Summary: While trying to enjoy her honeymoon-turned-solo-vacation, Isabella's party for one is literally crashed by a handsome, mysterious stranger who saves her life. Before she knows it, she's thrown into a world of danger… and passion like she's never dreamed of.
Isabella stood before the front desk, one hand gripping the shoulder strap of her garment bag and the other clenched tightly around the handle of her roll-along. Her shoulders ached from carrying the heavy luggage and her skin was dry and grimy from the long flights. The absolute last thing she wanted right now was a hassle, but judging from the way the clerk was frowning at the screen, she wasn’t going to be so lucky.
The young woman behind the polished teak wood counter finally lifted her head and smiled a heavily practiced fake smile that grated on her like nails on a chalkboard. "And where is your husband?" her nasally voice trilled.
Isabella cleared her throat, leaning slightly closer across the counter as she lowered her voice, "There isn’t one."
Her perfectly plucked eyebrows furrowed in confusion. ‘Vicki’, her name tag said. "I’m sorry, but I thought your reservation this week was for two people?"
"It was," Isabella confirmed, staring at the bubbly redhead intently, like she could actually will her to understand without having to go into all the gruesome details.
It was like the proverbial light bulb came on over her head a moment later as Isabella watched understanding settle over her features. "Oh! Oh, um... my. I’m very sorry to hear that Ms... um... ma’am." She looked completely lost for a moment just as Isabella was starting to wonder if things could get more awkward. The clerk finally shook herself out of her daze and switched to a smile that was less perky and seemed almost genuinely sympathetic. "So, just you... and will you be staying with us for the whole week then?"
"It’s paid for," Isabella smiled tightly through gritted teeth. And your goddamn customer service rep wouldn’t refund the half-a-months’ worth of salary I prepaid with, even when I almost broke down over the phone and explained how my fiancé up and left me a week before the wedding.
"Right, of course. Well, let me welcome you again to Palm Bay Resort, and I assure you that all of our staff here are completely devoted to making sure you have a very memorable honey... um, vacation. A memorable, relaxing vacation." Vicki returned her attention to the screen, her long fake nails clicking rapidly against the keys. "Now, Ms..."
"Swan," Isabella filled in quickly, wishing this whole process would just be over already.
"Right. Ms. Swan, it looks like you’ve reserved one of our Honeymoon Cottages along the beach?"
The six hour flight from Seattle to Miami had been difficult enough to endure. But the worst part was the smaller charter plane to the island with the empty space beside her in the two-seat row almost mocking her, reminding her that she wasn’t supposed to be making this trip alone, had been devastating. She was tired, hungry, still more or less grieving, and if she was going to fight to have to keep the reservation that just a few days ago she couldn’t do anything to get out of, she was going to throw a fit right here in the middle of the immaculate lobby.
But instead, all she said was, "Yes, that’s right," using the same arched eyebrow she used when a subordinate was about to explain how they’d screwed something up.
Vicki blinked, her blue eyes widening just a little. "Right." She gave the mouse a few more clicks, and then the beaming smile slid back onto her face. "I’m very happy to report that since we’ve had a last minute cancellation, we can offer you the Honeymoon Villa instead. It’s our largest unit and offers the most privacy, at the far end of our property. The beach is a teeny bit rockier, but there are some magnificent plantings around it that provide a screen from the rest of the resort, if you’re looking for peace and quiet."
And this way none of the happy couples here have to wonder who the loser is wandering around all alone, Isabella uncharacteristically thought to herself. Aloud, she said with a forced smile, "That sounds great. Thank you."
Ten minutes later, Isabella was trudging along a curving stone path, past a row of brightly colored beach cottages that had her averting her eyes. They hadn’t looked so... bright... from above. And yes, she’d used Google Earth to look over Palm Bay Resort and the other five places on her list of finalists to make sure she knew what to expect. What if they had been next to a swamp, or a busy highway, or something else that didn’t show in the official websites? Or what if the room’s interiors didn’t match the scene outside? Was the view worth traveling hundreds of miles for? Isabella had to be prepared.
‘There is a difference between being prepared and being hopelessly anal retentive’, she could hear Paul’s voice in her head, nagging at her, but she quickly shut it out. She wasn’t here to do that. She was here to put all of that shit behind her and relax.
She’d never looked at the Honeymoon Villa though, since it had been so far out of their price range. Even an assistant manager who was rising quickly through the ranks, because of her attention to detail, only made so much money. Not to mention a former mechanic, who as of late, couldn’t seem to keep a job for more than six weeks because he dreamed of becoming a professional surfer, but really he’d just rather be sitting on the couch—
Deep breath, Isabella reminded herself. She inhaled, filling her lungs with the sweet scent of tropical flowers and the salty tang of the ocean—no, the sea. Don’t think about him. Think about here... about now... and whatever else that stupid therapist said.
She rounded the corner of a tall hedge, pushing back a palm that was overgrowing the walkway, and stopped dead in her tracks. "Wow," she said out loud, taking in the sight before her.
The villa was not, thank God, a bright pink cottage like some of the others she’d walked past. It was a two-story structure with a thatched roof, clean cream stucco walls and beautiful dark wood trim. It was perched atop a small cliff, which made her feel better for being slightly out of breath. The view it commanded was of endless, crystal clear turquoise water, studded with jagged black rocks and topped with frothy white waves. The only sounds were the crashing water and the chirping birds echoing from the forest at the back of the villa.
The path wound past a pair of palm trees that were leaning towards each other like lovers, and Isabella rolled her eyes at her sentimentality. "Just because you’re the only person that’s ever stayed here that’s not going to get laid, even the damn trees need to rub it in," she muttered to herself. She hoisted her bag higher on her shoulder and trudged the final few steps to the front door. God, the shower was going to feel so good.
Inside, everything was immaculate and polished without feeling stuffy. Paul would have flopped down, sprawling over the white linen covered sofa just to make a point, Isabella thought, sweaty, dirty clothing and all. She wrinkled up her nose and ordered herself once more to stop thinking about him.
The master bedroom was as big as her entire apartment back in Seattle, with two walk-in closets and an en suite bathroom that had two sinks, and a Jacuzzi tub, in addition to the dual-heads in the separate shower. Not to mention the king sized bed, covered in downy white blankets and pillows, and draped in netting that Isabella hoped was only there for show, instead of needing to be there to actually keep away the mosquitoes.
She dropped her luggage on the floor, rolling back her shoulders. Nearly ten hours of travel grime was going to take a while to wash off.
The shower was one of the most goddamn awesome experiences Isabella had ever had in her life that didn’t involve a dick. There was hot water beating down on her from both directions, plus a pulsating shower head that worked at the knots in her sore muscles almost as well as a skilled pair of hands could do. Maybe she could just stay in there for the rest of the week, it was certainly relaxing.
Unfortunately, after she’d washed her hair, soaped up her body and masturbated, then soaping up again to wash it all away, the water temperature was starting to turn cold. Isabella reluctantly turned off the water and stepped out, drying herself with a towel that had probably taken at least an acre of cotton plants to produce, given how huge and luxurious it felt. There was a bathrobe made of the same material hanging on the back of the door, and it briefly occurred to her to wonder why there was only one before she shrugged and slipped it on.
She unpacked her bags and put away her clothing, taking up a pitifully small amount of the room compared to what was available. Even two people couldn’t possibly use all this space, could they? The balcony overlooking the tropical forest behind the villa had a table and chairs bigger than her dining room set; like the occupants of the Honeymoon Villa were going to invite the rest of the Palm Bay Resort over to their private balcony.
Finally, she wandered downstairs into the main room. A wall of windows wrapped around the corner, the longest wall overlooking the water. Isabella walked up to the glass. The villa went right up the cliff’s edge, the view disappearing into the jagged rocks below. Remarkably, the glass was thick enough that she couldn’t even hear the waves.
Well, at least it wouldn’t be too noisy to sleep.
The kitchen was disproportionately small, but she supposed that the guests here didn’t usually spend much time cooking. The refrigerator was stocked with champagne, strawberries and bottled water and not much else. The cupboards only held tea, coffee and chocolate body paint.
She supposed she could eat the chocolate with the strawberries, but that would be missing the point. Instead, she grabbed the menu on the counter and called in an order of grilled tilapia with mango salsa. The cheerful server tried to get her to throw in a piece of raspberry cheesecake, or chocolate cake, but she skillfully resisted the temptation. She’d forgotten to ask where the gym was, and she was determined not to go back to Seattle an ounce heavier than when she’d left.
She flipped aimlessly through the channels on the huge flat screen TV while she waited for the food to arrive, and continued to channel surf as she ate. Twice as many channels as at home, and there was still nothing worth watching. How Paul could spend so many hours watching TV, she had no idea.
"But it's none of your business now," Isabella reminded herself.
She stacked the dishes in the sink and wandered back to the window. It was dark, but the lights from the main part of the resort cast a faint glow over the sea. There was a slight hum from the air conditioner, but other than that, she couldn't hear a thing. Standing there, arms folded over her chest and the soft cotton of the bathrobe brushing her skin all over, she finally felt herself start to relax.
Huh. Maybe this was all she had needed. A little time by herself without well-meaning but intrusive friends or family; some time in a quiet place where she could hear her own thoughts and start to put herself back together. Not that she was in millions of shattered pieces, mind you, just—fractured.
"Fractured," Isabella said out loud, enjoying the shape of the word in her mouth. She'd have to share it with her therapist when they Skyped for her usual Wednesday appointment. He'd like that. It would show she was thinking about things, not too much, but moving towards the self-actualization he was always talking about. Yes, that would be good.
The sudden shattering of glass was so loud that Isabella almost screamed.
Except she couldn't draw a breath to do so because something was hitting her hard, driving her to the ground and forcing the air out of her lungs. She landed hard despite the plush carpet, her head narrowly missing the glass coffee table as her face was mashed into the carpet. She dimly heard the tinkle of falling glass, but most of her attention was focused on the heavy weight on top of her, pinning her to the floor.
Had something fallen on her? Oh God, it was an earthquake and the building was going to collapse, or a freak hurricane had swept up out of nowhere and was demolishing the island—
"Stay down," came a low voice, coupled with a hand on the back of her head and Isabella jerked in surprise. That was a person on top of her? Here she’d thought a tree had fallen through the window.
"What—" she tried, but there was a popping noise from outside, and then another window shattered. "Is that—"
"Stay down!" the deep voice commanded again.
It wasn’t like she had much choice, not with what felt like with a couple hundred pounds on her back, but she thought maybe the tree on top of her meant, "Shut up!" rather than "Stay down!" this time. She closed her mouth and didn’t move, not even to put her hands over her ears like she wanted to as the popping and shattering sounds continued.
Eventually the tinkling sounds of glass falling around them stopped. The heavy breathing that was practically in Isabella’s ear slowed, and the hand that felt like it was covering the entire back of her head lifted. "Are you all right?" that same voice asked.
"Get off me!" Isabella demanded, trying to push herself up and getting absolutely nowhere.
"Just a minute," came the response. There was a click, and then, "The package is secure and unharmed."
Another voice underlain with crackling static responded, "Roger that. Team Bravo is in pursuit of the shooter. The immediate vicinity is clear."
"Understood." The weight on Isabella shifted, and she felt long, solid legs settle on either side of hers. Legs much longer than her own with thick, muscular thighs, and damn—
She heard a muffled, "Ow. Fuck. Um... that is... there’s a lot of glass. Be careful."
Isabella lifted her head and saw tiny shards embedded in the carpet all around her. "How the hell am I supposed to get up? And who the hell are you, and what the fuck is going on?" she shrieked, her voice rising as the threat of a panic attack overwhelmed her.
There was a moment of silence.
Then suddenly the weight disappeared entirely from Isabella’s back, and she was being hauled up by an arm around her waist that was as thick around as her calf. That solved the glass problem, but she wasn’t too keen on being manhandled by someone she couldn’t even see. "Let go!" she demanded again, swatting at the arm still firmly in place around her waist.
She was swiftly picked up and spun around before being deposited back on her feet in a clear section of carpet. "You’re not Vincenzo," the voice sounded baffled.
"I’m not who?" Isabella asked, completely confused as she finally looked up and was able to get a good view of the ‘tree’ that had attacked her. Her jaw dropped.
The tall man was dressed head to toe in black, with a skin-tight shirt that showed off his ridiculously broad shoulders and pecs that her spread hand probably wouldn’t cover. His utility belt had a sheathed knife in it, and an empty gun holster. As her gaze traveled down the muscular arm that was twin to the one that had hauled her up off the floor earlier, she saw long fingers wrapped around a small, wicked looking black pistol. The man’s tousled coppery-brown hair was held back with a black bandanna, and there was black greasepaint streaked over his face. Beneath the paint, Isabella could see the hint of a smile and a pair of intriguingly tilted eyes that were a mixture of green and grey with little flecks of gold, that were now widening as they took in her face.
"Um." She licked her lips. "Who are you?"
"I should be asking you that question," the man in black returned.
Isabella frowned. "This is my cabin, villa, whatever. Look, you’re the one who came in uninvited, not to mention breaking through a window to do it."
The corner of the man’s mouth turned up into a full blown smirk. "I’m still the one that saved you from a bullet."
"Yeah, but you—" Isabella blinked. "Wait... what?"
"Don’t worry, it wasn’t meant for you," he said dismissively. "That is, I shouldn’t assume, but you don’t look like an Italian man."
"No, obviously not," she said slowly, gesturing to her chest. "Now can you tell me who you are?"
"Oh, right..." the man started to extend his hand, quickly realizing that he was still holding the gun. "Sorry," he said sheepishly, lifting his left hand instead. "Edward Cullen."
Isabella automatically took Edward’s hand, noticing how it all but engulfed hers. For some reason, that made a certain part of her anatomy take an interest. If the moisture pooling between her thighs wasn’t evidence enough, she quickly realized that she was still wearing a bathrobe that had loosened in the excitement and her now taut nipples were threatening to spill out of the gap in the fabric.
"Um... do you mind," she asked, squirming a little as she scrambled to close the gaping fabric and will her inconveniently aware nipples to shut the hell up.
"What do you—" Edward’s gaze dropped for just a second, and then his eyes went wide. "Oh! Um, sorry... just let me—" he trailed off, quickly averting his eyes.
She tightened the belt on the robe, willing her cheeks not to flush. "Okay," she finally grumbled once everything was properly tucked back in.
"Are you all right?" Edward asked carefully, his brow furrowed with concern as he looked her over again.
"Yeah, I'm fine. What’s goin—"
"Why are you staying here? In this villa?" he interrupted.
Isabella glared at him. "Because I paid for it."
Edward rolled his eyes. "Why here?" He pointed around with the gun, and Isabella flinched. "Sorry," he muttered again, smoothly holstering the weapon.
She bit her lip, not wanting to admit the whole sad story. "There was a last-minute cancellation," she finally said. "So they gave me this place instead."
"Oh." Edward's face fell. A second later, he was lifting his fingers to his ear, and Isabella realized the click she had heard earlier was the activation of a tiny radio. "Emmett, we have a problem."
By the time Isabella had gone upstairs and showered again to get all the broken glass fragments out of her hair and finally put on some clothing, Edward had gotten the Resort’s housekeeping staff to vacuum up the shattered glass and board up the broken windows with plywood. She gaped when she came down the stairs to the sight of half-a-dozen people studiously cleaning up the mess without a single exclamation or protest, like it was something they did every day.
There was a short, nearly bald man in a suit wearing a Palm Bay Resort name tag, quietly talking with Edward and another man dressed in black that stood taller than him, if that was even possible. Edward held up a finger when he noticed her coming down the stairs and quickly ushered the manager out the door. A few minutes later, the workers were all gone as well, and apart from the plywood, the villa looked as if nothing had happened.
When the door closed, Edward turned to Isabella and grinned, "This is Emmett McCarty, my boss. Emmett this is..." he trailed off, realizing belatedly that he didn’t, in fact, know her name.
"Who the hell are you people?" she asked harshly. She swept out one arm to indicate the living room, "What the hell happened here, and how did you get it cleaned up so fast?"
"It’s our job," Emmett drawled. "That’s all you need to know."
Isabella just stared at him incredulously. "You run around diving through windows and jumping on top of people, and I don’t need to know?"
"Don’t forget shielding them from bullets," Edward added, holding up a small lump of metal between his thumb and forefinger. "We dug this one out of the wall. It probably would have gone through your head if I hadn’t jumped on top of you."
Isabella blinked as she took in that information. Then she grabbed at the breakfast bar to steady herself after a sudden rush of vertigo. "What?" she asked weakly. "I don’t... don’t know why anyone would want to kill me."
"They don’t." Emmett’s voice was low, he probably meant it to be reassuring, but it was doing little to settle the oncoming panic she could feel settling over her like a thick fog. "Up until this morning, you weren’t supposed to be staying here. Someone else was."
"The Italian guy, right?" she asked.
"Vincenzo," Edward filled in. When Emmett gave him a reproachful glare, he grimaced. "Sorry."
"Look, I’m more than happy to forget I ever saw you or even heard of the guy," Isabella explained quickly, holding up her hands. "I’m just here on vacation."
"I’m afraid it’s not that simple," Emmett replied shortly.
Isabella’s stomach flipped over. "W-w-what do you mean?" she stuttered.
"See, here’s the thing," Edward started, turning sideways to face her and leaning one elbow on the breakfast bar, making the fabric of his shirt pull impossibly tighter over his chiseled chest. "We were watching this place from the outside, and looking for any threats. The guy who was shooting, he would have seen you clearly through the window with the lights on and everything. He would have seen you and known that clearly you weren’t Vincenzo, yet he pulled the trigger anyways."
"Why?" she asked bewildered, and more than a little scared.
"Doesn’t matter," Emmett said with a shake of his head. "What matters now, is that you need protection. I’m afraid Team Bravo failed to catch the shooter, and he may have accomplices."
"Me? But what about the guy you’re supposed to be protecting, the one that was supposed to be in this room? You’re going to forget about him?"
"Our people have been in touch with him," Emmett explained. "He got spooked and never left Miami, so we have a team in place that can watch him there."
Isabella looked back and forth between the two men, "So what, you’re just going to stay here and protect me out of the goodness of your hearts?"
Edward cleared his throat and looked away, nervously rubbing at the back of his neck. She turned her attention to Emmett who was studiously looking at the floor. "What aren’t you telling me?" she demanded.
"Look, it’s perfectly safe," Edward explained quickly, gesturing around the villa. "I’m going to be here with you the whole time. You can keep having your vacation, like I’m not even here, and as soon as we catch the bad guys, you can forget you ever saw us."
"As soon as you get the bad guys?" Isabella repeated dumbly.
Edward nodded firmly.
"The guys who seem to think I need to be killed," she continued flatly.
Edward nodded again, less enthusiastically.
"I don’t suppose you know who they are, or what they look like?" she asked shortly.
Edward hesitated, and then shook his head.
Isabella raised an eyebrow and placed a hand on her hip, "So in other words, you need me to stay here and act like your bait while people you don’t even know try and kill me."
"I wouldn’t put it like that," Edward said, wincing slightly.
"Well I would!" Emmett’s voice boomed, his firm tone leaving the other two staring at him. "C’mon E, you and I both know that they knew she wasn’t the target, they just don’t like leaving witnesses. You know, tying up loose ends and all that?"
"What do you mean ‘they’, I thought you said you didn’t know who ‘they’ were?" she snapped.
"Trust me, you really don’t want to know. We may not know the identity of the shooter, but we do know who sent them," Emmett said darkly.
"So, uh... is your husband upstairs then?" Edward asked, drawing her attention back to him. "Because we should probably let him know—"
"I don’t have one," she automatically corrected and then winced. "I mean, ugh... yea, it’s just me. No husband."
Edward frowned. "But isn’t this the Honeymo—" he cut off quickly after a sharp elbow from Emmett landed right in his ribs. "Right, just you then. That will make it easier anyway, since I have to be here around the clock. You’ll have to show me the bedroom, bathroom and all of the exits and windows so we can start preparing a plan."
"Yippee," she muttered sarcastically. Not only were there unknown people shooting at her, but the hottest guy she'd ever seen was going to be living in her back pocket after learning what a loser she was for being here all alone. She should have written off the pre-paid trip as a loss and stayed at home. Even a week alone in her apartment would have been better than this.
It was at least three more hours before Isabella managed to fall asleep. The first hour was spent walking around the villa with Edward and Emmett and answering a series of increasingly personal questions about her vacation plans, daily routine, sleeping habits, and some things that she had to insist were none of their business. The second hour was spent trying to fall asleep, while the two men puttered around downstairs and outside, making enough noise that every time her eyelids started to droop, she'd jerk awake again.
The third hour was spent lying awake in near-silence, staring at the ceiling, flinching at every noise and shadow, wondering how the hell she'd gotten herself into this situation and how hard Paul would be laughing at how all of her carefully conceived plans had shattered like glass.
When Isabella woke, it was after only four hours of sleep, leaving her bleary-eyed, grouchy, and horny from a dream she couldn't fully remember. The sun was streaming in the windows, or at least as much as it could around the blinds Edward had insisted on pulling down, and she figured she wouldn't be going back to sleep.
Besides, there was a soft, regular, grunting sound coming from the walk-in closet that was starting to freak her the fuck out.
She slowly pulled back the covers and slipped out of the huge four-poster bed, her feet sinking into the plush carpet, the conditioned air cold on her bare legs. Padding across the vast expanse of the bedroom, she peered through the closet doorway and came to a dead stop.
The closet was empty, but it was laid out with more shelving and rods and hooks than in all of her apartment. One of the rods was about seven feet off the ground, meant to be double-stacked over a lower rail. That lower rod was propped up against the closet wall, and the top rod was currently serving as a chin-up bar for Edward Cullen.
Who was wearing nothing but a pair of low slung basketball shorts, sweat running in trickles down the most impressive back that she had ever seen, muscles flexing as he lifted himself up and then dropped back down with ease.
Isabella drew in a sharp breath, and Edward instantly dropped to his feet and whirled around. When he saw her, he relaxed. "Oh, hey. Good morning."
"Morning," she returned absently. There was sweat pooling in the hollow of Edward's collarbones, glistening off of the pecs that were even bigger than they'd looked under the skin-tight black clothing, and tracing rivulets down a finely sculpted set of abs that her tongue suddenly wanted to taste. She was actually leaning forward and slightly opening her mouth before she collected herself, shaking her head to clear it.
When she looked up, Edward had a tiny smirk gracing his wide pink mouth. "I usually do a workout before breakfast. Hope you don't mind, but the gym is on the other side of the resort and I can't leave you."
"No, that's…okay," she insisted, hating that her voice sounded breathless. Really, going from being dumped to pining over a near stranger was not the key to a healthy emotional state. She needed to get a grip. Her gaze dropped below the waistband of Edward's shorts, and she mentally smacked herself. Not that kind of a grip. "You just," Isabella waved a hand. "Keep doing what you're doing, uh, don’t mind me."
"Awesome." He reached for a towel hanging over the closet rail and wiped it over his neck and down his chest. "Hey, can you do me a favor?"
She cleared her throat. "What's that?"
"Hold my ankles? It's easier to do sit-ups if someone's holding my feet down."
Isabella's gaze dropped to a pair of feet that were as large as everything else about the man. "Sure," she said before she could think about it, and then she wanted to smack herself again.
"Thanks," he beamed, swiftly dropping to the floor and onto his back, feet planted on the carpet, knees bent up and legs spread open.
She took a deep breath and dropped to her knees, trying desperately to look away from Edward's legs where the basketball shorts dipped low and offered her a glimpse of the backs of his strong thighs. She shouldn't have agreed to this before coffee.
Her mental processes were obviously not working at full steam.
Edward had his hands under his head, elbows jutting out, displaying a set of shoulders and biceps that she suddenly really wanted to lick, and maybe even bite. Isabella lowered her head and encircled Edward's ankles with her hands—well the best she could anyways—leaning forward to put her weight into it. "Okay," she muttered.
She lasted about three sit-ups before she had to look up. Her gaze flicked from the carpet to the smooth, sweat-sheened skin over Edward's abs, flexing and releasing with his movement. She quickly turned her head, but then Edward's calf was right in her field of vision, sprinkled with brown hair and solidly muscular, like he could go for hours without stopping.
Run for hours without stopping, Isabella mentally corrected herself. God, had it been that long since she’d gotten laid? Paul had called it off a week ago, but even before that they hadn't been together for a while, what with Isabella working late to pay for the wedding and Paul doing whatever he was doing, and holy shit, had it really been almost six months?
She sat back on her heels, and Edward yelped as he tried to do a sit-up and his legs went flailing without her weight on them. "Um, something wrong?" Edward mumbled dumbly, sitting up and resting his arms on his knees.
That put his sweaty, toned, massive chest way too close to her for comfort, and she scrambled to her feet. "I, uh, I gotta go. You know… um… yeah." Before she could find out if Edward was going to insist on keeping her in sight at all times, she dashed into the bathroom and locked the door behind her.
By the time she finally came out of the bathroom, the smell of coffee and bacon were wafting upstairs. She threw on a tank top and some cotton shorts before making her way downstairs, following her nose. She saw two plates already on the table, with bacon and waffles, but she made a beeline for the white mug and the sweet scent wafting out of it. The coffee tasted as delicious as it smelled, and she moaned appreciatively as she downed half of it without stopping.
When she lowered the mug, she found Edward watching her from where he was leaning against the counter, arms folded over his chest and his lips curled in amusement. "My last girlfriend didn’t sound that enthusiastic during sex, much less drinking a cup of coffee," he blurted.
Isabella nearly sprayed the coffee all over the table. "Excuse me?"
Something flashed across Edward’s face and he straightened up, all hints of teasing gone. "I’m sorry," he said quickly, his gaze cutting away from her. "I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable."
"I’m NOT! I mean... you didn’t... I, um..." she took a deep breath before draining the rest of the mug and trying again. "I’m supposed to be here on my honeymoon, but he left me before the wedding, so here I am... and I just, I wasn’t expecting that. I wasn’t expecting any of this..." she trailed off nervously.
"God, that’s horrible!" Edward uncrossed his arms, leaning forward, his forehead wrinkled in concern. "I’m so sorry that happened to you."
"It’s okay." She shrugged. "I mean, it’s not okay, it sucks, but I’m dealing with it, you know?"
Edward shook his head slowly. "So you came here to get away from everything, and instead I came crashing through your window. I am really sorry about that!"
"Better than what else came crashing through that window, right?" she smiled weakly.
His expression softened. "You don’t need to worry about any of that. I’m going to keep you safe, and we’re going to catch the guys who were doing the shooting, and then you can get back to your quiet vacation."
"Yeah, I guess." She shrugged again. "It’s kind of nice to have someone around though. I mean, you seem like a really nice guy."
He scoffed and looked away. "Don’t hear that too often with my job."
Isabella wanted badly to ask, but she didn’t think she’d get a straight answer. Instead she asked, "Shall we eat?"
They sat down and started digging in. She had only taken a few bites of the delicious waffles when Edward cleared his throat. "Um, this might be awkward, but... does the rest of the Resort staff know why you’re here by yourself?"
She paused with her fork halfway to her mouth. "Um, no," she said drawing out the word.
"Okay." Edward nodded a few times. "Then we can just pretend that I’m your husband."
The fork clattered to the plate, syrup splattering the spotless white tablecloth. "Excuse me?"
"It’ll be a lot easier for me to keep an eye on you if I’m always with you." He leaned forward and continued, "And it’s not like you could have picked me up overnight, this is a Resort for couples."
Isabella gritted her teeth. "I know that," she grumbled. "But if you think that I’m setting foot outside of this building before you can promise me that all those guys with the guns are gone, then you’re crazy!"
"It’s actually safer for you outside during the day," Edward explained quietly. "They’re less likely to try something when there’s a crowd."
"How do you know that?" she retorted.
"Because, I’ve been doing this job for a long time and I’ve run into these guys a couple of times before. I know how they operate." He winked at her. "We’ve kicked their asses before, too. Apparently they didn’t get the message though, so this time, we’re gonna take them out for good, once and for all."
Isabella looked down at her plate. The sooner they did this, the better. Then she could just go back to her peaceful, solitary existence. If that meant pretending some gorgeous man she’d never met before was the man she wanted to spend the rest of her life with, then fine, she could pretend for a couple of days. "Fine," she agreed.
"Huh?" Edward asked, confused.
She looked up and saw him with his head cocked to the side. "I said fine, you can pretend to be my husband."
"Oh, uh, awesome." Edward flushed. "I mean, that’ll make things easier. Thanks, Isabella."
She tried to ignore the thrill that shot down her spine at the sound of her name coming from Edward’s lips. Instead, she quickly nodded and went back to shoveling waffles in her mouth. She had the feeling that she was going to need all the strength she could get, if she had any chance of making it through the day.
It turned out that Isabella didn’t know the half of it.
She’d thought it was going to be awkward to have Edward hold her hand or stand close to her. Instead, she went around being incredibly turned on the whole entire day.
Edward didn’t just hold her hand, he was constantly touching her. A hand on her lower back as they walked; his leg pressing up against hers as they lay on the beach; huge hands rubbing sunscreen into her back until she was left a squirming, near panting mess. It was fucking torture, and if Edward noticed, he didn’t say a thing.
At the end of the day, when they made it back to the villa, Isabella stomped upstairs, straight into the shower and had the massaging shower head busy in about six seconds. It didn’t take long at all, just thinking about Edward in his board shorts and the way his hands had felt on her skin. Before she knew it, she was letting out a long, low moan as she came all over her fingers.
She hung her head, still panting for breath as the dual shower heads beat down on her shoulders. She was going to have to tell Edward this wasn’t working. Play it off as still being too upset over Paul and not able to fake it anymore. Her body couldn’t take another day of this.
Downstairs, she watched Edward move around the kitchen, setting out plates and silverware for whatever it was he ordered from room service. For such a big guy he moved gracefully, never bumping into anything; like he was always aware of where his body was in relation to his surroundings. Isabella still bumped into the bathroom door in the middle of the night after living in her apartment for three years, if she wasn’t paying attention. And here Edward was in a strange kitchen, still gleaming with sweat and sunscreen from their day outdoors, moving around like he’d been here all his life.
Edward looked up, grinning as she came down the stairs. "Hey. There’s some pasta and salad on its way. Wine too, if you want it."
"Yeah? That sounds good." She didn’t know how sitting around most of the day could have worked up such an appetite, but her stomach was quietly rumbling.
"Great." Edward set out two wineglasses on the table and came forward. "I’m going to go grab a shower real quick, and then dinner should be here. Don’t open the door, okay? Not until I come back down."
The reminder that her life was in danger was all the distraction she needed from the muscled, sun-bronzed expanse of chest that was about two feet away from her. "Um, right," she said, quickly sidestepping so Edward could get past her.
If she breathed in deeply as he passed, just to catch a whiff of the coconut scented sunscreen along with the sharp yet pleasant smell of Edward’s sweat, it was coincidental. That was all.
The doorbell rang about sixty seconds later, and Isabella bit her lip. Edward had said not to answer the door. But they were expecting food, and the lights were obviously on. What would the Resort staff think if she didn’t answer the door?
They’ll think that you’re putting the Honeymoon Villa to good use, she reminded herself. An image suddenly crossed her mind of Edward upstairs in the shower, and what it would be like if she joined him, watching the water slide down that hard, muscled body, maybe following it with her hands and tongue, kneeling down to—
The doorbell rang again, and she shook her head. What was wrong with her? She was here to get over her fiancé dumping her, and here she was lusting already after another man. Was she really that fickle?
She stayed sitting at the dining room table, waiting for Edward to come down, even though she felt somewhat stupid. It was only a couple more minutes before he was thundering down the stairs, a clean pair of basketball shorts on and a tight Texas Longhorns t-shirt stretching over his chest. "You didn't answer the door, did you?" he asked.
"No," Isabella replied. Something occurred to her, and she cocked her head to the side. "Where's everyone else, anyway?"
"Everyone else?" Edward asked bewildered.
"Yeah. Emmett and whoever else works with you."
"They're around." Edward reached for the gun she hadn't even noticed on the table by the door. "Setting up a perimeter for the night, probably."
"Oh." Isabella watched as Edward held the gun down at his side as he opened the door and peered out. The shorts were a little tight across his toned ass, especially as he bent to pick up the tray that the resort staff had left outside the door, and damn, but the man did have fine legs.
When Isabella looked up, she realized Edward had turned around and caught her staring. She quickly turned away, feeling her cheeks flush. "Smells delicious."
"Yeah, it does." Edward shut the door and put the gun back on the table. "Good thing, 'cause I'm starving."
They polished off the lasagna and hot buttered rolls between them. Then Edward finished a plateful of salad, while Isabella picked at a few lettuce leaves, already full from the delicious pasta. All the while, they talked about where they were from, their favorite hobbies and other light stuff that had nothing to do with why either of them was there. Edward seemed friendly and outgoing, not what Isabella would have pictured in a secret agent or whatever the hell he was.
They also emptied a bottle of wine between them, although Isabella had the suspicion that Edward kept raising the same glass to his lips without actually drinking any of it. Which meant that she had about three glasses, which might explain the floating feeling inside her skull. It felt pretty good, actually, and she found herself grinning at Edward as he poured the last drops into her wine glass. "Thanks," she said, lifting the glass slightly. "This is great."
Edward looked bemused. "What is?"
"Haven't had dinner with a really hot guy in a long time… and you well… you’re really hot…" Isabella frowned at her own words, vaguely aware how that wasn't the actual purpose of this dinner. "'S just nice. You're nice."
Edward bit his lower lip, and Isabella stared at the flush of it beneath his even, white teeth. "About that… Look, you can tell me to buzz off, but what happened? Why was your fiancé such a moron? I mean, you… you’re..." His gaze roamed over her face and arms before dropping to the table. "That is, you seem like you’re really nice, too."
"I guess 'seem' is the operative word," Isabella muttered. She drained her glass and set it on the table a little too hard. "He said it wasn't a good idea. That I was too… too uptight. You'd think that'd be a good thing, huh? Bein' tight and all?"
She thought she heard Edward snort, but when she looked up, his expression was blank. "Had you guys been together long?"
"Two years." Isabella smoothed down a fold in the tablecloth. "You'd think he would have noticed earlier on that I was a freak."
"Hey, you're not a freak," Edward reproached. "Just… precise about some things."
"Like what?" Isabella challenged. "And how'd you know that?"
"I've been watching you all day," Edward replied, and Isabella did not go hot all over at the words. "You laid out your towel very precisely, after spending ten minutes finding the perfect spot. You were very careful to evenly apply your sunscreen and not get any on the towel or your shorts or bathing suit. But, you didn't seem to mind when that dog ran past and sprayed sand on you and the towel, so you're not completely compulsive. And when we were packing up, you shook out the towel kind of haphazardly; I bet there's sand all over the floor by the entryway."
"Duh, we were on a beach," she returned. Then she thought about what he had said, and her cheeks felt hot. "You were watching me pretty close, huh?"
Edward's cheeks pinked and he looked away. "It's my job," he muttered.
"Hmm." Isabella thought about that for a moment and decided with wine-induced decisiveness that it was bullshit. Edward was supposed to be watching other people, not her. She let her gaze slide over Edward's thick neck, sculpted chest and well-muscled biceps and wished the table wasn't in the way so that she could look lower. She squinted as if she could look through the sauce-stained plate and the table, and then she realized what she was doing. "I think I've had enough wine," she concluded.
Edward guffawed, and Isabella couldn't help grinning at the sound. "You might be right. Let me clean up and you head on upstairs, okay?"
"You gonna join me?" Isabella drawled. Then she blinked. Damn brain-mouth filter, disappearing after only three glasses.
Edward folded his arms across his chest, his veined forearms instantly drawing Isabella's gaze. "I'll be right down here," he said, nodding at the long couch. "And my team's on patrol outside. But holler if you see or hear anything suspicious, okay?"
"Okay." Isabella doubted she'd be up to seeing or hearing much of anything, given how she was going to be falling asleep as soon as she made it to the bed, but she wanted to do what Edward said. Edward was nice. Edward was really-fucking-hot. Maybe after he caught the bad guys, Edward would have sex with her.
"Okay, you definitely need to get going, Isabella." Edward's voice sounded choked for some reason.
She quickly realized she'd said the last few words out loud, and she flushed. "Oops," she giggled. Wine always went right to her head, which was probably how Paul had thought she was a cooler girl than she actually was, given they'd met at a bar. Too bad she hadn't known then she was never going to see Paul dressed that nicely again; that the dress shirt and pants were only because he'd had a job interview that hadn't panned out. That should have been a sign, Isabella thought, they weren't meant to be, because who falls for someone when they're both tipsy?
She vaguely registered someone helping her up the stairs and into bed, even pulling the sheets over her. She tried to sit up and take her shirt and shorts off, because that was what was supposed to come next, but a gentle baritone was telling her to lie down and rest. It was a nice voice, so she did what it said, and the last thing she remembered was a hand brushing over her forehead and through her hair.
Isabella woke to a God-awful headache, a near-bursting bladder, and a vague horror that she'd said a lot of things she shouldn't have last night. The water and Advil on the nightstand started to take care of the former, a nice long trip to the bathroom took care of the second, and after a hot shower and a quick round with the trusty shower head, Isabella thought she might be ready to deal with the latter.
Heading downstairs, she mentally crossed her fingers that the bad guys had been caught and all of the mysterious men in black had gone home leaving her and her embarrassment to themselves. But Edward was sitting at the breakfast bar, sipping coffee from a white mug that looked too small in his large hands, and apparently a little self-loving in the shower hadn't done a thing to curtail her libido, given how her thoughts were wandering to how those large hands would feel on her—
"Morning!" Edward said cheerfully. "How're you doing?"
Isabella winced and put a hand to her head. "I need to apologize for some things I said, even though I don't exactly remember what they were."
Edward laughed, head thrown back and long neck looking extremely lickable, and she realized, with a sinking feeling, that it wasn't just wine that made her want to jump the guy who was guarding her. "It's alright; I know it was the wine talking."
"Seriously, though." Isabella padded over to the coffee maker, where the carafe was blissfully full. "If I hit on you or did anything to make you uncomfortable, I'm sorry."
"Don't worry about it. You probably need a rebound guy, is all." Edward took a sip of his coffee and looked away. His voice dropped as he said, "Under other circumstances, I wouldn't be opposed to helping you out."
She drew in a sharp breath. It was way too early in the morning to be saying things like that or to be hearing things like that.
"That's too bad," she said, trying to keep her voice level and pour a cup of coffee at the same time, either of which she personally felt should qualify as a heroic effort. "Because I don't think I'd be opposed to it, either."
By the time she got the guts to look up, she was astonished to catch Edward's eyes raking over her body, lips slightly parted and tongue poking out. When his eyes met hers, he flushed and turned away. "We should go back to the beach today," Edward said, his voice rougher than before. "Staying in public is still the best idea."
Isabella watched in fascination as Edward's hand strayed below the countertop as if he was adjusting himself. There was no way a guy that hot and built could be interested in the messed-up pile of confusion that she was right now. Maybe Edward hadn't been laid in a long time, either.
Maybe you should ‘help each other out’, a little voice inside Isabella's head piped up, and she firmly ignored it. This whole mess would be over soon, and Edward would move on to his next assignment, and they'd never see each other again. Best not to get involved in something that wasn't meant to be.
They'd barely staked out a spot on the beach when one of the resort staff came up to them and asked if they'd be willing to join in on a beach volleyball game to even up the sides. Isabella agreed reluctantly; it wasn't how she'd been planning on spending her morning, and even after her trip here had been turned entirely upside down—twice—she still had a hard time adjusting to changes in her schedule. Still, when Edward said it was okay, she agreed, thinking it would be nice to get in some exercise.
Of course, that meant she spent a couple of hours watching Edward leap and dive and roll and otherwise show off the most amazing body she had ever had the privilege of seeing in person. She missed more than one serve, distracted by the way Edward's back muscles flexed as he turned to face the net.
She found herself trying harder than she otherwise would have, to get words of praise or even a hug from Edward. And since the guy was pretending to be her husband, he wasn't stingy with the hugs. Isabella was really hoping no one else was noticing the goofy love-sick grin and hard nipples she was regularly sporting throughout the match as a consequence of having Edward's firm, sweat-lined body occasionally pressed up against her.
She was worried about having to make small talk with the other players once the game was over, but it was all couples playing, and Isabella soon realized that she wasn't the only one who'd been… inspired by performances on the court. Two blond guys looked like they were about to go at it right there in the sand, and Edward chuckled as he put a hand on Isabella's back to lead her back to where their towels were laid out. "Who knew volleyball could make you so horny?" he muttered.
Isabella flushed. Damn, she'd been hoping he hadn't noticed. "Shut up."
That got her a quick look from Edward, followed by raised eyebrows. "You mean you—?"
It took a moment, but she realized that he had been speaking of the generic ‘you’ rather than her specifically. She gave a self-conscious laugh. "Hey, I'm surrounded by hot men and I haven't gotten any in six months. Can you blame me?"
"Six months? I find that hard to believe." The glance that he swept over her body felt almost like a physical touch in its intensity.
Isabella drew in a shaky breath and looked away. Edward had already said these weren't the right circumstances in which to get involved, and she totally agreed. Well, she mostly agreed… okay, she agreed a little bit.
At least the parts of her that weren't currently bursting into flames, at the sight of Edward's ass, as he bent over to pick up his towel and shake off the sand, agreed.
She tried flirting with Edward a little that afternoon, casual touches or looks over the top of her sunglasses. She got an approving nod a few times, which took her aback until she realized that Edward thought she was playing along with the fake husband thing. That took a little of the fun out of it, but Isabella noticed enough envious looks from other resort guests—and even staff—that she started to feel pleased with herself at having the attention of the hottest guy at the resort.
There were one or two times, though, when there was something in his eyes that was hard to read, but made her wish that they'd met each other under different circumstances. Like when he tugged her close with an arm around her waist, his hand sitting low on her hip, as they walked along the water's edge, his fingers rubbing gently over her skin even though no one else could see. Or when Isabella made a joke that was by no means one of her best but it still cracked Edward up, head thrown back and mouth wide open as he laughed out loud, sending a warm thrill down her spine.
They were walking back to the villa, Edward's arm around her waist, and she realized that she was enjoying having someone showing interest in her, even if it was all a pretense. The last several weeks with Paul hadn't been good, and even before that she couldn't remember them spending the kind of easy, fun time together that she and Edward were sharing. It made her want to laugh at herself: what kind of loser was she that a fake relationship was more satisfying than a real one had been?
It was a depressing enough thought to make her quiet and pensive all through dinner, until Edward finally asked if she was all right. "Yeah, I guess so," she replied, absently twirling her angel hair pasta around her fork.
When she looked up, Edward's eyes were fixed on her, warm and full of concern. "Listen, I know this must be hard for you," he said, reaching out to cover Isabella's hand with his own. "Pretending I'm your husband when you just got—well, you know. I'll talk to Emmett tonight and see how close they are to catching the shooter; maybe I'll be out of your hair by tomorrow."
"No, I don't mind," Isabella said a little too quickly. "I mean, yeah, it's weird, but not—" she broke off and shook her head. "I don't understand. I'm the girl who gets thrown off-kilter all day if I don't get the same seat on the same train car every morning, and now here…" she swept her free arm around to indicate the entire situation, trying to ignore the way the heat of Edward's hand was soaking into hers.
The corner of Edward's mouth quirked up. "The same seat on the same train car?"
"Yeah." Isabella shrugged. "I like knowing what's going to happen, you know? I like knowing what to expect, and I don't like being surprised by things."
"I know what you mean," Edward nodded. "My job requires planning everything down to the last detail, even the things you think can't possibly happen."
"Yes, exactly," she pointed a finger at him, "It's all about being prepared."
"But it's also about being flexible," Edward replied. "I don't think there's ever been a job that went the way we planned it, not in every detail. It's being able to deal with the stuff you don't expect that can make or break you." He paused and then gave her a small smile. "And I have to say, you've been amazing."
Isabella felt herself flush and looked away. "Not really."
"No, really. You're just a regular girl who all of a sudden is getting shot at and having some strange dude in your face all the time, while trying to deal with your own personal shit. You're keeping it together so well, Isabella. You’re not like any other woman I’ve ever met."
She shook her head as she realized something she'd been thinking all day, but hadn't managed to put into words up until this point. She said slowly, "I'm not all that upset about losing Paul. Not anymore. I think I'm more upset about being dumped."
"It bothers you more that you were rejected than that he was the one rejecting you?"
When Isabella looked up, she saw a mix of emotions swirling in Edward's green eyes: compassion and concern mixed with protectiveness and maybe even something like jealousy. Which was stupid: what did Edward have to be jealous about? Aloud, she said, "Yeah, if that makes any sense."
"It makes a lot of sense." Edward's thumb was stroking back and forth across the back of Isabella's hand. "It's a good sign, too. Means you're starting to move on."
"Yeah," she breathed out. "Maybe I am." She briefly licked her lips, and when Edward's gaze dropped to her mouth, she found herself fiercely wishing the table wasn't between them. As it was, there was no way to subtly make a move, and she was afraid to let the chance go by without seizing it.
Edward cleared his throat. "Isabella, I—"
If the room hadn't been so quiet and tense, they wouldn't have heard it. It came from outside, a choked-off cry that made the hair on the back of Isabella's neck stand up.
Instantly, Edward's expression went from tentatively hopeful to grim. "Get down," he commanded, rising to his feet and reaching for the phone in his pocket. "Under the table. Now."
She didn't hesitate before obeying, even if she felt like a dork shoving the chairs aside to hide under the table like a little kid. Edward wasn't getting any answer on his phone, and he cursed under his breath as he moved towards the front door. Isabella saw him pick up the gun and heard the sound of a round being loaded in the chamber. Prickles of fear ran down her back in response.
"Fuck," Edward muttered, tucking the phone away. "Get upstairs, Isabella. Get in one of the closets and don't come out until I tell you, no matter what you hear. Got that?"
On shaky legs, she clambered back out from under the table. Edward was by the front door, gun held out low in a two-handed grip. He turned off the light switch, and Isabella blinked in the sudden darkness. "Go!" Edward demanded in a low voice.
Isabella turned quickly and felt her way to the stairs, banging her elbow on the railing before she found her footing. There was a little bit of moonlight coming in through the windows that weren't still boarded up, but not enough to see much by. There were no sounds from outside, nothing but the creak of the front door opening, and Isabella was suddenly terrified about what Edward might be facing out there. She'd somehow forgotten the real reason Edward was here, and as it all came back to her in a rush, it made her knees weak.
Fumbling at the railing, Isabella got up the stairs and into the bedroom. The moonlight was sliding into the room through the small opening between the balcony doors, making it a little easier to see.
Isabella frowned, pausing in the doorway of the largest closet. She hadn't gone out on the balcony earlier, and Edward hadn't even come upstairs to shower yet. How come they were—
The voice wasn't Edward's and that alone had her heart racing. The quiet click that accompanied it had her freezing in terror.
From the corner of her eye she saw a dark figure emerging from the shadows of the second empty closet. As it moved closer, it resolved into a man with a gun pointed right at her
Her mouth went completely dry.
There was no sound for a moment except Isabella's harsh breaths and the ever-faster pounding of her heartbeat. Then the gunman moved forward and gestured with the gun. "Turn around. Hands on top of your head."
She wanted to voice a protest, wanted to refuse to turn her back on an armed man, but she couldn't take her eyes off the gun. She couldn't have told anyone what the man looked like who was holding it, only the moonlight reflecting off the sleek black metal and the dark, empty barrel of the muzzle pointing at her were in her focus.
"Now!" the man demanded and Isabella obeyed, arms shaking as she lifted them to her head and turned around. She heard quiet footsteps on the carpet drawing closer and closer, and she grew tenser at the sound.
When the gun barrel grazed the skin behind her right ear, Isabella let out a low whimper. Oh God, she was going to die right here, brains splattered all over the pristine white carpet and this guy didn’t even care that he had the wrong person. "Please," she whispered, trying not to hyperventilate. "Please don't—"
"Shut up," the man hissed in her ear, and she clamped her mouth shut.
He roughly patted Isabella down and a small corner of her brain realized that if she was going to be shot on the spot, she wasn't going to be frisked first. Her breaths slowed down a fraction, but the touch of the gun on her neck still had her strung tight as a piano wire.
"Hands down," the gunman ordered. Isabella obeyed, trying not to think about what was going to happen next because there was no possible way it could be good.
She was all too right. She was soon being yanked backward by an arm around her chest, trapping her arms down at her sides, and damn, the guy had to be as big as Edward. At the same time, the gun slid down to dig into the soft underside of the corner of her jaw and she couldn't help the scared grunt that slipped out. "Please," she whispered again. The gun was pressing right against her pulse point, the rapid beat throbbing against the now-warm metal, and if it was possible to be more terrified, she didn't see how.
"Quiet," the man growled in her ear. When Isabella went still, he added in a low voice, "You're going to call his name to get him up here. Just his name. Nothing else or I pull this trigger. You understand?"
She squeezed her eyes shut, as if that would help. She hadn't heard Edward go outside, but surely he would have heard the noises Isabella and her captor had been making if he was still indoors. Isabella's mouth was so dry she didn't think she could call loudly enough to be heard from the other side of the room, much less downstairs, but she gave a sharp nod to indicate she understood.
She drew in a breath and a second later came the most welcome sound she had ever heard. "Put it down," growled a voice that she only barely recognized as Edward's.
Her eyes flew open and she saw Edward at the top of the stairs, gun trained slightly to the right of her head. Her eyes had adjusted enough to the light that she could see the corded muscle along Edward's forearms as he steadily aimed his weapon. The cold, hard expression on his face made him look like a complete stranger.
The man behind Isabella actually chuckled. "I don't think so, Cullen." He jammed the gun harder against her neck and she craned her head to the side, trying futilely to get away. Edward's eyes briefly tracked the movement, fury lighting their depths.
With her head tilted to the side, her attention was caught by movement out of the corner of her eye. She looked towards the balcony and was horrified to see a second man out there, moving towards the partly-open door. "Edward!" she grunted.
Edward started to turn toward the doors, and then a sound from below caught everyone's attention. A third man was at the foot of the stairs, gun aimed up at Edward's back, and Isabella's heart sank.
Edward looked from Isabella, to the stairs and back, and finally his mouth tightened. He slowly lowered his arms and dropped the gun soundlessly on the carpet before putting his hands on top of his head.
His expression as he met Isabella's eyes was nothing but bleak.
Within minutes, they'd dragged in a chair from the balcony and tied Edward to it, his arms secured behind the back of the chair and ankles lashed to its legs with clothesline. He gave what looked to Isabella like only a perfunctory struggle, his eyes constantly shifting between her, the gun at her head and the man tying him up like he was taking in the situation but unable to do anything about it at the moment.
Once Edward was secured to the chair, the pressure of the gun under Isabella's jaw eased. Edward looked back and forth between their captors, practically slouching in the chair as if he was there by choice. "Y'all screwed up. Again," he drawled at the man holding Isabella. He nodded at Isabella and went on, "She's not even the one you're after. Might as well let her go."
That low chuckle sounded in Isabella's ear again. "Actually, we have exactly the one we were after."
Isabella was momentarily baffled. She didn’t even know who these guys were, so what could they possibly want with her?
When she looked at Edward and saw his eyes going wide, she could almost feel the gears in her own head turning. When she saw Edward's calm expression start to be undercut by fear, she suddenly understood. These guys had never been after Vincen-whatever. They didn't care who Isabella was. They wanted Edward. And given the vague things he and Emmett had said about them before, combined with the apprehension taking over Edward's face, Isabella really didn't want to know why.
"That's right, Cullen," hissed Isabella's captor. "This was all about getting you here. Worked like a charm, too. You couldn't resist the chance to try and finish what you started." His grip tightened around her torso and she sucked in a breath. "Instead, we're going to finish you."
The man who'd tied Edward to the chair, a short guy with long blond hair, flicked open a knife with a hard snick that sent a shiver down Isabella's spine. Edward shifted away from him, biceps and pectorals flexing under his faded grey t-shirt as if he was trying to break the ropes around his wrists.
"Get his shirt off, but don't get started without me." Isabella's captor let go of her only to grab her upper arm, the gun suddenly pressing snugly against her ribs. "I got something to take care of first."
"No." Edward spoke sharply as he looked frantically between Isabella and the man holding her. "You don't need to do that."
Once again, it took a second before Isabella figured out what was going on, but when she did, her legs almost gave way. Edward was talking about them killing her, and tied up as he was, there was nothing he could do to stop them. She suddenly recalled the noise they'd heard earlier from outside, like another member of the team being cut down, and she had the horrible sinking feeling that no one was going to be able to stop them.
"No!" Isabella cried out, but she was being shoved towards the stairs, the gun never moving from her side. Edward was shouting something from the bedroom until there was a sharp crack followed by a groan, and he went silent.
"Move it," the gunman demanded, hauling her around the corner and out the front door. She stumbled in the man's grip; mind racing as she tried to think of something, anything to get away, but her mind was completely blank.
They were out the door and around the corner of the villa, heading towards the cliff overlooking the sea, when Isabella really started to struggle. Maybe it was instinct kicking in as she recognized she was running out of time, but she dug in her heels on the dirt path despite the shove from behind. Realizing her arm was free, she sharply twisted away from the gun, not like she could get a hold of it or would even know what to do with it if she did, but it wasn't like she had anything to lose at this point.
The bang of the gun wasn't as loud as she had expected, but Isabella still flinched in horror, expecting to feel pain blossoming in her side from where she'd been shot.
Instead, there was a hard thump from behind her, like a body falling to the ground. She whirled to see her captor sprawled across the path, gun pointing away from her, a dark stain spreading across his chest.
Before Isabella could make sense of that, a noise to her right had her spinning around again, crouching low by instinct. There was a man there holding a gun, and as he moved forward and the light from the villa fell on his face, Isabella's knees almost gave out.
It was Edward's boss, Emmett McCarty, with a nasty red line across his forehead that looked like it was still bleeding. "You all right?" he rumbled, his aim locked on the man he'd shot.
"Yeah," Isabella panted out. "I think so."
Isabella obeyed; watching as Emmett carefully crouched down and took the gun from the dead man's hand. At least she assumed he was dead—she didn't see his chest moving, and the deep red splotch was nearly covering his whole torso.
Feeling like she was going to be sick, she quickly turned her back. "Are you okay?" she asked shakily.
"Okay enough." Emmett straightened up and moved in front of her. "What happened?"
She looked up, her heart pounding. "They wanted Edward the whole time. It was a trap for him. They were waiting for this guy to—" she gestured at the dead man behind her and swallowed. "But they'll have heard the gunshot, won't they?"
"They'll think it was for you." The hard words were belied with a calm, knowing expression that did little to quell the nausea in Isabella's gut. "So we have some time. But I'm going to need your help."
Isabella nodded eagerly. "You want me to get resort security or the police?"
"They'll both have been bought off, most likely." Emmett racked the slide on his gun. "You know how to use one of these?"
Mutely, Isabella shook her head.
"Too bad." Emmett looked up at the villa. "How'd they get in?"
"Balcony. At least two of them did."
Emmett nodded. "I didn't think they could get up that way but that's about where they knocked me out." He wiped the back of his hand over his forehead, smearing the blood. "Good thing I've got a hard head."
Isabella gave a weak smile, wanting nothing more than to be away from here doing something to help Edward. "What do you want me to do?"
"I'm gonna need a distraction. Count to a hundred, go inside and throw something across the living room. Just make a noise on the opposite side from where you are; you got it? Do not let them see you."
Emmett's face was mostly in shadow, but the intensity in his voice was unmistakable. Isabella nodded seriously. "Count to a hundred, throw something, hide."
"Good." Emmett's hand briefly clamped down on her shoulder, and then he was moving swiftly and silently around the villa.
Isabella started counting and got to ten before she realized she had no idea how fast she was supposed to be counting. One hundred seconds, or one hundred as fast as she could count it, or—?
She cut off her thoughts midstream and took a deep breath. She obviously had to give Emmett enough time to get up to the balcony. Right. One hundred seconds it was.
Surprisingly, at least to Isabella, everything went perfectly smoothly from that point on. She crept inside the still-open front door, picked up the small vase on the entry table, and at the right moment, lobbed it across the living room so that it shattered against the plywood over the windows. She dove for the coat closet as footsteps started down the stairs.
A moment later, there were thumps and shouts coming from overhead, and then footsteps racing back upwards. Then a gunshot and a series of crashes descending the stairs. Isabella huddled in a crouch, heart pounding, as everything went quiet.
"Isabella?" It was Edward's voice, frantic and loud, and she didn't hesitate before bursting out of the closet.
Edward was rounding the corner from the stairs, shirtless and gleaming with sweat. He nearly dropped his gun when he saw her, but he took two long strides forward and was wrapping her up in an embrace. "Thank God," he muttered into her shoulder, arms folded tight around her. "I could never live with myself if something had happened to you."
She was stunned for a moment, but she moved to return the embrace, hands resting on Edward's broad back, relishing the warm, solid feel of his body next to hers. "Are you okay?" she murmured in Edward's ear.
"Fine." Edward's arms tightened around her, safe and strong. His voice lowered, sounding almost broken in her ear. "I heard the gunshot outside, and I thought—" he trailed off, pulling back just enough to see her face completely.
He brought one hand up, cupping her face, and she leaned into his touch as his fingers softly brushed over her cheek. Her lips tingled as he let his finger slip lower, just barely grazing the plump skin before he pulled back. She whimpered, leaning into the air to follow his retreating hand. Edward answered her whimper with a low rumble of his own, his eyes darkening dangerously. Surprised by the sound coming from him, she pulled back just as he started to lean forward.
She realized they probably looked ridiculous in their start/stop motions and let out a laugh that was more a tension relieving exhale.
"Isabella," he breathed out, only audible to her, a warning to stay still as he advanced.
"Edward," she whispered, unable to resist the pull as she allowed herself to move forward again.
They were both leaning toward each other when Emmett’s voice broke through their haze, "Jesus, Edward." Isabella looked up to see Emmett regarding them both with exasperation and amusement. "You wanna at least make sure all the targets are down first?"
"They are," Edward returned almost petulantly, without moving. "Give me some credit."
The corner of Emmett's mouth turned up and he looked away, reaching for the phone at his hip.
Isabella let herself breathe in one deep draught of Edward's scent and gently pushed him back. "I'm fine, Edward. Go do your job, okay? I'll be here when you're done."
"Will you?" Edward asked softly, hands resting lightly on her sides, refusing to lose contact. His thumb was brushing back and forth over her ribs, right where the gun had rested, as if he could brush away the memory of the touch or at least cover it up with his own.
Isabella drew in a deep breath, aware that there was more than one layer to the question. "Yes, I will," she finally said, looking up into Edward's eyes and letting herself relax for the first time since this man had crashed through her window almost a week ago. "I'll be here."
It turned out that wasn't actually true, at least not in the literal sense.
The Italian cartel that had been after Edward in retaliation for the role he played in taking out half their members a few months ago had, in fact, bribed the head of security at the resort to ignore any unusual sounds coming from the Honeymoon Villa. The resort manager was so embarrassed—and afraid of getting sued, Edward pointed out later—that he insisted on refunding all of Isabella's money and giving her another free week at their sister resort on the other side of the island. Since the place Isabella was currently staying in was now a blood-stained crime scene, she was happy to take them up on the offer.
Unfortunately, Edward had a lot of metaphorical mopping-up to do, including flying back to the States to attend some kind of debriefing. Isabella still wasn't sure what Edward did for a living, just that it was some paramilitary/law enforcement/security consulting kind of thing, and that every time she asked a question about it he carefully deflected it until she finally gave up.
At least he'd left her a cell phone with his number programmed into it, and they talked every night over the course of the next week. Their conversations were as easy and light as they'd been around the dinner table, occasionally straying into personal territory, but nothing too serious.
Isabella both welcomed the chance to get to know Edward better and wished that there was any way to know if her growing feelings for a man she'd only known about a week were returned. If there'd been any doubt that she was getting over Paul, it was erased every time the phone rang and a grin spread over her face when she saw it was Edward.
The new resort was even fancier than the previous one, and they'd put her up in the most secluded and luxurious ‘cottage’ Isabella could have imagined, easily twice the size of her parent’s house. She felt silly moving around the huge place by herself, but she felt even more awkward hanging out in the main resort area as the only solo girl in the place. At least this cottage had an in-ground pool behind it so she could swim and sun herself without fear of being dashed on the rocks along the coastline. There was a charming little garden behind the pool, too, with fruit trees that she hadn't quite gotten up the courage to try yet, even though the housekeeper had assured her the fruit was delicious.
Two days before Isabella was supposed to head back home, she was lying on a bright yellow float in the middle of the pool, the trashy paperback she'd been reading open on her chest as she rested her eyes for just a moment. When she heard a noise from the gate that led out to the garden, she jerked her head around, her heart suddenly pounding. None of the resort staff should be approaching from that direction, and what if it was—
Edward stood at the gate, tall and lean and tan in khaki pants and a white dress shirt with the sleeves rolled up showing off his muscular forearms. "Hi," he grinned.
Isabella sat up so fast she nearly tipped over the float, grabbing at the book so it didn't fall in the water. "What the hell are you doing here?"
Edward's face fell. "I thought I'd surprise you?"
"You did." Isabella shook her head to clear it. "Not that I'm not glad to see you, it's just that you didn't say that you were coming, so I wasn't expecting you. That's all."
"Oh." The smile slowly started to return. "I suppose you have everything all planned out for today already?"
"Not really." Isabella waved the book around, then thought better of letting Edward see that she was reading erotica in case that was too cheesy. "I was going to call this guy later on, that's all."
"Oh yeah?" Edward kicked off his sandals and started unbuttoning his shirt. "What guy?"
Isabella's eyes were drawn to the bronzed skin being revealed as Edward's long fingers moved down, button by button. "He, um, I just met him, actually. He's really tall and he's, I don't know, like a secret agent or something, but he's pretty cool and easy to talk to." She absently licked her lips as the shirt started to fall off of Edward's broad shoulders, and she had to do a quick mental check to make sure she wasn't hallucinating from the sun or something. "He seems like he'd make a good friend, even aside from the saving my life thing."
"A good friend, huh?" Edward let the shirt slide off of his arms and moved forward to drape it over the nearest lounge chair. He gestured at the pool. "You mind if I join you?"
Isabella blinked. "Um, no?"
He grinned, warm and bright. "Good. It’s hot out here," he said as he started to unbutton his pants. "I’d like to cool off."
"No kidding," she muttered, watching as he slid the khakis down to reveal a pair of tight black boxer briefs. Seriously, this was like every fantasy she’d been having over the past week all coming true at once.
Her eyes flicked to the noticeable bulge barely contained by the thin fabric. Edward noticed the motion and his grin turned wicked. "I bet this guy’s been thinking about you, too," he said casually. "This friend of yours."
"Uh, huh." Isabella’s gaze was now fixed on his gorgeous long legs as they emerged from the khakis and it took serious mental effort to drag her eyes back up to his face. "Has he?"
"Yeah." Edward stood up, tall and muscular and all but naked except for the fitted black boxers, and this was unexpectedly shaping up to be one of the best days of Isabella's entire life.
The look on his face changed from wicked to mischievous, and before she could say anything, he was taking a few long running strides forward and leaping into the air, arms and legs tucked tightly together, whooping as he cannonballed into the pool.
She shouted as the impact tipped the float over and dumped her into the water, the novel instantly getting soggy and sinking to the bottom of the pool. She spluttered as she pushed back up to the surface, squinting and shaking the water off his face. "Edward!" she reproached, paddling over to the shallower end so she could get her feet on the ground.
Edward suddenly surfaced in front of her, grinning like a loon. He tilted his head forward and shook his head, water droplets spraying in all directions. Isabella indignantly shoved him back and tried to push past him, but Edward was grabbing her around the waist and slinging her around until her back was up against the wall of the pool, feet just brushing the ground.
She opened her mouth to protest, but Edward was pressed up against her, one long hard line of muscle from shoulders to feet, and any words she had died in her throat. His hand was resting on her hip, warm and solid, and he was looking down with a sudden, serious intensity that made her shiver despite the heat of the sun.
A moment passed in silence, and for the first time, Edward looked hesitant. When he spoke, it was quiet, a complete contrast to his earlier exuberance. "This friend," he said softly. "If he's been thinking about you an awful lot, like you're all that he can think about, would that be okay?"
Isabella nodded wordlessly, her heart pounding. She wanted to do something, to reach out and touch Edward, to lick the droplets of water on his neck and chest, but it was like she was frozen in place.
The corner of Edward's mouth quirked up. His other hand came up to rest on Isabella's shoulder before sliding down her arm and into the cool water. "I don't think I'm reading you wrong, Isabella, but if I am, you gotta let me know."
"Thought you were so good at observing people," she returned, and before she could talk herself out of being impulsive for once in her life, she was reaching up and pulling Edward's mouth down to hers.
She whimpered as their lips slid together, and the choked-off moan that Edward gave in return was something she wanted to hear over and over again. She was grabbing his head before she knew it, her fingers tangling in the soft locks at the nape of his neck. His hands found her hips, thumbs digging into her hipbones and his long fingers curving over the swell of her ass, keeping her pressed tight between his body and the smooth tile of the pool wall.
Not that she could go anywhere, given how his legs were bracketing hers and he was pushing their hips together as they continued to kiss, longer and deeper and slicker and more than she had ever kissed someone, much less on the first kiss. If she couldn't still feel the cool tiles of the pool under her feet, she would have thought she was floating away, arousal and need suddenly burning through her veins hotter than the sun overhead.
Edward broke their kiss to murmur her name and then latch onto her neck, sucking and nipping and kissing until she had her head thrown back and eyes closed, giving herself over to the sensations. She slipped her fingers under the waist of his boxer briefs, needing even this scrap of clothing gone. He let go of her just long enough to yank off the briefs with one quick movement, and then his cock was rubbing up against her stomach, hard and heated and making him utter the most delicious sounds right in her ear.
"Oh, God," she moaned as Edward’s hand slid down her stomach, cupping her through her bikini bottom. He slid the material to the side and eased two fingers inside her tight wet heat. He pressed his thumb into the hard bud of her clit; rubbing firm and sure like he'd done it a million times before and knew just how to take her ever higher. "Fuck yes, Edward, yes."
"I need to be inside you," he whispered roughly. Together, they wrestled off her bottoms, his hands burning like brands against her ass and hips, where no one had touched her for so long. She was having trouble keeping her footing in the water, so she took advantage of its buoyancy and pushed upward, wrapping her legs around Edward's waist and her arms around his shoulders.
Edward grinned and put both arms around her to hold her up before pushing her tighter against the wall of the pool. The motion trapped his cock between their bodies, and she settled her weight downwards just until she could feel the hard line of his cock slotting between her slick folds. When Edward started thrusting, Isabella felt the delicious drag of skin right before the thick head slipped inside, and she moaned at the sensation until Edward claimed her mouth again.
They rocked back and forth, the slickness of the water erasing all but the perfect amount of friction. Isabella knew the water was helping, but Edward holding her up like this was a turn-on she never even knew she had, feeling arm muscles flex around her and abs clench and release under her thighs. He picked up his pace thrusting into her with abandon until all she could do was hold on, she was already so close, there was no holding back. "Edward," she panted between kisses, lost in the sensations that were rising over her. "Edward, I'm so close—"
"That’s it," he breathed out, his hips rocking faster until he was so deep his pubic bone rubbed against her clit with every thrust. His eyes stayed locked on hers and full of a wild kind of desire like she had never seen. "C'mon, Isabella, come for me."
That did it, and she gripped his shoulders, her nails digging into the skin as she cried out when the tide washed over her, sharp and sweet and rocking her down to her very core. Her legs clenched around his waist, her hips thrusting against his solid bulk, and it wasn't more than a few seconds later that Edward was giving a final sharp thrust before spilling inside her, his mouth closing over her shoulder biting down and muffling his groans of pleasure.
The sharp bite of teeth made her wince but it also sent a little thrill of pleasure through her, too, and apparently she was learning all sorts of things about herself this week. Her arms and legs were growing tired from clinging to Edward and she carefully let herself down, keeping in contact with as much in as possible along the way. The water was cloudy between them, and she couldn't help but smirk at the sight.
When she looked up, she got a quick glimpse of Edward's beaming grin before his hands were cupping her face, pulling her in for a long, slow, wet kiss that was absolutely perfect. She hummed happily and slid her arms around Edward's waist, enjoying the feel of the strong body and being tucked inside his embrace.
When they broke apart, he stroked his thumbs over her cheekbones before giving a self-conscious laugh. "I'm sorry, Isabella."
Isabella blinked, confused. "For what?"
Edward gestured at the pool and then at the two of them. "I wasn't planning to dive in and jump you like that, I swear."
"Did I sound like I minded?" she asked incredulously.
Edward's rich, deep laugh echoed off the garden wall. "No, I suppose you didn't," he returned, ducking to give her a kiss.
"Damn straight," she muttered. She returned the kiss for a moment but then she thought of something and had to push Edward away. Better to know now before things got any more serious than they already had. "So how long can you stay?"
Edward cocked his head to the side, looking ridiculously like a 6'2" puppy dog. "Stay?"
She rolled her eyes. "Before you have to go back to whatever the hell your job is."
"Oh." Edward's expression turned sheepish. "Um, I quit."
"You what?" she stared at him. "When? Why?"
Edward took in a deep breath and let it out in a whoosh. "The guys who were after me. We got them all, trust me." When Isabella nodded cautiously, he went on, "But there'll be more. There'll be another gang where we don't catch everyone, or there'll be someone out for revenge because of something I did to one of theirs, or something like that. And I can't… I always told myself that I'd quit one day when I had a good reason." He gave a small shrug. "Maybe I finally found my reason."
Her arms tightened reflexively and she wished they weren't having this conversation while they were both naked in a pool. "What do you mean?" she asked slowly, wanting to be sure she understood.
"I don't mean—" his hand came up to touch her face briefly before moving away. "I know we barely know each other, and maybe I'm just your rebound guy, and that's cool. But the job I have isn't one I can do if there's someone waiting on me. It's too dangerous, for me and for her. So if I'm ever going to be able to be serious with someone, I have to let it go."
"Wow." Isabella looked him over for a moment, absorbing it all. "And you think I'm worth that?"
Edward bit his lip and looked at her from under his lashes. "I guess I'd like the chance to find out?"
She slowly shook her head, feeling happiness well up inside of her like she hadn't felt in years. "You might regret this, Cullen," she warned, but she couldn't keep the grin off her face.
His eyes were twinkling as he took in the expression on her face. "I doubt it," he said softly before capturing her lips with his own.
They kissed until the ocean breeze brushing their wet shoulders made them shiver, until Isabella's lips were feeling chapped and Edward had explored every inch of her mouth with his tongue, until she was intimately familiar with the curve of his ass under her hands and until neither of them could wait any longer to find a soft horizontal surface and continue to take their time getting to know each other.
She had no idea what was going to happen next, but for once in her life, the thought brought her nothing but delight.