I take Isabella’s hand and lead her gently to the kitchen. “How about some water?”
She nods gratefully and takes the bottle I hand her from the refrigerator. “Help yourself to anything you want,” I offer. Normally, this would be a hollow statement, but I’ve been shopping in anticipation of her visit. I’ve filled the fruit bin with berries, grapes and melons. I’ve added skim milk and fruit juices to my customary selection of whole milk and Bud. And I even bought some cheese and sliced turkey yesterday in case we need protein.
“Impressive,” she comments. I don’t reveal that this is an unusual circumstance.
“So, you want to see the rest of my place?”
“Sure,” she answers uncertainly, as if she’s in the Haunted Mansion and things might jump out and grab her. And tie her up and whip her. Or maybe she’s just thinking she’s going to see some bachelor pad-type stuff like smelly socks or porn lying around.
“Are your shoes comfortable?”
“Not especially,” she admits, and I’m so happy she’s not faking it like some girls would.
I bend down again by her feet, and her breath catches slightly remembering last time. I lift just the corner of her dress and quickly unfasten her right shoe. “Lean on me,” I warn, and her hand clamps down on my shoulder. I gently lift her foot and slip off her sandal. I repeat on the other side and set her shoes near the wall.
“Much,” she says gratefully.
“All right, you’ve seen the kitchen,” I start, pulling her back to the living room. “This is my living room, you know…for entertaining.” I give her a wink and she rolls her eyes immediately. Good, she’s treating me like a normal horn dog and not her master.
“Right through here is the dining room, where I hold all my lavish dinner parties.”
“Really?” she asks gullibly.
“No, not really,” I admit quickly. “It’s usually a bowl of Raisin Bran at the kitchen counter or a styrofoam box from Smiler’s in my recliner. Once in a while, I’ll splurge and broil up a steak.”
“Huh, I’m more of a quesadilla and tomato soup kind of gal myself.”
“Well, we probably won’t starve to death, but we might be eating out a lot.” Shit, did I just imply that we’re a couple, and we’re going to be eating together for the foreseeable future? Way to scare a girl the fuck away, Hosebag!
“Mad Max’s and Pizza Pete’s it is, then,” she says easily, not at all disturbed to be making plans for the future with me.
He smiles and leads me back through the kitchen. “Here’s my study…” He continues the tour, but I’m stuck. Sitting on his desk is a folded up laptop, memory stick clinging to the side like a barnacle. It could be innocent, I tell myself. A technically-oriented guy like this must have hundreds of memory sticks lying around with work files. Or… it could be my memory stick, identical to the one he gave me. And if memory serves, he never promised not to have made a copy for himself.
Boldly, I inquire, “Is that-?”
“Yes,” he answers smoothly, over his left shoulder, without a moment of denial or apology. “You know, you’re a really great writer, Isabella.”
“But your critiques…” Well, not his, exactly, but Black Velvet’s. It’s still so hard to reconcile that this man in front of me has permeated my being so thoroughly from every angle.
He turns fully to face me again. “Just because your characters don’t always behave the way I might direct, doesn’t mean your writing is anything less than brilliant. And don’t ever let anyone convince you otherwise.”
Oddly, I feel more embarrassed by his words than I did baring my body for him.
He continues, “I tried to explain that when I criticized your master in A Day In The Life. Your writing makes people feel something, whether it be desire, need, anger, frustration, whatever. Your words move me. I needed to keep them for myself. And when you removed your stories from e-rotica, I was grateful that I’d saved myself a copy.”
Edward needs my words. Little ol’ me. I thrill at his admission. He’s paid me the highest compliment I could ever hope to receive. “My words move you?”
His mischievous grin appears, and I take a moment to recognize how much I love this smile of his. “Every. Single. Time.” For added effect, he wiggles his eyebrows at me.
I glance subconsciously at his chair, and he snorts, knowing where my thoughts have gone. “Ready to move on?”
“Definitely,” I answer.
I pinch and lift my gown so I can manage to follow without tripping. Without my heels, the dress is even more impractical. I suddenly wish for my favorite pair of comfy jeans and softest long sleeved tee. I glance at Edward’s back, his slightly untucked shirt, and perfectly tailored dark slacks. At least if I can’t change, maybe he’ll stay all formal wear disheveled as well. I have no desire to go home tonight, and I seriously doubt Edward is going to kick me out. It’ll be worth the taxi ride of shame tomorrow morning for whatever time I can spend with this man tonight.
I slow and move to the side, inviting Isabella to lead the way. Her face registers surprise, and I tell her, “Go for it. I don’t have anything to hide.”
She snorts loudly and bursts into a fit of laughter. I wait patiently for her seizure to subside. “Okay,” I admit sheepishly. “I get why that might have set you off just now.”
“Do ya THINK??” she barks out, now wiping residual tears from her cheeks. “Jesus, Edward. I’m still trying to put all the mental pieces of you together in my head. And frankly, it’s gonna take a while.”
I nod, acknowledging her challenge. And yet, she’s not exactly been straightforward herself. “While you’re at it, princess,” I say, not unkindly, “you might want to sit down and have a chat with OMK.”
“Point well taken, Santa,” she grins.
“Huh,” I observe, “there sure are a lot of people out here in this hallway, aren’t there? In any case, feel free to poke around. Nothing is off limits.”
Her shoulder brushes my arm as she overtakes me in the hallway. She walks tentatively, her eyes darting suspiciously up and down the hallway.
“Isabella, if you’re looking for the dungeon, you’re not going to find it here.”
“Oh, no, I…” she begins, but thinks better of lying. “I really wasn’t sure what your den would entail.”
I enjoy her imagery, imagining myself the lion who’s dragged home his dinner, a wild kingdom version of take-out food, I suppose. To my next meal, I reply, “I don’t have any medieval torture devices or hardware bolted to my floors or ceilings.”
She actually looks disappointed, which pleases me no end.
I take her cheek in my hand and reassure her that this is the real deal. That I’m the genuine article. “Don’t worry, sweetheart. That’s not to say I won’t be tying you up and bending you over every available piece of furniture in the place.”
Ungghh, I mean seriously, just ungghhhh! He knows my writing, and he understands that I’m not the whipping bench kind of gal. With his promise to use me every which way, here amidst the ordinary, I’m aroused all over again, and I’d love to get myself out of this gown before I leak all over it. And just in the nick of time, Edward solves my latest problem.
“Here’s the guest room,” he murmurs from behind me, turning the handle and opening the door in invitation.
Laid out on the bed is a pair of jeans and a cotton tee shirt, some pajama pants, a cami top, and a variety of underwear to choose from. I look up at him in astonishment. “Is this all for me?”
He actually blushes and averts his eyes when he answers. “Yes, I…well, I was really hoping you’d be here with me tonight. And I wanted you to feel at home.”
“Wait, are these like…your sub clothes?”
“God no, Isabella. Nothing like that. I got these just for you. Trust me, I’ve never done this before.” He shakes his head as if he almost doesn’t believe it himself.
I walk to the bed and admire his taste. He’s chosen exactly what I would’ve picked for myself, and upon closer examination, I see that he’s gotten all the sizes exactly right. Not an accident. No, I think, Edward Cullen doesn’t take chances on the details.
“How did you know what to buy for me?” I hope he won’t give me some lame excuse like, "Good guess."
He looks mildly apologetic and admits, “Your Bloomingdales-dot-com shopping adventure in September?”
"You hacked into my Bloomie's account?" Arousal gives way to a wave of fear.
“I didn’t look at your credit card or anything, I just wanted to find out which labels you like. And your sizes.” And now he knows he may have gone just a bit too far. “I’m sorry, I just wanted to make you feel comfortable.”
It’s impossible to be angry at him for making such an outlandish effort to please me. I surrender to the experience that is Edward Cullen and immerse myself in his obsession.
“You know, Edward, if anyone else had done this, it would’ve just seemed creepy. But you?” He looks at me hopefully, as if maybe there’s a chance I won’t turn and run screaming after all. “You kind of rock the stalker thing.”
He relaxes minutely and says, “Would you like to change out of your gown?”
“Actually that would be great,” I admit.
“Help yourself to the bathroom as well,” he offers. “There are some toiletries in there for you.” And belatedly he adds, “Some things you like.”
I never thought I’d see the day that Edward would be shy, but somehow this segment of my tour has had exactly that effect on him.
“Thanks. That was really sweet of you.”
“My pleasure,” he answers. Moving to the door, he takes the knob and starts closing the door behind him. “I’ll give you some privacy.”
I laugh a bit darkly and say, “Don’t you think that particular ship has already set sail?”
He looks at me earnestly and answers, “No. I sure don’t.”
I’m more than touched by his thoughtfulness, and by his suggestion that there’s still plenty between us that has yet to be explored.
“Thanks,” I repeat once again, feeling the word so utterly inadequate to describe what I owe him.
“No worries,” he says “I’ll be down the hall in my bedroom. The Master bedroom,” he grins.
I meet his eyes and shake my head slightly at his attempt at humor.
“Come find me once you’re dressed.”
I nod, and he’s off, gently closing the door behind him as he goes.