off kilter. The Carolina Herrera gown will accomplish all of the above, and paired with my Badgley Mischka strappy four-inchers, it’s a killer combination my boyfriend will not be able to resist.

T minus forty minutes and counting. I arrange the shower cap over my hair before stepping under the hot stream. I exfoliate and shave everywhere I’m permitted, lathering up with my special occasion gels and potions. When I dry off, my skin is satisfyingly soft and a light spritz of my Lagerfeld perfume accents the warm amber spice.

I slide up my gold lace thong, remembering fondly the last time I wore it—or to be more precise, the first time I took it off for Master. I don’t have time to dilly-dally, so while I allow myself the pleasant flashback of our very first scene, I continue to move efficiently over to the mirror.


He rolls my dress up slowly, to my thighs. "Take off your panties and hand them to me."

My hands unclasp and slip the lacy gold thong from my hips. I hold it out to him.

"Take your dress from me."

"Spread your legs apart, Isabella….wider, princess." He coaxes apart my feet. "When I say 'spread,’ that means open as wide as you can.”

He returns, a fluffy blue feather in his hand.

"On my count, lift your dress up to your waist… I'm going to brush your sweet, wet pussy with this feather just one time, and you are going to have the most thunderous orgasm of your life. And it's going to be all mine. Understand?"

Lifting my arms to twist my hair into a loose bun at the base of my skull, I have to smile at my pointy nipples. I don’t even want to think about what the reminiscing has done to my thong, because (call me a sentimental fool) I really want to wear it tonight. I know Edward loves my hair down, but the gown’s off-the-shoulder V-shaped collar cries out for an updo, and I’m certain he’ll appreciate the unimpeded view.

Mmmm, an appreciative Edward might just afford me the soft caress of his hand at the back of my neck, or better still, the occasional brush of his lips. Focus now, Bella. This all goes much smoother with your eyes open.

There’s a sharp rap on the door. “It’s 6:15. You gonna make it?”

“Are you done already?” Damn, it is so unfair. One sweep of his fingers through his gorgeous head of hair, a few buttons and the slip of a tie and he’s ready. Better than ready, perfect.

He laughs and answers, “Yeah, I’m a guy. Did you forget?”

“Woops, why yes, I did,” I respond sweetly.

I can hear his smile loud and clear. “Can I give you a zip or buckle your shoes?”

“Hmmm,” I ponder, smiling at my reflection. “No thanks, but would you like to help me settle my thong between my ass cheeks?”

I hear a loud burst of laughter from the other side of the door. “I am here for you, sweetheart. Whatever you need.”

“In that case, why don’t you stop distracting me and go pour your girlfriend a drink?”

“Sure. I think I’ll make myself one as well.”

“That sounds grand.”

Make-up is a breeze, especially since Edward loves me in very little. I slip on my heels first and then gingerly navigate my way through the tunnel of elegant gold jacquard material without mussing my hairdo. The bodice-hugging fabric slides luxuriously down my bare skin, flaring out just below the curve of my bottom and trailing regally along the carpet. I toss a few essentials into the metallic clutch, half-tempted to pull my green scarf down from the closet shelf. Not tonight, I silently apologize to the silky square. One last glance in the mirror tells me I’ve done well, and I grasp the doorknob with at least three minutes to spare.

I gather a handful of fabric in my left hand and lift it out of the way, taking small, steady steps toward the living room. Edward is relaxing on the couch, his back to the hallway. Our drinks are sitting on coasters on the coffee table. Someone is on his very best behavior tonight.

He hears my swishing and stands to greet me, hands disappearing to his stomach as he automatically reaches to fasten his jacket button. When he turns his head my direction, I honestly do not know which of us is more stunned. It simply never occurred to me he’d choose to wear his tuxedo tonight. And even if it had, I certainly would not have expected to see black velvet around his neck.

I had some smooth line all prepared, but for the life of me, I can’t remember what it was. My mind literally goes blank, reduced to the breathtaking visual before me.  The transformation was too swift, and I simply wasn’t prepared, so here I stand, mute and stupid.

My eyes dance down the stunning gown, admiring her tiny waist and the feminine sweep of the train. Her bare shoulders and exposed neck taunt me; where most women would’ve filled the void with jewelry, Isabella has chosen to remain bare, right down to the “V” at her cleavage, making up for it with long chandelier earrings crafted out of yellow gold.

I want my lips at the base of that “V.”

I want my hands where her ass presses its outline into the fabric.

I want my tongue to start at one edge of her bare shoulder and glide all the way across to the opposite side, pausing to lick every inch of the sweet column of her neck.

I want…everything.

She breaks our odd standoff with a sharp gasp, causing my gaze to snap back to her face.

 “Black Velvet,” she whispers.

“Princess.” It’s all I can do to come up with the one word.

My daze interrupted, I swallow thickly and sweep my tongue across my dry lips. “I swear, Isabella, sometimes I look at you and I feel like I’m living out a fairy tale. It’s all too good to be true.”

She finds her voice and answers, “You just read my mind, Edward Cullen.”

“Are you one of those girls who gets upset if your lipstick gets messed up, because I might die if I can’t kiss you right now, but I really don’t want to piss you off.”

The tension is broken and we share a brief laugh. “I couldn’t give a flying fuck about my lipstick,” she answers, her crass language so incongruous with the elegance of her attire that I’m still laughing, even as I pull her in for a kiss.

We haven’t been at this relationship thing long enough to take anything for granted; even still, tonight suddenly has an air of magic. Even our kiss tastes different. Despite all we’ve shared, there’s still something unexpected and new, and I feel like I’m jumping up and down in my own skin.

Curious to know if she feels it too, I can’t resist asking. “What’s happening here?”

She smiles slightly and shakes her head. “I don’t know,” she answers quietly, “but it feels amazing.”

I grin back at her, a warm sense of well-being and joy washing over me. I bend down to the drinks, handing Isabella hers. “To Turandot,” I toast, lightly clinking my highball glass against hers.

Turandot,” she repeats, both of us taking large sips of our drinks while keeping a careful eye on the other.

Right on cue, the doorman announces my parents’ arrival in the lobby. “Bottoms up!” I give her a quick wink before tipping back my short drink and watching her do the same. I place our glasses carefully back onto the coasters and grasp her hand in mine. “Ready?”

“Ready.” She steels herself with a deep breath and we step toward the door together, just like I promised her we would.

Just before opening the door, I remind her, “I love you, Isabella.”

The first thing I see when we step outside is a mountain of food. From the looks of it, Mrs. Cullen has been cooking and baking for about three weeks prior to driving up here.

“All of that fit into the Prius?” Edward jokes, struggling to locate his mother behind all the plastic containers.

“The top eight need to be refrigerated, the rest can sit out,” she says, her voice muffled.

“Oh here, let me help,” I offer, stepping forward to help unburden her.

“No, no, don’t,” Edward says urgently, throwing his arm between his mom and me. Jeez, I know the guy loves his food, but this is ridiculous. “I don’t want you to get anything on your dress,” he explains.


“Here, let me,” his father offers, stepping in front of me and blocking me out. I stand by helplessly and just wait till all the juggling is finished. This has to be the most awkward greeting ever.

When the men have finally taken the last of the Tupperware off her hands, Edward’s mother turns to me and smiles widely. “I guess you’d be Isabella, then,” she deduces.

Slightly taken aback by her use of the name that only Edward uses, I quickly recover and offer her my hand. “Yes, so wonderful to meet you, Mrs. Cullen.”

She gathers up all 5’4” of herself into as indignant a pose as she can muster, hands on her fur coat somewhere around where her hips must be. “First of all, you better cut out that ‘Mrs. Cullen’ nonsense and call me Esme, and secondly, I didn’t come all this way for a handshake.”

She holds out her arms and I’m about to step into them when I feel Edward come up behind me and place a protective hand around my waist. “Hey, Mom. How about going easy on my girl, huh? You’re gonna scare her away.”

“Ha! If you haven’t done that already, son, I seriously doubt she’d be afraid of the likes of me.”

Yo, people, I can hear you!

I swivel around to get some kind of read on the situation from Edward. He looks pretty appalled at his mom, but he rolls his eyes and drops his hand. Okay then.

“Honestly,” Esme chides mildly, pulling me into her arms. “I’m so pleased to meet you, Isabella. Any girl who can get my son to the opera is a-okay by me.”

“How about giving me a turn?” Edward’s father complains, slipping an arm around his wife.

“You probably recognize this guy by his smile?” As she mentions it, Edward’s father smiles broadly on cue, and sure enough, there it is—the boyish grin I know and love, but set into an entirely different set of facial circumstances. Where Edward’s is surrounded by features that promise playful surprises and gleeful mischief, the father’s radiates gentility and warmth. Esme pulls back and passes me over to her husband, who politely offers me his hand.

“So nice to meet you, Isabella.”

“Likewise, Dr. Cullen,” I answer, smiling into his kind blue eyes. Where Esme is outgoing and bubbly, Edward’s father is reserved, but no less engaged.

“Please, call me Carlisle,” he corrects me warmly. Perhaps it’s because of the resemblance to the man I know and love so well, but I instantly feel as if I’ve known this man for years.

“Anybody feel like saying hello to me?” I hear Edward’s pouty voice behind me, and it causes the three of us to laugh.

Esme slips away to give him a hug, muttering, “Always gotta be the center of attention.”

Carlisle places his left hand on top of our still-joined hands, pulling me in closer. “Those two,” he says, with a slight shake of his head. “You just have to let them do their thing,” he marvels.

“You look good, son,” I hear his mother clucking approvingly behind me.

“You too, Mom.”

Carlisle and I turn toward the two of them. His mom’s fingers trail down the edges of his lapels. “Did Riley pick this out for you?” she asks knowingly.

Edward chuckles. “All but the tie,” he answers, casting a sexy wink my direction that makes my face heat up. 

It’s gonna be a long few days.

“Would you like to choose the wine, Edward?”

“You’re fine, Dad. Just pick a Cabernet you like.” While Dad is busy with the wine list and the sommelier, I take the opportunity to admire my girl.

“What are you gonna have?” I ask as she studies the menu. My fingers slide over the corner of the table between us and curl around her hand.

“I can’t decide between the filet and the rack of lamb.”

“Filet is boring. You know how you love to dig into a good bone.” I smile, visualizing her attacking the rib at full throttle, rich rosemary-enhanced grease coating her hands and chin.

“I know,” she answers. “That’s why I should choose the filet tonight. It’s not very ladylike to devour the bones and I think it’ll just make me frustrated to have to leave them on my plate.”

Before I get the chance to chide her unnecessary inhibitions, Mom does the job for me.

“So, you’re gonna leave me to lick my fingers clean all by myself then?”

Isabella grins at my mother, then closes her menu with a heavy clap. “Rack of lamb it is.”

“You want to share a dozen oysters?” I ask hopefully. Never hurts to toss in a touch of aphrodisiac.

“Pshhh. Share? With you?” she teases.

Dad has the nerve to laugh.

“Oh, I see how it is,” I pout. “You’re all gonna gang up on me now, aren’t you?”

“Yes,” Mom answers flat out. I roll my eyes and they all laugh at me again.

“Et tu, Brute?” I squeeze Isabella’s hand and she shrugs adorably, completely winning over my parents.

“Should we get some sides?” Dad asks, pretending to study the menu so he can tactfully avoid looking at us. “I love the hash browns here.”

“Sounds good to me,” Mom answers.

“How about spinach and garlic sautéed in olive oil?” I propose. Mom stares at me, slack-jawed then turns to Dad.

“Did he just suggest a green vegetable?”

“Why yes, dear. I believe he did.”

I appeal to my girlfriend once again. “Do you see the crap I have to put up with?”

She giggles and cups my cheek, speaking to me in an exaggeratedly sympathetic tone, “Aww. Poor baby.”

Mom smiles slyly, watching. Meanwhile, the waiter appears with the wine, and he and Dad dance that familiar choreographed wine tasting routine. Examine the cork. Nod. Pour. Swish. Spin. Sniff. And finally, taste.

Mom leaves him to his important duties and addresses me. “So…you kids have been studying the opera?”

“Yeah. Nice pick.” I answer, my eyes moving across the table once Isabella releases my face.

“I had a feeling you’d like this one.” Mom grins, lifting her glass of wine to her lips. That spells trouble. My mother has a seriously low tolerance for alcohol.

“Oh, absolutely,” Isabella quickly agrees. “So much drama!”

“And passion,” Mom adds. “And don’t you just love Nessun Dorma?”

If Isabella is going to throw me under the bus, she’s going to have to pay the price. “Oh yes, that is Isabella’s favorite part, isn’t it, sweetie?”

I drop my knee to the side and rub up against Isabella’s leg. No question she gets my meaning, I can tell from her deep blush. She covers by lifting her wine and taking a long drag, eyes drifting to the ceiling.

Mom nods approvingly. “Without a doubt, that is the most moving aria of the entire saga, wouldn’t you say, Isabella?”

“Oh, um…yes,” she squeaks, looking anywhere but my direction, poor thing. “Very moving.”

“What about you, Edward?” Mom asks. “Which part do you like best?”

“Oh, I’d have to say the riddles. When the Prince outsmarts everyone else and gets them all right.” Mom smirks knowingly and I add, “I also love it when they strike the gong.”

Isabella sputters and coughs around the wine that was in her mouth and I’m quick to offer her water—I’m helpful that way.

Dad chimes in for the first time since we started discussing the opera. “I love the gong!”

“Well,” Mom says, sliding her wine glass toward Dad for a refill. “I think we’re all in for a major treat.”

My heart melts a little bit when the taxi pulls up to the grand entrance of the Opera House and Carlisle opens the back door to offer Esme his hand. While I can’t get an accurate read yet on how their relationship works, it’s abundantly clear that they are loving, considerate partners. Edward’s half-joking comment about double dating with our parents comes back to me, and I observe that being with the elder Cullens is entirely pleasant.

Edward waits patiently while I gather the cumbersome material of my dress so I don’t fall flat on my face disembarking from the cab. I take his offered elbow gratefully, and we follow behind his parents up the grand marble staircase and into the lobby. We stop at the coat check and a shiver ripples through me as Edward lifts my heavy overcoat, lightly trailing his fingertips across my shoulders. Never one to miss a physical response, Edward drops a soft kiss on my shoulder before turning away, converting my shiver to a full-blown swoon.

Esme is dressed elegantly in an ankle-length black silk chiffon dress and low heels, a perfect complement to Carlisle’s dark suit, festive paisley tie, and crisp white shirt. Like my own parents, their social calendar is surely filled with a wide variety of social functions and they seem perfectly at ease in their finery. Sophistication without showiness, what my mother would deem classy. I smile inwardly imagining the four of them meeting at some point in the perhaps-not-too-distant future, enjoying lively conversation and swapping childhood anecdotes back and forth about us.

I barely take my eyes off Edward as he negotiates the coat check line with his father, their two heads pressed close and bobbing in an animated tête-à-tête. I try not to imagine what it is they’re talking about, even when Edward’s eyes turn to meet mine at one point and he manages to make me feel as though we’re all alone in the crowded room.

Alas, we’re not alone, a point hammered home by Esme’s voice at my side. “You make him happy,” she observes. Or –holy hell—did she just issue a command?

She smiles at my puzzled expression, following up with, “I have not seen my son this relaxed in ages. But at the same time, every part of him is completely engaged and fully charged.”

“Oh,” I laugh nervously, realizing she’s just been complimenting me and not issuing an ultimatum. “Well, that’s Edward.” I feel the blush return in full force; of course, the mother knows this is her son, and just when I’m struggling to add to my lame words, she reaches for my hand. Her warm and soothing grasp is matched by the depth of her soft hazel eyes.

“That hasn’t always been the case,” she says mysteriously. “But it sure is wonderful to see.”

“Well, now,” Edward says, returning to my side and wrapping his arm possessively around my bare shoulders. “I knew I’d have to fight off every man in the opera house tonight, but I wasn’t expecting to have to pry you loose from my own mother.”

Esme gives me a woman-to-woman wink before dropping my hand. “You can have her back… for now, son.”

“Good,” he answers, moving his thumb in small circles over my exposed skin, claiming me back—as if he’d ever need to. “Why don’t we find our seats,” he suggests.

Carlisle pulls the four tickets from his suit jacket, handing our two to Edward. I take the gesture for exactly what it is, a sweet acknowledgment that I am his to care for; Edward, of course, doesn’t even bat an eyelash. I see he comes by it honestly as his dad slips his arm around his own wife and lovingly guides her toward the usher.

There’s a shuffle in the aisle when we realize our seats are toward the center of the row, and Edward dips to whisper in my ear before stepping in before me. “I’m not taking any chances tonight. You never know what might happen at the opera.”

I roll my eyes and give him a tap on his butt as he squeezes past me. He reaches back without looking and captures my errant hand in his, not letting go even after he sits down next to me.  Esme is seated to my left, and out of the corner of my eye, I catch Carlisle looping his fingers through hers and pulling their joined hands to his knee. Like son, like father.

The lights flicker several times before throwing the theater into pitch black darkness.  In a hushed but excited whisper, Esme says, “Here we go.”

Despite our research and previous exposure to the music, I have to admit I was not sufficiently prepared for the live performance. Judging by Isabella’s quickened breath and attentive posture, neither was she. When the curtain closes to thunderous applause at intermission, Mom turns to us and asks, “So? What do you think?”

I shift in my seat in time to catch Isabella’s response. “It’s so much more exciting than I’d imagined. I can actually understand what’s going on! And the acting, on top of the singing…they’re so expressive!”

Mom is grinning ear to ear.

“What’d you think, Mom?” I ask.

“It’s a wonderful production. There’s nothing like the Met,” she gushes.

“How about you, Dad?” I lean across Isabella.

“ I really enjoyed the parts I was awake for,” he deadpans.

“Oh, Carlisle, you didn’t,” Mom chides, her mouth forming a disgruntled frown.

“No, dear, of course I didn’t. What kind of cretin do you take me for?”

We all laugh, stand and shake out our legs a bit, and eagerly settle in for the third act.

Half the enjoyment for me is enjoying the way Isabella responds to external stimuli, and my eyes are on her as much as they’re on the stage, which is how I sense a decided shift in intensity as Prince Calaf prepares to sing Nessun Dorma. Isabella’s head tips slightly to the left and in the dim reflection of the stage lighting, her eyes glisten with a thin layer of moisture.

The hollow of her neck proves irresistible, and I shift in my seat so I can reach my lips to her shoulder. Whatever is taking place on stage pales in comparison to Isabella’s reaction, and I trade in the tenor’s performance for my girlfriend’s.  Her breath catches as I land the first soft kiss on her clavicle, and she licks her lips as I move closer to my goal. She studiously watches the stage, even as I lift my left hand to the top of her zipper and caress the base of her neck with my thumb. Prince Calaf echoes Turandot’s edict that none shall sleep; I whisper-sing the same into her ear tonelessly, teasing her with a prolonged hiss on the “s” sound. My nose tickles the tiny hairs on her neck, and she shudders as goose bumps cover her skin. Her eyes blink rapidly as they fill with tears too heavy to be contained.

I close my eyes and inhale deeply, surrounding myself with her sweet scent; salty tears find their way beneath my lips and I drink in her passion. Insistent fingers bury themselves in my hair and her palm closes tightly around my neck, cradling my face against her tender skin. The warm tones of the aria swirl around us, locking us both in a powerful elixir of the present moment and last night’s scene. My own tears mingle on my tongue with Isabella’s as Calaf belts out the final victorious notes.

Eventually, Isabella loosens her grip, we disentangle ourselves, and I even return most of my attention to the opera—but not all of it. I’m not willing to drop my hand from that vulnerable spot at the base of her neck. Isabella glances my direction as I use my free hand to dry my face, apparently not being quite as covert as I’d hoped.

The four of us lead the crowd in a standing ovation when the first curtain drops, moments before that exquisite moment where the cast transition back into being fully themselves. Mom cannot contain her excitement at our enjoyment of the show, and she pulls us into a close huddle in the cold crisp air outside the theater.

Well?” she asks, eyes bright with impatience.

I volunteer my opinion first. “That was an amazing performance. Thanks for suggesting it, Mom.”

Isabella’s smile conveys all that she is feeling, and words are not necessary.

“How about you, Carlisle?” Esme presses.

“I mean, it wasn’t Aerosmith or anything, but it was a pleasant enough way to spend the evening.”

“You see how your father tortures me?” Mom appeals to me, matching grins appearing on both my parents’ faces. They’re so perfectly suited, it’s not even funny.

“I’d dump him if I were you,” I respond, perfectly straight-faced.

“Oh God no, it’s taken me forty years to properly train him!” she retorts, causing Dad to guffaw.

Dad skillfully changes the subject. “Weren’t we going to invite the kids back to our hotel for dessert?”

Isabella’s mouth twists into a pained grimace. “I’m really sorry, but I’m going to have to bow out. I have a major presentation tomorrow and I really need to hit the hay. Edward, you should go and visit with your parents—”

Aw, hell no.

Once again, Mom preempts my planned protest. “Don’t be silly, dear. We wouldn’t think of separating you two. Carlisle can entertain me just fine, although…” she grins mischievously, “…nobody can finish off a hot fudge cake like you, son.”

Dad holds his hand across his belly. “I’ll give it my best shot, but I’m no Edward.”

“You used to be,” Mom mumbles, and the poor guy shakes his head.

I clap him on the back. “Be strong, Dad,” I chuckle. “So we’ll see the two of you tomorrow when we get home from work?”

“Yes, remind your doorman to let us in, please, so I can get dinner started.”

Ah…Mom’s home cooking. My lips curl upward at the prospect. “What’s on the menu, Mom?”

“Well,” she grins, “seeing as you’re Mr. Leafy Greens now, perhaps I’ll make you a tofu stir fry.”

So much for Mom’s home cooking.

“That sounds really nice, Esme,” Isabella answers swiftly, and the heck of it is, she probably means it, too.

“Mmhmm,” I add, plastering a polite smile on my face so as not to be branded ungrateful, though I’m crestfallen.

 “Wow,” Esme answers, looking back and forth between Edward and me. “I don’t know what this girl is putting in your water, but I totally approve. I was just yanking your chain, Edward. Honestly! You think I’d make you eat tofu and bok choy in the same meal?”

“Very funny, Mom,” he grouses.

Esme leans forward and gathers me fully into her arms. “I think I better leave you to work that scowl off his face.”

“No problem,” I answer sweet as can be, though my thoughts on said scowl-erasing are anything but sweet. “And thank you again for the opera. It was really a fabulous experience all around.”

“The pleasure was all mine. I hope it will be the first of many we can enjoy together.”

“G’night, Isabella,” Carlisle says when it’s his turn. “Good luck with your presentation tomorrow.”

“So what are you making for dinner, Mom?” Poor Edward. Doesn’t his Mom know better than to tease him about food?

“How about if I surprise you?” Guess not.

“Fine, but don’t forget dessert!”

She swings their joined hands between them. “Would I do that do you, son?”

“Hmph, I guess not.”

Carlisle’s already flagged down two taxis, and he waves goodbye as he helps situate his wife in the back seat of the first car.

“See you tomorrow, Dad. Have fun in SoHo.”

“Enjoy the rest of your night, kids.”

“You heard the man,” Edward says lasciviously as he tucks my long train into the car and slides in, practically on top of me. “Christ, I thought they’d never leave.”

I giggle at his enthusiasm as he crushes me with the weight of his chest and attacks my lips.

“I have no idea how I managed to keep my hands off you all night,” he grumbles, clearly remedying the situation now.

“You think it was easy for me?” I force out, when he lets me up for a breath. “Especially when you were driving me wild during Nessun Dorma? Jesus, that should be illegal, Edward. I was sitting next to your mother, for God’s sakes.”

“Hey,” he protests. “It’s not my fault you wore this ridiculously sexy gown and flaunted your bare flesh right under my nose all night.”

“How about you, Black Velvet? You think I wasn’t reliving the feel of that tie around my neck the first time I crawled for you?”

There I go again, tipping all my cards for him to see. But this time, the effect on him is instantaneous and tremendously satisfying. I swear he growls, and his eyes could start a fire with or without two sticks to rub together. He raps his knuckles against the Plexiglas divider separating us from Ahmed, and when the poor guy looks back in his mirror to see what’s going on, Edward is practically frantic.

“Dude. It’s an emergency. Can you step on it, please?”