Fandom: Twilight

Summary: When Bella's parents decide to go on a cruise for Christmas, her best friend Rose offers for her to stay at their cabin in Idaho for the holiday. It's a beautiful plan until her colleague shows up. Short story. AH, BPOV, olderward, lemon

Genre: Snugglefic

A/N: I'm fully aware that you would vastly prefer an update to Scheduled for Friday (as would I), but I realised that after a year of delivering 200K words of it, I need to refresh my brain with something different. Have no fear, though, I do not have an author's block and will be delighted to continue Scheduled for Friday after this Christmas interlude.

I'm sorry. Thank you for understanding 3

This story will probably be short and quick and full of toothache.


Hiding (the Christmas Criminal)
by Anton M.

1: Great Aunt Betty


I was surprised but not ungrateful when my parents didn't try to guilt-trip me into spending Christmas at Ketchum with the rest of my family tree, but I certainly didn't advertise staying in Idaho for the holiday. In fact, Rose's family's cabin was not even forty miles from Ketchum just by Sawtooth National Forest. I felt twitchy and nervous, landing in Boise without letting my grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins know that I had arrived back from NYC, but two weeks of political minefield (without my parents) would've robbed me of not only my vacation but my sanity, and so, I committed the biggest crime of Christmas: avoiding my family during the holidays.

Feeling the anxiety of an unsocialized puppy and convinced that someone I knew (or worse—my relatives) would've spotted me in Boise, I shuffled along the crowd nose-deep in my phone until I took an Uber to my best friend Rose's parents' house. As agreed, I borrowed their oldest unused GMC Sierra (because oh yes, they had two), pumped it full of gas, and only allowed myself to breathe as I took off toward Mountain Home on I-84. Too terrified to risk bumping into relatives in Boise, I only stopped at Mountain Home Supercenter to stock up on food and essentials, including pre-packaged ice cream potatoes and ingredients for a huckleberry milkshake. Thrilled with my luck, I switched to US-20, turned north on Forest 61 toward Featherville, and finally allowed my grin to consume me as I turned east along the narrow but beautiful South Boise River Road.

As the paved road gave way to gravel, I turned up the piano on my Spotify and admired the snow-covered limber pines as far as the eye could see. Sun glared off the snow to my right. I felt like a kid who'd stolen candy—it was downright criminal to return to Idaho only to spend two weeks alone in my best friend's cabin, especially during Christmas, but I'd had such an intense year I didn't allow myself to drown in guilt. Well, not enough guilt to do anything about it, anyway.

In September, I had finally, after months of deliberation, broken up with my boyfriend.

The trouble was, Seth hadn't done anything wrong. He hadn't lied. He hadn't cheated. He hadn't hidden a gambling problem or any of the hard limits I'd always told myself I'd have. But, among the things he didn't do was... move forward with his life. Move anywhere with his life. Our breakup was the result of death by a thousand cuts—no single action justified breaking up with him, but his offenses accumulated. And, like Rose had said, did one need a reason for not wanting to be with someone? Was just deciding you didn't want to move forward with a person not enough?

For the first few years Seth and I had been together, we'd bonded over hating life: feeling stuck in our careers, resentful of the future we felt was taken from us, the debt we were in, the real estate or children we couldn't afford... our resentment felt neck-deep and justified. But, little by little, I got so exhausted from feeling angry at the world that I went to a therapist. The first one sucked and the next few sucked even harder, but I was determined and found an elderly woman I clicked with. It didn't happen overnight, but I began to see how the blame-game I wanted to play with the world was the very thing that prevented me from moving forward.

Of course life was unfair. It was totally, wretchedly, insanely unfair. Those without rich parents got the short end of the stick, the environment was almost certainly fucked, the expectations set on us felt impossible to achieve, but... then what? What did it help to complain about it? What could I control, at that moment? What could I change?

But change I did. I applied to jobs I didn't think I'd qualify for, and after five years of being an associate technical support engineer, a short gig as a technical support engineer and three years as a network engineer, I applied for the job of cloud architect, and... I fucking got it. I not only got it, I got it because of my soft skills. GitHub, Excel, Lucid Chart, drawing boxes and troubleshooting and coding, I could do it all, but the part I mastered was communication. After all, a cloud architect could be a pretty customer-facing, pre-sales-y role, and a big part of the job was to act as a translator between sales and software: explaining business requirements to tech and tech to business. I had to be able to talk to the smartest heads in the company and yet convince the stupidest ones of a solution. (Not that I would ever admit to thinking them stupid.)

I didn't chug the company kool-aid and my job was still stressful. It was still just a job, I still wanted to have a life outside of it, but it helped that I'd managed to pull myself out of whatever funk I'd been in.

The difference was, Seth wanted to drown in resentment. He did not want to see a therapist, and he rejoiced in his bitterness in a way that began to affect me. I started loathing the person I turned into when I was with him. I'd long gotten used to snide comments about how everything must've been handed to anyone who'd ever held a position higher than an assistant or a specialist (sometimes true, of course), but when he began to shit on me and resent my position and salary, I unleashed my own fury on him. We'd both graduated from Stony Brook as Computer Science majors, who the fuck was he to say that I'd had my career handed to me? I, from the capital of Bumfuck Nowhere in Idaho, with virtually zero network to speak of? The mere suggestion that any silver platters were involved in my career or life trajectory was infuriating.

Seth, unlike me, worked in IT support and hadn't cared to switch positions or companies for nine years. It was insanity.

His career or lack thereof wasn't the only area where he rejoiced in his complacency and resentment, but by the time I realized that his lack of drive extended elsewhere, he'd chipped away at my feelings for him for so long that I couldn't even imagine him as husband or father material.

I'd dodged a bullet.

Seth had not taken the break-up well. He'd called, texted, and shown up at Rose's apartment as I looked for a studio to rent… but I didn't budge. I cried, yes. I cried a lot. I felt miserable for putting him through it, and not only did I mourn the future I'd thought I'd had, I had quite near an identity crisis as I began to get used to the idea of being single again. I hadn't not been a part of a unit for damn near a decade, and it was sobering to rediscover myself and my preferences without invisible default boundaries to my decisions that had somehow seeped into my decision-making. The Bella who'd been single eight and a half years ago wasn't the same Bella I was today.

Truthfully, the prospect of joining Tinder, Bumble or OKCupid did fill me with dread. I'd been lucky enough that I'd found my previous boyfriends without an app, and I was at that sweet, sweet age of being questioned about having kids and a husband on a near-weekly basis that put extra weight on my break-up. Because who didn't want to spend their Christmas explaining to their never-left-her-hometown auntie why they broke up with their long-term boyfriend at the unthinkable age of thirty two? How dare I.

But the real silver lining of my new job, of being an interpreter between sales and tech meant that I had pretty close dealings with the VP of Sales, Edward Masen, who'd joined the company three months after me. Tall, gorgeous and built like Luke Macfarlane, he sparked excited gossip in the company. He was quiet and deliberate in his words and interactions and he listened more than talked, an unexpected trait for a successful salesman. He wasn't smarmy, either. He smelled insanely appealing, all woodsy and oakmoss-like, although of course my imagination might've added the scents to a guy that attractive.

Born in Singapore to a British father and an Irish mother, he went to international schools in multiple countries and spoke with an indistinguishable international accent, not quite American but not quite British, either.

Being a divorced forty-five year old with two permanently injured fingers didn't stop him from being my first experience of having to arrange one-on-ones when people in my team went overboard with comments that could've constituted sexual harassment. Twice, I had to remind people that just because he was a man, they worked in a small company and Edward was friendly didn't mean that there couldn't be consequences to inappropriate remarks. Twice, I had to walk up to the man and reassure him that any future comments from the two people (who'd made them) would not be tolerated. He took my words with his usual amiability and looked noncommittal enough that I couldn't really tell how he felt about the remarks.

But whether it was his appearance or behavior, Edward was just one of those people who drew you in, who made you want to spill your life story and invite him to your boat.

(And if you didn't have a boat, he made you want to buy one just to invite him to it.)

We'd worked together for a full year before realizing we had a shared connection. Rose's Brummie husband Emmett, apparently, had gone to Imperial College (London) with the guy, and Emmett introduced me to Edward during their housewarming party. Grinning, we nevertheless shook hands, and his attentive, calm gaze nearly lit a fire in my chest. Being in a relationship, I'd shelved any knowledge of his attraction into a dusty corner of my mind—never to be acted upon—but now, smack in the middle of my realization that Seth and I were caput, I was hit over the head with the strength of his presence and scent.

I had been too busy catching up with friends and acquaintances to find much time to talk to Edward that night, but I was eerily aware of him in the room, his position in relation to mine, his light-hearted comments and crow's feet when he smiled. Sometimes, we held each other's gaze. I didn't know what to make of it all—hell, I didn't even know if he was single or interested—but the warmth of his presence was undeniable.

I broke up with Seth the next day.

It was disastrous, devastating and draining, but I kept telling myself it was the right thing to do and stood my ground (even if I did cry through all of it).

The next day, a Monday, was a beautiful, sunny day. I'd done my absolute best with my appearance: I wore a silky blouse over jeans, my best heels, a touch of make-up and my long hair in a braided bun, but my forced smiles were unlikely to hide my puffy eyes and less than stellar mood. My low spirits were probably why, during a pre-sales meeting with Edward and our cybersecurity manager Jasper, I wasn't at my best. A potential customer went overtime with a presentation on Teams and confused so many software terms I very nearly unleashed my hair to suck at the ends. (A bad habit I avoided advertising by always having my hair up at work.)

Jasper and I sat in a meeting room while Edward took the meeting from his office, and I'd confirmed we were all muted before I groaned and said,

"Dear God, was this guy hired by a donkey? My great aunt Betty understands software better than him."

Edward turned away his head before he switched off his camera, and I realized in horror that Jasper, hoping to ask a question, had unmuted himself a fraction of a second before my comment.

Deep, fierce shame burnt through me, and I mumbled inadequate apologies before Edward turned on his camera again. With a face of impenetrable politeness, he made up an excuse and pretended they'd misheard me. He asked a question, muted himself, and wrote directly in my chat, 'May I have 15 minutes of your time after this meeting?'

As if I could've said no.

Convinced that I'd gotten myself fired for losing us a customer—Edward handled tens of millions in B2B sales—I found myself knocking on his door with my heart in my throat. I shut the door after myself only to find Edward searching for something in his drawers, and while I knew I'd laugh with Rose about my comment in a week, right now I paced in front of Edward's table with a burning throat.

"I'm so terribly, incredibly sorry, Mr. Masen. So, so sorry. I've never, ever made that mistake before, not in any company I've worked at—which is no excuse, I know. I will write to both of them with my apologies and tell them that…"

Turning, I found Edward facepalming as he half-sat, half-leaned against his table. Tears stung my eyes.

"You're going to have to fire me, aren't you?"

He tipped his head back, locking eyes with mine just before he began to shake with silent laughter. His eyes glinted with joy as he calmed down, and I realized he'd turned off his camera because he'd burst out laughing. Carefully, my heart dared to start beating again.

"No, Bella," he replied in a voice that was quiet and calm as ever even if his twinkling eyes betrayed him. "I will not fire you. Nor could I, not being your direct manager."

"But didn't I just lose… potential millions?"

"Not at all," he continued, clicking the bullet-point pen in his hand. "I wouldn't have proceeded with the customer regardless. They don't know the intended use of their software or their target customer. They're ready to pay us to build an app for them but, not having a clue as to what they want, they'd push us around for so long your software team would hate their guts. And mine, if I agreed to their offer. No. We have bigger fish to fry."

I blinked at his incomprehensible words. "I might get fired regardless if you tell the CTO what I said."

"I have no intention of telling James. Why would I?"

"Why wouldn't you?"

Eyes still sparkling, Edward gave me a secret, stifled smile, one that filled my chest with warmth. Slowly, he rolled up the sleeves of his blue button-down and revealed hairy, muscled forearms. Unaware of how conflicted I felt to find a man so breathlessly attractive so soon after my break-up, he asked, "Do you know what I did when I discovered that my marriage was over?"

I crossed my arms and attempted a smile, touched to be trusted with such personal information. "What?"

"I smoked a pack of cigarettes before work—never smoked before or since—marched into my CEO's office, threw a chair out of his window, crumpled my resignation letter in my bleeding hand, and dropped it on his face with a very pointed, 'Fuck you.' All while he was having an important business meeting."

I gaped. "You did not."

"I did." Edward gave me a self-deprecating smile. "Of course, my story makes much more sense when you understand that my wife had been sleeping with him, but… regardless. Breakups are hard." He paused and pushed himself off the table.

"How did you—?"

"Emmett told me," he answered, standing much closer now as he searched my face. "Are you okay?"

It was such a small, heart-felt question I was in danger of bursting into tears again, and I fought with myself not to hug him because that would've been inappropriate, but his warmth and kindness undid me.

I nodded.

"Please take the rest of the day off," he said quietly. "I'll take care of everything."

I didn't hug him, nor did I take him up on his kind offer, but I did find myself in the exceptional, beautiful position of sharing an inside joke with the VP of Sales. From there on, whenever one of us wanted to share something frowned-upon during a meeting with a potential customer, we'd open our chat and ask, 'Is your great aunt Betty okay with this?' or 'Do you think I should great aunt Betty this guy?' Or, my personal favorite, when Edward wanted to ask me a question unfit to be voiced in front of a potential customer, he said, 'I just need to consult with our expert Mrs. Betty before I get back to you.'

And it was glorious.