“Stop looking at me like that.”
“Sorry. I’m not used to being on this side of the secret plan.”
Oh, honey, you have no idea. If our conversation goes well tonight, I’m going to have all kinds of secret plans for your body.
“It’s only good stuff, Edward. I promise.”
He still regards me suspiciously but shrugs and moves off the topic. “You’re having lunch with Charlie today?”
“Sure…of Charlie,” he says with a chuckle.
“You’re meeting Riley, right?”
“Yes. He told me I have to buy him lunch today to make it up to him for ruining Bergdorf’s.”
A giggle escapes my scarf, and I’m pleased to see Edward shaking his head with a smile at his sensitive friend. “So where are you taking him, Tavern on the Green?”
“Pfft, yeah right. I’m due for some sweet potato fries. I’d take him to Mad Max’s but…”
Aw, sweet sentimental Edward is here today. Is this what happens when I knock him off balance? I finish for him, “But that’s our place.”
He scrunches up his face then nods. “Even when it wasn’t quite…yet.”
I squeeze his hand through my glove. “Did I ever tell you Jasper decided to take me there for dinner that same night, completely out of the blue?”
“What?” His response is a combination of surprise, anguish, and amusement. “How’d you manage to get through that? I would’ve been a total wreck.”
“I…uh…” Maybe starting this wasn’t such a great idea.
Edward stops us in our tracks, causing several tailgating pedestrian commuters to slam into our backs and fire off a cloud of curse words around us. “Give it up, Swan,” he commands me suddenly.
Looking around the area for a quieter spot, I pull him down a side street and out of the flow of traffic onto the safety of a convenient stoop. Edward is mighty curious by this point, and I know there’s no way I’m not going to tell him. I rattle it off in one quick, jerky motion, like peeling off a Band-Aid. “I had to go into the bathroom and relieve myself.”
His face cracks into a wide grin. “Holy shit, that is fantastic! How’d you do it? Sitting down? Standing up? Was it quick and rough? Oh, fuck, Isabella, tell me everything!”
I give him a hearty shove with both hands flat against his chest and he jumps gracefully backwards, pulling me with him in his arms while he laughs from the depths of his chest. “You are a greedy boy,” I chastise.
“Moi? I’m not the one who was in the bathroom rubbing one out while my…date…was polishing off his dinner.”
“Oh, as if it wasn’t all your fault!”
Now he is truly amused. “I was pretty well-behaved that day, as I recall.”
“Maybe on the outside…”
“Oh, so now I’m responsible for my insides wanting to jump you? Wait a second, was I in the bathroom with you?”
I move to whack him again but he grabs my wrist and gives me the eyebrow-that-can’t-be-defied.
“Of course, you were in there with me. Bossing me around…as usual!”
Edward laughs for a bit before stopping himself and half-heartedly apologizing. “Sorry…?”
“No, you’re not. And thank you for not taking Riley there today for lunch.”
He pulls my face closer and slips a finger into my scarf, dipping it low enough that he can kiss me without getting a mouthful of wool. “Thank you for telling me your dirty little secret, Isabella. You know how I cherish each and every one.”
“As I cherish you, you big…insides jumper, you!”
“Oh, if you only knew, my sweet, sweet girlfriend.”
“Never mind. We have to go to work; don’t get me all hot and bothered.” I tug his hand and direct us back into the thoroughfare of Madison Avenue.
“Just so you know, my mom is going to kill me for doing this with you instead of her.”
“Hmm,” Riley ponders, “if we could just substitute Bella’s name for your mom, I might be able to spin that into a really solid fantasy.”
“Very funny. Seriously, what am I going to tell her?”
Riley spins from the glass case and holds me by both shoulders. “You tell her exactly what you told me on the phone last week—you’re sure of your decision and you needed to take care of this before you and Bella leave on Friday.”
“You know my mom, Ri. You really think she’ll be okay with it?”
Riley’s lips twist into a smirk, and it pisses me off. “Fucking hell. This is funny to you?”
The mocking edge disappears from his expression. “Aw, Edward, of course not. It’s just that most guys in your position would be a whole lot more worried about the girlfriend than the mother.”
“Christ, thanks a bunch. I was saving that anxiety for a warmer climate.”
“You’re not really considering the possibility she’ll turn you down, are you?”
“I’m trying like hell not to.”
Riley regards me with disbelief written all over his face. “Edward, come on. I have never met two people better-suited to each other than you and Bella, and there is no question in my mind that she knows it.”
“I know this…ninety-nine percent of the time. Every once in a while, though, there’s this voice inside of me that kind of screams, ‘What the hell are you thinking? You’ve known this girl for all of two months, and a good portion of that time, you’ve had her crawling around your apartment or chained to the bed or bent over the—’”
Oops. Riley’s jaw has dropped open and he’s shaking his head no.
“You suck, Cullen. You know that? If I didn’t have Sean in my life, I would fucking hate your guts right now.”
Okay, I’m being a dick. I get it. I open my arms wide. “Bring it in, Riley. Come on. You love me and you fucking know it.”
Reluctantly, he steps forward, punching me in the gut before letting me embrace him.
“You’re the biggest asshole I know,” he grumbles.
“Oh come on, Ri. How is thinking about my asshole gonna help anything?”
I hold on tight while he battles to squirm out of my arms, and that is the exact moment the salesman chooses to walk over and greet us. “Gentlemen, may I help you find something?”
Riley is red-faced from the struggle when he finally breaks free. “Yes. My friend here…” he points his thumb derisively toward my chest, “is looking for an engagement ring.”
“Very good, sir,” he answers, dollar signs in his bright eyes. “Would that be a gentleman’s band then?”
“What? No! It’s for my girlfriend.”
“Oh, dear.” The poor guy turns bright red, looking back and forth between the two of us to figure where he went wrong.
Riley is completely enjoying our misery, and it’s all I can do to keep from kneeing him in the nut sac.
“I knew I should’ve brought my mother,” I grumble. Riley’s laughter follows us to the back of the store, where the man offers me a seat in front of a selection of rings that makes my head start to spin.
“So…tell me what you had in mind.” The salesman looks at me hopefully, and for the second time today, I realize I am the man tragically without a plan. Just as panic begins to seep into my bones, Riley places a firm hand on my shoulder.
“Relax,” he whispers into my ear. “We’ve got this.”
“Your mother seems to believe I need some fresh air,” Dad complains as we slosh through the wintry sidewalks, thick with the wet muck of thousands of footfalls. “What are you in the mood for?”
“I don’t know. A salad, I guess?”
“Great, that narrows it down to about two hundred restaurants within a one-mile radius.”
“Dad, you know I don’t care where we eat. I go out all the time. You pick.”
“Okay then. We’re going to Barnaby’s.”
“Sounds good. How is Mom?”
“She’s good.” Dad smiles. “You know, ever since you and Edward came over, she’s been having so much more fun doing things on her computer. She’s really turning into a whiz with Photo Shop. You should see some of the things she comes up with.” He shakes his head in wonder. Dad’s always been more of the straightforward numbers guy, where Mom’s always excelled in the creative pursuits.
“Hey, speaking of creativity, Edward and I went to our first painting class this week.”
His face lights up. “Oh yeah? You followed through on that pretty quickly. It must’ve been something you’ve been wanting to do for a while.”
Dad opens the door for me and follows me inside the bustling restaurant. He makes his way to the hostess stand and comes back to report the wait will be fifteen minutes. “That okay with you?”
“Sure. I’m pretty light today. Next week might be busier…” Oops, blurt alert.
“Oh yeah? New client you’re wooing?”
“No, it’s…we’re going away next weekend, tacking on a Friday and Monday out of the office.”
“Oh? And where are ‘we’ going?” he asks with an amused grin.
“I don’t exactly know.”
“You don’t know where you’re going?” The grin widens.
“Well, obviously Edward knows where we’re going, but he just told me I need a passport and warm-weather clothes.”
“Hold on, let me get this straight. Your new boyfriend—whom you’ve known…what?...twelve weeks—is taking you out of the country to an unknown destination?”
“Well, gee, Dad, when you say it like that it sounds a little creepy.”
Dad’s still smiling, which is not exactly the response I’d be expecting right now. “Actually, I was just thinking how incredibly unlike Jasper he is.”
“Pffft, you can say that again.”
Stop blushing, stupid face.
Deep down, Dad knows he really doesn’t want to know, so he just shakes his head.
“I guess you’re not too worried he’ll chop me up to bits and scatter me on some faraway beach?”
“Nah. There are far easier ways to do away with a body right here in Manhattan!”
“Swan, party of two…”
Dad holds out his arm after the hostess takes off at a fast clip toward our table.
“Real comforting there, pal,” I snark, letting him guide me lightly with his hand at my back.
After we’re all settled in at the table, Dad offers, “If you’d like, I can give him a good dressing down and make him give me the contact information before you leave.”
“Or I could just ask him to email it to you,” I respond.
Dad smiles once again. “That works, too.”
Our meals arrive soon after we order; there is nothing like the efficiency of a midtown restaurant at lunch time. “How’s your spinach salad?” he asks me.
“It’s good. I love the warm bacon dressing they make here. How’s your panini?”
“Delicious. You still doing much cooking?”
I shrug. “We eat out a lot, but I don’t mind pulling something together when we’re home. In fact, I’ll be cooking tonight.” And getting my boyfriend sloshed so I can talk to him about…yeah, that’s enough of that.
“Oh yeah? What’s on the menu?”
“I have no idea. Whatever we decide on at the market, I guess.”
“You two go to the market together?”
“Well, it’s on the way home.”
“You have the car wait for you?”
“No, Dad. We’ve been walking for the last couple weeks. Edward likes to walk.”
Dad’s sandwich oozes cheese through his fingers and he gives it a mild scowl. “That’s a sweet routine. Reminds me of when your mother and I used to take long walks through the park.”
“Why don’t you do that anymore?”
He finally sets down the sandwich and works his napkin between his greasy fingers. “I have no idea. I guess we both get into doing our own thing and we’re just content to enjoy that together. I told you I’ve been tying flies, right?”
“Ew. C’mon, Dad, I’m trying to eat here.”
He chuckles heartily. “Bella, they're not actual flies. You tie them…with string. It’s extremely therapeutic.”
“Wait, you don’t use real flies when you fish?”
“No, sweet daughter of mine. It’s called ‘fly fishing’ because the lure is light as a fly. A real insect would be…” He takes one look at my appalled face and stops midsentence. “Sorry. It just wouldn’t work at all.”
“So you tie them for fun? I don’t get it.”
“Yes, there’s an art to it. It requires patience and a good deal of coordination, and I find that it helps me unwind after a stressful day in the office. It works out perfectly since your mother is happy to play with her pictures for hours on end.”
“Sounds like one happy little house,” I say, then down the remains of my Diet Coke.
“Now that you know we don’t use real flies, might this mean you’d consider joining me on the river one morning?”
“Um…nope, but thanks for asking...for the thousandth time.”
“Hmm, maybe I could take Edward out for a spin.”
My fork clangs rather loudly against the glass bowl as I let go a bit too abruptly. “Edward…and you…sitting for hours on the water…not moving?”
“Yep, just shootin’ the shit. Remember how much Jas enjoyed it?”
“Dad, need I remind you—?”
“No, Bells. You needn’t. But what would be the harm in my asking him?”
“Suit yourself.” I shrug, unable to imagine worse torture for my boyfriend than shit-shooting at 6 a.m. with my dad on some godforsaken river.
Dad’s smirking at me around his sandwich.
“You two are going away together again...out of the country, no less. Sounds like things are getting pretty serious.”
“Actually we were at his folks’ house this past weekend.”
“What? He took you home to his parents and you didn’t even tell us?”
“It wasn’t like that. I mean, obviously, I already know his parents, but Edward got a call that they were about to put the dog to sleep, so I took the train to Philly with him.”
“Aw, that’s sad. Nice of you to go.”
“Everyone keeps saying that, as if I made a choice. I never even thought about it as being nice; I just went.”
Dad nods and sets down his drink. “How was it?”
“It was sad but very beautiful at the same time. I’m glad I was there for him. His parents were really great about including me in their really intense moment.”
“I’m sure they love you, Bells.”
“Yeah, I kinda think they do.”
He’s still smiling as he tosses his Amex down on the plastic tray.
“Thanks for lunch, Dad.”
“Any time, Bells. Next time, maybe you should bring Edward with you.”
“But then we wouldn’t be able to talk about him,” I tease.
“Somehow, I bet he could take it.” Dad tosses his napkin onto the table. “I feel like I need a shower after that sandwich. Ready?”
I sigh heavily. “I suppose I should get back.”
Dad pulls out my chair for me. “Whatever happened to my workaholic daughter?” he asks with a chuckle.
“I think she got a life.”
“Well good for you, Bella. Good for you.”
“There go your productivity levels.”
“I think Swan can survive if you start having a little fun.”
“Are we getting wine drunk or liquor drunk?”
“Probably liquor,” she answers.
“Tequila or vodka? Because if it’s tequila, we should make quesadillas or nachos or tacos or something like that, but if it’s vodka, we should keep it light.”
Isabella giggles. “Always with the rules. Okay, let’s go with vodka and light.”
“Mixers or straight?”
“Up to you. I think I’ll have a little grapefruit juice with mine.”
“Why don’t you grab that while I raid the prepared foods case? If we’re drinking, nobody’s cooking. And most definitely, nobody’s cleaning up.”
“I like the way you think.”
“So I’ve noticed.”
I give her a little eyebrow waggle, and she gives me back a well-deserved eye roll before scooting off to the juice aisle. Meanwhile, I fill the basket with a little bit of whatever looks good—crab dip, sliced flank steak, mini flatbreads, chicken on a skewer, rice pilaf, and at the last minute, I toss in a few stuffed mushrooms so I earn vegetable points with the girlfriend.
“All set?” she asks, not even looking to see what I picked out.
“Sure. We’ll have to come back tomorrow anyway, once I decide what we’re making for our guests.”
“We’re cooking together tomorrow night?” She pauses to look back over her shoulder at me.
“Now why would you think I’m telling you that?”
She smiles, happy as ever that Master will be dictating the plans. If I know my girl, and I’m pretty darn sure I do, I’ve just taken one major anxiety of entertaining off her plate—so to speak. I’ll plan the menu and she’ll execute and pretty up the place. Everyone’s happy.
“I got this.” I slide my credit card through the slot. “You can get tomorrow’s.”
Outside, I hang onto one of the grocery bags as well as her shoes and hand her the lighter of the two bags of food.
“You still okay carrying my shoes everywhere?”
“Of course. A deal’s a deal.” Wisely, she chooses not to discuss it further.
“So how was lunch with Riley?”
“It was great. We went to Bill’s.”
“Up on 51st?”
Careful, Edward. Isabella’s activated her GPS. “Yes. You know I had my heart set on those fries.”
“God, you’ll do anything to satisfy an itch, won’t you?”
“Pretty much. Plus, Riley was seriously in the mood for corn dogs.”
“You two are…perfect for each other.”
“And how’s my friend Charlie?”
“He’s good,” she says, grinning madly, “and he’d like you to email him our itinerary. Just in case.”
“He’s not going to spill the beans, is he?”
“Of course not! Dad can keep a secret when he needs to.”
“Oh yeah? Even from your mom?”
Her eyes narrow suspiciously and a chill passes through me.
“Why would you ask that?”
I shrug as nonchalantly as possible, not the easiest thing weighted down by bags on both sides. “You know me, always curious about the dynamics of couples.”
“You mean nosy!” she teases. My usual outrageous conduct seems to have let me off the hook this time.
“I am a student of human behavior. Plus, in the case of your parents, it’s extra fascinating, because these are the people who raised you; this is the model you grew up with. I want to understand as much as I can about you.”
Isabella enters the revolving door of our building and I ease her forward. Once through the door, she stops dead and spins around and I nearly knock her over as I emerge from the spinning glass. “Are you worried I’m keeping something from you?”
Her face is bright red, and while I might blame that on the cold night air, her eyes are clearly bright with indignation.
“No,” I answer hastily, which only serves to raise her hackles even further. “I mean, yes, I know you’ve got something up your sleeve for tonight and maybe it’s making me a little crazy, okay?”
Everything about her slumps all at once—her shoulders, her eyes, her mouth, her chest. “We better get upstairs pronto and crack open the Grey Goose and get this party started.”
“Okay, how many fingers am I holding up?”
“Um, twelve?” he answers, offering me a crab-dipped cracker. “Come on, Isabella, you know you can say—or ask—anything of me. Plus, we’ve both had…” he lifts the bottle to the light to approximate our consumption, “enough to be brutally honest.”
“All right.” I’ve rehearsed this in my head all afternoon, playing Marcus’s advice over and over while trying to carefully choose my words. Of course, with the alcohol, my recall is not exactly accurate. I have to trust myself, and I have to trust us. “I wanted to talk to you about something.”
Pleased that I’m finally revealing myself, he sets the bottle down and shifts his body on the couch so we’re facing each other head-on. He even folds his hands in his lap like the good do-bee I’m sure he never was. “Ready.”
“I really want to try something with you.” The words feel like hot boulders that singe my tongue on the way out.
Edward smiles. “Okay?”
His eyes light up and he does a poor job stifling a laugh. “Okay?”
“I don’t think you’re gonna like the idea.” He deflates a wee bit, and I flinch.
He reaches one hand across the cushion separating us and places it on my knee. “Isabella,” he soothes, “when is the last time you had an idea—a sexual idea—that I didn’t like?”
“Just once before, I think.”
He cocks his head. “I did? I don’t remember that. Can you give me a little help here?”
“Yeaaahh. It was when Sean and Riley were here…?”
God, I wish he would look away to do his thinking instead of burning his eyes right into mine. Tick, tock. Pulse, pulse. It’s not going to take him long now, and…
Yep, he’s got it. I pull my upper lip between my teeth and wait for the tirade. Instead, I get more of those green emeralds and a quicker pulse. Finally, he says, “You talked to Marcus about this.”
“Then I imagine it must be really important to you.”
“Not if you don’t—”
“Hang on,” he says, holding his hand out like a traffic cop. “I asked what you want, not what I want.”
I bite back the “but” and nod once more.
Edward lets go of my knee and sits back against the end of the couch, letting out a large breath. “All right. Let’s figure out how to make this work then.”
Relief courses through my system. He’s basically said yes. I lift the bottle. “Refill?”
“Hell yes.” He smiles and runs his fingers through his thick hair. Poor baby. “Just out of curiosity, what did Marcus have to say?”
“He told me that it would be Edward, my boyfriend—not my Master—who would need to agree to this. That I should give you plenty of time to think about it, and not do anything that feels like humiliation.”
A smile appears just before he lifts the refilled glass to his lips and takes a long pull. “Smart guy.”
I nod and wait.
“Did he say anything else?”
“He said you might hate the idea.” Now I take a good swig of my own drink and wait.
“He’d be right again,” Edward responds, “if it were anyone but you.”
That sounded fairly positive, but I’m afraid to misinterpret. “So…?”
Edward crooks his index finger, beckoning me to his end of the couch, while at the same time stretching his long legs out along the cushions. We both set down our drinks, and I crawl up his body, our flannel pajama pants brushing against each other, hips meeting, my chest resting lightly on his. Edward regards me intently, running his fingers through my hair.
“What did you have in mind, sweet Isabella?” he asks with a sexy grin.
I’m suddenly awash with desire and imagery—oh, the imagery that’s been assaulting me ever since I decided to ask Marcus about this. Edward blindfolded and cuffed to the bed while I cover his mouth with my sex; Edward on his knees, hands tied behind his back, pleasuring me; Edward strapped to the cross while I drive him mad with my mouth all over his beautiful body.
“Oh no,” he says, a low chuckle rumbling between our joined chests. “You’re gone, aren’t you?”
I clear my throat and try to regain a little decorum. “I have a few ideas,” I finally manage to say.
“I’m quite sure you do, sweetheart. Can you let me in on those ideas so I can give you my blessing?”
He’s saying yes.
I close my mouth over his and he returns my passionate kiss, his hands still raking rhythmically through my hair while we have our talk. I pull away and look down at his glistening smile. He swipes his tongue lazily along his lips and draws in the leftovers of our sloppy kiss. “I can’t wait to hear what’s got you so excited. Tell me…please?”
“You. Cuffs. Blindfold.” He lifts an eyebrow. “A whole lot of pleasuring.”
“Oh yeah?” Fingers keep pulling. Eyes sparkle and mesmerize. “So far, I think we’re on the same page.”
“Sure, Isabella, what’s not to love?”
“What if I want to tease you?”
He flexes his hips and rocks his hard erection into my belly. “I could be down with that.”
“You could?” Jesus, the way he’s looking at me. I have to kiss him some more.
He answers after a long, luxurious kiss. “I could.”
“What if I wanted to try out your big, fluffy, blue feather on you?”
“Mm, I think that could be arranged. Anything else?”
I’ve just secured the sun, moon, and stars; I’m soaring. I shake my head no.
“No,” I giggle, causing him to smile as well.
“Tell you what. How about we try this out when we’re on our vacation, thousands of miles from here? We can even do it the first night we get there, before the Master makes an appearance on the island. How would that work for you?”
I groan dramatically. “A whole week you’re making me wait now?”
“Mmhmm,” he hums, nodding once, smiling, and watching me carefully. “That gives you an entire week to think about it.”
“I think you’re trying to make me go crazy.”
“Definitely. But don’t worry, because in the meantime…” I let out a squeak as Edward suddenly flips us over and I’m underneath him, “we’ll have some amazing sex while you’re pondering what you want to do to me.”
"That will be novel!" I tease, then head right back to the fantasy of Edward on his knees, his face buried between my legs, my hands tightly clutching his sexy hair and directing his attention right where I want it. Real-life Edward makes a compelling bid for my attention by rolling up my cami and pulling my right nipple into his warm, moist mouth while his other hand trails down my stomach and inside my pants.
Inside my head, he breathes hot air over my wet slit; in person, his fingers slide into my opening as he hums into my chest. Soft tongue…sly finger pads; frustrated groan…low rumble of pleasure; hot breath…slippery friction; crashing, rolling, building, burning, climbing, flying…
I deem it a toss-up between fantasy Edward and the real man on top of me. Either is impossible to surpass.
Edward discards my pants, following quickly with his own. He lifts my ankles onto his shoulders and pushes inside me. “Will you make me fuck you, too?” he rasps. A thrill passes through me—Edward is inside my fantasy and apparently enjoying himself quite a bit.
“Maybe…if you’re a very good boy,” I answer.
A devilish smile breaks across his face and he grasps my ankles tighter in his hands. “I’m…” thrust “…always…” thrust “…a good…” thrust “…boy.”
It’s hard to argue with his logic, especially when he is so deeply seated inside my body. I answer his grunts with unintelligible noises of my own, and soon we’re grinding each other into a shared ecstasy on some other plane of being where only we two exist. He releases my ankles and slumps forward over my body, kissing me and dropping his face beside mine on the couch.
Edward continues to purr softly while I scratch his back. My body is satisfied, but my brain is whirring. Apparently, my intuitive man can hear the gears turning in the kink factory. “What?” he whispers into my ear.
“I was just wondering…”
“Please, sweetheart. Tell me.”
“How my boyfriend would feel about being on his knees for me.”
He doesn’t exactly tense, but he doesn’t move a muscle. “Are you asking me to crawl for you?”
“No. God, no. I wouldn’t want that.” He waits quietly. “I guess maybe I just want you a bit vulnerable.”
Warm puffs of air tickle my throat when he chuckles. “I’m always vulnerable where you’re concerned.”
I slide my fingers up through his magnificent hair and tug gently, almost as I was imagining it moments ago, only this time it’s to get him to look at me. “Sometimes, it doesn’t quite feel that way from where I’m sitting,” I inform him.
“The submissive has all the power, Isabella. You haven’t forgotten that, have you?”
“Cut your Master mumbo jumbo and answer the question, Edward.” I smile so he doesn’t launch into one of his Black Velvet lectures.
“If my girlfriend so desires, I will happily serve you on my knees.”
“Well, would you please ask her before we leave the country?”
He laughs again and nips at my neck. “When did you get to be so damn funny?” he wants to know.
“I don’t know. I think the idea of having your body at my disposal is making me punch drunk.”
“It’s quite the rush, isn’t it?” He stops pecking at me to level me with an intense, knowing stare. I know full well it’s not the same—not anywhere near the same, in fact—but I feel like I have one brief, intuitive moment of how it might feel to be the Dark Prince. Lucky for me, I’m already lying down.
“May I count on you to pack the necessary equipment for me?”
“Sure, sweetheart. I’d never leave home without the Master’s fun duffle. Besides, that’s only a fraction of what I’ll be needing for you.”
He pulls back to watch me. “We’re going to be far, far away from anyone we know. I’m planning on having some serious fun on this vacation.”