Bella sat by the fire in the bookshop café, her hands cupped around a large mug of hot chocolate.  She watched Alice walk towards her and smiled at her, as she set down her own cup of tea and a plate containing two Danish pastries.

“You’re a wicked woman, Alice—you’re going to make me fat if you keep tempting me with sticky treats!”

“Pfft, it’s winter and we need to load up on carbs to combat the cold.”

Bella chuckled, putting down her drink, tearing off a piece of her Danish and popping it into her mouth.

“So, talking of sticky treats… you and Edward?” Alice said, regarding Bella impassively over the rim of her cup as she sipped her tea.

Bella swallowed a too-hot mouthful of her drink, her eyes wide as she stared at her friend.  She knew the blush she could feel spreading over her face gave her away, but had no idea how to respond.

“Come on, you walked in here this afternoon with the self-satisfied look of a woman who’s been given the seeing-to of her life… am I right or am I right?”

Bella couldn’t help the smile which broke across her face.  “You are way too perceptive, Alice Whitlock,” she said, shaking her head.

“It’s a gift!  Look, tell me to mind my own business, but when we first met, you and Edward were dancing around one another like cats on a hot tin roof, and obviously didn’t know each other well.  But then, the other night at our place, you and he could hardly keep your eyes or hands off one another.  I’m guessing you were still working things out, but now I detect a definite air of… gratification!”

Bella laughed aloud, and then took another sip of her hot chocolate.  Alice simply regarded her evenly, not wanting to pry, but desperately curious. 

After several minutes of silence, Bella sighed.  Despite having only just met, she had to admit there was something about Alice that she instinctively trusted, and it was a long time since she’d had a friend she could confide in—not since Rose, in fact.  Coming to a decision, she put her drink down and sat back.

“You’re right—on pretty much all counts.  Edward and I met the night we drove down here… the same night we met you and Jasper.”

Alice’s eyebrows shot up, and she set her tea down firmly on the coffee table.  “Gosh, how exciting!  I’m officially intrigued, so spill the beans, missy,” she said, turning sideways on the couch to face Bella with a ‘tell me everything’ expression on her face.

So Bella told her.  About her first glimpse of Edward, then picking him up on the side of the road, where he was close to freezing to death.  She described her overwhelming attraction to him, and how, despite their different backgrounds, she had felt so in tune with a complete stranger.  She went on to explain about Jake, and her reasons for leaving, and the fact that, in just a few days, she had come to feel more for Edward than she had in nearly two years with her ex-boyfriend. 

Finally, she told Alice that she and Edward had slept together the last couple of nights, and that last night they had given in to their feelings.  She mentioned nothing about Edward’s past, other than to say he had been unemployed and living in very poor conditions in London, prompting his decision to start afresh in Bristol.  The rest, she knew, was Edward’s story to tell.

“Oh my God, that is sooo romantic.  Oh, Bella, you could write a book about it… oh, oh, you actually could write a book about it,” she exclaimed gleefully, making Bella chuckle.

“And now you have your lovely cottage, and Edward’s got a job—oh, I do love a happy ending.”  Alice smiled broadly, and squeezed Bella’s arm affectionately.

“I’m not sure about a happy ending—we have a lot of… stuff to think about and sort out.  I have no idea what’s going to happen, or even if we’re in the least bit compatible long term, but…”

“But you really like him, don’t you?  And he absolutely adores you, I can tell.  I’ve got such a good feeling about this, Bella.  I knew the moment I met you both that we would be great friends, and that you and Edward were meant for each other.  I know these things,” she said, tapping the side of her nose.

Bella laughed, shaking her head, but there was something about Alice that made her think that perhaps she did know ‘these things’… something a little bit… fey about her.  However, she was unprepared for Alice’s next question.

“So, how was it?  I bet he’s good, isn’t he?  He’s just got that look about him,” she said conspiratorially.

“Jesus, Alice,” Bella spluttered, blushing furiously.

“Oh, please, you know you’re dying to tell me,” she giggled.

Bella groaned, throwing her head back against the sofa cushions.  Her mind automatically took her back to the previous night and, indeed, early morning, and she couldn’t help the little shiver of pleasure that rippled through her when she thought about making love with Edward.

She turned her head to look at Alice, who was practically bouncing in her seat.

“It was un-fucking-believable, Alice, I kid you not.  He’s amazing, just… amazing.  It’s… God, it’s never been like that for me, ever, and all I can think about is getting him home and doing it again.” 

She covered her hands with her face and groaned, appalled at her own candour, yet so happy and relieved to finally vocalise her feelings to someone else.

“I knew it!  Dammit, you’re making me horny, and Jazz has gone into work today.  The snow is a bugger, but there’s a lot to be said for being stuck indoors for days.  I mean, there’s only so much Scrabble one can play!  But now that the thaw has started, I’ll have to wait until tonight to ravish my husband.”

The two friends giggled, talking openly now about their respective partners.  In fact, the time flew by, and although Alice flitted back and forth to deal with customers and enquiries, their conversation flowed in the way of women who have been friends since childhood.  So much so, that when Edward eventually turned up, Bella was surprised to see they had been talking for almost three hours, and it was time for Alice to shut up shop.

“Goodness, Edward, has Carlisle had you beavering away in the restaurant all this time?” Alice asked, as he clasped Bella’s hand where it lay on the back of the sofa.  He wanted to bend down to kiss her, but was unsure of her reaction to such an overt PDA, and was, in any case, distracted by the other woman’s enquiry.

“Um, no… I just had another, uh, appointment,” he responded vaguely, not wanting to tell her about his visit to the doctor’s surgery.  Bella had had an earlier appointment, dropping him off at the restaurant on her way there, and agreeing to meet him afterwards at Alice’s.  Now, with Edward’s arrival, she stood up, wanting to forestall any further questions from Alice, and keen to get him alone to find out how he’d got on.

Making their excuses, the couple walked to the car through the slushy streets, and headed home.

“So, how did it all go?” Bella asked, unable to remain silent, despite the short journey time.

Edward smiled, covering her left hand where it rested on the gearstick.

“It was fine.  Let’s talk when we get in.”

Back indoors, Edward built the fire up, and then joined Bella in the kitchen to help with dinner.  Once it was underway, she poured herself a glass of wine while Edward got himself a lager from the fridge.  Choosing to sit at the table in the warmth of the kitchen, they talked about his day.

“Esme Cullen is great.  I told her about being homeless and never having a proper job, and she’s going to sort out getting my National Insurance number* and getting me registered for work with the Inland Revenue so they can issue a tax code.  She’s also setting up a staff pension scheme, and is looking into other benefits, like private medical insurance.  It’s amazing, Bella… it’s… I know this sounds daft, but it makes me feel like I’m a real person… like I’m part of the world at last… that I’m not invisible anymore—do you know what I mean?  I can’t wait for you to meet her—you’ll absolutely love her.”

Bella nodded in understanding.  He’d never been invisible to her, but she realised that this opportunity with the Cullens must be such a monumental validation for Edward after so many years of living outside of societal norms.

She smiled at his enthusiasm, and was content to listen while he talked about his meeting, and the subsequent time he’d spent with Carlisle, finding his way round the newly-completed kitchen.  His earlier doubts about his capabilities seemed to have been laid to rest, as he described how helpful and encouraging his new boss had been.  He couldn’t hide the proud smile he wore when he told Bella about Carlisle’s praise over his preparation techniques and his knowledge of herbs and spices.  It seemed the man had set Edward some tests, which he had passed with flying colours, and he was full of excitement for starting work and learning from his new mentor.

Bella was over the moon that he had found someone he could trust and look up to, and told him firmly that she had never doubted that he would succeed.

“And how about your medical?  Is everything okay?” she asked, reaching across the table to take his hand.

“Well, I’ve got to wait for the results of the blood tests, but he did say it’s unlikely I’ve got gonorrhoea, as I don’t have a discharge or any pain.  Maybe I did always remember to use a condom with Tanya.”

Bella grimaced, causing Edward to wince a little.

“Sorry, it’s a pretty horrible thing to be talking about just before we eat dinner,” he added sheepishly.

“No, it’s okay, we need to be able to talk about these things.  So, that’s one to cross off the list. What else?”

“Uh, well he said he can’t rule it out.  Some men don’t have any symptoms, which is why it’s so dangerous, but he thinks I’m probably clear.  He said the one to worry about is chlamydia, which is really common but doesn’t seem to have any symptoms at all… and it can cause, uh, infertility in women.  So I really don’t want to pass that on to you.”

Bella smirked.  “It’s a bit early to be talking about babies, isn’t it?”

“What?!  Fuck, no!  I mean… fuck, Bella!”  He sat back, staring at her wide-eyed and dragging both hands furiously through his hair.

She laughed.  “Calm down, Edward, there’s no need to panic. I’m just messing with you.”

He narrowed his eyes, a brooding expression darkening his features, and Bella felt her heart rate pick up.  She’d never seen that look on his face before and she had the wild idea that it might well cause her to spontaneously start ovulating.  She shivered, despite the warmth of the room.

“I might have to make you pay for that, Miss Swan,” he said, his voice rough with desire.

Ten minutes later, the dinner turned off, Bella was flat on her back on the couch, making an appropriately substantial payment.


The following morning, Bella made good on her promise to colour Edward’s hair, then sat him down in the bathroom while she cut it into a more catering-friendly style.  She wasn’t an expert, but she knew how to layer and shape, and when she’d finished, she was pretty pleased with the result.  She had kept it fairly short on the sides, but left it longer on top, tapering it to a sleek ‘duck’s arse’ at the nape of his neck. 

She was keen to ensure that she still had something to hang onto during the throes of the very considerable passion Edward aroused in her.

She applied a little gel to give it volume, and then dusted him off so he could check it out in the mirror.  She had been surprised at just how wavy Edward’s hair turned out to be, realising that the length alone had been partially controlling what she could see was a naturally chaotic and haphazard style.  But now, without that constraint, it seemed to stick up every which way, giving him a somewhat raffish, freshly-fucked look. 

Oh crap… like he needed to be any sexier.

She watched as he ran his fingers through it tentatively, checking it out from first one side and then the other. 

His silence started to make her feel nervous.  “What do you think?  Is it okay?  I think the colour worked really well,” she said uncertainly, biting her lip.

It had been harder than she thought to match up Edward’s original hair colour—it really was a unique shade somewhere between auburn, copper and bronze.  However, she managed to find a reasonably close match with a dark blonde copper colorant, which she thought looked pretty good.

He turned and grinned at her, and Bella was momentarily paralysed by just how handsome he looked.  Without the distraction and cover of his long, multi-coloured hair, his finely chiselled features were thrown into stark relief, and he was, quite simply… stunning.  The colour was also a near-perfect match for his light stubble and overall body hair. 

She had thought him beautiful before; now, he literally took her breath away.

It occurred to Bella that, once the restaurant opened, it wouldn’t just be the food that brought in the customers—as soon as the women in the village clapped eyes on Edward like this, they would be queuing around the block for a table, and insisting on personally complimenting the chef.

He stepped forward, frowning slightly.  “I was going to say I love it, but if you don’t like it, then I’m not sure I do.”

He pulled her into his arms and rested his forehead against hers.

“Are you kidding me, Edward?  God above, I’m going to have to beat the girls off with a stick.  All I want to do now is drag you back to bed!”

He chuckled, kissing her softly.  “I hope you’re not expecting me to say no to that, because that’s never gonna happen!”

It was lunchtime before the two of them made it back downstairs.


Thus, the days passed and the snow receded, until it was nought but a memory.  Bella’s first trip to London passed without incident, and the welcome she received on her return was everything and more she could have hoped for.  Edward started work at the as‑yet unopened restaurant, learning his trade and revelling in the opportunity he’d been given to get paid for doing something he loved.  The work was hard, but he embraced it, much to the delight of Carlisle and Esme, who quickly realised that their new young recruit was likely to turn into a major asset. 

On opening night, Bella, Alice and Jasper were given the best table, and the restaurant was sold out.  Bella missed having Edward by her side, but was beyond proud when the food turned out to be exceptional.  The local newspaper ran a half-page article, with a glowing report from their food and drink critic, and, despite the recession, bookings were solid right through into the new year.  Then, just days after opening, unbeknownst to anyone, the notoriously hard-to-please food critic from The Guardian national newspaper visited incognito.  The review which followed was beyond Carlisle and Esme’s wildest hopes and expectations, especially the part about it only being a matter of time before the awards started rolling in.  Without a doubt, the article put ‘Cullenary Quisine’  firmly on the map and on the Michelin Committee’s radar.

Meanwhile, Bella was writing, and, not only was it clear she would have a first draft of her second book finished well before the deadline, but she knew it was good—better, in fact, than ‘The Dark House’.  Alice became her unofficial pre-reader, all her experience in the book trade making her the ideal sounding-board, and her enthusiasm knew no bounds.

In between writing, trips to London and preparations for a major pre-Christmas book-signing tour, Bella worked on the artwork she had promised for the shop.  Alice had decided to host a small exhibition in the café; she was going to clear the space to turn it into a gallery for the evening, serving wine and canapés at a ticket-only event.  As promised, Bella had contacted Angela Weber, who had managed to rearrange her schedule in order to attend, and the proceeds would go to a children’s charity of which she had recently become patron.

So, life was good.

On a typically cold, drizzly afternoon in early December, as Bella turned onto the road which would take her to Chipping Mallard, she found herself sighing with pleasure at the thought of returning after a day and a half in London.  She reflected, with some surprise, that she now truly considered this place to be her home.  Having been born and raised, and lived all her life in the capital, it came as quite a shock that she could ever be happy anywhere else, but she knew that this was where she belonged.

Her relationship with Edward was going from strength to strength.  Two weeks after their medicals, they had both received the all-clear from the doctor, and this had led to a good deal more variety in their sex life. 

She smiled to herself when she thought about it.  Their lovemaking had already been pretty mind-blowing, but once they were freed from the constraints of condoms, it became a lot more spontaneous and utterly explosive.  Despite long hours at the restaurant, Edward’s appetite for her seemed insatiable, and she was more than happy to respond.  They explored one another with dedication and wonder, each constantly seeking out new ways to please the other.  Indeed, Bella sometimes asked herself whether it might be possible to die of pleasure, and now fully understood the French term for orgasm, la petit mort.* 

The thought made her clench her thighs in anticipation as she swung the car in through the cottage gates.  She hoped Edward might be able to slip away early from work tonight, because a day and a half away from him was making her feel anxious and horny—not a good combination. 

Chasing hard on the heels of that thought, however, was the even more unpleasant realisation that in just over a week’s time she would be embarking on a seven-day book-signing and media tour.  They had, of course, talked about Edward asking for time off to accompany her, but in the run-up to Christmas, Carlisle simply couldn’t spare his star sous-chef.  They were both dreading it, but trying very hard not to let it show.  Bella kept telling herself that once she was back, she would have a whole month at home with him, before she had to travel again, but it was still hard to think about the long separation.

She was broken out of her dreary musings by the car door being wrenched open.

“What the hell are you doing sitting out here?”

Bella gasped at the sight of Edward standing beside the car, hair awry and eyes wide.

“What are you doing home?” was her somewhat confused response.

In answer, he grabbed her wrist and pulled her from her seat, wrapping his arms around her and burying his face in her hair.

“I missed you,” he whispered against her neck.

“Oh, Edward, I missed you too,” she said, tightening her own embrace.

After a long moment, he pulled back and cupped her face.  His eyes danced all over her face, before dropping to her lips.  And then he was kissing her.

Minute after minute, they stood in the drizzling rain as they ravaged one another’s mouths.

At last, when they both started to feel the cold damp seeping into their hair and clothes, they broke apart.

“Come on, let’s get you inside.  I don’t have a lot of time,” he said, taking her hand and leading her around to the back of the car.  He collected her bag from the boot and they quickly ran inside, slamming the door on the wintery night.

As Bella went to walk towards the sitting room, Edward caught hold of her arm and pulled her back to him, encircling her in his arms.  He moved her back against the wall and pressed his mouth to hers, his tongue demanding entry.  Bella was happy to give it, her hands drifting up to the back of his neck and his thick, lustrous hair.  It was still a bit of a shock sometimes to find it so short, but she had little time to dwell on it, as Edward pressed himself against her, escalating the kiss.

His hands were everywhere.  Sliding inside her suit jacket, he fisted her blouse and yanked it free of her skirt, lifting it up to cup and squeeze her breasts through the silky gauze of her bra.  Then, before she could even register the sensation, his hands were sliding down her body, reaching low to the hem of her skirt and sliding up her thighs.  She was wearing stockings, and his groan as he felt soft, smooth skin sent shockwaves straight to her groin.

“Oh, fuck, Bella, I want you so bad,” he moaned against her jaw.

She could feel him, hot and hard against her thigh, and when he slipped his hand inside her underwear, she gasped loudly and hitched her leg up over his hip.

He fumbled with the button of his jeans, as he began to stroke her with two long, dextrous fingers.  Bella couldn’t wait, flicking his hand away from his zip and delving into his boxers to free his rigid cock.


“Yes, Edward… do it!” she murmured.

He grabbed both her thighs and hoisted her up against the wall, whilst Bella pulled her soaking knickers to one side.  With one hand cupping her bottom, he wrapped his other hand round his oozing dick and lined himself up.

Then, with one hard thrust, he was inside her, both of them crying out as he buried himself to the hilt.

Immediately, he set up a punishing rhythm, fucking her hard and fast, her back sliding up and down against the wall.  Their cries and groans echoed around the hallway, the slap of flesh their only accompaniment.  Bella could feel her orgasm building as her toes began to curl inside her boots and her calf muscles tightened.

“Jesus, Edward,” she mumbled, as he brought her closer and closer.

“Fuck, yesss,” he hissed, each upward thrust causing his pubic bone to collide with her clit, eliciting gasps and curses in equal measure.

Suddenly, without further warning, Bella’s muscles clenched and she was falling, falling over the edge, her arms and legs tightening around Edward as he continued to piston frantically into her. 

“Fuuuccck!”  Edward’s orgasm ripped through him, causing his legs to buckle.  He turned as quickly as his trembling limbs would allow, clutching Bella to him as he slid to the floor, using the wall for support.  She clung to him like a limpet, wanting—no, needing—him to remain inside her, just for a little while longer.  She could feel their mingled juices seeping down her thighs and knew it would soak her stockings and stain his jeans, but right now she couldn’t have moved if the house were on fire.

Heads buried in one another’s necks, they remained silent as they waited for their hearts to slow and their breath to return.  When at last they could breathe more easily, Bella pulled back slightly and looked into Edward’s beautiful green eyes, smiling at him as she brushed a thumb gently across his kiss-swollen lips.

He brought his hand round to take hers, lightly kissing her palm.

“Hi,” he said softly.

“Hi.”  Her smile widened.  “I guess you really did miss me, huh?”

“You have no idea.”  He straightened his legs, causing his deflated cock to slip out of her.  “Come on, I need to shower and get back to work.  Carlisle said he’d get Eric to do my prep-work, so I could be here when you got home, but I don’t want to take the piss.”

Bella nodded and got up, holding her hand out to help him as he scrambled to his feet.

“I’ll give you a lift,” she told him as they made their way upstairs.

“That’s okay, you must be tired.  I’ll ride my bike.” 

A week after Edward had started work, Carlisle had taken him out the back and shown him a bicycle leaning against the wall.  He’d told him that it was an old bike that a friend of his didn’t want anymore, so he’d got it cheap, and Edward could have it for thirty pounds, which he could give him out of his first pay cheque.  Edward suspected that it was a much more expensive purchase than Carlisle had indicated, but the fact that he was making him pay something encouraged him to accept in the spirit it was offered.

“I’m fine, let me drive you.”

They often had this argument, and Edward always resisted.  On this occasion, they decided to compromise.  Edward would ride his bike into the village, and then Bella would come down to the restaurant for a late supper, after which they could put the bike in the back of the Range Rover and drive home together.

Bella nodded and smiled.  Their life together was full of compromises, but that was the point.  They worked things out together and came up with solutions which suited them both—something which had seldom, if ever, happened when she was with Jake.

When they had both showered, and Edward had left to go back to the restaurant, Bella went into her studio to do some work on the large painting which would be the centrepiece of the upcoming exhibition.  She was donating some of her older pieces to be sold in Alice’s charity auction, and Angela had also agreed that they could sell one of the ‘World of Ashkran’ illustrations.  However, this one was special, and would not be for sale. 

She smiled when she walked into the room, uplifted, as always, by the bright and airy space.  She had, of course, helped to get it started, but it was Edward who had completed the work. 

She recalled her return after her first overnight trip last month.  Edward had practically manhandled her into the bedroom, where, just like earlier, he had shown her just how much he’d missed her.  In the aftermath, he was keen to hear how her trip had gone—specifically, whether Jake had made an appearance.  She had been happy to put his mind at rest, insisting to him that she was sure her ex had moved on by now and probably didn’t even spare her a thought anymore. 

She suspected that Edward was less convinced of Jake’s disinterest, but instead of pressing her, he had suddenly leapt out of bed, grinning down at her as he held his hand out.

“I’ve got a surprise for you,” he told her, leading the way down the hall to her studio.   Both still naked, he had insisted that she cover her eyes before opening the door.  When she uncovered them, she had gasped at what she saw.  She had no idea how he had finished it in the time—unless he had foregone sleep altogether—but he had.  The fresh smell of paint and varnish assaulted her senses, but she didn’t care—the walls, ceiling and floor were all done, and the room was ready for the fixtures and fittings. 

Now, it was kitted out with worktops and a new, full-sized and adjustable drawing board, much better than the one she’d left at Jake’s.  The walls were painted in apple white, and, positioned in the centre on a large black and white rug, was a white-topped oval table with a green trim.  It was here that she liked to write, using her laptop.  Edward had put up shelves and fitted two lighting tracks, and at one end was a couch which converted to a double-bed, should they need it.  Bella loved the room and was convinced it fed her creative spirit.

As ever, the time passed quickly as she worked, and it was only the rumbling of her stomach which reminded her that she needed to get something to eat.  Finishing what she was doing, she cleaned up and dressed in smart black trousers and a silky black blouse—CQ, as it was now known to the locals, was definitely not a place for jeans and t‑shirts.

As soon as she walked in the door, Esme spotted her.

“Bella, how lovely to see you,” she said, coming over and giving her a hug.  She had quickly become a good friend and Bella couldn’t help but love her for her warmth and good humour, as well as the way she seemed to have taken Edward, in particular, under her wing.  Childless themselves, she and Carlisle really seemed to have taken him to their hearts, providing him with so much more than just employment and training.  There was no doubt in Bella’s mind that they both doted on him, and she suspected that Edward was the recipient of a much higher level of instruction and attention than the other trainees.

Esme led her towards the back of the restaurant, where she kept a private table for herself and the wait-staff to use, which could be quickly converted to a main dining table when they were busy or had a last-minute VIP booking.  Being quite late on a week night, the restaurant was still moderately busy but not full, so they were able to sit down and chat for a few minutes.

“Thank goodness you’re home, Bella—Edward had ants in his pants all morning, and Carl was glad to let him go when he asked if he could leave for a couple of hours.  Thank God he got laid, otherwise he would have been good for nothing tonight!”

Bella gasped and slapped Esme lightly on the arm.  “Oh my God, Ez, shut up!”

“Well, you can’t deny it.  He’s been like a dog with two dicks ever since he got back.”

Bella giggled and shook her head.  “Jeez, Esme, you’re as bad as Alice.”

“Oh, not fair—that woman is a positive minx.  Do you know what—oh bugger, I better go.  I’ll get someone to come and take your order.  I’ll be back in a bit.  Oh, you should try the halibut—it’s Edward’s new recipe, and it’s to die for.”

She left and moments later Lauren, one of the waitresses, approached her.

“Hi, Bella.  What can I get you? she asked, with a welcoming smile.”

Bella ordered the halibut and a glass of elderflower cordial, before retrieving her iPad from her bag to check her emails.

Esme popped back intermittently, finally sitting down with the till receipts to start cashing up.  As Bella finished her meal, Carlisle emerged from the kitchen, smiling widely when he saw Bella.  He came round the table to kiss her cheek, and then sat down opposite her.

Grinning broadly, he leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms over his chest.

“What?” she asked, nonplussed by his silent regard.

He chuckled and shook his head.  “Oh, nothing.  I’m just glad you’re back… and Edward is obviously very happy you’re back.”

Bella blushed and tried to look cross.  “Bloody hell, Carlisle, you and Esme are like two sides of the same sodding record.”

He threw his head back and laughed with delight.  Bella couldn’t be angry with him, he was just such a nice bloke.  Soft-spoken and seemingly easy-going on the outside, Bella knew him to be a tough and single-minded man with bags of ambition.  He expected a lot of his staff, but he was fair and decent, and had gained huge respect in the village in a very short space of time.  The restaurant had provided much needed work for a dozen young people, which, in a village the size of Chipping Mallard, was a substantial quota.  In addition, he determinedly sourced as much of his produce as possible from local farms and independent retailers.  The icing on the cake was that, as a result of CQ’s popularity and swiftly rising reputation, the village was already experiencing a major influx of people from all over the south of England.  This was despite the time of year and the weather, and many of the visitors also spent their money in the hotels, shops and other amenities of the town and surrounding area.  There were few who would hear a bad word against him, and everyone loved Esme.

“So, what did you think of the halibut?” he asked.

“Oh, God, it was fantastic.  The sauce was amazing.  Esme said it was Edward’s recipe.”  Bella was eager to hear what Carlisle thought about her boyfriend’s skills.

“Yeah, calvados and Serrano ham butter cream—it ought to overpower the fish, but it really works.  It’s been hugely popular tonight, and it was only because your boy insisted on setting aside a portion for you that there was any left.”

Bella grinned, feeling inordinately proud.  “So, he’s doing okay, then?”

Carlisle chuckled.  “You ask me that every time I see you, Bella.  Yes, he’s doing really well.”

He sobered suddenly and leaned forward to prop his arms on the table.

“He’s a natural, Bella, and I doubt I’ll be able to keep him for long.  He has an intuitive understanding of food and what works.  He’s not afraid to experiment, and he’s full of ideas.  He’ll go a long way, mark my words.”

Bella nodded, her smile remaining in place, but deep down, she couldn’t suppress a moment of slithering, dark fear.  If Edward did as well as Carlisle expected him to, he could well decide to move on some time in the not-too-distant future.  She felt cold for a moment, as if someone had just opened a door behind her, and it seemed her heart clenched at the thought of losing him.

Neither of them had yet used the ‘L’ word, but she knew, deep down, that she had fallen in love with Edward.  Equally, she didn’t doubt he cared for her very much—but was it enough?  Was he in love with her?  If he did move on, would he want her to go with him, and, if so, would she want to?  The moment the thought entered her head, she knew that she would.  But what if he didn’t want her?  He was so young, with a world of possibilities before him.

She would be devastated if he left her behind, she knew that now.  But, at the same time, she could never stand in his way.

I guess it must be love

She shivered again.

“Hey, are you okay, Bell?”

She looked up into Carlisle’s concerned face.

She forced a smile. “Yeah, I’m fine; I just thought I felt a draught.  I expect I’m tired, it’s been a long day.”

“Hey, old man, I hope you’re not chatting up my girlfriend.”

Bella turned as Edward walked through the swing door from the kitchen, a huge smile on his face.

“I wouldn’t dare—Esme would cut off my balls and sauté them for breakfast.”

Edward laughed and bent down to plant a quick kiss on Bella’s mouth.

Straightening up, he turned to his employer.  “That’s good, because if you were, I’d have to sharpen the knife for her.”

They all laughed, and Bella gave herself a mental talking to.

Make the most of it, because nothing lasts forever.  He’s here now, so I’ll take what I can get, and if… when he leaves, I’ll deal with the fallout then.    

* Clarifications:

National Insurance number – in the US, it would be his social security number
La petit mort – The little death