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“Are you my life to be, my dream come true
Or will this dream of mine fade out of sight
Like the moon growing dim, on the rim of the hill
In the chill, still of the night…”
- Cole Porter
“Bella,” Edward whispered. He pressed the palm of his hand against her cheek as he lowered his face toward hers.
She closed her eyes, inhaled his scent, and relished the anticipation of a fantasy about to come to fruition. They’d rallied against their attraction for months, but it proved stronger than their resistance, their free will, and their reason. It was even stronger than the commitments they had made to other people.
It was hard to believe that as recently as four months ago, Bella and Edward were still unknown to each other. The first time he saw her, she was standing outside a bar during happy hour as the brisk October wind whipped through her hair, leaving a rosy glow on her pale skin in its wake. Though he was already late and didn’t have the time to spare, Edward spent several moments watching her from a few feet away. He was captivated by the stunning brunette who held a lit cigarette that she did not appear to be smoking. The vision was a beautiful enigma, and Edward was unable to look away. He wanted to approach her, but knew he shouldn’t. After all, his fiancée was waiting inside the bar for him, and if the twelve text messages she’d sent him in the past twenty minutes were any indication, she was not doing so patiently.
He should have hurried inside and taken his place beside the woman to whom he’d offered forever, but instead he stood on the sidewalk transfixed, wondering if the young woman in front of him would feel uncomfortable if he approached her. And if he did, would she be willing to answer the two questions at the forefront of his mind? Namely, he wanted to know why she was pretending to have an addiction most people considered shameful and if was she single.
The latter question was irrelevant, as Edward was not romantically available to her. Still, he wanted to know how she’d answer and he wanted to know her, regardless of how she replied. His decision to approach her made, he spent a moment debating how to do so. When he finally addressed her, his face was adorned with his trademark half-smile, which experience had proven virtually irresistible to the opposite sex. He prayed it wouldn’t fail him now.
“The least you could do is inhale. At six bucks a pack, you may as well get your money’s worth.”
Startled from her reverie, Bella lifted her cigarette to her lips and breathed in its fumes. Her lungs had never before been filled with smoke, and she began to cough uncontrollably causing the still-lit butt to fall from her hands. It found purchase on her foot, singeing the bare skin left exposed by her high-heeled pumps.
“Fuck.” She grabbed the top of her foot and howled in agony, hopping on her weight-bearing leg in an acrobatic (if completely useless) attempt to distract herself from the sting of her scorched flesh.
Realizing her efforts were futile, she released her foot and folded her arms over her chest. She made a quick study of Edward, noting his broad shoulders, bright green eyes, and disheveled auburn hair. While doing so, Bella did not attempt to conceal her annoyance. Or her attraction.
“Can’t a girl pretend to smoke in peace?”
She’d meant to make it clear to the strange but handsome man beside her that his attention was not welcome. Somehow, her words came out sounding more flirtatious than dismissive, and she knew she’d inadvertently encouraged him.
“I didn’t mean to startle you,” he said apologetically. “I’ve just never seen a person stage smoke outside in frigid weather.”
“You know. Pretend you have an addiction to a nasty habit that could kill you.”
“It’s illegal to smoke in public buildings in Philadelphia,” Bella reminded him.
“Yes, but you weren’t really smoking.”
He was openly mocking her, and she loved it.
“It’s not like running for president.” Bella could no longer prevent herself from smiling. “I won’t get out of paying the fine if I claim I didn’t inhale.”
He laughed, and she soon forgot about both the no-longer significant burn on her foot as well as her significant other waiting for her inside.
“Well, you have a point there. But why pretend in the first place?”
“No.” She shook her head. “I’m not going to reveal my secrets to you. I don’t even know your name.”
It was the invitation he’d been waiting for.
“I’m Edward. Nice to meet you.”
He held out his hand to her, and she shook it tentatively.
“So, Bella…” Edward looked at her expectantly, and she sighed in resignation.
“I’m hiding from my boyfriend,” she explained.
“You mean your ex-boyfriend.”
“No, I mean my boyfriend.”
Edward tried to wrap his mind around her admission. He was disappointed on both counts, that not only was she taken, but that the man who claimed her made her feel compelled to pretend to be someone she wasn’t.
“I do it all the time. Sometimes his work friends are hard to take.”
“But he has to know you don’t smoke.”
Bella shook her head. “Actually, he doesn’t.”
“So one day, you just decided to take up fake smoking when you needed a moment to yourself?”
“Not exactly. It’s kind of a long story, and I should be getting back inside.” And away from temptation, Bella added silently. “It was nice meeting you, Edward.” Seconds later, she vanished.
Edward lingered on the sidewalk, unable to suppress or define what he was feeling, but completely aware that he was not yet ready to let it go. He knew that one way or another, he’d see Bella again. It just never occurred to him that it would happen only five minutes later. When Edward finally joined his girlfriend at happy hour, she ushered him over to a table at which he found Bella sitting with her significant other. As a bizarre stroke of luck would have it, Bella’s boyfriend shared an office with Edward’s fiancée.
Over the next few months, Edward saw Bella again and again, sometimes even with the encouragement of his betrothed. Officially, they were friends who entertained each other during the hours they were abandoned by their corporate ladder-climbing partners. Beneath the surface, their intense connection deepened despite the fact they were unwilling to verbally acknowledge it. That was a line Bella believed they would never cross, until one afternoon when Edward arrived at her apartment, clearly distraught but unwilling to discuss why.
Bella asked him what was wrong, but he didn’t answer. Instead, he shook his head before leaning into her as if he was about to kiss her, but his eyes bore all the lusty intensity of a man who had no intention of letting it stop there. It was ridiculous under the circumstances, but he couldn’t help but feel his entire life had been leading to this moment. Edward was done fighting fate. He simply needed to know if Bella felt the same way.
Resting his forehead against hers, he cupped her face in his hands, stroking her cheeks with his thumbs.
“Tell me to stop and I will.” His voice was heavy with the anguish of anticipation.
Thankfully, Bella didn’t make him wait long before she closed the small distance between them.
“Don’t ever stop,” she whispered before pressing her lips to his.
From that moment, they both knew.
There would be no going back.