Bella awoke slowly. Her head felt fuzzy, her mouth tasted like a weight-lifter’s armpit, and her eyes appeared to be glued shut. However, as sleep gave way to consciousness, she realised that none of those things mattered, because the thing she wanted most—to wake up in Edward’s arms—had become a reality.
Snuggled into his side, where he lay on his back, she gradually became aware of his arm around her shoulders, and his hand gently stroking her hair.
“Ummmmmmmhh.” She raised her head, prying her sticky eyes open, and stretched like a cat within the circle of his arm.
“Hey, sleepy-head, how’re you feeling?”
Bella looked up into warm, green eyes, which sparkled like polished emeralds. Clearly, Edward had been awake for a while.
“Hey, you—have you been awake long?” she asked, her voice scratchy and a little hoarse.
“Hmm, yeah, a little while, I s’pose,” he told her, smiling as she blinked owlishly up at him.
“Really? Why didn’t you wake me?” She leaned away slightly to get a good look at him.
Smirking, he pulled her back and placed a soft kiss on her forehead. “I like watching you sleep. You make these cute snuffling noises, like a puppy. And did you know you talk… like, a lot!”
Bella finally sat up, which caused his arm to drop away from her, so he sat up too.
“You do know that watching people sleep is kind of creepy, don’t you?” Bella huffed, crossing her arms over her chest. “And yes, I do know I talk in my sleep…”
She glanced over at Edward, who was grinning like a Cheshire Cat. “Oh, for God’s sake, just tell me what I said—I know you’re dying to!”
Edward tipped his head back against the headboard and laughed loudly. When he calmed down, he looked at Bella, who had a very sulky pout on her face, which only fuelled his amusement.
Bella narrowed her eyes and leaned forward. Reaching back, she dragged her pillow from behind her and swung it at Edward. As it hit him, he put up his arms to grab it, his laughter growing.
“Oooh, you git, tell me, or I’ll… I’ll—”
Edward wrenched the pillow from Bella’s hands as she went to swing it again, throwing it to one side, before pushing her onto her back and pinning her hands above her head.
“Or you’ll what, eh?”
He had stopped laughing, and now gazed down at her with unbridled desire. Bella squirmed a little, although not enough to indicate she wanted him to release her. But now she could feel the evidence of his desire, and couldn’t resist moving her thigh in order to rub against it.
“I’ll drive you crazy, that’s what,” she murmured huskily.
Edward let out a soft groan and dropped his head to her chest. Bella easily removed her wrists from his grip and wrapped her arms around his shoulders. The night before, she had donned a soft cotton camisole and pyjama bottoms, but Edward had simply gone to bed in his boxer-briefs. So now she could take advantage of the fact that he was topless, and run her hands over the smooth skin of his broad shoulders and lightly muscled back.
“So, what did I say… anything I should be embarrassed about?” she asked.
He didn’t respond at first, simply rubbing his face between her breasts and sighing deeply. At last, he lifted his head and looked up at her.
“Nah, nothing even faintly embarrassing. It sounded like a shopping list… although you did seem to give a lot of thought to whether you wanted one Edward or two.”
Bella slapped his back with one hand. “You lie, I did not!”
He pushed himself up and rolled off her. Reluctant as he was to leave her or this bed, he knew it would be wise to do so now, before anything happened—particularly in his current state of arousal.
“Did, too.” He sat up and swung his legs over the side of the bed, trying to ignore his morning erection as he sat up. He looked back at her over his shoulder. “Let me see, if I remember correctly, you wanted, um, ‘tatoes, milk, varnish, pussy-willows’ – I have no idea what that was all about – ‘Baileys, Edward, no, two Edwards, no, one, plums’ – that really made me laugh…”
“You’re making it up, I don’t believe a word of it,” Bella complained, although she was hard-pressed to contain her own laughter.
Edward grinned back at her, swivelling round on the bed and holding his hands up. “I swear on my life, that’s what you said. Then it all went a bit garbled and stopped after a while. But as God is my witness, that’s what you said. It was fucking hysterical!”
Bella mumbled something under her breath as Edward chuckled and then got up to go to the window. Drawing back the curtains, the sun cascaded into the room in a golden explosion and he gasped out loud.
“Fucking hell, come and take a look, Bella.” He turned to look at her, and then back out the window as she made her way round the bed to join him.
Peering under his arm, she looked outside to see the icicles which hung from the eaves dripping down. Focussing farther afield, she could see large swathes of green in the back garden and fields beyond, where the snow was rapidly melting under the sun’s omnipotent onslaught.
The thaw had begun.
The two of them stood, gazing out at the encouragingly bright vista before them, smiling at what it meant. Bella reached up, placing her hand lightly on Edward’s bare back, and, as she did so, her eye was drawn to the ink which peeked out from under his hair. Gently brushing it to one side, she was unable to suppress a soft gasp at what she saw.
Edward immediately turned his head to look down at her, but she was already moving to stand behind him. Whilst holding his hair back with one hand, she traced the tattoo between his shoulders with the fingers of her other hand. She thought he might try to pull away, but, to her surprise, he stood still, silently allowing her exploration.
What she saw was a winged woman—an angel, perhaps—sitting on the ground with her arms wrapped around her knees and her head hanging down. It spoke of deep sorrow, and tore once again at Bella’s heart.
“What does it mean, Edward?” she asked softly, her fingers continuing to trail across his marked skin.
He turned to face her, his eyes shadowed with sadness and regret.
“It’s for my mum… just a way to… I dunno, keep her with me?” He shrugged, turning his head away as his eyes began to glisten. “I know she wasn’t the greatest mother in the world, but… well, she was the only one I had and I try to believe she loved me.”
Bella reached up to cup his face, pulling his eyes back to hers.
“It’s beautiful, Edward, and I have no doubt that she did love you the best she could,” she told him sincerely, before rising up on her toes to brush her lips over his.
As she dropped back down, she was pleased to see a small smile eliminate at least some of the grief which she had once again prompted.
Placing a hand on his chest, right over his heart, she returned his smile.
“Hey, come on, let’s get some breakfast. I’m going to take a quick shower, and I’ll see you downstairs.”
Edward was practically champing at the bit to get into the village to stock up on ‘supplies’, which Bella knew was less to do with fresh bread, milk and other perishables, and more to do with condoms. However, she was determined to talk to him about her idea before they took a step outside.
Barely able to conceal his impatience, Bella had to laugh at his reluctance to sit down and eat a proper breakfast.
Sliding his arms around her waist from behind, Edward nuzzled behind her ear and trailed kisses down her neck as she attempted to pop a poached egg out of its rubber cup onto a slice of buttered toast.
“Edwaaaarrd, stop it, you’re…” She moaned softly as he swept her long hair over one shoulder and kissed his way from one side of her neck to the other.
“Ummmm… I’m what?” he purred.
Bella took a deep breath and extricated herself from his grip. She picked up a plate, swung round and shoved it towards him.
“Your breakfast is going to get cold. Now, get over there and eat it. I want to talk to you about something.”
He scowled but took the plate, before walking over to the table and sitting down. A few moments later, Bella joined him, sitting on the opposite side.
“So, what’s so important,” he asked as he chopped up his perfectly poached egg and spread it over his toast.
She swallowed her own mouthful of food and picked up her tea, looking speculatively over the rim at Edward.
“Who taught you to cook, Edward?” she asked, her voice light and conversational.
He frowned, taken aback at the unexpected question.
“That’s what you want to talk about?”
“Humour me, please. Just… tell me how you got to be such a good cook.”
Edward shook his head and continued eating for a moment, before finally meeting Bella’s eyes, as she gazed steadily at him.
“Okay, whatever. There’s no mystery to it. Mum had this boyfriend, when I was ten—Marcus. He wasn’t like the others. He was a really good guy, with a job and a decent car. I can’t remember exactly what he did—some kind of refrigeration engineer, I think, installing and repairing freezer and chiller units in supermarkets, or something like that. He drove a white van, but he had a nice car as well, and used to take us out, me and Mum. He would always include me, you know? Spent time with me, helped me with my homework and stuff.
“Anyway, he used to love to cook. His mum was a professional cook, and she taught him—as far as I can remember, she worked for, like, rich families, cooking in their private kitchens, that kind of thing. She was really cool, too, like a proper gran. Marcus used to take me over to his mum’s house a lot, and we’d all go for Sunday lunch every week, which was fantastic. I never ate so well in my life as the time when Marcus was around. I used to ask him questions all the time about the food him and his mum cooked—must have driven him mad, I’m sure—but he would always answer, always find time for me…”
He trailed off and looked out the window. Bella could see that he was close to tears and reached out her hand to cover his where it rested on the table. He looked back at her and smiled weakly.
“You loved him.” It was a statement more than a question.
“Yeah, I really did. He was the only man I ever looked up to. His dad had died of a heart attack when he was just a kid, so I suppose he understood a little bit of what it was like for me. Except Molly, his mum, had taken much better care of him than my mother ever did with me.”
“So, he taught you to cook?”
“Yeah, him and Molly both. Marcus always said he was a frustrated chef—Molly kept telling him he should go on ‘Master Chef’ on the telly, but he just laughed at that. But he could have, you know. He was really good, and he loved teaching me. Just little things to start with, like muffins and cupcakes, but then he would show me how to make proper dinners and desserts… God, I loved it when he let me cook something and everyone really enjoyed it. He taught me how to use a knife without cutting myself, how to chop things properly.”
Bella watched as Edward’s face lit up with the memory, before a cloud of palpable sadness descended.
Squeezing his hand, she dipped her head to catch his eye.
“What happened, Edward?”
“It’s funny, you know. My mum had me way too young and was an absolutely crap mother, but when she was with Marcus, it was like he made her a better person. I almost felt like she loved me… like it was okay to love me because Marcus loved me… like he… I don’t know… validated me?
“I should have known it couldn’t last. I remember wondering where Marcus had come from… where they had met. I can’t remember now, but I guess it doesn’t matter. He just appeared one day to take her out, and then just was always there. I wondered what he saw in her—it seemed crazy to me that he would have been attracted to her, because she was always drunk before he came along, but I suppose she was pretty when she made an effort, and could be quite funny when she wasn’t paralytic. And he wasn’t her type at all—just a really average looking bloke…”
Edward stopped and wiped his eyes where tears had spilled over. Bella leapt up and grabbed some kitchen roll, bringing it back and taking the chair next to him rather than opposite.
“I’m sorry, Edward. You don’t have to tell me, if it upsets you so much.”
He took the proffered napkin and wiped his eyes, before blowing his nose and scrunching it up.
“It’s okay. I’ve never talked about this to anyone, not even Tanya, but… well, I feel like I need to tell you. It seems wrong not to talk about him—he was the best person I ever knew—at least, until I met you—so I want to tell you.”
He sniffed and swivelled round in his chair so that he was facing her, letting Bella take his hands in her own.
“Um, where was I? Oh, yeah, well, I guess Marcus and Molly kick-started my interest in food, and Marcus used to say that, if I really liked it, I should think about catering as a career when I was older. He said I shouldn’t make the same mistake as him and go into a job I didn’t enjoy. When I thought about it later, I could never understand why he didn’t pursue it. He was quite a bit older than Mum, probably in his late thirties at that time, so I suppose he felt it was too late to start at the bottom.
“He as good as moved in after he’d been going out with Mum for about three months, and it was great, you know? Like we were a proper family. I hardly knew my grandmother on Mum’s side—she kicked Mum out when she got pregnant and I only ever met her a couple of times—so Molly was my extended family. I used to call her ‘Gran’, which she always seemed to like. Mum hardly drank at all while she was with Marcus, and they really seemed to love each other.
“Looking back, it was the only time in my life I was ever happy. I know for sure I was never happy after…”
“After what… did they split up?”
He took a deep breath, squeezing his eyes shut for a moment. When he opened them again, he focussed on where Bella held his hands in hers.
“Marcus had a heart attack while he was driving home from work one night. He ploughed into a lorry coming the other way. He was dead on arrival at the hospital, apparently. Turns out, he had the same dicky heart his dad had.”
Edward’s voice had grown flat and inflectionless as he told Bella the rest.
Marcus’s mother had been heart-broken. Unable to cope on her own after her only son’s death, she had moved to Manchester to live with her daughter. Edward and his mother were left utterly bereft, losing both Marcus and Molly. But, while Edward longed for her to give him comfort and succour, Beth Masen’s response was to neglect her son and go out on the town. She reverted, with alarming speed, to her behaviour of old, which had promised to take her down a very dark path before Marcus had come on the scene. In his absence, Beth’s drinking got out of control and she rapidly descended into full-blown alcoholism and promiscuity.
Inevitably, there followed a string of unsuitable and often abusive men, some who lasted no more than a night, others who stayed a little longer, but all of them disinterested in a vulnerable and heartbroken young boy. Fortunately, as Edward described it, most of them pretty much ignored him, although there were several who seemed to take pleasure in hurting him as well as his mother. He stopped complaining to Beth, who seemed incapable of caring enough about either her son or herself to change her lifestyle choices. Thus, she set them both on the path which would end with her violent death and a life on the streets for her son.
Edward stopped talking and gazed at Bella with sad, tear-filled eyes.
“So, there you have it. At first, I used to try to cook for Mum after Marcus was gone, but she wasn’t interested. She was usually too drunk to eat properly, or she’d just stuff herself with junk food. She hardly ever went grocery shopping, just buying crap from the corner shop, and I didn’t have any money to spend on decent food. When I was on the streets, if I got a job in a kitchen anywhere, I’d try to watch the chefs to try and learn a bit more. I thought maybe I could get work cooking in a café or even just a greasy spoon, or something, but without proper experience or a permanent address, it was impossible. And without a job, I couldn’t afford to find somewhere to live—classic Catch-22.”
He sighed and sat back in his chair, releasing Bella’s hands. Picking up the crumpled kitchen paper, he wiped his face and blew his nose again, then got up to start clearing the table.
“Leave that, Edward.” Bella took the plates from his hands and put them back on the table.
“I’m sorry my question dredged up such sad memories for you, truly I am. But there was a reason why I asked. Please, sit down again.” She smiled up at his confused expression as he settled back in his chair.
“Were you listening last night when Alice mentioned the new restaurant that’s opening in the village?”
“Uh, yeah, I s’pose. I don’t really remember the details.” He had been much more intent on Bella.
“Okay, well she mentioned that the owner is looking for kitchen staff and is struggling to find anyone. He seems to be on a mission to give disadvantaged youngsters an opportunity to train, and I thought it sounded absolutely perfect for you.”
“For me? Oh, I don’t know, Bella. I told you, I never even finished school---”
“He’s not looking for qualifications. He’s looking for enthusiastic and willing people who are interested in taking up catering as a career. Now, who in this room is totally qualified to apply, hmm? And now you’ve got an address, so I see absolutely no reason why you shouldn’t have at least a chance of getting in. What do you say? We could call in on Alice for a coffee when we go down to the shops, and she could show us where it is. Maybe this Carl guy will even be there and you can talk to him.”
Bella peered at him with such a hopeful look on her face that Edward found himself nodding in acquiescence, even though he doubted the man would be at all interested in him. But when Bella asked him to do something, he found he just couldn’t say no.
Bella was standing in the cereal aisle, checking the carb content on a box of Frosted Shreddies, when she heard the muffled clatter of something being thrown into her shopping trolley. Looking around, her eye was drawn to the colourful box lying on top of the toilet paper and cleaning products at the front. She picked it up and looked at it askance, before raising her eyes to a smirking Edward.
“Thirty six condoms? Seriously?”
“Hey, you never know if we might get snowed in again—I don’t wanna take any chances!” he told her disingenuously.
She arched an eyebrow, but said nothing as she dumped the box back in the trolley, along with the packet of cereal she’d been holding.
“Okay, Don Juan, let’s get out of here so we can go see Alice. I’m really hoping that restaurant guy is around today. And we both need to register with a local GP.”*
Edward’s smile faded as he turned away from her, heading for the checkout.
“Hey, come on, what’s up?” she asked, catching up with him.
“Look, Bella, I really appreciate what you’re trying to do here, but… well, just don’t get your hopes up. I’ve never had a proper job, I’ve got no CV* and I’ve been homeless since I was fifteen. I seriously don’t think I’m the kind of person he’s going to be looking for.”
“Well, no, not if you go in with that attitude.” She stopped, putting her hand out to grab hold of his arm and make him face her.
“From what Alice told us, he’s looking for people who want a job, are willing to learn, and are interested in food preparation. Now, from where I’m standing, that sums you up to a tee. And what’s the worst that can happen? He could say no, in which case, we’ll think of something else. But at least go in there with a positive attitude… please?”
Edward regarded her for a moment, wondering for the millionth time what he’d ever done to deserve his good fortune. And then he nodded, giving her his best smile.
“Okay, I’ll try.”
“That’s all I ask,” she said, setting her trolley in motion towards the checkout.
“Bella! Edward! How lovely to see you here,” Alice greeted them as they approached the counter in her cosy little café. They had walked through the bookshop to gain access, and Bella knew that she would definitely be spending a lot of time here. The shop wasn’t huge, but it was on two floors and had that lovely smell of books, old and new. Making their way into the coffee shop, she was delighted to see that it was lined with more shelves on two sides, which was apparently the second-hand section, with the counter at one end, and a beautiful, tiled Victorian fireplace at the other. There were tables and chairs in the middle, but dotted around were comfortable armchairs next to small side-tables, and three very comfy-looking sofas surrounding the fire. It was a wonderful space, and she could just imagine settling in for a good read, whilst sipping on a latte or hot chocolate in front of the fire.
“Oh, Alice, this place is fantastic. I could spend all day here,” she enthused.
“Be my guest! Now, what can I get you—you are staying for coffee, I hope?”
“Absolutely. I’ll have a large, skinny latte. What about you, Edward?”
“Uh, yeah, just a black coffee for me, please.”
“Coming right up.” Alice turned to walk away, but Bella called her back.
“I was wondering if you could join us for a bit. We wanted to get the latest on the new restaurant,” she said, giving Alice a hopeful look.
“Oh, yes, right. I’ll just get your drinks. It’s pretty quiet at the moment, so I can get Jenny to work the counter. I’ll be right back.”
A few minutes later, Alice returned with a tray of drinks and a plate of very tempting-looking pastries.
“The coffee and cakes are on the house—as you’re friends and new customers,” she grinned, setting everything down on the low, solid oak table in front of the sofas, where Bella and Edward had made themselves at home.
“So, you wanted to know about Carlisle?”
“Is that his name? Bit unusual, isn’t it?”
“He’s American… or Canadian, maybe—I never know the difference. His wife is English, though. He used to be Head Chef at The London Savoy, but then decided to set up his own place. I think his wife is from around here, and we get a lot of tourists and holiday home owners here in the summer, so I suppose that’s why they chose Chipping Mallard. But why the interest?”
Bella looked at Edward, who hesitated for a moment and then nodded.
“Well, Edward is a really good cook and he needs a job… so I… we thought it would be worth having a chat with him, see if he’s still looking for people.”
“Oh, he’s definitely still looking. He was in here yesterday morning for coffee, and was telling me again how disappointed he is that he’s only been able to interview about half a dozen people, of whom only a couple were anywhere near suitable. Edward, you absolutely should talk to him, he’s a really nice guy, and I bet he’d snatch your hand off.”
Edward said nothing for a moment, but then felt Bella’s knee knocking against his. He glanced at her and then looked back at Alice.
“Yeah, well, I guess it’s worth a punt,” he said.
“Totally. Oh, Edward, you have to talk to him. You could get in on the ground floor, and establish yourself early, especially as you already have great skills.”
“I don’t know about great skills. But, yeah, I’ll talk to him—”
“Oh, lord, there he is. Carlisle, over here!”
Alice jumped up to greet the tall, good-looking man who had just walked through from the shop. He was warmly, but stylishly dressed, with a long, knitted scarf wrapped around his neck and dark blond hair peeking out from under a tweed cap.
“Carlisle, your timing is perfect. These are my friends, Bella and Edward. Edward is really interested in coming to work for you.”
Carlisle smiled at Alice’s enthusiasm and then looked over at her companions. Offering his hand to first Bella and then Edward, he greeted them both in a soft, American accent.
“It’s good to meet you.”
Alice put her hand on his arm. “Why don’t you take a seat and I’ll get you a coffee. Help yourself to a cake. I’ll be right back.”
Carlisle walked round and sat down on the sofa at right angles to the couple.
“So, Edward, you’re looking for a job?”
Bella suddenly got up. “I need the loo. Why don’t you two have a chat.” And with that, she was gone.
Carlisle watched her leave and then turned back to Edward, an expectant look on his face.
“Uh, yeah, I… look, I don’t have any qualifications, but I know a bit about food. I love to cook and… well, yeah, I’d really like to give it a go.”
Carlisle nodded thoughtfully. “How old are you, son?”
“I’m nineteen… I’ll be twenty next June. I just… okay, I’ll be honest with you. Up until a week ago I was living in a squat with my… well, I was basically homeless. I’ve never had a proper job, but I’ve worked in kitchens, and I was taught to cook by my… by a woman who was a professional cook. It’s probably the only thing I’m any good at, and doing it for a job would be… well, it would be incredible. I know I’d have to start at the bottom, cleaning and washing up, lifting and carrying, but I’m a quick learner and—”
Carlisle held his hand up to stop the rushed diatribe, and Edward felt his heart sink as he waited for the inevitable rejection.
“Hold on there a minute, Edward. You say you already know how to cook, that you’ve had some training?”
“Well, I wouldn’t call it training. I just used to cook with my, uh, with my mum’s boyfriend and his mother. She worked in catering… like, big country houses and corporate stuff… I’m not really sure—I was pretty young. But, yeah, I can cook, and I know a bit about herbs and flavouring and sh—stuff.”
Edward wrung his hands in front of him, hardly able to make eye contact.
The older man smiled. “Well, shit, Edward, you sound like exactly the kind of guy I’m looking for.”
Edward finally looked up to see kind, blue eyes regarding him warmly.
“I am?” He couldn’t quite believe it.
Carlisle glanced across to see Alice and Bella walking—slowly—towards them.
“You are. Listen, do you have time to come back to the restaurant with me? We can talk more, and I can tell you what I’m looking for and what I expect—but I can tell you right now, I’m not looking for a dish-washer or a fetch and carry guy.” He smiled at Edward, who couldn’t help but smile back.
At that moment, Alice put a lidded cardboard cup down in front of Carlisle, looking between the two men expectantly. Bella stood behind her, a similar expression on her face.
“Thanks, Alice. I’ll take this to go, and Edward and I are going back to the restaurant for a chat—if that’s okay with you, son?”
Edward looked over at Bella, whose grin was blinding. “Um, is that okay, Bel—”
“Absolutely. You go. I’ll find myself a good book and make myself comfy. I’ll be fine.”
Edward smiled gratefully at her, and turned back to Carlisle.
“Okay, then. That’s brilliant. Thanks, Carlisle.”
“Ah, don’t thank me yet. Not until you see how much I expect you to do—you may change your mind!”
“Not a chance. I’ve never been afraid of hard work.”
Carlisle chucked. “Good to know. I think this may well be a formality, then.”
Edward felt his heart swell with gratitude and hope—something he’d been in short supply of up until now. He looked up at Bella as she came around the sofa and sat next to him, knowing that every ounce of good fortune which had come his way in recent days was all because of her.
He owed her his life, in more ways than one, and when they got home, regardless of the outcome of his interview with Carlisle, he was going to show her exactly just how grateful he was… all fucking night.
GP – General Practitioner or family doctor.
CV – Curriculum Vitae, or Résumé