The streets of London were teeming with Christmas shoppers as Bella’s cab made its way slowly up Regent Street. Once across Oxford Circus, they made better progress into Portland Place, and Bella finally saw the imposing edifice of the BBC’s Broadcasting House. The stunning art-deco building, shaped like the stern of a great ocean liner in a sea of traffic, loomed in front of them, and she could feel her heart rate pick up.
The last six days had been gruelling as she had travelled round the country, going from bookstore to radio station in what felt like every major city in Britain. The day before she had been in Manchester, but now she was back in London, and it felt like she was on the home-straight. This morning, she would be interviewed by Jenny Murray on the BBC’s ‘Woman’s Hour’ show on Radio 4, followed by a book-signing at Foyle’s in Charing Cross Road. Finally, she was meeting with her editor, Eleazar Weisman, at her publishers’ to go through the first draft of her new book.
She couldn’t deny she was excited about the day ahead of her, but it was tempered by her longing to get home. She missed Edward more than she could ever have imagined, and a good deal of her excitement was in knowing that tomorrow morning she would be returning to Chipping Mallard and, more importantly, Edward’s arms. They had, of course, talked on the phone every day—indeed, his was the first voice she heard each morning, and the last one before she fell asleep at night—but it was neither the same, nor enough.
Less than an hour later, Bella exited the BBC, climbing into a black cab that the Commissionaire had secured for her. The interview had gone really well, and she couldn’t help but mentally cross it off her tasks for the day.
One down, two more to go.
At Foyle’s, once the world’s largest bookstore, with more than 30 miles of shelving, Bella was conscious that it still contained Britain’s most comprehensive selection of new books. For a bibliophile like herself, it was a positive paradise, and she couldn’t resist taking a moment, upon entering, to breathe in the unique scent.
Bella was due to read an excerpt from her new novel, prior to signing customers’ copies of her first book, and she was gratified by the sizeable audience. She enjoyed interacting with her readers, and the three-hour session passed quickly. Several people had also bought copies of Angela Weber’s second book, ‘Ashkran Wars’, which they were equally keen for her to sign. Bella was delighted to hear how much their children enjoyed the pictorial depictions of their favourite fantasy world, and was almost sorry to have to leave for her next appointment.
Nevertheless, by the end, the thought was there.
Two down, one more to go.
In yet another cab, she headed south towards the river, en route to the offices of Little, Brown & Co. on Victoria Embankment.
Bella climbed out of the cab and walked into the stunning 1920s neoclassical building which housed her publishers’ offices. Inside, she was handed a visitor’s badge at reception, before taking the lift to the sixth floor.
“Go right in, Miss Swan, Mr Weisman is expecting you.”
Bella nodded her thanks to Eleazar’s secretary, opening the door and entering the large office. Behind an enormous mahogany desk across the room, stood a short, rotund man with a shiny, domed head, his face splitting into a wide, genuine smile.
“Bella, my dear girl, how wonderful to see you again. Come in, come in.”
“Hello, Eli, it’s good to see you too.”
He came round the desk and greeted her with a warm hug, before leading her over to a comfortable looking couch and coffee table. Taking her coat, he urged her to sit while he hung it up.
Bella took the opportunity to admire the incredible view across the Thames through the floor-to-ceiling windows. She never ceased to be awed by the amazing juxtaposition of old and new—to the left of Blackfriars Bridge, three hundred years of history encapsulated by Wren’s masterpiece, St Paul’s Cathedral, and, to the right, the ultra-modernity of Norman Foster’s twenty-first century glass and steel building, better known to Londoners as The Gherkin.
Her attention was eventually dragged away from the wonderful vista when Eli came over to join her, pouring coffee from a large pot on the table.
“Now then, my dear, how have you been? Carmen has told me all about your… difficulties with Mr Black. Are you okay?”
He took her hand between both of his and squeezed it gently, looking at her solicitously.
She smiled back at the older man, and took a deep breath. She had grown immensely fond of her editor, who had been hugely supportive and encouraging ever since she had first met him.
“I’m fine, Eli… great, in fact. Jake is in the past, and I’ve moved on.”
He nodded, satisfied. “Good, good. Well, clearly it’s been a positive step as far as your writing is concerned. The manuscript is wonderful, Bella, just wonderful. I hear you’re living in the country now, and I don’t know if there’s something in the air or the water, but you seem to have been inspired.”
Bella grinned with delight, but didn’t enlighten him as to exactly what—or who—was currently inspiring her writing.
For the next couple of hours, they talked about her manuscript, with Bella taking assiduous notes on Eli’s suggestions and comments. By the end of their time together, she had a really clear idea of what she needed to change and those elements of the story she would expand. It was always a revelation to her the way Eli could pinpoint what did and didn’t work in a plot or descriptive piece and, without encroaching on her own creative processes, was able to help her see how to improve the essential storyline.
As they wrapped up their discussion, they became aware of raised voices in the outer office. Bella’s eyes widened and she inhaled sharply when she recognised the angry male voice.
“Oh, my God, it’s Jake!” she gasped.
“Your ex? What the hell is he doing here?”
She simply shook her head, looking around wildly for an escape.
Eli gripped her hand and cupped her cheek to make her look at him.
“Calm down, Bella, I’ll handle this.”
He stood, pulling her to her feet. “Get your things together and go through into the meeting room. I’ll get rid of him.”
He directed her towards a door on the other side of the room, waiting until she passed through and shut the door. He then walked over to his office door, opening it to find a furiously gesticulating Jacob Black looming over his clearly intimidated secretary.
“What do you want, Mr Black?” Eli asked calmly.
Jake swung around, his face flushed with anger.
“Where’s Bella?” he demanded loudly.
“She’s not here, and I’d appreciate it if you would lower your voice and stop acting like a Barbarian.”
Jake practically snarled, but Eli appeared unfazed.
“Claire, please call security and ask them to come up here,” he said to his secretary, who immediately picked up the phone and punched in a number.
“Tell Bella I want to see her, you fat fuck! I know she’s here. Someone heard her on the radio this morning saying she had a meeting with you this afternoon.” Jake clenched his fists and took a step towards the older man.
Eli stood his ground, simply holding his hand up in a ‘halt’ motion.
“I’ve already told you, she’s not here. She left about twenty minutes ago. I suggest you leave as well, otherwise I will have to ask security to escort you from the building.”
“You’re lying,” Jake responded, but he looked less sure of himself.
“I’m not in the habit of lying, Mr Black. Now, if you please, I’m about to pack up for the day and I would like you gone before I leave.”
Jake didn’t move, his nostrils flaring as he breathed hard, reminding Eli of an angry bull. As they continued to stare at one another, the outer door opened and two burly security men walked in.
“Is everything all right in here, Mr Weisman?” the older of the two asked, glancing between Eli and Jake.
“Yes, Mr Black was just leaving, Colin. Perhaps you’d be so kind as to accompany him down to the lobby and see that he gets safely out of the building.”
Colin nodded and looked at Jake.
“Mr Black? Would you come with us, please?” He spoke politely, but his voice indicated that it was not so much a request as a demand.
Jake started to turn, realising he had no choice, but stopped and looked once more at Eli.
“I know she’s here, you lying piece of shit, and I’ll just wait for her outside. She can’t hide in your office all night.”
“Mr Black, let’s go,” Colin interrupted sharply, holding his arm out.
Throwing a last, furious look at Eli’s impassive visage, Jake turned and reluctantly let the two men close around him and usher him through the door.
Shaking his head, Eli turned to his secretary.
“Are you all right, Claire? He didn’t touch you, did he?” he asked.
“I’m fine, Mr Weisman, honestly. You better go and make sure Miss Swan is okay,” she replied, feeling much better now that Jake was gone.
Nodding, Eli turned and went back into his office. He hurried across the room and opened the door to the adjoining conference area, where Bella was standing looking anxiously out the window.
“He’s gone, my dear. Are you okay?”
Bella turned to look at him, remaining silent for a moment as she tried to process what had just happened.
“I’m sorry, Eli. I had no idea he might turn up here—although I guess I should have known he’d try something after trying it on with Carmen. But I don’t understand how he knew I was here.”
“You have nothing to apologise for, my dear. Unfortunately, someone he knows must have heard your interview on ‘Woman’s Hour’ this morning. Apparently, you mentioned that you were coming here today and he obviously decided to chance his arm.”
Bella sighed, mortified at her slip. “I better go. I was going to stay in town to do some shopping and get the train home tomorrow, but I think I’ll go back tonight.”
“Perhaps that might be sensible. He doesn’t know where you live, does he?”
“No, he has no idea, thank God, and I’m very careful not to give any hints in interviews. God, what a stupid thing to do, saying I was coming here, but it just never occurred to me—”
“Now, stop that. It’s not your fault. However, we need to be careful, in case he’s waiting outside—”
Bella’s gasp of horror sent him across the room to put his arm round her and guide her to a chair.
“Don’t worry about anything, my dear. I’ll get Claire to call my driver. My car’s in the basement car park, and we can get the lift straight down there.”
Bella smiled and stood up, happy to have someone to take care of her for once. Fifteen minutes later, she was sitting in the back of Eli’s Mercedes, on her way to Paddington Station to catch the 19:48 train to Kemble, where her car was parked.
Once she was settled on the train, she thought about calling Edward, but a look at her watch told her he’d be busy in the kitchen at CQ, so she decided she would go straight home and wait for him there. She couldn’t wait to see him, but she was too tired after her long day to go to the restaurant, so she would simply surprise him when he got home. The thought made her smile, helping to erase some of the trauma of Jake’s unwelcome appearance at Little, Brown.
She knew, at some point, she would need to deal with the problem of her ex, but for now, all she wanted to think about was the weeks ahead, spent with Edward. The second draft of her book wasn’t due until the end of January, and all her media and book-signing duties were done. With a publication date for her new novel set for July, when it was hoped to catch the holiday rush, she had plenty of time to relax and enjoy herself for a while.
An hour and a half later, Bella had picked up her car and was driving to Chipping Mallard. The roads at that time of night were very quiet, and the ten mile journey from the station took very little time. At almost dead on half-past nine, Bella drove through the gates of Ivy Cottage and pulled up in front of the house. She was exhausted, and wasted no time in collecting her bags from the back of the car and unlocking the front door.
Walking into the house, Bella inhaled, as if to absorb the comfort and warmth of her home both inside and out. It was the longest she’d been away since moving in and she was a little surprised at how emotional she felt about being back. A slow smile spread across her face as a myriad of scents flooded her senses. It seemed Edward had been experimenting.
Walking into the kitchen, she had to laugh. Every surface was covered with pans and dishes, and she could identify vanilla, tarragon, basil and yeast, amongst other things.
Turning her back for the moment on the chaos within, she strolled into the sitting room. It was a little better, but still, there were cookery books spread all across the coffee table, some closed, some open. Yet more books were scattered across the floor, and in between the ones on the table were several dirty mugs and plates. In addition, draped across the sofa and one of the armchairs were a number of discarded sweaters and t-shirts.
Shaking her head, Bella exited the room, collected her bags from the hall and went upstairs. She wasn’t surprised to find the bed unmade, and a couple of damp towels tossed haphazardly over the end of the bed. The floor was dotted with dirty socks and underwear, and in the bathroom she found more towels flung over the side of the bath.
She sighed, returning to the bedroom. Looking at her watch she saw it was nearly ten o’clock and she was bone-tired. A major clear-up would have to wait until the morning. Edward would be home in about an hour, so for now she simply gathered up the dirty towels and clothes, depositing them in the laundry hamper. She quickly straightened the bed and unpacked her bags, before changing into her pyjamas and slipping on her warm, full length robe.
Downstairs, she fashioned bookmarks out of Post-it notes, which she placed in the open cookery books, piling them all up on one side of the coffee table. She then collected the dirty crockery and carried everything into the kitchen, where she managed to juggle some space on the table. She didn’t have the energy to deal with the mess, so decided to just make a cup of tea and look for something to eat in the fridge.
Edward pedalled his bicycle down the lane, freewheeling in through the gates of the cottage. He was achingly tired, and although it had been a good night in the restaurant, all he could think about was taking a shower and settling into bed before calling Bella. He was so thankful for his job, which he loved more than he ever could have imagined, and without it, he was sure he would have gone crazy with loneliness while Bella was away. The days kept him busy, but at night, when he was alone, it was all he could do not to think about getting on a train to wherever she was, just to see her beautiful face. So preoccupied was he with thoughts of his amazing girlfriend, that he almost rode his bike straight into the back of the Land Rover, and he had to brake hard to save himself from serious injury.
He stared at the car, his exhausted mind struggling to understand what it was doing there. His heart picked up and his tiredness suddenly dropped away when he realised what it meant.
Climbing off, he dropped the bike on the ground and ran to the door, nearly breaking the key in his haste to get inside.
“Bella?” he called, hurrying through to the sitting room. Opening the door, he stopped and stared at the sight before him.
Bella was curled up on the sofa, sound asleep, a half-eaten sandwich and almost-full mug of tea on the table beside her. Her hair had fallen over her face, and he was filled with an overwhelming urge to walk over and sweep it away, and kiss every centimetre of her lovely face. He took a step into the room and then stopped, his eyes suddenly registering the books on the coffee table and the small pile of clothes, neatly folded on one of the armchairs. He groaned, pushing one hand into his hair and gripping it tightly.
“Fuck,” he hissed, his mind going to the mess he’d left in the kitchen. He’d fully intended to clean up in the morning, before Bella’s expected arrival at about eleven.
He crossed to where she lay, kneeling on the floor beside her. She looked so tired—it must have upset her so much to come home to find the house in such a terrible state. A vivid image of the bedroom popped into his head and he groaned again.
Fuck, she must think I’ve totally taken the piss while she was away.
Bella’s eyelids fluttered and she made a quiet snuffling noise. Edward looked down, watching as she slowly emerged from sleep, revealing her beautiful brown eyes. He smiled sheepishly when her eyes finally focussed fully on him.
“Bella, baby, what are you doing here? I didn’t think you were coming back until tomorrow. I’m so sorry about the mess… I promise I was going to clean up before you got back. Why didn’t you call? Oh, God, Bella, you must think I’m such a useless fucker… I’m so sor—”
She stopped his agonised apology by reaching up and pressing her forefinger to his lips.
“I don’t care about any of that, just kiss me, you silly man,” she said, dropping her hand.
He grinned widely, dipping his head and crushing his mouth to hers. Their lips moved against each other, opening to let their tongues make contact. Edward rolled her onto her back, burying his hands in her long, dark hair, revelling in its softness. As the kiss became more heated, he managed to kick off his shoes and quickly climbed up on top of her. Immediately, Bella parted her legs, allowing him to settle between them, and wrapped her arms tightly around him.
Eventually, lack of air forced an end to the kiss and, despite the thick length of Edward’s erection pressed against Bella’s stomach, they both knew they were too tired to take it further. Resting his weight on his forearms, Edward stroked his thumbs across Bella’s cheeks, gazing down in rapt wonder.
“God, I missed you,” he whispered.
“Missed you too… so, so much,” she responded, reaching up and brushing his hair back where it had flopped over his forehead.
In that moment, Edward longed to tell Bella that he loved her. He’d known it for a while, but their enforced separation had really brought it home to him just how much he cared for her. Only his fear that he might spoil things between them stopped him from just blurting it out.
If he could have read Bella’s mind, he wouldn’t have hesitated to tell her.
Instead, he kissed her again, softly, chastely, before reluctantly climbing off her and standing up. He held his hand out for her to take and pulled her to her feet. He wrapped his arms around her waist and rested his forehead against hers.
“I really am sorry about the mess, Bella. I promise I’ll clean up in the morning, but can we just go to bed now?”
“Hey, I told you, I don’t care. We can do it together in the morning. But right now, bed sounds great. Come on, let’s go up.”
He drew back and smiled at her, and for the first time, Bella noticed the dark shadows under his eyes. She reached up and lightly brushed her thumbs over the purple bruises, frowning up at him.
“Oh, Edward, you look so tired. Haven’t you been sleeping?”
They both knew that she was talking about his nightmares.
He brought his hands up to encircle her wrists and pull them down between them.
“Shhh, I’m fine. I’ve just been busy, that’s all. But you’re home now and everything’s good.”
He released her and stepped back, but reached down to take her hand, entwining his fingers with hers and leading her out of the room.
Upstairs, he took a quick shower, conscious of the sweat and kitchen smells clinging to his skin. Less than ten minutes later, dressed only in his boxer-briefs, he turned off the light and climbed into bed behind Bella. He pulled her back against his chest and wrapped his arms around her, nuzzling his face into her hair and inhaling deeply. He revelled in her scent, sweeping her silky tresses away from her neck and trailing soft kisses down the long column of her neck.
Bella mumbled softly, but he could tell she was almost asleep. Truth be known, much as he wanted her—needed to reconnect with her in the most fundamental way—he, too, could feel his exhaustion roll over him. He contented himself with having her back in his arms, where she belonged, and vowed he would make it up to her in the morning.
And with that delicious thought in mind, he slipped quickly into a deep and mercifully dreamless sleep—for the first time in a week.
Edward was as good as his word the next day, both in bed and in the house. He had woken early, still wrapped around Bella, and it hadn’t taken him long to rouse her. After kissing her neck and shoulders, cupping her breasts and thumbing her nipples, she had moved her leg back over his, allowing him to slide effortless inside of her from behind. With slow, deliberate thrusts, matched by his fingers massaging her clit, he had brought her to a blissful peak, which, in turn, had propelled him to his own, deeply satisfying orgasm.
God, how he had missed her.
Pulling out of her, he rolled her onto her back and captured her lips with his. Minute after minute they kissed, unable, it seemed, to stop, as they reconnected in the most fundamental way.
And then Edward was between her legs, which Bella immediately wrapped around him, and he once more pushed inside her wet heat.
Bella had fallen asleep again after their second round of love-making, and, much as he wanted to stay and just hold her, he forced himself from her side and set about cleaning up the mess he’d made whilst she had been away.
By the time she had re-awoken, showered and gone downstairs, the kitchen was cleared, the dishwasher was on, and both the washing machine and dryer were in full use.
Standing with his back to her at the stove, Edward was stirring scrambled eggs in a pan while bread toasted. She took a moment to take in the sight of his broad shoulders, long back tapering to a narrow waist, slim hips and endless legs. In the weeks since she’d picked him up on the side of that cold, lonely road, he had filled out. His work and daily cycle ride to and from the restaurant served to keep him fit, and, even after just a week away from him, she had noticed an appreciable difference in his muscle tone as he’d moved inside her that morning.
He was no longer a skinny, undernourished kid. He was a strong, well-built man. The thought made her shiver with pleasure.
“Are you ogling my arse?”
Bella jumped at the sound of Edward’s voice, unable to control the blush which flooded her face as he turned around. He smirked knowingly at her, even as she pouted and shook her head.
“So, what if I was? It’s a mighty fine sight!” she huffed, pushing away from the doorframe and walking over to him.
He kissed her quickly on the lips as she turned her head up to him, and then turned back to give the eggs a final stir. Bella retrieved the toast for Edward to butter, while she made the tea and carried it over to the table.
They smiled at one another as they ate their breakfast.
“What time do you have to go to work?” Bella asked, biting into a piece of toast.
“I don’t. I’ve worked seven days straight and Carlisle gave me the whole day off.”
Bella’s eyes widened and then she was grinning like the proverbial Cheshire Cat.
“Really? That’s brilliant,” she said, reaching over to squeeze his hand where it lay on the table. But then her smile faded.
“You worked seven days straight? Oh, Edward, no wonder you’re so tired. Surely Carlisle could have spared you for one day?”
He shook his head, pulling his hand away and returning to his breakfast.
“Nah, it was okay. I didn’t want to be here on my own without you…” He trailed off, not meeting her eye as he shovelled eggs into his mouth. The last thing he wanted to do was bring them both down by talking about his wretched nightmares.
“Anyway, forget that, it’s not important. What do you want to do today… I know what I’d like to do!”
He waggled his eyebrows at her, making her laugh.
“Nuh-uh, you’ll wear me out. Let’s go for a drive, get some lunch at a nice pub somewhere. It’s such a beautiful day, even if it’s cold, and it would be nice to get out in the fresh air after being cooped up in hotel rooms, radio stations and musty bookstores for a week. What do you think?”
Edward readily agreed, happy at the thought of just spending time with Bella, regardless of what they did.
Half an hour later, bundled up in warm clothes, they left the house and got into the car. They had decided to just follow the road north out of the village and let it take them where it may.
They chatted happily on the drive—about the book tour, the ‘Woman’s Hour’ interview and all the people Bella had met during her time away; about the restaurant, the various new recipes Edward was working on, and how pleased Carlisle seemed to be with his progress.
There was no mention of Edward’s nightmares, nor did Bella tell him about Jake’s unwelcome visit to her publishers’ offices. She refused to spoil a lovely day by talking about something which she hoped would just go away.
But hope isn’t always enough.