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.
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?”