Friday, March 25, 2016

Grim and Darling

Chapter Twenty Eight

I corner Newton when he’s the last one left, the cop shop abandoned for the night. Small town crime means they leave only one guy to man the single room jailhouse at night. The rest go home to sleep through the dark hours when humans get up to their worst of habits. Pulled out of bed by emergency calls, these cops usually show up with sleep still crusting their eyes and their heads and their dreams.

Newton is locking up, keys in the door, when I slink up like a shadow and scare the piss out of him.

“Bella.” Newton flattens against the wall, all the blood draining from his face. He goes as pale as I am, his fingers pressed against the drywall like his grip might be the only thing holding him upright. “Where the fuck have you been?”

“Staying with a friend.” I look off in the direction of Edward’s haunted house, the smell of it strong despite the fact it’s at least fifteen miles away.

“Your dad. You know about your dad, right?” He looks scared to tell me, worried he might have to break the news, and even though I feel sad, terribly, horribly sad, I can’t bring myself to well up tears. I probably look like some unemotional asshole to him right now.

“Yeah,” I sigh. “I was at the funeral.”

“I didn’t see you there.”

“I couldn’t deal. I stayed out of sight.” That, and the fact that it just happened to be one of the three sunny days of the whole entire year. I couldn’t very well show up at the graveside sparkling like a goddamn Tiffany ring, now could I? I’d never hated the sunshine so much in my entire life. I spent that entire night lying in the dirt piled on top of the casket, on top of my dad, just wishing I’d gotten there a moment sooner, an hour sooner, a day sooner, enough to save him or even just explain how everything got so fucked up.

“People have been asking about you.”

“I bet,” I grumble.

“They’re worried.”

“No, they’re not,” I snap. “They think it was me.”

“They don’t,” he mutters, sounding unconvinced.

“Yes, they do. They think I murdered Alice, and now they think I murdered my dad, but you know what, Newton? I didn’t kill either of them.”

“That so?”

I glare at him. “Yes. I mean no. I mean… it wasn’t me. Either of them.”

Newton’s eyes pinch at the ends, and he peers down at me in the gloom, almost reaching out to touch my arm. Almost. “You ok, kid? You don’t look so good.”

I glance away, sure that he’s noticing my pale skin and my dark eyes and my limp hair. I talk with my lips tight so he can’t spot my fangs. “I need your help.”

“With what?”

“I have to clear my name.” I did not intend to become the town horror story. They didn’t even know the worst of it, but I sure wasn’t going to let them vilify me in the history books either. I shove the keys into Newton’s chest, getting a sick satisfaction out of the way he flinches. There are three rusted silver keys on a single ring. I found them after rooting around in the rotting leaves and musty, molding dirt near that shitty old car in the woods. The whole time, I laughed to myself about how I spent my last moments there wishing Edward and I could just go on a real date without me being weird and him being dead. Now I was searching for a three-years-dead dude in the muck and the mire.

Oh, how the tables have turned.

It took half an hour, but I finally found something. A limp pair of pants, nearly disintegrated with age, those keys rattling in the pocket. It was no wonder there was nothing left of that asshole, all these years later. His body had obviously been strewn around by wild animals after Edward drained him, his clothing scattered three years deep in the leaves. There might not be much to tie him to the car, to tie him to Alice, but it was better than nothing.  

I left Alice’s stuffed leopard on the front seat for good measure.

“Two miles north of the Depot. Straight north.” I glare at Newton. “Don’t go west. Don’t go east. North.”

“What am I supposed to do with these?” Newton dangles the keys between us, looking confused.

“Your fucking job. For once.”

When I slump through the front door, feeling more defeated by my conversation with Newton than I probably should, Edward is not alone. He stands, rubbing his palms on his pants, looking drawn. More so than normal. I frown at him before I notice the man standing behind him.

He looks like he crawled out of a cave. His hair is long and tangled, and his clothing is worn and dirty, ripped apart and patched back together a hundred times over. His shoes are scuffed and covered in mud. He has deep dark eyes and dirt around his nails and crooked yellow teeth, to say nothing of his fangs. His smile doesn’t look at all like a smile, but more like the beginnings of the snarl right before the carnivore pounces on something smaller and weaker and cornered.

“Bella,” Edward says, gesturing toward the stranger. “This is Laurent. He is visiting from the north.”

Laurent doesn’t hesitate. He steps forward and reaches for me, a hand held out in my direction. I swallow down my revulsion to shake the man’s hand. I don’t know what it is, precisely, but my gut does not like him. Neither does my nose.

“She is yours, Edward?” Laurent asks, eyes all over me, his tongue running the edge of his upper lip. I literally can feel him peeling my clothing off in his mind, and I wrench my hand away, resisting the urge to wipe it clean on my jeans.

“I’m no one’s,” I snap. Edward flinches. Barely, but he does.

“Sit, please, let’s sit.” Edward beckons me to the counter, and they resume their seats. I can’t bring myself to settle beside them, so instead, I stand close enough that I can feel Edward against me. He has a strangely calming effect on me these days, like a sugar pill for my overbearing anxiety.

“How do you two… ?” I wave my hand between them, and Edward gives me a rueful smile, as though he doesn’t want to expose me to something dirty.

“Laurent is my maker.”

“He turned you?”

Laurent nods, a grin on his face as he takes a sip of whiskey. “1907, I do believe. A bar in London, rather run-down if I remember correctly. Terrible whiskey, tasted like the wrong end of a prostitute.”

Gross. I didn’t even want to know what that meant.

“He got me drunk and drug me into the alleyway when I was too far gone to stand alone.” Edward’s mouth twists to the side as though he just ate something rotten. “I think it’s fair to say he took advantage of me.”

Laurent claps a solid hand to Edward’s shoulder, grinning widely. “You were always my favorite       newborn, Edward. Your hunger? It was a privilege to witness.”

“Leaving me there to turn in broad daylight didn’t seem very caring of you.” Edward huffs into his glass, sipping his drink.

“Don’t mistake my affection for cruelty.”

The stifling tension is shattered by a girl entering the kitchen through the back door. She’s not much older than I am, even though she looks a thousand decades deep. Her skin is smooth, pale, and pure, but her face is dirty, and her arms are smudged dark with bruises. Her clothes are just as ragged as Laurent’s but without the careful patchwork, barely hanging together. Her red hair is dull and wild and matted with leaves. Her mouth is a tight line. Her shoulders are slumped underneath an invisible weight.

Her eyes are on her feet.

She stops close to Laurent and drops a heavy bundle on the floor, stepping back without looking up.

“You may wait for me outside.” Laurent waves a dismissive hand in her direction, and she nods once before turning away, leaving just as silently as she appeared. I frown after her, the air around her smelling of desolation.

Laurent notices me staring after the girl. “Tanya,” he tells me. “I found her in the forest outside of Warsaw.”

“Found her?” I don’t like the sound of that at all.

Laurent’s mouth breaks into an evil smile. “Stumbled across her, shall I say? Copulating with a boy in the bushes like a common dog.” He licks his lips, the memory obviously still heavy in his mouth. “The boy tasted of diesel fuel, but she was such a mouthful, I couldn’t let her go.”

Tanya has walked down the steps off the porch and is standing in the field behind the house with her face toward the sky. Her eyes are closed, and her mouth is pulled down at the edges, and I think that if she had any tears left in her body, she would be crying.  

“You’re keeping her? Against her will?” That nasty feeling in my stomach churns again, all acid and bile and disgust.

“She carries my belongings, warms my bed. I can see that it is different between you.” Laurent gestures to the scant amount of space between Edward and me. “Typically, new vampires are beholden to their makers for the first decade of their new lives.”

“Beholden,” I say.

“Yes, she is mine. As you are his, whether you admit to it or not.” Laurent glances at Edward, and I do too, but he’s looking at his hands, studiously ignoring us both.

“How long until you set her free?” I ask, looking back out toward Tanya, but she has disappeared from view.

“Three years.”

My mouth opens, ready to spit some vitriol about slavery and fetishism and men always being shitty, even in the afterlife, but Edward cuts me off.

“I haven’t known you to venture beyond the ice fields, Laurent. What bring you so far south?” He sounds uninterested, like boring small talk is just about all he can bear right now, but I know he’s just steered us clear of an all-out brawl in the kitchen.

“The demon in Seattle, have you not heard? The underground has been talking about nothing else for weeks now.”

“There’s a demon in Seattle?” I ask. How fitting. I always hated that place.

“She’s been ambushing groups of people, decimating whole families. Thirty-six so far, and that’s just the rumors. There must be more. No control, children.” Laurent shakes his head as if he actually regrets the loss of human life. “Very little impulse management.”

“A child?” Edward’s voice hovers just above a whisper, and he’s gripping my hand hard enough to make it burn. If I were still human, it would probably be shattered to smithereens in his grip.

Laurent nods. “She couldn’t have been more than ten, but she fought me like a centuries-old vampire might. I still bear the marks.” He lifts his sleeve to reveal a faded trio of pale purple scratches on the snow white skin of his arm.  “Terrible, really. One of the harder jobs I’ve taken. No one likes killing children.”

If I had a heart, it would have stopped beating. If I had blood, it would have ground to a halt. If I could speak, I’d be babbling incoherently. But I have none of that. Instead, I have a bone-deep, stomach twisting feeling of dread. Laurent casually kicks at the dirty cloth bundle at his feet, and as it unfurls, out flops Alice, a concrete thump on the floor at our feet.

Deader than ever before.


Hadley Hemingway is my diamond in the rough.
I'm probably that scary lion thing out in the desert that eats Aladdin.

Thank you for reading.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Grim and Darling

Chapter Twenty Seven

There’s this old bridge fifty-two miles out of town. It used to connect a logging camp to the highway, but two workers died there in less than a month, and the Feds shut the whole operation down nearly ten years ago. Now it’s just a bridge to nowhere. Old trestle style, the metal is rusted, and the wood is rotten, and the river below is so far away that it’s hidden by the fog. There’s wind and birds and the far off sound of water, but it’s so isolated from any kind of humanity that it’s blissfully quiet.

No cars. No voices. No heartbeats.  

I’m there for nearly two days before Edward decides to bother me.

“Are you ever coming home?” He’s standing in the fog just a few feet away, his hands in his pockets and his eyes on his shoes like he fully expects me to say no.

I roll my eyes at him and dig my fingers into the soft rotten wood beneath my legs. A week ago, I would have gotten a handful of splinters. Now, I can’t feel anything but my brain.

“What’s supposed to happen to me now? What am I supposed to do with myself?” I ask.

“You just… live, I suppose.”

Live,” I huff. What a fucking word. “What would happen to me if I jumped?”

“You’d land in the water, probably.” Edward looks over the edge.

“Would I die?”

“No.” He shakes his head with a certain sort of conviction, and my cement heart drops right down into my stone stomach.

“I’m a fuckng vampire,” I say. I’m not looking for an answer or a justification or even any sympathy. It’s just a statement. A fact. A sad reality because my hair will never get any longer, and I’ll never be any taller than this. I’ll never crave another hamburger, and I’ll never want to eat another peanut butter sandwich, and I’m never going to need to shower if I don’t want to.

At least I’m never going to sleepwalk again.  

“Yes. You’re also very upset with me.”

“Are you going to tell me?” I ask. “What happened to her—are you going to tell me?” I don’t need to say it. I know he understands who I’m talking about because his pale face goes greyer than ever before, and his eyes narrow at me like I’m asking him to pull out all his fingernails.

“I killed her,” he says, simple and bland, like we’re talking about a houseplant.

“Like, changed her?” I ask.

“No,” he says roughly. “I was too young, too unpracticed. I drained her before I knew what was happening. There was no saving her from me.”


“How old was she?”

“Six,” he manages to choke. He reaches into that limp suit jacket and pulls out a photograph, stained and dog-eared like it’s been handled too many times. She was pretty. Very pretty. Big eyes, big smile, big curls. There’s a lot of Edward in her face, most of it in the way her mouth splays out wide across her face and in the bridge of her nose.

“What was her name?”

“Charlotte.” He looks away, and I think if he could cry, that’s exactly what he would be doing right now. “She was the accident I’ve never escaped from. I thought I could atone for it by saving Alice.”

“That’s why you took her? Alice? Charlotte is why you changed her? ”

“The thought of leaving her there to die was unbearable.”

Apparently I forgot to actually hit 'post' on this.
If my head wasn't attached, it would fall off.

Forever in love with Hadley Hemingway, even when she doesn't feel all that lovable.

Thank you for reading.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Lolita and the Suit

9:37 a.m. Rue de l'Echaude. Paris, France. 

I was in a strange city, in a new country, on an entirely different continent. 

So out of my element. 

Now was not the time to get flustered.

“Oh baby, break me off a piece of that.”


A twentysomething with wild, brown hair and a wide, lecherous grin pushed off the wall he had been leaning against. He was in a baggy shirt and baggier jeans, his lean frame absolutely swallowed in clothing, and he was surrounded by an entourage of boys dressed much the same. I could feel his eyes all over me, peering through my clothing as he licked his lips. He leaned in close as I trotted by, keeping my head down, but I couldn’t miss the cloud of cigarette smoke and greasy fried meat that clung to him.

Mais viens ici, bébé. Tu sais ce que j'ai pour toi,” he jeered. “I just wanna say hello to ta chatte.He grabbed his crotch and made a rude noise as I passed. I had no idea what he had said, but from the sloppy slurping noises he was making, sounding as though he was licking a lollipop to death, I could guess. I didn’t respond, just kept walking with my chin tucked low, but a quick glance over my shoulder confirmed my worst suspicions.

He was following me down the street.


I rounded the corner, the flower shop there spilling out onto the sidewalk in an upheaval of color; perfume so strong I could taste peonies under my tongue. Any other day, I would have stopped to admire, maybe even bought a bloom for my hair, but not today.

Today, I was being stalked down the sidewalk by a Creeper.

“Tu n'es qu'une agace-pissette avec des beaux yeux cochon!” he called out, making the woman I was passing raise her own eyes in alarm.

I picked up the pace. The sidewalk was jam-packed with people, the entire city suddenly crammed onto the same block I was trying to escape down. The crowd made it difficult to move, much less slink between them. I pushed around a group of middle-aged women in Chanel and Botox; their perfume strong enough to momentarily blind me. Flung myself around a woman pushing a stroller, shouting into the cell phone wedged between her ear and her shoulder, her baby screaming. Danced between two men arguing in French over something on the front page of a newspaper, almost being swatted in the face as I passed.

“Where you going so fast, ma salope?” Creeper shouted from behind me, and I panicked. Stepping out into the street, I was nearly flattened by a car, forgetting to look to the right. It blared its horn and swerved hard, missing me by inches. My heart slammed itself up into my throat, and I ran blindly to the other side, near tears.

I was in a strange city, in a new country, on an entirely different continent. So out of my element.

Now was not the time to get flustered.

Just as my foot touched the curb on the opposite side of the street, a strong hand on my elbow stopped me mid-step.

“Not so fast, mon agace-pissette.” Creeper had my arm securely in his hand and my ear up against his mouth as his hips pressed firmly to my backside. He was sweaty and smelly. His stale breath made my stomach shrivel up and my heart kick into double-time speed.  

“Don’t touch me!” I snapped, wrenching away my arm, flinging myself blindly in the opposite direction. I ran to the end of the block and took a right turn, then a left, keeping my pace fast and barely watching where I was going. I almost knocked down an elderly woman with a paisley printed kerchief and a basket of bread, her angry voice following me down the block.

I didn’t know where I was. I couldn’t spot a single word of English and everything looked the same, as though I was repeatedly circling the block. That bookstore looked too familiar; I could have sworn I just passed it. And that café... Thinking fast and desperate, I ducked into the doorway, flattening myself against the wall, trying to control my breathing. I hoped Creeper would miss my hasty escape and keep stalking me down the sidewalk. The shadows swallowed me into their relative safety, but I didn’t even have time to feel relieved about my momentary bravado. I was hit by a wall of aroma that almost knocked me flat on my ass.

All the delicious food on the whole, wide earth had come here to die.

The smell alone made me want to stay here forever. Salty and spicy, rich and sweet, heavy and light; my nose in heaven. I glanced over my shoulder in time to see Creeper halt outside the doorway and peer inside, taking a single step in my direction.

I didn’t have time to savor the smell.

I kept moving, bustling into the busy bistro with my eyes everywhere, searching frantically for an escape. There was a lone guy sitting at a table in front of the windows, frowning at his phone. Mid-thirties, he was dressed in a nice suit, had no facial hair, and wasn’t wearing a wedding ring.


I fled toward him, darting between tables, stopping so short I all but fell on top of him.

“Hi, honey,” I managed to croak, putting my hand on his shoulder, breathing hard. The suit beneath my fingers wasn’t just nice, it was damn expensive; incredibly soft, dove gray, and likely worth more than my rent. I held on tighter as my vision spun; too much anxiety and not enough air clouding my head. The panic must have been written all over my face because the phone-frown turned into an outright scowl as Creeper strolled up behind me.

The Suit took one look at Creeper before his eyes, ridiculously green and flecked with gold, fell back to me.

“You’re late,” he said to me, managing to sound perturbed. He wrapped an arm steadily around my waist, holding me upright. He was probably afraid I’d fall over and knock his wine onto his super expensive suit.

“S-Sorry,” I stuttered, fighting off tears. “I have this problem.” I glanced behind me at Creeper, his face falling only slightly when he saw me death gripping the Suit. He tugged at the front of his pants and gave the Suit an appraising sort of smile.

“Vous partagez?” Creeper pinched his fingers together and kissed them, his eyes all over me before glancing down at the Suit.

The Suit stood, his grip on my waist tightening.

“I do not share. I suggest you leave before I have you thrown out,” he snapped. His voice was rough, and so loud the nearby tables sank instantly into silence as a dozen pairs of eyes turned on us. The Suit pulled me close, glaring at Creeper, looking completely pissed off and deliciously territorial; jaw clamped tight, eyes flashing. Creeper gave me one last, longing look, said something in rapid-fire French, then stomped out of the bistro like an insolent child who’d just had his favorite toy confiscated.

“Sorry about that,” I grumbled, flopping into the empty seat opposite the Suit. My heart was beating hard enough to drown out the noise of the bistro, setting off a booming roll of thunder in my ears. I picked up his glass of water, draining half of it in one gulp. I was freezing cold, close to shivers, but my face was burning and my heart still hadn’t slowed to a normal, healthy pace, hammering loudly behind my ribs.  

The Suit sat back down, his posture uncomfortably straight, his phone now set aside. He was watching me with one perfectly raised eyebrow.

Scratch what I said earlier about him being mildly good-looking. He was fucking hot. His hair was burnished brown, nearly copper, slicked back away from his face. His skin was smooth and pale, his eyes edged just this side of gold, less green than I first imagined them. He had a wide, easy mouth and long, slender fingers, and a mole just beneath the curve of his jawline. I would put money down on thirty-five. Serious money.

“That was brave of you,” he stated. “How did you know I would play along?”

“I didn’t.” I drained the rest of his water and fanned my face with one hand. The cute, bustling bistro was suddenly overcrowded and loud. The claustrophobia was real. I hoped I wouldn’t faint.

“You’re American.” His eyes were fixed on my face, which was no doubt beet red and flushed in that weird splotchy mess it always did when I was nervous or scared.

“So are you,” I retorted.

A waiter sidled up to the table, looking mildly nervous. I wondered what that exchange had looked like to the other patrons, to say nothing of the staff.

“Can I get you anything, mademoiselle?” he asked me.

I glanced at the menu, all of it in French.


“Uhm...” I stammered, eyes darting around for a word, any word, I recognized.

“She’ll have le boudin noir aux pommes. And a glass of wine. Rosé. Anything prior to ‘54.” The Suit spoke for me, thank god, and I hoped that whatever he’d ordered me wasn’t incredibly expensive. I was down to my last few hundred Euros, worth even less now that I was overseas. Stupid American money.

“What exactly did you order for me?”

“Apples. And blood sausage,” he added. “They are exceptionally well-done here.”

I grimaced. I just couldn't help it. “I’d like to think I have adventurous taste buds, but I’m not eating that.” I shook my head, my hands going clammy, my face draining of blood. If I wasn’t going to faint before, I definitely was now. Blood belonged nowhere near sausage.

Despite feeling so ill, I stood, still shaky and trembling. “Actually, I should be going.”             

“I don’t think that’s a good idea.” The Suit tilted his head toward the window, and sure enough, Creeper was pacing the sidewalk outside, occasionally glancing in on us. I flopped back into my seat with a resigned sigh, gratefully accepting the glass of something sparkly the waiter set down in front of me. It was sweet and fizzy, the barest hint of pink, and it went straight to my head. Despite everything, it managed to put a smile on my face.

“That’s more like it.” The Suit leaned forward, elbows to the table, the grin still firmly attached to his hot as fuck face. I had to look away. “What is an American girl like you doing in the slums of Paris?” he asked. “Midwest, I’m guessing. Iowa?”

Close. Kansas. But I sure as shit wasn’t going to tell him that.

“I’m a pastry chef,” I answered, banking on the general food lore of Paris to float any further explanation. “What are you doing here?”

“Mergers and acquisitions.” He actually winked at me. What the fuck?

“That sounds fake.” I sipped the champagne, resisting the urge to gulp it down it tasted so good.

“So does that pastry chef line you just fed me.”

Okay, that was enough.

“I have to go. Really.” I stood, throwing some money on the table; what I hoped was enough to cover my meal. I had no idea if I was even close; the money here looked like it belonged in a board game and had names I couldn’t hope to have memorized in a fortnight. The Suit scowled up at me.

“Don’t be ridiculous.” He forcefully shoved the money back into my coat pocket. “Sit down,” he ordered.

I shook my head. “I can’t.”

“I insist.”

“I’m going to be late. Thank you for your help earlier.”

“Tell me your name. It’s the least you can do.” The Suit was back to frowning, but he even managed to make that look strangely sexy.


I collapsed through my flimsy front door twelve hours after I walked out of it.

What a day.

I poured myself a glass of wine; cheap and red, the way I liked it. I drained it at the kitchen counter without tasting or even enjoying it. It dropped a warm ball of flame into my belly, eased my blood to a slower, steady crawl, and edged off the hunger pangs, gnawing around the sharp edges of my loneliness. I grabbed the half-empty bottle and the thin duvet off the bed before I clambered through the kitchen window. It was steep, but I perched on the highest point of the roofline, as close to the sky as I could get.

Paris, at nighttime, was sight to behold.

This all still felt like a dreamespecially from somewhere so far above the ground, especially coming from somewhere so flat, so landlocked, so still and silent. The sky was a glowing dusty pink from the spangle of streetlights below, the stars completely obscured. The bustle of traffic was a steady hum punched through by horns, tires, and the occasional catcall. I couldn't quite make out the Eiffel Tower, but I could see the Arc de Triomphe, and the Seine River way off to the right, if I squinted hard enough.

I pulled the duvet tighter around myself, sipping the last of the wine. The fabric smelled of chamomile and mothballs, washed by the old landlady who smelled much the same herself. I had only been here two days, but I already felt a settled sense of belonging, as though I had stumbled across a home I never knew existed. I’d found the rental by accident, located conveniently on Rue du Cardinal Lemoine. It was super cheap, and there was a very good reason for that.

Several very good reasons, actually.

It was crammed into the attic of a creaky, hundred year old house that was sandwiched uncomfortably between two modern chrome and glass buildings. Small enough I could have likely touched either wall if I stretched out an arm and a leg at the same time. There was a bathroom roughly the size of a broom closet, and a twin bed squeezed into a corner between the sink and a threadbare, old armchair. The pots in the cupboard beside the stove were starting to rust, and there was a single plant scarcely clinging to life on the windowsill. The pipes creaked, and the downstairs neighbors had loud sex on Monday afternoons. There was a wild bramble of raspberries outside the front door that always snagged the hem of my jacket when I attempted to leave. It was drafty at night, and hotter than the seventh circle of hell in the afternoons, either icebox or fiery inferno with absolutely no in-between.

Despite all of that, I fell in love with it instantly. The floorboards were worn smooth and soft from a hundred years of other people’s bare feet. The paint on the walls was peeling twelve layers deep, blue over red over yellow over green. The windows were floor to ceiling and double-pane, which made everything outside look as though it was under a constant cover of rain, even in the sunlight. There were curtains of thick velvet, the same pale blue color of a mid-morning sky. Dishes that were patterned with roses and edged with gold, fragile and fancy. A sink of pounded copper. A rug of woven gray silk.

And it had the most spectacular view.

I leisurely sipped my wine, watching the city bustle around me, nighttime doing absolutely nothing to temper its chaotic tumble. The city never slept, it was true, only notched itself down a few levels, the dark pressing everything closer to the ground. It felt exactly like the inside of my head.

Today had been amazing.

Cobéa had a five-star rating. Its head chef, Philippe Bélissent, was a master. World renown. A legend. He had a faithful following, six cookbooks, and eight restaurants to his name. I expected to be held aside, made to fold my hands behind my back and watch as the masters went to work. I expected to be taught, to listen, observe, standing somewhere out of the way, invisible, until an extra hand was needed only for a moment, fading into the background again.       

Instead, I was given a solid shove off the diving board without even the chance to ask if there was water in the pool. I was handed an apron, given a hasty tour of the kitchens, shoved through a frantic rundown of the staff members’ names, I couldn’t possibly hope to remember, then given a task list ten desserts long with a scant four hours to accomplish them prior to opening.

This was what faith felt like.

I spent those four hours in something close to heaven. The kitchens at Cobéa were top-notch and the instant responsibility felt like a gift, a package to be opened slowly and gently, lest the contents explode. I whipped butter, ground spices, and layered cakes with frosting until I was sure the inside of my lungs had turned to pure sugar. I was sweaty and dirty, and my feet didn’t even feel connected to my body, but every moment of pain was worth it.

I was twenty-four years old. Young, fresh, top of my class in culinary school. Lord only knew how I had landed myself here, the very heart of the food world. Maybe it was luck. Maybe it was fate. Maybe it was a mistake. Regardless, I wasn’t going to question the simple twists of fate that had brought me here, to a rooftop in Paris, a farm girl from Kansas with dreams too big to fit inside her body.

I crawled back in through my window hours later, when the city had stalled to a slow, early morning crawl, and the edges of the sky were just starting to lighten. A quick shower to wash away the fine layer of flour and sugar, another glass of wine, and I was asleep before my head even hit my pillow.

Dreaming of buttercream.

“There’s a man in the dining room asking for you.”

Marcel was a contradiction.

He was tall, broad, and looked like he could bench press a school bus, yet his voice had roughly the same pitch as a twelve-year-old girl. His neck was as big around as my thigh, but his nails were always manicured and his eyebrows artistically shaped. He likely spent twice as much time in front of the mirror every morning than I did. Case in point, my hair was in its signature messy pile on top of my head and I hadn’t looked closely at my eyebrows in months. Meanwhile, Marcel was wearing pale lilac colored eyeshadow and had painted his nails sapphire blue to match his tie.

“Tell him I’m not interested.” I waved off Marcel, going back to the macarons I was gently squashing together, fingers too deep in almond pastel beauties to bother with reality. Here, in this moment, I was pistachio green and rosehip pink. Lemon yellow. Pale blue blackberry. Deep brown chocolate and snow white vanilla.

It was probably Creeper, asking for me out there. He had probably stalked me to work yesterday, and was back for round two. He was probably expecting I’d come out and fall all over him. He probably still smelled like cigarettes and deep-fried chicken. And I’d probably, definitely, have to run like hell to get away from him again.

“I don’t think you want to say no to this one, ma chére.” Marcel wasn’t budging, a mischievous smile on his face. “Though, if you don’t want to bother yourself with him, I certainly will.” He fanned his face dramatically.

I dusted off my hands on my apron, peering through the oval window in the doors that separated the loud, steamy kitchen from the quiet, calm dining room.

My mouth fell open.

Sitting in the private alcove known as the Vous et Moi Tableau, was the Suit. He was in a different suit this time, more blue than gray, and his hair was again slicked back and smooth, a wet comb taken to it. He was frowning at his phone, as before, and muttering something to himself, as he typed furiously, looking hot and bothered and as sexy as yesterday.

“Fuck,” I exhaled.

“Yes please,” Marcel giggled over my shoulder.

“I can’t go out there like this,” I grumbled, looking down at myself. My apron was spotted in chocolate, smeared with flour and a healthy coat of pastry cream, and I was completely dusted down in powdered sugar. Marcel grabbed me by the elbow and used a towel to blot the sweat off my face, before giving me a solid shove out the kitchen doors.

I stumbled into the dining room, attracting more attention than I wanted to. The fancy diners in their pearls and diamonds all ogled me as I walked bythe kitchen girl in her dirty apron, waltzing through the landscape of cut crystal, making her way uncertainly over to the Suit. The table itself was partially hidden from the rest of the dining room, the low lighting sprawling down over his shoulders, making his hair shine. He didn’t look up from his phone until I was standing right beside him.

“What are you doing here?”

When he glanced up at me, the whole room started to spin a little.

I was dehydrated. Maybe.

“Hello to you as well.” The Suit stood, pulling his jacket smooth, a smile edging across his mouth. “I came to see if you were being honest about the pastry chef thing. I can see now that you were.”

“I didn’t tell you where I was working.”

“I followed you.”

“That isn’t scary at all,” I scoffed. I was beginning to suspect I had traded one creep for another. “Are you here for dinner?”

“No. I’m here for dessert.” He didn’t look away when he said it, just used those laser eyes to bore directly into me and peel off all of my clothing, right there in the middle of the dining room. At that exact moment, a waiter, whose name I hadn’t bothered to remember yet, showed up with an entire tray full of desserts. The same ones I had labored over my entire workday.

There was the poppy seed pound cake layered with lavender mascarpone and lemon curd, on a pretty, gilded plate. The deep chocolate ganache swimming in a puddle of Grand Marnier, sugared violets and candied kumquats tossed down over the top. The toasted macadamia cake with coconut frosting and dark chocolate shavings, set over crisp white china. The rose scented buttercream layered between lemon wafers, dotted with salted honeycomb and crème fraîche. The tea poached pears with coriander spice cake and buttermilk custard, in an indigo blue bowl. The rhubarb terrine with clotted cream and star anise. Twelve plates in all, each a bit more decadent than the last, shuffling around the edges of his table like an overcrowded dance party.

“You’re going to eat all of that?” Both my eyebrows lifted. He was in for a diabetic coma.

“Yes.” He nodded, gesturing to the empty seat opposite him. “And you are going to help me.”

“I can't do that. I’m on the clock.” I could taste that lavender mascarpone on my tongue, the subtle gnash of floral, and the fresh bite of springtime. The salty honeycomb and the rich, heavy buttermilk. The melt of that perfectly poached pear. I licked my lips.

“I’m sure they could spare you for a few moments.” The Suit’s eyes were stuck firmly on my mouth, and I pulled my tongue back inside.

I glanced back toward the kitchens, Marcel waving happily at me from behind the small window, and I rolled my eyes. I had a cake in the oven, frosting in the stand mixer, jellies cooling in the walk-in; enough excuses to walk away, but I couldn’t help myself.

I sat down.

“You have two minutes.”

The Suit settled into the chair across from me, his back straight and his fork held at the ready. As he dipped the tines into a passion fruit panna cotta, the soft center oozing out onto the plate, I assessed him again, given a brief moment of reprise from his gaze. He was definitely older than me, at least ten years, his face lean, square, and distinguished. There were three gray hairs at his temple, and the faintest web of crow’s feet sprouting from the corners of his eyes.    

“Are you usually this messy?” The Suit busted me out of my head, his eyes rounding again over my disheveled appearance, the tornado hair and the dirty apron. I wondered if Marcel had gotten all of the pastry flour off my face.

“Baking is messy.” I shrugged, picking at a glob of chocolate on my sleeve.

“I thought cleanliness was the measure of an expert.” The Suit tucked the fork into his mouth, and I knew exactly what he was tasting. An explosion of sweet and wild, the tart, gooey center, and the soft, creamy shell. My mouth watered at the thought of it.

“In cooking, yes. The chefs are spotless, but flour is unpredictable.”

At that moment, a nervous-looking waiter approached the table, seemingly downright scared to interrupt us. He bent low toward the Suit, speaking into his ear.

“Monsieur Antoine.” The waiter tucked his chin to his chest for one respectful second and held the restaurant phone toward the Suit. “You have a phone call.”

“Take a message.” The Suit’s words were curt and left no room for argument. He barely spared the waiter a glance. Instead, he forked another bite of dessert, this time from the coconut cake, and spoke around the mouthful. “I’m busy.”

The waiter tucked even lower, closer to the Suit, and spoke in a hushed tone. “It is your mother, monsieur. She says it is important.”

The Suit swallowed slowly, finally turning to look at the waiter.

“In that case, take a message,” he reiterated, his voice edging a fine line of annoyance. He sank his fork deftly into the poached pear and tucked it between his lips, practically rolling his eyes with pleasure as the waiter skittered away.

“Délicieux,” he muttered. “This is incredible. You must try it.” The Suit held a forkful of pear in my direction.

“I know what it tastes like.”

The Suit’s eyes narrowed and the fork didn’t budge.

“Humor me, Lolita.”

My mouth closed around the fork. I swore he groaned. I groaned right along with him because that pear, my god. I’d used high-grade red rooibos tea, which gave the softened fruit a heavy vanilla bite. The cinnamon stick and the peppercorns I’d thrown into the tea pushed a nice wave of heat across my tongue, and the star anise followed everything up with the faintest taste of licorice.

He was right. It was fucking delicious.

“You made all of this?” The Suit glanced across the table, surveying the scenery between us as he chose from which plate to take his next bite. The rose buttercream and honeycomb, the lemon wafer cracking crisp and thin beneath the tines of the fork. I nodded, watching him lift the dessert to his mouth, and tried to keep the frantic skip of my heart in check.

“Yes,” I exhaled, watching him roll his latest bite around his mouth.

“You have a gift.”

“So do you. Do you always stalk strange girls?”

“Not always. Only when they pretend to be my lover, but won’t tell me their name.”

I watched him gradually make his way through each and every plate, offering me bites here and there, extolling my virtues with each mouthful. It was oddly satisfying, his apparent pleasure over my hard work, and I spent far longer seated at the table than the two minutes I promised him.      

The Suit scraped the last plate clean with his fork. True to his word, he had somehow devoured every last bite with very little help from me. He leaned back in his chair and sighed contentedly, smiling at me with a lopsided grin.

“That was near perfection. Thank you, I am uncomfortably full, but quite happy with my lunch.” He stood, buttoning the two buttons of his jacket and smoothing a palm across his slicked back hair. “I am truly sorry to leave you here, but I must return to work. Duty calls.”

I stared up at him. “I don’t understand you. Why did you come here? What do you want from me?”

“I’m going to make you fall,” he stated, simply, shrugging as though it should be obvious.

“Over what?” I asked.

“Over me.”

He turned on his heel, sauntering out the front door, leaving me slack-jawed and speechless at his table full of empty plates.

I heaved my bag over my shoulder, glad to be out of my work shoes and back into my comfortable clogs, pushing through the back door. The kitchen wasn’t stale, so much as hot and muggy; too many machines, too much steam, and too many people for the few meager windows to do much to alleviate the heat. The flatline breeze of the early morning wasn’t much of a relief, barely crawling through the city to pat at my flushed cheeks, but I would take what I could get.

An echo of goodbyes ushered me out the door, the last of the kitchen crew shutting down the restaurant. The night had ended with a roomful of praise, glasses of sweet Moscato raised in my honor in the wee hours of the morning. I even earned a smile from Bélissent himself, an honor I didn’t expect. In fact, I was certain he wouldn’t even notice my presence for the first month, but he’d dipped a finger into my bowl of pastry cream. I was so deep into what I was doing that I had hit his hand with my spatula before I realized exactly who he was. I expected to be fired on the spot, but he simply smiled at me, kissed his fingertips, and moved deeper into the kitchen. I was left standing there with my heart in my throat and my stomach on the floor.

I took a deep breath and adjusted my bag, preparing for my walk home, when someone cleared their throat from the street.

The Suit was leaning against a long, squat limousine, parked at the curb at the end of the alleyway.


My mouth fell open at the sight of him. I made the effort to close it, throwing my chin out instead. The nerve of this guy. I stomped down the stairs and stopped dead in front of him, doing my best to glare, but he was so scrumptious it was hard to do correctly.

“What are you doing here?” I asked him for a second time in less than six hours.

“I came to escort you home.” He gave me that stupid, sexy smile and opened the door he was leaning against.

“Thanks, but no thanks.” I turned, taking a single step down the sidewalk. He grabbed my elbow, tugging me close enough I could smell the faint hint of bourbon on his breath. His eyes were gold. Straight up gold. I’d thought it was a trick of the light in the bistro, but they really were the color of honey, bright in the center and dark toward the outer rings. I had to shake my head to dislodge him.

“Get in the limo,” he snapped.

“Uh, no. I’ll walk.” I tried to disentangle myself, but he was having none of it. His grip on my arm tightened slightly, and he yanked me closer.

“What if your unwanted friend is lurking around, waiting for you?”

Shit. He had me there. I glanced down the sidewalk; the darkness suddenly didn’t seem quite so hospitable. In fact, it was more like a great big black hole I was going to have to fling myself into, a bottomless swimming pool with Creeper lurking around every corner, waiting to pounce on me. I still didn’t exactly know my way around, and had gotten lost again that very morning, trying to make it to work.

“I’ll be fine,” I said halfheartedly.

“Get in the fucking limo, Lolita.”

He just said fuck.

“You just said fuck.” I gaped at him, sure by now he was completely incapable of such foul language. His face twisted slightly in the center, and he scowled down at me.

“I mean business,” he growled, flinging open the door and all but tossing me inside. I tumbled ungracefully into the vehicle, falling onto the squashy leather seat as he followed.

“Where do you live?”

It took a second for me to weigh my options. Of course, he would need to know the address, and of course, I would have to say it out loud, but that meant he would know where I lived. It meant he could find me again, any time he wanted, between work and home. It meant he knew a lot about me and I hardly knew anything about him, aside from his impeccable taste in clothing, his high society manners, and his fake-sounding job.

“74 Rue du Cardinal Lemoine,” I grumbled, not left with much of a choice otherwise.

He spoke in French to the driver before pressing a button to lift the partition between our chauffeur and us. He settled back against the seat as the car slid smoothly out into the street.

“Your French is very good.” I had to compliment him. My French sucked. Bad. I knew how to order a drink, how to ask for a bathroom, and how say fuck youa term Marcel had only taught me after I told him about the Creeper. He made me practice it all afternoon until I had just the right inflection, then gave me a long talking-to about my face because you couldn’t spit terms like that and look scared about it.

“I’m half Parisian,” the Suit answered. “My mother was born and bred here. Seduced my poor father, and then refused to return to the States with him. She’s stubborn.” He smiled to himself, as though that line was actually an inside joke I wasn’t privy to.

It took less than ten minutes to pull in front of the crooked little house. I gathered up my belongings and was prepared to exit the car, when the Suit’s hand slammed over the handle, stalling me.

“This is your home?” He sounded almost disgusted, his eyes wide, his mouth drawn down at the corners.

“I rent the top floor.”

“What a dump.” His eyebrows contracted in the center as he frowned up at the house. He was gonna have permanent wrinkles if he kept that shit up. The frowning.

“Fuck you, it’s not a shit hole,” I said, even though it totally was.

“Your language is really quite terrible. My mother would have me teeth deep in soap if she heard me speak in such a manner.”

“Good thing she hasn’t met me.” I shoved his hand aside and wrenched open the door. I couldn’t wait to get upstairs and take off my shoes. Take off my bra. Take off my anxiety and hang it up for the evening.

“I still don’t know your name.”

“I don’t know yours,” I countered.

“Meet me tomorrow. At the bistro. Eleven. For a proper drink.”

“No one drinks at eleven in the morning,” I scoffed.

“You’re in Paris. People drink at seven in the morning.”

“Are you asking me on a date?”

“If that’s what you want it to be.”

I shook my head at him. “You’re too put together for me.”

“And by that, you mean…?”

“I prefer my boys a little more…disheveled.” I waved a hand at himhis clean shave, his slick hair, and his crisp suit, his spotless limo and the perfectly devious smile, not a single thing out of place.

“Well, that was your first mistake. I am no boy,” he huffed as he shoved me out of the limo and slammed the door behind me.

This time, I made a point to stop at the flower shop.

It took me exactly forty-seven minutes to decide on a flower, a delicate pale pink blossom, which made me exactly forty-seven minutes late to the bistro. I hummed as I tucked the peony into my hair and wandered listlessly down the sidewalk, partially nervous and partially dreading my arrival at what was feeling uncomfortably like a date.

I was wearing a dress.

That made it a date, right?

I’d passed the bistro a few times before my fateful encounter there, but hadn’t paid it the proper attention. Les Deux Magot sat resolutely on a street corner, ringed by a patio that was shoved full of tiny tables and too many chairs. It seemed like the perfect spot for some people watching with a macchiato and a cigarette. I made a mental note to come back on an early morning day off to enjoy myself there.

He was seated at that same table by the window, once again frowning at his phone. The suit was black today, deep onyx with a pale blue shirt beneath it and a square of white fabric tucked into the pocket. His hair was slicked neatly back from his face and his feet were crossed casually at the ankle, and when he looked up at me as I approached, his smile made the whole world stop spinning on its axis for a split second.

“You came. I thought you would flounce me.” His expression was gentle, yet intense eyes wandered all over my face. He reached out in my direction, and before I knew what was happening, his lips were pressed firmly to the back of my hand. Hot breath. The sandpaper scratch of his chin. The warmth of his fingers curled underneath my palm. My heart kicked up three notches, pounding furiously.

“I’m not even sure why I’m here,” I admitted, pulling away my hand, feeling flighty and breathless and on the verge of dizzy stars.

“Le boudin noir, obviously.” He grinned at me again and pulled out my chair.

No one had ever done that for me.


“Definitely not.” I grimaced in disgust. Seating myself, I allowed him to help scoot me closer to the table. “But maybe more of that pink wine.”

The Suit nodded and snapped a couple of fingers over his shoulder. A waiter appeared as though she had been waiting to pounce. He ordered several things in more of that rapid-fire French, the inflection heavy on his tongue. I found myself staring at his mouth as he spoke. His lips were wide and sort of thin, yet the nicest shade of pale red, smooth and soft and inviting.     

“You look lovely. That color suits you.”

I snapped out of my daydreamogling his mouthto find him eyeballing me, his gaze fidgeting all over my face. The yellow dress did make my skin look a little less pale than normal, but I didn’t know what else he could be talking about. I’d let my hair air dry this morning, hadn’t put on a lick of makeup, and wore flat sandals because blowdryers and mascara and heels would have definitely made this a date.

“This isn’t a date.”

His eyebrows lifted slightly, though he seemed completely unfazed by my declaration. “I give you a compliment and you immediately insult our lunch. This may not be a date, but it certainly isn't a business meeting.”

I wrenched my eyes away, gratefully accepting the pink wine and sipping it as I surveyed my surroundings with a proper frame of mind. We were seated directly in front of the big windows, the glass raised so the warm Parisian air was mingling with the rich scents from the kitchen. The open terrace was bustling, the clink of espresso china and the air full of cigarette smoke. Dappled sunlight fell down through the leaves and a hundred conversations mingled together into an excited buzz of sound. Inside, the air was warm and quieter, patrons leaning close to whisper to each other over their drinks, the kitchen beyond a muted cacophony of dishes and fry pans.

“I like this place,” I mused, twirling my glass by the stem. “There’s something about it… I feel different.”

“It’s famous for the books that were written here.” The Suit grinned at me as if I had caught on to some insider hint. “Ulysses. She Came to Stay. A Moveable Feast, in particular. Excellent book, the latter. I’ve read it twice.” He glanced around at the mingling crowd, the tables bunched together, and the seat backs brushing one another. “Rough business, the life of a writer.”

“I can imagine.”

The Suit sipped from his tumbler, looking pensive. “Tell me more about baking, I’m intrigued.”

“It doesn’t seem like something you’d find intriguing.”

“You consistently underestimate me.” The Suit shook his head. “I find many things intriguing.” He leaned forward, elbows on the table in a flagrant display of bad manners, and smiled lopsided at me. “You, most of all. In this moment, I am thoroughly intrigued.”

“I am the most boring person you have ever met. I promise.” I took a healthy mouthful of my drink, the alcohol finally starting to smooth the edges of my uncertainty, making me braver than I should be. I still didn’t know what I was doing here, with him, like this.      

“I beg to differ. I still don’t know your name.”

“Lolita.” I quirked an eyebrow at him, grinning from ear to ear, trying my best to hold back my laugh.

“Don’t tease me.” His eyes narrowed but he was smiling, shaking his head.

“Isabella,” I sighed. “But only my mother calls me that.”

“What do you prefer?”


“Ah, Bella,” he murmured, sly as though he’d already known that part.

“Marcel told you.”

“He did.” More smiling.

I was gonna kill that nail-polished fairy the next time we worked together.

“And you are Antoine.”

The Suit’s eyes narrowed. “How did you know that?”

“The waiter called you that yesterday.”

He scowled. “That is my first name, yes, but it’s too frilly for my tastes. My mother makes many questionable decisions, that being only one of them.”

“What am I supposed to call you, then?” Certainly not the Suit. I had the distinct feeling he wouldn’t like that.

“I prefer Edward. It is my middle name.”

“And your job? Your real job,” I clarified when he opened his mouth with that same shrewd smile already firmly intact.

“I told you. Mergers. Acquisitions.”

“And by that you mean?”

“I deal in real estate.” He grinned again, his voice lilting.

Mercifully, our food arrived, giving me something to focus my attention on, besides the alluring man sitting across from me. We spent a leisurely twenty minutes enjoying our meals, exchanging glances and sighs, and he even convinced me to share a single bite of my thankfully-not-blood-sausage. I drank three glasses of the pink sparkly alcohol and was feeling distinctly lightheaded as I stood to leave.         

“I’d like to invite you to a birthday party.” Edward rose to his feet beside me, reaching for my hand. His skin was warm, his cheeks slightly flushed from the bourbon he’d been sipping the entire meal, eyes sparkling mischievous and bright.

“Who’s birthday?”

“Mine, of course.”

“It’s your birthday?”

“Yes. Tomorrow. My mother is throwing a party, and I want you to be there.”

“And what do you expect me to do? Look pretty and be quiet?”

“Pretty, yes. However, I wouldn’t expect you to keep your mouth shut. You’ve proven it impossible for you to do otherwise.”

There was a knock on my door at exactly 9:31 p.m.

I was two hours late for Edward’s birthday party, and I was in no way prepared for visitors.

I’d spent the afternoon pouting, either from the roofline of the old house or the chair in front of the window. I’d emptied an entire bottle of wine and was halfway through a second. I’d smoked half a pack of fancy black cigarettes that made my lungs burn and made my head feel like I was wallowing through a potpourri factory. I was still in my bathrobe, the silk one with the embroidery at the collar. I was wild-haired and hungry, prowling the hardwood like a caged animal. The pounding on my flimsy door startled me clear out of my skin.

I pushed all of my crazy hair away from my face and pulled the bathrobe as tightly around me as I could when I opened the door.


On the landing. All alone. In a tuxedo.

Fuck my life.

I gaped at him, stunned speechless and wondering if I was dreaming. I actually looked over my shoulder at the couch, positive I’d see myself passed out on it, drooling into my hair with my hand down the front of my underwear. But I wasn’t and this wasn’t a dream and Edward was really here and I was completely naked underneath the flimsy robe.

I was so done for.

“You’re late,” he said, sounding accusatory.    

“I’m not coming.” I shook my head.


Edward pushed his way into the apartment, knocking me gently into the doorframe. He was holding a bottle of champagne, and a flower he’d evidently picked from the pristine garden beds outside the fancy apartment building next door. He glanced around, eyeing the wine bottles and the curtains and the still smoking cigarette perched in the ashtray on the windowsill. When his gaze found the dress hanging from the bathroom door, his inquisitive face warped into an outright scowl.

It had arrived at noon with no note, though it was obvious where it had come from. Deep purple silk, low neckline, even lower back, it was wildly expensive, according to the still-attached tag. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen, but I couldn’t bring myself to even try the damn thing on for fun, much less wear it out in public. It cost more than three months of my rent.

“What are you doing here?”

“I couldn’t stop thinking about you. You’re driving me insane,” he muttered, still glaring at the dress, before turning the glare on me.

“The feeling is completely mutual,” I huffed. “You think you can just barge in here with champagne and a flower, dressed like that, and expect me to be happy to see you?”

“I expect exactly that.” He grinned suddenly, as if he knew it was going to work.

“You can put the champagne in the fridge, but the flower has to stay outside.” I pointed toward the door, but he ignored me again. Instead, he tucked the stem of the flower down into the front of my bathrobe as he passed.  

“This place is…cute,” he mused, wrenching open the fridge to deposit the bottle.

“Whatever. It would probably fit inside your limousine,” I grumbled. Pulling the flower out of my cleavage, I tossed it out the opened window, just as he turned back to face me with that mouth and the hair and those fucking eyes.

“Probably not. Although, it could definitely fit into my closet.”

“Aren’t you supposed to be at your birthday party?” I tucked the robe tighter around me because he was literally eyefucking me right through it. He started to take sure and steady steps toward me until I was pinned up against the far wall, his hip bones pressing into my stomach and his hands on my neck.

“They’re likely cutting my cake as we speak,” he whispered. His eyes searched my face for something I wasn’t sure he was going to find.

“I can’t believe you left.”

“It’s my birthday. I’ll do whatever I want.”

“And what do you want to do?” I asked, even though I knew. Thing was, hearing him say it, say it out loud, made it real, and god knew how I wanted it to be real. I’d been fantasizing about it all day. About letting him squash me into the leather seats of his limo, about rolling around in a giant vat of buttercream, and then licking it all off each other, about fondling the hard that would be sprouting between his legs while he kissed the ever-loving shit outta me.

Edward gave me a shove, his hand planted on my breastbone, and I fell, ass down into the chair beside the big window that overlooked the street. Usually, I sat there to read, to sip wine, and write letters home, while feeling nostalgic and appropriately melancholy. The view of the street was unobscured, and I wanted to be that beautiful women in the window, always smoking, always sighing, always in a rare patch of sunlight. Maybe someone would fall in love with the idea of me, if no one would fall in love with my reality.

I clutched the bathrobe around myself, fully aware the aforementioned view of the street would also include a nice view of my naked self should he do what he intended to right now.

Edward dropped to his knees, ripping away his necktie as he pulled the silk through my fingers, pushing the robe open. He instantly reached for my tits, burying his face into my belly and breathing in deeply.

“You should be celebrating with your family,” I stuttered, gripping the arms of the chair for dear life.

“No. No, I definitely should not.” He rubbed his face against my skin, his hands sliding around my thighs, gripping a firm palmful of my ass. His tongue left a trail that danced right up the center of me, his nose circling my nipples, his breath hot and heavy and damp. I was basically one big giant goose bump, my stomach flip-flopping nervously.

“But I” I panted. “But you

“Tais-toi,” he groaned. “Shut up.”

Edward released his grip on my ass to slide his hand down my stomach, cupping my pussy in his palm. He swirled a finger through me and tucked it between his lips, eyes locked between my legs, a hum singing through his chest. He licked his finger clean, doing it again, dragging it sure and steady through my pussy, sucking on it once more. This time, he outright moaned. Loud and long. A third swipe, deeper this time, nearly pushing inside, skittering away to tease my clit with one slow, languid circle of his fingertip.

He finally looked up at me as he tucked his finger into his mouthagain.

“Just fucking do it, already,” I whimpered, squirming. I was gonna leave permanent fingerprints on this poor, old, undeserving chair at the rate he was going.

“I’ll do whatever I want.” He smiled into my thigh, biting me harder than he should have. “It’s my birthday, remember? Not yours.”

Countries were invaded in less time than it took him to get down to business. Wars waged and monuments erected. The Great Wall and the pyramids and the Hoover Dam, all built with more taste for speed. Hell, it took less time to invent the wheel than it did for him to get around to putting his mouth down on me. He kissed everywhere, everything, whispering his treachery into my thighs, thanking me for not shaving completely bare like us American girls were so prone to do. Running his nose across my thighs and his fingers through my lips and his breath across my skin until I was ready to hop right out of it, worked up tight enough to jump off a building without getting hurt.

When he finally put his mouth to my skin, I almost imploded.

“Oh, f-fuck,” I stuttered, and could all but feel him smile deep into my pussy.

“That’s what I’m trying to do.” His words vibrated all the way up inside of me, followed by his tongue and his teeth and his fingers, and I was a panting, mangled mess. Toes digging into his shoulders, fingers mining deep into his hair, pulling him closer and pushing him away, all at the same time. Wanting more and more and more, and also wishing it would end. Desperate for the final fall. Aching for the all-consuming burn.

My mouth full of pleading and my head full of his refusals to let me finish.

When it happened, it happened so hard and fast, I didn’t even realize what was hitting me until I was too deep to see the light. It took me what felt like forever to catch my breath. When I finally opened my eyes, he was staring down at me; his mouth wet, his hair an absolute disaster, and his eyes heavy with lust. I knew what he was seeing; the look on his face told me everything. I was red and gasping for air, covered in sweat and kisses and indignation.

“What do you want from me, birthday boy?” I murmured, basically ready to hand over the farm if he only asked me for it. I felt droopy and limp, boneless and warm, permasmile and throbbing vag included. Edward looked down at me, wiping his face on his sleeve, before leaning in close to put his mouth down on mine.

“With eyes like that?” he whispered. “Take me to bed.”

I was at the tabletop that doubled as counter space in my miniscule kitchen, completely naked, folding egg whites into a perfectly pale yellow batter with an equally naked Edward pressed up against my backside.

I’d never seen Edward quite so undone. Out of the suit, out of the tie and the buttons and the shiny shoes, he was a sight to behold. All muscle and smooth skin. His normally tamed hair was a complete mess, my fingers giving him a solid work over when he was between my legs, and I’d be hard-pressed to decide which version I liked bestthe wild and chaotic, or slicked back and tamed.

“Tell me what you’re doing.” His breath was hot on my neck and his hands were grabby at my tits and his dick was hard, very hard, nestled in the crack of my ass.

“Aerating the batter.” I exhaled, trying to remember how to speak and whip at the same time.

“Mmmm, sexy.” He ran his lips down my neck. “Tell me more.”

“I’m scalding a vanilla bean in cream for the frosting.” I glanced hastily toward the pan simmering on the stovetop, hoping it hadn’t burned. It was my last whole vanilla bean, exotic and expensive yet worth every penny. It spoke a lot more about my feelings for Edward than I could have put into words myself; the fact I dropped the entire thing into a pan of cream, rather than rationing it for future use.

“You don’t have to do this. I’m sure there will be leftover cake when I make it home.” Edward caressed my tits and left a barrage of wet mouth marks up my neck, barely paying attention as I poured the batter into a cake pan.

“Fair is f-fair,” I stammered, trying to keep my head on straight. “What exactly are you doing?”

“I’m fucking you with my mind,” he groaned. His fingers dug deeper into my hips, the thrust of his dick against my back coming stronger with each exhale. “Is it working?”

“Not at all,” I teased, slipping the cakes into the oven and turning off the vanilla cream before it boiled over.

“You didn’t even use a recipe,” Edward muttered into my neck, still thoroughly adoring my backside.

“It’s all in here.” I tapped my temple, grinning to myself. “The ratio is important. Two to one. Or maybe it’s four to one...” I struggled to remember the recipe that had been imprinted in my memory since the beginning of time. I knew it better than I knew my left hand. But my left hand was currently holding onto the countertop for dear life.

“Well, what is it?” Edward chuckled, still on a full body search, exploring every inch of my skin he could reach.

“You’re distracting.”

“Good, I’m trying to be.”

“Like you’re enough to make me forget how to do basic math,” I scoffed, sheepishly searching for the correct numbers in a fog of skin and breath and fingers. Edward pulled me from the counter, my hands leaving the bowl to wind around his neck, our fronts pressed as tightly together as I could manage to get us. He kissed me, deep, his tongue searching the entirety of my mouth, his hands roaming every square inch of my backside, lifting his mouth off mine only to plant it firmly on my neck

“What’s two plus two?” he whispered into my hair, sneaking his fingers around my hips, between my legs, over my tits.
“Edward,” I groaned, gripping the counter hard with both hands. I was going to fall over or pass out or go completely soft-boned at the rate he was moving.

“Well?” His mouth suctioned to my neck again, his fingers pinching my tits, sliding down into the creases of my thighs and digging between my legs. I caught my breath when he slipped into my pussy, wet and hot and completely ready for the next round of delicious torment.

“Four,” I exhaled.

Edward lifted his hand, trailing his wet fingertips up my stomach, between my breasts, tucking them into his mouth.

“You taste like birthday cake.”

When he left, I wandered to the bathroom, standing in front of the full-length mirror that hung on the back of the door. The lightbulb was hidden behind an ancient, frosted glass cover, which flooded the tiny bathroom in a muted, rosy glow.

I expected to look different somehow, my body changed by lust or my face warped with pleasure, but I was still plain old me. Long brown hair, big brown eyes, a million brown freckles. As ordinary as I could get.  

Except, on closer inspection, there was one physical change.

Make that several physical changes.   

He’d left marks all over me.

Bruises in the shape of his mouth peppered all over my neck and chest, scattered across my collarbones, dripping down my arms. There were three in a row down the side of my left breast and one hidden in the crook of my elbow, a deep purple bloom the size of a half dollar. Another one throbbed just below my ear, and I found a stray hiding in the crease of my thigh, hidden in my hair. I counted seventeen in all, like a connect-the-dot map he’d left for me to follow after he’d gone. I traced my finger from one to another, remembering his words, the set of his mouth, the curve of his fingers, the press of his hips. I slipped my hand between my legs, holding the wet, warm pulse that was beating in time to his name in my head.

Fuck me.

I was probably going to fall in love with him.

“It’s that guy, isn’t it? The one who was here the other day eating all your desserts.”

I didn’t even look up at Marcel. Just kept piping icing in the most nonchalant way I could manage, though I knew my neck was surely flaming red and my traitorous mouth was smiling before I could even stop it.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“You have the glow. The freshly fucked glow. I’d know it anywhere.” Marcel leaned up against the counter and inspected his nails, pale pink today. His tie was magenta and his eyes were lined in heavy black, looking particularly dramatic.

“I do not have the glow,” I retorted halfheartedly. I probably did have a glow. And it was probably from the eight gallons of concealer I had to slather over all the hickeys Edward had left on me.

“Yes, you do.” Marcel snuck a fingerful of frosting and licked it slowly. “Girl, you are one lucky bitch, to land that piece of work. If I could move into that café of his and live there forever, I would in a heartbeat.”

“He has a café?” I stopped piping, worried I’d fuck up the frosting.

Marcel nodded dreamily. “That one on Saint-Germain des Prés. Les Deux Magot? It’s to die for, isn’t it? You have got to try their blood sausage.”

The corner bistro. The one I’d found him in on that first day, seated by the front window as though he was king of the castle. It all fell into place: the suit and the phone and the snapping of his fingers, the waitstaff jumping at his beck and call.

“He owns that place?”

“Speak of the sexy devil himself,” Marcel whispered, his voice tinged with awe. I looked up, following his gaze to find Edward in all his fancy suit glory, standing right there in the hot, steamy kitchens of Cobéa.

As always, my mouth fell open in amazement.

“Close your mouth, you look way too eager,” Marcel snickered at me, skittering away. I stood frozen in place, a limp pastry bag in my hand, the mixer whining on full speed behind me, powdered sugar floating into the air as Edward crossed the room.

“What are you doing? You can’t be back here!” I hissed at him, glancing around. Weirdly, the entire staff just kept on with their tasks, stirring pots, chopping vegetables, and chattering in French, resolutely ignoring the fancy Suit who’d strode into our crisp, white midst.

“I only came to tell you that you’ve been on my mind all day. You could at least greet me with a proper hello.” Edward’s jaw twitched and his mouth set into a firm line.

“You’re going to get me in trouble.”

“Say hello to me, Bella,” he demanded, ignoring my protest.

With one last glance at the staff, all of whom I got the feeling were trying their hardest not to openly gawk at us, I stepped forward into his arms. His hands immediately closed around me, folding and pulling me closer.

“Hello,” I said, surreptitiously getting a whiff of his perfect man smell. I held onto the lapels of his jacket, nuzzling my face as close as I dared.

“That’s better.” He sighed, resting his cheek on the top of my head.  

“You smell like cake.”

“I ate the entire thing this morning. Now I feel terrible,” Edward grumbled into my hair.

I laughed out loud. “That’s what you get for eating an entire cake for breakfast.”

“You are supposed to at least act sorry for me.”

“Not after the eight thousand hickeys you left all over me. What are you, fifteen?”

“Thirty-two, Lolita.” Edward chuckled. “Too young to be a dirty old man.”

“Old, no.” I shook my head. “Dirty? I have my suspicions.”

“I’m picking you up at ten tomorrow. Wear something appropriate to meet my mother.” Edward unwound his arms and gave me a solid pinch on my ass, hard enough to make me yelp. He turned and strode confidently out the double doors with a grin on his face, the entire front side of him covered in a pale white dusting of sugar.


“Yes.” Edward nodded, a devious smile on his face.

“Let me reiterate myself. Fuck. No.” I shook my head at him, already starting to do that weird blotchy blush thing. I could not believe he actually thought I would agree to this. He was crazy. Or I was crazy. Because I was going to agree, I could feel it. The acquiescence was flooding up inside of me like a geyser.

“Where did you even get that?” I asked.

“It was a birthday present.”

“From who?”

“Myself.” He licked his lips, his eyes roaming from the object in his fingers to my eyes. “For you.”

“I won’t do it.”

“You will.” He nodded resolutely. “For me.” He looked as though he didn’t doubt for a moment that I would crumble.

“You honestly think I’m going to be able to contain myself while I meet your mother, knowing I have that thing shoved up my ass?” I tried to rub my thighs together as inconspicuously as possible, however, he totally noticed.

“I think the far more pressing question is, will I?”

I was intimidated by Esme Cullen the very moment I laid eyes on her.

“I can’t do this,” I whispered. Turning frantically, I tried to run back out the trellised garden gate Edward had just led me through. I was caught from behind, a strong arm around my waist, and set back down on my feet, only when I was completely inside the garden walls.

The house was gigantic. Not just gigantic, enormous. Gargantuan. Big enough to house a couple of families and maybe a herd of elephants. It was bone white with dark shutters and a gabled roof, looking like something right out of a book of evil fairytales, flanked on either side by rose bushes trimmed within an inch of their life. There were mottled stone pathways and ancient trees shading the grass and not a single flower out of place.  

Parked in front, on a lawn too green and too pristine to be real, was Esme Cullen.

She was seated at a wrought iron table in a patch of sun, lounging back in her chair with a teacup in her hand. Her long dress shone pale pink silk in the sunlight and her white hair was whipped into an elegant chignon. She didn’t look a day over forty-five.

I couldn’t do this. Not his mother. Not here, like this. Not with that birthday present of his which was currently keeping me in a constant state of torment. Edward tried to tug me across the lawn, but I rooted my feet to the spot and shook my head, pressing my thighs together and resisting the urge to stamp my foot.

“Can’t we just make up some excuse? Tell her I got malaria,” I pleaded.

Edward shook his head firmly, gripping me tighter. “She insisted. She wants to meet you. Not just any girl could get me to abscond on my birthday.”

“She knows you left your party because of me?” I screeched under my breath, knowing in an instant that she already hated me, American or not. I could have a gold-plated private jet and own my own country, but she’d still undoubtedly hate me. “No, Edward.” I shook my head. “She’s going to hate me.”

Edward all but picked me up, marching me resolutely across the lawn. Esme looked up, shielding her eyes from the sun as she watched our approach. Edward set me down in the grass not two feet away from his mother, bent to kiss the back of her hand, and sat without even introducing me, looking perturbed.

“This must be Isabella.” Esme looked up at me but didn’t stand. She didn’t offer her hand or a hug, or even a smile. Instead, she blinked placidly as I sat myself across from her. I remembered only at the last minute to cross my ankles instead of my knees.

“Sugar?” Esme asked, pouring tea into two pretty china cups that were easily twelve times as expensive as the ones in my rented apartment.

“Please,” I murmured, keeping my eyes on the tablecloth. I accepted the tea and sipped it too quickly, scalding my tongue. Where I expected something light, lemon, or chamomile, the tea was heavy and rich, a burst of vanilla and smoke. I inhaled over the cup, took a slow sip, and prepared myself for battle.

“Well, my dear, where are you from?” Esme regarded me expectantly, her eyebrows raised as though she presumed I’d admit to having crawled out of a sewer somewhere in New Jersey. She was wearing pearl earrings and had a diamond the size of a walnut hanging from her neck. Her lipstick was running into the wrinkles around her mouth and her nails were painted an absolutely terrible shade of cheap peach. Marcel would have shit a brick.

“Kansas,” I answered.

“Ah,” Esme sniffed derisively. “The plains. Aptly named, aren’t they?”

Minor jab. I rolled with it, simply nodding, forcing my face to remain bland. She was right, they were plain. Plain and boring.

Hence, Paris.

“And you are working? Waitressing, perhaps?”

“I am the pastry chef at Cobéa.” Take that, lady. I smiled as sweetly as I could manage.

“Cobéa? Really?” Esme looked highly surprised. “Chef Bélissent is an old friend of mine, quite the extraordinary palette he has. And how, exactly, did you come across such a position?” Her mouth tightened. A small part of me wished I could have told her that I had to suck a dozen dicks to get it.

“I answered an advertisement,” I said. Boring, but true.

“You must be quite the cupcake maker.” Somehow, she made even that compliment sound like an insult. I opened my mouth to respond, but Edward shut me up. His hand snuck over my thigh and right in between my legs, shoving the cotton of my dress out of the way and getting his fingers into me. He swiped hard and fast through my pussy, and I gasped out loud as he pulled away.

“Are you well, dear?” Esme frowned at me, the same frown Edward was always giving to his phone. I struggled to control the blood rushing into my face, glancing at Edward in time to see him slip his fingers into his mouth. I stumbled right over my tongue.

“Yes. A mosquito. Bit me.” I pretended to reach down to scratch my leg, glaring at Edward.

He winked at me, pulling his finger slowly out from between his lips.

During a rather bland dessert of plain peach sorbet, which tasted store-bought, and yet more tea, Esme railed into Edward.

“Darling, I’ve been calling,” she began, eyeing Edward sharply. I swore he rolled his eyes. I didn’t think he was capable of such a base display of irritation.

“I’ve been busy,” he answered, shoveling the sorbet into his mouth and wincing when the cold hit the back of his throat.

“Too busy to call your mother? Pity, that.” Esme shook her head and blew delicately on her tea. “What in the world could be keeping you so busy?”

Edward glanced momentarily at me before speaking.

“Love, Mother.”

“Pish, love.” Esme rolled her eyes. “Love is simply a fanciful notion that does not truly exist, dear. We only feel infatuation. Often in passing.”

I didn’t even care about Esme’s backhanded insult. I stared at Edward, my brain oddly quiet and my heart hammering beneath my ribs. Did he just say that? Love? Edward resolutely ignored me, suddenly standing, his napkin fluttering to the grass at his feet.

“Bella.” He held out a hand in my direction and I took it, still feeling dumbstruck and stupid. My head echoed that one big giant word, as if I went to a rock concert and stood way too close to the speakers.

“Don’t leave, darling. I didn’t mean to” Esme started, but Edward’s hand in the air cut her off.

“I’m going to show her where the restroom is.” Edward spoke in a tone that was equal parts respect and acid before dragging me toward the house. I followed, clumsy yet grateful he was getting us away from that stifling table. He slammed the door behind us and flung me into the first open room he passed.

Edward flopped into a squat leather chair in front of an enormous fireplace, the inside stacked with half-burned candles instead of wood. The walls were lined floor to ceiling with bookshelves, the windows dressed in heavy brocade, an enormous oak desk dominating the far wall. It looked like an office, or a study, though I doubted Esme stepped foot in here, judging from the fine sheen of dust on the desktop.

Edward rubbed his hand roughly across his forehead and grumbled to himself as he loosened his tie to a slack knot around his neck. “That infernal woman.”

“I can see where you get it.” I smirked at him. This particular apple hadn’t even fallen off the tree, much less rolled away. They were two peas in a pod.

“She’s worse than I am,” he stated resolutely. “She makes it nearly impossible to make a good impression. You were doomed from the start.”

“Jesus, if you wanted me to make a good impression, then you shouldn’t have shoved your hand up my twat.” I blushed fiercely, remembering the look on his face as he licked me from his fingers, his mother none the wiser.

“You taste delicious, by the way.” Edward palmed the front of his pants, stiffening beneath the fabric. His eyes were heavy and his mouth was soft, his hands all over himself.

“That was completely unfair. How did you expect me to respond?”

Edward ignored my jab. “How is my gift treating you?” His gaze fell to the general area of my crotch, and he licked his lips again, now openly stroking himself. His hand wrapped forcefully around his dick, bunching up the fabric of his pants, and his mouth dropped open as his eyes glazed over completely.

Two could play that game.

I lifted my chin as I turned, gathering up my courage, or my stupidity. I put my hands flat on the big shiny desk in front of me, spreading my legs. Edward’s breathing intensified as I hitched my dress up over my ass and shoved my underwear down, the fabric puddling around my knees.

Edward groaned.

“You’ve been fucking me all afternoon, without even touching me.” I could barely breathe, leaning forward slightly on my palms, knowing full well the blue glint of the jewel on the end of the plug was now peeking at him from between my cheeks.

“Holy mother of fuck,” Edward cursed. In record time, he was on me, pressing me roughly into the desk with his hands everywhere and his breath assaulting my neck. “It’s been dreadful,” he grunted, thrusting his hips into me, the subtle shift of the plug rubbing every nerve ending on my body. “Knowing that you’ve been working against this all afternoon.” He caressed the end of the plug gently; the barest brush of his fingers almost made me come right there on the spot.

I gasped for air, my entire body sizzling, determined to keep my wits about me long enough to enjoy this a bit longer.

“Bend over, Lolita,” he demanded through a harsh whisper. I did as he said, laying my tits and my cheek to the cool wood of the desk, feeling lightheaded and dizzy. Edward dropped to his knees behind me, his hand splaying firm across my thigh as he pressed his lips to the swell of my ass cheek. At the same moment, he sank two fingers into my pussy, his thumb finding the blue jewel and giving it a firm press.

“Oh, god,” I mumbled, squeezing my eyes tight.

“You are a sight to behold,” Edward whispered. Kneading my ass in one hand, he found a steady rhythm with the fingers that were thrusting into me.

Without warning, he stood and slapped me hard enough across the ass to make me yelp.

I gripped the edge of the desk tightly, panting; the clink of his belt and the rough gasp of his breath barely audible over my own ragged breathing. Edward entered me deliberately, no hesitation, and I groaned loudly into the wood beneath my cheek. It was impossible to feel this good. Impossible to feel this full. Impossible to take any more, and yet I wanted every inch of him and more. The stretch around his cock matched the stretch around his plug. The pressure I’d been chaffing against all afternoon exploded in an instantaneous fireball. When his teeth found my skin and his fingers slipped around my hip to fondle my clit, I shattered. The last thing I saw before I fell completely apart was the face down impression I’d left in the dust on the deskmy palms and my tits and my cheek.

Esme be damned, I screamed his name when I came.

The same day Chef Bélissent told me I made the best galette he had ever tasted in his fifty-three year career, was the same day everything literally went to shit. One moment, one of the top chefs in the entire world was sticking his finger into my mixing bowl before saying something in French with a smile on his face and a warm hand clapped to my shoulder, and the next, Marcel was fucking everything up.

“They’re what?” I felt my blood grind to a halt. I stared at him, my jaw slack, certain I had misheard him. Every bit of hope, every bite of freedom, and every daydream about my future was fizzling out as a birthday candle stuck flame down into frosting, sweet smoke and burned sugar.

“Selling,” Marcel moaned into his hands. His nails were painted yellow today, too happy a color for the tears on his cheeks. “They’re selling the restaurant.”

“They can’t!” My heart was fluttering around like an overly panicked bird. The thought of leaving Paris made me want to cry; I’d barely started to find my way around without getting lost. The thought of packing up my little apartment, of selling my few possessions and taking my last taxi to the airport, had my stomach in knots. The thought of flying home across that big, wide ocean, this fancy life left far behind me, made my skin crawl and my stomach turn over violently.

But it was the thought of Edward, of never seeing his face or feeling his fingers or kissing his mouth ever again, that made me want to go fetal.

“They can’t,” I repeated, voice dredged down to nothing but a panicked whisper.

“They can, ma chérie. And they have.”

“Your man friend is in the dining room.”

Even Edward’s presence couldn’t pick Marcel’s frown up off the floor. He’d been moping around all afternoon, dipping his yellow-painted fingers into nearly everything I made despite my threats of violence. I’d swatted him twice with my spatula and four times with my whisk. Next time, I was gonna shove my knife up his ass.

I left my seven layer lemon cake only half-frosted and wandered into the dining room without even bothering to wipe myself down. I slumped into the chair across from Edward, not caring if I got flour everywhere. Part of me wanted to take my latest batch of buttercream and paint the slate gray walls with it. Splatter the last of my chocolate ganache across the fancy white tablecloths and the cream-colored chairs and the embossed ceilings. Throw the tray of fruit tartlets I’d polished with apricot preserves this morning against the front door, and maybe ground all of my fresh pastel macarons into the black carpets.

“You look glum.” Edward frowned at me.

“Glum?” That was putting it nicely, I thought. More like inconsolably melancholy.

“Is something wrong?” he asked, his eyebrows compacting. He must have come straight from a business meeting, his gray suit subtly pinstriped and his hair perfectly slicked back. There was a piece of baby blue cloth tucked into his jacket pocket and a silver pin holding down his tie. He was clean-shaven and steady-handed, an air of confidence about him, and a pile of paperwork at his elbow that spoke of a recently concluded transaction.

A plate of my macarons was piled in front of him, and I took a green one, pistachio, shoving the entire thing into my mouth.

My teeth ached as I chewed, staring at him, giving me time to think.

He’d fucked me in his limo yesterday.

Edward told the driver to park on a side street, and then sent him for a walk. “Ten minutes,” he ordered, which I thought was a pretty short amount of time, but he had me on all fours and panting in under three minutes flat. His fingers were in my mouth and his hips were shoved hard between my legs, his declarations crawling all across my skin in unintelligible French and halted, grunting English. I could only nod and gasp and do exactly what he asked for; taking his dick to the back of my throat, letting him suck an orgasm out of me while I clung to the door handles, sitting down hard in his lap as he dug his fingers into my hips and ground me feverishly against his cock. He groaned my name when he came; wound his arms around me and set his forehead to my spine, refusing to let me move, even as the car jolted from the driver returning from his brief walk. After he dropped me off at home, I climbed the stairs to my apartment with his cum dripping down my leg, his breath still all over me, his smell and his hands and his voice lingering long after I had taken a shower and crawled into my bedexhausted.

I fell asleep pretty sure I’d tumbled head over feet for the guy.

“Earth to Lolita.” Edward waved a hand in front of my face. I blinked, swallowing the last of the almond-flavored treat in my mouth, licking my lips clean.  

“The restaurant. It’s been sold.” My eyes welled up with tears. I was sure I sounded as distraught as I felt, my voice catching in my throat. I bit my bottom lip, blinking furiously.

Edward only nodded, but didn’t even have the gall to look surprised. “What will you do?” he asked, sipping his drink, eyeing me warily.

I sniffed, my stomach dropping disconsolately into my shoes. “Probably go home.”

That was when Edward’s face fell. The color drained quickly out of him and his jaw clamped down tight.

“You can’t do that,” he stated gruffly.

“I have nowhere else to work, hardly any money, what do you expect me to do?” I shoved another macaron into my mouth, pink this time, tart raspberry that felt too light and bright and happy for my sad, sad taste buds. I chewed and swallowed and sniffed and wiped away the tears that slipped free.

“Don’t. Please don’t cry.” Edward stood suddenly, getting right down on his knees next to me, expensive suit be damned. He took my hands in his. “Everything will work out. I promise.”

“It won’t!” I wailed, straight up sobbed, still chewing sloppily and practically swallowing the entire macaron whole, almost choking myself.  

Edward put one hand flat on the table and slid it toward me. He lifted his palm. Lying on the tablecloth was a key. A boring, silver, nothing-special key.

“I don’t want to move in with you,” I said before my mouth had even caught up to my brain. My head was sore and my heart was achy and my stomach was nervous that this would be one of my very last moments with him. I wasn't thinking clearly, much less in control of my tongue.  

He rolled his eyes at me, shaking his head. “No, silly girl. It’s not to my house. This has nothing to do with living quarters, even though we both know yours are dismal.”

Edward stood and pulled me to my feet, slipping the key off the edge of the table and into his fist. He steered me toward the front door, Marcel’s face watching us pass by in the little oval kitchen window. I didn’t even care about my half-frosted cake, probably melting off onto the counter by now. Didn’t care that my miniature strawberry pies would probably burn in the oven in about two and half minutes. Didn’t care that the panna cottas I’d put in the blast chiller to set would be frozen solid by now. I untied my apron and threw it on an empty chair as Edward opened the front doors for me, the dim light of evening wrenching through the darkened interior.

I stepped outside into the cool, evening air of Paris and felt another fresh wave of despair.
I wondered where we were going, but didn’t care much about the destination as long as I spent the journey with him. I hoped he would take me to the Eiffel Tower. To the Arc de Triomphe. To the Louvre. I hoped he’d take me to the Luxembourg Gardens, or to Versailles, or back to the Les Deux Magot, anywhere but here. I’d been in Paris for six months and still hadn’t found the time to be a proper tourist, to see the things every person was required to witness when they visited. I’d failed this city, made a mockery of its highlights, all because I was chasing dreams of almonds and butter and confectioners’ sugar.

Edward brought me to a halt as the doors closed behind us, the sky darkening as the streetlights started to come on. He pulled me close, my fingers finding the lapels of his suit, and our toes kissing behind our shoes.

“If you could stay here, would you?” he asked, hopeful. “If you had a job that made you happy, would you stay?”

“In a heartbeat,” I answered truthfully, gripping him tighter. Maybe, if I held on tight enough, I could take him with me. Maybe, if I didn’t let go, I could convince him to follow me home.

“Well,” he spoke, soft but pointed, reaching out an arm to shove that stupid, boring, silver, nothing-special key smoothly into the slot in the double red doors at the front of the building, “now you can.”

I stared at the lock, the key sprouting out of the flat panel.

Blinked at it.

Blinked again.

“What is happening?” I whispered.

“I signed the paperwork this morning. Everything is final.”

“It was you? You bought it?” When I finally wrenched my eyes off that now very special key still in the lock, Edward was in full-on smile mode. That grin I loved, devious as if he’d done something on purpose just to surprise me, spread thick and full across his mouth. His eyes were sparkling and his hands were tight around my waist, and I was shifting slowly from full-on despair to outright joy. The sour stomach was lifting, my heart started to beat a little faster, and my head was spinning like a million mile an hour carousel.

“In a way. I only eat food; I have no interest in making it.” He winked at me. “I’m technically the owner; provider of financials, if you will. However, I am gifting it to someone who can take care of it. Properly.”
“Bélissent will be pleased.” I smiled up at him, ready to cry all over again. Edward only shook his head at me.

“You truly are one of the most naive people I have ever met.”

“Please don’t tell me you’re giving it to Marcel.”

Edward laughed out loud, still shaking his head in amazement. “You. I’m signing it over to you.”

All of the air drained out of my body. My heart stopped beating entirely for three seconds. My lips trembled and my heart was fluttery and my stomach was full of birds. There were white spots in my vision and my feet had gone strangely numb. I was fairly certain I was going to faint. I grasped the lapels of his suit harder with both hands and gulped at the air as if I was just pulled from the middle of the ocean without a life vest.   

“Breathe, Lolita,” Edward chided, pulling me closer.

“This can’t be happening.”

“It can, actually. I’m making it happen.” Edward bent to look me directly in the face, his eyes meeting mine, intense and solemn as he spoke. “I want you to stay. I need you to stay.”

I wanted to kiss him forever. Wanted to drag him home right here and now, thank him with my mouth and my hands and my eyes. I wanted to tell him that I might love him, that I probably did love him, that he made me do exactly what he said he would when he told me I would fall over him. I wanted to let him kiss my mouth and adore my body and groan over my desserts every single day for the rest of my life.

“You just want me to make you cakes every day,” I whispered, eyes welling up again.

“Although that will be a small side benefit, that’s not what I want,” he declared with a chuckle.

“What do you want?”

“Simple things, really. You. In Paris. In my bed. The windows open. The stars. No clothes.” Edward shrugged. “But you only have to promise me one thing.”

“What is that?”

“To never love anyone else but me.” His serious face broke back into that devious, knowing grin once more. “And that you’ll let me fuck you in the back office anytime I want you.”


This was written for my heart/sister, Hadley Hemingway.

There are several not so subtle nods to her hidden in here, (Paris, macaroons, Les Deux Magot - where Ernest Hemingway wrote much of A Moveable Feast,) and some so subtle that only a die hard would know them (Bella's address is the same address where Ernest and Hadley first lived together in Paris, because I'm a nerd like that.)

(Also, oddly enough, Les Deux Magots is mentioned by name in the novel Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov. Small world.)

All of my thanks go to Midnight Cougar, who stepped into some very large shoes for this project. She was an enormous help, not only when it came to fixing my ever-famous run-on-sentences, but for holding my hand or slapping my wrists every time I thought about giving up. She had very dirty conversations in French with a friend of hers (shall we call that research?) and I have to give her credit for two of Edward's more choice lines. Dollface - you were an absolute pleasure to work with.

This story won Maplestyle's Judge's PickSecond Place - Overall Judge's Pick, and Best Trifecta Edward in the Control Possess Seduce Contest, 2015.

Thank you for reading.