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

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Hiding (the Christmas Criminal)
by Anton M.

7: Epilogue

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The trouble with our office was that, while the walls were made of glass, they were glazed in a way that showed shadows inside the rooms but didn't help in determining whether or not the person was in a meeting. Sound didn't travel and the rainstorm outside certainly didn't help.

This morning, Edward had left two hours earlier than usual, managing to make it on time for his first meeting with some time-zone-deaf devil from Europe even after I tempted him back to bed for a morning quickie. The man was simply too cute to resist.

His calendar was brimming with back-to-back meetings. When I saw that the bi-weekly meeting he had with the CEO overlapped with lunch, I bought us both chicken shawarmas from downstairs (avoiding the rainstorm) and hoped that I could sneak into his office relatively undetected—not because relationships weren't allowed but because neither of us was interested in that kind of attention. Not after Edward unintentionally announced to the entire company that we were dating, anyway.

We'd successfully concealed our relationship for a good three weeks or so as we covered the bigger and smaller discussions about our future: where we'd live, when we could move in together, whether it was smart to continue trying for kids before we'd settled the answers to the first two topics. Worried that he'd roped me into this, Edward was extremely vocal about being okay if we put a break on that little plan for a few months, but—I discovered I didn't want to. I couldn't wait. Edward was a dream to be with, and we were old enough to recognize the lessons we'd brought into our relationship and the gift of a connection neither of us had dared to hope find in this stage of our lives.

Our determination to seem professional and indifferent around each other at work began every morning in the elevator, which was both hilarious and maddening since neither of us wanted to keep our hands off of each other. Our company was on the 24th floor, so the elevators were usually full of people from other companies.

But, three weeks into our dating, we found ourselves alone for the last eleven floors. Edward, wearing a boring, impeccable suit, stepped half behind me before his knuckles brushed over my butt, his breath blew against my ear, and I was a fraction of a second away from pressing him against the mirrored wall when he nuzzled my hair and whispered, "I love you."

Amazed, I heard the distant ding of the elevator as I locked eyes with him, and he had the softest look in his eyes before he pressed a sneaky, tender kiss on my lips, turned around and walked to his office without glancing back.

His words haunted me for the rest of the day.

It wasn't that he'd said the three words, it was where he'd chosen to first say them. I had an inkling suspicion that he didn't want me to feel forced to say it back but that left me with limited options to reciprocate. Finally, after following him with my eyes most of the day (when I wasn't in my own meetings), I caught Edward exiting a meeting room with the CFO, the COO and a few customer representatives. They slowly headed toward the elevators. Texting, Edward lagged behind them, and I didn't have any specific plan in mind except catching him off-guard like he'd done with me.

I excused myself when I felt the vibration of what must've been his message on my phone.

I walked up to him. Glancing up, Edward's frown disappeared. My heart pounded in my ears as I checked our surroundings (confirming that nobody sat too near), stepped just a little bit closer and whispered, "I love you too."

Disbelief, longing and affection flickered in his eyes but I gave him a mischievous, polite nod before I turned to leave.

Edward grabbed my wrist, flung me into his arms and kissed me. He tasted like coffee and warmth, and I felt simultaneously adored and incredibly self-conscious of how he pressed me closer to him before we both pulled back. His eyes were shining. We couldn't have kissed for more than a few seconds, but the open office beside us had gotten deathly silent, full of gaping mouths and stifled smiles until Jasper crinkled a piece of paper into a ball and threw it on James' desk.

"You owe me twenty."

A few people laughed. Some covered their whispers. Jasper hid a sheepish smile behind his monitor, but I wasn't surprised it was him who'd figured us out given how many meetings he'd had with us. Unfazed, Edward grinned and smoothly introduced me to the customer representatives as the cloud architect for the expected project, and a part of me recognized the twinkle in his eye as relief; relief that everyone knew.

We were the object of office gossip for the rest of the week but, our company being only a few years old, no rules actually prohibited us from being in a relationship. We often caught people watching us when we interacted around others but the attention waned with time.

To have fun and pay our friends back for their meddling ways, Edward had pretended to never have gone to Idaho, and Emmett and Rose's reaction to that news was hilariously disappointed. We managed to keep our relationship from them, too, until the party during which they announced that they were expecting. A few hours into it, they caught us making out against the wall in their kitchen. Rose laughed, Emmett gave her a low five, said something in such a quick, thick Brummie accent that even Edward couldn't catch it, and both disappeared faster than we could've explained anything.

Not that they needed us to based on the smug smiles they shared with each other.

Hoping that this weekly meeting, like all his others with the CEO, also ended quicker than usual, I softly knocked on Edward's door. His clipped, "Yes?" confirmed that his meeting was finished as much as it proved his busyness, and I felt bad for interrupting him but the man had to eat. He, too, had brought me my favorite durum falafel on busy days.

"I'm sorry, I only have—" Fingers of his left hand flying on his keyboard, he cast me a dismissive glance before he did a double-take. He stopped typing.

"Bella." His gaze softened, shoulders lifted, and he let out an Oscar-worthy sigh of epic proportions before his gaze scanned over my body in a way that reminded me of the passion of the morning and the love he so readily shared.

His tie and suit jacket were discarded on the armchair by his left, his usually impeccably combed hair was in a sexy disarray, the sleeves of his button-up were folded to reveal fit, hairy forearms… it was truly insane that I could call him mine, now.

"I only wanted to bring you lunch," I explained, closing the door. I put the food down.

Edward pushed himself away from his table and rolled to the side, holding his arm out for me. "It's a sad world where my wife needs an excuse to see me. Come, love."

Grinning, I walked up to him, leaned on the edge of his table, and took his hand. I rubbed the fingers he couldn't feel as well. Since the day Edward had pulled me into his arms to kiss me breathless in front of half the company, we'd kept our PDA to an absolute minimum, but that didn't keep us from stealing private little moments with each other.

"I have a Valentine's gift for you."

"Valentine's gift?" Edward repeated, confused. "It's June."

"Well, what I'm cooking up takes time. Eight more months, to be exact, so I can't really—"

I laughed when Edward pulled me into his lap and buried his face in my neck. His fingers clutched my back, his warm breath blew over my neck, and his voice was rough with disbelief and tenderness.

"Really?"

"Really," I confirmed, pulling back and cupping his jaw. His eyes shimmered. He smushed his lips against mine in a giddy show of emotions.

"Fuck that's amazing," he gushed, sliding his palms up and down along my sides, his gaze scanning my body. "Are you okay? How do you feel? Did you sleep well? Did you eat? Oh I'm keeping you from—"

I shut him up with a kiss before I grinned. "Everything's fine, love. Keep the worrying for when I'll actually become a pain in the ass."

Edward laughed but, looking amazed and overwhelmed, he kept running his palms all over me, my sides, my hair, my cheeks. "No promises." He kissed me. "Wait, does this mean I can give in my… eight month's notice?"

It was cocky of him but I did agree that our company would have a hell of a time trying to replace him.

"Maybe wait until we're sure everything's running smoothly."

Edward's absent-minded agreement was lost in his breathless delight. Swaying, he hugged me and covered my face in silly little kisses.

When a breeze smacked a cluster of loud raindrops on the windows, Edward laughed.

"You do make the best storms when you're delightfully content."

Brimming with love, I grinned. "I told you."

Brushing his palms over my cheeks, he sobered and searched my eyes. "Are you still okay with me retiring early to take care of our little ones?"

We wouldn't be rich by any means (not by NYC standards), but Edward had prepared to retire early, and we'd made calculations. He could pull out 70K per year from his investments and still be okay for the rest of time. It wasn't an inhumane amount, but, together with my salary, we'd be more than fine. Certainly more comfortable than I'd ever been.

"Absolutely," I confirmed, already looking forward to going home to our kids and the sweetest house husband. "As long as you don't think less of me for wanting to continue my career."

"Never," Edward replied passionately, kissing my ear. "You know, I have quite the thing for career women."

"You surprise me," I replied dryly but I laughed when he tickled me.

Touching his nose against mine, he mirrored my grin, and his eyes glinted with the giddy impatience of a man who'd wanted to be a father for as long as he could remember. "Thank you for turning the lousiest day into the best one. How about I blow off my next meeting, we have lunch, and I suffer through the rest of this beautiful day before I take my cloud architect somewhere special in the evening?"

The End.

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A/N: Thanks a lot for joining me for this tiny snugglefic :) it was a joy to write. I could've easily expanded this to a full-fledged 100K-word story, but someone has to put the breaks on me. (For a writer who doesn't have much plot in her stories, I sure do have a lot to say, lol.)

Scheduled for Friday will pick up next, I just need a few weeks to get back into the groove of that story. I'll post previews on my FB and drive myself mad for writing yet another 300K fic after promising myself I wouldn't do it again. It fits, though—for all their differences (and similarities), Scheduled for Friday wouldn't exist without Diary of an Ugly Girl, so it's a fitting tribute.

I won't attempt to get into all the reasons everything's been delayed lately, but I'm doing my best and I cannot wait to get back into Scheduled for Friday. Feel free to reread the story with me (I'm on chapter 32 right now) to make the wait more bearable, but don't feel obliged. I understand that readers often lose interest during hiatuses like mine, but I couldn't have changed anything about how I've handled this year, so it's okay if you don't feel like returning to it. No hard feelings.

Thanks for everything, guys. You're a delight to share my writing with!

Love,

Mav