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"Miss Swan. Come in." The man was turned away from me seated behind his desk and I could only see the top of his head and his right hand which was holding up a piece of paper I recognized as my resume. The hand gestured to the two chairs in front of the desk and I quickly sat down on the one to the right, hoping to getting a better view of my potential new employer. He swiveled further away from me however, bringing my resume closer to his face. "Thank you," I murmured, slipping my purse onto the floor next to me and folding my hands in my lap. I had worn a knee-length skirt and fought the nervous urge to play with the hem. Mr. Cullen remained silent. I heard him take a deep breath and exhale as I waited for him to begin the interview. I looked down at the Persian rug under my feet, admiring the rich colors and intricate patterns, then drew my eyes up to the heavy oak desk in front of me. I saw a laptop, a lamp and an array of papers but nothing else. The wall behind the desk was heavily curtained from floor to ceiling in a dark blue velvet that matched one of the colors in the rug; if there were windows behind the curtains they must be huge but no light permeated them, the lamp on the desk brightening the room on its own. The walls around me were painted in a warm taupe and to my right was a large painting that looked like an original abstract in similar blues and taupe’s as the rest of the room. I squinted and stretched my neck, trying to make out an artist's signature, wondering to myself if it was possible that I was in the same room as a Rothko. "Do you like it?" My attention flew back to the man across the desk. He had turned his chair to face me and was leaning back, his head a little to the side. Mr. Cullen was much younger than I'd expected, only in his early 30's if I had to guess, and was the handsomest man I'd ever laid eyes on. He had thick reddishbrown hair and eyebrows, chiseled cheekbones and a hard, firm jaw line. His lips were full, his mouth set in a straight line, his eyes were blue, but his expression was flat, no welcoming smile in evidence. He lifted his eyebrows as he waited for my answer. "Yes. Yes, I like it very much." "Tell me what you like about it." I turned back to the painting. "Well, even though it's just two rectangles, the more you look at it, the more you sense a relationship between them. There's some tension, some pushing and pulling, as if they're both struggling to dominate the space." I suddenly felt embarrassed and added quickly, "Or maybe they're in perfect balance. I don't know. It's just my first impression." "First impressions are very important." His ran his eyes briefly over me. "My first impression is that you are overqualified for this job." He continued, as his eyes scanned back to my resume. "You're in college, studying anthropology. You've worked a small assortment of desk jobs. There's nothing here that would suggest your ability, let alone interest, in performing more menial tasks. You're obviously an intelligent young woman, even able to speak quite articulately about a painting you've only just seen. So tell me, Miss Swan, why do you want to be my part-time housekeeper?"
I clutched my hands together a little tighter and debated how to answer him. They tell you to sell yourself in interviews and to flatter the interviewer but somehow I didn't think those kinds of tactics would have much effect on Mr. Cullen. I decided to go with the truth. "I need an income for the summer, and I'm not a resident. I have a student visa but not a work permit. I've been at Noble University as an exchange student for the past year but the term ends in three weeks and unless I can find a way to support myself, I'll have to go home. I'd much rather try to stay here for the summer and apply as a regular student next year. It's true that I don't have any experience as a housekeeper per se, but I grew up doing housework for my dad, and when Alice told me about this job, it sounded too good to be true, so I applied." He kept his level gaze on mine while I spoke, his eyebrows pulled into a slight frown. When I finished, his frown deepened and he said, "I don't know anyone named Alice." "Alice Whitlock, she's a friend of mine at school. She's the niece of your current housekeeper. She knew that her aunt had given notice and that you might be hiring a new one." "I wasn't aware that Mrs. Whitlock had a niece." His tone implied the subject was now closed. He paused, still frowning. "I assume you'd like to be paid under the table, then." I nodded. "Like I said, I don't have a work permit." "You realize that you're asking me to bend if not break the law by doing so." This wasn't going well. His manner thus far had been polite, but not exactly pleasant. I began to wonder why he'd bothered to arrange an interview only to challenge me for applying in the first place. "It was my understanding that these kinds of arrangements are made all the time with students and that no one really cares, but if it's a problem then please forgive me for wasting your time." He must have caught a whiff of my confusion as his tone softened. "Since your classes end soon, why aren't you looking for something full-time?" "I'm looking for anything at this point, but I don't think I'll have much luck finding something full time without a permit. And part-time hours are fine with me. I just need to earn enough to live on." "Where will you be staying? I assume the university has been providing your housing. Will that continue beyond the term when the exchange program ends?" He'd touched directly on the second problem of my plan. I needed a place to live. I was hoping Alice would know someone who could rent me a room but I hadn't gotten around to asking her yet. I thought about hedging the truth because being on the verge of homelessness hardly recommended me as an employee, but again something about the way his eyes held my gaze made me answer honestly. He'd have made an excellent police detective. "I do need to find a place, but I'm resourceful. I'll come up with something."
My answer seemed to amuse him as a smile branched across his face. His eyes were a bluish grey, pale, and when he'd been frowning they'd looked steely. But when he smiled they lit his face, crinkling at the corners, transforming his handsomeness into something closer to beauty. I realized that I was losing focus, and bit the inside of my cheek to get my attention back where it belonged. His smile quickly faded and he drummed his long fingers on his desk. "Mrs. Whitlock was with me for almost four years and knew her job perfectly. I don't think I like the idea of training someone new only to have them leave in a few months." "I can understand that. But look at it this way – I can be a temporary placeholder. I could start tomorrow. My classes are all in the mornings, so I can be here by noon. The term ends in three weeks and then I can be here any hours you wish. Classes don't start again until early September so I can work for you the whole summer while you continue your search for a permanent housekeeper. That will give you time to find the perfect person." "Persuasive and resourceful," he said so quietly it might have been to himself. He held my gaze again for a long minute without speaking, his expression inscrutable. Then a change came over his demeanor as if he'd come to a decision. "Let me tell you more about the job. I'd want you to come in the early afternoon and remain until early evening. The hours themselves aren't important as long as you finish your work. There are certain tasks to be done on certain days and then there are tasks to be done every day. The most important daily task is making and serving my dinner. Can you cook?" I nodded. "Beyond an ability to make an edible dinner, everything else is routine – laundry, dusting, vacuuming, etcetera. I'm not a neat freak and won't be trailing around behind you looking for missed dust, but I do have one requirement that may take some getting used to. I work at home, in here, and I need absolute peace and quiet. I don't want to hear you or see you while you're here. No banging around, no stomping up and down the stairs, no whistling while you work, nothing. Under no circumstances are you to interrupt me or bother me. The only time I expect to see you is at six sharp in the dining room when you serve dinner. Do you think you can manage that?" "Yes, but ..." "There are no buts." "Yes there are!" "Ah, finally a negative trait. You're also argumentative." "No, I'm not!" His eyebrows rose again. "I'm… inquisitive. How will I clean this room if you're always in it but I'm not to disturb you? And what if there's an emergency, a fire or something, can I interrupt you then?"
right. I'll have her show you the ropes and you can leave before dinner. that seems like too much. you won't see me on Friday. Trust me. I'm not sure that's a positive trait in a housekeeper. I prefer to give you a lump sum each Friday than keep track of your hours." I scooped up my purse and headed toward the door."Inquisitive. not something like a spider in the bathtub. "See you Friday then. the pay. Goodbye. Mr." "Thank you so much. Whitlock." "Fine. just Mrs. I pay $500 a week. I have guests on occasion and will expect you to cook dinner for them as well. why don't you come in Friday afternoon. And I forgot to mention that I expect you to plan the menus and purchase the groceries. Cullen." "Fine. then. "Are you willing to give me a chance. say around three." I nodded my acceptance of his terms. We're talking 5 or 6 hours a day. "At the risk of sounding argumentative. Miss Swan. the weeks when I have guests you will definitely earn your salary. Then I'd like you to start on your own next Monday. As this is Mrs." "No. right? That's only 25 to 30 hours. Okay. You may interrupt me if it's an emergency but it had better be a real honest-to-god emergency. I have an account at Southbay's in town." "Some weeks you may not feel like you've earned the $500 but other weeks you may wish you'd negotiated for a higher salary. Mr." . I rather think I am." "Goodbye." My eyes widened. Miss Swan. and nothing you described sounds too difficult. Whitlock's last week. then?" "Yes." "Oh. You can stop by on your way to work and pick up whatever you need for each night's dinner. Cullen. Lastly. You will clean this room on Wednesdays as I always go to town Wednesday afternoon. 5 days a week.
the easier it would be." I laughed. The closer I lived to him. Surely with $2000 a month to spend. I had actually managed to do it – get a job for the summer. He was so much younger than I'd expected. He didn't mince words. Mr. My budgets had always been small and my luxuries things like books and an occasional meal out. Talk to you later. my thoughts were flying a mile a minute. so I would start my search on the north side of town. "Alice. And fun." "Bye. I mean. not a friend." I closed my phone and headed back to my room. keep being selfish because it's working out great for me. I know. but he clearly was used to giving orders and he obviously didn't get chummy with his employees. but I can ask around. We'll find you something." "Will do. about a thirty minute walk. My mind kept circling around issues I was working out in my . hitting the call back number as I cleared the exit. one with reasonable hours and excellent pay. even if I tried. I really hoped I could work quietly enough not to disturb him as it was easy to imagine his temper flaring. It was Alice and I wanted to tell her about getting the job. Alice. Hours later I was in the library finishing my first draft of a final paper due way too soon when my cell vibrated. That was fine with me. I couldn't do it without you. I was glad I would only be seeing him once a day. that'll be easy. Cullen. but so stiff and reserved." "Oh Bella. I'm selfish like that. Cullen's house was two miles out of town. your help with all of this. We can start looking this weekend. I did it. but I still have to find a place to live. that's great! I'm so excited! That means you get to stay here this summer! We're going to have so much fun!" "I know. at dinner. $500 a week was more than I could spend. but still something about him intimidated me. I won't pretend to be completely altruistic here. I was looking for a job. That would be pure luxury after a year of sharing a tiny dorm room with two other girls. My excitement continued to grow as I imagined being able to afford my own apartment. My roommates were both still out so I did a little more work and then went to bed. His demeanor made him seem older than he looked. "Well. which I liked. a place to live would be easy to find. You don't happen to know anyone with a room to rent do you?" "Not off the top of my head.CHAPTER 2 As I walked back into town. I appreciate it so much. I got the job!" "Bella." "That'd be great. Yes. I was in full-on self-congratulatory mode until my mind veered back to Mr. I want you here for the summer so we can hang out together. so I packed my books and headed outside.
" I followed her through the foyer. Viking gas range. I was expected to 'process information. clear language that was wholly backed up by a plethora of footnotes and citations. Growing up in a tiny house. more so than most of my professors.' which meant reading tons of field studies and synthesizing the data into comprehensible. "Oh my god!" It escaped from my lips before I'd even formed the thought. Friday came up fast. an ancient electric stove." After showing me the well-stocked pantry. the way his eyes crinkled at the corners. Obviously your interview went well. Cullen's house around 2:30 Friday afternoon. papers.papers. that was for sure. I'd had about a foot of counter space. a frown his normal expression. and looked like a daunting thing to keep clean. Bella. as well as providing instructions in starting the dishwasher and setting up Mr. It was with that attitude that I headed out to Mr. scrub a toilet. This kitchen was the kind I'd always dreamed about having one day. Cullen." "Thank you. I'd find out soon enough. I'm so happy to see you again. I noticed a Subzero refrigerator. It was exhausting. the cutlery tools inside the island. too. As I rang the doorbell. Come in. He was so… authoritative. Let me show you around. Cullen out of my head. and as an anthropology major I didn't get the luxury of memorizing mathematical formulas or tweaking biology lab results. the storage cupboards of small appliances. It wasn't long before I was thinking about the handsome Mr. and I could consider myself done for the day. I wondered what it was going to be like serving him dinner. He'd seemed easily displeased. isn't it?" Mrs. Mrs. Well. "Yes. but the rooms on the upper floors had such huge windows that almost all I could see was glass. Cullen's morning coffee. but who could blame me? This was right out of a magazine. and a decrepit fridge to work with. and I found myself more than once looking forward to the summer when all I'd have to do was sweep a floor. Would he snap out orders at me or not even speak. but I remembered the way his face had lit up when he'd briefly smiled during the interview. It was bigger than I'd realized. pushing thoughts of Mr. The facade was mostly stone. a huge double sink… I was in heaven. if he'd like my cooking. . dust a shelf. Housekeeping was looking pretty good at this point. Whitlock turned toward a door at the far side of the room. expecting silence at dinner as well? Or would I see a more pleasant." "I guess it did. "You'll find everything you need here to make whatever you want. and thought how much I'd like to see him smile again. let's get started. Noble didn't cut exchange students any slack. and more papers. I wondered if my elation at getting this job had been premature. it's very nice. amusable side of him? I finally gave up wondering and rolled over. past what looked like a living room and through a hallway into an unbelievably perfect kitchen. Whitlock. I'd been too nervous my first time out here to appreciate how imposing the house was once it came into view. Finals were approaching and I was busy with papers. I'll show you the kitchen first. Whitlock politely answered my outburst. Mrs. granite counter tops. "Bella. the attention to minutiae. three stories tall. No. before it finally began to relax and wander off to imagine apartments. what his behavior would be like. It's good to see you again. but there was something else about him I couldn't quite put my finger on.
The key to success was silence." I had the distinct impression she was omitting something. Whitlock showed me a slim binder that outlined which days I was to do perform which task. napkins. You know men. Cullen comes down promptly at six every evening and it's important you have his dinner ready to serve then or shortly thereafter. he'll get up and leave through there. Cullen liked his martinis. Cullen like to eat?" "You know." She pointed to another door on the opposing wall. Cullen will want you to wait in the kitchen while he eats. Whitlock flicked a switch on the wall and a chandelier sparkled to life above the table. Velvet curtains again lined one wall from floor to ceiling and were drawn closed. I don't know. Tuesday was vacuuming day. Mr. while realizing that the only man I'd ever cooked for had eaten only things you could melt cheese on. either." She led me to a door that opened to a descending stairway. Just make sure you lock the back door behind yourself. Do you have any question thus far?" "What does Mr. she reassured me that Mr. You can sit at the island and eat your own dinner until he does." "Is there anything he doesn't like?" "Again. She showed me the place settings." I shrugged knowingly. But I'd always wanted to. and that's it. But don't bring it out any earlier. Whitlock's tone changed. clean the kitchen. start the dishwasher. We went back into the kitchen and Mrs. but a dessert now and then will get you into his good graces faster than anything else. but I don't ever remember him complaining about anything I served. wipe down the table. "Good. you clear his dishes. "Now. a sideboard. "Once he's left." "All right. Other than that. and I'd always wanted to try cooking fancier meals. Wednesday was the day I'd clean the office. Cullen was a perfectly reasonable employer as long as I completed the work. He's always eaten everything I've made him without a complaint. The laundry and dinner would be the two things I would do every day. He won't expect you to say good-bye. He prefers healthy foods. if he should ask for one." We walked through the swinging door and into a large room that was furnished with a table and six chairs. Even though they were alone together in the house most afternoons. Mrs. set up his coffee to brew in the morning. and Fridays were the days I'd do the bathrooms plus any incidentals Mr. even more rarely spoke to him. Cullen wanted completed at the end of the week. and then described how Mr." "Yeah. and silverware in the sideboard."Now. He'll call you in if he needs anything. through here is the dining room. I'm a little embarrassed to admit that after four years here. "Let me show you the utility closet. I was concentrating on memorizing the number of olives he liked when Mrs. Then you're done for the day and may leave. I was looking forward this part of the job immensely. each day had its own assigned task. I guess I can handle that. so go easy on the fat and salt. she'd figured . As we headed downstairs. After he's finished eating. and a liquor cabinet. nothing fancy. or telling me not to serve it again. douse in barbecue sauce. On Mondays I would dust the entire house. allowing in no natural light. Mr. she rarely saw him. or slather in mayonnaise and I'd never baked a pie or cake in my life. He doesn't like to wait. Thursdays I'd sweep and mop all the wood and tile floors. so I'd have to say he likes simple meals. I've never asked him.
And he likes fresh sheets on his bed once a . Cullen liked his laundry washed daily. Make sense?" "Yes." She stopped and pushed open the door. "This vacuum cleaner is a new model." She led me up three flights of stairs to the top floor of the house. If you can be quiet. I never heard any complaints from Mr. but how am I supposed to vacuum silently?" Opening the door to a walk-in closet full of cleaning equipment. Paintings took up all available wall space. showed me how to work the machines and reiterated that Mr. Perfect sense. even if there wasn't much. and quickly changed the subject. so I assume it works. so many that even more had been pushed up into the frame of the mirror suspended above it. But what about when I'm fixing dinner? When the Cuisinart is running. "All of these rooms are unused unless Mr. Cullen has company. she pointed to a fancy looking contraption. "The hamper is in his bathroom – that's where you'll find his dirty clothes and towels. Cullen. state-of-the-art." "That's amazing. "Do you have any questions?" Mrs. "He really values that above all else. His socks here. covered in a deep red silk." She stopped herself. he'll be happy with the results. but there's a sliding door that you can pull closed and it seems to work effectively. The bed was huge and prominent." "Okay. "His boxers and t-shirts go in this drawer. no matter what you're doing. from Europe. the coffee beans are grinding? How am I supposed to do those things silently?" "I didn't show you when we were in the kitchen." Then I couldn't help myself and I gestured to all the photographs on the dresser. Cullen's family. Put newly laundered clothes on the bottom of the pile so that he's always drawing on the oldest washed. You might get to meet them if they visit again this summer. Cullen's inner sanctum felt like an invasion of privacy was an understatement. Dress clothes go in the closet on hangers." Then she led me to the laundry room which was also in the basement. But this is his room right here. To say that entering Mr. realizing she was on the verge of gossiping about her employer. "Who are all these people?" "Mr. Whitlock asked. "Where do I find his dirty clothes and what do I do with his laundry when it's done?" "Let me show you his room. The dresser was overflowing with photographs. although I'm not sure they enjoyed themselves last year. this room was a testament to the man's inner self. Jeans here. "Where do I put his clothes?" I asked quietly as I pulled myself away from a particularly fetching photograph of a young tow-headed boy on a swing.out. the exhaust fan is blowing. It barely makes a sound. While his office had been barren of personal affects.
I realized we were on the landing just outside Mr. I just want you to know that I'm leaving because I want to. I usually change them on Fridays when I'm up here cleaning his bathroom. . nervousness.week. I'm sure you can. But there was no denying the tiny frisson of emotion that ran through my body as she waved goodbye to me from the back door and I headed back to town. I don't like being made to feel like a servant. I think I can do it." We walked back into the hallway. dinner being one of them. I'll give you a key to the back entrance and then we're done. "I've never liked that part of the job. Anxiety. He's gotten more demanding. he's started snapping at me. "I think that's about it. she pulled a door out of a recess and closed it tightly." "Okay. I think I've got this. making dinner and serving it. I don't know." She gave me a reassuring smile." She folded her hands in front of her. hoping she'd say more. the sliding door." But as she descended the stairs in front of me. unless you have any more questions. She took hold of my elbow and pulled me down the remaining stairs. but this last year. harder to please. accepting her explanation. but it was more than just being apprehensive about starting a new job." She looked at me carefully. It's gotten to the point that I don't enjoy working here anymore." I nodded. "Mrs. "He's not a bad person. Cullen is very particular about certain things. "Mr. Ah. and the closest I could come to identifying it was anticipation. Can I ask why you're leaving?" She turned around quickly and glanced to her left. "Bella. yes. yes. Once there. the way he likes to be waited on. not because Mr. Then she sighed and said." "Good. but looked at her expectantly. but why?" "Why? Why does anyone do anything? My time here was up. I need new things to do. but I don't know." "He made you feel like a servant?" "Not all the time. Cullen asked me to. Cullen's office. I rarely see him until dinner. I tolerated it because the hours are easy and the pay is good. I don't mind doing housework for a living. Like I said. I realized I had one more question. through the hall and into the kitchen. I was feeling something else as well. I watched her debate inwardly whether to go on." "No." "If he tries to treat me like that. Whitlock. "But hopefully you won't have that problem since you're only here for the summer. and I assured her that of course I'd be fine. but I'm not a waitress. just difficult in some respects. I tried to identify what I was feeling. rubbing her fingers together. treating me like I'm beneath him. there is one more thing I'm curious about." She patted my elbow and said that she knew I'd be okay. I'm out of here. The linen closet's here. this last year it's just been too much.
but as Alice had pointed out. least safe options." We found a bistro down the street and Alice pored over the rental ads while we ate. do you know anything else about Edward Cullen? Besides what you told me before. The first place we'd looked at had the moldiest bathroom I'd ever smelled. There must be some place decent left. but my definition of acceptable living quarters had begun to shift after seeing what was still available in town. Let's go get lunch and look through the ads again. Alice. He looked in at me as he passed. its engine so loud I couldn't hear Alice's response. The second place was as small as my dorm room and didn't even have a kitchen. He keeps to himself. the front door was mere feet from one of the busiest streets in town. This one was more spacious. like she was beneath him. I guess I'm done with apartments for the day. I looked up and she was watching me with a smile on her face. "Earth to Bella. this won't do. Two more weeks. right?" I offered. "It's just for the summer. Apparently the best apartments had been snapped up much earlier in the spring by other students staying for the summer. "It must get quieter at night." A truck drove past just then. "You can't live right off the sidewalk like this. so close that if not for the glass between us I could have reached out and touched him. Did she ever mention that to you?" . Living here would be like living in a store front." We continued eating in companionable silence for a while before I gave into an impulse that had been digging at me all morning." "That's okay. I paid attention for as long as I could but found my mind eventually wandering. rattling off descriptions. her eyes on the street outside the window." "Sorry. and at least it was clean. I mean. right? We'll find you something. I'm sure I'd survive." "No. I think he's a writer. "We'll keep looking. A man walked by on the sidewalk. "Alice. It isn't safe. All that seemed to be left were the seediest. Alice shook her head. When I realized she was no longer speaking. so no one knows very much about him." I agreed with her that this place wasn't ideal." Alice was in the living room of the third apartment we'd looked at that morning. Not at all." "I asked your aunt why she was leaving and she said that in the last year or so he started treating her like a servant.CHAPTER 3 "No. We still have time. I really don't. doesn't socialize. Alice.
decided my jeans and t-shirt were fine. and we were scheduled for half-hour presentations beginning next week. just what I need. Looking through the case at the various cuts. I'm only going to be seeing him once a day at dinner."No. Cullen? I never would have mentioned the job to you if my aunt had given me any indication that he was difficult. Was she okay?" "Yeah. she never talked about her job much. "Besides. "Can I get you anything else?" He asked as he affixed the price sticker and handed me the wrapped bundle. There were only 12 students in this seminar." "Whoa. I shrugged off my concerns with a laugh. Let's just concentrate on getting through finals and not worry about things that may or may not happen. I decided to err on the side of caution and asked the man behind the counter to wrap up a flank steak for me. but like I said. I realized I didn't know how much to spend. The tenderloins were $15 a pound. how awful could he get?" "Awful enough for my aunt to quit. Before I knew it. though. Nothing exciting or gourmet. I didn't have a recipe in mind." she added as we left the restaurant started our walk back to campus. The second time he had to raise his voice and it came out sounding more like a command than a request and she yelled at him. we'll be free of school and can start having some fun. ran a quick brush through my hair and put it up in a pony-tail. I'd forgotten all about it until just now when you asked about her job." The waiter came to clear our plates and give us the check. Two weeks from now. Monday morning one of my professors decided to change the final paper requirements to include an oral presentation. More work. but easy enough for my first day. I dropped off my books in my room. "Just like we might not find the perfect apartment. so we spent most of the day in the library. 'Don't you ever speak to me like that!' And she left the table in tears. but figured I couldn't go wrong with steak. . "Are you worried about working for Mr." "No. and I guess calmed her down. I'm not worried. "But you're right. no job is ever perfect either. I thought." Alice said under her breath. Cullen's." She looked at me carefully. He was perfectly nice during the interview. when she and Uncle Ernest came over for dinner about six months ago. We were all at the table and I guess the conversation must have been too loud because she didn't hear the first time Uncle Carlisle asked her to pass him something. Southbay's was the nicest grocery store in town and luckily only a few blocks from campus. While we were divvying up the bill and sorting out cash from our wallets. the flank steaks on sale for $8. just puzzled. and grabbed my purse. I knew the deli section well as this was often where I came to indulge myself in real food when I needed a break from the cafeteria. but today I grabbed a hand basket and set off for the meat section at the back. my mom went after her. Alice and I both had too much schoolwork to look at apartments on Sunday. Great. the class had ended and it was time for me to head out for my first day at Mr. We should plan a weekend trip. Where's the first place we should go?" The rest of the weekend flew by. apparently. "There was one time." She paused and I could see her mind working. fried potatoes and a salad.
Bella. I did love this kitchen. so I'm still learning how this goes. I pulled the task binder out of its drawer and reviewed my duties for the day." He quickly made the exchange and winked at me when he handed me the new package. You'd never know there was anyone here." "I was wondering about that but didn't know how much I should spend. Cullen's account. that's it. Whitlock always bought the best available fish and meat. Cullen didn't care what he ate as long as it was the best we had. "Well. not drinking. I guessed I'd decide later how to make the salad. At the back door I put the groceries down gently. I made my way to the kitchen and pulled the sliding door closed.' "Mrs. Monday was dusting day. It occurred to me that walking to work wasn't going to be pleasant if I ever had to bring a gallon of milk or bag of flour. I thought to myself as I headed up to the cashiers. Southbay's obviously had had this arrangement with Mr. it's nice to meet you. "I'm looking forward to seeing you here often. "Do you mind exchanging this for a nice tenderloin for me then?" "Not at all. clean rags. careful of the wine bottle. exhaling for the first time. as far as putting things on Mr. let's get to it. but I could whip together a vinaigrette if he didn't. Cullen's account. That ought to do it. I wondered if Mr. The door opened noiselessly and I found myself tiptoeing in." "Good to know."No. Well. The walk to Mr. Cullen's was uneventful although the bag of groceries had grown uncomfortably heavy by the time I arrived. I put the half-empty wine bottle in the pantry. The house was so quiet it was almost unnerving. cut them up and put them in a pan to simmer on the gas stove." "Well. and fished the key out of my purse. She told me once that Mr. Today's my first day." I headed over to the produce section and added a bag of small red potatoes. and whatever else I needed in the utility closet in the basement. this time not choosing anything too expensive since it was for marinating. and fished out a casserole dish in which to marinate the steak. some mushrooms and a head of lettuce to my basket. Checking out was a breeze. quicker than actually paying. I should marinate the steaks in something… red wine? I grabbed a bottle. Cullen would have salad dressing. along with a variety of flavored oils and vinegars. I could get a backpack or something I supposed. I would find a feather duster. Cullen is that you should get the tenderloin instead of the flank." "Oh! You must be the new housekeeper! I'm Mike. I washed the potatoes. which I couldn't help but caress. I . a spray bottle of mild cleanser." I said to myself quietly. handing him back the flank steak. but I'm supposed to put this on Mr. The lettuce and mushrooms went into the fridge. where I found an assortment of unopened salad dressings. The meal underway for the time being. that's handled up front once you have everything that you need. and I don't know if I do that through you or up at the checkout stand. "I'm Bella. What I can help you with specifically now that I know this steak is for Mr. glass cleaner. Oh. which I happily noticed was well-stocked with milk and other heavy items. Cullen for a long time. I took in the beautiful kitchen for a moment and again felt a little pulse of excitement at having this gorgeous room at my disposal." I said." he stretched his arm over the top of the case and took mine in an energetic shake.
I couldn't hear a thing from inside. coming back up with a slightly pursed look. I just came in because there's a book I need.was expected to dust every surface in every room except the office. This room was giving the kitchen some serious competition for my favorite space in the house. Cullen!" I whipped around to the open door behind me. The walls were lined with bookcases that reached up to the ceiling. but I apologized anyway. Did he not like my appearance? What difference could it possibly make to him what I wore to work. I couldn't help the audible gasp that escaped my lips as I surveyed the sight before me. then reentered the kitchen to drain the potatoes. "Thank you." He ran his eyes quickly over my hair and down my body. I swear I was being as quiet as possible!" He waved aside my apology and stepped into the room. Clear enough. feel free to borrow anything that catches your fancy. I ran my cloth over all the frames on the walls and even did the photographs on the dresser." By this time he was close enough in front of me that I had to lift my head to maintain eye contact with him. He didn't look or sound angry. don't worry. Maybe I'll take you up on that this summer once classes are over. I love to read. Armed with my equipment. "Do you like to read?" he asked as he turned back to me and drew closer. when I was to be as invisible as possible? But his expression smoothed and the next question he asked me was innocuous. searched the titles for a moment and then pulled down a volume. Mr. Whitlock hadn't shown me this room but I assumed I was to clean it as well so I gently eased the doors open and stepped inside. Nothing was very dusty but I made sure to get every surface just in case. as well as clean all TV and computer screens. I thought. Cullen's bedroom but here the curtains were open. so I headed up to the third floor. being careful to tiptoe as I crossed the landing outside the office. I tiptoed back to the second floor. I decided it made more sense to work from top to bottom. Cullen's room was the biggest challenge. Once on the top floor I started in on the guest rooms. "I'm so sorry. Mrs. "I didn't hear you. there was only two other rooms on this floor. and made my way downstairs. I moved quietly toward the piano and took a moment to absorb some of the atmosphere." "Please do. He was leaning against the door frame with his arms crossed. "Am I paying you to stare at my piano. The room was dominated by a shiny black grand piano in its center. The bright light seemed to make his eyes even bluer. flooding the room with afternoon sun. started the load. There was even one of those rolling staircases off to the side to access the highest books. carefully cleaning his mirror around all the photos wedged into the sides. Apart from Mr. One wall had the same enormous windows as the office and Mr. "How is the work going so far?" . "Yes. Cullen's office. His hamper only had a few things in it but I gathered them with me and made my way down to the laundry room. This was some kind of library-slash-music room straight out of my dreams." He walked over to a shelf by the windows. Miss Swan?" "Mr. one of which turned out to be a powder room and the other of which had double doors." "In that case.
It actually was starting to feel a little spooky. Whitlock wasn't kidding – he really was a stickler about the time. The potatoes sautéed while I browned the meat." He merely nodded and turned to leave. I said. the dining room was a breeze. This looks delicious. The living room took no time at all." I moved to the liquor cabinet and fixed his drink. it never has been. Cullen's laundry from the washer to the dryer and putting my dirty cleaning rags in the washer to do tomorrow. and brought it back to him. and struggling not to leave any noticeable streaks on the glossy surface of the body itself. Miss Swan. I opened the door to the dining room just as Mr. "You can do this. Great. Do you really want me to dust all these books?" My question prompted a chuckle out of him as he began to move back toward the door. I still felt a little dirty. of course not. Glancing at my watch." "Yes. then added over his shoulder." After he left. Dusting is not my favorite job. I drank a glass of water from the tap and felt much better. I silently closed the doors behind him and turned back to the room. Whitlock was very thorough although she didn't show me this room. Cullen's house had hardly been dusty to begin with. "and don't forget the piano. "No. Bella. I heated a pan for the tenderloin and one for the potatoes. I'll call you if I need anything. "I hope medium rare is okay. Would you mind making me a martini to go with it?" "Of course. "Yes. adding olive oil to both. so after transferring Mr. my eyes sweeping across the hundreds. Although Mr." I whispered to myself as I grabbed the feather duster and scooted the staircase to the beginning of one wall. It was with relief that I put all the dusting equipment back in the utility closet and closed the door. Two hours later the books were finally done and I was putting the final touches on the piano. and made the salad. and I was glad to be finished with the library and back on the ground floor." . Miss Swan. I'd never have guessed that another human being was maybe thirty feet away from me. remembering the three olives. It occurred to me that not knowing where to wash up meant I didn't know if I could use any of the bathrooms here either. and used the kitchen sink to rinse my face and hands. put it in the oven to finish. It only took thirty minutes to pull it all together and I was ready to serve at six. pulled the door closed. During this time the house was so silent. Cullen entered from the other end. Please make yourself a plate and eat in the kitchen. Mrs. "Is there anything else you need?" "No. I saw I had at least 3 hours before I needed to be in the kitchen to start dinner. I do. Is that a problem?" He stopped in the door frame again. using the feather duster on the keys so as to not accidentally press any into song. By now it was time to make dinner. and before I knew it I was done. Placing it in front of him. Mrs. I didn't feel at liberty to wash my face in any of the bathrooms. I retreated back to the kitchen. maybe thousands of volumes around me. that's perfect."Fine. He sat at the head of the table where I'd set a place for him and I walked in with his plate.
set up the coffee and I was done for the day. Cullen was eating so that I wouldn't run into him upstairs while putting it away. but I prefer Miss Swan. And I'd like you to call me Mr." ." "I'm sorry – I'll make you one right now." "You're welcome. I want another martini. Mr. Just don't let it happen again. Why didn't you come the first time?" His tone was level. "She did. I used a bit of red wine to marinate the steak and made gravy with the leftover marinade." "You were wrong. Downing the last bite of salad I wondered if it was okay to handle the laundry quickly now while Mr. you can call me Bella. "Miss Swan!" I practically ran back into the dining room. but I thought I'd have time to run downstairs and finish folding your laundry before you needed anything. "It's a pretty name and it suits you. Cullen. All I had left to do was fold and put away his clean laundry. The vinaigrette had come out pretty well. but what exactly for? Why couldn't I just run downstairs and take care of the laundry while he ate? I was halfway down the stairs when I heard him call loudly for me. trying it out." "Bella. Mrs. what is it?" "Miss Swan." "You know. Mr. his expression blank. Whitlock explain that you are to wait in the kitchen while I eat? I had to call you twice. I'd worked up an appetite and was done in a few minutes. if I did say so myself. but he was rocking his empty martini glass back and forth in agitation. sir. "Thank you. Miss Swan. Didn't Mrs." At this." "Yes. I'm sorry about leaving the kitchen. "Yes. Whitlock had told me to wait in the kitchen. Then he returned to his plate." "That's alright. taking a bite of steak and mushroom gravy." He said it like a statement." When I returned to the table I noticed that he was about half way through his meal. one side of his mouth turned up in a half-smile. clean up the kitchen. As I placed his new drink down he looked up at me.I withdrew to the kitchen and helped myself to some salad. reading my face. which no doubt showed how anxious I was about upsetting him on my first day here. "Do I taste wine in the gravy?" "Yes sir. Cullen. Cullen or Sir.
" "Yes."Delicious. sir. Miss Swan. "May I return to the kitchen. Whitlock was a perfectly capable cook. Mrs." "Thank you." "And Miss Swan. What was wrong with me? Professors had praised my intelligence before but I hadn't reacted like this. have just served me the best meal I've eaten in quite some time. but you." he said as I was almost at the door. sir?" "Yes." His praise had such an odd effect on me. you can get to them tomorrow. "I'm already looking forward to tomorrow night's dinner. Good night. Mr. Don't worry about the clothes in the dryer. Cullen. A surge of happiness that I'd pleased him welled up inside me." . you may. I had to bite my lip to keep from smiling. sir." "Good night. And to my cooking? This was ridiculous and I shook my head a bit to clear it.
If I suspected that my t-shirts didn't meet with Mr. took a deep breath and smoothed my hands down my apron to quiet their shaking. not trusting myself to make pie crust neatly on the first attempt. I turned my attention to the chicken. I had to see what you were making. I was even more certain that my t-shirt covered in flour would horrify him. too." I whispered to myself as I started chopping up the rhubarb. Cullen yet today and I found my eagerness to do so growing. I thought I'd sauté it. so I wasn't too tired when I finally finished around 3:00. "May I carve the chicken for you?" I handed him over the knife and fork and he took them from me carefully. treating me more like a little sister than a daughter. By the time I was a teenager. I rubbed it with olive oil and surrounded it with chopped potatoes and shallots. giving off more of a low hum than the usual roar. I hadn't seen Mr. stuffing it with whole garlic cloves. this pie's for you. Everything else was ready to go. I missed him. I felt myself blushing. I did the cooking and cleaning. "Sorry to have startled you. which I now realized I'd forgotten to pull shut.CHAPTER 4 Tuesday I vacuumed the rugs in the upstairs bedrooms. when I was two. Cullen's approval. By 5:45 I had a pretty good handle on things. I had a whole chicken to roast for tonight's dinner but it would only take about an hour. also on special at Southbay's. Tonight's vegetable was asparagus. Mr." He moved and stood next to me. It was lightweight. surveying the chicken. and he pretty much left me alone to my own devices. "I didn't hear you come in!" He'd come in through the door that had the pull-out panel. Thinking of him made me feel a little sad. His eyes widened and I watched him swallow. Dad. the living room and the dining room. "Is everything all right. He'd raised me himself after my mother left him. The vacuum was by far the quietest I've ever used. I hadn't seen him since last August. A peculiar nervousness started to overtake me and I closed my eyes. the longest we'd ever been apart from one another. "Okay. He ordered it every time he saw it on a menu. Cullen's place was set and I was about to carve the chicken. and finally the pie. vegetables. I'd also found an apron hanging in the pantry and decided to wear it. we'd worked out an arrangement that suited us both. the library. us. From this angle I could see a line of scruff along his jaw and I wondered whether it felt soft or raspy. Luckily I'd found a cookbook in the kitchen with a recipe so it wasn't long before a reasonable-looking pie was baking in the oven. This is probably the first time in years I've come down to dinner early. so that gave me two extra hours to work on what I hoped would turn out to be an edible rhubarb pie. I hadn't planned on trying a pie for only my second meal but Southbay's had been running a special on fresh rhubarb and I remembered that it was my dad's favorite. What was the matter with me? . To my utmost shame. fresh rosemary and lemon slices. Miss Swan?" "Ah!" I cried out and must have jumped a foot. the Adam's apple in his throat bobbing once. I also found myself hoping that he'd like this dinner as much as last night's. his fingers touching the backs of my hands. Something just smelled so good.
she didn't. If I tell you to wait in the kitchen. not tonight. Whitlock show you where the wine cellar is?" "No. actually. First." "Probably because her meals didn't inspire me to use it. which I'd found in the sideboard. I'd have another helping if it weren't for that delectable looking pie I assume is for dessert. he told me to go eat in the kitchen and stay there this time. "Another exquisite meal. Second. he said." "Two reasons. I refilled his glass without answering him. Cullen was laying several thin slices of breast meat on his plate." He gestured to the bottle which was easily within his reach. they should be on the right when you go in." "No. "Please pour me another glass of wine. placed his dinner before him and asked if he'd like me to make him a martini." he seemed to be debating his answer while spreading his napkin in his lap. Swallowing. There's an opener in the drawer next to the stove. Sue me. I like to be obeyed. I am. sir. Mr.Luckily I needed to wash my hands which gave me enough time at the sink to compose myself. When he finally had his wine glass set above his plate." . Miss Swan. He watched me open the bottle and pour him a glass." "Okay. Tonight I'd like a glass of wine. He didn't care to elaborate. I expect you to do so. When I'd finished. Did Mrs." I drew the word out a bit." "Thank you. trying to express that I still didn't quite get it. "No. This was definitely odd." I found the pinot noirs right where he said they'd be and was back in less than five minutes. but this is a feast worthy of a nice pinot noir. I followed. I don't think so. Go down to the cellar – it's adjacent to the laundry room – and pick any pinot noir you find." "Yes. sir?" I said. "Hmm. and adding a healthy side of asparagus and roasted vegetables. "Yes. and then you can open the bottle for me here at the table. entering the dining room. I was thankful my hands had stopped shaking. Why couldn't he pour his own wine? "Are you wondering why I don't pour it myself?" "Yes. I smiled back at him and assured him I would. thank you. and instead took another bite of chicken. however. That's why I include serving dinner in my housekeeper's duties. He then handed me the plate and preceded me out of the room. I like to be waited on. bring that in too. I was half way through a light meal of asparagus and roasted shallots when he called for me.
maybe a decade. I had a hard time imagining him deliberately causing someone discomfort or even worse humiliating them."Yes. that he liked to be waited on and obeyed. Thank you again. I might have a bit more. Spoiling me rotten. I placed it in front of him and apologized for not thinking to get any ice cream or whipped cream to go with it. how his treatment of her had eventually seemed abusive enough for her to quit. Will you be sure to wrap up the rest of the pie and put it in the fridge? I may have to sample it again tomorrow. we could probably work something out around my classes. Not yet. that is all for tonight. My mother used to make it. sir. "Is this rhubarb?" "Yes. If you keep this up. "Miss Swan. Well. I thought. but stopped when I caught no return expression of humor on his face. Go back to the kitchen and I'll let you know when I'm finished. sir." . I'll finish up and go. Was he serious? If this job remained part-time. I didn't see that in him at all. "If that's all for tonight. I just may not let you go come September. I wondered what had happened with Mrs. anyway." "It's my father's favorite." I answered but he didn't seem to hear me as he took his first bite. Would you like me to bring you a piece now?" "Not quite. I was putting my plate in the dishwasher when he called for me. While I was still musing on his comment." he said. you're spoiling me. I'd only been here two days and although some of his requests were odd. just for his own pleasure. Miss Swan." A couple of minutes later I was back with a slice of Bella's-first-time-ever-rhubarb-pie on a smaller plate with a fresh fork." "My god." I returned to my dinner and thought about what he'd admitted to me. I haven't had rhubarb pie in years. "I'll be right back. "I'm dying to try the pie. he'd finished his pie. I won't try to describe what that moan did to me. he'd been unfailingly polite and his appreciation of my cooking was certainly sincere and I had to admit much-welcomed. handing me his empty dinner plate. Whitlock. that's a long time from now. let's just say I almost drew blood biting my cheek." I started to laugh. He took three more bites before finally pausing to look up at me." "Yes. He closed his eyes and moaned. Let's see how the summer goes first. Should I take your wine glass as well?" "Not yet.
I took my bag of groceries to the kitchen and put it on the counter. being as quiet as possible until I confirmed that Mr. dust every surface. They were just so huge. The windows were more of an entire wall of glass. He was getting a pork tenderloin tonight. Cullen's house that afternoon. The room was empty. and from this height I could see a black car coming up the road that I walked every day. Then his car left my view and I heard a low rumble. wear the apron from now on at dinner. Cullen looked up at me from the driver's seat. probably the garage door. there was Rothko's signature in the bottom right hand corner. but the lack of feedback was wearing away at my self-confidence. and wash the windows." Wednesday was one of those days where everything felt off. still biting my inner cheek to quell the irrational pleasure his praise always seemed to bring me. sir. remembering to include the apron. I was to vacuum the rug and the curtains. "Miss Swan. Cullen's laundry. but I didn't let it worry me. I was greeted with the first positive affirmation I'd had all day … there sat my pie. I brought in the vacuum and pulled the drapes open to let in more light. At least this time he wouldn't be able to sneak up behind me. I may not be able to pull together a coherent anthropology paper. I slowly pushed open the office door. none of my classes went well. I automatically tiptoed in the back door and then remembered that it was Wednesday and Mr. I started the load. Someone appreciates me. I just felt like no matter what I said or did. I like it on you. Had I somehow gone from smart to stupid just by changing time zones? Noble University had one of the world's most respected anthropology programs and I was determined to carve a niche in it for myself. I went upstairs to gather Mr. I . sweep and mop the wood floor around the rug. so I decided to put it in the fridge until about an hour before I was ready to roast it."Yes. Then I entered the utility closet to gather the things I needed to clean the office. I was barely half way done before I was seriously questioning the necessity of having windows at all. There was no need to marinate the tenderloin as I was making a separate sauce. I'd found a small stepladder in the basement when I'd gone down to transfer Mr. thanks to Mike helpfully upgrading me from the chops I had originally selected. He smiled and I gave him a small wave with my rag. Two hours later everything was finished except the windows. The view from this room looked out the front of the house. Cullen's clothes to the dryer. Arriving at Mr. was all I could think as I clung to the fridge door. There was only about a fourth of it left. Turning around. which were taking much longer than I'd anticipated. clean his computer screen and keyboard. when movement outside caught my eye. I stopped in the kitchen on my way back upstairs to double check the binder's instructions. but I could damn well wash a window. God help me. Cullen really wasn't here. I was used to a lot of praise from my professors in the US but the ones here barely even acknowledged my existence. I thought. Cullen was out. No problem. so reaching the top of the windows wasn't a problem. or what remained of my pie. None of my papers were coming together. My mood having done a 180. but the sight of that pie brought tears to my eyes." I answered. The car turned into the driveway and Mr. It was even more powerful up close. Bringing it back downstairs. Opening the refrigerator. He was on the way out of the dining room and I was almost into the kitchen with his dirty dishes when he stopped and turned toward me. I stared at it for a good five minutes before finally shrugging off the hold it had on me. the painting I'd noticed during my interview caught my eye. everything was up in the air about my grades this term. and got to work. and yes.
I returned to the windows. just finishing the windows." He swept his eyes over my usual jeans and universitylogo t-shirt. The awkwardness of the situation grew as I realized I was essentially kneeling at his feet. would you be opposed to wearing a uniform while you're here?" "A uniform. and soon heard his footsteps on the stairs. everything looks immaculate. "This shade of blue suits you perfectly. Cullen reached behind me for one of the curtains." After a pause." "Good afternoon. and began wiping. I turned back to my work. expecting him to say something further. I wasn't thinking along the lines of a French maid's outfit… but now you've given me an interesting visual. I'd rather you looked more like a housekeeper and less like a college student." At 6 o'clock I carried his plate into the dining room and placed it before him. working faster. "Um." I rose and Mr. His eyes took in my apron but he made no comment. sir. I'm almost done in here." "That's no problem. Only the lowest part of the windows were left. "No. no. "Stand up for a moment. he finally spoke. sir. Cullen was still in the room but as my back was turned to him I hadn't realized he'd moved next to me until his shoes appeared in my peripheral vision.thought. I'll see you at dinner then. Miss Swan. Something you could change into when you get here." This brought a quick laugh from him." "Thank you. "You do very good work. He pulled it around my body and held it up near my face." He glanced around the room." "Good. but then I worried that I should have finished in here before he arrived back home. sir. I stopped wiping and looked up at him. sir?" "Yes. As long as it's not uncomfortable or immodest. Miss Swan. After what seemed like at least a full minute. I wonder. take your time. Mr. "I have some things to unpack from the car and won't need this room for at least half an hour. Miss Swan." He was still smiling as he dropped the curtain and turned away. Does that give you enough time to finish?" "Yes. . but he merely stood there looking down at me. I guess I don't mind. "Good afternoon. so I knelt down on the floor. sprayed window cleaner on the first one.
" "Yes?" "There's still most of last night's chicken left. I have a question about leftovers. "I want to please you. sir. then withdrew to the kitchen. Whitlock give you the impression that I'm difficult to cook for?" "Oh no. or a favorite type of cuisine?" He put his knife and fork down at looked up at me with an odd expression on his face. There is some pie leftover. sir?" He looked down at his pork tenderloin." . his direct gaze seemed to draw the truth out of me without hesitation. again. "No. in fact." "Then. After only three days of making his dinners. I sat at the island waiting for him to call me. sir. Do you mind if I use it to make a soup or stir-fry or something?" "Of course not. why do you ask?" Why had I asked? It had been an impulsive question. I think I'll have to forgo another piece today. I don't like to waste food. and sautéed greens. She said you ate everything she made and never complained once. I encourage you to do so." "That reminds me." "Can I ask you another question?" "Of course." "As tempting as that sounds. I didn't. "Did you have time to make another dessert this afternoon?" He asked as I refilled his wineglass. It wasn't long before he did. but surely I had some reason for wanting to know. rice pilaf. not at all."Would you like me to make you a martini." I brought out the bottle and poured him a glass. As always. The opposite. in fact. however. Scooping some rice into a bowl. "Why do you ask? Did Mrs." "Do you have any favorite dishes. I had pie for breakfast and again for lunch. "No. I'll finish the pinot noir from last night. I could already feel myself settling into a routine.
His gaze remained locked with mine. He was looking at me so intently. "Miss Swan. as I struggled to keep my expression as blank as possible. but if I do. "I can't think of any favorites off the top of my head. you do please me." I turned to go back to the kitchen when he added one last comment. You please me greatly. searching my face for something." . I'll let you know. sir." "Yes. I didn't know if he found what he was looking for.
We left with two numbers. I didn't recognize any of the names. I'd also managed to put together an outline for my oral presentation and was about as ready as I was going to get for that. Alice and I had looked at two more apartments Saturday morning and they were just getting worse. Apart from the nearly overwhelming time crunch. Alice told me after class on Monday that she'd even checked to see if I could move into her family's on-campus house they were given by the university as part of her mother's professorship. the other issue weighing on my mind was my ongoing need to find a place to live for the summer. Bella?" "I don't know yet. "What's for dinner tonight." I wondered how Mr. And whisper. "But we're not out of options. It was crunch time at school and I only had one week left to get my final papers completed. I felt like I had a handle on things. pointing to a pile of white fish. I also bought a lemon. anyway. Cullen has handed me before I left on Friday was useless if I couldn't find a place to rent. Waiting for me on the kitchen island when I arrived at the house was a parcel with a note that read. Maybe not as comfortable as jeans but then. The $500 Mr. "Miss Swan. Bella. I couldn't find anything immediately objectionable about it. my mind on the paper I really wanted to finish tonight. yet. Holding one up in front of me. but time-consuming. I might even feel confident. reading the price card. Now the question was. The neckline was modest. but let's take down his number and you can call him later." he said. with a zipper up the front and two side ties that I guessed I was supposed to secure behind my waist. Mike greeted me with a big smile when I arrived at the meat counter about an hour later. and the hem would just cover my knees. My dad practically lived on fish in the summer." "This girl's nice. Maybe I could make some calls from Mr. where the heck was I supposed to change? I chose the powder room off the living room as it was the closest to the kitchen and as far as I could tell. there was simply nothing decent still available in town. he's a sleaze." There were several such ads. "Not this guy. Locking the door behind me. The dress went on easily. and a bag of pre-washed baby spinach because if dinners this week had a theme. Cullen's kitchen if I had time. cream. really. What looks good?" "How about some seafood? We just got some fresh halibut in this morning and it looks fantastic. just busywork. Once .CHAPTER 5 The next few days were a blur. but Alice knew a couple of them. I had turned a corner in the one giving me the most difficulty. if I could just wring a few extra hours out of each day. but had been told the housing was for immediate family only. the sleeves elbow-length. Luckily. some pasta. and I could cook it in my sleep. nothing really was except maybe sweatpants. I slipped out of my jeans and t-shirt." I let Alice shuttle me through the decision-making. which I stuck in my purse." "Hmm. I don't know who this guy is." I reached in and pulled out two identical navy blue dresses. this one sounds pretty good – right location. please wear one of these from now on when you're here. and it was now merely a matter of compiling all the citations. for $20 a pound it had better be fantastic. a couple of leeks. Let's go check out the bulletin board in the Center and see if anyone's looking for a roommate. it was going to be "easy. Yeah. All in all. and of course the fact that it was time to head to Southbay's and then on to work. never used. Cullen felt about hot dogs. but I found myself nodding and asked for a pound. I thought. but her place is in the south end.
either. The halibut went into the oven at 5:30. The sauce is delicious. as if I was trying not to cry. I was exhausted. nothing like that. as I re-tied my pony tail a little higher and tighter. as Mr. Mrs. I wasn't. I'm sure I'll get faster the more I do it." he gestured to his fish.everything was zipped and tied. I hope. Why was this man single? "Good evening. Ms. Monday was proving to be the day that took the longest to complete my tasks. I realized the dress fit well and was perfectly comfortable. My hair wasn't doing anything for me. Cullen wished. though. I could call tonight. He'd already eaten almost half of his fish and looked up at me as I stood beside him. You can make this for me any time. "You asked me last week if I had any favorite dishes. Leeks?" "Yes. just ice water tonight I think. I took a moment to look at myself in the small mirror above the vanity and had to admit the color did look good on me." The horror." "Not at all. Peering closer at my face. I was struck again by his amazing good looks. Cullen was already sitting. and I had enough energy left as I entered the kitchen to start dinner. This. "Oh no. I thought. sir." "It's not too much for you. Cullen?" "Hmm. though. I thought. Well. Swan." He turned his attention to his dinner. I set a pot of water on the stove to boil for the penne. One look at the clock told me I didn't have time to call any of the roommate seekers. so I would wear it if that was what Mr. Cullen would say. I thought." I filled a glass with ice and water from the dispensers on the fridge door and returned to place it in front of him. I noticed the tell-tale dark circles I always got when I was tired. Whitlock once dropped an entire pot roast on the floor and I had to wait until 6:30 while she made me an omelet instead. sir. sir. I guess." Not having seen him since Friday. I thought as I slipped the apron over my dress and got to work. So sue me. "Good evening. Sorry I'm a few minutes late. tossed the spinach into a salad bowl and began making the lemon/leek/cream sauce that my dad loved with salmon. I still looked exhausted. Better? Not by much. Cullen. especially given the size of the library. At 6:05 I entered the dining room where Mr. The fish took longer than I expected. Thank you. Miss Swan. I was beginning to worry that you had some kind of kitchen disaster. Mr. "What would you like to drink tonight. I just have to dust faster. "is now one of them." "I'm sure you will." His praise had its usual immediate effect and my voice came out with a bit of a squeak. was I? ." "Yes. It wasn't physically tiring. Mr. There was no quick way to get through dusting the entire house.
again getting voicemail but this time it was one of those generic computer-generated inboxes. that would actually help quite a bit. "Yes. and if someone could call me back. I am capable of starting the dishwasher. setting my alarm for 5. Miss Swan. it's just finals week and I have a lot of stress right now." "Thank you. this is Thomas. Mr. then by all means.He caught the off tone of my voice and asked me if everything was all right. Mr. sir. It was a warm day and I found myself actually glad to be in a dress. "Hi. Cullen's clothes. "I'll make an exception for you this week. Leave your name and number and I'll get back to you." "Goodnight Miss Swan." "Really?" "Yes. Feel free to bring your things and study here if you have any free time. Cullen. After returning the vacuum to the closet and switching the clothes to the dryer. Cullen. where did that come from? Oh right. I'd like to keep coming in. "Well. feel free to go. Back in my room Anna was asleep and Megan was still out when I turned off my light at 11:30. I hung up and dialed the second number. he was looking at me with that "honesty only" gaze against which I was utterly powerless. Once I was through the doors." He smiled and his face was beautiful. So it's all right if I go now?" "If it helps you get through the week. I'd like to help in some way." I finished one paper that night around nine. you can go after you've served dinner. so I left a message saying I was calling about the roommate ad. Cullen really didn't mind me doing homework here. One down." Wow. I can clean up the kitchen myself. If you're calling about the roommate advertisement." "And just for this week. Before I left the library I dug into my purse for the phone numbers Alice and I had collected earlier and pre-dialed one of the numbers into my phone. I hit send and waited through several rings until voicemail picked up. noting wryly that the load seemed to be getting bigger on a daily basis. two to go. I wasn't going to . I'd appreciate it. I hauled my laptop and book bag off the floor by the backdoor and set them on the kitchen island." "Are you going to be able to work this week? I can give you time off if you need it. If Mr. I really appreciate it. more like wearing shorts. Working here is the only peaceful. Goodnight then. Really. I just prefer not to." Great. It was much cooler to work with my legs bare." "That's very kind of you." "Thank you so much. stressfree thing in my life right now." "Okay. but no. sorry but I already found someone. I'd put yesterday's dress in the wash with my apron and Mr. The next afternoon I finished the vacuuming at three.
Mr. fixed myself a glass of ice water. "I hope that's okay." "So. much better." Now you tell me. Mr. Miss Swan. sir. dinner! What time was it? In a panic. Cullen. I just know you like to have your drink before you start eating. I might be able to finish another paper by the end of the day. I could tell. I'm glad to hear it. Two hours later I had made enormous headway on the paper. I'd gotten quite a lot done early this morning before class and if I was lucky. I rolled my head around in a couple of circles to ease the kinks in my neck and breathed a huge sigh of relief. remembering at the very last minute to pass quietly on the second floor landing. sausages. and got to work." . Cullen! Oh no. put everything in its place." "Ah. and then hurried back downstairs." He stated the obvious as I put his dinner down. I was even able to get some studying done this afternoon. "Good evening. Thank god. Chalk one up to Mr. I was going to finish tonight." "Of course. and I'd already boiled the potatoes so I just had to fry the sausages and assemble the salad. I found a convenient socket for my laptop's power cord at the base of the island. then jogged downstairs to fold the laundry and slip on my apron.argue since at this point every hour counted." said my gorgeous employer as I entered the dining room at six. That was close. sir. Dinner tonight was only sausages and potato salad. I took Mr. I spun around to the kitchen clock." "Good. "Good evening. I thought. Did you make the potato salad yourself?" "Yes. I thought. I shut down my laptop and packed away my notes and books. Wow. what can I get you to drink?" "Eager to leave?" He was smirking a little and dare I say teasing me? "No. not really. it does really help to work in total peace and quiet with no distractions. Cullen's clothes up to his room. store-bought potato salad would have been fine." "Well. Miss Swan. what I drink tonight depends entirely upon you. Plenty of time. "It wasn't any trouble. it was only 5:20. although I'm sure yours will taste much." "You really don't have to go to any effort this week. Cullen.
Now off to the kitchen with you. It was okay. A bag of groceries is one thing. I put my dishes in the dishwasher. "Very good. I was just wiping down the counter tops when Mr. The garage is through here. "Ready to go?" "Yep. I can do it!" I couldn't help but laugh. "Do you play the piano?" I asked impulsively. his eyes were pretty when he smiled. every meal can't be a home run. I had nearly died on the walk here. which he proceeded to load into the dishwasher himself. I told myself. Or maybe mandatory. but I should have realized you'd need your computer and books if you were going to study here. I'd like to drive you home after dinner. you may bring me a beer. Such long fingers should be against the law. and I gave him a little golf clap that said "Amazing!" back to him.a ride home would be awesome. I'll take a glass of ice water. Why?" . "Not nearly as much as I used to." "Follow me. It flatters you immensely. I think I'll keep this on. nothing great." I returned to the kitchen and grabbed a glass from the cabinet." I ate a cup or so of the potato salad. This was a no-brainer . "You can grab a bite to eat and change back into your school clothes while you're waiting for me." "Actually." He started cutting into the sausage. set up the coffee. If you prefer to walk. As we headed down the road toward town." He opened the passenger door for me and waited until I was buckled in before putting the car in reverse and backing out of the garage. He stood back up and swept his arms out in a gesture that said." "Fine. sir. I swear my book bag must weight 50 pounds at least. I filled the glass with ice and water and smiled as I put it down next to Mr."How so?" "I happened to see you arriving this afternoon and you were carrying far too much. If you accept. Yes. I tried to quit stealing glances at his hand as it rested on the gearshift. It's very comfortable." "Yes. I'm glad you like it. and somehow managed to fit my jeans and shirt into my already overcrowded bag. I'll let you know when I'm finished. took off my apron and hung it in the pantry. Maybe I should have changed back into my jeans just to keep a leash on this inner hussy I seemed to be incubating. Cullen came in through the dining room door carrying his own dishes. God. "See. Give me about 20 minutes or so and I'll be ready to go. mandatory was much better. Ah well. It also didn't escape my notice that my naked knee was mere inches from said long fingers. Cullen's plate. He smiled back up at me.
" He got out of the car and came around to my side. I gave him directions to my dorm as we entered the campus and we pulled up a couple of minutes later. . "I'll see you tomorrow." "Goodnight. I can't pick you up then. Let me get your door. His hand felt firm and warm as it closed around mine "Goodnight. Miss Swan. I thought I heard him chuckle as he shifted the car into a higher gear. With my bag over my shoulder and my laptop in the other hand. And they say chivalry is dead. Cullen. Cullen was waiting on the sidewalk until he was sure I'd made it inside the building." he nodded. opening my door and extending his hand to help me out. Mr." "Tell you what. Thanks for the ride home." "Good. "I usually leave around 12:30." I answered too quickly and turned to look out the window." I walked up the path to the dorm. Cullen asked me what time I'd be leaving for his place tomorrow. Mr. I'll pick you up here at 11:45. Could you come out earlier?" "I suppose I could. I let him help pull me up. but that doesn't give me much time for stopping by Southbay's." "Hmm."No reason. taking one last look over my shoulder as I pushed open the front door. As I unbuckled and reached down for my bags. Leave the shopping to me tomorrow. My last class ends at 11:30." "Okay. Mr.
I eased up out of my chair and stretched my arms as far over my head as I could. I'd done my best and my fate was out of my hands. Once we were on the road. so I was resigned to living in a miserable death-trap for the summer. The other roommate-seeker had never called me back and there were no new listings in the Center. Cullen. Time enough for a quick shower and a bite from the cafeteria. probably around four. checked to make sure I had all the notes and books I needed to work on my last paper. I thought. as I have an appointment shortly. I still couldn't get a read on the professor's reaction to it. What a simple. divine luxury. I had to get through my oral presentation of this paper. he asked me how things were going. as far as today goes." "One wouldn't know it. and like I said. it's over now. I looked at the clock – an hour until class. I'll bring home something for dinner. I realized I probably would never see her again and gave her a tight hug good-bye. I would just have to spend as much time as possible at work and out with Alice. Mr. I got another paper finished this morning and survived an oral presentation. headed downstairs to wait for Mr. as I headed back to my dorm. there just never seemed to be enough time. then I had the rest of the day and night to finish the big one." "Good. Now I just have the big one that I hope to finish tonight." . eight hours of sleep. Listen. and with one last wave to Anna. coming around. I couldn't wait to be done with this week and actually get a normal eight hours of sleep. I'll be back a little later than usual. at least I thought it did. I'm just dropping you off at the house now. My presentation was better than most of the others and only worse than a few. I get very few opportunities to practice my manners. They're impeccable. he put my book bag and laptop into the back seat and then opened my door for me. Class went well. Another paper down. He put the car in park. It wasn't long before I saw his car approaching and he pulled up to the curb in front of me. but that was par for the course. but as usual." He ushered me into my seat and closed the door behind me. and then I'm done. "Great. I liked Anna and wished too late that I'd gotten to know her better." "Indulge me.CHAPTER 6 "Yes!" I did a small fist-pump as I hit the save and print buttons on my computer. I started to reach for the door. Cullen. Anna was packing her suitcase when I arrived." "Thank you. which would give me a whole extra morning of apartmentsearching. Technically it wasn't due until Friday but I was hoping to pull it together tonight and finish it a day early. but he made a gesture that I should wait for him. Ah well. I hastily stuffed my folded uniform into my bag. "That's really not necessary. and got out.
" "Yes. Leaving the engine running. "I hung it up in the utility closet. the painting was an explosion of vibrant oranges. but restrained myself." He nodded and was gone. His desk was spotless. I left my clothes neatly folded on the bed and decided to get to work on the office before tackling my paper. My uniform came out of the bag first as I'd packed it on top. I appreciate that." "And Miss Swan. They won't be opaque with filth if you skip a week. What I liked best about the room. I started unpacking while he helped himself to a glass of water. Pick any room you like. then carried my things into the kitchen for me." "And where do you change?" "In the powder room near the living room."Okay. was the painting that hung above the headboard. For a writer. The walls were a soft green and as it faced the front of the house. it had that same bank of imposing windows. the bedspread and curtains a solid green velvet darker than the walls. "Where did you put your other one?" He asked." "From now on you can use one of the guest rooms to get changed and keep the spare in the closet. I'd liked this room the first time I saw it. Mr. Cullen was extraordinarily tidy. Cullen's room on the same side of the hallway. Like the Rothko downstairs. gesturing to the dress. ." "No problem. sir. While the rest of the room was done in soothing greens. this painting also pulled me in and I could have stared at it for hours." "Yes. even though I'll be gone most the afternoon. however. The bed and matching furniture were a deep brown wood. sir." "Thank you. please change right away. The guest room I chose was two doors down from Mr. I wondered if he put things away before I came and I was tempted to peek into a drawer or two. I laughed to myself as I changed into my uniform. he got out and opened my door. Maybe Mr." "And don't worry about cleaning the windows in my office today. Something told me snooping was a sure way to incur my boss's wrath. Cullen is trying to hypnotize me with his paintings." Shortly thereafter we pulled up to the house. Not having to do the windows meant I was done in practically no time at all. another original abstract that seemed to leap off the wall with energy.
Surely Mr. Some afternoons I would find dirty dishes in the sink and could tell that he occasionally made himself eggs for either breakfast or lunch. My face must have registered my state of total panic and dismay because he took one look at me and raised his hands to my face. You are one of the most resourceful. What he did next surprised me even more than touching my face. Thank you." I closed my eyes. Cullen returned with groceries. His hands moved up to my hair and I felt his fingers comb through where I'd pulled it out of its pony tail. Could I help myself to something in the fridge? I pulled open the double doors and did a quick assessment. There weren't any left-over’s." I couldn't help but smile as I recognized the words he'd used in my interview." We ate on the island.My chores done until Mr. "My dear Miss Swan. I merely nodded to indicate that I was okay and he let go of my hair. "Not going well?" How does he always do that? I didn't hear the car. he said. hoping a small break would help clear my mind. No luck. Smoothing his thumbs over my cheekbones. "I thought I'd spare you having to cook dinner tonight as well. And I don't think I could boil water right now if my life depended on it. I sliced a bit of cheddar off a large block and found some crackers in the pantry. I thought. The data just didn't fit with what I was trying to say. and thought he might need them for his breakfast tomorrow. I was beginning to second-guess my assumptions. Cullen wouldn't miss an egg or two. The toast I'd had hours ago had worn off. "Are you hungry?" He asked. turning toward the pizza box. I was setting up my computer and notes at the kitchen island when my stomach growled loudly. Finally I settled on an apple as there were plenty in the produce bin. My eyes were still closed when he leaned down and said quietly." "I'm starving. not having the wherewithal to answer him. as I sat my little plate next to my laptop and got to work. partly to enjoy the feeling of his fingers on my face and partly to ensure that no tears slipped out in reaction to his kind words. I finally pulled on my hair in frustration and got up to do the laundry. What was supposed to be a fairly easy day of putting on polishing touches was turning into a nightmare of misinterpreted statistics. I opened my eyes to look up at him and his returning expression was full of confidence. . but I only found three in the egg bin. Surely he wouldn't begrudge me any of this. the garage door. together. no matter how many times I rechecked the tabulations. "I know you can do it. obviously. I laid my head down on top of my arms and willed myself to find a way to fix this. or anything. argumentative and inquisitive people I know. I lifted my head and shook it. I knew that because I hadn't made anything large for dinner since last week's chicken and I'd already used that up. What was I going to do? I was basically back at square one with this project and it was due in two days. Working on my paper for the next several hours was frustrating. persuasive. You look exhausted. He put a pizza box on the counter and stepped closer to me. He asked me about my paper and I tried to explain what was going wrong. While I thought I'd found a cohesive base of data on which to build my thesis. and my body was ready for lunch.
" he ." "Why?" "Because I still don't have a place to stay and I need an extra day to look at apartments." He got up from his stool and took our plates to the dishwasher. I just wanted to give myself a little extra time Friday to look. "Ugh. Damn it. or a foreign idiot. It was basic Anthropology 101. "No. I'm sure there's still something reasonable out there. that's exactly the problem. I recognized that this is exactly what I would have to do. the data must support the thesis. I have to change my thesis. although I can't promise to stay awake much past midnight. Alice and I have been looking but all the decent ones seem to be taken already. "You're right. I can't just turn around and start arguing something else. It took me all term to collect what I have." "One? I thought you had until the end of the week." "Hmm. but I really need to hand this in tomorrow so that I have Friday morning free. Then he put the rest of the pizza in the fridge. Bella! "You don't have a place yet?" Maybe I was more exhausted than I thought but his words sounded slower and clearer than usual. I hope you're right." "Then I guess you'll have to change your thesis." "I do. technically. I'll drive you home whenever you say." "Change my thesis? How do I that? These are the ideas I've been working on for months." The words were out of my mouth before I realized it." "I wouldn't have offered if it wasn't. or wherever you'd be most comfortable." "Yeah. or an idiot." "I'd love to stay a bit longer. like he was talking to a foreigner. your priority is finishing this paper."So basically the data you're using doesn't support your thesis. pulling on my hair again in frustration. You can have the kitchen or the dining room. "Help yourself to anything in here that you want. Would it help if you worked here tonight or would you like me to drive you home?" "I could work here?" "You can work here as late as you'd like." But even as these words were coming out of my mouth. if you're sure that's all right. But right now." "Will you be able to do that in two days?" "One." I moaned." "There's no way." "And it's too late to find new data.
process this. I hauled myself off the bed and made my way across the hall to the nearest bathroom. I could be done by noon. who could it have been? Mr. With that. Cullen awoke. you are tired. Green curtains. Cullen to drive me home soon if I was going to return to my dorm tonight. slipped on my socks and shoes and tiptoed down to the kitchen. First of all. I finally found one and jotted off a quick note to Mr. left my dress on the bed. "I'll be in my office for the next few hours and then my bedroom. I pushed it aside and considered the other surprise: my socks and shoes were laying on the floor just underneath my bare feet. "Don't worry." I gave him a sideways smile. His face broke into the widest smile I'd seen on him yet. A whole flock. no. saved my work and powered down my laptop. Someone must have come in here after you'd fallen asleep. my writing grew more confident and began to flow. Miss Swan. the paper began to come together." The next few hours flew by as once I had made the mental switch about my thesis. and told him he could call me if he wanted to. I'll take care of any vagrant spiders on my own. Okay. Surely it would be all right to sleep in "my" guest room tonight – I mean. Cullen's house in his guest room. Crows or something and they were screaming at me. Time to roll. what was that. but I was sorely tempted to stay. I went back at my paper and got in three more hours of solid work before finally calling it at night at 2 AM. My decision made. Sleep came fast. I sighed. and then realized that it was my phone's alarm going off. I tried to yell back. and taken off your socks and shoes. Ugh. lots of birds. Also easy. Now. I consoled myself. I crept up the stairs and collapsed on the bed of the guest room. which was at 2 AM. . in time to come back to work. Thank you very much. walked back to town and started working again by seven. I knew I had to ask Mr. I'd be the one changing the sheets tomorrow. I laid back for another minute taking in my surroundings. covered you with a blanket. preferably before noon. I'd stayed in the kitchen and was glad I'd done so. anyway. used the toilet.pointed to the open fridge before closing the door. Cullen thanking him for letting me crash here and assuring him that I'd be back at one. I sat up and was immediately surprised by two things. Yeah. which meant that if I got up at six. too tired to change out of my uniform and having nothing to change into. Green walls. Come and get me at any time if there's anything you need. There was a bird. At the last minute. my brain could still function. I was a good third of the way done. my brain told itself in its best Elvis accent. And I had a huge-ass paper to finish today. I could talk to myself freely as I want to do when hashing out ideas. Where was I? Oh right. so staying here tonight wouldn't be a bother to him at all. By 11. I packed up all of my things and scrambled around looking for a notepad. What did I ever do to you. I judged myself to be about half way done. I told myself. I changed back into my jeans and t-shirt. also the left-over pizza in the fridge called me back for a slice or two as the night wore on. I'm going to stay upstairs and won't be down to interrupt you. At first it was difficult writing the exact opposite of everything I'd been thinking all term but eventually. I was gone. right? And I could walk back to town in the morning before Mr. I thought to give him my cell number. Oh God. tired brain. with the data backing me up. as with the door pulled closed. I splashed my face with cold water. And I had to get out of here before he woke up. I'd decided to crash at Mr." "You can interrupt me if there's an emergency. duh. That was easy. there was a blanket on me that I knew hadn't been in here before. Cullen. a mere four hours of sleep? Better than nothing. and then hurried back to my room.
I didn't recognize the number but in my exuberantly good mood. Now I feel like celebrating. which had refreshed me to no end." "Washington State? That's where I'm from. "Don't blame you." I added some rosemary and mint to my basket. It was 11:45." "Really? Seattle?" "No. here we go. I was still running high on adrenaline when I got to Southbay's. a little town just north of there." . I did it. I. "Ah. I was done! I WAS DONE! If I never saw another anthropological field study again in my life. ma'am." He laughed. this is Mr." "Yes. At the last minute I grabbed a carton of eggs. looking for something special." "No." He looked over the meats carefully. I was done. Cullen gave me a night off cooking." Mike's enthusiasm was infectious and I gave him a big smile. The best you can get. That's why there are butchers. But this is kismet or something. I could finally get the rest I needed. Let me see… have you ever cooked a live lobster before? We've got several in a tank in back. Cullen. "Hmm. I'll take two of the chops.I finished the paper. "Miss Swan. I set forth irrefutable proof that everything I'd been arguing in class all semester was wrong and even explained why." "Good for him. I want something that's already dead. Was. "Bella! Good to see you! I missed you yesterday. some fingerling potatoes. I didn't care. I was happy to talk to anyone and answered with a cheerful hello. "I don't think I'm up to killing anything today. The rest of the day would be a breeze and in just a few short hours. I'd had enough time to dump my stuff off and take a quick shower at my dorm. Mr. these lamb chops were just flown in yesterday from Washington State. and a head of broccoli. Mike. "It's finals week." I shuddered. I felt like a hundred pound weight had been lifted from my shoulders and I practically skipped my way back to the meat counter. What's the best thing you've got today?" My eyes swept over the case. I printed it out and pushed it into my professor's inbox at the Center. Done. Are you finished then?" "Finished this morning. My cell rang just as I was leaving the store.
It was an oddly reassuring feeling. "Lamb." "Goodbye. Do you think you can find a bottle in the cellar?" . Luckily there were large rugs in almost all of the rooms so I only had to work around the perimeters. I thought. but still. the potatoes were perfectly steamed and the broccoli added a nice touch of green on the plate. I wanted to surprise him with a dessert tonight and flipped through the cake recipes. I thought as I began unwrapping a stick of butter. Not only had he cut me some slack on my duties. I was calling to see if you needed the afternoon off." "Goodbye. fed me pizza. I handed it in an hour ago. Cullen a huge thanks for helping me out this week. that answers my questions. I'm guessing you finished your paper. Cullen. the mop had begun to feel unnaturally heavy and my movements felt clumsy and inefficient. if I could find one that didn't require frosting or layers or anything too complicated. Ah. here we go. I scanned the ingredient list and was pretty sure I'd seen everything I needed either in the fridge or the pantry. And judging by your tone of voice. By the time I'd finished the top floor and moved down to the library. he'd driven me to and from work. I'm just leaving Southbay's now and should get to your house in thirty minutes. let me sleep here last night. I have quite a bit of work to do this afternoon so I probably won't see you until dinner." "I surely did. Mr. I'll be there soon." "Okay." "That's very thoughtful of you."Mr. I had the routine down and could do this job on auto-pilot. I think a glass of Shiraz would go perfectly with this. Mr. Miss Swan. At six I brought Mr. I probably wouldn't have finished it by now if it weren't for him. A lemon pound cake sounded perfect. Cullen smiled appreciatively as I placed it in front of him. but no and no. sir. Get ready for my first cake. world. it was slow going and I wasn't finished until nearly four. Cullen his dinner. Last week the work had gone fairly quickly but it wasn't long before my fatigue became evident. I realized that after two weeks. if you'd like me to come get you. What a treat. Surely a cake wouldn't be too difficult to make." "All right then. and even helped me sort out my paper. The lamb had turned out lovely. I climbed the stairs back to the kitchen and took a moment to sit at the island with a cookbook. I slipped on my apron and pulled the Cuisinart stand mixer out of the cupboard by the sink." Thursday was sweeping and mopping day. Cullen! How are you?" "I'm fine. I'd been thinking while mopping that I owed Mr." "Well. Putting the equipment away and folding the laundry. and if not.
just tired." "The lamb was no trouble at all. Horribly wrong. "Are you all right?" "I'm fine. I got a wineglass from the liquor cabinet and returned to the table to open the bottle." "You shouldn't have gone to so much trouble on this meal." I refilled his glass. "I tried to make you a lemon pound cake as a thank you for everything you did for me this week. Cullen call my name. Cullen. "Can I help you with that?" "Yes. Mr. slumping across the island in a heap and closing my eyes. The corkscrew seemed to have gone in straight."Yes. The lobster wouldn't have stood a chance. sir. my hand shaking. I can't budge it. sir. But something went wrong. Miss Swan." I was too tired to protest and went back to the kitchen. but you should see the cake I murdered this afternoon. "Go rest in the kitchen until I call you." "Yes. "Miss Swan. "More wine. sir?" "Please. sir." He handed me the bottle and I poured him his glass. sir." "Yes." "You don't have to thank me for anything. I'm fine. and he looked up at me. I'll be right back." He pulled the cork out with no problem and gave me a questioning look. I was even beginning to drift off a bit when I heard Mr." "You left very early this morning." "Cake? Lobster?" He looked entirely confused. you look like you're about to keel over." . and I was up until two last night." The shirazes weren't far from the pinot noirs and I returned with a bottle and the opener within minutes. but I couldn't pull the cork out no matter how hard I tugged." "No.
Cullen's face. running a finger lightly across his chin. Why was he so close? Was this a dream? Would the Mr. . Where was I going? Up. up. Cullen turned his eyes down to mine. The next thing I knew I was moving." My voice had gotten small and quiet. His grip was too firm. All I could see was the side of Mr." I half-opened my eyes to see him fingering a strand of hair that had fallen across my cheek. No. sitting rather than kneeling. just like that. so relaxing. "One last thing. and a bit of his ear. and then he pulled the covers back over me and tucked them up around my shoulders. his strong jaw mostly." I nodded. and before I could try again. kneel down here by my side. I felt him take off my shoes and socks. Miss Swan. Close your eyes. Then he ran his hand up from the nape of my neck to my crown. however. the comfortable bed pulling me quickly back into a restful state of semi-consciousness." He picked up his fork and resumed eating. His ministrations felt so good. "Miss Swan. You can sleep here again." My voice was no louder than a whisper. "The lamb is perfect. I felt myself leaning toward him and soon my cheek was resting against his thigh. I felt his left hand come to rest lightly on top of my head. dropping it to the floor behind me. wait. and I began to struggle to be let down. Raspy. I sank down on the carpet next to his chair. "You fell asleep in the dining room. Up. moved me over and then bent over my legs. up. He set his fork down and looked up at me with that odd expression he sometimes got. though. pulled the covers down on one side. Good to know. I could hear footsteps and I struggled to open my eyes. I'm putting you to bed." "Thank you. I'll drive you home when you're ready to go. He seemed to reach a decision after a moment and gestured for me to come around to his left. Don't leave in the morning. He was so close. Miss Swan. "You're too exhausted to go home tonight. I realized then that I was still at his house and he was carrying me upstairs. Within minutes I was again succumbing to sleep." Was all he offered in explanation. Rest. like he was debating something inwardly. I was being moved. After a few strokes. Embarrassment swept through me. Mr. with my ankles tucked underneath me. he reached down and pulled out my pony tail holder. He laid me on the bed. I could hear him continue to eat his dinner and take sips of his wine as he played with my hair. Cullen in my dream mind if I touched the scruff on his jaw? I decided to find out and raised one of my hands up." This was the oddest thing he'd ever asked of me but my brain was half comatose by this point and the prospect of getting off my feet was hugely appealing. we were in the guest room. "Yes. gently pulling his fingers through the strands and loosening them around my face."I wanted to.
"No more pony tails." .
no work for you this morning. Cullen. Miss Swan?" "Like a log. "Would you like me to put these away?" "No." He looked up at me briefly. poured myself a cup. "Can I make you something for breakfast?" "I feel like I should be asking you that." I served him two pieces of buttered toast on a plate and sat back down with my identical breakfast." "Do you know where the bread and toaster are?" "Yep. as long as you're making some for yourself. but I think I'll just have some toast. "Would you like some toast. I wondered what he thought of the inedible cake I'd left in massacred pieces on the counter. I don't usually eat much for breakfast and I need to get going anyway. and that couldn't be right. "Six foot two. Cullen?" "Sure. "I noticed that you restocked my eggs for me. Mrs." He smiled. Whitlock showed me.CHAPTER 7 Mr. Miss Swan. "Is that a problem?" . Mr. He must have come back down and cleaned the kitchen after putting me to bed. Standing next to him I was again struck by his height. You can just put our plates in the sink for now. Cullen was sitting at the kitchen island sipping a cup of coffee and reading his laptop when I came down in my jeans and t-shirt the next morning around eight." I pulled another mug out of the cupboard. I have tea or juice." He stood up and brought his coffee cup over to put in the sink too. but that would make him 6'5". He caught me frowning up at him and asked me what I was thinking." "Coffee would be great. I was 5'5" and he seemed to be at least a foot taller than me. and sat down at the island across from Mr. and I'd be happy to fry you up a couple in return for your thoughtfulness. I feel so much better. The dishwasher was still full of last night's clean dishes. Otherwise. I'll take care of them later." "Very good. We ate in silence and I collected our plates when we were done. "Sleep well. Even a full night's sleep was no use against his 'honesty only' gaze so I told him I was trying to guess his height." I had already pulled the bread out of the basket on the counter top and plugged in the toaster. Help yourself to coffee if you'd like." "Thanks.
if you insist." He paused for a moment and turned back to me. if that makes you more comfortable. you fell asleep on the dining room floor. his hand in my hair. if I drive you there you won't have to walk. for carrying me to bed and letting me sleep here again." I suddenly remembered the details of last night's dinner. Some of the neighborhoods get a little rough down there. my cheek on his thigh. Luckily he had turned away from me and was gathering some things off the island. "When would you like me to drive you home?" "The sooner the better." "Then I think I really must insist on accompanying you. Cullen's house if I wasn't working? ." He noticed my hesitation. I have an appointment to see an apartment at 10. I mean. You and Alice will be fine." "Alice isn't coming. "Miss Swan." "All right." I folded my hands together and looked around the room. I'll wait in the car while you check out the apartment. I would have to be a monster to send you home in that state. would it be terribly imposing of me to ask to come with you?" "Come with me? Why would you want to do that?" "For one thing. Me kneeling on the floor next to him. What was I going to do for an hour in Mr." I could feel a blush starting to rise and quickly changed the subject. Shall we leave in about hour?" "Sure. I guess. at least let me drive you. I don't want you living somewhere unsafe. I shouldn't have asked." "Don't worry about it. She has her last final exam this morning. And the apartment is in the south end. Are you sure you don't want some eggs?" "I'm sure. Miss Swan. "Never mind. Like I said. "That was the idea." "Good. There was no controlling the blush this time. of course not. "Thank you for last night." "That's not for another hour and half. If nothing else."No. And I'd also like to see what kind of apartment you're considering taking." "So you're heading off into the south end on your own?" I nodded. so it will take me a while to get there.
and the building itself looked in good shape." "I see. He drove me down." "Thank you. All summer. There were two small windows high on the wall above the . "Oh. "Now. here we go. of course. where exactly are we going?" I pulled the directions out of my purse and helped guide him through traffic until we pulled up in front of a four story complex that matched the address I was given over the phone. There's a kitchenette over here. What do you think?" I turned slowly around." He led us toward an open staircase. "It's down here. I introduced myself to the man behind the counter and explained that I had an appointment at 10 to look at Apartment G2. grabbing my purse on the way. grabbing a key out of a drawer. I'd have guessed." "That's a great idea.He solved my dilemma for me. This is G2. We found the manager's office on the main floor. "Why don't you browse around in the library until then. so I was getting my hopes up that this place might work. Cullen got out and opened my door for me. as you can see it's small but clean." He stopped in front a solid metal door and fiddled with the key. Finally the door gave way and he ushered us both in." "Oh. seeming to notice my companion for the first time. He continued to hold my hand after I was on the sidewalk." He released my hand and gestured for me to lead the way. just come in with me. rolling my eyes. There's an extra monthly rate for roommates." he said. I promise to put as many of them to use as I can.friend. one in each corner. giving it a small squeeze as he surveyed the facade of the building. Mr. one flight going up and one going down." he started downstairs at a quick pace. I have a few things to do in my office. This is a studio. I was getting used to his manners and knew to wait for him to extend his hand to help me out. What good is a book sitting on a shelf? It needs to be opened and read to be of any use. The space was about 20 feet by 20 feet. But I pulled myself up and followed him down to the car." "Nothing would make me happier. The rest of my life." "In that case. Miss Swan. "G for ground. The street was quiet. "Of course not. "I thought you said you were taking this place on your own. "Are you sure you don't mind if I borrow some books this summer?" I asked as he settled into the driver's seat. the bathroom's through there. so at night you pull the couch out into a bed. I was happily ensconced in a big easy chair with a stack of novels next to me when he stuck his head in the door an hour later and said it was time to leave. G2. all day. Already? Darn it." I said excitedly as I followed him upstairs to the second floor." He turned and gave me a smile. "Follow me. well. Scratch that. Okay. I kind of wanted to stay here all morning. no. The fluorescent lights overhead flickered on and off and on again. this is my -" it was too weird to admit that my boss had accompanied me ". The kitchenette area was tiny but looked functional." I said. There are 4 units down here. "Ah yes. "I can tell you're dying to.
" "All right. that it was just a place to crash at night. he opened my door and helped me get out. "I'll give you a call in the morning. Cullen's jaw was tightly clenched and I could tell he was attempting to control his temper. "Thank you for driving me this morning. Any time. Miss Swan. Cullen waited by his car. I replied that I needed a shower and could do a little packing. "Would you really be happy living in a place like that?" Looking up into his eyes. that there wasn't anything else to choose from – but as usual the only thing that came out of my mouth was the truth. "No. letting in a little natural light but not much. It wasn't long before we pulled up at the curb. so my dorm was fine." "Hmm?" He still seemed distracted by something and ran one hand through his hair. Mr. "But I can't hold it for you without a deposit. I waited until he was seated next to me before pointing out that I'd seen worse with Alice." "Are you serious?" Mr. Cullen." he said as he unlocked his car and opened my door. He shifted into drive and we headed back toward the north end. As usual. Cullen. See you at dinner. Cullen asked." "We'll take our chances." . his voice neutral." "I didn't think so. of course. Of course not. His face darkened even further. I thought about reciting all of my own justifications – that it was only for the summer." I said to the manager. but it was the smallest I think I'd ever seen." Mr. I think $1000 a month is fair." "Goodbye. "Oh yes. and someone else might come along later today and snap it up. "That's extortion -" I placed a hand on his arm to quiet him. I was almost there when I heard him call out to me. He remained silent but I could tell the wheels in his mind were turning. "Well. as you've probably figured out. Mr." he shrugged. Finally he asked me if I wanted to come back to his house or get dropped off at my dorm.couch. "Miss Swan!" He walked briskly back up to me so that he didn't have to yell. Given the low vacancy rate in town and the fact that Miss Swan mentioned on the phone that she needs to find a place this weekend. "What's the rent?" Mr. The bathroom was clean. He seemed to be on the verge of saying something several times but stopped himself. I was actually amazed they'd managed to fit a toilet into it. Miss Swan. "Let me think about it for a night. Cullen steered me back out the door and up the stairs. "That place was completely unacceptable. there aren't many things on the market right now." I headed to the door of the dormitory while Mr.
I looked at the clock and realized it was probably time to hit Southbay's. I could totally picture Alice in a sleeping mask. I slipped into the skirt and then decided. Damn it. girl." I laughed out loud. What was I going to wear to work this afternoon? I'd have to wear my skirt – the one I'd worn for the interview – it didn't matter as I was changing into my uniform when I got there anyway. so I wasn't too worried about it. I'm putting on my sleeping mask right now. though. and fastened a necklace around my neck."Goodbye." "We should celebrate. Anna's stuff was completely gone and it looked like Megan had managed to pack up at least half of her stuff. Sweet dreams. "Okay. when I was finished. I wondered if my failure to pack had anything to do with my lack of desire to move into any of the apartments I'd looked at. I thought. My hair had a little natural wave to it that I'd tried to enhance with a big round brush and it actually had behaved today and framed my face just the way I liked it. I could probably fit all my things in 2 or 3 boxes and a suitcase and technically I had until Sunday night to vacate. I thought. You get some sleep in the meanwhile. it never hurts to start early. Not too shabby. a cranberry silk thing with a bit of ruffle around the neck. I'll give you a call when I'm heading home from work. I loved it but rarely wore it. bye. so sad." My dorm room was getting emptier by the day. Want to go out tonight?" "Hell. Cullen's final words last night. around seven. I'm so tired right now I couldn't tell you if I passed or failed. grabbed my purse. "How did your test go?" "Ugh. On the way there I called Alice. as I towel-dried my hair and dug through my dresser for some clean clothes. I automatically started lifting my hair off my neck to put it up but then I recalled Mr. It was a diamond solitaire on a gold chain that my dad have given me when I graduated from high school. I was out of clean jeans. I don't know. Not much doubt about that. okay?" "No worries. I laughed to myself. yes. I pulled on one of my nicer blouses. Then I decided even more what the hell. Still. I finished yesterday. what the hell. didn't get any packing done. Too bad. you're done now right?" "Yep. Miss Swan. whoo-hoo! You too right?" "Yeah." "Congrats. I put on a pair of black ballerina flats because my usual sneakers would look ridiculous with this outfit. in fact. I'm already dressed for it." . huh? Was that even legal? I couldn't even remember the last time I'd styled my hair but I found a bottle of mousse pushed to the back of my dresser and went to work with my blow dryer. and left for Southbay's. No more pony tails.
Mike whistled appreciatively at me as I walked up to the meat counter. You have to cook them long and slow until the meat falls off the bone. maybe even three. What the heck was my apron doing in here? Maybe I didn't want to know. I had the ribs in the oven and was peeling potatoes by 3:30. and this afternoon I took the liberty of bringing it out and tuning it to a college . What's the special occasion?" "Running out of clean laundry. Oh well. I made sure the other three were dusted. I checked the dining room but it wasn't there. I quickly put away my groceries and headed upstairs. Mike. I thought hastily. Really. I retrieved my apron. what do you have for me today?" "Hmm. I went back downstairs and found my other uniform still folded on top of the dryer with the rest of yesterday's wash. you look great. but not two nights in a row. I suppose not." Tiptoeing into the house 30 minutes later. Cullen put it. "Give me a couple pounds. Today was Friday so all I had to clean were the bathrooms. Then some ribs caught my eye. I added it to the clothes from Mr. this guy was impossibly neat. "Are short ribs hard to make?" "No. I was pulling off his pillowcases near the head of the bed when something white on the floor under the bed caught my eye. It looked like it had maybe fallen to the floor and then been pushed under the bed by the coverlet. and then carried my gear into his room." "No. his was the only bathroom that really needed cleaning. I should have time for ribs. one of the best reasons to dress up." I looked over the various roasts and cuts of steak." "Ah. I'll definitely be making that again. Cullen like the lamb?" "He loved it. and tossed it onto the pile of dirty sheets. Apart from some stray whiskers in the sink and a sliver of soap that had fallen onto the shower floor. Bending down. How did Mr. but they take a while. Really. mopped. look at you." "Thanks. but since the only occupant of the house right now was Mr. Cullen. My dress from last night was still on the bed where I'd left it. "It's been awhile since you made something with beef. they're easy. I took everything upstairs and put away Mr. I made short work of bringing it up to snuff and then turned to strip the bed. Cullen's hamper and took everything downstairs to put in the wash. There were four bathrooms in the house." We pondered the case together. I don't think. Now where was the apron? I'd been wearing it when I fell asleep but not this morning when I woke up. Mike. well. "Well. I wondered where Mr. then went into my room to change. So. Cullen's things." I thought for a minute. you wouldn't know anyone had used this room since the last time I cleaned it. unfortunately. nor was it hanging in the pantry. I guess it wasn't going to get washed today. Earlier in the week I'd found a small radio in the pantry." "That's true. Give them at least two hours in the oven. and tidied. Nothing new.
am I interrupting?" "Oh no. "I hope I didn't bother you – please tell me you couldn't hear that from upstairs." "I was wondering if you had a free moment. having no idea what he wanted to speak to me about. and even comfortable with him. I'd been so nervous to begin with. I realized." "No it doesn't." "I'll be there in a minute." Walking upstairs to meet Mr. "Miss Swan." "Come up to my office when you're ready. I made sure the volume was low and pulled the door closed tightly. but he could be hard to read." "What?" "I want you to move in here. "You can have the room you've been using." "But -" "Yes." "I didn't hear a thing. just keep it low. I was singing along under my breath to one of my favorite songs when I heard two quick raps on the door. I'd like you to move in here. Well. maybe it did. Just let me wash my hands. Cullen in his office reminded me of the day I'd come to interview with him. Use the radio any time you like. With me. He was sitting in his chair when I walked in and he waved me to a seat in front of him." . I won't charge you rent. And in a dress. I guess I'm about to find out. I never would have guessed that three weeks later would find me here fully comfortable with my duties." I ran to the radio and turned it off. Your duties won't change. I thought. I'd like to have a talk with you. I didn't think I'd done anything to upset him. and then so affected by his good looks and intimidated by his remote manner." "Here? With you?" "It makes perfect sense." "Sure.radio station. no less. and Mr. of course not. Cullen stuck his head in. Miss Swan? I'd love to hear your 'buts' that aren't argumentative but inquisitive. I sat and folded my hands. I have a proposition for you. Now's perfect." Wait a second. "Miss Swan." "Thanks. as he cleared his throat.
I'm not entirely sure. by choice. generous and even friendly at times.. They're willing to deliver out here on a weekly basis. I want you here." "I don't understand how it's taking advantage when I offer it freely." He sat back up and shook his head. "Yes. "I don't know how to explain it." He was wearing me down. Even now. I can hardly accept free room and board from you when you've seen for yourself what the market's like right now. You're worth every penny you earn. "I still get to use your library?" "Of course.. We held each other's gazes and as usual I fell under that spell of being unable to hold back what I was thinking. And I called Southbay's today. he easily switched back and forth between that person and the authoritative one I'd first met." "What about your silence rule? I can't tiptoe around here like I was walking on eggshells the whole time. Spend all your free time in it. I just ask that you try to remain relatively quiet during the mornings and nights." I was more than a little confused. I can't stand the thought of you leaving here every night to go some place like the one we saw today. rather than asking me. The two nights you slept here . Like I said. so you don't have to worry about walking into town every day for groceries." "Of course not. "First of all. That's just taking advantage of your generosity. I was running out of reasons to say no so I decided to stall." "You should at least dock my pay. I've lived alone for a very long time. leaning in for emphasis. you're free to do whatever you like. I want you here from now on. I felt like he was telling me to move in. whatever you wish." "Do you expect me to make you breakfast and lunch?" "No. "To be honest with you." "Why are you doing this? Why do you care where I live?" He stretched back in his chair and laced his fingers behind his head. "Why did I find my apron under your bed this afternoon?" . That's all I can say. my 'buts. All I can tell you is that even though I've only known you for a few weeks. While his behavior this week had been considerate. No overnight guests or parties. your duties won't change.'" I said. Beyond that. I expect you to be here in the afternoons.I refused to be teased." "I would never do that. that kind of thing. performing your regular chores and serving me dinner.
See you at six. but last night I just couldn't help myself. . I was about to throw it in my hamper when I noticed how good it smelled."I took it off of you before carrying you upstairs. Unless you have any further questions. Last night. I opened my mouth to do so and was surprised at what I said instead. I just need to know that you're safe under my roof at night. Miss Swan. "I know I have. that brings out that side in me tenfold. his jaw moving slightly back and forth." I was remembering kneeling at his side." "At six. when you played with my hair. I promise it won't happen again. no nefarious schemes. but I wasn't quite finished. "We can discuss the details at dinner. "Yes." He held my gaze. I fully acknowledge that. He really wanted me to say yes. If I made you uncomfortable. Cullen if he'd a like a martini tonight or would prefer wine. Truly. Miss Swan. I asked Mr. you're free to return to the kitchen." "How it smelled?" "Yes. Putting down his plate. I don't have any ulterior motives. I've never laid a hand on an employee before you. I liked it. for instance. Look." The relief that washed over his face was so immediate and intense it made me smile. I don't think I'll be able to sleep otherwise. Very. I could almost literally feel him trying to pull the word out of me. The expression on his face one of kindness. I've always demanded complete obedience from my housekeepers but there's something about you. very good. Miss Swan. will you agree to move in?" "Yes. with a touch of apprehension. "You've asked some rather odd things of me. your blush." I served the ribs on a bed of mashed potatoes with a side Caesar salad. sir." "Good. I have some unusual character traits." "So you brought it to bed with you?" He shrugged as if it was no big deal." I rose and smoothed down my dress. "I liked it." The sincerity in his voice was obvious. "So. like the delicious dinner you just cooked for me. I had no idea what he was thinking." "Pardon?" "Last night. and brought it back up with me after I cleaned the kitchen.
Now. Right. I called you in to ask if I could assist you with your move. so any time before that is fine." "A few boxes. sir?" I hurried through the kitchen door and stood beside Mr." "Yes." "You're welcome. Cullen seemed distant tonight. sir. I mean. Cullen with my hands behind my back. he had finished his dinner." "Good." "That would be fine. I knew that being asked to kneel beside him was just wrong on every level. come to the office and I'll give you your pay. Handing me his plate. stop this train of thought right now. Suddenly his demeanor tonight made more sense. please. "Thank you. sir." I fixed one quickly and set it beside his plate." "Thank you. One time. I assume you have some things you need driven over. he stood and moved to the door. These ribs are superb. "After you've finished cleaning up and changing clothes. But it had felt so good when he started in on my hair." Mr."A martini. Why had I told him that I'd liked it when he'd touched my hair? I wish I could learn to keep my mouth shut around him. When would you like me to come?" "We have to be out of the dorm by Sunday at five. lord. as I sat at the island eating my salad. I mused. yes." While we were talking. feeling a little mixed. "Miss Swan?" "Yes." "Would you mind if we moved you in tomorrow? I can be at your dorm around four. like he was trying to assure me that his behavior last night had been a one-time aberration. "You've outdone yourself again. but I was going to ask Alice if we can borrow her father's car. I thought. Now he might take that as an invitation to do it again. Whatever works for you. Bella." "I'm happy to do it for you." . and his leg had felt so warm and firm under my cheek… oh. Would you like another martini?" "Not tonight.
" "Good night." "Thank you. "Don't spend all of this tonight. I knocked at the door of the office and let myself in. I looked around it again as I slipped out of my dress and put my skirt and blouse back on. It was a gift from my father. Cullen was working at his computer but stopped as soon as he saw me." . rose." The diamond must not have been visible under my dress. I'm going to think of something I can do to pay you back. "You look very nice this evening.I finished in the kitchen and went upstairs to change in what was now officially my room. "Like I could if I tried." "You mean a bribe. When I looked back up. I held still as he reached out one finger and touched my diamond pendant. Cullen was staring at my throat." "Thank you." "Good night. then." His finger remained on my pendant while his eyes swept over my blouse and hair. I was even prepared to offer you a raise if that's what it took to get you to accept my offer." he smiled. finally landing on my eyes. He took in my appearance for a moment and then said. I'll see you at four tomorrow. Cullen. Mr." No need for him to know about the mountain of dirty clothes back in my dorm. You really won't let me pay any rent? Even a modest one?" He shook his head. Miss Swan." I said as I turned down to my purse to secure the envelope in a side pocket. and walked over to hand it to me. It really was a lovely room. dropped his finger. trying to get used to the idea that I'd be sleeping here tomorrow night and every night after that for the rest of the summer. Well. "Very pretty. "Have a good time with Alice. "Very pretty indeed. although I had to admit I'd begun thinking of it as my room already. Mr. He started to say something but stopped. Alice and I are going out to celebrate the end of the term. Mr. even nicer than any apartments I'd imagined myself finding. "I could never profit off your staying here. He pulled an envelope out of a drawer. I told you before it's too much. I ran a hand over the velvet bedspread. and turned back to his desk.
" ." "So you two get along. he won't increase my hours.CHAPTER 8 I called Alice during my walk back to town. Alice. Did you get some sleep?" "I slept all afternoon. I guess. "I know.." "What?" "I got a place to live today. Cullen asked me to move in with him." We clinked glasses.. He says he just needs to know that I'm safe at night." "Yay! That's great!" She reached over and gave me a quick hug. Wait. I wouldn't have said yes if I thought he was going to jump me." She gave me a look of pure skepticism. Come on. I couldn't think of any reason not to. "And he hasn't tried to make a move on you or anything like that?" "No. "Here's to our unbreakable inner strength." She raised her glass." "What's he charging you for rent. and sort of." Cue the commencement of the hedging. Thanks. he's been a perfect gentleman." "Come on. Why does it sometimes feel like they're trying to kill us instead of educate us?" I laughed. he won't take a dime. Do you like it? Is it close to work? Will you have a roommate?" "Um. that's the only problem. if you don't mind my asking?" "He won't let me pay him anything. "I got you a vodka tonic. Alice. he won't dock my pay. you aren't having any of the problems my aunt had?" "No." "Mr. very. that sounded wrong. yes. that okay?" "Perfect." "Really. "Guess what. What I mean is he offered me one of his guest rooms." Alice's eyes were bugging. "I knew it would work out! So tell me all about it. I want details here. There was another cocktail on the table that she pushed over to me. "Only the strong shall survive. We agreed to meet at a favorite bar close to campus and she was already sitting at a table sipping on a drink when I arrived. girl. "And you said yes?" "Yep. but what can I do? He's offered me free room and board.
"It was no big deal. pretty soon she's nothing but a zombie. and why should they? Mr. I hadn't had the time or energy to figure it out for myself. starts taking control of her life. Cullen let me spend the night in a guest room. Cullen intends to turn me into a zombie. "I'd better start at the beginning. An older man gets his clutches on a younger girl." "Your hair?" "He told me to wear it down while I'm on the clock." She was shaking her head. and no. but I knew they wouldn't sit well with her. Cullen might not think his actions required explaining. I was falling asleep. then he asks you to move in with him but won't let you pay rent. I'd told Alice almost everything about the interactions I'd had with Mr. I finished my drink and could only blame the alcohol for what I said next. you hear about this kind of thing all the time. and even said it quite gallant of him to drive me to the south end this morning." A couple of hours and drinks later. and based on what he'd said when he asked me to move in. I got the waiter's attention. maybe he likes my hair that way." "So let me get this straight. the one that I'll be moving into tomorrow. Mr. I really think he just likes me." Alice's jaw was almost on the table by this point. I was up almost all of Wednesday night finishing my last paper and I actually fell asleep after dinner Thursday. Cullen over the last two weeks. I left out that he'd asked me kneel next to him last night and that I'd found my apron under his bed this afternoon. Bella. When I was done. Next round's on me. I doubted I'd see that side of him again anyway."That you're safe at night." "That's what he said. "Okay. "I don't know." I laughed. Cullen." I added hastily to response to her raised eyebrow. I could tell she was getting suspicious and if I let it happen. He tells you how to wear your hair and lets you sleep at his house." She pursed her lips together and moved her glass around in quick circles. Cullen yet." "What did you say?" "I didn't answer. "I don't think Mr. We were gathering up our things to leave when she asked me one last question. but I knew Alice would want one and I just didn't know what to say about that side of Mr. not in that way. I'd have to deal with it all summer. I wasn't entirely sure why I was holding those things back as I'd always been completely open with Alice. she had a much better opinion of Mr. .
I don't have to start work again until Monday afternoon." "Huge is good until you have to dust it." "Actually. I was the only one down in the laundry room that morning. Besides. She held up a coffee mug I'd totally forgotten I had. "Hmm. I get it." She said emphatically." I pointed to the box that held my hair dryer and toiletries. He's very reserved. I guess." . then. "Alice. really. Cullen?" "Well. All the other students were probably hauling duffel bags full of dirty clothes home to their grateful mothers. And besides. Cullen? I mean. I slept in the next morning until ten." "Otherwise." "Fun." "It's not that bad. That one. Maybe I'll have to come visit you sometime and see for myself." I sighed. and my list is already like twenty books long. I kind of want to get settled in a bit first. it's not that bad. and you should see the windows." "What exactly do you do for Mr. It's awesome. Listen. It was quarter to four and we were almost done. and there's a piano. but I got to know him better this week. Monday I get to dust the entire house. I keep telling you. "Which box do you want this in?" Alice was cleaning out my desk for me as I packed my suitcase. He told me I could borrow whatever I wanted to read this summer. do you want to go to a movie or something tonight?" "I don't know. as a person? Would you be friends with him if you met in other circumstances?" "Yeah. Oh. but I'll call you later and let you know for sure. that's good enough for me."Bella. then started my laundry. He's a nice person. I do like him." "Okay. you would die if you saw his library – it's huge. "So. dusting the books is a great way to see everything he's got." "I will do just that. In fact. he's picking me up at four tomorrow to move my stuff. Mindless work is kind of refreshing to me right now. do you like Mr. Come over around three to help me pack and you can meet him for yourself. It was amazing how quickly it went with the dorm almost empty and all the machines free." "Okay." "Okay. I'm free all day tomorrow.
a suitcase. I don't know why. the two heaviest ones that had my books and notebooks in them. Mr. I just always say 'bye' when I'm leaving a place for good. right at the top of the stairs on the third floor. "I'll call you tonight." . "Bye. room." "Bye. Cullen's number. No slumber parties is all he has to worry about. She seemed a little more tongue-tied than usual. you should. don't count on me until tomorrow." "And what is your type?" My phone rang and this time I recognized Mr. "Will you miss it here?" Mr. Can you believe the university thinks its humane to squeeze three people into a room that size? Animal shelters probably have stricter guidelines. answering his polite questions in monosyllables. Cullen asked me. I guess. He was wearing jeans and a patterned button-down shirt. I'm in room 302. "Not at all. I waved him into my room and introduced him to Alice. Cullen. "Hi." "See you in a minute." We piled my things into Mr." "No overnight guests? No boyfriends is what he meant. Damn good. Cullen's trunk. Mr. Do you want me to come up and help carry things down or shall I wait down here?" I assessed my pile of worldly possessions: three boxes. Cullen insisted on taking two boxes. I took the third box and Alice grabbed my suitcase and computer." I said as I closed the door behind me for the last time. Mr. Miss Swan. He looked good." I opened my phone." "Hello. Maybe we can make it in one trip. and a laptop. I gave Alice a quick hug and thanked her for helping me." I had propped my door open so I watched him come up the stairs. But obviously that's not a problem."Yeah. "We could use a hand. Cullen said no overnight guests but during the day should be fine." "He's never asked me so he wouldn't know one way or the other. but like I said. but none of them were really my type." "How come you never went out with anyone this year? Lots of guys were interested in you." "I did go out a couple times last fall. I gave Alice a sly smile and said. I'm parking in front of your building. "You're about to find out. as usual.
I pulled it out of my pocket and was surprised that Alice had texted me already. Alice doesn't blush like I do. First."I won't. Miss Whitlock. Cullen came in with my last box. pulling her phone out of her pocket. Cullen insisted on carrying the heavier boxes upstairs while I took the suitcase and laptop. Cullen got in next to me. I don't miss them. Maybe." was all she wrote. I was still taking it all in when Mr. I just thought you'd like your own space. Next to them was an empty bookcase." "Goodbye. Miss Swan. Nothing has to stay. I chuckled and put the phone back in my pocket. The rest of the house is yours to enjoy. When we got to the house. "Something funny. Whitlock's cornbread muffins? Is that something I should make for you?" "No. We'll just have to see. I gave her one last goodbye wave out the car window. I could tell she thought I liked them more than I did. "Ready?" "Yep. "I added a few things this morning. I just want to make things you like." Mr. I love it. Miss Swan?" "Alice. it was a pleasure meeting you." Before he could ask for any specifics. And are you ever going to start calling me Bella?" "I don't know. Her cooking didn't hold a candle to yours. "I don't want you to feel that I expect you stay in here. there was a desk and chair in the corner that hadn't been here before. and they shook quickly. It had no scent but the color was exquisite and it felt like cool satin under my fingers. Alice is funny. "So do you really miss Mrs. I changed the subject. Mr." "I may never leave this room. "I get it now. Don't worry." . Cullen stretched his hand out to Alice. Mr. and on the dresser was a large vase of fresh tulips." "It's perfect. Say hello to your aunt for me and tell her I miss her cornbread muffins." I moved closer to the vase of tulips and held one up to my nose. My room looked different and it took me a minute to figure what had changed." "Good. but I swear she turned a darker shade of white. Cullen opened my door and helped me in." We settled into a comfortable silence for the rest of the drive." "It's not that. She watched as Mr. Either way's fine. He put it down by the others. but she was looking down." He had just gotten onto the main road out of town when my phone buzzed. Let's go.
sat down next to me and gestured at the various take-out containers on the table. it was only 5:15. there's Egg Rolls. but you're welcome to use the one downstairs. and a side of vegetables. Cullen. The man didn't have a password? For crying out loud. When I was finished. I thought in outrage as I quickly shuffled through my favorite websites. You'll probably regret asking me to move in once you see what a mess I can make in the kitchen. The hotter the better." I followed him downstairs. Instead of entering the dining room through the kitchen. That should give you time to unpack." "I will be. not just safe." "Good. but I promise to make myself comfortable in the rest of the house. this room is nicer than anything I'd hoped to find for the summer. engrossed in a novel. "Meet me in the dining room then at six. What are we having?" "Chinese. "Mr. curled up in a chair. rice. his usual one at the head and another just to his left." I assured him. I do want you to be happy here. Cullen's wireless network. I didn't know how spicy you like your food. I turned to look at him as he continued. "This one's Kung Pao Chicken. so everything's two stars. shoved my books into the bookcase. especially the library. feel free to cook your own meals." Twenty minutes later. Cullen found me at six. Nothing new. Mr. He pulled my chair out for me. although you'll have to share when I have company." I realized that what I'd taken for agitation was actually nervousness." "You don't eat meat? I had no idea. I can tell already. "Okay. too. I turned on my computer and connected to Mr. I could run a cable up here and have a TV put in. I decided to hit the library and that's where Mr. if you'd like. "Okay?" He visibly relaxed. He'd set two places at the table." . sorted out my clothes into the dresser and stowed my toiletries in the bathroom across the hall.He sounded a bit agitated. that's Szechuan Beef. I'd set up my computer on the desk." "I love spicy. The bathroom across the hall is yours to use. sorry. 45 minutes to kill … what should I do? I laid down on my bed but I wasn't tired." "Yum." "Oh. "I mean. dinner is ready. "Miss Swan. Also. What have you been having for dinner here every night?" "An extra serving of whatever side dish and vegetable I made that night. he led me into the living room and through the door that he always used. I lost track of the time. I brought home some take-out tonight unless you have other plans?" I shook my head. The only thing is I don't eat is meat. Cullen was nervous about me moving in.
" "You've mentioned him a couple of times. No pun intended. dishing some of the vegetables onto my plate. She just wasn't cut out to be a wife and mother." He helped himself to the other dishes. We're all quite some distance from each other now. I can't even imagine what that would be like. "I love mushrooms. that's a lot." He spoke quietly. Miss Swan. as if knowing this might be a sensitive issue." "This is perfect. I'm looking forward to meeting them." . We're still in touch." I said. How are you able to cook a flawless steak when you don't eat meat yourself?" "I grew up cooking for my dad. I have to dust them. But not your mother. "Tell me. "She left us when I was two."I wish I'd known. clearly leaving the vegetables for me." "I see. It didn't surprise me at all that he could handle chopsticks like a pro." "Don't be. don't I?" "I suppose you do." "I'm sorry." "What about you. that would explain it. but they're coming to visit in July. We have more of a friendship than a mother-daughter kind of thing. That would also explain all the photos in your bedroom. I guess that's why I like my peace and quiet so much as an adult." "Oh good. Mr. Our house was total chaos growing up." "You noticed those?" "Well. Cullen? Any family?" "I'm the oldest of three brothers." "Are you close with your brothers?" "Relatively." "It was noisy. He's a meat and potatoes kind of guy. and we ate together in silence for a few minutes. I wanted you to enjoy your first regular dinner here." "Yeah." "Wow.
" I went to examine it more closely. We finished the rest of our dinner and I started to gather up the dishes. I'm used to it. "I thought this would come in handy. Mr. Cullen. "Not tonight. But you know how I am about your safety. Yes. "I don't think so."Hold that thought. maybe. There he gestured to a bicycle I hadn't noticed when we'd driven in." "But it's too much!" "Not if it helps you get around. You can carry in the left-over’s. "Uh-uh." "What's that?" "Follow me. I've got one more thing to show you. I'll have whatever you're having. I don't know. "Mr. "I forgot to offer you a drink." He moved over to the liquor cabinet and returned shortly with two martinis. So. This will get you into town in no time." "You got me a bike?" "I don't want you to feel stuck out here. I can't accept this!" "Of course you can." We put things away in the kitchen and after the dishwasher was started." "But I don't mind walking. Any more inquisitive buts that need addressing?" . What you would like?" "This is weird." He took the plates out of my hands. on meals we have together?" "Okay. It was either this or a scooter. Are you going to be waiting on me on the weekends?" "No. And expensive. They're bringing their wives and children. and I knew you wouldn't accept that." He put down his chopsticks and started to get up. Alice invited me to a movie. Cullen asked me if I was going out for the evening. but I'd rather go tomorrow. We'll take turns. I don't like to think of you going everywhere on foot. when you do decide to go." He started toward the garage." "Well. It looked brand new. it isn't." "I know you are. Things get very turned upside-down around here. though.
' His other arm was across the top of my back. I could have stayed in that hug forever. He felt so strong. not like cologne or soap. If it makes you feel better.I turned back to face him." he whispered back. so warm. I'll let you get those things yourself. . He held me longer than the moment required. "Thank you. but eventually he gave me a quick final squeeze and let me go. putting his arms around me. He was enjoying this far too much. "You'll still need a lock and a helmet if you want one." I stood there for a second and then impulsively reached up to hug him. and he smelled so good up close. ready to keep arguing my case but he had such an amused look on his face that I closed my mouth and just put my hands on my hips in frustration. just like 'man. "You're welcome. the arm he had around my waist pulling me tightly against him. and I felt him gently finger the ends of my hair." I whispered.
"Do you know any of his likes and dislikes?" ." "What do you mean? You said he wouldn't take any money from you. you've known him for what. the use of the library. upstanding gentleman showing consideration for the fact that his employee. well-said. as you know. sipping on my soda. "Nice wheels. might find the occasional use of bipedal transportation to be to her advantage." "Jesus. right? Mr. I tried to sound professorial myself as I answered. We went back and forth for a while about various things until we were almost done with our pizza. Where can I get a sugar daddy?" Alice could always make me laugh out loud. I just wish I could even things out a little bit. "I really do wish I could come up with some way to pay Mr." "He won't. he pays me way too much. What would have been a thirty minute walk was now a five minute ride. He offered to have a TV installed in my room. What we have here. I muttered something back and before we knew it. I loved it already. Alice and I were meeting at noon for lunch and then a movie." "Ooh. a couple of weeks now?" I nodded. Cullen's and I told her about the new furniture in my room. but apart from cleaning extra thoroughly. Cullen gave it to me last night. and I wanted a few extra minutes to stop at a hardware store and get a lock and chain. a fine. no way was I allowing my new baby to get stolen. I picked out the most expensive lock I could find. is a fine. upstanding gentlewoman in her own right. and other useless things to a woman of low substance in exchange for sexual favors. a sugar daddy. I'd let someone feel me up for a bike like that. But I was laying in bed last night trying to fall asleep and all I could think of was. locked up my bike and we went inside to eat." "Well. He gave me a brand new bike. is a degenerate fellow who gives trinkets. Cullen back for everything he's doing for me this summer.CHAPTER 9 I pedaled my new bike into town around eleven the next morning. "I know. geegaws. Still. She asked me about my first night at Mr. on the other hand. here I am in this gorgeous house with my own room." I laughed again. We'd met in a class last fall when I overheard her mutter something sarcastic about the syllabus that had just been handed around. we were both giggling hysterically. "Miss Whitlock. We'd become best friends almost immediately. I can't think of anything else to show my appreciation. And on top of everything else. The professor glared at us for the rest of the day but it was too late. my own bathroom. Bella!" Alice exclaimed as I pulled up to meet her outside the pizzeria.
not just being polite. "He's complimented my cooking several times. I guess I could. and biked back home. Cullen and I hadn't discussed our dinner plans this morning when we had our coffee. it's the same thing."He likes silence. . the things my dad likes. "I'd love to see that and I bet he would too. and in a genuine way. Alice." "I'm going to have to. and then we parted ways for the day after she made me promise to have her out some morning this week to see the house. I got on my bike and pedaled to Southbay's. Good idea. In fact. I headed to the produce section. apart from being waited on and obeyed. I'm aiming for his stomach and that's it. trying to remember any of the conversations I'd had with Mr. I could take up mime." "You know what they say. all I've got is stuff like chili and burgers. paid for everything myself. where I tossed a head of lettuce and some other vegetables in my basket." "I'm not aiming for his heart." Alice laughed. He could put it on the fridge." "Okay." She laughed." "Yeah." "You could go online and find recipes. fried chicken. From here on out. I took my time walking through all the aisles. Cullen when he'd said anything about what he likes." I took a deep breath and tilted my head up to the ceiling. Like a child. the way to a man's heart is through his stomach. wishing someone could helpfully tell me what to do with chipotles in adobo sauce or pepperonici. you can up your cooking. Finally. Alice and I spent another hour window shopping on Front Street. I will. or check out the library for cookbooks. tacos. figuring a salad would do for tonight. getting ideas for dishes I'd never tried. "If you feed him well enough. of course. smart ass?" "Umm. I thought I would get myself something to fix just in case he wasn't going to be home or didn't provide another night of take-out. But what else?" "Um. trying to scout out things I'd never used before. what else then." "Can you draw?" "Yes. I've already made him most of the fancier dishes I know. he likes art. Even though Mr." "There you go." The movie got out around 3:30. imagining that this was my pantry and these were my ingredients.
and was doing well. I love it. I really love it. "Ah." "Gross. so I washed up a bit. sitting down in his usual seat. "Or one of us eats the other.Mr." I declined as well. had seen a movie with Alice that afternoon. then decided to send my dad a quick email. "I'll make the drinks tonight if you want one. you didn't wait for me. The house was silent but I had no idea if he was working or not. Help yourself. "How did the bike work out today?" "Oh. I could still do the shopping every day." I answered in my best horror-movie-narrator voice." "I didn't know if I should or not. There was still no sight or sound of Mr. It was only a little after five. "I always leave it in too long. At quarter to six I went downstairs to make my salad." "Thanks." "Just give me a minute to make the left-over Chinese and I'll join you. good. though." "I guess that would work." "Good. gotten a great job and found a nice place to live. Cullen's car was in the garage so I entered the kitchen quietly. Cullen. You're having a salad then?" "Yep. updating him on my summer plans. and we set into our dinners. I was thinking that if I got a basket for it. I kept the email fairly brief. you never need to." "No. But what if it's raining and we're out of food?" "Then we starve to death. Miss Swan. That way I can get you the freshest things. just assuring him that I'd finished the term." "It only takes me 5 minutes to get to town now." he explained. it's great. I left my bag of groceries on the island and tiptoed up to my room." . but I'll pass. I took my finished salad into the dining room and was just about to start without him when he came through the door." I waited until he returned with a hot plate he was having trouble holding on to.
and booted up my laptop to search for recipes. "Did I say something wrong?" "Mr. a violent crime." I said. Mr. "Do you want to watch some TV with me? I think I'm done working for the day. I bet you taste pretty good. It was a cake slaughter. tending to like the online chefs who kept things simple. you like to tease me. Satisfied. then we'll get along fine. I agreed and followed him upstairs. "I guess you were. A couple of hours later I'd bookmarked enough pages to get me through the rest of the week." "Sure." "God. Exhaustion." "You should show more respect for my delicate nature." He was smiling at me the way that made his eyes crinkle in the corners." I choked on a piece of lettuce and could feel a furious blush rising to my face. that sounds good. and Mr. Cullen said he was done for the night. We said goodnight to each other and I entered my room." "That was an accident. I don't know. the way that lit up his face. though." he laughed. Cullen. "It looks like we have similar tastes in TV programs." "Good. ." "I can't help myself if you set me up like that. We finished our dinners and carried our plates into the kitchen." The program eventually ended." "You're a confessed cake murderer." We went into the living room and agreed on a PBS documentary." "Still. "Just tell me you don't watch any of those awful reality shows. I wasn't quite done for the night. I'll let you off the hook for that one."Oh. but also adding a few who used more advanced techniques and exotic ingredients. I tiptoed across the hall to use the bathroom. sitting down a respectful distance from him on the couch. All right. Cullen. He loaded the dishwasher and I set up the coffee." "I was under duress. no. remember?" "Yes.
" "I'm going to do a few other errands while I'm in town. am I. so I may not see you until dinner. more shampoo." "Thank you. I brushed my teeth and did my other night time bathroom stuff as quietly as possible. I'm not going to allow you to sneak in extra work as my personal courier. "He said to give you this. Would you mind stopping by and picking it up? That would save me a trip in to town today." He nodded and left. of that I have no doubt." "All right." "I'm hardly being sneaky by asking outright. so if there's anywhere else I can go for you." He looked at me for a moment. "Ah. yes. Miss Swan. Cullen's room. I told the woman behind the counter that I was picking up a book for Mr. and on impulse. "He called not long ago and said you'd be stopping by. Thinking of him asleep so close to me was going to take some getting used to.noting that the light was out in Mr." I was rewarded with one of his crinkly smiles. some new mascara." She said with a big smile. as if weighing an idea. I did my errands first." "Very good." "Of course not. "I've got quite a bit of work today. I spent the next hour finalizing my grocery list and then headed to town. "Actually. We exchanged good mornings and I started making some toast and helped myself to a banana. and then held out a small envelope. I'd be happy to do it. stopping by the bank to deposit my pay. I don't think so. Mr. "He said you were to get yourself something as well. opening the envelope to find a $25 gift card. Miss Swan. I think. See you then. "I'm going to bike to Southbay's this morning before it gets too hot. Cullen? Polite is the word you're looking for. A book I've ordered at Harland's has come in." He turned to go. sir." He picked up his coffee cup and plate and carried them to the sink. "Today is what. Do you need anything while I'm there?" "That's kind of you to ask." I frowned in confusion. When I arrived at Harland's. You'd very politely like me to increase your hours. I'd be happy to. sir. and then the drug store where I got my monthly birth control. but no. Cullen. I'll call and let them know they can give it to you. dusting?" "Yes. Cullen was already in the kitchen when I came down around 8:30 for some coffee. there is something you can do for me in town." "Now Miss Swan." ." She handed me a book that was already bagged. Monday morning Mr. "I'd never say otherwise.
it's non-refundable. so I slipped them on and went down to start work. grabbing a veggie pita and iced tea at one of my favorite sandwich shops. I decided that instead of socks and sneakers." I gave the saleswoman a quick smile of apology for my ungrateful response and turned to look at the store. I wasn't getting any faster at dusting. I could actually hear myself think for once. which felt deliciously cool compared to my jeans. I poured myself a glass of water and sat down at the island. my flats would be more comfortable as well. I put the groceries away. and wasn't completely decided on how to make the Swiss chard. "Miss Swan. I couldn't even run a simple errand for Mr. Cullen come in. I kind of liked having the place to myself. I was going to try a balsamic vinegar reduction and was happy to see some Alaskan salmon in the fish section. and realized that was perfect. If I spent on the card on a cookbook for myself. I thought as I started to wander through the shelves."He didn't!" "Is that a problem?" "Can you put this back on his account?" I tried giving it back to her but she shook her head and held her hands out. I finished right at four again. Cullen without him doing something generous in return. so I decided to eat in town. "Fine. and headed into the kitchen to get organized on dinner. then went and hunted down the rest of what I needed. he'd just have to accept it. left the books on the kitchen island and tip-toed upstairs where I washed my face and changed into my dress. Cullen. I thought. Eventually I stumbled into the cookbook section." would get the message across. "How to Stop Being so Generous and Let Others Do Things for You." . "I didn't hear you return from town and I must say you work very quietly. "I'm sorry. I tiptoed back upstairs and brought down my laptop to see what I could find online. but considering the size of his library I'd probably end up duplicating something he already had. pulling out a few of the household cookbooks and even checking my new one but finding nothing helpful. I wasn't sure you'd made it back. finally settling on one that looked just right. and then headed to Southbay's. I tried to think of a book to get Mr. I asked Mike to wrap me a one-pound filet. here you are. When I got back to the house it was early afternoon and already quite warm. I paid for it with the gift card and a few dollars from my purse. I'd decided to make another fish dinner for tonight because they were quick and I honestly didn't know if I was ever going to get faster at dusting. I had a recipe for braised chard pulled up and was comparing it to something I'd found in the stack of cookbooks when I heard Mr." He opened the fridge and pulled out a sparkling water. which was oddly deserted for the lunch hour until I realized that most of the university students had left by now. same with the sauce. I was getting hungry by the time I'd finished. washed up. Cullen. I browsed for a while. The fish would probably take 30 minutes. as I leafed through my new cookbook. Maybe a self-help book. but I wasn't sure if the mashed sweet potatoes would take longer to boil than regular potatoes. even if he'd be the ultimate beneficiary. I was determined to do a good job for Mr. palms forward. I just couldn't figure out any shortcuts and although I could probably get away with not being thorough. Thank you." I sighed in exasperation.
what can I say. thank you." I held up the cookbook I'd chosen. See you at six. Miss Swan. And thank you for the gift card at the bookstore. knowing full well it would be."I did. He'd given up trying not to smile and looked as happy as I'd ever seen him. Your cooking is fine. you should let me get to work. ." His tone was stern but he was trying hard not to smile back at me." "Is it now. "I've decided to improve my cooking. "And what did you get for yourself." I pulled it out from under a cookbook and set it down in front of him. and he noticed all the cookbooks then. but doing things like that is a sure way to get me to stop offering to do your errands. so unless you don't want to be served promptly at six. knowing I'd managed to outsmart him." I got up and started closing books and clearing off the island." I couldn't help but smile. I shrugged. "That isn't necessary. "Here's your book." He chuckled. "I need to get started. including the recipe on my laptop." I snuck one last look at him before he left." "Yes. "It's my new summer hobby. more than fine. if you don't mind my asking?" "This. by the way. Now.
Cullen was down to only a couple of apples." I smiled up at him." . no meat. what? Why would I do that? Well." He came and stood next to me. Cullen opened the fridge and asked me if I'd like a sandwich for lunch. Crème Brule sounded tricky and had to be browned at the last minute. "Mr. and I was looking for ways to please him. He obviously preferred me to look a certain way. Chicken cordon bleu and scalloped potatoes. remember. For a while I considered a career in cocoa retrieval. I may have to rethink my career options. I scanned the ingredients and hoped I could find some cocoa powder. No meat. Cullen come into the kitchen. It wasn't until I was almost home that it occurred to me to make a dessert. But that seems to have changed. Finally I turned the page to a chocolate mousse recipe. what difference would it make? The dresses were comfortable and I didn't mind wearing my hair down.CHAPTER 10 Monday night's dinner had been a big success." "Right. Wait. but there was time to bike back to town if I had to. but he didn't say anything. Cullen?" I stuck my head out the pantry door." We had moved back out to the kitchen by this time. it's up here. Cullen loved the salmon and declared the mashed sweet potatoes one of his favorites. Interrupting my internal debate." He reached up to the top shelf and pulled down a small tin. I should. I hurried into the kitchen when I got back and pulled out a couple of cookbooks. that sounds great. I biked into town. I picked up the rest of the things I needed and started pedaling back. Madeleines looked easy but required a specific pan. He quickly took in the fact that I was in jeans and a pony tail. Mr. "Being six two has its advantages. After a quick breakfast Tuesday morning. "Do you know if you have any cocoa?" "I think so. I made another mental note to change into my uniform as soon as I got up in the morning. Mr. but the competition was too fierce. "Yes." "Not enough demand?" "Not the right kind. though. Tonight's dinner was going to be kind of French. "Sure. I asked Mike to wrap up some chicken breasts and also another pork tenderloin as I was going to ask Alice if she wanted to come out tomorrow. I made a mental note to start writing them down. I wish I'd thought of that before I went shopping. I'll see what I can do. "Ah. A tart would be nice. and this would save me a trip back into town. I was digging around in the pantry when I heard Mr. but I hadn't bought any fruit this morning and Mr.
"Miss Swan. You'll have to wait until dinner to find out. Wait for dinner. fighting back the perpetual blush. are you?" "Of course not. I'm not telling you." . sir. I do manage to feed myself during the day and on weekends even though I don't particularly enjoy doing so.He started pulling various things out of the fridge and placing them on the island. "You're vacuuming today." He snorted a bit of a laugh and started assembling a sandwich. but it was the perfect combination of crunchy." "Cocoa being one of them?" "Yep. since you started working for me." "Thanks." After a few more toppings. "Miss Swan. Just for that. "Is Swiss cheese okay?" "Sure." "Are you taking your hostilities out on another cake?" "Very funny. Cullen took our plates to the sink. Cullen." And I did." It took me a second to catch his meaning and I just looked down. You're not trying to sneak in extra hours. right?" "Yes. "This is really good. put it on a plate and handed it to me. I hadn't been paying attention to what he'd put in it." "I mean it. but I had an idea for a special treat for tonight and I needed to see if you had the ingredients. he sliced my sandwich in half. sitting down across the island with his own. spicy. I feel like that's all I do." Third mental note to self: make a big meal on Fridays so that the fridge is full of left-over’s for the weekend. and something tangy. "Don't look so surprised. where he saw the cookbooks out. you aren't officially at work until this afternoon. Mr. We finished our sandwiches and Mr.
I'll be right back." I nodded. Miss Swan." "Yes." "You're always welcome to." "I like to be surprised. including Mr. It took all of my will-power not to come downstairs and see what you were making. "I could smell this cooking."I'm not working on anything important this afternoon so feel free to come in and do my office. This looks delicious. He had to get up so I could reach under his desk." When I returned with the bottle he'd already started eating." He gave me one last smile and left. let's see. Miss Swan. "Good evening. Without realizing I was doing it." "Good evening. his hands in his pockets. "If that's all for now. sir. I smiled at him as I opened the wine and poured him a glass. You'll find some in the refrigerator inside the cellar. ." He looked up at me. I bit my bottom lip. okay. What can I get you to drink?" "Well. Dinner is the only part of my day that I don't know what to expect. sir. I'd flattened the breasts with a mallet. browned them in a pan and finished them in the oven. I vacuumed the whole house. sir. That way you won't have to bring the vacuum upstairs again tomorrow. watching me with an odd smile on his face. and a serving of chocolate mousse was chilling in the fridge. Miss Swan. so I tried to finish as quickly and efficiently as possible. stuffed them with ham and cheese. obviously. The scalloped potatoes looked good too." "Oh. Mr. I'll go back to the kitchen. his cheekbones so sculpted. The vegetables were almost ready to go. How about a voignier?" "Is that a kind of wine?" "Yes. a white wine. You're sure?" "Yes. Or I wouldn't have offered. From this angle his eyelashes looked so long. and he stood by the windows. Cullen was putting his napkin in his lap as I entered the dining room. Cullen's office. folding my hands behind my back. His eyes moved to my mouth and I quickly released my lip. The chicken had come together nicely. Something french. I could tell he was watching me work. my dear.
returning with a small dish of chilled mousse and a dessert spoon. "I showed mercy today and I think you'll like it. fingering his wine glass. I helped myself to some potatoes and haricots verts and sat at the island to wait. "Wait just a moment. and pushed his plate to the side. "Can I get you anything else." "No." I picked up his plate and took it to the kitchen. sir. I hope tonight's dessert didn't fall victim to your violent temper. "Miss Swan." I couldn't help but smile as I could see how much he liked it. too." He took a sip of wine and scooped up the last bite of potatoes. wait here beside me as I finish. It was about fifteen minutes before he called me back in to freshen his wine glass and I noticed he only had a few bites left." "Of course not. A moment later he was finished. "Now. Cullen. sir." "That's the idea. Mr. I tightened my hands and looked down at the floor. "You do realize that fixing such delicious meals only works to my benefit. I'll call you when I need more wine. right?" "I know. with my hands behind my back. You made this yourself?" "Yes. thank you. Then he leaned back in his chair." I laughed." He took another bite of chicken as I was leaving." I started to go but he lifted his hand." His praise was drawing that familiar surge of elation from me." He took a spoonful of mousse." "Pardon me?" . you may go. "Extraordinary. Miss Swan." "But I won't stop you. This is the best I've eaten in years. sir?" "No." I stood like I had before. sir. Cullen. He took the last bite of chicken. "And you really don't have to exert yourself on my behalf." "Sit. if you don't mind. Mr. but the rest isn't chilled yet. you do know that. my dear." He smiled up at me and forked the last few beans on his plate. "Is there enough for you to have some?" "I made a whole batch. "Thank you. I put it down in front of him with a smile."Yes.
" "I'm glad you like it. . I'll see you in the morning. this is all you." He seemed reluctant to go." He rested another minute or two and then put his napkin on the table. but was having difficulty maintaining my composure. I did the same. "Thank you for sharing dessert with me. It was when he'd wiped my lip with his thumb and then put it back in his mouth. "Another wonderful meal." "Thank you. Then he sighed. and how strong his arms had felt the night he carried me upstairs. again watching my mouth. "I'm going to do a little more work. There was only a spoonful left and I watched him take half of it. I opened my mouth for his spoon and he eased it in gently. "Delicious?" I nodded. or sharing his spoon." He shook his head. He watched carefully as I closed my mouth and he pulled out the spoon. Mr. But I couldn't have made it without your cocoa retrieval skills." "Goodnight. He took another spoonful for himself. started the dishwasher. sir."Sit. I smiled back automatically. This time some mousse escaped his spoon and he reached up to wipe my lip with his thumb. so you should get partial credit. on autopilot while I struggled to comprehend why his feeding me the mousse had affected me so strongly. I felt frozen in place as I watched him lick his thumb clean of whatever errant mousse he'd found on my lips. "I don't remember the last time I had chocolate mousse. My pulse had picked up and I surreptitiously clasped my suddenly shaky hands together in my lap." He took another spoonful and lifted it to me. Cullen. wiped the counter tops and set up the coffee. I finally figured it out. So soft. Miss Swan. Cullen." "You're welcome. I was imagining what it would feel like if Mr. put the spoon down in the empty dish and stretched back in his chair. That night I lay in bed. then scoop up the last bit and offer it to me again. I reached for the spoon this time and he watched me eat it. I pulled it out and sat down." he said with a smile. I knew his beard felt raspy but his lips looked soft." He looked at me with half a smile." He gestured to the chair to his left. I replayed the moment in my mind and realized that it wasn't being asked to sit with him at the table. Mr. I remembered how good he'd smelled when I'd hugged him in the garage. I felt like Mr. Just as I was turning out the light. I could still feel his thumb on my lip. "No. but finally rose and pushed in his chair." I cleared his dishes. "Goodnight. Miss Swan. "You have to try this. Cullen really kissed me. slowly drawing my fingers over the velvet bedspread. Cullen had kissed me." He lifted his spoon to my mouth and I opened it for him to ease in his spoon. "Too good to waste.
eager-to-please new housekeeper on whom he could practice his manners. I wanted Mr. "Miss Swan." That wasn't completely untrue. I thought. If he doesn't like you 'that way." He decided to accept my explanation. Things would work themselves out. No way. "I was thinking of making myself some eggs. Good. I didn't know if he felt the same way about me. I wanted him more than I'd ever wanted anyone before in my life. In his eyes. For my boss. You don't have to ask me first. yes. of course. Would you like some?" "I don't know what I'm in the mood for yet. Bella. maybe he routinely fed them mousse. I'm not working. would it be all right if I invited Alice over for a while this morning?" "Of course it would.' I wasn't the first girl to ever have a crush on her boss and I wouldn't be the last. Whitlock hadn't been wearing a dress the two times I'd met her. Bella. The apples were still there and weren't getting any fresher.' what are you going to do? I'm going to continue with my duties. And if he does like you 'that way' and eventually makes a pass at you? I'm going to grab a hold of him and ravish him on the spot.I rolled over and buried my face in my pillow with a quiet groan. it just didn't make sense. cared about my safety and wanted me to be happy. But maybe he routinely fingered his housekeepers' hair. But that still didn't mean he wanted me the way I did him. I had it bad. they always did. The next morning Mr. Whitlock. I answered myself." He looked up at me for the first time and took in the fact that I was wearing my dress and my hair was down. a young. don't worry. opening the fridge to check out my options. With that reassuring thought. his teasing. Really bad. finish out the summer. Just don't play your records too loud. "Mr. He'd given me signals that I was attractive to him. The problem was I didn't have a clue what to do about it. how many times do I have to warn you about sneaking in extra hours?" "Oh. I pulled one out and held it up to him. But Mrs. a different top each time. I finally felt myself begin to drift asleep. but I didn't know how much stock to put into them. Bella? Really. I just decided to put this on now so I don't have to change later. You can do that. every time he did something nice for me. Cullen. their necklaces. Really. try not to torture myself too much over him. but every time he called me his dear. I finally began to relax. I might just be a pretty new toy to play with. I answered myself with a chuckle. I knew he liked me. his flirting. "Okay if I have this?" . Cullen was already in the kitchen reading a newspaper when I came downstairs. right? "Hmm. they'd thrown up the white rag of surrender. I wanted him. realizing the silliness of my 'problem. Obediently. every time he complimented my cooking. Okay. Maybe he routinely chose uniforms for his housekeepers that flattered their coloring. try to be rational about this. I'd tried to fight it. He was so much better looking than I. she'd been in pants and. Cullen. We said our good mornings as I helped myself to coffee." I said. my defenses gave a little and tonight when he fed me the mousse. I couldn't imagine it happening with Mrs. I remembered. and move on with my life in the fall.
Then he got up." He reached over my shoulder and pulled two eggs out of the bin." "Then why would you say that?" I was half laughing. He had moved over to the stove and was cracking the eggs into a pan. He came and stood in front of me." "Well." He waved the spatula at me and raised one eyebrow. "You wouldn't!" "No. the day is young. and we can't have that. I watched his fingers deftly handle the shells." "Are you sassing me.He nodded with an 'of course' expression on his handsome face. and stood just behind me. Maybe I'll think of something." he laughed. I realized that if you bring home something you don't want me to eat. "Because I haven't seen you blush yet this morning. He'd picked up a spatula and was fiddling with his eggs. I wouldn't cook the tenderloin. to be an eggshell." "Okay. "Dinner?" "Yep. He pointed to the package that held tonight's pork tenderloin." "And now I know the rest of the menu. can we? Ah. but other ingredients might disappear into my lunch if you don't warn me first." ." I took a bite of the apple. there it is. no problem. came over. "I would never. "Don't make me bend you over my knee and teach you a lesson. Stay away from the artichoke in the produce drawer and don't go anywhere near the watercress. No surprises for you tonight. "When I saw the pork in the fridge. Miss Swan?" "What if I am?" I teased back. putting one finger under my chin. "That's no fun. "You might think you do." he said with an exaggerated sigh. let me know. obviously. and said simply. Oh. half indignant.
it's a uniform." "Lure him in." Mr." "No." She spun around with her arms extended. sue this guy. this guy must be filthy rich!" She exclaimed as I showed her the library. best-sellers?" She asked in almost a whisper." She shook her head in dismay as if dealing with a slow child. Since I wear it for work. he's too much of a gentleman. And he'd never harass me." "Uniform? It looks like a normal dress. "He lets me use it whenever I want already." "That color looks really good on you. "There's this thing? It's called Google? It's on the internet. Show some skin. Then all of this could be yours. I've just never thought to look him up. He's working right down the hall. Do you know what an internet is?" "Shut up. And it's comfortable so I didn't make an issue out of wearing it." "He didn't like me in my regular clothes. "Ssh. "What exactly does he write. I've never asked him. Sue me. girl." "Turn around. Get him to sexually harass you or something.CHAPTER 11 Alice was duly impressed with the house. Bella. "It fits you perfectly. He said he wanted me to look more like an employee and not a student. He might hear you." "Will you stop?" "What's this you're wearing." I gave her a spin. too. anyway?" She fingered my sleeve. "I don't actually know." "Bella. Bella." "I know. but Alice was by far the loudest thing I'd heard in the house since I started working here. "My God." . so he got me this to wear. and I'd closed the library doors behind us. "It's my uniform. Alice. Cullen's door was closed.
that sounds good. Do you want to?" "This weekend?" "Yeah. Alice.' "Of course I'm sure." "Why do you have it on now if you're not technically working yet?" Alice's questions were starting to make me feel a little squirmy." She gave me an odd look." Then she finally took pity on my discomfort and changed the subject. I was thinking about a weekend trip to LaPorte. Alice. Finally she picked up a strand of my hair and gave it a sniff. It's the same as the curtains in his office. You're making me want one. You never look in the mirror. Then she lifted my hands and examined my palms. "What are you doing?" "Checking you for signs of zombie-ism. I can leave Friday night after dinner. "That's what I thought. "I could tell yesterday morning when I was in my jeans and t-shirt that he didn't like it. you're being ridiculous. But you can't be too careful around zombies. do you? You are rocking this dress. the 'problem. I'll call you Friday and we'll work out the details. especially ones in pretty dresses that enhance their natural features. "So. I already know a place where we can stay. There's an art museum there I've been dying to visit. It's no big deal." "Probably. Had he been checking me out? Why did I hope that maybe he had? Oh right." "Good lord. are you sure?" I craned my neck over my back but of course couldn't see anything."He chose the color. Cullen watched me vacuum his office yesterday started to make sense. so I just decided to wear this all day from now on." . and my dad said we could use his car. It's not like he took my measurements." "I can't wait." "It's just a coincidence it fits me well. Suddenly the way Mr. I'm talking about how it looks. why not?" "Sure. I never lie. "I'm not talking about the fit." "Good." She came even closer and peered into my eyes." "Jesus. Do you have any idea how good this dress makes your ass look?" "What?" My voice came out almost as loud as hers had been before. That was no coincidence.
Whitlock had quit. As I fixed myself a light lunch. and Mr." "Deal. My mind was still bubbling with ideas as I cleaned his windows. Cullen. Or maybe his money came from somewhere else altogether. I wondered what his Wednesday appointment could be. she was wrong on occasion. Not only had I started my work a little earlier than usual. Ah. Oh. I thought. "No results for Edward Cullen. Cullen eventually led me to Alice's question this morning about what he wrote. Did you mean Edmonds Culinary School?" What the hell? The urge to snoop was almost overwhelming as I cleaned his office that afternoon. he'd never said he did. "Miss Swan. I'd decided after a fruitless fifteen minutes on my computer that Mr. Cullen asked me to clean." "This isn't necessary. I have a service that comes in twice a year and does big jobs like the windows and rugs. Or maybe he didn't write at all. Alice was the one who told me that and although she never lies. And I wanted to know more about why Mrs. I got my laptop up and running and typed his name in my search bar. putting my plate in the sink and running up to my room. Cullen left at twelve. that was something else I could do to repay Mr. He saw me at the window and raised his eyebrows in a question." Alice left around eleven. and he merely dabbled in writing and hadn't published yet. but I wanted to hear his. Now there's something I can solve." "Deal. He'd told me I was the only employee he'd ever wanted to touch and I wanted to believe him." ."I'll do art museums with you during the day if you come out to clubs with me at night. what are you doing?" "What does it look like? I'm exercising my arms. Cullen drove up. I'd managed to dust his desk without opening any drawers and felt very proud of my self control. like today. Cullen must write under a pseudonym or maybe he was a technical writer or a ghost writer. Dwelling on the things I didn't know about Mr. and it wasn't long before I heard his footsteps on the stairs. I gave him a reassuring smile and wave. I could clean the other windows on days I had extra time. At three I watched as Mr. but I carried the stepladder and cleaning supplies into the library and got started. I only have you do my office windows because I spend so much time in there and I like them cleaned more often. Then it occurred to me that although these huge windows were in so many of the rooms. I so wanted to believe him. I wasn't especially looking forward to doing a whole extra bank of windows. I'd heard her version of it. but not having to vacuum the office meant I was finishing up in here at two. Had he tried to touch her hair? I felt nauseous at the thought of it. the ones in the office were the only ones Mr.
Cullen continued to linger in the room. The music alternated between loud swells of minor chords and delicate passages of a haunting melody. right? So why didn't it? I decided not to think about it right now and focus on dinner. By the time he brought the piece to a poignant conclusion. and headed toward the door. while I continued working." "Thank you. I had extra time today and just thought I'd keep working. "I may take you up on that. Mr. It wasn't like I was going to go around kneeling at his feet. Although it already had. closed the piano. "Am I bothering you. but then I remembered the time I knelt in his office. Eventually he rose. right? Did he really think I was beautiful? I knew I was okay. Mr. looking at his books." He strolled around the room for a bit." He shook his head in self-deprecation. but beautiful? No. Quite the opposite. I was finally down to the lowest tier of panes and had to get down on my knees to reach them. kneeling by the windows. and I'd liked it."Well. and I glanced over at him. No matter how much I was trying to think of ways to please him." He chuckled and looked over at me. I continued wiping at the windows but was only cleaning in theory as I'd closed my eyes and let myself get immersed in the music." "I'll wash the windows in here any time if you play while I work. I'm a little rusty. A few notes floated into the air. I'd stopped moving altogether. he must have meant something else. I'd been on the floor. He was watching me work. Did he like seeing me kneel? Was that it? If it was. Cullen!). that was not going to happen. ." "I'm sure. trying to picture myself. still kneeling on the floor. I'm almost done so is it okay if I finish?" "I guess it's all right. it should bother me. But I assure you. What was it?" "Rachmaninoff. I replayed the comment in my head a couple times. I'd love to hear you play. eventually seating himself at the piano and lifting the lid. my music is far from being the most beautiful thing in the room. "Like I said. and the time I fell asleep on the dining-room floor. when he stood above me without speaking." I thought about his comment while I worked on my homemade ravioli (surprise. if you're sure you don't mind. He must have been referring to me." He did a few warm up arpeggios and then began a piece I didn't recognize but sounded difficult to my untrained ears." "Are you kidding? That was the most beautiful thing I've ever heard. hardly the most becoming position. Miss Swan?" "Oh no. "That was incredible.
and carried it in. chuckled. I'd never cooked artichokes before either and they took longer to steam than I'd expected. A slight frown crossed his features as I left. but it wasn't that hard. with rosemary and garlic marinated tenderloin. sir. sir. as I'd never made it by hand before. his meal only barely eaten. They took a little longer than I expected. I got a sinking feeling in my stomach that he didn't like it as he looked up at me with a questioning expression. Would you like more wine?" He nodded and I refilled his glass. The tenderloin was resting and the salad was ready. His wine glass was still full. . poured him a glass and left the bottle on the table. "What's this. "Yes. and started lifting one to his mouth. thank you. I'm sorry they weren't done right at six. Mr. "Yes. Mr. just time-consuming. Cullen his salad first and brought it out on a separate plate." I pulled last night's bottle out of the fridge and brought it back to the dining-room. Would you like a drink with your salad?" "I'll have another glass of viognier." "Good evening." He shook his head. I hope you don't mind being served in courses tonight. I need a few more minutes to finish the rest of the meal." "Thank you. I decided to serve Mr. swapping it for his empty salad plate.Wednesday's night dinner was Italian themed. "I'm sure they'll be well worth the wait. Cullen?" I said as I returned to the dining-room and stood beside him with my hands behind my back. I had his plate ready when he called for me." I put his salad down. sir. "No. I ate some salad as I waited at the island." "Yes. artichoke and cheese stuffed ravioli. hoping he was enjoying his dinner. The ravioli was the only challenging part. not at all. then hurried back to the kitchen to boil the pasta and slice the tenderloin. but I needed ten more minutes to finish the ravioli when six rolled around. is that why he'd frowned? I was just getting up to taste one for myself when he called me. Was the flavor off in the artichoke stuffing. my dear. then smiled to him as I began to return to the kitchen. and a watercress salad. Cullen." "Good. sir. Miss Swan. my dear?" "Pork tenderloin with artichoke stuffed ravioli. "Good evening." "You made these yourself?" He gestured to the ravioli with his fork.
then offered me his wine glass. it's perfect." he said. sir. Mr." Relief washed over me and I smiled back at him."Miss Swan. if that was the right word. calling me back to try the ravioli. He was becoming a different person at dinner. Cullen. You can have some for lunch tomorrow if you want." I sat in the same chair I used last night. ." I said with a smile. "What kind of cheese did you use?" "Asiago. my dear. put them down in front of him. and gave it back to him. Mr." He lifted a ravioli on his fork for me to try. "You bring it out in me. I could tell it made him happy and that made me happy. He called me back in when he was finished." "I'm so glad you like it. I made way too much." The relief I felt was apparent in my voice. "Absolutely. He almost seemed to want me to linger with him in the dining-room. "Did you make enough for your dinner. this is the best pasta I've ever had." I came back with a bowl of mousse and a spoon. sir. less authoritative and more affectionate. I would. I picked up his empty plate and asked if he'd like some more mousse for dessert." "Thank you. "Have you tasted it yet?" "No. I took a sip. I took it into my mouth and my eyes widened. but I didn't mind at all." "You're already too generous. sir. asking me to share his dessert last night. They had turned out well." "My god. "I can afford to be generous since I get more for lunch tomorrow. "You can go and eat your dinner now. Cullen." He turned his attention to his plate and took a bite of tenderloin. It was a bit unusual. thinking about his comment. but you spoil me. "You'll share with me again?" "Yes. He looked up at me with a very satisfied expression. definitely." "I wish I could give you some tenderloin as well. I'd love to. I just wanted to pay my compliments to the chef. Miss Swan?" "Oh yes. then offered me another ravioli." I retreated to the kitchen.
It was true. Here I'd been trying to puzzle out his behavior when he was perfectly aware that he was asking me to do something a bit odd." . too. He took a taste and nodded." he said. I nodded and shrugged." He lifted his spoon."That's my girl." "You do?" He looked at me intently. and thank you. He put his napkin on the table and then braced his hands on his knees. Miss Swan. I like it. agreeing with me. I kept my eyes on his as he watched my mouth close over the spoon. I don't mind. pushing himself up. swallowing." He raised the first spoonful to my mouth. It had held up just fine overnight. thank you for humoring me. his thumbs sweeping once across my cheekbones. "Goodnight. then reaching out and teasing his long fingers into my hair. "Miss Swan. We looked at each other and a smile crept up on my face as I said the first thing I was thinking. looking at me. In fact. Cullen. "Have some more. He sighed and again seemed reluctant to leave." That took me by surprise. "Thank you for everything. and it wasn't long before the mousse was finished. "Mr. as he cupped my face and leant down to kiss the top of my head. "Is it as good as it was last night?" I nodded.
luxuriating in the silence and the comfort of my bed. I wanted his hands on me everywhere. Still no sign of Mr. After I was done. But I still didn't know how he felt about me. and set out the bread and toaster. found some organic potatoes. Mr. his thumbs on my cheeks. I wanted him to kiss me everywhere. shower and change. Maybe not where I wanted him to. He'd left me half a pot of coffee. and started preparing the Cole Slaw. My mind wandered over last night's dinner. I ate quickly and quietly. I stretched and lay still for a few minutes. I didn't count the hug when he gave me my bike because I initiated it. put my dishes in the sink. When I did my room. it was going to be another hot day. Apart from the evening I'd been in crisis mode over my paper. touched my face. I put my IPod on. kissed my head. and now he was asking me to sit and share his dessert. I was already looking forward to it. I was making Crab Cakes and Cole Slaw tonight. I opened one of the windows and a warm breeze blew in. which meant more opportunities to touch me. trying to get an idea for the appetizer. . Cullen seemed to like drawing out dinner. I finished the room and turned to take the equipment downstairs. double-checked my grocery list and took off on my bike for Southbay's. I put on some shorts and a t-shirt and went downstairs for breakfast. I was singing under my breath. I put my dishes in the dishwasher. but he did kiss me. noting that Mr. I thought. I put the groceries away and went upstairs to check my emails. the only times he'd touched me outside the dining-room had been to help me out of his car and once under my chin. so another salad was probably too much. Cullen was already working. I didn't hum at all as I worked in the library. But in the dining-room. Mr. He was too reserved. and headed up to check out. Cullen when I got home shortly after eleven.CHAPTER 12 He kissed me. The kitchen was empty so I assumed Mr. curling up on my side and eventually letting sleep drift over me. I dried my hair and put on a little mascara. Cullen had put away last night's clean ones. I laid in bed that night reliving the feel of his fingers in my hair. I slept in Thursday morning past nine. Kissing the top of my head was hardly a bold declaration of desire. I pulled open the heavy curtains and had to squint at the bright sunlight. humming along with the music as much as I dared. so tender. The leeks caught my eye and I recalled that the first dish Mr. I grabbed a couple. I smiled as I put it in the microwave. then went back downstairs to eat a quick lunch. the dinner I was planning for tonight. too well-mannered. my body finally adjusting to the end of school and lack of morning dorm noises. The rest of the meal I could make later. What would go well with the rest of the dinner? I got everything I needed for the main course and dessert and then wandered through the produce section. On my way there. but I wouldn't expect that of him anyway. I could only take that as a good sign. too self-controlled to show that even if he was feeling it. so gentle. Cullen had declared a favorite had been the halibut with leek sauce. Cullen had left me a bowl with the last of the ravioli. and I smiled to myself. then got up and went over the windows. but by the time I was working in the dining-room. like the sweep across my lip he'd done with his thumb. it occurred to me that I should make a first course or an appetizer. and that was fine by me as well. I spent the next couple of hours sweeping and mopping. he'd played with my hair. this was the second meal today he'd set out for me. my tasks for the day.
so time passed quickly. I came down for a glass of water and heard you singing. sir. Dinner tonight was relatively easy." "Vichyssoise."Ah!" I nearly dropped the mop." "Good evening. this is the first time I've used it." "I'm relieved. What's this?" "Vichyssoise. Cullen his bowl of soup and a spoon. but don't believe I've ever had the pleasure. Can I get you something to drink?" "Will a white wine go well with the rest of the meal?" I thought about the crab cakes and Cole slaw." He threw his head back and laughed." He handed me back my earbud. but that's a good idea. Miss Swan. Please bring me a bottle of whatever you like. "Yes. "Really. "You don't look at all sorry. and that I could look at him forever. sir. this handsome. Cullen was leaning against the wall just inside the door. "You startled me!" "I'm sorry. that he would always look this happy. and nodded. I wished I could stop time. I should put some Rachmaninoff on for when I'm working in the library. I thought you were talking to yourself. mostly." "Different music for different chores?" "No." "I have some on here." "I would have thought you'd prefer something newer. this relaxed. but I had an extra first course and a dessert to make." "I hope you like it. Mr. This -" he gestured toward my IPod "at least makes sense. I pulled out my earbuds." He smiled and walked up to me." . Miss Swan. "Good evening. sir. I listen to a lot of different things. his face lighting up the way it did when he was really amused. sir. "And some death metal for when I'm making dessert. At six I brought Mr. his hands in his pockets. The rest of the afternoon I spent in the kitchen." "All right." He didn't look at all sorry. you're listening to the Rolling Stones?" "I like them. hip-hop or something. I'll let you choose tonight. watching me with that odd look he'd had when I'd vacuumed his office. I've heard of it. taking an earbud and putting it up to his ear.
"Tell me." I went back to the kitchen and prepared his dinner plate. and then reached for the bottle. delicious. nodding my approval. sir?" "Yes. What made you choose this one?" "I liked the label." "Have you tasted it yet?" "No." He chuckled and handed me the wine glass. sir." He lifted his spoon up to me and I bent down to take a taste. I carried in his plate and swapped it for his soup bowl. What exactly is vichyssoise?" He lifted a spoonful to his mouth. He took a sip of wine. I'll let you know when I'm done. I took a sip and gave it back to him. That's all that's in it?" "Pretty much. There was something flinty about the wine that balanced the cream and potatoes of the soup. "Thank you. sir. so I just grabbed one whose label caught my eye and brought it back upstairs. Cullen. my dear. tell me what you think." "Yes." "Such a treat. "A sauvignon blanc. smiling and nodding in agreement." "Did you make the Cole slaw yourself?" "Yes. I had no idea how to pair wines with food. my dear. thank you." He poured some sauce on a crab cake and took a bite. Cullen a glass. "It's potatoes. Are these crab cakes?" "Yes. leeks and cream. I nodded and swallowed." "Mmm. I was just finishing when he called. Remarkable. sir." He lifted his fork to me and I took the bite. turning it to read the label. Here." "Here. A little seasoning.I went down to the wine cellar and looked through the whites. served chilled. "Would you like more wine. I opened it at the table and poured Mr. simple and refreshing. sir. It was really good. "Mmm. Mr. try some. . The sauce is a caper-lemon butter. perfect.
" He took a bite of Cole slaw. Maybe it's a sign." He said the words slowly and started to grin. Edmonds Culinary School. "Edmonds Culinary School." He smiled at me fondly. were you googling?" I looked down at him and bit my lip." "That explains it. "I'm just surprised my inquisitive housekeeper hasn't asked me before now. technically. I thought you wrote under a pseudonym. not seeming at all bothered that I'd admitted to snooping into his background. Have you ever thought of taking classes?" "Thank you. not because I have any secrets." He chuckled. I'm afraid. "Nothing so interesting. "Mr. "What. though." I laughed a little."You're really an excellent cook. "Alice told me you're a writer and I was curious. "I did run across one online accidentally the other day. but no I haven't. I wanted to know what you write. what do you write?" "I'm not a writer." I said quickly and looked down. Miss Swan. "I googled you." I smiled back at him. my dear. or whom. "What do you translate?" "I have a contract with the University. maybe. He looked at my mouth and then raised his eyebrows and his eyes as he waited for my answer. remembering my futile Google search yesterday. Cullen." "Explains what?" "I couldn't find anything about you online." "They must pay you awfully well." "Accidentally?" "I was googling something else." "You can ask me anything. I don't talk much about myself but that's out of habit. more of a translator." . sir. or were a ghost writer." "What I write?" He took another bite of crab. I help them. If one of the international faculty wants to publish in English.
" I went back to the kitchen. I was curious about so many things. But I have resources of my own. I felt so bad for him about his parents and didn't want to risk opening any other old sores. if you're sure." "But what are you going to have for dinner?" "There's still some soup and Cole slaw. let alone both. cut a slice of cake and brought it back out with a clean fork." He handed me his wine glass with a reassuring smile. and because of me." I went back to the kitchen and sat at the island. sir. Even though my mother had left us. Miss Swan. I'm finished. who had stretched back with a very satisfied look on his face." "It was a long time ago. his empty plate pushed to the side. Cullen. I'm leaning toward a glass of port. "Miss Swan. "Would you like more wine. that will be plenty. "I made dessert tonight. I still had her in my life. "Yes." I pushed the door open and approached Mr. happy and content. my dear Miss Swan. Mr. and even though my father was more of a buddy than a dad. and their estate allowed me to move here and buy this house. I'll let you know when I need you. two more. I couldn't imagine what it would be like to lose either of them." "All right. I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to pry. Cullen in five minutes than I had in the last three weeks. I'd love some. Cullen. Cullen?" "Hmm." "Still. but I wasn't going to ask him any more personal questions tonight. Is this lemon cake?" . Miss Swan." "Oh." "It's all right. Are there any crab cakes left over for my lunch tomorrow?" I smiled. Miss Swan. but his parents' deaths was tragic. he was still a rock I could rely upon. "Is there anything else you want to ask me?" I shook my head. I took a sip of wine and put the glass back down on the table. My parents passed away some years ago. "I have a question for you. I loved seeing him like this. sir. I assure you. The fact that he was a translator was easy to absorb."Fairly well. May I bring you some?" "Yes. I'd just learned more about Mr. Mr. sir.
I've never thought about it." "Thank you. "Would you mind bringing me a small glass of port?" I went over to the liquor cabinet and found the port near the gin." "You like bold flavors. It was good." He chuckled and turned back to his plate." "Yes. Cullen had twisted in his chair to watch me. Mr. Miss Swan. sir." "And spicy food. sir. definitely." "You do?" He smiled. . sir. transfixed by his eyelashes that were long enough to be reflecting light from the chandelier. "No." "Will you have some?' "I'd love to. I suppressed a smile as I brought it back to the table. bent down to fish a small glass out of the lower shelf."Yes." He tilted his head toward my chair and I sat. "It's very good." "Maybe. I had to try that recipe again to figure out what I did wrong. "I like working for you." "What else do you like. "Hmm?" "Did you solve the mystery of the murdered cake?" I snapped out of my daze. poured the drink and turned to bring it back to the table. Mr." "Thank you. my dear?" "I'd have liked it to have a stronger lemon flavor. but I'd expected it to be more lemony. Miss Swan?" His eyes were locked with mine and I said the first thing that popped into my head. I'm glad you tried it again. Cullen. He lifted a forkful to my mouth and I reached forward to take it in. "What do you think. Not a clue. "Here you go." "And did you?" He looked up at me and I was caught in his blue-eyed gaze." He took a bite of cake.
" I smiled and took a sip of port. "I'm glad to hear it. of course. passing me his glass of port with his free hand. "No. I'm twenty-one. and said. and your cooking goes above and beyond what I expected when I hired you. I stood too and collected our dishes. remember?" "Yes. and rose to go. Cullen?" He put his fork down and took a sip of port. very much. forking up another bite and raising it up to my mouth. "Goodnight. Some cultures would consider me elderly." "No?" He raised one eyebrow and looked at me sideways. Finally Mr." I said emphatically. . Right?" He was teasing me again. as I gave him back his glass." He looked down at his plate and took another bite of cake. Anthropology major. "I've never had port before." "I find that very hard to believe." I said. Did he really think he was old? "I suppose some insane cultures might consider you an elder. Mr. Mr. "Thirty-four. aren't you?" "Mr. but luckily not ours." "You'll have to trust me on that one. a full-grown adult. but there was undertone of seriousness. He lingered at the table." "Thank you. watching me. It's perfectly legal for me to drink. too."Yes." "No?" He swallowed his cake and frowned." "Goodnight. We finished our cake but stayed at the table for another ten minutes. Cullen. He smiled down at his plate. Cullen. Miss Swan." "How old are you. just talking. sir. "I like this. Thirty-four's not old. Cullen put his napkin on the table. In some cultures I'd even be considered an old maid. then sighed. I bow to your greater knowledge of insane cultures which would consider you an old maid. sir. I like you working for me as well. "You are old enough to drink. Your work thus far has been exemplary." Then he bent down and kissed the top of my head again." "Thank you for another lovely meal and lovely company.
" "I know. Maybe tonight after dinner. I don't think so." His thumb rubbed lightly over my wrist bone. he put a hand on my wrist and held me there. I'll call you when we get there. Anything's fine." He looked up me. maybe in the morning. After I was done. I hope that's all right." "Where are you going to be staying?" "Alice says she knows a place but she didn't tell me where." "Thanks for the tip." "Ah. I can't help it." "All right. "Mr. but Alice and I are going to LaPorte this weekend. remember?" I pulled the coffee carafe off its stand and walked over to refill his mug." "And you'll call me if anything goes wrong during the weekend and you need help?" . Full-grown adult. your weekends are your own." "There's also a very good restaurant on James Street called 'Grand's. Miss Swan?" "Of course you can. "I do worry. Cullen. Cullen. It's the first place I want to go. though. Mr." "There's a wonderful little art museum in LaPorte. "Can I ask a favor of you. "Of course it's all right. you don't have to worry about me. Mr. We'll check it out. sir. Cullen. "No. "You know how I am about your safety. I forgot to tell you before now." He drummed his fingers on the side of his mug.CHAPTER 13 Friday morning I dressed in shorts again since I was biking to Southbay's right after breakfast." I put some bread in the toaster and helped myself to the last apple. When are you leaving?" "We haven't decided yet. his face registering surprise and maybe a little disappointment. Cullen was at the island when I entered the kitchen and as I poured myself some coffee I asked him if he had any special requests for dinner." "Will you call me when you arrive to let me know you've gotten there safely?" "Mr. Miss Swan.
" He cleared his throat. I really don't mind. And no. I guess because the housekeeper he had before you. Mr. You must feel as if you've left home only to have gained a new father." "Stuck at his house? I don't get it. Bella? Want me to call you a taxi?" "Nope. I will." "That was nice of him. Cullen gave me a bike. did you meet her?" "Yeah." "She was always going on about how much he kept to himself. "How are you going to carry all that. Whitlock. "Miss Swan. his shoulders relaxing. keeping my eyes down. like he was avoiding her or something. I apologize if I seem overbearing. I could barely lift my basket. how she never saw him. Cullen offered me one of his guest rooms. "Good."Yes. "Thank you. Once it was all wrapped and packed. He didn't want me to feel like I was stuck at his house during my off hours." He let go of my wrist and let out a breath. Cullen through the weekend." "I'm living there for the summer." "Promise?" "I promise." "It was. "I definitely don't think of you as my father. Mrs." "Why?" "I don't know." "Really? I'm amazed to hear that." I added. and that I get there okay." When I got to Southbay's Mike helped me pick out enough things to get Mr." I put the coffee pot back and started buttering my toast. she trained me in. It's good that you'll know where I am this weekend." "It's okay. so Mr. sir. I couldn't find a decent apartment." .
and I couldn't leave here until eight tonight at the earliest. Cullen leave his office. Well." "Cats can't read. Whitlock thought Mr. that was interesting." "I feel like a cat reading a book in the sun. I took a quick shower when I got home. and called Alice. standing over my feet. I guess she had him pegged wrong then. Mrs. Mike. We agreed that since it was a two hour drive. I still had a couple of hours before starting work and decided to take it easy. Maybe an hour later I heard Mr. I thought. so I took my book down to the library to read for a while. kiddo. I felt a lot better knowing that. sinking deeper into the chair."Well. I snuggled down with my book propped on my chest and was soon lost to the world. "You look like a cat taking a nap in the sun. He paused at the library door and must have seen my feet hanging off the side of the chair because a moment later he appeared in front of me. Eventually I discovered that the most comfortable position was sideways. and sat down. I managed to talk her down from six AM to seven." "No?" I shook my head. We see each other all the time. with my bare feet hanging over one of the thickly-padded arms. She wanted to start early so we'd have the whole day in LaPorte. I know. thanks for your help and I'll see you next week. I pulled the curtains open. Cullen avoided her." I was surprised by how quickly I rose to Mr. You have a good weekend. Cullen's defense. Perfect. and we even eat meals together. turned one of the chairs so it was in the sun." "Well. his hands in his pockets. for a college student. put on my dress. it would make more sense for her to pick me up in the morning. "Wow. as I pedaled home. he's not like that with me." "Yep. I was going to be on my feet in the kitchen all afternoon. After a few minutes I kicked off my flats and curled my feet up underneath me. unusual maybe. "Napping just makes me feel more tired." "You too." "It's weird." Well. You can say it." "Maybe. Weird. and said I'd see her in the morning." . I've got to get going." "I can't nap.
would I?" "No." "Something special for dinner tonight?" "If it turns out. "Don't you dare!" He just laughed and turned away toward the windows." He laughed out loud. We were sitting at the island sharing the left-over crab cakes when he asked me if I had a busy afternoon ahead of me. I don't mind if you're barefoot. sir. I'll be down here the rest of the time. "You can leave them off if you want. "My god." "By what?" He laughed and turned back to me. laughing and yanking my feet away." His expression changed a little at that comment but he kept his smile. Miss Swan. I'd hate to have to hurt your pretty face. I wouldn't stand a chance. "Mr. That's not part of your job. I'm warning you. "Your spastic kicks?" "Oh. My skirt rode up over my knees and half way up my legs. you name it. "Sorry. But actually I'm going to be making some meals for you to have over the weekend. taking one hand out of his pocket to rub his face. head butts." "Yes. hip checks. Flailing elbows."But are you ticklish like a normal person?" He was eying my bare feet." "I won't tolerate any tickling. "Not really. yes. walked over to him and poked him in the chest. Cullen!" I yelled at him." "No. You'll end up seriously injured if you ever try. worse than that. I have a whole arsenal. You wouldn't. deliberately giving me a second to pull my skirt down and sit up. "So consider yourself warned. " I said with a smile." I went back to the chair and started putting my shoes back on." "I'd love to. flapping hands. "So would my housekeeper care to join me for lunch? I was on my way down when I saw you in here." . Today I do the bathrooms and they go pretty quickly. absolutely not. but kept his hands in his pockets." I stood up.
It needed a little dusting off but thankfully looked perfectly workable. with the grill going. immersed in its own beautiful juices. in that case. By now. since I was going to be here for a while." "I can't let you do that. with a Roquefort-shallot sauce." I gave him a little eye roll. Once that was done." "Well. I checked the grill. Cullen. how's this. Giving them a quick rinse in the sink. At five I lit the briquettes and left the grill open while they heated. what's wrong with that? If I'm here. and went back inside to marinate the steaks. anyway. Perfect. I worked on the weekend meals for a while and then stepped out onto the patio to inspect an old charcoal grill I'd spotted earlier. cleaned out the old ashes. "Okay. I could very easily start taking advantage of your generous nature if you let me. but finally acknowledged with a nod that he'd agree to that condition. I wasn't going to make anything super fancy. I don't mind. good. I mean. Then I won't worry about you driving at night. The steaks were done marinating and I gave them a thorough dusting of salt and plenty of ground pepper. or pretty soon you'll be cooking dinners on weekends as well. Mr. grilled." "But I do. remember?" He just cocked his head at me. You let me make these dishes for you just this once. the oysters came off. I left them there unshucked and prepared a quick butter and Tabasco reduction on the stove. I pulled it out into the center of the patio. if you're still totally opposed to me doing some cooking on weekends. dumped in the new briquettes I'd bought at Southbay's. I carried them into the house and shucked them open. I went back to the fridge and pulled out the package of oysters." "Mr. The oysters went on."I know it's not." "Oh. and when I get back Sunday night. "That reminds me. Cullen was getting filet mignon tonight. the shells began to open. very slowly for dinner. when you are leaving tonight?" "I'm not actually. clearly recalling his words when he'd asked me to move in. you can't take advantage of something freely offered." "Well. "I guess not. I was pretty sure he was going to like it. then I won't do it again. it was time to start the first course. but I don't want you to have to cook for yourself or order take-out while I'm gone. I turned on the radio to keep me company. I hope you're making something I can eat very. put our plates in the sink and left the room with one last "See you at six. I put them aside on a serving platter with a small bowl of the butter sauce and went back outside to make the steaks. careful not to burn myself on the hot shells and leaving each delectable oyster on the bottom of its shell." He hesitated. I've got a fridge full of ingredients that are just going to be sitting there all weekend otherwise. and said. Alice is picking me up tomorrow morning at seven. Miss Swan." I finished the bathrooms and changing his sheets in no time and was soon at work in the kitchen. Once they were ." He rose with a smirky smile of his own.
" He slipped an oyster into my mouth and I inwardly agreed with him. sir." . Cullen.' I must have been beaming. He swallowed. I only bought a dozen. sir. Would you like a drink to go with them?" "Would white wine go with the rest of the meal?" "Not tonight. They'd turned out perfectly." I took my seat. still looking at me. then eat it with your fork. "Add these to my favorites. I quickly set up Mr. sir. Oysters." "Mr. please. I'll have a martini. Oysters were a staple growing up and I'd been so happy to find some at Southbay's this morning. "Miss Swan. and returned to the table. At six on the dot I walked in with the oysters. "Are there any extras for you to have?" "No." I nodded and made his drink." "In that case. Miss Swan. He looked up at me with an almost anguished expression and for a second I thought I'd made a horrible mistake. sir." "Sit. "I've never had these before." "What's this? "An appetizer." "Oysters?" "Yes." he muttered to himself as he reached for another. Cullen's place setting.done and resting. "I had no idea these things were so delicious. I was so happy he liked them. "That was the best thing I've ever eaten. What do I do?" "Spoon some of the sauce on top of one. where I tightened my apron and straightened my hair. placing his drink above his plate. I hope you like them." He did what I said and put the oyster in his mouth. then hurried back to the kitchen. "Here.
Mr. He looked at me while he ate with a serious expression that I couldn't quite read." "Yes. my dear. "Imagine. Finally he offered me some potatoes and peas. my dear." He shook his head and looked at me fondly. I knew there was no way I was misreading his expression." . "But I'll get it for you now. my dear. that was possibly the best meal I've ever eaten in my life. a smile playing across his face. I'm fine for now. I am. "My dear. having got quite hungry myself. All good." he said. I felt a blush start to creep up my neck and rose with his plate. "Would you like me to freshen your martini?" I asked as I lowered the plate to the table." "There's no way the rest of dinner is going to top that. "I'm so glad you liked it." "Can I get you a nightcap?" He closed his eyes briefly and sighed. "I don't think I could eat another bite if I tried. I'm glad you like them. if you're ready." I laughed. "Yes. sir. Cullen. "No thank you. which I happily took." He said after swallowing. wondering if Mr." He continued eating in silence. There's still some cake if you'd like dessert tonight. I promise. this time looking into my eyes as he fed me. Get yourself one too. scooped some mashed potatoes with roasted garlic next to it. Cullen was looking at my behind or drawing out dinner or both. "I'll help you make up for lost time this summer. and brought his plate back in." He offered me another. a brandy. I saw the grill outside a while ago and decided to use it tonight. sit down again. He smiled his thanks to me as he ate it. "That was amazing."Yes. added a side of fresh peas I'd lightly drizzled with lemon." I rose and walked into the kitchen as slowly as I could. "You grilled this." He cut into his filet mignon and put his head back as he savored it. pushing his empty plate to the side. I thought to myself as I gently covered his filet mignon with the sauce." He offered me the last one but I shook my head. "Yes." He looked at me so affectionately. the only sounds in the room the scraping of his knife and fork. But please. if you'd like. Miss Swan. But walk slowly. all the time I've wasted in my life when I could have been eating oysters. sir. I'm kind of speechless.
It was affecting me a little bit." He laughed. than by myself in the kitchen. enough to get you to LaPorte and back. keeping his eyes on me. "Don't do that. I wouldn't mind at all. "For everything you do for me. looking up at me from under his eyebrows as he kissed the back of it. "Miss Swan. Mr. Miss Swan?" He asked as I set our drinks down and resumed my seat." "I'd rather sit out here with you. You're much better company than the refrigerator. "Have you had brandy before. Cullen. "Here you are. Mr. sir. "No. thank you." "High praise." He stood and moved toward the door. and took a sip of brandy. the fridge is mad at me for spending too much time with the stove." I smiled at him with my head still back. Mr. This is much better than I remember. Suddenly his expression changed." I looked at him in surprise. and now his fingers felt so delicate." "You don't have to say yes." I smiled and took a sip." "Thank you. sat down. "Oh. and put my envelope down next to my snifter. and I rested my head back against my chair." I smiled widely at him. belying the strength with which I'd heard them play the piano. "I'll be right back. then picked up my hand and raised it to his lips." He chuckled and took a sip of his." "Is it giving you the cold shoulder?" "Ha!" It was my turn to laugh. "Good one.I got up and moved his plate to the other end of the table. "My dad gave me a taste once. Miss Swan. "I don't like it when it looks like you're hurting yourself. "No. sir. I won't hold it against you. would you mind if I changed the rule about waiting for me in the kitchen? I like your company at dinner. closing my eyes. His lips had felt so warm on my hand." Mr." He continued to hold my gaze. I could feel my pulse starting to pick up and I bit my lip to try to get control of my body. gently pulling my bottom lip free and rubbing his thumb over it." I sipped at my brandy while he was gone." . "Well. while he lowered my hand and put his on top of mine. He was silent for a few moments and then leaned forward. Cullen came back in. Cullen smiled at me and lifted his hand to my mouth. not having eaten very much. "Wow. lightly stroking my fingers. my dear. I should pay you tonight in case I don't see you before you leave in the morning. Cullen." He took a sip of his brandy and looked at me. resting his forearms on the table and fiddling with his glass. then went to the liquor cabinet and poured two snifters of brandy.
we were done with our brandies. have a good time this weekend. sucking it lightly." He looked at me appraisingly and raised his snifter to mine. He cupped my face and leaned down to me. but when I am aware of it." He was smiling that way that made his eyes crinkle. I hope you have a good weekend too. I love it when you blush. and not as innocent as you might think. the pressure of his mouth increasing." I turned around." His lips met mine. Cullen. I mean. having no idea what he was thanking me for. Mr. All too soon he pulled away. "forgive me for this." I whispered automatically. Cullen. pressing harder." We clinked glasses and talked for a while longer. "Remember to call me tomorrow when you arrive. but I have to know. "No one is any more.I swallowed and found my voice. Mr. returning his kiss." "Another reason not to do it. saying in a low voice. however. I'm not a masochist. that's why it's so refreshing. You look so innocent. not really kissing me. I'm not a little girl. then moving to my top lip. Determination mixed with something predatory. I'm usually trying not to blush. "If I don't see you in the morning. We walked upstairs together and said goodnight to each other in front of my door. I turned to go in and he started down the hallway to his room. then pulled gently on my bottom lip." "You're welcome." I smiled at him and raised one eyebrow. "Thank you." He looked at my mouth and stepped even closer. the sensation of his tongue stroking mine quickly going to my head. his thumbs caressing my throat. He brushed them back and forth over mine. my mouth opening to his. Cullen helped me carry in the dishes and he loaded the dishwasher for me while I set up the coffee." "Thank you. Mr. I won't try to prevent blushing if you smile more. Finally. Mr. "I'm not even aware I'm doing it most of the time." . "It doesn't hurt. so lightly at first I barely felt them. I looked up at him as he came to stand right in front of me." He chuckled at me and took a sip of brandy. then back up at me. His hands slipped down to my neck at the same moment his tongue entered my mouth and I stifled a small groan as he pulled me closer to him. "Miss Swan. sir. just touching me with his mouth. neither one of us in any hurry to wrap up the night. moving his mouth over my bottom lip. He laughed. "Delicious. my dear. "That's easy to agree to. Cullen. "Why do you do it? Bite your lip sometimes." I felt his hands leave me and he straightened. that was it. "But it's embarrassing to blush at my age. too. then both at once. trying to give him a worldly-wise look. He was coming back toward me." I took a sip of brandy. I could taste brandy on his lips. He looked down at me." He looked down into his brandy. holding onto him. I took a sip of brandy. the look on his face intensifying. just as I thought. My lips parted and he kissed me for real. My hands came up to his shoulders. "I'll make you a deal. a look on his face I hadn't seen before.
I nodded. then headed toward his room. . He looked me over one more time. a slight frown forming between his eyebrows.
" "Do you really think so?" "Kissing you like that? Come on. still thinking. "I don't think I've ever seen you this discombobulated. right?" "No! Well. the only question now is do you want him?" "Yes. He’s not an ogre. And you in that accidentally-looks-amazing dress. what else could it mean?" Alice and I were less than 20 minutes into our drive to LaPorte. I put my head back on the headrest and closed my eyes." . "I knew it. I mean. Bella. but that doesn't necessarily mean anything. you'd end up crushing on him. and I'd already told her everything that had happened last night. He's been getting more and more affectionate toward me. He's wonderful." "How?" "You told me he was your type before even moving in with him. but it seems to have done the trick. It's just a matter of time. just kind of gentle." "Then let him set the pace. throw myself at him?" "Of course not." "Well then. "Girl. you're alone together all day in that big house. he wants you. he wants you bad. He's kind of a control freak. It may have been gentle. When he kissed me it wasn't passionate or amorous. you'd probably hurt yourself. you want him. He wants you. Cullen's lips on mine. I say go for it. reliving the feel of Mr. I wouldn't throw yourself at him at all. "In fact. like he was curious. is he?" "No." She tapped her fingers on the steering wheel." "Go for it? What. No. "I don't know." She looked over at me with a smile. Alice laughed. let it happen. You just go along with it." I shook my head and rubbed my eyes. Maybe he just wants someone to dote on. finally admitting out loud that I had the hots for my boss. or I don't know. maybe a little." I hissed out.CHAPTER 14 "Oh. I figured that unless he turned out to be some kind of ogre. his fingers on my neck.
Cullen. Miss Swan. they're always there." "Ah. Haircuts." "Actually." was all she said but she gave me a little wink. "What?" ." "Deal. She's very interesting. you know? I can't just turn them off. some shopping. What if he spends the whole weekend regretting kissing me?" "He won't. and a lonely one at that. Our conversation was brief and businesslike and I was about to say goodbye when he asked me if I knew when I'd be getting home. Now that I have these feelings for him. Would you like me to call you before we leave?" "Please. "I'm getting to know the real Bella Swan this summer." "Well." "Will do. that does sound like fun. "When was the last time you got a hair cut?" "I don't remember. "I don't know yet. I know that's not your idea of fun.. sir. Trust me. But if he does . but we could both use a little polishing up. "Sir?" She asked me with a raised eyebrow." "Okay. you know what I mean.. Some time tomorrow night. manicures. okay?" "As long as we can still go out tonight. We'll still do the museum. "He's a bit formal about how he likes to be addressed. While Alice was freshening up in the bathroom I gave Mr." "Deal." I hung up just as Alice was coming back in the room."But what if he goes too slow?" "You little harlot!" She laughed. Last fall?" "Let's do some girly stuff this weekend. though." she turned to look at me. Cullen a quick call to let him know we'd arrived safely. Goodbye. giving my hair and clothes a once over. he's a man. Mr. Have fun." We got to LaPorte around nine and checked into a hotel Alice had found online." "Goodbye.
which meant a light day of breakfast. Alice was trying to kill me. sightseeing. intending to leave the rest here. manicures. then more shopping. I found a small print of one of the paintings I'd most admired and then a . How am I supposed to get him to take back the extra money?" "You don't. I mumbled as much to her and she laughed. Dancing. You had fun." The museum specialized in regional art but had a surprising number of pieces in its international collection. you figured me out. when I'd seen everything. lunch. he's probably got a lot of pent up… energy." She picked up her purse from the bed. though. So. This is what I'm talking about. But tomorrow we're doing things my way. I suppose." "That's actually kind of sweet." "Okay." "I know. "He didn't. Dinner." "Maybe he made a mistake. "So why were you talking to him already?" "I promised to let him know when we arrived. but after a couple of hours. shopping. She perked up at that. more shopping. More drinks. hair appointments. I told her I was done as soon as I hit the gift shop. Alice."Just imagining how much fun you're going to have once you get him to unwind a little. Drinks. "Yeah. He does stuff like this all the time. More dancing. I pulled out the money and counted it. "Just a second. Cullen gave me too much. Something was different. "Mr. Alice launched Operation Do LaPorte. Alice kept up a polite interest for as long as she could." I shook my head. a couple which I even recognized. let's head out. The club. right?" "There are worse ways to die." "Now who's the harlot?" I laughed in mock outrage." "What?" "There's six hundred here instead of five. ready to go?" And with that innocent-sounding question. that had clearly been her plan all along. I collapsed on the bed when we finally got back to the hotel at 3 am. He worries." "Deal. You know. snacks. You buy him something with it." I pulled my envelope out of my purse to transfer some bills to my wallet. Sightseeing.
" "How's the cooking going?" "Really well." Alice laughed. They're perfect for you." Alice said. and small enough to wear during the day. Cullen this weekend. that kind of thing.little abstract print caught my eye. and to spend the extra money Mr. Cullen." "So is there anything else you want to do this afternoon?" "Not really. He's loved everything I've served him. "These are pretty. Did he like the chili? Was he heating up the pot pie according to the instructions I'd left? Did he regret kissing me? Did he miss me? "You're the one who encouraged me to improve my cooking. . Oh wait. let's do it. I guess." "He did tell me once that he likes to be obeyed. They were really pretty." I'd said it without thinking." We paid for our earrings and exited the museum into the afternoon sunlight." She pointed to a pair of sparkling midnight blue pendants." "Okay. closing her eyes. giving her a nudge with my elbow." "I know." "There must be something else you could do. "Are you going to get anything?" I asked her while I stalled. is it okay if we go back down to the waterfront? I want to make another pass through the fish markets and see if anything looks good enough to bring back. so he's finding ways to pay me back for that too. kneel at his feet. "I bought him a print already. "the air is so fresh here." I teased. and now I'll bring home some seafood. it's relaxing just to breathe it in. feeling like I'd already spent too much this weekend. I could offer to become his little servant girl. Cullen gave me on him. "I'll get a pair too if you get these. They'd go perfectly with your uniform. "Ah. something else he likes. It was perfect for Mr." "Is your mind getting back to work already?" If she'd only known how many times I'd caught myself thinking about Mr. Thursday he set out both breakfast and lunch for me. Kinky. "Ooo. Maybe you just have to get to know him better. Alice had spotted a jewelry display and was looking at earrings while I paid. but even that doesn't seem like enough.
barring any traffic problems. so what else have we got to work with?" We were taking our time strolling back down to the water." We laughed together and I gave her an impulsive hug." I played along. remember? But I guess the sexual harassment suit is dead now that you're a willing harassee." ." "No damages. "We're just leaving LaPorte now so I should be home by eight. Bella I mean Miss Swan. I mean Miss Swan. Bella. you have got to be kidding me. "Are you serious?" "No." "That's terrible. Bella. stopping to look in windows we'd missed yesterday. it was delicious." "For what?" "This weekend. You should really reconsider working there. I don't know how you stand it." "It's just that I like making him happy." "To used to living alone? Sometimes he takes the last cup of coffee in the morning without offering to make more. I don't know. Cullen." I could tell he was in a good mood." We were finally done with our weekend in LaPorte around six. "Any time. "Let's see. but thanks. Cullen to tell him we were leaving while Alice fiddled with getting all our shopping bags in the trunk.I didn't laugh back. Mr. Alice. You were right. I called Mr. I recognized your number. "Thanks. "I could sue him for being too handsome. "Hi." "Yes." She hugged me back. Maybe. lost in my thoughts. sue him." "Very good." "Girl. We just finished an early dinner at Grand's. Should I save you some dinner?" "No. of course not." "No. Sue me. it's me.
Thank you for bringing Miss Swan back to me in one piece." I gestured to all the bags. We'd managed to wear ourselves out. "So at first you didn't seem to like Mr." "That's good to hear. Thanks for helping with gas. Cullen came out to help me carry in my things." Alice gave him a funny look. He does seem to genuinely care about you. Mr. He looked as good as ever." "See you soon. Mr. You're okay with him now? Alice looked over at me as she put together her answer. "I think he's nice." He bent down to pick up my overnight bag and my many shopping bags. and had a very pleased look on his face. but you obviously like him and seem happy working for him." "Kay. Miss Whitlock." "We had a great time. This . Alice and I sorted out our things. Miss Swan." "Did you have a good weekend. Good night. sir. sir?" "In some respects. Cullen!" She waved goodbye to us both." I couldn't help but smile. at least. I was a little worried he had designs on you. let's get you inside. I might have thought he was happy to see me. "Thanks for doing all the driving. "Good night." We pulled up to the house just after eight." "I’ll call you soon. Miss Swan. We were only about twenty minutes outside of town when I asked." "She forced you to buy all this?" . so unless you stop returning my calls or start making excuses not to get together. "wasn't my idea." "You don't have worry about that. and I gave her a hug goodbye. I won't worry about him taking you captive. got in her car and took off down the driveway." The drive back was uneventful and mostly quiet. though. "It looks like your trip was a success. "I can always escape on my bike. I ate very well." "No problem. Cullen. "I'll see you soon." I laughed. "All right."I'm glad you liked it. Alice made me go shopping.
" He gave my hand a small squeeze and then turned to go."Well. It was good to be back. "And what's this?" He took one of my hands in his. I barely made a dent in all the food you made for me. that sounds good. "You cut your hair. though. the museum?" "I loved it. Do you like it?" He turned it over in his hands. "I do. "Come on." We went up the rest of the stairs and Mr." He stopped. By this time we'd reached the second floor landing. I found the bag from the gift shop and fished out the print I'd gotten him." "Just a little." He scanned the label. and ran his thumb over my fingernails. which I was happy to see hadn't leaked on any of my new clothes. by the way. "You didn't have to do that." I shot him a sideways glance and he smirked. Cullen dropped my bags on my bed. I can freeze whatever's left and you can have it next weekend. What the kids are doing these days." I dug out the package of seafood. Thank you." "That's okay. would you mind putting something in the fridge on your way down? It's for tomorrow night's dinner." "My goodness." I laughed. "That's a nice treat. "Ah. Oh. Should I be worried about any piercings or tattoos? "Mr. One that I'm very happy to see again. "I'll be in the living room watching TV if you care to join me after you've unpacked. I had to go shopping with her in order to get her to the museum. I just saw something I thought you'd like." "Sure. scallops from LaPorte." "I know." . "That's something we call nail polish. I'll show you." "You're welcome. "It was more like blackmail. what sort of girl do you take me for?" "A very nice one." I said with a smile." I looked around my room. reaching up to run my fingers through the new layers. I got you something there." "Did you like it. Cullen. I should warn you. and I had some extra money. "Here. turned it palm down.
He was on the couch and I sat down next to him. This was a nice way to end the week. but I didn't mind. "Alice and I were out dancing until three this morning. PBS was on. but she has way more energy than me when it comes to dancing and shopping. I checked to make sure I had a clean uniform in my closet and then went downstairs to join Mr." "You did?" He nodded. running his hand through his hair. "I am." I was surprised he was still thinking about the weekend cooking as he seemed to make decisions more quickly than that. I rested my head back again the couch. Very. but I will. again keeping a respectful distance between us." "That sounds great." "Are you glad to be home?" He asked me after a while." He came back a few minutes later carrying two glasses. I couldn't quite put my finger on it. actually. "You look a little tired. pulling it closer a few inches so that I could reach it too." I took a sip of wine and felt myself relaxing even more into the couch. but the house just felt empty to me for some reason. See you downstairs." "Did you have fun?" "I did. handed one to me and put his down on the coffee table. his eyes still on the TV. "Did you decide anything about me cooking on weekends?" "Not yet. Alice and I always have fun together. I wondered why he was hesitating as I put my new things away." "I missed you this weekend." . "I know you've only been here for a week. Cullen in the living room. Thank you." "Okay." "I am."Next weekend. kicked off my shoes and brought my legs up underneath me. Soon." he said. I could feel a Sunday evening routine developing here. "Can I get you anything? A glass of wine? I was thinking of having one myself. I left the earrings out on my dresser. planning to wear them tomorrow. I was almost done with my wine and my eyes were starting to feel heavy.
" His arm tightened around me and I felt him kiss the top of my head. He whispered something that sounded like "my girl" but I was too tired to ask him to repeat himself. So warm. Cullen. and I scooted closer. "I missed you. I felt a sudden surge of affection for him and looked up at his profile.He'd missed me. lifting up his arm." he said. He looked back down at me and took in how tired I was getting. too. Mr. "Come here. resting my head on the side of his chest while he curled his arm across my shoulders." I closed my eyes and nodded. . "I'll wake you up when this program ends.
and researching what the requirements were for me to apply as a regular student in the fall. At the last minute. "I slept until 10. "Would you like to share my omelet?" "Oh no." "Maybe it does. I went downstairs to get some coffee. I searched the pantry for kalamata olives and scored again. One Greek omelet coming up. I'd clearly made too much food on Friday as most of the chili and pot pie were still untouched. I wrote him back. where I spotted a package of frozen spinach. but felt like I should do more than while away another morning reading in the library. Cullen showed up. searching the summer class schedule for anything that looked interesting enough to audit." He laughed. "You look rested. it was 11:30 and I was getting hungry. figuring if Mr. I opened the fridge to look for something to make for lunch. Did you sleep well last night?" "I did. realizing half way there that I was still in my pajamas. thank you kindly. though. I took a quick shower. I guess decadence becomes you." . checking to see if grades were posted yet. that sounded good." My smile grew larger. and if not. Modest enough. I couldn't. Before I knew it." I smiled as I poured the eggs into the pan. But Mr. Mmm. as I'd managed thus far to find a way to pay for college. I made it big enough for two. Yes. and was confident that I could continue to do so. and filled him on my weekend with Alice. "It's okay. Was that okay? I was in cotton pants and a tank top. "Ah. It didn't look like Noble was going to make it too difficult. which made me snort. I cracked three additional eggs into the bowl. I did a quick calculation of how much I would earn over the summer and realized that even if I lived as frugally as possible. but since I wasn't a citizen. I decided. changed into my uniform and went downstairs. told him to quit yelling at me. I spent the rest of the morning online. Eventually I got up. I would still need to apply for financial aid. I lay in bed for a while enjoying the warmth of the sun coming in through the windows and wondering what to do with myself today. I'll find something for myself. My dad had answered my email with a brief note in all caps. Still no Mr.CHAPTER 15 Monday morning I slept in until 10. returned to my room and turned on my computer. It was good to see him. I knew I'd seen some feta. Cullen wasn't in the kitchen so I quickly poured myself a cup and took it back up to my room. dried my hair. I didn't want to go out. Miss Swan. Cullen. I wasn't too worried about that. he could have half the omelet. I grabbed a couple eggs out of the bin in the fridge and checked the drawer that held meats and cheese. It felt decadent. I could save it for tomorrow. passing quietly by his closed office door. I transferred both of them to the freezer. used the bathroom. I thought triumphantly. sir. my tuition was going to go up significantly." He went over to the fridge. here you are.
When does the fall term start again?" "September. Perfect. "This is very good." The eggs had set up and I scattered in the ingredients." "Thanks. "Of course not. Cullen. I was about to ask him jokingly if that gave him enough time to replace me when he changed the subject. I'd love some. I see. I've decided it's silly for you to do my office on Wednesdays. Mr. I laughed a little and said. eating in silence. I had that rule about not disturbing me mostly for Mrs. sir." "I told you I'd be making a mess. In that case." I saw his mind working and added."That was very thoughtful of you. Dusting today?" "Yes. Soon we were at our usual seats at the island. Can I do anything to help?" "You could start some toast. I was hungrier than I thought and was focused on my lunch. "You found some olives." Did I imagine it or did his face fall a little? "I'd forgotten about that. I also thought it was funny that he'd gone from demanding that he never see or hear me to being curious about my activities when he didn't. "In three months. "So. He watched me work as he pulled out the bread. I'm still waiting to get my grades and I've got some stuff I have to get organized for my application in the fall. I'm glad you're making yourself at home here. Miss Swan. really. I haven't even gotten warmed up yet." "Really?" "Yes. I found myself inventing ways to keep away from her." "You can come in and do my office." He took another bite of his omelet." He was still thinking about something. I hated when the underside of omelets turned brown. She was a good housekeeper but she bothered me. "I didn't hear you in the house this morning." I gave him another smile as I gently flipped over one side of the eggs. just come in each day and do whatever's on your list." "Hmm. I spent the morning in my room online." . From now on. Whitlock's sake. Would it be imprudent of me to ask what you were doing?" His manners were beginning to amuse me to no end.
she never did. "Miss Swan. I'll see you later. because that brought you to me. mind you. "One minute you're talking of leaving me and the next you're treating me like a king. "She didn't like it." "Well. shaking his head a little to himself. a little abashed. Not physically. Mr." He looked over at me." "No. I guess I just didn't like her. Hence the end of the Wednesday office cleanings. I knew that. Cullen?" "If I'm the king. what am I going to do with you?" He reached up and tapped my nose." "You are?" "Yes. assuming he was referring to the way he liked to be served dinner." "It wasn't anything in particular. "I'll think of something." "Maybe."What did she do that bothered you so much? She told me she never even saw you. aren't you. No way. I started pushing her. You. But after long. I just found myself getting more demanding with her. "Maybe subconsciously you were trying to get her to quit." He ran a hand through his hair. You know how I am about certain things." He started to leave. what does that make you?" One of those smirks he always got when teasing me started to appear on his face. He turned back and came and stood in front of me. I was beginning to recognize that as a gesture he made when he was uncomfortable or nervous." He took our dishes to the sink. then. do you have a favorite scallop dish you'd like tonight?" I asked before he'd reached the door. Cullen." he laughed. "Mr." We'd finished eating and he gathered our plates. "So what will I do on Wednesdays from now on?" "I don't suppose you'll let me give you the day off?" He had turned and was leaning back on the sink. that won't do. Thank you for lunch. don't bother me at all. you are the king of the castle. my dear Miss Swan. "Absolutely not. "I'm glad she did. I nodded." . of course. I was quite childish about it toward the end. You can be my princess. Miss Swan." "That's exactly what I thought you'd say. "The king's housekeeper. that's probably why she quit.
The office door was open when I'd worked my way down to the second floor. I had no idea if he was looking out the window or watching me work." "That would be wonderful. Mr. and with my back to him. then cleaned the rest of the desk and his computer screen. I entered with my dusting gear and he smiled up at me from his computer. I gathered my things and turned to let him know I was leaving. He still hadn't spoken to me. I had no idea music like that even existed. "Miss Swan."Princess? Me?" I scoffed. trying not to press any keys. his hands in his pockets." "My god. "Never. There wasn't that much to dust in Mr. He had been watching me. his desk and credenza. leaning against the wall. Cullen." He gave me one more smile and left. I opened my eyes and looked up at him. then hit a few keys on the keyboard. are you doing the library next?" "Yes." "Would you mind if I came with you and played the piano while you work?" "Would I mind? Are you serious? You'd do that?" "I realized the other day that I need to brush up. and we smiled at each other. I'd be happy to practice while you work. so if you don't mind a few missed notes." "Never?" "No. When I was finished. Then I got an idea and on impulse knelt on the floor near his bench. Cullen's office. just some bookcases." He gestured for me lead the way to the library and proceeded to practice some of the most beautiful music I'd ever heard in my life. His eyebrows went up but he didn't stop playing. I've never felt like a princess. stood up and moved over to the windows to let me work. About ten minutes later he brought the piece to a thundering conclusion. I finished the books and didn't want to interrupt him by starting the piano. I ran my cloth lightly over his keyboard. so I started toward my chair." . I couldn't help but smile to myself as I picked it up and wiped it free of invisible dust. sir. then the credenza. I think I was dusting but didn't have a clue if I was doing a good job or not as the music swirled around me. I did his bookcases first. I closed my eyes and leaned against the piano leg. never having answered my question about the scallops. I turned to his desk and saw the print I'd bought him in LaPorte sitting in a frame. letting the music wash over me." "I may have to do something about that. "What was that?" "Chopin.
"You give me oysters, I give you Chopin." "Oysters live in the ocean, but you can play Chopin." Good, I was now fully fluent in gibberish. I'll put that on my resume. I heard him chuckle, but he didn't say anything else as he reached down a hand to help me to my feet. "Mr. Cullen?" "Yes, Miss Swan?" "Thank you for playing for me," I said as I started to wipe down the piano. "You're welcome, my dear." At 5:30 I was in the kitchen putting the finishing touches on Mr. Cullen's first course and side dishes. The scallops were getting sautéed at the last minute so I pulled out a pan and put in some oil. I couldn't shake the feeling that I was forgetting something. I looked over all the ingredients for dinner, but everything seemed to be in order. What was it? I drummed my fingers on the counter. There was something I'd meant to do before dinner, but it wasn't food-related. What else was there? I tightened my apron and straightened my hair. Oh, the earrings! I ran upstairs and put them on. I rushed into the bathroom and put on some mascara, giving my appearance a final check. Not bad, Bella, I thought. The earrings were perfect. I trotted back downstairs and quickly finished dinner. At six sharp, I entered the dining-room and placed Mr. Cullen's bowl before him. "Good evening, Miss Swan," he said, raising his eyebrows approvingly at his stew. "What have we here?" "Lentil stew, sir, with Spanish flavors. Would you like a martini to go with it?" "Hmm. No, I'll have wine again." He looked up at me. "Did I hear you running on the stairs a few minutes ago?" "I'm sorry, sir. I forgot something in my room at the last minute. It won't happen again." I'd completely forgotten to tiptoe past his office in my haste. "Don't worry about it, Miss Swan. I never thought I'd see the day that I enjoyed hearing another person moving around in my house, but apparently that day has come. Now," he said, "Spanish, you say?" "Yes, sir." "And the rest of the meal?" "Spanish as well."
"I'm in the mood for something red. See if you can find a tempranillo." "Tempranillo," I pronounced it back to him to make sure I had it right. "Tempranillo," he confirmed. "And don't run, my dear." I was back shortly. After pouring Mr. Cullen a glass of wine, I took my seat. He took a taste of his stew and smiled as he swallowed. "Another success, Miss Swan." I smiled brightly at his praise, which meant more to me tonight. Not having biked to town today, I'd had to pull dinner together with things I found in the pantry. He brought his spoon up to my mouth to offer me a taste and his eyes rested on my ears. He reached his left hand up to finger one of my earrings. "Very nice, Miss Swan. Are they new?" "Yes, sir. I bought them in LaPorte to go with my uniform." He put his spoon down beside his bowl and continued looking at me, his left hand still on my ear. "Miss Swan, I want to apologize if I was too forward Friday night. I don't know quite what came over me. The oysters maybe." He smiled, still toying with my earring. I smiled back at him and shook my head the tiniest bit, not wanting him to stop touching me. "There's nothing to apologize for, Mr. Cullen." His fingers began to lightly stroke my neck, the same fingers that had played such beautiful music earlier. I could feel my pulse start to pick up and wondered if he could feel it too. He was still looking at me intently. He swept a thumb over my cheek as he noticed I'd put on mascara. "I didn't think it was possible for you get any prettier, Miss Swan." I didn't know what to say, so I kept silent, but knew I was starting to blush. He noticed it too, running his thumb over my cheek again. Then he withdrew his hand and turned back to his stew taking another spoonful. He handed me his wine glass and I took a sip. He offered me the last of the stew, this time cupping my jaw as he eased in his spoon. He'd grown silent, and I wondered what he was thinking. He looked a little wistful. I rose to take his empty bowl to the kitchen, walking slowly, and came back with a plate of sautéed scallops and saffron rice. I put it down in front of him, refilled his wine glass and took my seat. "This smells incredible." He said quietly, glancing up at me with a small smile. "I hope you like it, sir."
He took a bite of scallop. "Mm." He kind of grunted while still chewing. He swallowed and added, "perfectly seared, not overcooked, just perfect, my dear, perfect." I smiled and he brought one to my mouth with his fork, his left hand wrapping lightly around my neck. I took the scallop but had no idea how it tasted. The only thing my senses were aware of at that moment was the touch of his fingers delicately stroking my neck. I managed to chew and swallow, Mr. Cullen watching my mouth. He removed his hand again and offered me some wine, which I took gladly, hoping for a moment to clear my head. I watched him try the rice. I'd seasoned it with saffron, paprika and cumin, hoping for a paellaesque result. He nodded as he swallowed. "I love saffron, Miss Swan. I think I'm going into sensory overload." He took a sip of wine and smiled at me. I smiled, thinking I could certainly relate to that. He offered me some rice, holding his left hand under his fork so as not to spill. It had turned out well. I'd added some canned peas and was relieved they didn't taste dull, but instead added a certain sweetness. "Would you like another scallop, my dear?" "Yes, sir." "Ask me nicely." I raised my eyebrows at him. This was new. He gave me a teasing smirk, so I decided to play along. "Mr. Cullen, may I please have another scallop?" The corners of his mouth turned up and he picked one up off his plate with his right hand and brought to my mouth with his fingers. His thumb was in my mouth when I closed it, and I couldn't help but lick it as he pulled it out. Then he lifted his finger to my mouth and I licked it clean as well. He briefly closed his eyes. I wondered if he was having the same reaction I was; I felt like I was about to spontaneously combust with desire. If he was feeling the same thing, he had better self-control than I. His next action was merely to return to his dinner. He ate a couple more scallops and another scoop of rice before offering me more, not touching me this time. By the time he was almost finished, I realized that he'd fallen silent again. As he took the last bite of rice, I said, "There's still dessert tonight, sir." He glanced over at me and seemed to come out of his revery. "My dear Miss Swan, forgive me." He looked down at his empty plate, almost in surprise. "Don't worry, sir, there's plenty left for lunch tomorrow." I smiled and rose to take his plate. He reached for my hand, turned it over and kissed my palm. "And you think I overpay you," he said quietly. I picked up his plate and gave him one more smile before heading to the kitchen. He looked like himself again, amused and content.
my dear. moving the bowl in front of me. Alice had been right. "More wine." "Here. "How on earth did you do this?" "I had lemons left over from the cake I made last week. "Did you make this?" I nodded. You deserve it. allowing him to set the pace of what was happening between us." He just shook his head and brought a spoonful to my mouth." He took a couple more bites. but hopefully it tastes okay." I picked up the spoon while he leaned back. It might be a little soft. . his left hand playing gently with my hair. It was inevitable. my earring. I closed my eyes and let myself enjoy his touch. sir. "You have the rest. He took a taste." I filled his glass and took my seat. My eyes widened as the sorbet slid down my throat. sir. "Add this to my favorites. I put it down in front of him and asked if he'd like more wine or perhaps some port. my neck.I returned with a bowl of lemon sorbet and one spoon. reaching for his wine with his right hand and bringing his left back up to my face. and everything else I found in your pantry. It was delicious. by far my favorite of the desserts I'd made." he said. "It's probably not as frozen as it should be." "Yes. He watched me eat. my cheek. Miss Swan.
" He laughed. sir. There are probably some in the basement and I'll get a couple more in town this afternoon. this time lingering around the collar of my neckline as well." "Good evening. but I was not going ask Mr. I don't think so. That night at six was he standing by the sideboard when I came in with his salad. Cullen and I settled into a pleasant if somewhat too-slow-for-my-inner-hussy routine that week. "There. Mr. Tonight's dinner is kind of island themed. although they didn't teach us the art of flower arrangement at the finishing school I didn't go to. Cullen to pick me up a few pairs of panties. Mr. Now your flowers are being done justice. Or maybe I should. Do you need anything from Arnolds?" "No. Tuesday afternoon I biked out for groceries. lit them and set them on the table. "All right. Cullen. "Good evening. and one on the dining-room table. vacuumed the house and made dinner. Cullen came downstairs as I was signing for them and helped me carry them into the kitchen." "Where will I find vases?" "Oh." "I knew I had some candles. rifling through one of the drawers. I'll be back around four today. That might speed things up a bit.CHAPTER 16 Mr." He sat down and surveyed his salad. found a box of matches." I put one in his room too. so this will be your new Wednesday task. You have a good eye for detail and I'm not particular. probably. Wednesday morning a truck pulled up the driveway and I answered the door to a huge delivery of flowers." Arnolds was the department store where I bought things like underwear. Miss Swan. Feel free to put a bouquet in your room. "I thought it would be nice to have some fresh bouquets in the house. "I'm sure you'll do fine. That night he again touched me with his left hand throughout the meal. one of either side of the bouquet." ." "Of course not. Miss Swan." He pulled two white pillars out of the drawer." "It's baby greens with citrus. I hadn't thought of that. "This looks interesting. if you don't mind.
I opened it. Would you recommend a red or white wine this evening?" "I'd say a red." "I don't mind it. He stretched out and leaned back in his chair. a light red. "Another superb meal. poured Mr. "Would you like some?" "Yes."You never fail to surprise me." He said after taking the first bite. my girl. Cullen a glass. sir. good. Very much. Let's have another pinot noir tonight. Will you at least try it?" . "I made something special. Cullen taking small bites and pausing between them." "Thank you. Mr. not letting go until we were finally finished." I smiled at him reassuringly. Cullen. may I have a bite of salad?" He fed me and looked at me pensively while I ate." "I'm afraid some nights I haven't given you enough. making sure I was getting enough to eat. Mr. as well?" His eyes moved from his hand to my eyes and back to his hand. As he fed me a third plantain. but if you'd like to have your own plate. in fact. sir. more than okay. Miss Swan." "You're sure?" I nodded. "Well. "Yes. but most of his attention was on me. please." "Yes. keeping it there while he continued eating. then down to my neck." He smiled and ran his hand into my hair." He ran his hand lightly over my hair. let's have dinner." I went down to the wine cellar and returned a moment later with a bottle. "And this is okay with you." he smiled. He said he liked the Jamaican-spiced pork medallions and fried plantains. sir." The rest of the meal passed slowly. "I like it very much. then. sir. sir. I appreciate your indulging me this way." "I have more when I clean the kitchen. "Ah. "Very good. I kind of like it. I'd understand. though. Would you care for dessert tonight?" "I feel like I've already gotten dessert." "Hmm. he reached up and cupped my jaw. "Miss Swan. and took my seat.
He sighed in mock reluctance. "I suppose, if I must." He gave me his hand and helped me to my feet and I gathered up his plate and walked slowly to the kitchen, spooned up some coconut pudding and brought it back to the table. "Can I get you anything else, Mr. Cullen?" "No, thank you." He watched me sit back down, then turned his eyes to his dessert. "What have we here?" "Coconut pudding with a grapefruit syrup, sir." He took a taste and closed his eyes. "This is superb, Miss Swan. Here." He put his left hand around my neck and offered me a spoonful. I nodded appreciatively. It was really good. "How did you make this?" "It was easy once I got the coconut open, that was the only hard part. I'm surprised you didn't hear me banging it on the cutting board." "I did, actually. I almost came down to see if you'd given up cooking and taken up carpentry." He smiled at me, his eyes crinkling in the corners, the candlelight sparkling in his eyes. He'd never looked more handsome to me and my apology caught in my throat, so I just shook my head slightly and smiled. "If you ever need help with anything, you can come and ask me." His thumb was lightly stroking my neck. "I thought I wasn't supposed to interrupt you." He smiled at me a bit wistfully, taking another spoonful of pudding. "How quickly I've changed all my rules since you've been here." He gave me another taste too, watching my mouth as I took his spoon, his expression growing serious. Thursday morning when I got up to use the bathroom I found a small box on the counter next to the sink. Inside was a beautiful silver filigree necklace. I put it on and looked in the mirror. It was light and delicate, and small enough to fit just at the base of my throat. I couldn't accept it, though, and started to take it off when it occurred to me that this was the first thing Mr. Cullen had given me that wasn't work-related. This was a personal gift and if I refused it, he might take that as a rejection of him. "You didn't have to get me this," I said, putting a finger on the necklace as I entered the kitchen. "I know, but I can't have my princess buying her own jewelry. That's not how it's done." I brought a cup of coffee to the island. "Mr. Cullen, I hope on top of everything else you've done for me, you're not going to start buying me gifts. I can't accept them." "Yes, you can. You'll have to. I'm the king, remember?"
"Let me clarify. I'll accept this because I love it, so thank you, but no more. King or no king. I'll dethrone you if necessary." "Will you be using the same maneuvers you employ against ticklers?" "Wouldn't you like to know. Maybe I have a secret weapon." He smirked. "Maybe you do. Now I'm tempted to buy you the matching bracelet just to see what kind of damage you're capable of doing." "I'm serious, Mr. Cullen," I used the sternest tone of voice I could muster but was struggling not to grin. He stopped teasing me. "Don't worry, Miss Swan, I just happened to see that yesterday at Arnold's and thought of you. I won't be hiding presents around the house for you to find while you clean." He looked like he thought that wasn't such a bad idea. "You just happened to be in the jewelry department?" He nodded innocently. "It's close to where they sell vases." I accepted his explanation with a sideways look of skepticism, got up, grabbed the coffee pot and refilled our mugs. As I was sitting back down, Mr. Cullen ran his hand through his hair. "Besides, Miss Swan, you do far more for me than I could ever repay with a piece of jewelry." The gesture he'd made with his hair told me he was referring to our dinners, not my housekeeping. I looked down at my coffee. "Mr. Cullen, you haven't done anything that I didn't like." He was silent for a long moment, looking down at his own cup. "I haven't felt so -" he paused, searching for the word, "content in my own house for years. Maybe ever. I didn't even want to leave yesterday." He looked up at me. "That necklace made me think of you when I saw it at Arnold's, and it suddenly occurred to me how much I've come to love having you here. That's all it was." I swallowed some coffee, collecting my emotions for a second. It almost felt like he'd been about to say he loved me. "You're getting a very special dinner tonight, Mr. Cullen." I finally answered. I met Alice for lunch at our usual pizzeria. We chatted for a while and then she asked me how things were going with Mr. Cullen. "Great." I told her about how he'd played the piano while I dusted on Monday and showed her the necklace he'd given me. "And, as you can see, he unchains me from the basement to let me meet you for lunch." She laughed. "Such a nice guy. You're kind of falling for him, aren't you?"
"I think I am." I fiddled with a strand of my hair. I knew I was. "And how goes the mutual game of seduction you two are playing?" "Slowly. It's going very slowly. I'm going to be climbing the walls in frustration if he doesn't do something soon." I sighed, wondering if it would be possible to get through the summer on nothing but his light caresses at dinner. "Maybe he's holding back because I'm his employee, or maybe he thinks he's too old for me. Or that I'm too young for him. I don't know." I shook my head. "I can't figure it out. It's too hard." "You hope it's going to be hard." I burst out laughing so loudly several other diners turned to look at me and I had to drink some water to compose myself. "Alice, you are too much sometimes. Too much." I biked to Southbay's after lunch. It was a beautiful warm June day. I thought I'd grill again. Maybe something simple, like ribs? I pictured Mr. Cullen eating ribs and realized he'd need both of his hands. Scratch that idea. I wanted his left hand free. I was shameless like that. Sue me. Mike greeted me at the meat counter and we looked over the day's selections together. I kept the new one-hand-only requirement to myself while I passed on his suggestions that would either require two hands to eat or his left hand to hold a knife. Finally I decided on the fresh tuna. I was thinking Mexican food tonight, something about the warm weather inspired me. I put a quick menu together in my head, added the rest of the ingredients I needed, checked out, and on impulse, biked over to the liquor store down the street, and bought a bottle of tequila with my own money. Once I'd committed to offering Mr. Cullen margaritas, I quickly went back to Southbay's and got some lime-aid. I got back to the house around two. By the time I'd finished my afternoon chores and entered the kitchen it was close to four. I had a lot to do in the next two hours, so I grabbed my apron, turned on the radio and got to work. "Good evening, Mr. Cullen," I smiled as I entered the dining-room at six on the dot. He gave me a smile in return. Yes, he was a fine, fine looking man, especially when he smiled. "Good evening, Miss Swan. What's this?" He asked as I placed a bowl in front of him. "Corn chowder, sir." "It smells delicious." "Thank you. I fixed Mexican food tonight, so may I get you a margarita? Or a beer perhaps?" "I'd love a margarita, haven't had one since I don't remember when, but I don't have any tequila." "Yes, you do, sir."
I'd love one. Cullen?" "Of course. Miss Swan. I came back with his drink a minute later. hoping he'd like it too. He took up his spoon and tried the chowder. Thank you." he said as he began slowly eating. sir?" "Yes you may." I left slowly. added a side of grilled peppers and some black beans with chipotles." I smiled back at him. How you spoil me." I took a sip and gave it back to him. When we were done with the chowder. my dear. my dear. I rose and took his plate to the kitchen." "Yes. returning quickly. He took a sip of his drink. Leave slowly but hurry back. I put it down next to his bowl and took my seat. "Of course you may." He cupped the underside of my jaw while giving me a spoonful. sir. "In that case. this is good. I watched his tongue lick the salt off the rim. Not too sweet. his fingers playing lightly with the strands. Mr.He looked up at me and raised his eyebrows. It had turned out well. I'd grilled the tuna." . which is too sweet for my taste." "All of it. sir. Miss Swan. "Oh. topped it with fresh salsa. "Another to add to my favorites. I like my margaritas simple – on the rocks with lime-aid instead of mix. "May I make you another margarita. realizing that I must have bought some. and I'd stuck with my usual recipe tonight. this is delicious. "Very nice. sir." "Yes. He nodded and handed it to me. I was getting good enough now at reading his face while he ate that I knew he really liked it." He reached his hand up into my hair. may I have a taste?" I'd been working on asking him nicely and was rewarded when the corners of his eyes crinkled. sir. "Mmm. What would you like to try first?" "May I please have a bite of tuna. my dear girl. "Would you like some?" "Please. returning with his dinner moments later. internet. I licked my lips." "Thank you.
anxious to see how it had turned out." "Do you promise. His left hand had returned to the side of my neck. "That sounds like an odd combination. In the silence of the room. where he was lightly stroking me with his thumb." "My girl. I only bought one mango. My legs were a little shaky. Couldn't he see what he doing to me? We finally finished dinner and he pushed the plate aside." He looked at me with his eyebrow raised. a quick look of concern passing over his face. "Ah. sir. "Please tell me there's extra to eat tomorrow. He fed me a piece of grilled pepper with his right hand while his other hand played across the top of my back." "A little." I started to reach for the table. but he held out his hand to help me up. I felt like I was panting. Maybe not entirely Mexican. but delicious just the same. Here. "My girl. probably worried that he was going too far. I found a recipe and added the saffron at the last minute because you said you liked it so much. his hand had lingered at the collar of my dress. More?" "Yes. toying lightly with my new necklace. he'd pushed his chair back a bit from the table to stretch out. I somehow managed to pull myself together enough to ask if I could get up and get his dessert. Miss Swan?" "Grilled mango. He was watching me carefully as he moved. The sweetness of the mango had mellowed into a caramelized flavor on the grill. you've created a masterpiece." "Oh. I placed a small bowl of grilled mango and a spoon in front of him. my perfect girl?" . When I returned. if I do say so myself. yes. by all means. and I think he noticed. pulling his hand out of my dress. only to wrap it gently around my throat. "It's delicious. stroking lightly across the top of my shoulder. sir." he said. and said I'd be right back. I gave his hand a light squeeze. taking a bite. I felt his fingers slip under my collar. with tequila and a touch of saffron." He raised a spoonful to me and I took it eagerly. trying to control my breathing. and the saffron brought in something earthy and exotic. He gave me a forkful of beans. this is the best thing I've ever eaten. his long legs crossed in front of him. I felt his long thumb dip down to my collarbone and then slide under the front of my dress and skim across the top of my chest. the tequila gave it a bit of bite. sir. I kept my eyes on his. Delicious.As he ate. you may. When he fed me a bite of tuna off his fork. Apart from the oysters." He spooned some into my mouth. "What is this." "It probably is. But I can make it again. please.
then cupped my neck. "Yes. I'm afraid I may take advantage of you." "Miss Swan. So much better." He said in a low voice. Cullen was at the island. "Good morning. I kissed him harder. like my body was completely out of my control. Cullen hated himself for again giving into the temptation to kiss me. a powerful shiver ran through me. I must have a looked a mess at this point. not too hard. He kissed me again. He seemed to like what he saw. as usual. more of him. both of his hands in my hair. putting a hand on his leg under the table for leverage. Suddenly he let go of me. It was perfect. as he suddenly pulled me to him again. Miss Swan. "Did you sleep well?" "Not particularly. I'd given up trying to control my breathing. like he knew exactly how much he could take from me and how much I could give. not wanting him to stop. I was a completely useless puddle of want. Cullen. He must have felt something too. much harder. only better. I collapsed onto my chair. I wanted more of his kisses. Why was he struggling so much with himself over this? I knew what I wanted. I felt like I might cry or laugh or both. and I wondered how he could feel he was taking advantage of me when I would have given myself to him right there in the dining room if he'd just kept kissing me. leaned forward on the table. not too soft. He looked at me. why did he seem so conflicted about what he so clearly wanted? His final words echoed in my mind." "Come here. his tongue stroking mine with so much fervor I lost all my senses to only the feel of his mouth on mine. Mr. Oh." He turned and left as quickly as he'd let go of me. however. and could tell I was flushed. and kissed me gently. pulling me closer. I promise.His words went straight to my core and I involuntarily gasped and bit my lip. He eased my lip out from under my teeth and rubbed it lightly." . he kissed so well. I felt him start to pull away and I pushed myself closer to him. "Good night. my thoughts ping-ponging back and forth between luxuriously reliving the thrill of his kisses." He continued looking down at his newspaper as I sat across from him with my coffee. His mouth tasted like the mango I'd just served him. I went down to breakfast the next morning with more than a little trepidation. as he let out a quiet groan and tightened his hold on the back of my head. I calmed under his touch and whispered. and said. I could have kissed him like this forever. his face growing serious. I never wanted him to stop. He stood. He leaned toward me. I barely slept that night. sir. my head back. more of everything. my arms swinging at my sides. this time hard enough that I could sense the strength he was using to hold onto his control. I felt him open his and when our tongues met. I'm sorry to leave abruptly but if I don't go now. He pulled away from me and looked over my face carefully. and frantically worrying that Mr. Mr. parting my lips.
yes. "I make you happy. "I didn't stop you. I got up and walked around the island to stand beside him. it was the age difference. made a lot of mistakes. but then I look at you. Our dinners together have been some of the best moments of my life. you don't know what you're doing. some of the thoughts I have about you. I'm younger than you. his whole life . Here -" he gestured to the kitchen. you just don't know it yet. He ran his hand through his hair and looked up at me. but just barely. "Do I need to apologize for last night?" He finally looked up at me. I don't want to drag you into my dismal." "I liked it." He petered out. lonely life." He paused and looked back down into his coffee. I like it when you kiss me." I leaned down and pressed my forehead to his." Except for leaving too soon.. before finally ending up here. meaning the whole house. "I know you're technically an adult."where I've never had a truly happy day until you showed up. Cullen."Nor did I. This is what people want. "It's just that you're so young. This is why good people get up in the morning. did I?" "No. Mr. too. but I don't want to let you go either. visibly torn. but I'm not a child. I'd been right. He had more original paintings throughout the house than I'd ever seen outside of a museum. "When I was twenty-one I thought I was going to be an artist. I like it when you touch me. Cullen. his hands running through his hair. can you imagine that?" "Easily." "I don't want you to regret anything about this when you're my age. "I mean it. you're so young. You still have a lot of choices ahead of you. He obviously loved art." He spun his coffee cup around in circles." . I liked it. Cullen. I like it a lot.. "I was almost done with art school when my parents died. to make someone else happy. And the way he could play the piano? Don't get me started." I took a moment to absorb what he'd said. I quit and floated around for a long time. pained face in my hands and turned it up to me. his eyes on the counter. Mr." He took a sip of coffee. It's just that -" Was he about to tell me the problem? "It's just that what?" I prompted him to continue. please stop worrying about me. I'm old enough to know myself fairly well and I know what I like. Oh. "Mr. "This is good. I took his beautiful." "Then there's nothing to apologize for. I feel like a lecherous old man." It was true. You make me happy.
" . running my fingers over his freshly shaved jaw. soft-haired. I was his if he wanted me. "One more thing. He was Mr. but I kept my eyes on his and added. I think you're pretty wonderful. you know -. his arms around my waist and his head on my shoulder. "You can stop me at any time." "I know." There. Cullen. "Bella." "I believe you. it was out in the open." He looked at me so intently." He scanned my face and recognized my sincerity. I was being honest with you when I asked you to move in. too. "Do you think I'm terribly odd. So soft. long-fingered Cullen."How could I? These have been some of the best moments of my life. pulling me in to him. which I guess he found as he halfsmiled and sighed. We ate in silence. Mr. his arms slipping briefly over my hips. "No. then I guess I am. I wrapped one of my arms around his back." he murmured in to my hair. Does this mean I call him Edward from now on? I couldn't really imagine doing so. "Bella. "Bella. too. starting enough for both of us. back to formalities. he turned and crossed his arms. I gave him another minute to think about what I'd said and went to the toaster. and then I'll let you go for the day. I tried to process the fact that he'd finally used my first name. Miss Swan." He gave me another squeeze and then released me." "What is it. "And if you are odd. and cupped his face. "you may be the best thing that's ever happened to me. leaning back on the counter. Cullen to me. "But I'm not going to stop you." He looked up at me and searched my eyes for anything resembling hesitation or reluctance. I liked you." he said quietly." he said under his breath. "You're not?" I shook my head. You never gave me that feeling or I wouldn't have said yes to moving in. Mr. Miss Swan?" Ah." He came over and tousled my hair. "You can stop me. "No." That had come out before I could stop myself. sir?" "It's important to me that you believe I wasn't planning for this to happen between us. then bent down and kissed the top of my head. not at all." He held me for a long time. and I started to blush. but I swear I wasn't scheming to get you to. searching for something in my eyes. the other I lifted into his hair. but after he put our plates in the sink. I smiled down at him.
I wondered if I could interrupt Mr. debating a couple of dishes. I'd do anything for him. picked up my book and went down to the kitchen. My hands were fine but my knee could use a band-aid. I wasn't going that fast and I caught myself on my hands and one of my knees. I put the groceries away and went upstairs to shower. and let myself drift. Cullen?" "I'm sorry to wake you. more embarrassed than injured. Cullen. but I didn't know if this situation qualified. Just resting. I'd noticed some lawn furniture folded up in the corner of the patio near the barbecue and decided to help myself to it. Maybe I'd see him then and could ask him without interrupting him. so be it. anything to make him happy. Cullen to ask him where he kept first aid stuff. but the warmth soon combined with my lack of sleep and I put my book down on the grass. I was still floating as I biked into town. giving no thought to what to make for dinner that night. I got up and surveyed the damage. but eventually I heard a familiar throat-clearing. There was a chaise that looked in decent shape. but I knew that already. I locked my bike." . "Yes. I'd broken the skin on my knee. I don't know how long I'd been laying there. I decided to err on the side of caution and wait until lunch. so I brushed myself off and got back on. buoyed my spirits more than anything I'd ever experienced." "I'm not asleep. Mr. I went back to my room and put on some shorts and a tank top. The thought that I was so crucial to someone else's happiness. jerking the handlebars out of my hands and sending me sprawling to the ground. If it meant continuing to develop our relationship at a snail's pace. I was so distracted with thoughts of Mr. and pulled it out into the sun. All I was thinking about was how important I was to him. that someone being specifically Mr. having found the vanity empty when I moved in my toiletries. grabbed a basket and headed toward the meat counter. Nothing. my bike absorbing most of my weight. as doing the bathrooms was one of the quickest chores. remember?" "You do a good impression of a napper. I didn't need to make a big meal even though it was Friday. because we still had tons of chili and pot pie in the freezer. but you've been out here for over an hour and I don't want you to burn. and how important that made me feel. closed my eyes. I'd do it. The hot water stung the scrapes on my hands and knee and I inspected them more closely.CHAPTER 17 The relief I felt that Mr. I asked. If it meant letting him feed me during dinner. Luckily. I towel-dried. I'd have a lot of time to cook this afternoon. Cullen that I didn't see the rock in the road until a split second before my front tire clipped it. Without opening my eyes. though. put on my robe. An hour later I was back home. and started rummaging around the bathroom. Cullen hadn't changed his mind about our dinners was nothing compared to the happiness that had surged through me at the words he'd said into my hair. I read for a while. but my hands were only a little scraped and my bike was fine. He'd said that I could if I ever needed help with anything. so I cleaned it off with a cloth from the kitchen. I don't nap. By the time I arrived at Southbay's I'd gotten my head back together and was focused on dinner.
" He was quiet for a moment." "I'll be right back. Cullen was standing right above me. and lay back again. but you're right." he finally said. Dr." I stretched and opened my eyes." He reached down and kissed the band-aid he'd just put on. rubbed it lightly over the scrape and gently affixed a band-aid. He opened the tube and squirted a little antibiotic cream on his finger. closing my eyes. but had a look of concern on his face. Cullen." "Anything involving you getting hurt is an emergency."Thank you. I landed very gracefully. "How did you manage to fall off your bike?" "I wasn't paying attention and hit a rock. "So what do you think about when you're not napping?" . "What happened to your knee?" "I fell off my bike on the way to town." I smiled." He was gone less than a minute." "Did you get hurt anywhere else?" "Just my hands a little." I pulled my knee up to examine it again. "The sun does feel good. sir. then did the same to the other. "It does. A scraped knee is hardly an emergency. his eyes on my legs. I sighed contentedly. "All better. making room for him to perch next to my bent leg. his face serious. Mr." I made no movement to get up." I showed him my palms." "I didn't want to interrupt you. "I will. nodded." I smiled up at him. Miss Swan. He smiled back. his hand running down my shin and closing over my ankle. I should probably come in. "I was wondering if you had any band-aids. "You should have asked me for a band-aid as soon as you got home. Be more careful from now on. his hands in his pockets. "May I?" He gestured to the chaise and I scooted over as far as I could. returning with a box and a small tube." He was still smiling. "Thank you. my dear girl. "Don't forget my knee. though. He took one and kissed it.
"You let him catch you?" I nodded. "He was so old. "That's very kind of you to take pity on an old man. he fed me some scallops. Miss Swan?" His voice was closer. "No." I felt his lips move down my face to my throat." I felt his hand leave my ankle and come to my waist. He doesn't sound like much of gentleman. my dear non-napping Miss Swan. so it must have been you." I heard him laugh." ." "That is very important. until I let him catch me. "You were having a nightmare."Very important things. then lightly press down." "Such as?" "For one thing. what to make for dinner. he lifted me up like I weighed nothing and started to kiss me. "He was only pretending to be old." I could feel him shift his weight toward me. he'd gotten out of breath." "A trap. but it turned out to be a trap. He kept asking me to make him a dessert." "Me?" "I think it was you. I felt sorry for him. He kissed me harder than that. He was very tall. "Oh no." "Hmm." "Like this?" I felt his lips hover over mine." "That's what I thought. After he put me down." "What else?" "I might have been thinking about you a little." "And then he started chasing me around the dining-room table. and had a tin of cocoa in one hand. he was. I kept my eyes closed but I was smiling." "I know. Once he'd caught me.
"Were they good?" He'd moved to the other side of my throat and was kissing me softly with his mouth open, tasting me. "They were delicious." I whispered as I put my hand on the back of his neck. "You are delicious." He murmured back, coming back up to kiss my lips lightly again. "You taste like Miss Swan dipped in sunlight, with a touch of -" he kissed me lightly again - "silly." I opened my eyes. He was inches away and I'd never seen him look so carefree and relaxed. I smiled up at him and smoothed his hair off his forehead. He took his hand off my waist and reached up to run a finger over my bottom lip. "Add yourself to my list of favorites, will you?" "Yes, sir." "Good girl. Now let's get some lunch." After we were done eating, I went upstairs to change into my dress. I crossed the hall to the bathroom to put on my necklace and took a moment to survey myself. I'd stayed out in the sun this morning long enough to get a bit of a glow without burning. The dark circles were finally gone from under my eyes and my new haircut was much more flattering than my old pony tail. I could see more of my body in this mirror than the one in the powder room, so I turned to the side and looked at myself in my dress. I still couldn't get a good view of my behind but even from the side, I could see how it flattered my waist and hips. I looked like a completely different person than the student I'd been just a few weeks ago. Still myself, but much improved. After making short work of the bathrooms and changing Mr. Cullen's bedding, I headed to the kitchen for the rest of the afternoon, bringing my laptop with me. I was making four dishes I'd never made before, two that I'd never even tasted, and was going to need my computer to help me out as I went. I put on my apron, turned on the radio, and got to work, keeping an eye on the clock. I had just started the risotto around 5:15 when I heard the sliding door open. "Mr. Cullen, you're making it awfully hard to surprise you." I said, without turning around. The strawberry tart was in the fridge, the duck was in the oven, and the cream of morel soup was covered on a back burner, but he could easily see the ingredients for a spring vegetable risotto on the counter next to me. "Miss Swan, you make it hard to stay away when everything smells so good." He came and stood right behind me, resting his hands on my waist for a moment before slowly untying and retying my apron. "I seem to recall you once telling me you didn't want to see me or hear me, yet here you are again." He chuckled a little, moving to lean back against the counter. "I think I've spent more time with you in the last four weeks than I did with Mrs. Whitlock in four years."
"Has it only been four weeks? It seems longer." "In a good way, I hope." "Of course. I mean that I'm already used to your routines and I feel at home." "That's good." "It is." "Do you need help with anything?" "Really?" I looked up at him in surprise. "Yes, really, my dear. I didn't come down just to snoop. It occurred to me that your hands might be sore." He took the wooden spoon out of my fingers and started stirring the risotto. "I can do this for you." "Thank you, Mr. Cullen, that's very kind of you." My palms were actually a little sore after a full afternoon of cooking and 45 minutes of stirring rice wasn't going to help them feel any better. "So I just stir?" He moved to take my position in front of the stove, and I went around to his left to add ingredients. "That's what the recipe says. I've never made risotto before, but you're supposed to stir the rice as you gradually add the cooking liquid. I guess it makes the rice creamier." "So that's how they do it. Good risotto is creamier than regular rice." He kept stirring while I slowly added some white wine, then some vegetable broth. I watched his hand grip the spoon, the muscles in his forearm flexing. "Why are you staring at my hands?" "I'm not!" "Yes, you were. Am I doing this wrong?" "No, that's perfect. Okay, I was admiring your fingers." "My fingers." "Yes." "You are weird." "I've already told you that. Several times. Pay attention."
He laughed and wiggled his fingers. "You pay attention. You're the one easily distracted by fingers, not me." "Again, Mr. Cullen, I clearly said 'admiring' not 'being distracted by.' Honestly." "I think you're the first person who's ever mentioned my fingers since my mother. She made me take piano lessons because she said I had the fingers for it." He was looking down into the pot of rice. "I'm glad she did. She was right." He gave me a bit of a sad smile. "What?" "I was just remembering how much trouble I used to give her about practicing." "I'm sure she didn't mind." I added some more broth. "No, probably not." He sniffed the air. "What smells so good?" I looked at the timer and said, "Your main course is almost done. You're going to find out what it is in about five minutes, unless you close your eyes when I pull it out of the oven." "What to do, what to do," he grimaced. I laughed. "There are two other dishes that will still surprise you tonight, if that factors into your decision." He smiled down at me. "All right. I'll go with fifty percent surprise this evening." A few minutes later he moved aside and I reached into the oven for the duck. It had turned a lovely deep brown, the juices sizzling on the bottom of the roasting pan. It looked pretty good, if I said so myself. "Is that duck?" "Yes, sir." I moved it to a cutting board and covered it with foil to let it rest, then skimmed off as much fat from the pan as I could, added a little white wine and grated orange zest, and reduced the juices on the burner next to the rice while Mr. Cullen continued to stir and add the broth himself. He watched me work until I had the glaze at the consistency I wanted, then I poured it into a small gravy boat and put the pan in the sink. "Okay," I said, turning back around. "How's the risotto coming along?" I stood next to him to check. He lifted the spoon up for me to take a quick taste. "I think it's almost done." I scooped in the chopped asparagus and fresh peas and poured in one more addition of broth. He stirred them in and as I added the grated Parmesan cheese and some salt and pepper. "This can probably sit on low now while I set the table."
I put his soup down and he pulled my chair out with a quiet "ladies first. lighting the candles again and opening the curtains to let in some evening light. I hope you like it. "This is wonderful. His expression unchanged."Would you like me to carve the duck?" "Sure. It should go well with the duck." . crossing his long legs and wiping his hands slowly. the flavor of the mushrooms really coming through. "Very nice. Amazing. sir. Five minutes later. pouring a glass of wine." He took a taste. cupping my cheek. "You got some sun today. my dear." I said. It was good. coming up to me and cupping my face. Miss Swan. a cote-du-rhone. that would be great. Cullen his soup. "This is one of my favorite wines." He smiled at me and ran his hand over my hair. may I please have some more soup?" He fed me. He was standing between our chairs. "Give me five minutes before you come in. He looked over his shoulder at me and smiled. "What is this." He chuckled. "Ready when you are. I don't think I need to send you running off to the wine cellar any longer. I'm not a very good carver. You should be resting. Miss Swan?" "It's a cream and mushroom soup. sir. Mr." "Morels?" "They're one of my favorite mushrooms. he looked down at me a moment before bending down and kissing my forehead. Here. He'd finished carving and was washing his hands at the sink. Tell me what you think." On his way out. but why didn't you ask me to get it for you?" "I didn't realize until this evening just how much work you go to fixing me these exquisite meals. he grabbed the wine opener out of the drawer. only lightly mellowed by the cream. He took his seat and took a sniff of his soup. my dear. returning to the kitchen. sir. I handed him a towel to dry his hands and he leaned back against the sink." He lowered his spoon to me. "After seeing you at work for the first time. with morels. Cullen. looking at me with an expression of fondness mixed with something I couldn't quite interpret." He handed me his glass and I took a sip. sir." I smiled to him as I went and set his place." I smiled at him as I sat and got comfortable. "Would you like some more soup?" "Please. his eyes lingering on my face. He put the towel down on the counter and pushed himself off." "I'll be right back. I brought Mr. I refuse to believe there's anything you don't do well.
I saw you from the landing. I took his bowl to the kitchen and returned shortly with his plate of duck and risotto. his face serious. I've often worked too much just because I had nothing else to do. do we?" "Here. I was so happy to find some at Southbay's today." He looked at me fondly. though. He returned to his soup. sir. so I stayed silent."I didn't burn. Then he smiled at me. my dear. "I'm not getting much work done with you in my house. I didn't realize until we were almost done that he wasn't touching me as much as he had the previous two nights. He smiled at me." The candlelight flickered in his eyes. I mean." I blushed. though. so content. "And we don't know where you'll be next spring. sir?" "Yes. and the serving dish of glaze." I didn't know what to say to that. I watched him while he ate with relish. I topped off his wine glass." "Don't be. You looked so peaceful." "Only in the spring. hopefully. I hope you make this regularly. He was as . Miss Swan." He finished the soup and pushed his bowl to the side. thank you. sir. Thank you for getting me back inside when you did. "No thank you. Before I sat back down. That doesn't come anywhere near to what you do. "All I did was stir. "Yes." He nodded. hopefully. at Noble. He declared the duck to be as good as anything he'd ever eaten. Now I have a beautiful young woman to keep track of. "I was watching you sunbathe from upstairs. "Another to add my favorites. there's plenty more for me later. his eyes on his bowl." "I'm glad you liked it." "You were. which I thought was delicious. sir. He took another spoonful of soup. but refused to take any credit for the risotto." "I'm sorry. his spoon moving in lazy circles through last of the soup. Would you like the last bite?" I smiled and shook my head." he seemed to say to himself. Fresh morels are only available in the spring. "May I please get up and get your dinner for you?" "You may." He reached for my hand to help me up.
"I'll be right back. "Be careful near the refrigerator. sir. he reached down for one of my hands and brought it over to rest on his thigh. Cullen just as he was turning his eyes from my legs back to the table in front of him. but apart from a few strokes to my hair and cheek. but on our hands. I forgot all about that. but he was still holding himself back. I'll have a cognac. though. Cullen alternating between caressing me gently and gripping me firmly. He sighed and took a bite of tart. He sipped his cognac and gave me the glass. and left without a word. He stood and helped me up." He nodded. Before I sat down. asking him if he'd like more wine or a nightcap. putting it down in front of him. just held my hand tighter. When I was seated. . but for once the focus in the room wasn't on the meal. offering me the next. holding me tightly to him. thoroughly confused. he was keeping his hands to himself tonight. What else could I possibly do to let him know it was okay? I brought him his tart. and almost asked him several times. I tried my best to understand what he was trying to convey. He wanted me. We proceeded to eat the tart and drink the cognac. The scrape hadn't bled through the band-aid." I laughed. his fingers interlaced with mine. and without thinking I reached down and pulled my skirt up to check my knee. "Yes. he smiled back but didn't answer. When we were finished. even after our conversation this morning. He turned to watch me. I was no closer to understanding than when we'd begun. I told him that I liked the flavors together." He reached down to help me up. please. "Strawberries. his face looking so conflicted. sir. that same predatory expression as he'd had last Friday night on his face." "Yes. Why? I cut out a piece of strawberry tart and drizzled it with some crème fraiche. but I was even more afraid that for some unknown reason he'd decided I wasn't to be seduced. you may. You've already been injured once today." "Oh. I was afraid to throw myself at him. because I suspected that Alice was right that he needed to be in control of this. so I dropped my skirt and looked down at Mr. I impulsively kissed the top of his head. bending down to kiss my cheek. I knew he did. but something about the set of his jaw and the slight frown between his eyebrows told me to give him more time to work out whatever was troubling him. I took his plate into the kitchen. his fingers stroking mine. Mr. Hmm. poured a finger of cognac into a low-ball glass and brought it back to him." I went to the liquor cabinet. even though I wanted to. that he'd never cross that line with me. my dear.affectionate and full of praise as always. We finished dinner and I asked if I could get his dessert.
" Dixon Point was about 90 minutes north of town. where he found me some time later in the gourmet section." "I've never been there. Mr. The question is will you survive the nights I'm in charge. really. Don't forget who cooks your meals. and I need more salad ingredients. Mr. We exchanged good mornings and I started making some toast. helping ourselves to enough free samples to make a light lunch. up in the heart of the agricultural region. something you'd make for yourself. "How about this on weekends. . we never decided how we're going to do weekend dinners. Cullen was already at the island when I came down for coffee. Nothing." "What would happen if you accidentally ate some?" "I'd explode." He laughed again. While he browsed through the rows of bottles. and you let me take care of the other night. "What are your plans for today. I wandered into an adjacent food shop. I'm curious. but can you really just have a salad for dinner?" "I think I'll survive." He looked up at me. Cullen." "What do you need in town?" "Well. about that." His telltale smirk made an appearance. then asked. "Consider me warned. Cullen was right. Miss Swan?" "I don't know. "As long as you don't try to sneak any meat into my meals. Cullen said there was a wine store nearby that he wanted to visit." "I'd probably just get really bad indigestion. but it's going to be way too hot for the things in the freezer. I'll probably just putter around here. We wandered through all of the stands. Mr. followed by an overwhelming urge for revenge.CHAPTER 18 Saturday morning Mr. I'll be fine. I guess. "No. so apart from biking into town at some point. "How would you like to drive up to Dixon Point this morning? They have an excellent farmers' market on Saturdays and you can get whatever you need there." He laughed." "That sounds fair. I'll let you do one night as long as it's something easy. I'd love to." He paused for a moment. smiling at me. the farmers' market was exceptional. Alice is out of town with her family. and I got enough fruits and vegetables to get us through the rest of the week. After packing the trunk with our purchases." "Yes.
"Get whatever looks interesting. I'm paying. I was about to ask him why he hadn't touched me last night when he gave my waist a light squeeze. he seemed to pull back. really." "Sure."Finding anything?" "I don't even know what half this stuff is." "I mean. Mr. Let's find out. "I think I'll read for a while in the library if you care to join me. I was putting our purchases from the food store away in the pantry when Mr. his affection for me obvious. "My perfect girl. It was the first time he'd touched me today and instinctively." "Really?" "Yes. his eyes meeting mine." He went to the end of the aisle and picked up a shopping basket. "How would I make you anything with this?" "I can't help you there." "Maybe I want to. And now I was his perfect girl again. but after helping me cook last night. "You know I love your cooking. Cullen came back upstairs. Why was he being so hot and cold with me? He'd kissed me with enough passion Thursday after dinner that I knew he wanted me. Cullen helped me out of the car and we carried in groceries and wine. When we got home. "I'm not sure I do." . and getting everything else stowed away in the produce bin." "And what's fleur de sel? Is it better than regular salt?" "I have no idea." I spent the next several minutes filling the basket with an array of ingredients that sounded good but wasn't sure how to use. He took the wine downstairs while I sorted all the produce we'd bought. dropped his arm. Get some. picking up a jar. I leaned into him. putting some things aside to use later tonight." He kissed the top of my head and put his arm around my waist. and asked if I was ready to go. He looked down at me. Miss Swan. either. preserved meyer lemons?" I said." I looked up at him. Miss Swan. of course. You don't have to impress me any further. That sounds good." He looked over the shelves.
" "You do too much. my dear girl. like I'm taking . Somehow being allowed to touch you as well just seems greedy. "I know you did. his hand back in my hair. "Mr. It's not that I don't believe you. Cullen put his book aside." "Then why didn't you?" "I hadn't realized how much effort you put into preparing my dinners. Cullen was in one of the easy chairs with his legs stretched out in front of him when I joined him. "This is always okay. his fingers coming up to run through my hair.I went up to my room and got my laptop. too. Mr. His hand had dropped to my neck where his fingers lightly stroked my throat." I turned to face him. and you're so beautiful next to me. Cullen. "It's not right for me to want more. "Is this okay. I just don't want to take advantage." I leaned my head again his thigh and kept working on my menu." "I don't understand. I'm trying to find recipes for the things we bought today. and you let me feed you." I heard him sigh again. a complacent smile on his face. "But I like it when you touch me. putting a hand on his knee. "I shouldn't let you slave away in the kitchen and then expect you to let me practically grope you when you're done." I looked up at him with a questioning expression. We sat like that for maybe fifteen minutes before Mr. but I just never thought about it before last night. I should have known. Very much. Last night you'd already worked so hard to make me an incredible meal." He met my gaze. He was watching me. then impulsively got up and brought my laptop over to his chair and knelt down next to his knee. I took the other chair and started researching recipes that used some of the ingredients I'd picked out this afternoon. I'd bookmarked several that sounded intriguing and had opened a word document to start a menu for next week when I happened to glance over at Mr." He gave me a slightly embarrassed smile. "What are you working on?" "Next week's menu. You never have to ask. I told you that. "I wanted to. Cullen?" He immediately ran his hand over my hair and sighed. "I'm sorry if I'm not explaining myself very well. Cullen?" "Hmm?" "Why didn't you touch me last night at dinner?" He didn't answer right away. Mr." He cupped my cheek and shook his head a little. I smiled back at him.
my throat. Please." "You do?" His fingers stilled." I answered. His kiss was hungry. bringing his hand up to my face. tasting his mouth. his jaw tight. When he got to his room." He reached down for the hem of my shirt and pulled it over my head. down the V of my t-shirt." he said. his free hand on my hip. swirling it with his tongue. taking one of my nipples in his mouth and giving it a quick hard suck." I groaned as he moved to the other one. his grip on me tighter.more than I should. trying to gather my thoughts. I closed my eyes. my mouth again. the only sound in the room our heavy breathing. his eyes on mine then on my chest. his eyes locked with mine. the other sweeping up the curves of my body. "You don't know how long I've imagined you laying here like this. "Beautiful girl. He stood back up and looked down at me in my bra and panties. my chin. I reached up for him. running his hands up my thighs. kissing me as hard as he had Thursday night. drawing an involuntary groan out of me as I pulled him to me as tightly as I could. I felt his lips on my throat again. popping the button and slowly pulling down the zipper." He lifted my bra over my arms and dropped it on the floor." I was rising to him as I spoke and he reached down for me. staring at my breasts. pulling me tightly to him. sir. "Yes. running his fingers over my cheek. "Oh. pushing my legs apart and kneeling between them. keeping my legs open around him when he was done. one hand on the back of my head. drawing them down my legs." He paused. I lifted my hips as he eased them off. Please kiss me. his hands on my hips. I look forward to it all day. but he shook his head. He stroked his hands over my breasts and down my stomach to the waistband of my shorts. . his own getting an almost feral look. opening my mouth roughly. Had I not been clear enough yesterday when I'd said I wasn't going to stop him? He knew I liked it when he touched me. then added in a low voice. my parted lips. pulling me against him. his tongue finding mine immediately. reaching behind me to unhook my bra. I can't resist you anymore. "Oh!" I cried out. meeting me half way. He finally broke away. Mr. Let me enjoy it. he laid me on his bed and stood over me. He reached down and with one arm lifted me onto his lap. Are you sure this is what you want?" "I want you. He pulled his shirt off in one quick motion and climbed on the bed. then back to mine. almost frantic as he buried his face in my neck. pressing myself into him. Cullen. Something like a growl came out of him as he scooped his free hand under my knees and picked me up. arching my back at the sudden intense pleasure. demanding. "I'm afraid I could take more than you'd want to give me. "Bella. my hand sliding into his hair and fisting it to keep him there. He carried me upstairs." I watched my thumb trace a small circle on his knee. his hands caressing every inch along the way. kissed my throat. gently this time. pulling his face up to mine and kissing him. my ear. "I've been alone for a long time. tasting his lips with my tongue. "But I want you to touch me. still kissing me with urgency. sweeping lightly over my breast and sliding down over the curve of my hip to my thigh. He sat back and pulled off my panties. my collarbone. but didn't he know how much I wanted it? I looked up into his blue gaze. Please touch me.
He kissed me slowly. afloat in postcoital bliss." And then he started thrusting." he muttered into my neck. He groaned and eased up from me enough to undo his jeans and kick them off along with his boxers. Oh. My entire body stiffened and tightened." "No. it felt so good. both of us moaning at the sheer relief of the feeling. I came. I wasn't even paying attention. That was perfect. Mr. reveling in his breath on my neck." I managed to say. beautiful Bella. the sensation so overwhelming I could do nothing but hold on to his shoulders as he took total possession of me. I wrapped my arms around him and ran my nails lightly from his shoulders to the small of his back. moaning and still moving slowly in and out of me. each of his thrusts hitting me like a violent. Cullen was laying on top of me. Cullen pulled himself up onto his elbows and looked down at me. felt that first twinge of ecstasy and cried out again. I lifted my hips." He groaned. wondering how he was already able to talk. I want you so much. I clung to him as if I were drowning. one arm around my back the other playing with my hair. I listened to the gradual restoration of his heartbeat while I brushed my fingertips through his light chest hair. thrusting as if his life depended on it. His hair was still the softest I'd ever touched. like I was drowning in an ocean of Edward Cullen. He was the only thing in the universe. lean and lanky but with just the right amount of muscle. "Oh god. the only thing that mattered. I'm on the pill. everything suddenly so perfect in my world I couldn't quite wrap my head around it. How long had it been since I'd felt this good? I was so lost in my own euphoria that when Mr. I need you now. but I don't know if I can. "My girl. reading my inability to speak. "Don't be gentle. my hands coming up to cradle his head. rolled onto his back and pulled me up onto his chest. no condom. relentless surf. his hands in my hair. Mr. Hard. Perfect. I threw my head back again and wailed. my hands pressing on his lower back to drive him on. If I'd felt like I was drowning a minute ago." I felt him align himself at my entrance and with one thrust he was in me. His back was so smooth. I felt myself start to surrender to his onslaught. I arched my neck back and pulled him in to me as tightly as I could. He was still for a moment. "Don't be. impossibly full of him. "I promise to make this up to you. and that's what it felt like. my beautiful girl. welcoming each punishing surge. his teeth nipping at me. . He looked down at me again. rubbing my pelvic bone on his." he whispered as he kissed me again. So good. tenderly. the sweat I could feel between our bodies. now I was lost at sea. his long fingers between my legs quickly driving me insane with want. his breath heavy in my ear. as if there was no other reason for him to be on this earth but to fuck me as hard as he could. coming up to kiss me deeply. the growing anticipation of something phenomenal … and then it happened. bringing my hands down to clutch his head to me."I want to be gentle with you. needing more. pushing me down into the bed with his weight. "Do I need to find a condom? I don't even think I have any. a long guttural cry escaping my lips. He eased out of me. I smiled into his kiss." His mouth was back on my breasts. Perfect. Cullen came a few seconds later.
"I'm sorry if I was too rough. Don't stop. "Edward. He was getting hard again and I took him in my hand. letting out a quiet moan when I leaned down again to nuzzle his neck and flick my tongue over his nipples. his hands on my waist." "I'm never going to. I dug my face into his chest and found my voice. the sensation from this angle so different." He pulled me back up to straddle him and I eased myself down. and pulling me against him. I wanted to taste every inch of his skin." I kissed the side of his neck. then sat up. He ran his hand down my back and cupped my ass. letting me seat myself completely before closing his eyes and groaning again. Bella. perfect proportion to the rest of his long body. "Bella. and lower yet. I kissed the tip of his penis and then licked the whole length. He watched me silently." His arm tightened around me. slowly taking him in inch by inch. kiss every spot I could reach. He kept his hands on my ass. oh god."You're so beautiful. Now that I finally had him naked in front of me. get up here. He reached for my breasts and I arched my back. "You were perfect." "Me." I leaned down to kiss him. his muscles twitching as I kissed lower. his shoulders and arms." "Edward." I kissed his jaw. it's been so long since someone touched me." I kissed my way down his chest." I kissed his lips. straddling his waist. It was in beautiful. stroking lightly. so flat and taut. "Edward. leaning my weight back with my hands on his thighs." "Edward. He was clutching me so tightly. "You're the beautiful one." "Say it again." I got a burst of energy and clambered on top of him. "God. Cullen. his fingers squeezing and releasing in rhythm to my motions. don't worry. not as completely overwhelming but almost more intense as I could feel every inch of him inside me. closing his eyes. You can make that up to me any time. pushing them into his hands. Mr. It was his turn to throw his head back and groan. I threw my head back and moaned. . running my hands over his chest and his flat stomach. my orgasm taking longer to build this time but finally coming with a sweetness that brought tears to my eyes. he only fit half way. I started moving up and down. helping me move on him. I'm going to come again already." I kissed his ear. and when I wrapped my mouth around him. my hair trailing over his ribs. Bella." I managed to gasp. He grabbed my ass again. too. I clamped down on him. his hips beginning to thrust up to meet me. "God." "Call me Edward when we're like this. and made my way to his stomach. so beautiful. my head thrown back and thrashing from side to side as the pleasure washed over me. "Edward.
wishing I could somehow burrow into his body and get even closer to him. pulling me back down with him in a tight embrace.He curled up to me as he came too. I was trembling and panting and incapable of moving any of my limbs. "You're so perfect. I kept my eyes closed for a long time." I smiled into his chest. I felt him kiss my hair and managed to move my fingers lightly across his chest." He tightened his arms around me." He kissed my hair again. "You're so bossy. listening to his breathing. listening to his heart beat. "I could lay here forever. because it's my newest rule. wishing he and I could lay here like this forever." . "Good. his arms wrapping around me.
My new job would be to lay naked in Mr. I was alone. toast. Mr. isn't it?" I let the sheet drop. Cullen. trying to ignore it and stay committed to my new job. this time with a tray of something that smelled delicious. Miss Swan?" "My stomach. Cullen. satiating… I was sure I could come up with all the words while I laid here today. And all night. I thought. I didn't want any strangers in my kitchen. "It's okay. insatiable. My stomach sat up and took notice. Nothing mattered but that I was here. Perfect with a healthy dollop of satisfaction and maybe a hint of apprehension." He said quietly. Turncoat. I'd work for free. not bothering to open my eyes. Let's just lay here a little longer. I stretched and smiled. "No. gentle." Mr. I had a whole new list of adjectives to describe him after last night. our appetite for each other stronger. "I'll feed you soon. He pulled my pillow up again the headboard and I leaned back. none of that. bringing my coffee cup with me. and then the rest of me did. No. Cullen's bed all day." "Of course. It growled again and I remembered that I hadn't eaten anything last night except a few bites of salad and bread. He'd brought me scrambled eggs. Cullen probably couldn't sleep in late any better than I napped. he could do it himself. strike that – magical-fingered. which was perfect. a cup of coffee. looking up at him from under the rim. Tender. It didn't matter. I sighed." "Imagining what?" ." I said. My stomach growled. but we hadn't eaten much. a whole new dictionary. He looked like he always did. ferocious. as I rolled back over. Mr. no. I rolled over. loudly. I never wanted to get up and I decided that I never would. stomach. soft-haired. "I was just imagining this. "Much better. I picked it up and took a sip. demanding. Cullen and I had finally gotten out of bed around seven and I'd fixed us a salad. long-fingered. I didn't care what time it was. He could use my salary to hire someone to bring me meals. and best of all.CHAPTER 19 At some point Sunday morning I finally regained consciousness. "Look at you. I quickly pulled the sheet up. Mr. Cullen had snuck up on me again. A little late for modesty. Mr. in this bed. taking pity on it. okay?" "Who are you talking to." He sat down next to me and put the tray on my lap. Of course I was.
My resolve melted. enjoying the new but wholly welcome aches and pains in my limbs. let's get you fed. "You'll be ready to leave at six." "Oh." I smiled. I then took a long. I'm in charge of one night on the weekend. Eventually I made my way downstairs to look for Mr." "I probably could. while I lay here all day. You're not as good a fighter as you think." "Yes. sitting back up. He caught my hand and lifted it to his lips." "I wasn't fighting you last night." "Such bad manners. I am. Ever. the apprehension gone from his expression. He looked down at me as he slowly kissed each finger. you're not. I'd had to break my promise when nature eventually called." "I'd rather treat you to a meal you deserve. I hugged him from behind and he handed me a segment." I stretched. I'm not leaving. "Well. I'm taking you out." "It's an excellent idea. then. And I'll throw food at you during the meal. my girl. arching my back. Anything that keeps you in my bed."You bringing me meals." "You're too generous as it is. "Is that a promise?" "Yes. hot shower. Cullen and I found him in the kitchen peeling an orange. You can't make me go. my dear Miss Swan?" . then turned it over and kissed my palm. I'll look into it this afternoon. That was the deal. He kissed the back of it. You still don't know how good I really am. Two hours later we were arguing in the kitchen." "The idea of carrying you kicking and screaming to the car isn't entirely unappealing to me." "Just try to get me out of it. It's not too late to enroll you in a finishing school." He smiled and lifted up a forkful of eggs." "Not just to the car. into the restaurant as well. I think it's a good idea. "Are you polishing your skills for dinner tonight?" "No." "But I thought you were going to cook." I slapped him lightly on his arm. no.
no tie. put on a little makeup. so I got up and came around to the left side of his chair and knelt down on the floor next to him. Cullen might send me to finishing school after all if I stumbled and tripped all evening. A guy in one of my classes last fall asked me out. We ate at one of the nicest seafood restaurants in town." "You're going to come willingly? I don't need to haul you over my shoulder?" "Not this time. The only sound in the room was his typing. They were only a couple of inches high. I did a slow turn for him. Alice had insisted I get some shoes to go with the dress. and put on my necklace. You look lovely. I pulled a light sweater out of my closet and went downstairs. and I took a few practice steps until I was sure I had my balance." . I dug through some of the clothes I'd bought in LaPorte. While he looked me over. with a solid blue dress shirt. we'd almost match. I mentioned during dinner that I'd been here once before." I grinned. then lent my head against his leg and returned to my book." He held my hand on the way to the car. Mr. He walked up to me and cupped my face. We spent most of the afternoon together in the library. I did the same to him. smiling down. I was beginning to think he liked carrying me around. Mr. At five I went upstairs to get ready for dinner. I fixed my hair. so I rummaged for the sandals I'd stuck in my closet. I didn't know where we were going and this would work for either fancy or casual. Cullen was in the living room watching TV. "Oh? Was it a special occasion?" "It was a date. I'd settled in my chair to read for a while and he joined me with his laptop. never believing I'd have an occasion to wear heels. If his shirt were just a few shades lighter. it wasn't only his face that was distracting me. actually. He put one hand on his hip and made a motion with his other for me to spin. but found myself constantly stealing glances at him. "Here's my princess." "Thank you.I could only nod in acquiescence. He was wearing slim black pants. belted. I need a finger fix." "Shall we?" "I'm ready if you are. and decided on a light blue sundress that kept my shoulders bare and fell to just above my knees. but that was a lot more than I was used to. "Then let's go. Now that I knew how good-looking he was everywhere. but he turned it off when I came in and stood. You look nice too. I watched him type for a few minutes. I tried to concentrate on my book. remembering him taking me upstairs yesterday.
somewhat well-mannered. that was our only date. He reached for my knee under the table. It ended badly." "You don't have to have a lot in common with someone to start a relationship. Some serious. "But there's no way I believe I'm your first victim. but we didn't have that much in common. Not if there's an attraction. Cullen? I've been wondering since I started working for you how you can possibly still be single. and I swore off women for a while." "You don't sound the least bit sorry. Alas. but you're the first in a long time for me as well." "Have you ever been in love?" . "I'm not." "Maybe that's what I'm doing with you." He smiled back." "That's true. no. moderately successful. Then I moved here and I guess I never met anyone who interested me. "Don't worry. I don't get out that much. I mean. You're fairly good-looking. He was nice. either. The period of my life after my parents died." I laughed. I told you I'd made some mistakes. I don't like the thought of someone else touching you." "What about you." he smirked." "No. I was a little wild. you've probably noticed." "So no crazy ex-wives?" "God. of course. No. "Yes. and not in a long time. I've had a few girlfriends over the years. and the last relationship I was in was one of them. I guess. some not."Did you see him for very long?" "No. not many have. look at you. no sparks. I've never been married. But there wasn't an attraction." I smiled at him over my wineglass." "Too bad for him. "Good." I added. but I noticed his jaw tighten just a fraction." "Really?" He sounded genuinely surprised. "Maybe. Surely you could have lured some poor unsuspecting female into sharing your life with you by now. Mr. And no one's touched me the way you have.
"How romantic. when I was about your age." He paused." I couldn't even imagine my dad telling me who I could or couldn't date." "How young. Luckily. his fingers lingering. At the time." "Why?" "She'd gotten a full scholarship to the art school we attended and she said she couldn't walk away from that. "She was very pretty." "What happened." He nodded in agreement. "I'd have been sorely tempted. if you don't mind my asking?" "I don't mind." He paused again. a full scholarship is a big deal. "I thought it was unforgivable. "Unfortunately my parents didn't approve of her. "Then it would have been a difficult choice." "That's sad. very smart. his face growing pensive." "I guess I can understand how she must have felt. "Would you now."I thought I was once." he finally added. lost in his thoughts." I smiled. though. but in retrospect she clearly made the right decision." He put his wine glass down and reached across the table to tuck a strand of hair behind my ear. picking up his wineglass and taking a sip. A lot like you actually. . she refused. Miss Swan. if it had been me. I felt like she didn't care for me the way I did for her. taking a bite of his dinner." "Well. you were too young to know better?" "Very astute of you. She simply didn't measure up. "I wanted to run away with her. You already knew how to play the piano?" He smiled back at me and nodded. maybe." He smiled at me." "Let me guess." "Why not?" "My family was quite wealthy and my father especially was very status-conscious.
" . So beautiful." His face was buried in my neck. "And if someone thirty-five comes along and catches your eye?" "He'd have to have two pianos. "Thank you for dinner." I finally remembered to say. like I said. dropped his keys on the counter. running his hands down my back. and I arched my back." After dinner we strolled for a while through a nearby park. and pulled me into an embrace. I was full. The drive home was quiet. Mr." I shrugged. and feeling very relaxed. fiddling with his dinner. no torrid affairs in your past. a few guys asked me out. "in this dress. I leaned back against the headrest and watched Mr." "It's true. I knew from last night how much he really did appreciate my behind. "You're welcome." He turned his eyes down to his plate and was silent for a minute. Cullen helped me put my sweater over my shoulders. Cullen's hand work the gear-shift. and in college I had a couple of boyfriends but nothing serious." I smirked at him. giving my waist a quick squeeze as I straightened the hem. "You have no idea how difficult it was for me not to touch you tonight. let alone two glasses of wine. you have no idea. When I started here last fall." "I find that hard to believe. It was about eight. at least it sounds like I don't have to worry about one of your peers snatching you away from me. letting him know how absurd he was being. Cullen. past my hips. and keeping his arm around me afterward as we walked back to the car. his mouth hot and wet on my skin." he murmured. princess. squeezing my butt and using his hold to pull my hips closer to his. "I dated a little in high school. "Well." "No. you have to watch out for other men your age." I made a dismissive gesture with my eyes. so there wasn't any reason to get involved with anyone. what you do to me. your legs. "And a bigger library. not used to eating a whole entree for dinner."So. "Oh god. lifting it into his hands. Mr. but the sun was already starting to go down and the air had finally cooled." We parked in the garage and he helped me out. boyfriends have been few and far between. but none of them interested me that much and I figured I was only here for the year. Miss Swan?" "No. keeping hold of my hand as we entered the house. He flipped on the kitchen lights.
" He matched a thrust to each word. "That's it. his thrusts growing even more intense. I felt one of his hands snake up into my hair and he pulled my head back. lifting my torso off the island. bringing my dress up with them. "This is what I think about when you bring in my dinner. up the back of my thighs." He began picking up his pace. "Upstairs." I whispered. "if you only knew what it does to me. my shoulder. "When you beg me like that. "Oh!" I felt like I was yelling but I had no control over myself as each of his thrusts began feeling deeper and harder than the last." "Here?" "Turn around. willing him to take me to bed. "Bella." he panted behind me." That was all it took for me to fall apart. Are. then again. He collapsed on top of me. I lay underneath him. the side of my face." he said in a low voice." I did. My. stood back up and pushed my legs apart with his knees. bringing me closer and closer to my orgasm. I felt him thrust once more. He slowly kissed the back of my neck." He began moving in and out. "Like this. Girl. trying to control the tremors that were already sweeping through me. The loudest sound I'd ever made in the house came out of me from somewhere deep inside. and his words were all that I needed to light me on fire too. all care thrown aside as I bucked my hips. "my god. They rose slowly up my legs. I fisted my hands. He leaned down over me and buried his face in my neck. as another loud moan escaped me. Here. my name passing his lips. holding my waist tightly in his hands. past the back of my knees. Bella." I felt his hands on my calves first. Seconds later he pushed into me with so much force I was lifted off my feet. savoring each touch of his mouth. I was indecent in my pleas." He pulled down my panties. "I think about turning you over the table and doing this. I leaned down on the island. "I think about you all spread out like this for me. Perfect. just like that. I could barely breathe with anticipation. my lips. let me hear you." I heard him undo his belt followed by the rustle of cloth as he must have lowered his pants. the top of my back. our breaths the only sounds in the room." he moaned. "No. Every single muscle in my body clenched into a spasm of pure joy.I could feel the rising effect I was having on him with our bodies pressed together. "You. and then he stiffened as well. setting a wickedly slow pace that soon had me begging for more. beautiful girl. sir?" "Yes. eased them over my shoes. I think about how's there's no meal in the world comparable to your sweetness. desperately urging him to give me what I needed. my other shoulder. . your beauty. what you do to me. his moan in my ear echoing my own.
" ."You'll sleep in my bed from now on. "Yes." I managed to agree on a shaky exhale. "Then let's get you upstairs." He murmured into my lips. I'm not done with you.
"Is something amusing you." "I guess you'll just have to suffer on with her then. burying his face in my neck. He pulled me to stand between his legs and wrapped his arms around me tightly. We were sitting at the island eating breakfast. He relaxed his arms and ran them up and down my . You know." He snorted into his cup. and I." He chuckled. It's the perfect height. Miss Swan?" "Oh no. She has quickly become invaluable to me. You can't be too careful. "It just turns out my very proper little housekeeper has a naughty streak." "Hm-hmm. "I like this island. couldn't stop replaying last night in my head. Nothing at all." "Someone else in this house is very handy. too. but what can I do? I can't let her go. to work at. Very handy." "No?" "Nope." "I guess I will. Cullen?" I took a bite of toast." I pursed my lips to keep my grin from spreading. of course." "Do you." I ran my hand over the spot where he'd bent me over last night." "You should have. "I was just thinking how much I love this kitchen." "I realize that now. "And I really like this island. having the maturity of a thirteen year old.CHAPTER 20 "Something amusing you. "I don't know what you mean. I should have checked her references more thoroughly. Poor me. He grinned back at me and took a sip of coffee." "Then do you care to explain that silly grin on your face?" I shook my head innocently. now. Mr. sir. He shook his head." He smiled that crinkly-eyed smile that I loved and impulsively I got up and went around the island to hug him.
" I kissed him back. "I like to watch you work. Miss Swan. I've got to try to leave you alone. Mr. Twenty minutes. that I was already completely under his thrall." "Maybe we should have a new rule. his face growing serious. what you're doing. I think I was already in love. there was nothing I wouldn't do for him. "I'll try not to distract you. "I got two new emails this morning from faculty looking for help on their translations." He closed his eyes and pulled me in to him. we seemed to have set the ground rules of our relationship." "Sneak up on me. Cullen treated me much as he had before." "Was I that obvious?" "It took me a while to figure out. "That's what I was thinking. He knew every inch of my body. "I feel as though I'm never going to get enough of you." "Twenty minutes. I don't want to interfere with your work. "I'm always wondering where you are in the house. and I his. I didn't mind his need to keep me at arm's length during the day because our dinners became only that more anticipated and erotic. and by the end of that week. his self-control slipping only a couple of times." He pulled me in tightly again. "Mmm. though. but yeah. and the nights I spent in his bed were so passionate.back." "You have no idea how much you distract me without even trying. you mean. This is my busiest time of year. while he sighed and kissed my neck. tilting it so I was looking at him. Alice saw it on my face immediately when I met her for lunch. "I feel exactly the same way." "Sadly. when professors aren't teaching and are hoping to publish instead." He buried his face back into my neck." He chuckled and kissed my nose. Even the nights we didn't make love he still found ways to make me feel cherished and desired." By Friday." I smiled and rested my head on his shoulder. you're right. no touching until dinner. He kissed me lightly. During the day. so sensuous." "I've noticed. "It happened!" . the summer. I have a lot of work to get done this week. "Wondering if I can make up a plausible excuse to come find you. my beautiful girl?" He ran his thumb over my cheek." He reached up and cupped my face." He kissed me again. We'll start in about ten minutes. "Who could blame me.
Now come on." "Just the nights. trying to get some control over my stupid grin. okay." she bounced up and down in her chair. right now. wow. it started last weekend." "In the kitchen?" "It was like he couldn't wait." "Yes. just longer. yes. Nothing's changed except that I sleep in his bed at night now. He must be. "So are you still working for him?" "Of course. "And to think I used to be jealous of your bike and dress. It was incredible. The days aren't really all that different. how romantic." "Oh my god. he still does nice things like play the piano when I'm dusting the library. look at you. the way we get along. I am. He took me out for dinner at Pierre's Sunday night and when we got home he made love to me in the kitchen. maybe a big one. Amazing. "I want details!" "Okay." "And? How is he?" "Amazing. although he's more affectionate. Alice. You were right about his pent-up energy. but there was a serious undertone to her question. "God.I grinned from ear to ear." I bit my lip. calm down! I kissed him in the library Saturday afternoon and then he carried me upstairs to bed." "Ahh. he's always treating me rather formally. It's kind of hard to explain. starting from the beginning. "What gave it away?" "You're glowing enough to light a small city." "He is so romantic. When I'm not working. and that hasn't changed very much." . And when I'm working. "Um." I happily punctuated each word. like he's trying to make me happy. Now you're getting the really good stuff." She shook her head in awe. You have to tell me everything." "I know." "And it's all good? You're okay sleeping with your boss?" She was smiling at me." "In the kitchen.
It turns out their personalities just didn't mesh and he avoided her when he could. okay? This is all new to me. he's so kind to me. did you?" "I don't think I did. and wasn't very nice to her when he couldn't. When I first met him. "I know it sounds weird. exchanging grins every now and then. he makes me feel so special." "And he touches you?" "He likes to touch my hair and face during dinner and feed me from his plate. "What things?" "Oh. "I don't think I've ever seen you look so happy. I like it." she finally smiled at me. looking me over." "Oh lord. Now that I know those things weren't anything to worry about. "so as long as you know what you're doing. you didn't stand a chance. but what can I say. I won't say anything about how odd that sounds." "What else?" . but there were some things I couldn't figure out about him. It probably is weird." She didn't say anything for a minute. I'm still trying to absorb the fact that I'm falling in love with my boss." "I mean." "That was my next question. I've never felt this way about anyone before." She gave me a puzzled look." "So you sit with him at dinner now?" I nodded." Literally. thinking that would be enough of a signal. He calls me his princess."Yep. you know I love you. you know. like the reason your aunt quit. but cut me a little slack. but it wasn't until I told him how much I wanted him to touch me that he gave in. "He said he likes my company. and I'd told him that I liked it." We ate for a while. there's nothing stopping me from falling at his feet." "Alice. I thought he was the handsomest man I'd ever laid eyes on. "So what finally got him to break?" I thought back to last weekend. "He'd begun touching me at dinner.
" "But he's over that?" "He sure seems to be. laying in Mr. his arm draped over my hip. He went through the house at night. I'd never experienced this kind of heat and couldn't believe how much it affected me." I do too. though he was in love just once. making dinner. It felt like time itself had slowed. fully aware of myself again."I finally took your advice and googled him but there wasn't anything. The rest of June was hot. But that's a long time from now. giving in to the heat." "What else?" "He's never been married. He brought me glasses of water during the day and offered me more sips of his drinks at dinner to make sure I was getting enough fluids. Really hot. his last whispered 'perfect girl' lingering in the air as we succumbed to sleep. I thought. when the heat finally broke. so who knows. But by late afternoon. Cullen. He tried so hard to keep me comfortable. I could barely move without breaking a sweat. when he was younger. he thinks he's too old. including my own arms and legs." "We haven't talked about it yet. opening windows to let in the cooler evening air. He licked the melted water off my body. It was astounding to find myself suddenly attuned to my surroundings and motions as I made dinner the first cool evening. unhooked my bra and ran an ice cube over my torso. His words. no relief left in the world but his cooling tongue on my flesh." I smiled as I took the last bite of my pizza. and I guess they were pretty wealthy." "How does he afford that house on a translator's salary?" "He inherited some money when his parents died. so I asked him one evening what exactly he wrote. as they kept the rooms relatively cool when drawn against the sun during the day." "I seriously doubt that. Mr. This was me. This sounds way more serious than a summer fling. then not at all if I didn't want to. I felt like I was moving in slow motion. Cullen wasn't immune himself and waved aside my apologies with an understanding smile. the simplest things like chopping an onion or preparing a salad seeming to take forever. He told me to work less. One especially hot night he pulled me onto his lap. Turns out he's a translator for the University. pulled my zipper down to my waist. Cullen's thick curtains finally made sense. everything giving into the heat. everything I lifted feeling heavier than it should. Dinner was late several times but Mr. my body spent. for Mr. but I can tell he doesn't want me to leave in the fall. who would be on the other . right? Maybe we'll hate the sight of each other by the end of the summer. that was the problem with him hesitating to start anything with me. "He said I may be the best thing that's ever happened to him. Bella. I came out of my stupor the first week of July. I seriously doubt that. that our age difference makes him a lecherous old man. eased my dress off my shoulders altogether. Oh. Cullen's bed that night." "Wow.
"Miss Swan?" He looked up at me in surprise as I ran in. He swept things aside on his desk and lifted me to the edge. doing everything in my power to express what I felt for him. his final thrusts violent. I found him in his office. Mr. everywhere. my love for him surely written all over me." he gasped into my neck. my feelings for him just having grown during the heat wave but having no capable outlet. his cheeks. twice. completely filling me. I stood up. his neck. He pulled up and braced his hands on the desk on either side of my head. I could feel him hardening underneath my hands and my lust for him exploded even more. and straddled him again. beginning his thrusts. like they were mine. bumping things with my head. returning his hand to my cheek. "You want me. not caring. He joined me soon. his hands in my hair. He stood looking down at me for moment. like a third presence in the room. caressing it tenderly with his thumb. digging my hands into his hair. and I drew one of his fingers into my mouth. Then he gripped my hips and plunged himself inside me. He read them once. I let my eyes tell him the truth this time. rubbing my wetness against his hard length." was all he said. his mouth. "I want you. his eyes." I said again. holding him to me as tightly as I could. He watched my face as we both grew closer to falling apart. I looked up into his eyes. running my other hand over his delicious. bringing his mouth to the angle I needed. Now that everything was perfect again. "I want you. needing to express it. his ears." he said almost to himself. running his hands back and forth over the insides of my thighs. yanked down my underwear. I threw myself onto him and kissed him everywhere I could touch. He stayed braced above me. my limbs finally feeling light again. I couldn't seem to get him close enough as I writhed up. releasing his finger to cry out my pleasure." I choked out as I unfastened his belt and undid his zipper. delving into it with my tongue. "I've never seen anything more beautiful in my life. I climaxed first. everywhere he was I wanted to kiss. pulling my skirt up to my waist and pushing my legs apart. completely open to him. having no ability to hold back and wait for him. His jaw. this time with more urgency. like a string of firecrackers going off inside me. taking in my wanton supplication. I pulled him down to me with a fierce groan. sucking on it as he kept moving within me. "Wider. "So much. He put his hand on my cheek. whom I needed to see. again and again. Mr. the man I loved. still watching me as I came back together. Cullen. I turned my head and kissed his beautiful fingers. as I lay back. the only part of him I could still reach with my mouth. then leaned down and kissed me so delicately I barely felt his lips. . all his. using every muscle in my restored body to pull him into me. his expression one of almost pain as he released into me. spreading my legs as wide as I could. pressing myself against his groin. every cell in me awakened and alive and desperate for him. Cullen. not trusting my voice yet. his forehead. letting him feel how swollen and hot I was for him. like this was me. I pulled his hair. now that I could feel the difference between our bodies." I managed to get out.side of that door in half an hour. perfect chest. watching my face as he moved above me.
I'm just trying to do my job." "I can do it myself. The last week of July we had our first argument since the night he took me out to Pierre's. His Wednesday appointment turned out to the be the day he went to campus to meet with whomever he was working with to discuss their projects. I should have told you.I let out something close to a sob and wrapped my arms around his shoulders. teased me less frequently. He eased out of me. touched me more often." I'd had my arms crossed but now that I'd won the point about sharing my kitchen. which was due Monday. reassured finally that I wanted him as much as he wanted me. Cullen was working more than ever. Whitlock could clean his office. "Miss Swan. He'd while away the hours in coffee shops or bookstores." "At least let me get someone in here to help with the meals." "Thank you. Mr. "I was just about to say the same thing." "Fine." "No way. I really needed the time this weekend to finalize my University application." "Your kitchen?" "Yes. Cullen. and that's final." I was beginning to give in. I don't want any strangers in my kitchen. He confessed that some Wednesdays he hadn't had meetings set up but had left the house anyway so that Mrs. I went back to my mostly-obedient self after that. He was freer with me in conversation. Dinner was very late that night. I reached up and put my hands on his shoulders. not yours. neither one of us ever wanting to let go." "You are so stubborn." "But I'm having someone come in Saturday to get the house ready. We both knew. you can have the kitchen. it's mine now. that was okay. . holding me around him. but my little outburst seemed to have changed something in Mr. but picked me up and sat back down in his chair. Mr. waiting until it was safe to come back. It was like he finally let go of any concerns he had about us being together. Another week or two passed. The way he told the story made me laugh out loud. I believe this decision is mine to make. opened up more about himself. If we weren't ready to say the words yet. Cullen." "You told me I was expected to work harder when you had company.
He'd offer to help with whatever I was making. "That was before getting accepted at Noble this fall became your most important duty." he looked up me." "I haven't thought about it yet." I moved to stand behind him. "is entirely up to you. What are my choices?" "I want to do whatever makes you the most comfortable. "But I'll do whatever you prefer. "I've been wondering what to tell them about us. it's the next thing on my list. especially if you go back to sleeping in your old room while they're here. frankly. to be honest. obviously not about our dinners. Let's tell them. Now that you've given me the kitchen. How much I don't know. I thought I'd better ask you how you want to handle it. Whether that's pretending that you're merely my live-in housekeeper or telling them that you're my girlfriend." I pulled some chicken breasts and lettuce out of the fridge. something he did now at least 3 or 4 times a week. watching me work. if their flight's on time." Thursday evening he came down to the kitchen while I was making dinner. "Will they give you a lot of grief if we tell them we're together?" I rested my chin on his shoulder." "Would you rather pretend we're not together?" "No. making small talk." "Oh?" "I mean. his use of that word for the first time not lost on either of us." "Yes." "Then I think I'd rather not leave my boyfriend's bed." I kissed the side of his neck. putting my arms around his shoulders while he continued working on the corn. sir. "So my brothers arrive Sunday around 3. I changed your job description. and if I didn't need help. "Some. Miss Swan. he'd sit at the island. I should have told you. When I came back in. I handed him a couple of ears of corn and asked him to shuck them for me while I started pot of water to boil and then went out to start the grill. but I'm not sure what else I should say. I'm sure. I don't mind telling them the truth and it's going to be almost impossible for me to keep my hands off you for a week." . It's up to you.He slid his hands over my hips. I know. he cleared his throat.
which made everyone laugh. and everyone fixed their own plates. figuring they needed some time together to catch up. but I'd much rather be in here with you. everyone ." I guessed they were talking about me and didn't want to hear it. Cullen with a question on his face but Jonathan reached out immediately for my hand. "Are you doing all right down here? Need any help?" "No. Mr. I nodded and said. "I'd love to. "It's great to see my family. Cullen and I had driven into town to load up on groceries. one arm around my waist. Jonathan the younger. and that was it. Both had the same good manners and dry wit as Mr. I mean that. Cullen was coping." "You'll sit with us tonight?" I'd declined to join the family last night. He picked me up off my feet and kissed me. doors banging. "She's awfully young. Robert was the elder of the two. Cullen and I agreed it would be too much for me to serve everyone. so I'd been setting out meals buffet-style in the kitchen. shaking it with enthusiasm and asking me how I put up with Edward. Cullen but were more outgoing and relaxed. Mr. figuring no one would notice it." "I'm perfectly aware of her age. Now. I've got it. children running on the stairs. I could hear unfamiliar noises in the house. I pulled the door closed and got busy on dinner. and wondered how Mr. Cullen's brothers were charming. but it'd be rude of you to stay in here. Still. Cullen introduced me to them as his housekeeper-turned-girlfriend. although the children had wandered in at 5:30." "My poor man. Even with the door pulled closed. I turned on my radio. I'd make up something for you to help me with. and I'll see you at dinner. When I returned I could hear Robert and Mr." He shook his head with a grimace. go on back out. How are you handling all the commotion? It sounds like a parade is going on out there. I grinned and said I had him pretty well-trained at this point." Dinner was ready at 6. I found out a couple of hours later when he came in for a quick visit. there was a lot of food to make. When the adults arrived. Cullen talking in the living room. Edward. I was accepted.CHAPTER 21 Mr. Robert looked at Mr. I found simple tasks to keep them busy as I put the dishes together and set everything out. Laughter. I got my application turned in Monday after lunch and biked to Southbay's for a few things I'd forgotten to get on Saturday when Mr.
putting a hand on my knee under the table. Cullen. I thought our age difference was a potential problem for me. No wonder Edward's so taken with you. I felt too young.started filling their plates and heading into the dining-room. Everyone was seated except Mr. their lives seemed so far away from where I was that I found myself beginning to pay more attention to the kids. Apart from answering a few more generic questions about myself. running one of his fingers up and down my cheek. "Here you are." he smiled." I smiled back as I sat down." Jonathan said. wondering what I'd have to show for myself. made a plate for myself and brought it in." Jonathan's wife Cecilia said. watching my face with concern." Robert's wife Joanne turned to me from the other end of the table. not the other way around. trying to find the words to describe how I'd felt at dinner. but this is delicious. "It's just that all this time we've been together. "Normally I don't care for asparagus. and Alice was concerned about your intentions too. Cullen's family. I hadn't consciously intended to make a one-handonly meal but was glad I did. but you were so worried that you were too old for me. That I'm too young for you." "The salmon's done perfectly. feeling more at ease with them than I did with the adults." He looked at me with so much affection. and Cecilia worked for an internet company. "Thank you. that Jonathan was an executive at an insurance company. and children. As they chattered on about their jobs. it never occurred to me until tonight that my age might be a problem for you. I stayed until I was sure everyone had what they needed and then took off my apron. "Thank you. Miss Swan?" "I roasted it with olive oil and sea salt." I rubbed my face. pulling the chair out for me. He made drinks and poured wine. Miss Swan." Robert added. frustrated at my incoherence. "What I mean is. his touch so familiar at this point that I would have felt lost without it. Cullen's company. I felt Mr. When we went to bed that night. Mr. just absorbing what details I could about Mr. Cullen give me a squeeze on my knee. and I tried to imagine myself at 30. "This is delicious. waiting patiently. He played with a strand of my hair. then sat down. you're an amazing cook." "Bella. "I love what you've done with the asparagus. call me Bella. Cullen. They were all obviously welleducated and successful. And please. who was standing behind my usual chair. and I was only focused on how you being older was not an issue. . How did you make it. I sighed and looked up at the ceiling. It's not a problem for me. he asked if something was bothering me. The conversation floated around me as I gleaned that Robert and Joanne were both attorneys. I kept quiet through most of the meal. For the first time ever in Mr. taking a bite of the rice dish. houses. that's not what I mean.
Jonathan." He ran his hand over my rear." It passed my lips in a whisper. I felt so young at dinner. thirty-one. I couldn't help but chuckle." he leaned in to kiss me. my girl. Don't you want to be with someone who has finished their education." "Edward. "I feel so bad that you're doing all this cooking. and as far as my stage of life goes." He only called me Bella during our most intimate moments." "Come here." He kissed me again. my life was empty until I met you. "Say it again. He's very generous. reading nothing in his expression but truth. I don't care if you're twenty-one. Your brother pays me way too much. so what difference does it make?" This was as close as we'd come to discussing the future. the princess of buts. "Edward. "But -" "But."Bella." "So when did you two meet?" "When I interviewed for the job back in mid-May. I rolled over to face him. "Sorry. "But. Are you sure we can't help out?" "No. I do not want to be the princess of buts." Jonathan joined me in the kitchen late Wednesday morning as I was putting together lunch." "Stop it. Did I want him in mine? Without a doubt." "Yes." Again. someone who's at the same stage of life as you?" "You will finish your education. and it sure sounded like he wanted me in his. or forty-one. but you kind of are." Again." I giggled." "That's all?" . has a career. "That did not sound right. but thanks for offering. I turned down the radio so that we could talk more easily. "Miss Swan. This is actually the first week I feel like I'm earning my salary. Not a single doubt. I guess. so just over two months ago. it's okay. you will have a successful career. "I'm serious. "But." "Does he now.
Robert was a sophomore in college and Edward was a senior." "He told me that he used to give her trouble about practicing. thinking that I'd be a senior next year." "I'm so glad he didn't. She used to drop whatever she was doing and just sit and listen when he played. I'm so sorry about that. and we all thought he had a gift. we've been pretty inseparable since I moved in. except when he's working. our lives were turned upside down in a second. They were a lot alike. and sometimes not even then. You two just seem like you've been together longer somehow. that was rough. He was the only one of us with any musical talent." "He does?" "Why do you sound so surprised?" Jonathan had the same mannerism of running his hand through his hair as his older brother. still in high school. They were killed by a drunk driver. it was instant so they didn't suffer. growing up. Does he talk about her very much?" "No." "Well. He plays the piano while I'm cleaning the library. not that there's ever a good age." "I know that your parents passed away. On the one hand. I tossed the pasta salad I was making while I waited to see if it signified the same uneasiness. or I'm working. "It's just that last year he refused to play for us. but on the other." ." "Were they very close?" "Very. He said he didn't play at all anymore and was even thinking of selling his piano. our mother." "He was so good. Bella." I shook my head. especially." "That doesn't surprise me." "Yeah. How old were you when it happened?" "I was seventeen."Yep." "I never heard any. not really." "I can't even imagine how hard that must have been for you. "What a horrible age to lose your parents. Why?" "I don't know. He inherited her creativity and love of art.
I don't know. and that it had to do with Jill. My parents were killed in February." I smiled and handed him a slice of fresh mozzarella and thought for a moment. just that Edward refused to come home over the winter break that year. and Edward and our father hadn't reconciled yet. I imagine. He told me about her. He'd had another relationship end on bad terms and we all figured he just wanted to get away." "I should probably let him tell you this stuff." I pulled some servings plates out and started setting out the pasta dishes."Edward actually took it the hardest. we were convinced of it. It was Mom who finally convinced our dad to let him go. he just quit when he only had one semester to go before graduating. I know he got a job with Noble. I thought she was really nice. that's what I mean. too. He and our father had argued for months about whether or not he could go to art school instead of something more practical like our father wanted. I've wondered if there was a particular reason he chose here. He doesn't talk about his past very much and I don't like to pry. Maybe because he was the oldest. "Do you still think that?" ." "Like what? I'll answer one question if I can have a piece of that cheese. He brought her home for Thanksgiving. I'm glad you told me." I wished I could go back in time and comfort him. but I guess Dad didn't approve of her." "I think it was more about leaving the States. "Things were really bad between him and our father that year." "Deal. I can still remember hearing them yell at each other." I went to work on the macaroni and cheese I was making for the kids. And then after they died. obviously." "Yeah. Edward had met someone at school. Robert and I. but he could have worked anywhere." "We've actually been somewhat worried about him. We thought he'd decided to become a hermit. so there's still a lot I don't know about him. He could be really old-fashioned about social status." "Ah. "He told me that he dropped out of school after that. a girl. After our last visit. "No." "Poor Edward. but not the part about your dad. no one had ever raised their voices like that in our house. in fact. He knows more about it than I do." "That's terrible. What was something I could ask that Jonathan wouldn't feel was too personal? "Do you know why he moved here? I mean. I think her name was. I never knew all the details." I turned on the broiler and started assembling the open-faced sandwiches.
"Cecilia doesn't believe that sometimes I come down early and help you cook dinner.He looked around the kitchen." "That's my favorite next to spaghetti. "Lunch is about 5 minutes away. Cullen?" I smiled up at him. You're making it up." I turned to face Cecilia. "Trust me. "Bella. Mr. Cullen held my . he does. by the way. Matthew was Robert's 5 year old. which I returned with enthusiasm. because I made you tons of it. I haven't seen him this happy since before our parents died. shows a lot of promise. It was. Are you guys hungry?" I leaned down to the kids. leaving me and Mr. The one thing we all know about Edward is that he hates to cook. I refuse to believe that. The second the door was closed behind her. I'm sooo hungry. laughing as they entered. "Bella." I said to Robert." "I hope you like macaroni and cheese." She shook her head as she fixed her plate. "Edward. Cullen's. I can't believe how different it feels now." He smiled at me. everyone filling their plates and getting their drinks before heading into the dining-room. "Oh." "Good. surely. "Hi there. okay?" It wasn't long before the kitchen was full. running my hands up into his hair and hugging him tightly. we took our plates into the dining-room. Mr. "I'll have to see it to believe it." I laughed a little. I saw Robert glance at his brother's messed up hair and then smile down into his plate." I opened the oven door and slid the sandwiches in just as Robert and two of the children came in. she'll tell you. This house was like a funeral home last time we were here." He smiled as he approached me." He gestured to the radio." "Just ask Miss Swan. Is this basil?" "Yep. leaning down to kiss my cheek." She grabbed a drink and headed into the dining-room. and Janie was Jonathan's 4 year old. These sandwiches look fantastic. I smoothed my own hair as Mr. but Matthew said. "It couldn't have been that bad. his gaze finally settling on the radio. A few minutes later. Mr. Cullen and Cecilia arrived last. "Tell her what. He's coming along very well as my sous chef. "Like people actually live here. Janie ran up to her dad and grabbed his leg instead of answering me. his eyes twinkling in the corners just like Mr. and I'll make spaghetti tomorrow. Cullen pulled me into his arms and gave me a real kiss. Cullen alone in the kitchen.
" "Good answer." "Well. "But which would you prefer?" "Me? I'll be staying here getting dinner ready. "Well." but she topped me with a professor who'd played a recording of pygmy voices for three hours. sure." said Robert. and yelled." I could picture it perfectly and laughed so hard I had to wipe my eyes as I recovered. while you two -" I nodded to Jonathan and Cecilia . I'd gotten over my reservations about feeling too young. "can hit the beach down there. and the conversation flowed easily as we discussed what to do that afternoon. Bella. but he sat there the whole time like he was having a religious experience. "Aunt Bella!" I looked up at Mr. Cullen and I spent an hour on the beach with Jonathan's family. We sat in the library together most of Saturday morning laughing about the most absurd things our professors had asked of us. Cullen.chair out. "And who can blame him?" The rest of the visit went too fast. asking him with my expression if I should say anything. but Jonathan and Cecilia were pushing for a day trip to LaPorte. "He likes you. Bella. Bella. Cullen stuff you two do? The almost-anthropologist in me is dying to know. and we all dug into lunch. Mr. Mr. Three hours." "What?" "What's with all this Miss Swan/Mr. Then we met up with Robert and Joanne to do some sightseeing in town. "The first fifteen minutes were interesting." It was fun. it'll be fun. It's too far to go just to turn around and hurry back for dinner. Cullen can do whichever he prefers. that's all I'm saying. Robert and Joanne wanted to take their kids out to the beach. Mr." . "So. you guys -" I gestured to Robert and Joanne. that's how we addressed each other when I started working for him and I guess it's just carried over." Mr. Cullen raised his eyebrows at me while he took a bite of his sandwich. "This is delicious. since LaPorte is on the coast." "No."can see the town. by the way. Cullen declared himself neutral. I'll take everyone out to Grand's tonight. but he just shrugged and smiled. so she and I spent some time talking about my classes and the program at Noble. so Joanne asked me to cast the deciding vote. Matthew ran up to me when he saw us coming. I have a question." "Okay. sure." He put his arm around my waist and pulled me into him. where I finally got Janie to talk to me as I helped her build a sandcastle. Joanne had almost majored in anthropology before deciding on pre-law. I had a great story about one who made us put on blindfolds and then touch aboriginal masks so that "we would really know. Miss Swan. come with us today.
" . He was intimidating when I first met him." I thought about that for a minute. that she was cheating on him and was only with him for his money. "No. and so authoritative he scared me a little. that's obvious. thought about our dinners. so this is probably the fifth time I've seen him. Bella." "Are you in love with him?" I nodded and smiled. My mom left us when I was two and my dad raised me more as a fishing buddy than a daughter."It seems so formal. You give him life and he gives you… what?" "Is this a lawyer's trick? I'm not on the stand. gentlest. "he's a completely different person this time. It felt like I was talking to an older sister. But is he good for you?" Her question was genuine. The first time I met him was at our wedding. Once I started getting to know him I found out he's the kindest." I didn't know what to say so I didn't say anything. and he struck me as kind of a wreck. thought about when he used my first name and what it did to me when he did. "You're good for him. I found out later that his current relationship had just blown up. But it was just a show. Robert thinks you might be too young for him. I know what you mean about how he's changed. I'm just curious." "I've been married to Robert for six years and still don't know Edward all that well. "I like it when he calls me Miss Swan. "He is." she sat up in her chair and leaned toward me. someone who really cared about me. very." I gave her a knowing look." "Yes. not patronizing at all. All he thinks about now is ways to make me happy. "Oh. I see. What are you getting out of this?" "I don't think I can answer that in one word. just a defense. This is the first time in my life that I've felt like someone really needs me. like there's a certain distance between the two of you. He moved here shortly thereafter. am I?" I laughed a little. But. "He uses my first name sometimes. to be honest. Bella." She totally got it. Nice. I've never had that feeling before. "Yes. I finally see the Edward that Robert's always told me about. most thoughtful man I've ever known. She reminded me a lot of Alice at that moment. but I think you balance each other out." "Good. He makes me feel indispensable.
" "He was so blond. "Let me know if you want me to draw up a pre-nup." . "You. Is Matthew the one on the swing?" "Yep." I followed him into the living room. Cullen sat on the piano bench and I gave him a little wink as I knelt on the floor nearby with the kids. and Cecilia. pulling me onto his lap." Jonathan looked up at me as I perched on the arm of his chair. After a particularly fierce round I lost my seat to Janie and left the game to stand by Jonathan. He was two then. Cullen. Bella." That night after dinner we gravitated back to the library. you survived." She patted my shoulder. I hope they enjoyed their visit. I got hugs from everyone. "Yeah." Sunday morning we said our goodbyes shortly after brunch." "What?" "I'm just saying. "That was actually the best time I've had with them. "This is what I was talking about. looking so different from the first time I'd met him. We watched the rest of the game together. "I should go find out what the kids are up to. even Janie. Robert and Jonathan brought up some chairs from the dining room." "Those children are adorable. I suggested a game of musical chairs." "I know. Or the year before that. Joanne and I joined in with the children." We both watched Edward slowly drawing out the final chords as Janie and Matthew circled the last chair. There weren't enough chairs for everyone so Mr. Cullen as he deliberately paced his playing to the kids' advantage. When Robert sent me that photo." She winked at me. "I'm glad the children are having fun. The room was full of music and laughter." I gave him a light slap on his arm. "This never would have happened last year. where he sat on the couch. He loves you. and offers to stay any time I wanted with Jonathan in Chicago and Robert in Philadelphia. and started to rise. I think." "I'm glad my brother is having fun."I thought so. Mr. my eyes mostly on Mr. I can tell. It's so nice to be able to put names with faces on all the photos in our room." She smiled back at me. It was the last night of the visit and everyone seemed in the mood to stay together. "Well. I called him and asked if he was sure Matthew was his." I smiled down to him. a wide smile on his face. too. after he'd played a couple of Matthew's favorites. We waved from the front door as their cars headed down the driveway. The kids are getting older and more fun. me too. Matthew went to examine the piano and I heard him ask Mr. Cullen to play a song. "I'll do it for free.
sometimes as if he's the oldest brother instead of you. The last time I talked to my mother. which I guess makes sense since he's the youngest. "You got along okay with everyone?" He asked me after a while. "Jill broke up with me and then my mother died… it just seemed like I wasn't meant to hold on to anything good. I thought about how he must have felt but was unable to imagine losing my dad and someone I thought I loved at the same time. taking out my anger with my father. I kind of abandoned them for a while after our parents died. "Yeah. but I was short with her. and that you'd argued with your father over your girlfriend and hadn't reconciled before he died." "What did he say?" "Just that you quit school. Maybe because I was the oldest. and sighed. everyone was great. not even aware of doing so. but I couldn't forgive myself for not going home that last Christmas." I tightened my arm around his chest in a half-hug." He shook his head. he kept trying to steer me in directions I didn't want to go. "My father and I never saw eye-to-eye on anything. Robert comes off much older. enjoying the silence. "That's probably my fault. but different in little ways. closing his eyes. clearly still pained at the memory." "Jonathan told me a little about that. she called to ask me to please come." He hugged me tighter. Can I ask what happened?" . Jonathan's the most boyish.Mr. Robert had to take care of settling the estate. We were silent for a long while and then I lifted my head. They left me all their artwork in their will and I felt like my father forgave me for all our arguments by doing that. After he died. Cullen kiss the top of my head." "How so?" "Well. I rested my head on his shoulder and we sat together. Losing her was the hardest thing I've ever gone through. Cullen chuckled and laid his head back. "Mr. I swore to myself as I burrowed my face into his chest that I'd never do anything to hurt him. Half the reason I wanted to go to art school so badly was because I knew he didn't approve. take care of Jonathan." I looked up at him and ran a finger along his jaw. You three are so alike. Your brothers are both really nice. Cullen?" "Yes?" "Joanne told me a little about your last girlfriend." I felt Mr. "My mother was probably my best friend growing up. it just didn't matter to me anymore.
then reached down and turned my face up to his. Jill. I'm sure I was a very engaging host. toward something better. I trusted her. and I shouldn't have. and even those chafed at me. it didn't seem to make any difference. I just gave up. "The rest of it's an old story. I wanted them to come but I couldn't wait until they left." We were silent again. I would have given her anything if she'd asked. We met at a bar in New York City and she seemed like everything my father would have approved of. but she chose to go behind my back. I guess her lifestyle went above her editor's pay and she didn't want to ask her family for money." He went silent again." "You need to learn how to use passwords. I didn't care where I went. The end. The only respite was my brothers' visits in the summer. something my father had always preached was more important than anything." "I found out later that she'd been dipping into my savings account. within about six months. "Maybe you're right. "You shouldn't see yourself as running away. "I liked her. "My last girlfriend was Susan. He snorted. I'd try to do things my dad's way. We broke up." "And that's when you moved here?" "Yes. whether I lived like a vagabond artist or an upstanding professional. she liked me. "Maybe that's where my need for obedience comes from." I fingered a button on his shirt. I'm so messed up. What in God's name do you see in me?" . Very." "Yes." He laughed a little. When I moved here and hired my first housekeeper. and now Susan." He kissed my head again. "I suppose I do. the control.He ran his hand up and down my back. I'd figured that since living like a wastrel for several years hadn't made me happy. though. After we split. still running his fingers through my hair. I wanted the silence back. Everything in life just seemed to be out of my control." "You were alone and unhappy. you could be running forward. "Joanne said she was only with you for your money. I'd been trying to turn my life around. and they'd do it. and it wasn't long before we were living together and I was thinking of proposing." He sighed and moved his hand up into my hair. She came from a very good family and was already a successful editor. I didn't love her. I'd finished college and was in grad school when we met. I just wanted to get away. "Bella. We fought. I guess I'm a runner. I ran after my parents died and I ran after things fell apart with Susan. but it felt like the right thing to do. I'd lost my mom. often told." He pulled me to him. I could finally tell someone exactly what I wanted them to do." I thought of how easily I'd gotten onto his wireless network. I could see a future together and it seemed like an easy route to a stable life. One of my classes was canceled and I came home early to find her with another man.
Edward."You're not messed up. "And what I see in you is beautiful. just a little scarred." ." I looked into his eyes and said the only thing I could.
" "You deserve a special meal. "Please don't tell me you went to extra effort tonight after all the cooking you did last week. walking quickly back into the room with a bottle and the opener. "I'll be right back." He turned back to his plate. his long legs crossed in front of him. Cullen. sir." he said. Mr. and it wouldn't come close to fair compensation. He praised the lobster fra diavolo. "Now. "This is unbelievable. the effect he had on me as potent as the first time he'd kissed me. lifting it over my head and putting it on the sideboard behind him. "Miss Swan. You're the one who did all the work. his fingers dipping under my necklace." The rest of the meal passed slowly. "I could pay you ten times what I do. I was hoping to serve oysters but Southbay's didn't have any. poured two glasses of wine and took his seat." He shook his head a little and smiled. sir. reaching over occasionally to rub my bare foot on his shin. you mean. I put his first course down and went up to him for my kiss. bending down to kiss me. holding me to him tightly. leaning over to kiss me between bites. working his way down to my throat. and I had too." "But I had fun." "Finally earned my salary.CHAPTER 22 "Good evening. "That should be perfect. "I hope a pinot grigio will do. I could tell he'd missed our dinners last week. "What have we here?" "Steamed mussels." I said as I pushed through the dining-room door the next evening at six. Did you cook the lobster yourself?" . giving me a smile on his way out. tell me what's in this sauce." He let me go and headed for the wine cellar." He reached up to cup my neck." He was leaning against the sideboard. He reached behind me and untied my apron. after having your peace disrupted. "What would the most beautiful housekeeper in the world recommend to drink tonight?" "A white." He pulled my chair out for me. Italian if possible. waiting next to my chair for his return. I kept my right hand on his leg through most the meal." I whispered. I slipped off my shoes and lowered the zipper of my dress a few inches. something fruity but dry. It smells incredible.
but did he really think I was going to let him do that? Suddenly his face broke into a smirk and he ran his thumb over my cheek." "That would have been just as good. maybe even greater. our lust as unabated as it had been in June." "That will never change. Mike offered to boil it at the store or you'd be having prawns right now instead. I was praying that if Noble accepted me. I'm still not ready to try that. Really. . I wanted to continue living with Mr. Mr. Knowing what I did now about his last relationship." "We'll see about that." I swallowed my pasta and feigned indignation. long dinners. and was pretty sure he'd ask me to stay. I rubbed my foot on his leg. so I didn't. Our dinners had been evolving. in exchange for letting me stay with him. Mr. drank margaritas. so I knew if Noble didn't accept me. I couldn't stay here if I wasn't enrolled as a student. nor what we'd do if I did. warm nights." He offered me a piece of lobster with his fingers. Cullen and I couldn't seem to get enough of each other. I'd be glad to do his housework and serve him dinner for nothing. I just couldn't allow Mr. think about what would happen if I was accepted. Cullen. Miss Swan." August was a blur of hot days. however. I'd have to go home. you do too much. "I'm just kidding. my perfect girl. that I wasn't with him because of his financial generosity. which I licked clean. That's the last time I fall for one of your jokes. Just the right amount of spice. as he told me almost daily how much I meant to him." He swirled some linguine around his fork and offered it to me. I was even more determined that he couldn't keep paying me. and mulled it over together. Cullen to pay my tuition. I could get a job elsewhere. We went away to the beach for a weekend where we laid in the sun. I didn't like to think about that. Cullen his payments had to end. If I didn't get enough financial aid."No. I wanted to tell him he didn't have to pay me anymore. Miss Swan. that is good. Even Alice couldn't help me come up with a solution." "It's perfect. and long. I did." he laughed. but I must say I'm happy I can still make you blush. I had no idea what I'd do. "In fact. which is basically what he'd be doing. We didn't talk about what would happen in the fall if I didn't get accepted at Noble. and still keeping up with my duties here seemed like too much to shoulder. The problem was the absurd amount of money he gave me each week. "Enjoy my blush while it lasts. the only way this meal could be improved is if I could eat it off your naked body. "I'm glad I can still make you smile. "Mmm. getting a job in town. but the thought of being in school. He watched my mouth close over the fork and his eyes narrowed. they'd also offer me enough financial aid that I could tell Mr." My eyebrows shot up and I could feel myself beginning to color. Cullen. The thought of him hiring a new housekeeper was out of the question.
I'll have about two weeks before I either go home or start school. Alice." "Nope." "Because you love him. really didn't like the idea. And he'd finally look like a sugar daddy." "Yes. Lots of days I just go through the motions of cleaning his clean house. I was on the second stair. Plus it makes me feel like a kept woman." "Bella. so hopefully in a week or so. "No. he's giving me free board already. but I don't want him to think I'm with him for his money. and you want to have an equal-sided relationship. one way or the other." She looked over at me and gave me a reassuring smile. but I really don't like the idea of someone else doing my job." When I got home Sunday night." "That doesn't give you much time. just about to turn around . Mr. I feel like I'm giving away some of my independence. you two will work it out. Things just do. but I also don't like putting myself in such a dependent position. I know it will." "What if he hired a housekeeper just to do the cleaning." "I know. I don't know why I'm getting myself upset over this." "Well." "So when do you hear back from Noble?" "I sent in what they call an expedited application. He and Alice waved to each other as she left and he took my bag from me as I met him at the door. not anyone else's opinion. and you're home in time to make his dinners?" "That might work. I know. too? I'd look like a gold-digger. That's exactly it. my self-sufficiency." I sighed. I lifted my margarita glass to hers and clinked it. and now I let him pay for college. I mean. that's the important thing. come on. you know? If I let him keep paying me. Cullen waited at the front door while Alice and I said our goodbyes. "You're right."Why don't you want him to keep paying you? Doesn't that solve everything?" "It does financially. gesturing for me to enter the house first." "All that matters is what the two of you think. it will all work out. "Here's to things working out. I've always taken care of myself. You're happy together. Don't worry about stuff that hasn't happened yet." I really. he's really neat. "Does he need to hire a housekeeper at all? Is he that much of a pig?" I laughed.
" He groaned into my mouth. "I felt so bad for wanting you." his expression turned into a smile. one across my hips. "You can't leave me again. his hand coming up to gently stroke the other side of my neck. "That first night you worked here late. "and I realized you were more than capable of holding your own. his hands running down my legs." He lifted his head. I couldn't sleep and heard you tiptoe in at two." It came out like a sigh. When I came in to check on you. "Bella." "Again. It was true. his weight shifting a little to the side. encouraging him silently to go on. Finally he turned his head so that he was facing me and kissed my jaw and my ear. not even giving me time to stop bouncing before he was on top of me. tightening my arms around his shoulders." His urgency lit my own. I love you." he growled into my neck." I smiled. but I didn't care anymore." I tightened my arms around him. Here I'd dressed you up in a uniform.and start telling him about my weekend when I heard the bag drop to the floor. like we'd been apart for months instead of days." His frantic movements had come to a sudden halt. I didn't answer. his first words to me. I love you. throwing one arm high around my waist." I mumbled. He carried me into the living room and spun me onto the couch. so fragile. He kissed me like a starving man given a meal. "I love you." He pressed into me. "Promise. made you serve me dinner. "Say it again. I'd never felt such an urge to protect someone. I felt his body weight on mine. bringing his arm up to prop it on his elbow. I love you. heard him breathing in my ear. Edward. But that day in the library when you were laying there in front of me." The words were out my mouth before I realized it. I love you. He was silent for several moments." Now that it was out. You looked so exhausted. . caressing my neck for another minute before he spoke. had you scurrying around the house at my command. pressing me down with his chest. "Never. "I love you. looking at me a little sadly. you were sound asleep. so beautiful. "I thought when I asked you to move in. barefooted. "I love you. I couldn't stop saying it. easily lifting me off my feet and pulling me tightly against him. He was behind me the next instant. Mr. pulling them up around his hips. I love you. sir." He didn't move for a long time. I knew I wanted you. his face still buried in my neck. as I waited for him to say the words back. just held my head against his. "I promise I'll never leave you. "Ever. But then you threatened to hurt me. Cullen. that I could keep my distance.
his thumb rubbing lightly back and forth over my bottom lip. I was suddenly overwhelmed by how much you meant to me." I nodded again." He dipped his head down and kissed my forehead. You'll stay with me. "What if I don't get accepted? I can't stay here when my visa expires. very dearest Miss Swan." He kissed me again. "I think I fell in love with you that night when I helped you fix dinner." "How can you be so sure?" . my eyelids." "I'll come back to the States with you. "It'd be like running away together." "You will?" "I can work from anywhere. "It was the morning you were sunbathing that I finally gave up fighting it. you'll get in. All I could think about was how much you do for me and how little I could give you in return. my very." He paused again. for me?" "Anything for you. hard. I squeezed him tightly with my legs. his fingers slipping into my hair. "You won't leave me this fall. that maybe I made you happy." I reached up this time to kiss him. my nose." I held his gaze while he cupped my cheek. that I'd loved you for some time." I nodded and brought a hand up to circle his wrist. sir -" His face broke into a small smile. "But. You looked so happy and relaxed. I already knew I wouldn't leave him if I got accepted. I wanted to buy you the whole store." He ran a finger down my throat. "The day you came running into my office and said you wanted me. then traced slowly back and forth over the dip of my collarbone. I didn't see how I could possibly be good for you. running my fingers over the light hair on his forearm. I realized that being here made you happy. "I still didn't think it was right. "But don't worry. that's when I knew I loved you already."The afternoon I went to Arnold's. almost everything I do is online. my lips." "You'd leave here. but seeing how hard you worked made me hesitate again. I wanted you so much but I didn't want to want you. as hard as I could. when I passed through the jewelry section. this house.
" I pulled up and kissed him deeply. It felt like you'd kissed me. "I just can't imagine anyone not wanting you. and I wanted you to kiss me. I loved having this effect on him. "I fell in love with you the first time I heard you laugh.He shook his head. angling his head so I could kiss him even more deeply." I had his shirt unbuttoned and he sat up enough that I could pull it off him." I kissed his beautiful jaw with my mouth open. an inch at a time. the wonderful sensation of him filling me was all I could focus on. I licked his earlobe and whispered. it drove me wild." I tightened my legs again. His hands were slowly moving from my rear down my thighs and back again. the best aphrodisiac in the world. "I thought you were so handsome. I slowly unclasped his belt. I got up just long enough to yank them off along with my panties. straddling his hips. "I knew I wanted you the night you fed me some mousse. It was my turn to groan. "I fell in love with you the first time you fed me with your fingers. "I fell in love you almost immediately. pushed him down on his back. Would I never get over how amazing he felt? I pulled myself up until he was almost out of me. I raised myself up and slowly lowered myself onto him. my perfect girl. I licked the length of his penis as I crawled back up his body. "I fell in love with you the first time I heard you play the piano. "I fell in love with you the first time you called me your princess. I undid my bra and dropped it to the floor. not kissing him. Cullen." I started slowly unbuttoning his shirt." His eyes were still closed. "You. "Now let's get you upstairs so I can welcome you home properly. pushing himself into me as deeply as he could. "Here?" A slow smile drew across his mouth. I sat up. pressing his hips up to mine. intimidated me when I met you." I whispered. sitting up and taking his erection in my hands. lightly drawing my naked chest up along his. afraid you'd hear me." I rolled him off of me. but his hands began frantically working at the waistband of my shorts. "but scary and mysterious. I scooted back just far enough to pull his pants and boxers down. and held me to him tightly. and climbed on top of him. and straddled him again. He grabbed onto my hips. letting him feel my erect nipples. then slowly eased back down again. "I fell in love with you the first night you carried me to bed." He nuzzled my neck and lifted an arm to run his hand up and down my leg." I couldn't talk any more. I stroked him lightly. watching his head push back into the cushion and his mouth open in a quiet groan. savoring the feel of his scruff under my lips. just feeling his lips with mine. "Here." I rubbed my chest lightly on his. his expression one of almost worship. my hands a little shaky as his fingers worked their magic on my nipples." I kissed and licked the sensitive spot I knew he had just under his ear." I leaned down and touched my mouth barely to his. "Switch places. until I was back to his face. my dear Mr." I pressed myself down on his erection. Edward." "No. His hands came up from my waist to cup my breasts. running my hands over his chest. my hands tugging in his hair. He reached for the hem of my t-shirt and pulled it over my head. ." "No?" He lifted his head with his eyebrows raised. His eyes were closed and he was breathing heavily. "The whole first week I worked here I tiptoed everywhere.
"Oh." . already sending tremors through my body." "I don't mind. one hand on my back. "I'm never getting up. He looked so content. and we both fell apart within minutes. squeezing and pushing me down harder. "I love your arms around me. "I'll figure something out." I lowered myself back down and ran my fingers over his chest." "But you'll need an income. I loved these moments so much. my hair. "oh. so young that I could almost see the boy in him. his pounding heartbeat. Edward. If I get accepted at Noble. please. I'm going to lay here forever. listening to his heavy breaths. already hitting that perfect spot. please!" "God." "I am." "We'll figure something out. "I forbid you from ever getting up. the other on my ass. Bella." he growled and he pulled me into him even tighter." "So bossy." "What?" "I can't take money from you anymore." "I love my arms around you. It isn't right. so cherished.He opened his eyes and pulled me down to him. I could lay here on top of him forever." I felt him chuckle. I never wanted to get up. feeling his hands tenderly tracing over my body. thrust even harder. I felt so safe. you have to stop paying me. I loved the feel of his arms around me. oh." I moaned." I found the strength to raise up on my arms and looked down into his eyes. "But I don't want you to be my boss anymore. I lay on top of him as we recovered." He hugged me. making my legs start to shake. He began thrusting up into me. too.
"I'm going to call my dad. trying to figure out what time it was on the west coast while it rang. Let's go away this weekend. Mr. I'll see if I can get us a room. I'm so excited. I was accepted. Cullen's shoulders as the reality of it began to sink in." "I think you should. dad. honey." I smiled up at him." "Thank you. that's wonderful. "Everything all right?" "Everything's great. Cullen watched my face carefully as I opened it." "We'll work it out. I scanned it as quickly as I could. I hoped I wasn't calling in the middle of the night." "All right." I couldn't believe that my plan had actually worked. Cullen turning into his office and me heading up to our room where I'd left my phone on my nightstand. that I'd managed to become a regular student at Noble. "Bella?" My dad answered. I was. I just got accepted into Noble this fall and wanted to tell you in person. "Congratulations." "You deserve it. I hit the speed dial number. So when do your classes start?" "In two weeks. "We should celebrate. He was probably more than a little relieved that he didn't have to move this fall. The important thing is that you got in. a wide smile on his face." He let me go. "Good news?" "I'm in. sounding perfectly awake." He picked me up in a hug. I knew you could do it. This was a big deal. "That's my girl. too. Mr." We went upstairs together. Where do you want go?" "How far up the coast have you traveled?" "Just to Bijoux with Alice." . but minus the financial aid I needed to quit working. "But I didn't get the financial aid I was hoping for. my hands suddenly a little shaky. lifting me off the floor. and I knew it." "Thanks." "I know a place further north. I still can't quite believe it.CHAPTER 23 The letter from Noble arrived with the Friday morning mail. I clung to Mr." "Bella." He put me down and kissed my forehead.
"Huh. I was hoping you could come home for a short visit before then." "I don't think I'll have time, dad, but I wish I could too. I miss you." "I miss you, too, sweetheart. Let me know your new address when you move back to campus and I'll send you some fish jerky. It turned out great this year." "No, that's okay, no need to go to any trouble," I laughed. We had a long-running joke about the jerky he made every summer. He loved it. I did not. "Actually, dad, I'm not moving back on campus. I'm going to stay here for the rest of the year." "At Mr. Cullen's?" I'd eventually told him over emails that I was living in my boss's house, but that was all he knew. "Yeah, dad, we've, um, we've fallen in love." "Really?" "Really." "Isn't he a lot older than you?" "He's only thirty-four, dad. He's not old." "Is he there? Can I speak with him?" Oh-oh. "Sure, I guess. Let me go find him." I trotted downstairs to the office and handed Mr. Cullen the phone with a small grimace. "My dad wants to talk to you." He gave me a reassuring smile as he lifted the phone to his ear. "Hello, Mr. Swan, this is Edward Cullen. Yes, sir. Of course. She is. I promise, Mr. Swan." I sat myself on his lap, listening to his side of the conversation. He put his free hand on my hip and looked into my eyes as he talked to my dad. "Her safety and happiness mean everything to me, Mr. Swan. No, sir. I'd like that very much. Yes, she's right here. Goodbye, Mr. Swan." He handed the phone back to me. "Dad?" "All right, Bella. He seems okay. You know you can call me any time, though, right?" "Of course I do." "Congratulations, Bella. I mean that. I'm proud of you, sweetheart." "Thanks, dad." "Bye."
"Bye." I closed my phone, put it on the desk, and put both my arms around Mr. Cullen's neck. "It sounds like you passed the paternal approval test." "Yep, it's a big day for me, too. And I've been invited to come home with you next time you visit and go fishing." "Wow, I'm impressed." "You won't be for long. I have no idea how to fish. I'll probably fall off the boat." I laughed and hugged him. "I should call Alice, too." "All right. Off you go." He helped me stand. "So, I was able to get us a room. How about we leave after lunch and take our time driving up?" "Sounds great. Do I need to pack anything special?" He shook his head and gave me a little smirk. "If it were up to me, you wouldn't pack anything at all." "Mr. Cullen, for shame. I'm calling my dad back right now." "Good luck with that. I'm his new fishing buddy. He's on my side now." The drive up the coast was lovely. We stopped on the way in one little town and had coffee, and then in another for dinner. Mr. Cullen was taking me up to North Beach, a resort area famous for its beaches on one side and its mountains on the other. I expected him to pull up to any one of the large hotels we passed when we got there, but he continued driving until we were out of town, finally turning into the driveway of a small cabin that said "North Beach Rentals" on its front door. I waited in the car while he went in to get the key, and five minutes later we were parking in front of our own private cottage. "I thought you were getting a room somewhere, Mr. Cullen, not our own cabin." "I imagine there are rooms inside. If not, I'll call the manager to complain." "Now who's doing the spoiling?" I asked teasingly. "Get used to it, princess." He helped me out of the car, collected our bags, unlocked the cabin door and ushered me inside. We made love that night with abandon, both of us reveling in the knowledge that we'd be together for another year. Saturday we walked on the beach, ate a big lunch, and did some sightseeing. The weather was perfect, not too hot, with warm breezes coming off the water. We had dinner at an outdoor cafe, enjoying the darkening sky and cooling air. I ordered a silly beach drink that came with a paper
umbrella and Mr. Cullen had a martini, but wrinkled his nose at the first sip. "Nowhere near as good as yours, Miss Swan." "I should hope not." He looked at me with affection. "I'm going to miss having you as my housekeeper." "So what are we going to do?" "I've been thinking. A lot. About you and what you do for me, and I don't think we should do our dinners any longer." "No? Why not? I like them." "Oh, I like them, too, don't get me wrong. But as long as you're waiting on me like you do every night, I agree that I shouldn't be paying you. I imagine you must want me to feel that you're not with me for financial reasons -" I nodded emphatically and interrupted, "That's exactly it." "And I want you to know that I'm not with you because of how indulgent you've been with me at dinner." "I know you're not." He smiled at me fondly, then picked up my hand and kissed it, holding it as he continued. "Here's how I see the problem. I can't continue our dinners and keep paying you, yet you need an income. Therefore, we stop our dinners, but I'd like it if you continued to cook for me. If I pay you just to do that, if we have normal dinners together and you don't wait on me, would you feel more comfortable about letting me continue to employ you?" End our dinners? Just fix meals? "So I'd become your cook, then?" "I guess so." He smiled at me. "You'd have to pay me less, that's non-negotiable." "I'll pay you whatever you say, whatever you need and not another dollar more." "What about the rest of the housekeeping?" "We'll split it, like any normal couple." "It might work." "Shall we see how it goes?"
Mr. it's all yours. sir. sir. "Who do these beautiful little pink nipples belong to." "No one else?" "Never. Cullen's lovemaking was different. All mine. he lifted my arms over my head and told me to keep my hands on the rungs in the headboard. Then he leaned down and took one of my nipples in his mouth. And this perfect tiny waist?" He moved lower down my body." He put me back down and spread my legs. yes!" "Forever?" "Forever." "Good girl."Let's try it. Cullen." He looked up me from under his eyebrows as he leaned down and licked me. giving it a gentle bite. Cullen." "And this beautiful behind?" He asked. "You're my delicious. Mr. moving to the other one and flicking it with his tongue before giving it a firm suck. "This is mine. sir. almost able to get his long fingers all the way around me." . "Yes. "Who does this belong to?" "You. circling my waist with his hands." He eased a finger inside of me and I writhed. "Oh. Mr. He could be dominating in bed." "Yes. as we lay naked together. This time. Miss Swan?" He asked me a low voice. "It's yours. forever. and bent down to kiss my belly button. "This is mine. aren't you. Miss Swan?" I groaned and gripped the headboard as hard as I could as he licked me again. sir. I'm all yours." That night Mr. but not usually for very long." "Very good. and usually only in the heat of passion. He ran a finger lightly over my clit. "You. sir. I gasped in pleasure. Cullen. yes. reaching underneath me to cup me and lift me off the bed." I gasped again. I promise." "That's right. perfect girl. my hips bucking up to him of their own volition.
My payments had decreased to the point that I was back on a budget. finally letting go of the headboard to cling to his back as I shattered apart. He sensed it too and climbed back up my body. but I didn't mind one bit. the air cooled significantly and felt cleaner. needing him so much. lighter. I need you inside of me. his voice still low. which hit hard and fast. as agreed. and we shared the rest of the tasks. basking in his need to possess me. cluttered with my things during meals. I cradled his head and ran my other hand over his back. making a significant dent. and it wasn't long before my classes started and I was soon caught up again in the press of homework. And he was mine. I suspected I'd see more of these flashes of possessiveness as he worked out his fear that I too may be something he couldn't hold onto." he groaned. including mine. "Edward!" "Bella… Bella… don't let go of me. . more usual. I worked at home most nights. I want you!" "Ask me nicely. sir. "Please. Mr." I was gasping again. cutting back on a lot of the dusting. Cullen and I had stopped doing our dinners. Miss Swan?" "Yes. He did the laundry. "mine…" his voice dropping to a whisper. he'd have started a long time ago. his breath heavy in my ear. thrusting into me with one hard push. The first time he did it. "Bella. more homework. part of him. don't let go…" He climaxed soon. crisper. but that was fine with me. finally launching myself on him in the library and having my way with him on my chair. I was his. September was a lovely month. Mr. I threw my head back and groaned as the first wave of pleasure washed over me. feeling him just at my entrance. "Oh please. "So perfect. Cullen ate with a stoic patience that pleased me no end. so we hauled out the bed and dresser and pulled the desk out to face the windows. I followed him from room to room. It actually felt more comfortable. I renewed my student visa the week after we got home from North Beach. Cullen. please.He played me with his mouth and fingers until I could feel my orgasm beginning. Mr. "Mine" he moaned. He was really trying. meaning I didn't really need much more than spending money." I pulled him in toward me with my legs. kissing his way up to my neck and positioning himself to enter me. It soon became my unofficial desk. I even cooked several vegetarian meals. I loved watching him vacuum. "Do you want me. but we fixed our own plates and sometimes just ate at the island. please." I'd been so close before he entered me that it only took me a minute to reach my climax. which Mr. He said if he'd only known it got me so hot. I still cooked dinners most nights. preferring to set up my laptop on the island. As our relationship continued. knowing that it was part of his love for me. The money I'd earned over the summer went toward my tuition." he murmured into my neck. his weight pinning me down. Cullen finally suggested using my old guest room as an office. ever more homework.
Maybe not. harder. "I used to wonder if you liked seeing me kneel. I absolutely." He leaned down and kissed me. "Are you working on anything terribly important right now?" I shook my head. leaning on his leg. how weird I thought that was. I chuckled a little and Mr. "If you'd only known some of the thoughts I had about you. that maybe you were starting to like me a little bit. "My neck?" "Haven't you noticed how much I love your neck?" "I guess I haven't. and every other part of you. Cullen asked me what was amusing. now you know my last secret. and your face. "I'm lucky you didn't run away screaming." His fingers returned to my hair. And your hair. just that you looked like you were about to collapse and that I wanted to touch you. but how much I liked it.One Saturday afternoon I was struggling through an especially obtuse essay and was growing frustrated by my inability to follow the author's argument. you were looking at the Rothko. His hand slid into my hair and I closed my eyes." "You did?" "Your head was turned. "I'm glad you asked me to kneel next to you that first time." He laughed a little. Cullen in the library. feeling my stress begin to wane immediately." I chuckled again. very much. positively. reading a book in his chair. . I liked you the first time I looked at you. you definitely would have run away screaming. back when I was fighting my attraction to you. "I was just thinking about the first time you asked me to kneel next to you." "Well. I took my laptop downstairs and found Mr." After a moment I added. and I thought I'd never seen a more beautiful neck." He fingers were now drawing patterns on my neck. then kissed me again." "Maybe. "Now I just like having you within reach." "I did. love your neck." I smiled and leaned a little more into his leg." "I don't know quite what I was thinking that night. "I didn't have the energy." "You are?" "It was the first time I felt like you saw me as more than an employee." I twisted to look up at him. I gave him a smile and knelt down next to him." "Bella.
"And I love you." I placed his bowl in front of him while he rose to pull out my chair. That meant Sunday night was my turn." He reached over to kiss me and whispered onto my lips. What is this?" "This." I said. He took one look at me in my dress and apron. Cullen. toying with the apron ties. pushing through the door." he smiled. a butternut squash soup with garlic croutons. I fingered the material. Miss Swan. The first weekend in October. Cullen. "Is that okay?" "I thought we weren't going to do this anymore. my silver necklace. I reached for his leg under the table. then slid down my rear. stretched up on my toes and kissed him." . is me on a night off. Mr. I love it." I went up to him. Edward. "I'm not officially working tonight. Mr. ma'am. "Good evening. "It's delicious. scooping me up. "Miss Swan. and stopped in the doorway. watching his face as he tried the soup. getting an idea."Would you like me to carry you upstairs or would you prefer to walk?" "Carry me." "Yes. At 5:30 Mr." He looked into my eyes. too. then resumed his seat. Later that night I was putting my homework away in my office and happened to open the closet to find one of my dresses. which I hadn't worn in weeks." He left for the wine cellar and I busied myself finishing his first course. "Okay. pouring us both a glass of wine. "Good evening. Cullen brought home take out for dinner on Saturday. Bella. So go get us a nice light red and give me a few more minutes in here?" His fingers eased around my waist. Cullen came downstairs as he always now did to see if I needed any help or to carry dishes out to the table. barefoot. puzzled." "I love you. He kissed the top of my head after I was seated. A very slow smile crept across his face. and this is what I want to do. Mr.
I thanked god almost daily that I was the man who'd somehow gotten lucky enough to share this part of her journey into adulthood. resting my head back again the chair. and she didn't even know it. I made a point of telling her at every opportunity. thinking about how much my life had changed in the last year. She'd been right that day in the kitchen when I'd been so worried that starting a relationship with her was somehow overstepping the boundaries. the color and fit setting off her features perfectly. I'd truly had no idea that we'd end up here. but she still didn't really believe me. I was going to offer to make dinner again tonight. which is probably why I struggled so much with my desire for her. She had too much else to worry about right now without having to plan and make yet another delicious meal. something I'd never expected to feel again. When I'd hired Bella. I hadn't even been aware of how closed down I'd become. I was so lucky she didn't quit after her first day. I could tell by the dismissive shake of her head. if that was possible. She worked so hard. It wasn't just a physical attraction. She was sitting in her chair across from me the library now. I loved how close I could get her to the brink with only my fingers and lips. She made me so very. moving my plate aside and perching on the edge of the table. I wanted to reach over and pull her lip out from under her teeth. how funny. I thought. working on her laptop. slowly drawing up her skirt. her desire for me so necessary to me now I couldn't imagine living without it. I hoped. that sassy little eye roll she did and that gorgeous blush that still made a regular appearance across her cheeks. had become a fundamental part of me. making me sit in on the bed while she modeled for me. exploring her sexuality for the first time. She deserved someone special. . knowing she was torturing me and laughing at my distress. so locked away in my loneliness that I'd even forgotten what it felt like to want someone. smooth the crease between her eyebrows. Too hard. Her senior thesis was due in a few weeks and the project was consuming all her free time and energy. And I think. too. I must have come across as an absolute tyrant. I put my book down and closed my eyes. She could start making frozen pizza every night and I wouldn't care. The meals and the sex I could live without if I had to – Bella herself. She let me take control when I needed reassurance she was mine. that I made her happy. but not much. Okay. She made me happy. and I'd been so used to snapping out orders. She still put as much effort into her meals as she had when I'd first hired her. biting her lip and frowning. but I didn't want to interrupt her. so young that the thoughts I quickly started having about her almost embarrassed me. Finally. Bella's cooking had just gotten better and better. But just as satisfying were the times she initiated. When our relationship finally turned physical. I remembered the first time I saw her in her uniform. wrong to underestimate this amazing woman. the instant flare of attraction I'd felt. though. very happy. but that wasn't why I loved her so much. however. But even our physical relationship wasn't the reason I loved her so much. maybe a little. But she hadn't quit. it was merely an expression of the trust and honesty we shared with each other. Bella hadn't been in a long-term relationship before and was eager to try new things. She brought home some lingerie one afternoon. But I'd been wrong again. I'd thought she was so pretty but she was also so young. If anything. how smart. I thought I had it all. not letting her touch me until she was shaking with desire.EPILOGUE Bella was so beautiful. she'd stayed and quickly became the one bright light in my bleak life. The first few weeks she worked for me I couldn't get over how sweet she was. Once at dinner she hadn't had time to make dessert and offered herself to me instead.
I was glad to put off having to pack up all my books and arranging to have my piano shipped back to the States for as long as possible. no. and I often had the same problem." "Nag."What are you smiling about over there. I just want to get it settled." "Good." I gave the side of her rear a light slap. really. I'd been so convinced that I had nothing to offer her in return that it had been months before I fully accepted that she loved me as much as I did her. something else I was very. "And how goes your application?" Bella had decided to apply to the graduate department at Noble for her master's degree in anthropology. but I finally believed her. her skin like silk under my lips. my beautiful smart girl. I guess. very happy about as it kept us here for another three years. yes. I closed my eyes again and felt her lay her head on my shoulder." . I don't think I'll have to change my thesis at the last minute this time. Maybe I could talk her into getting her PhD at Noble as well. I'll get it done." I ran my hand over the curve of her hip. so we weren't as worried this time about her getting accepted. I wrapped my arms around her and kissed her beautiful long neck. Don't worry. Edward. "How's your paper coming along?" "Good. "There's nowhere else I'd rather be. her fingers moving gently in my hair. "You don't have to worry about that anymore. In fact. Edward. It's on the back burner right now. it's quite naughty of you. "How thankful I am that you're here." She put her computer on the floor and came to sit on my lap." I chuckled. She giggled and rubbed her nose on my neck. "Mmm." "I know. you ask me every day. "I just want to know for sure. Old." She sighed." I'd bumped into the dean of the anthropology department on campus a few weeks ago and she'd assured me that Bella was a highly prized student." "I'm becoming an old nag. I opened my eyes and looked down into her deep brown ones. handsome?" I opened my eyes and looked at my beautiful girl." "It's not nice to tease me like that. She'd told me once how difficult it was for her to keep her thoughts to herself when I looked at her. "Well. I didn't think if I let you into my heart that I'd survive having to let you go." She smiled up at me. "I don't know. her application a mere formality. at least." I hugged her tighter. It was difficult for me last year when I thought you might only be here for the summer. "Of course you won't. It had taken a long time. I may or may not get it done in time.
I spent more and more time daydreaming about our future together. when her dad would be here. Charlie had given me permission to ask her when we'd visited him over the holidays and as graduation grew closer. I smiled down at my beautiful girl and bent down to kiss her perfect lips. of that I had no doubt.I didn't worry about her leaving." I smiled and turned my eyes toward the windows. too. I had a ring already in a drawer in my desk and had been thinking that graduation would be the perfect time to propose. her gentle personality. and the impulse to ask her to marry me was growing stronger every day. I was sure she'd say yes as she whenever she talked about her future I was in it. "You're perfect. having gotten myself back under control. She would make a wonderful mother. for that matter." The End . "I wish my mother could have met you. not that it would matter." "He would have. You dad. although maybe he wouldn't have approved of me. I couldn't look at her right now or I'd be asking her to marry me in my next breath. I hoped our children would have her beautiful eyes. but I still needed to know that she'd be with me forever." I turned to her again. If we were lucky enough to have a family. She'd have loved you." "I wish I could have met her too. "What are you thinking about? You look so serious. running my fingers through her hair.
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