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Moving Pictures

By breakfastatbella's

Fanfiction based on Stephanie Meyers Twilight Series Rated M for Mature

Summary: Beautiful Bella's life is dedicated to caring for others. By chance she meets sexy Edward Cullen, a successful documentary filmmaker. The passion is immediate, but the repercussions are far more permanent.

~*~

Prologue

I suddenly realized we are parked at the overlook. Edward glanced out his window toward the rising cliffs and sparkling water, glittered by the lights of houses and the radiance of the moon. "I love this place," he sighed, with a reverence that seemed both melancholy and nostalgic. I wondered silently what magic this place held for him, but decided to lighten the mood instead of pressing him. "So, how many Forks High School cheerleaders did you bring here back in the day?" I giggled under my breath as I said that, leaning my head back against the leather seat. I looked over at his handsome profile, my eyes searching his awesome features intently, waiting for his answer. "Cheerleaders, huh? Do you think I would have liked the cheerleader type of girl?" He raised his eyebrows and shot me that beautiful, crooked grin. "Oh, I'm just teasing youI don't know, Mr. Cullen, then what is your type?" My voice was strangely breathy, and my heart started racing as I awaited his response. What in the hell was he going to say? And at that second, I really, really wanted to know He breached the space between us by taking my hand and leaning closeso close I could feel his warmth, his breath, his being. I felt the longing and the pain of the last few months ignite a need in me so strong, so bold. I closed my eyes and hoped I knew what would follow. He took my hand up to his beautiful mouth and kissed it. The sensation traveled from my hand, straight to my core. God, I hoped he wouldn't stop there. I opened my eyes and looked at him intently through my lashes. "Well, Isabella," he said in a low, velvety voice as he kissed the inside of my elbow, sliding his hands in the most sensuous caress over me. "My type would definitely seem to be" A soft, slow kiss on my forehead. "Ivory skin" Warm hands sliding deliberately to my neck. "A naturally beautiful, exquisite face" Honeyed kisses on each check.

"Long, dark hair" Unhurried fingers combing through my hair. Oh, god, I loved this. This moment. I giggled and finally exhaled the breath I had been holding. I relaxed my head into Edward's welcoming hands, releasing all tension and giving in to the hunger for him stirring inside me. We shared a knowing smile, eyes locking in a way that was itself an acknowledgement of what was to come. My heart raced, and desire welled within me as he reached for the back of my neck and oh so gently knotted my hair around his fingers. He pulled me to him, ever so slowly, until I could feel his breath upon my face. Edward placed his incredible lips on mine, and at once I knew I was done for. Our lips met with a certain resolve that meant something far greater than just a kiss. Our lips opened and tongues touched in a way that was more intimate than anything I had ever experienced. Our first real kiss was long, wet, and very hot. It was new, but familiar at the same time. It was sexy as all hell, but I also felt protected. Perfection. When we finally parted lips, we stared into each other's eyes. I took a deep breath and realized I needed a way outa way out of all the built up emotion of my past. Some way to erase the nightmare that was Marcus, some way to ease the pain of an inevitable loss. "Isabella? Are you alright?" he whispered sweetly into my ear. "What are you thinking? Tell me." My eyes darted to the darkness beyond the car window. Was Edward my way out? Well, I certainly couldn't deny what I felt for this gorgeous, sensitive man. Our kiss told me that. The electricity between us told me that. His hands told me that "Touch me, Edwardplease" I closed my eyes and waited for what I hoped would come next. Edward's breath caught, and I opened my eyes to see him, to gauge his reaction to my remarkably bold request. He closed his eyes and nuzzled my neck. He trailed feather soft kisses down my jaw, behind my ear, and down my neck. Again, I could feel the warmth of his breath against my skin, and every sensitive spot on my body ignited with fire. His long, knowing fingers traced the collar of my sweater, only to stop briefly above my breasts. My breath hitched, and I arched my back ever so slightly to regain his touch. He continued his route, circling my already hard nipple through my sweater. A caress with his palm, a gentle pinch, another caress.

He moved his hand to my other breast that was longing for his touch. He kissed my mouth, but this time it was more forceful, more desperate. He traced my lips with his tongue, and the sensation left me panting for more. My breathing quickened as I realized how fucking much I wanted him. I wanted to feel his tongue on my nipples in that wayswirling, sucking, caressing. Oh I moaned softly in Edward's mouth, and I could feel the edges of his lips twitch up in a smile. We touched foreheads, and immediately I knew this was more than making out at the overlook. He pulled back and stared at me with the most amazing green eyes. I reached out and tugged at his shirt, untucking it. I slowly unbuttoned the top two buttons so I could move my needy hands inside. I caressed his neck and his shoulders. I leaned in to move my hands slowly down his chest, rubbing his nipples with my thumbs. I could feel his breathing increase and his heart beat quicken. He suddenly grabbed my wrists, and for a moment, I wondered what was wrong. He arched his eyebrowsagain, that look!and shook his jacket off and tossed it to the backseat. Ohhe wants more. Maybe I had the same effect on him as he did to me? Holy hell. I boldly made a move to shift against the car door, allowing my legs to fall open to welcome his presence. The back of my head pressed against the chilled window glass, but I paid it no mind. The heat that was building between us was enough for me. Edward leaned toward me, and I instinctively pulled my sweater over my head. Ever the gentleman, he carefully placed it on the dash. Our position in the cramped car was indeed awkward, but it was obvious neither of us cared. He stared at my breasts and traced the outline of my bra. I could feel his touch burning into my skin, leaving a tingling where his fingers had been. He took the palms of his hands and maneuvered them under my bra straps, caressing my shoulders as he lowered themexposing me for him to see. "Oh, god, Bella. You are so beautiful." He reached up to kiss me sweetly on my mouth, knowing that this was something very intimate, very special. My body was on fire with a longing for this man. He took my breast in his hand and began the most pleasurable assault with his tongue. Swirling, sucking, and teasing my nipple. I was so turned on watching himhis eyes, lashes, his mouthI ran my hands through his tousled hair and tried to reign in my emotions. But I couldn't. He looked up at me, briefly, for what I thought may be my blessing to continue. "God, Edward, don't stop. Please" I purred. "Bella, you are fucking beautiful. And delicious" I placed my palm against his perfect face. He turned and kissed it, in a way that was the best possible combination of sultry and sweet. At that moment I knew for sure I was going to combust.

He leaned up toward my ear and began to whisper softly, "I want to feel you, baby. Can I touch you here, Bella?" He ran his fingers down to the waistband of my jeans, descending to the place where I needed to feel him the most. I was swollen and wet and filled with want. I swallowed hard and nodded slowly. "I'm going to unbutton your jeans now. Is that okay, baby?" Oh, fuck. He was going to narrate his torture. He positioned himself over me and slid his fingers around the inside of my jeans, slowly moving toward the button. Suddenly, I was very aware of his erection, long and hard against my leg. Could this be any fucking better? I think not. My breath hitched as I could hardly stand the anticipation of him touching methere. I looked down and watched as he gladly unbuttoned and unzipped the obstacle of clothing between us. The visual alone of his long fingers and masterful hands moving closer to my wet core almost sent me over the edge. I hadn't ever felt this kind of lustful need. How was this possible? "Bella, baby, do you want me to touch you like this?" he said as he gently ran his hand over my panties. I moaned a little louder, heat radiating from my very being. "Or, like this?" His hand was now under the lace, fingering my lips in long, soft strokes. I continued to watch him as he touched me, realizing I might come just from that. I squeezed his shoulders tightly, expressing my desire to move on "OhBella. Baby, you are so wet." He growled low in my ear. He slowly rubbed two fingers down along my centertorturously, slowly, back up and down again. "EdwardpleaseI need, hmmm, please." "Tell me, Bella. Tell me what you need." He kissed me hard, still stroking me, but now with more deliberate and intense motions. His kiss was powerful, all thrusting tongues and loud panting, foreshadowing the very thing he wanted to do next. Suddenly, he pushed two fingers into me, rocking his palm in a rhythm that would be my undoing. "Ahhhoh, god" I whimpered as I reveled in this motherfucking heaven. I felt a euphoric flash of heat sweep over me and realized my orgasm was oh so close. Even Edward was panting now, as my moans had undoubtedly excited him more. I reached for him, yearning to feel his length in my hand. Rrrrinnnggg. Our moment came to a spiraling crash as my cell phone shrilled inside my purse. "Damn!"

Rrrrinnnggg. Edward slowly removed his fingers, then his hand. Rrrrinnnggg. The ringing, goddammit! I reached down on the floorboard and fumbled through my purse for the phone. "Hello?" Edward rested his forehead into my hair and laid his free hand across my stomach. I sighed at his sensitive touch. "Bella, honey. I'm sorry, but things aren't good here." It was Sue. Startled, I sat up and covered myself. Edward shifted to his seat and watched me closely. "He's been vomiting for about an hour. It is everywhere, a mess. Honey, I can't move him to clean things up or change anything. God, Bella. I'm so sorry." "No, no, Sue. It's okayI'llI'll be right there. Don't worry." "Bella, I swear, he had tears in his eyes." "Oh, Sue" I hung up, tossed the phone in my purse, and grabbed my sweater. I pulled it on and straightened my legs to zip and to button my jeans. I realized I hadn't said a word. I looked straight out the window. Edward reached for my face and wiped away the tears. Again. I couldn't even look at him. "Can you take me home please? They need me." "Of course I can. YeahheyBella. Look at me." His fingers grazed my chin as he tried to turn my face toward his. But I fought it and continued to stare out the window. Goddamn everything! The tears continued to flow, and we drove in darkness and silence to my house.

1.

I heard a light knocking at the front door. It was 4 o'clock in the afternoon, an unusual time of day for most visitors. But I knew who it was and why she was here. And I was ever so thankful. "Dad, that's probably Sue," I explained, while reassuringly patting his arm. "Be right back." I smiled and kissed him lightly on his forehead, making my way to the door. "What's she doing here now?" Charlie strained to ask that simple question, and his voice was

raspy and weak. I didn't answer him, as I knew he needed all the energy he could muster. Carrying on conversations was becoming more and more difficult for the both us, of course, for very different reasons. Charlie had always been a taciturn man, and he certainly was not the type to offer up drivel about this and that. If he needed to say something, he said it and not much more. But I really missed hearing about his fishing exploits and the Forks' police station gossip. I laughed to myself as I thought what Charlie characterized as gossip, like who was drunk where or who lost in the football pool. Bless him. He certainly had his moments. I opened the door and sighed in relief at Sue's smiling, warm face. She had been a godsend these last few months. Between my shifts at the hospital, caring for Charlie, and the personal shitstorm I had created with Marcus, I was losing focus and becoming mentally exhausted. I had tried unsuccessfully to take Marcus out of the equation, but he was becoming more and more relentlessscary, even. "Hi, honey." She said and reached out, embracing me. It felt wonderful. I realized suddenly how much I looked forward to this daily comfort. I squeezed her just a bit tighter. "Oh, Bella. Honey, how are you?" She stared at me with a sympathetic, knowing look. "I'mI'm herehey, Sue, thanks for coming early today. I really need a run. I'm on for three nights, and I need to" I sounded pathetic and stopped carrying on. "Of course, you know, anytime. Charlie is my only patient right now. Did I tell you Mrs. Cope passed away last week?" "Oh, no. Mrs. Copethat wasfast" I gasped and my words trailed to a whisper. We both glanced toward the living room, where Charlie's hospital bed was visible through the arched opening. "He's really tired today, Sue," I began, filling her in on the details of the last twelve or so hours. "He ate some pudding around 2 o'clock. Dr. Cullen said to just keep offering his favorites. He's supposed to stop by tomorrow around lunchtime." "Go, Bella, go," she said, gently pushing me toward the door. "It's a gorgeous afternoon. I'm here now. Go get some fresh air." I returned her smile and stepped out, into freedom. The cool, crisp spring air felt incredible as it filled my nose and lungs. I was not quite used to this kind of chill in late April. The Washington weather was mostly cold and wet, nothing like living in the South. I had been back in Forks for a year, and I was growing increasingly fond of the lush forests and mountain views. If I were still in Florida, I would probably be in my bathing suit at the beach by now. But I had come here in order to care for Charlie, leaving menial things like that behind. I didn't miss Florida much at all, knowing how much I would miss Charlie was immeasurable. So, I had come home, that is, to the very first place I had ever called home. Forks was where my parents met and fell in love, where I was born, and where their marriage had ended. It was a

mutual ending, to be sure, but sad nonetheless. In Florida, I lived in Jacksonville, about an hour away from my mother Renee. For four years I worked as an obstetrics nurse at an inner city hospital. Yes, I did love that job, but my work was the only thing keeping me there. Renee and I had never had the proverbial "mother-daughter" relationship; instead, we were more like girlfriends. She said it kept her young. She had finally married againto a great guy named Philand was in love. Needless to say, my leaving Jacksonville for Forks was understood as completely warranted. Thankfully, I was lucky enough to get an OB job at Forks General. So, I packed up my tiny apartment and moved home, never looking back. By the time I arrived in Forks late last spring, Charlie's cancer had spread. And, before we knew it, it was too late for most treatments. Being a nurse, I recognized that the best possible thing to do for him was to keep him as comfortable as possible. Oh, Charlie I couldn't erase the vision of himlying in the borrowed hospital bed in the middle of his living room, in the house he built with his own hands twenty-seven years ago. Renee had been pregnant, and he was determined to have it built by the time I was born. She told me many times how Charlie had been so proud when he picked out the lot, with its beautiful trees and all, for her. He had built every part of it himself, down to the kitchen cabinets. To her credit, Renee was sincerely concerned for Charlie, and I kept her updated through email as often as I could. I had run only two miles, but I had to stop to catch my breath. Fighting tears and fatigue, I felt like throwing myself on the ground and screaming like a child. This run did not turn out like I thought it would. When did my life become so complicated? I was strong, but I wondered how much more I could really take. A loud horn startled me from my rambling thoughts. Jake. What the hell? Jake pulled up his truck beside me, just off the road. He shouted through the open window. "You got out for a run," smiling a big, proud smile. "Hey, Jake. Yeah, Sue came early." From his genuine smile I could tell he was happy for me to be taking a momentary respite. "Bells, I'm headed home, wanna a ride back?" "Um, okay." I hopped up and slid in the passenger's side of Jake's truck. "You know my ass is telling me I really should run home." He chuckled and smiled, "I think your ass looks freakin' fantastic." I rolled my eyes at my good friend and gave him a playful shove to the ribs. Jake and I were comfortable enough in our friendship to kid with each other in flirty, mindless ways. We were also close enough to divulge our secrets and to share our troubles with one another. Working at the hospital side by side had thrown Jake and me together at a time when I needed a friend like

him the most. Everyone said he was the best damn anesthesiologist Forks General had ever seen. And I believed it. "Why are you finished so early? No surgeries, any deliveries?" I wondered, as his doctor's hours were often longer than mine. "No, I was in for a while, but they didn't need meOh, yeah, Dr. Cullen's daughter was admitted earlier. Rosalie." I recalled Carlisle mentioning how excited he was about the upcoming birth of his first grandchild. Apparently, the baby's birth was all anyone in the Cullen household could talk about. The Cullen women were busy decorating, buying onesies, and reading all the required maternity material. Carlisle laughed as he told me all of this, adding that it was making the women barely tolerable to be around. "Well, that Rosalie. She is a fucking handful. Always has been." Jake almost snorted that revelation. I chuckled at his expression, thankful she had not been admitted on my shift. Jake had grown up around the Cullen family, so he knew what Rosalie's disposition was inclined to be. She had a spit-fire, no nonsense attitude when she wasn't in labor, so there was no telling what would be going down at the hospital while she was there. I often marveled at the close-knit feel of Forks. I suppose if I hadn't moved to Florida with Renee so long ago, I would have been a part of that closeness. Being the small town it was, everyone knew every body's family so well. But on the flip side, everyone knew every body's business so well. And that was one fact about Forks I unfortunately had to learn the hard way. Jake blew out a deep breath. "Good luck, girl, if you have her room tonight. She was asking me for an epidural as soon as Marcusuh, Dr. James handed me her chart." He rolled his eyes and continued, "She's in early labor so it will be a while, I think." I shuttered slightly at the sound of Marcus's name. We were in my driveway, so I knew I wouldn't have to talk about him anymore. "So you're on call tonight?" I asked brightly, trying to keep any thoughts of Dr. Marcus James from creeping into my mind. I opened the door and hopped out. "Yeah, maybe I'll see you later. Uh, hey, Bellstake it easy, okay?" His concern for me was kindhearted and honest. "Thanks for the ride, Jake." I winked and waved. As I walked up the steps to my front door, I suddenly felt a little awkward and insecure. Wonderful. Now even my friends were feeling sorry for me. The hot shower felt heavenly. I turned in to face the steaming water, and the stinging sensation on my tender nipples reminded me of Marcus. I began to move my hands over my breasts, feeling them soften under the hot water, trying to wash away the tortuous thoughts of him

plaguing my mind. But my exhausted brain kept playing his voice message from this morning in a constant, agonizing loop. "Bella, we need to talk. Fucking Victoria is back. She came home last night with the boys. We're going to Seattle for the weekend to watch the Mariners. Damn it, Bella. We really need to talk. Now. Call me." Son of a bitch. Now? He ordered me around like I was one of his children. It made me sick to my stomach to think about the way he talked to me now, especially now. I leaned my head against the wet shower tiles, rubbing my stomach and covering my breasts as if to protect them from the very image of him. I closed my eyes tightly and let the water fall in a cleansing stream around me. In Jacksonville, I had never been involved with anyone from the hospital. That was my rule; I kept my professional life professional and my personal life just thatpersonal. Unfortunately for me, things in Forks didn't play out that way. I had broken my golden rule and had an affair with a doctor. And a married one at that. What in the hell was I thinking? What did I ever see in him? Well, I knew what it wasat first. Perhaps I couldn't help myself. I was living a solitary existence: new to town, mostly homebound, living and breathing caring for Charlie, dedicated to my work. And then Marcus came along. He was the kind of man who looked more distinguished and handsome as he aged, with sharp, masculine features and dark hair peppered with gray. Certainly, I was flattered by his initial advances; he had acted as the gentle, caring and knowing suitor to my young, lonesome ingnue. Marcus was 15 years older than me, and I thought he could make me feel protected. He did anything but. I felt the water in the shower turn tepid, so I grabbed the soap and started washing my face, my arms, my legsI looked down at the slight scar that was hidden on my inner thigh. Dammit! That may never go away. I rubbed the soap in furious circles over the very spot. Why had things taken such a seedy turn for the worst? Marcus and I met one night at the hospital, he was the attending doctor and I was the on call nurse. We exchanged lighthearted smiles as we worked side by side. Well, eventually, those smiles turned into coffee. Coffee turned into lunch, then lunch became dinner, and before I knew it, we were having sex. For six months we worked together on the OB floor, and for six months we slept together where we could. All along he told me he was in the process of a divorce, which turned out not to be true. His wife, Victoria had moved away with their two sons. He said the divorce was a long time coming, but he missed his boys terribly. In him, I saw a father devastated by the fact his boys would be living life from a broken home. What a good actor he was. He made me think he was the admirable one in the whole mess, that Victoria was the cheat and the liar. The sad part of it all was I believed him. I washed away the soap, shaking my head to myself. Our sexual relationship was not based on love; it was a lustful one that simply met the needs of two people at very different points in their lives. I knew I never loved him; hell, now I despised him, really. And the longer we were

together, the more difficult it became to have sex with him. I winced at the memory of the moment when I saw our relationship for what it wasraw, dirty and carnal. I refused to have sex with Marcus at his house, as if this justified the situation I put myself in. We had been very creative with the location of our dalliances, but the night he took me to the Volterra Motel on the edge of town near Port Angeles, everything changed. Marcus always liked sex a little on the rough side, but five months into our affair, it had become the kind of sex I definitely was not comfortable with. When we were alone, his manner transformed from doting doctor to covetous lover. He didn't need to be jealous; I was monogamous in my relationship with him, and I had only been intimate with one other man, my ex-boyfriend in Florida. In the motel, as soon as the door to the room slammed shut, he shoved me with forceful hands against a wall, so hard I landed against it with a thud. He flung his body onto mine, covering my mouth with his hand such a way I thought I might not be able to breathe. He really scared the shit out of me. Marcus had never hurt me before, so I thought this was some kind of kinky game he wanted to play. He leaned in to my ear and whispered, "Oh, Bella." And with that, he ripped my t-shirt from my body and yanked my jeans down as far as they could go. I gasped as he tore away my panties and bra. He had always wanted me to take them off myself as he watched. This time, however, he was pawing them off himself. He held my hands above my head and ran his hands up and down my body, squeezing here and there as he went along. "Marcuswhatwhat is wrong? You seem angry. Marcus! You're scaring me." "It's okay, sweetheart. Trust me." He kicked my jeans from around my ankles and thrust my legs apart with his knee. I wasn't so sure that I liked this, but I played along. He breathed into my ear and slid his wet tongue up my cheek. Suddenly, for the first time in five months, I felt a little wary of his touch. "Bella, II just can't get enough of you. I've been thinking about fucking you all day." He released my arms and gripped my thighs, and for a moment, I thought he was going to slam himself into me. Instead, he drove his tongue inside my mouth, moving it without hesitation or regard for me. My body pressed against the wall, the weight of him pushed into me, and I noticed my spine began to ache. "Marcus, this hurts." I whispered. "God, Bella fuck!" His eyes became dark and his movement frenzied. He turned me around and flung me onto the bed.

"Marcus!" I tried to sit up, but his hands clamped around my thighs. Again, he pushed them apart and hovered over me. I thought he would enter me for sure this time. He didn't. He sneered at me instead. "Fuck, Bella. I own your body, you know thatI fucking own youugh" I froze with shock, taken aback by his domineering words, my eyes locking on the ceiling to avoid his gaze. And that's when I felt it. An unexpected, excruciating pain. He had bitten me slightly, sunken his teeth into the flesh on the inside of my thigh, just below the surface of my skin. And that was the beginning of the end of Marcus and me. I turned the water off and grabbed my towel; I had already been in the shower too long. I still had to get ready, and I welcomed the notion of going to work tonight, even if I had to see Marcus. Rosalie Cullen had been admitted, and tending to her would keep my thoughts from straying to him. And Charlie would be well cared for; Sue would be with him through the night while I finished my shift. After blow drying my hair, I decided to pull it into a low chignon. Hmmm. I hadn't worn my hair like this in years. I dusted my cheeks with a bit of blush and stared at myself in the mirror. Crap, I do look tired. I decided to add a touch of mascara, which I knew would undoubtedly be gone by the end of my 12-hour shift. I opened my drawer and realized the only clean underwear I had left was my expensive, pink lace pairThe last time I wore theseMarcus. Marcus! The thought made my stomach churn. I pulled on my scrubs and shoes and headed out the door. I made a mental note to do laundry the very first thing in the morning

2.

I approached the nurses' station and noticed Marcus leaning on the counter, signing papers, and chatting with Jessica Stanley, another OB nurse who worked on our floor. Great. This was not the way I wanted to start my long night. I sighed from frustration, but I resigned myself to keep my cool and to remain as professional as possible toward Marcus during work. I realized people at the hospital knew about us, but thankfully, I was spared from the whispering gossip. I guessed it was in part out of respect for my father, as no one wanted to be caught blathering about Chief Swan's daughter. Still, most of our mutual friends tried to reserve judgment, especially since no one really knew the absolute truth behind the James's rumored divorce. Including me. I saw Marcus offer Jessica his sexy, sly smirk. Smug bastard, his flirting knows no bounds. And poor Jessica, who in her innocence was probably not immune to his wicked charms. "Bella," Jessica greeted me with her per usual perky smile. "God, your hair looks so pretty like that. I love it. You should really do that more often."

"Uh, thanks, Jess. Yeah, just trying something different," I said, as my eyes darted toward Marcus. "I thought it was time for a change, I guess." I said that last part just a little louder, with a strong emphasis on the word change. I walked around the desk to log onto the computer. Obviously, my snide remark wasn't lost on Marcus, as he inhaled deeply and tapped his pen closed on the counter with force. Jessica carried on about something else, oblivious to the smoldering glare Marcus threw in my direction. I certainly noticed, but I kept my eyes peeled on Jessica's perfectly white teeth, nodding and smiling at her random chitchat. Marcus handed the paperwork to her, never taking his eyes off me. I kept my cool, despite my heart racing in a dreadful way. "Thanks Dr. James, I'll take these down right now." Jessica took the papers and bounced down the hall. "Did you get my voicemail?" he whispered, with agitation in his voice as he leaned over me at the computer. I held my eyes steady on the screen while answering him. "Ummm, yeah, sorry I didn't call. Charlie had a bad day today. It was really just" "Bella, look at me. We need to talk." I looked up from the screen. I replied in as low a voice as I could. "Marcus, I've told you before. There is nothing else to say. Really. Let's just leave it alone. Put it behind us." I paused, trying to gauge his reaction. For a month he hadn't wanted to take "no" for an answer. I continued, purposefully deflecting his attention to his family, "I bet your boys are excited to see you." He smiled slightly, looking down, and shook his head. "Yeahthey're on spring break. They're really excited about going to the Mariners' gameBella, please. We need" "Hey, are you signed on now?" Jessica appeared suddenly and cut him off before he could offer his plea. "Mike and I are meeting his parents for dinner, so I have to run." Marcus turned and stalked off, throwing his head around to gaze back at me and to raise his eyebrows in a way that I knew our conversation was far from over. "Yeah, Jess. I'm all set, just give me a quick run down." "Well, you only have one admit in OB tonight. But, I have to warn you. It's the one and only Rosalie Cullen McCarty." She was whispering now and throwing her hands around to make a grand gesture. I smiled, "Oh, yeah, Dr. Cullen's daughter. So what's her status?" "She's fine. Just 2 centimeters and comfortable. Dr. James has her on the monitor" Jessica was in a rush to finish and glanced at her watch. "I just charted everything, so it shouldn't be a big deal." She started to hurry down the hall. "Thanks, Bella. I'll see you tomorrow."

"Bye, Jess. Have fun at dinner." I looked down to review some paperwork and to make some notes. I was startled by a thump on the counter. It was Jessica, who had run back to me in a huff. "Hey, listen," she talked with clenched teeth, trying to be very quiet. "I heard Rosalie tell her husband that her brother will be here soon. Now, I don't know which brotherbut, Bella. Oh, my goodness, if it's the older one, Edward. God, Bella, he is perfection!" I had never met any of the Cullen children. Carlisle did have photographs of Rosalie, Edward and Jasper in his office, but they were all from when the kids were younger. And Rosalie was the only one still living in Forks. It actually made me laugh out loud that Jessica was so giddy from talking about Edward. Jessica laughed, too, but realized it was louder than she expected, and her hand flew up to her mouth. She continued in a whisper, "I really haven't seen him, Edward, since high school. But, Bella, you will die! Oh, okay, gotta run!" She giggled as she jogged down the hall. I shook my head and chuckled some more. Hmmmit feels good to laugh. ... When I entered Rosalie's room, the TV was loud and tuned to baseball. Her husband was reclined in the chair sleeping peacefully, ignoring the cadence of thumping on the monitors. "Hi, I'm Bella. I'm your nurse tonight. Just checking in. How are you feeling?" I began checking Rosalie's IV. "Okay, yeah, Bella. My back is killing me." "Well, then, let's start with these." I reached around her and began to adjust her pillows. As I leaned over her, I was in awe of her features. Rosalie was beautiful. Certainly, Dr. Cullen was an extremely handsome man, and his wife Esme was refined and picturesque. But Rosalie had a beauty unto her own. Her lips were full and brilliantly red, her blonde hair cascaded elegantly down her shoulders. Even during labor, she looked gorgeous. "How's that?" I asked, as I fluffed the last pillow. "Mmmm, I don't know" She shifted her very pregnant body forward and tried to plump up the pillows herself. She fluffed, and then fluffed again. Finally, she gave up. "Ugh. I really want this damn belt off my stomach. It's itching me like crazy." "Yeah, I know these can get tight. Here. Let's see if I can adjust it a bit." I started moving the monitor's belt around her stomach, eventually enough to appease her. Or so I thought. "Dr. James wants his patients to stay on the fetal monitor pretty much the entire time," I explained. She began to wince again at the positioning of the belt, as if I had reminded her it was there, and I figured out this would be a very long night. A cell phone began to buzz and vibrate. Rosalie shouted her husband's name and stomped her leg

against the bed, trying to wake him. "Emmett! Emmett! The phone." "Oh, yeah, okay" He reached for the phone and answered it, still groggy from his nap. "UmmmHello? Hey, man...GreatYeahI'll be right down." "Hey, Rose. That was Edward. I'm going down to get him." He kissed her forehead and then turned to me. "HiEmmett McCarty." He shoved his large hand out toward me, and I shook it, expecting to hear a cracking of bones. Emmett was huge to say the leasttall, very muscular buildbut with kind, cheerful eyes. "HiI'm Bella. You're the dad?" "Yup." He flashed the biggest toothy grin as he straightened his shoulders with pride. I couldn't help but smile back at him. His size was daunting, but he seemed like nothing short of a sweet teddy bear. "Well, congratulations." He grinned yet again, gave Rosalie another kiss this one on her cheekand headed out the door. "Good. He's gone. Can you turn that shit off?" Rosalie asked, pointing to the TV. "Sure, here you go." I handed her the remote that was lying right next to her. At that moment, I prayed for the patience I needed to continue with my work. I then began my vitals check routine. I hunched over Rosalie, attempting to listen to her heartbeat with my stethoscope, but I heard laughter just outside the door. Her visitor was here, so I decided to try again later. Emmett and Edward shot through the room, and Edward promptly approached his sister's bedside to hug her. I shifted a few steps out of the way, wrapped my stethoscope around my neck, and averted my eyes to give them some semblance of privacy. I glanced at Emmett, already fumbling with the TV remote, looking pissed the game was off. "Hey, sis, how's it going?" "Edward, how the hell do you think?" was Rosalie's deadpan response. I looked down as I giggled under my breath, thinking Jake wasn't exaggerating about Rosalie one bit; she was a fucking handful. And it was at that very moment, I felt the oddest sensation someone's eyes were upon me. I slowly gazed back to Rosalie and her brother, my eyes peeking through my lashes. Oh. Oh. It was Edward. Edward was looking at me, smiling. Our eyes met, and a lump instantly formed in my throat. I couldn't swallow. I couldn't breathe. Jessica was right. I was going to die To say Edward was a gorgeous man was an understatement. His eyes were a piercing emerald green, sparkling even under the fluorescent hospital lights. His hair was a golden brown, tousled in the best possible way, screaming for fingers to run their course through it. He was wearing

well-worn jeans that hung just right, a white button-down shirtunbuttoned just enoughand a dark brown blazer. Oh fucking my. And then he held out his hand to shake mine. "Hi. Edward Cullen." He was staring at my name badge. I consciously had to remind myself to breathe. That smile. Those eyes. I felt as though they were piercing straight into my soul. I was at a loss for words, any words. Even my name. Instead of taking his handwhat in the world was I thinkingI instinctively tugged at my name badge, hoping that would will my lips to move. "OhhiBella Swan." For a moment, I thought I would faint. I was lightheaded and dizzy. I'm sure my blushing gave me away, and I'm certain he was used to dazzling those around him. "Oh, man! Swanare you Charlie Swan's daughter?" Emmett bellowed, snapping me back to reality from a very surreal place. "Yeah ahyes, I am." "Oh, jeez. Carlisle told me about your dad. God, I'm sorry. You know he wasisone of our biggest team boosters. Ya know he never missed a game." I noticed Edward scrunch his brow and frown in question and concern. He was still staring at me. What the hell? My heart rate accelerated. His constant gaze was unnerving, and I felt quite selfconscious. I fumbled at regaining my composure. "Oh, that's right," I looked at Emmett, relieved my brain was back to functioning. "You're the head coach over at Forks High. Charlie loves local sports. He hasn't been to a game in a while, so I usually read him the Saturday sports page a few times through during weekend." Rosalie began to shift uncomfortably, drawing our attention to her again. She was having a contraction, and the monitor's beep sped up then slowed as the contraction ceased. Edward finally broke his gaze and looked at Rosalie. "Okay, sis? Mom was right. You really do have a glow." I thought I heard a tinge of sarcasm in his tone, and he grinned at her. But Rosalie was pissed. "Shut up, Edward! It's because it's so damn hot in here." "Oh, let me check the thermostat." I jumped at the chance to flee and to regain my composure. "And I'll get MarDr. James. He'll want to see you before he leaves for the night." I was beyond nervous. Why the hell am I so flustered? I headed toward the door. "Nice to meet you, Bella." Edward's velvety voice hummed across the room. All I could muster was smile in response. "Hey, Bella. Maybe I should stop by with Carlisle and see your dad. Talk some plays or

something," Emmett added brightly. I turned at the door to look back at Emmett. "Sure. Charlie would really love that." I smiled at Edward once more and escaped through the door. Holy shit. Collapsing on the counter at the nurses' station, I debated whether or not to text Jessica to tease her about Edward. I reached for my cell phone. "Bella." It was Marcus. Dammit. "What?" I said, rather annoyed. He frowned. "You. Me. We're talking right now." "Actually, Dr. James, Rosalie is feeling some discomfort. Can you go in and see her?" I pointed to her room. I knew his loyalty to the Cullen family would trump any confrontation with me. Our little talk could wait until later. He started walking to Rosalie's room, but stopped short to turn and face me. "Miss Swan, are you coming?" I rose and followed him. Bastard. Upon entering the room, I immediately searched for Edward. We exchanged a quick glance, and Marcus met him with a nurturing embrace. "Edward! How long's it been?" He grinned proudly at Edward, patting him on the back. "Oh, I don't know. About two years," Edward answered. He flashed that smile and ran his fingers through his hair. I was mesmerized by him, but I was also a little shaken by Marcus and Edward togetherin the same roomwith me. "Where have you been for two damn years? Besides making beautiful Esme worried sick," Marcus joked. "Oh, Dr. James, Mom doesn't worry about me too much. I send her clips of me from volcanoes, jungles, caves" Edward responded with a chuckle and tucked his hands into his pockets. He made the simplest movements look incredibly sexy. They all laughed, knowing his statement about Esme wasn't entirely true. I wondered to myself what work he did to warrant travelScientist?...Journalist? I attempted to stay in the background, wishing I could sneak out quietlymaybe taking Edward with me? Why did he keep looking at me? I was sweating and regretted wearing a long sleeve t-shirt under my scrubs. "So, Marcus, are your boys gonna play summer ball this year?" Emmett asked. I reactively crossed my arms, and my eyes hit the floor.

"Yeah, I hope so. I mean, I know they want to. They've been with Victoria in Atlanta for about six months. They're home now. We're headed to a Mariners game this weekend." Oh, please get this over with. Emmett rambled on a few more minutes about baseball. "Alright, so what's new with this lovely lady over here?" Marcus walked toward Rosalie. Moving out of the way, Edward stood behind us. I felt my stomach muscles tighten as he brushed past me. My heart raced at the closeness of him. I watched Marcus feel around his neck absentmindedly for his stethoscope, with no luck. He casually reached over and took mine from around my neck. He did it without thinking, hesitating at my neck, grazing his fingers against me, for just a second too long. Edward was standing so close, I knew he saw what Marcus had done. I clutched the back of my neck and turned ever so slightly behind me. Edward offered me an oddly sympathetic smile. I'm sure he saw the blush rise on my cheeks. As Marcus carried on cooing to Rosalie about all of her concerns, Carlisle and Esme bounced into the room and headed straight for Edward. I smiled at their happy reunion and decided it was good time to duck out. I was pretty much done with all of the familial bliss. Standing in the quiet hospital hallway, I felt a twinge of sadness. I walked to the desk phone and called home. "Hi, Bella. He's sleeping peacefully," Sue reassured me. "Okay, well, did you eat?" I asked. "Oh, yes. Esme Cullen brought over the most delicious quiche a little while ago. You wouldn't believe how good it was." I smiled and looked back at Rosalie's closed door. "Hmmm. That was really nice. The Cullens are an amazing family." I said goodbye and hung up. I needed some fresh air. I told Jane, our floor receptionist, to page me if anyone needed me. I just needed a 10-minute break. I slipped out a side exit, pushing the lever on the glass door. The cool, dark air hit me in a welcome rush. I savored a cleansing breath and closed my eyes. "Bella." It was Marcus, whispering in my ear. "Shit! You scared me." I spun around. He was standing only inches from me, holding his jacket and expensive briefcase, wearing a smug grin. "You look beautiful in the moonlight, Bella." He shifted his jacket over his arm and brushed the fingers from his free hand down my neck. I coughed and shifted away from him. "Cut the crap, Marcus." "Sweetheart, we have to talk. I don't know what you're feeling...Fuck, I don't know what I'm feeling right now."

"It doesn't matter what we're feeling. It's over," I said, shaking my head. I lifted my hands up, wanting to push him away. "I don't want to fill in the blanks anymore. Victoria left you. You said you were devastated and lonely. But she's back with your boys. That's all that matters now." I shrugged my shoulders, as if to say the conversation was over. "You were lonely, too, Bella." He moved closer and grabbed my hand. He started to bring it to his mouth, but I pulled away before his lips could touch me. "Marcus, don't. I'm done." I stepped back toward the hospital door. "I've been done. You've known that. You need your family more." This time, he seized my arm at the elbow, his fingertips squeezing my skin. "Bella, how can you just give this up" I yanked my arm away. "Because 'this' feels like shit. I'm exhausted, worried, sad. Charlie is dying! Do you fucking understand that?" My anger was rising with every word. "No, of course you don't. You can only think straight when I'm naked." I took another step backward. "Bella, stop. That's not true. Dammit, you mean so much to me. You fucking know that." He moved closer, trying to take hold of me any way he could. "Enough! Please leave me alone." He reached towards me again, but I turned away. That was when I noticed Edward behind the glass door. I froze and looked back at Marcus; he hadn't noticed Edward. "Okay, okay. I'll go. But we aren't done with this." With that, he walked away into the darkness. I turned toward the door just as Edward was pushing it open. I wrapped my arms around myself. "Hi. It's pretty chilly out here. I was just heading in." Suddenly, I was very anxious. How long had Edward been at the door? How much had he seen? "Oh, yeah? Well, I was actually coming out for some fresh air." He smiled that same beautiful smile. "Ohokay is Rosalie alright in there?" "Oh, god, are you kidding? She is reveling in the attention. And she is in the hands of the good doctor Carlisle, chief of staff, oncologist extraordinaire." I tried to grin, but I failed. Edward searched my face for meaning. "Oh, shit, Bella. I'm such an ass. I'm sorry." He ran his hand through is hair. I assumed he had just realized Carlisle was Charlie's doctor. "No, noit's okay," I reassured him. "Your dad is a very good man," I smiled to alleviate his embarrassment. "Your sarcasm is well noted, though." Edward's face became serious.

"Where did the cancer start?" He asked about Charlie's cancer, and he seemed legitimately concerned. "His pancreas. It's pretty much everywhere now, though. Your dad has been incredible." My voice lowered to a painful whisper. Edward took a few steps toward me and stared into my eyes. "Bella, I feel incredibly stupid right now," he said. "I've always been a bit of a smartass. Can we start this conversation over?" I was more than happy to oblige. "Sure," I responded. His handsome face looked relieved. He started running his long fingers through his hair again. Maybe he was as nervous as I was? He had barely taken his eyes from mine since he walked outside. And I honestly loved it. "So, where did you fly in from?" This time, I moved forward to close the space between us. "Oh, Philadelphia, actuallyyeahI've been there prepping for my new film." "Wow. Are you a director, producer?" "Well, I do a little of everything. I make documentaries." He stated it rather modestly. "That must be exciting. I wonder if I've seen anything you've done." I really couldn't think of something smart enough to say. "It is exciting. I really enjoy what I do. I've shown some of my work at festivals back East. One piece was on that music and arts channel on TV last year." "Your parents must be so proud." I said that, even though I found it odd neither Carlisle nor Esme ever mentioned Edward's work. "They are, even though it wasn't their first choice for me." I figured his parents had wanted him to be a doctor like Carlisle. He seemed slightly distant when I said that, so I changed the subject. "So, what's in Philadelphia?" "Oh, I'm working on my next project. I'm chronicling the life of an up and coming restaurateur. Her name is Angela Weber. It's a rags to riches kind of story, really." "AhI haven't been to Philadelphia before. What made her choose it?" "Philly, of course, is rich in history, but it is also full of some of the finest restaurantsand pubs." He laughed at that part, but continued, "Well, Angela had a difficult childhood, but she refused to follow the dark and dangerous path some of her friends had. She chose to finish high school and study culinary arts. She's completely self-made...done quite well for herself. She's even written a book, Ciao Metro. Do you like to cook?"

"Um Sorry, not muchlately." I shot him a shy smile. "Well, Angela chose Philly because she wanted to go back to her roots. She bought an old building on Market Street and is converting it into a restaurant and bar." His face lit up as he talked about his work, and it was refreshing to see that kind of happiness. "To be honest, I really know nothing about what you do. How long does it take to make a documentary?" "It really depends on the subject. For this one, I'm going to be in Philadelphia for awhile. I just leased a townhouse on South Streetclose to everything. It's a really cool spacea renovated warehouse. It's huge." He rolled his eyes and grinned. "I'll probably end up feeling lonely in it." The word lonely caught us in an awkward moment. My insides twisted at the thought he really had overheard Marcus and me. He quickly added, "Yeah, I'm hoping my crew will stay with me to save money. And keep me company." We both smiled, and he chuckled. Holy hell, he was gorgeous and humble. We simply stared at one another for the longest time. No words. No movement. Just eyes. The wind shifted, and the sudden cool air made me grasp myself tighter. "Hey, do you want my coat? God, I'm sorry I didn't even think" I interrupted him, "No, no. But thank you. I'd better head back in and check on the patient." I winked. What the hell, you just winked at him! We headed inside. "So, do you think we're close to the baby's big debut? Or do you think I've got time to run home, you know, to shower and sleep for a bit?" I suddenly felt disappointed he might leave. I knew my frown was apparent. "Oh honestly, I think she has a good while to go. I mean, you never really know for sure. But, yeah, I guess you probably have time." We then saw Carlisle moving toward us down the hallway. "There you are," he said as he glanced at both of us. Carlisle's temperament was gentle, and I had grown to appreciate and value his friendship. "Oh, now, Bella. Remember, I'll be by tomorrow at noon to check on Charlie." I could see the concern on Edward's face as he recognized the serious nature of Charlie's condition. "Edward, your mother and I are headed home. Ride with us. You know she is absolutely dying to dote on you." "UhBella was just saying Rosalie might deliver tonight. I'm going to stick around and keep Emmett calm." The smile was back, and his eyes held mine again.

"II didn't say" I stopped my protest and then played along. What the hell was he doing? "Okay. Well, I guess that might be good for Emmett. He can be a bit of a loose cannon under pressure." Carlisle laughed as led us down the hallway. I peeked over at Edward, who was still watching me. He flashed his beautiful smile and winked. Oh my. ... I made it home, just after 7 in the morning to relieve Sue. I was not as tired as I should have been. It was probably because Rosalie had not had her baby after all. Her labor had stalled, but Edward stayed with her through the night. I selfishly hoped it was to talk with me. During the rest of my shift we talked more about his film, and about how he had started at Stanford, then abandoned med school for film school in New York. I gathered he was more or less the black sheep of the Cullen family, but that label served him well. He was genuine and polite. He bought me coffee and asked me more about my dad. We also talked about my life in Florida. The more we talked I discovered, Edward also had a biting sense of humorhe made jokes about Rosalie and the attitude she could wield so well. But most of all I could not get over the way he made me feelincredible. When my shift was over, I wanted to say goodbye, but Edward and Emmett were asleep. I let them be, knowing they would need all their energy to deal with Rosalie when the baby finally arrived. Usually, I would come home from work and sleep when Charlie slept, which was more and more these days. He was still awake when I arrived home, so I changed out of my scrubs into jeans and a t-shirt, grabbed some orange juice, and sat with him until he fell asleep again. I decided to rest a bit myself, as Carlisle would be arriving in a few hours. Since Charlie's hospital bed was in the living room, we had rearranged his office to accommodate one of the living room sofas. I often slept in the office, rather than upstairs in my bedroom, to be closer to Charlie if he needed me. My favorite quilt was there, and the book I had been reading rested on the sofa cushion. I curled up, pulled the quilt around me, and began reading the pages from a collection of Tennessee Williams plays I'd had since college. I turned to my favorite, A Streetcar Named Desire. For some reason it made me think of Edward, and I wondered what he thought of the Brando version of the movie. I then started to drift... I looked up to see the dark deserted building. Instead of being scared, I felt something electrifying luring me closer to the large, steel double doors. I walked toward them, lifting both hands to press the levers. I pushed and they flung outward, creating a gust of air chilling the bare skin of my arms and feet. I realized I was wearing only a short, sleeveless nightgown, so I instinctively wrapped my arms around myself to create warmth. I took a hesitant step forward, looking around what seemed to be a theater. There were rows upon rows of empty seats. I continued to walk down the center aisle, toward a huge movie screen. A film was rolling, almost too fast for me to see what was playing. There was no sound, only the clicks and hums from the

film reeling through the machine. I took another step closer to the screen, the actors were flickering shadows across my body and around the room. I squinted to make out what movie it wastoo blurrytoo grainysome apartmentin Paris, maybe? My feet shuffled forward again, and this time I noticed the cold tiles beneath me. Should I continue forward? Should I retreat? I gasped. I felt the same electricity that lured me here to this place. This time it was tangiblewarm fingers resting softly around my neck. I didn't move. I continued watching the screen. A couple drinkingpeople dancing in a bar. I felt an ever so soft kiss to my head and a gentle nuzzle to my neck. I stood motionless, still watching the screen. A man hovering over a woman. Oh myI couldn't watch. I closed my eyes and suddenly felt the fingers disappear. What? Oh, no. What happened? Panicked, I started to turn around, only to feel the same warm, soft hands return to guide me. A man stood before me, wearing dark jeans and a white t-shirt. I could make out the contours of his body, and I couldn't deny I liked what I saw. Then, I looked up and saw his faceit was Edward. My chest heaved with excitement, and relief, as his mouth formed the most beautiful smile. He lifted one hand to my face and traced my lips with his thumb. My lips parted slightly, instinctively wanting to suckle it, but I stopped just as he moved his hand to his own lips, telling me "Shhh" with his finger. I noddedI wouldn't say a word for fear it might break this extraordinary spell. Edward cupped my face with his hands and kissed me. Slowly, softly, passionately. It was the most sensual momentthe warmth from his touch travelled through me, stirring excitement and anticipation. He took my hand and led me to a row of seats. He selected one and sat down, drawing me to stand between his legs. He pulled me even closer, looking at me with eyes so green and so lustful. Again, I nodded with acknowledgement, agreeing to what wanton acts might follow. He skimmed my breasts with his hands and then traced the contours of my waist with his fingertips. He gripped my waist and rested his head on my stomach. I reached for him, achingly so, taking his hair into my hands and tugging with need. I reached down and lifted his chin with my fingers, overcome with the desire to kiss him again. I lowered myself onto his lap, straddling him and plunging my lips onto his. His mouth responded in kind, and we both moaned at the pleasure our intimate connection made. We continued kissing, exploring one another's mouths, and I felt his hands pushing my nightgown up, moving upward along my bottom, softly caressing my back with his fingertips. It drove me mad with want. I arched my back and pressed my hips into him, feeling his hardness and want for me. The flickering of the film reel and the hum of the invisible projector droned into the background. No words were needed to express our feelings or our mutual need for what we were about to do. I ran my fingers through the hair on his chest exposed by the t-shirt he was wearing. I wanted my lipsthere. I pulled his shirt up and lifted it over his head. There was no protest. His chest was bare before me, and I marveled at its perfection. I kissed his neck, his shoulder, above his heart. I felt wetness pool beneath me and my desire rise. I wanted him. In time with my kisses, he moved his hands up my sides, raising my nightgown over my head. He closed his eyes, as if he were intoxicated by my nakedness. He circled my breasts with his hand,

moving down to caress my stomach. I gasped at the heat of his touch and the way it made me feel, forgetting the chill of the air around us. He moved his fingers to the place I most wanted them to go. His moans grew more husky and full of longing as he touched me there. I was so wet for him, so ready. He stroked me long and slow, in the most delicious and tormenting way. I again arched myself backwards, wanting for even more. He found the very spot that drove me wild and rubbed it in a rhythm that my hips readily followed. I felt my orgasm surface, and Edward's knowing hand pushed me over the brink of the most uninhibited pleasure. I shifted on Edward's lap and ran my fingers along his defined chest, trailing down his stomach, to the waistband of his jeans. I unbuttoned, unzippedwetting my lips with my tongue in an unguarded anticipation of what my hand would find below. He was smooth and long and very hard for me. His breath caught as my fingers closed around him, and he offered himself completely to me. I stroked him slowly at first, moving my head to his, nuzzling him and then kissing his neck. I wanted him to experience the very pleasure he had bestowed on me. My strokes became longer, faster, and his breath quickened with each one. I felt my stomach clinchjust from the very look and sound of him responding to my touch. I wanted him inside me Knock. Knock. Knock. Knock. Oh my god. The dreamI woke, startled by the knocking at the front door. I was covered in beads of sweat, brought about by the heat of the quilt around me and the intensity of the dream I had just had. I bolted from the couch and hurried to the front door. I glanced at the hall clock; it was 12:15. Oh! It must be Carlisle. I instinctively felt my cheeks, flushed from my very visceral dream and who it was about. For heaven's sake. I had only known Edward Cullen for 12 hours, and he already was having this kind of effect on me? Now I had to face his father, no doubt looking like I had been up to no good. I blew out several deep breaths to calm myself before I opened the door. "Bella." Carlisle smiled and leaned in to give me a hug. I heard some rustling and a car door shut, but I couldn't see beyond the front stoop. Carlisle released me and asked how Charlie was doing. But before I could reply, I heard footsteps coming up behind him. I peeked over Carlisle's shoulders to see who it was. The blush from my dream ignited again on my cheeks. Holy hell. It was Edward.

3.

Holy hell. It was Edward How could I face him after that incredible dreamthe most wild and sexy dream I'd ever had.

Oh, of all the embarrassing things. I must be going out of my mind! Get a grip, Bella. Carlisle was here to help me with Charlie. That was the reality. Edward obviously had come with his father to help out with mine. And I thought that was pretty incredible, too. "Oh, CarlisleI hope you weren't out here too longI must have dozed off." "No, noit's fine," he said in his gracious and reserved way, and I showed him inside. "How's Rosalie?" I inquired. "Well, there's no baby yet. Her labor's stalled, and her blood pressure is high," Carlisle explained. "Oh, then Marcus will probably induce this afternoon if the baby doesn't come on its own," I added. Carlisle went to Charlie's bedside, and I turned back around to see Edward at the top step, holding two paper bags. "Hi, Bella. I hope it's okay that I came" His look left me breathless. His face was scruffy, and his hair was a beautiful mess, no doubt from staying the night at the hospital. "Sureuh" I realized I was gripping my chest, rendered almost speechless. "This is a surprisea nice surprise. Pleasecome in." "What's all this?" I asked, as I pointed to the bags, trying to take one. "Well, my mom's still at the hospital, and she insisted we bring you some lunch." "Esme's so thoughtfulthank you, Edward." The gesture had me choked up, but I still managed to smile up at him. I leaned in to take a bag, and I wished our hands had touched. I felt the nerves stir in my stomachbutterflies! I couldn't ever remember a man making me feel this way. Hmmm. "Uhthe kitchen's this way." Edward followed me to the kitchen table, and we pulled out sandwiches and drinks in silence. It was a comfortable silence, not awkward in the least. "Wow, you guys brought enough to feed an army," I noted appreciatively. "Well, I haven't eaten since yesterday. I thought I might join youif that's alright." It was more than alright. I was thrilled he wanted to spend his time here, delighted he had come at all. "Can I see your dad first?" My heart leapt with the thought he had come to see Charlie. I smiled at his civility and led him toward the living room. Carlisle was busy checking Charlie's vitals but stopped when we came in. Edward looked to me for approval, and I nodded. He then moved toward Charlie's bed.

"Charlie," Carlisle said, "My oldest son, Edward, is in town. He's here to see you." Edward reached forward and settled his hand onto Charlie's. I murmured a sigh, admiring Edward's caring gesture. "Chief Swan, it's been a long time. Nice to see you." Charlie nodded his head, too weak to respond. "Edward brought Bella some lunch. The kids can go eat while we finish up here." Carlisle continued, "Is that okay with you?" Charlie nodded again and offered a small smile. Edward and I took our lunches to the back porch swing and sat side by side. We took the first few bites quietly. I finally broke the silence. "So, you're the oldest?" I asked as I took a small bite of my sandwich. "Rosalie seems like she would be. She's veryummmassertive." "Ahthat she is," he laughed, choking a little on his sip of soda. "We're all almost three years apartI'm 30, she's 27, and Jasper's the baby." "Oh, Jasper. Where is he?" I wondered politely and took another bite of sandwich. "He and Alice, his wife, live in Texas. In Austin." Edward's face lit up when he talked about his brother. "He's a musician, she teaches art." "Oh, a musician...in a band?" I took another bite, reaching for my napkin. "Yeahhe plays guitar. The band is The Sleeping Gypsies. Have you heard of them?" Edward took his thumb and grazed my lip, brushing the crumbs from my face. "The Sleeping what?" I shook my head, flustered, as if I hadn't heard him right and added, "No, I haven't." Edward laughed, in a good-natured way, at my confused expression. "Gypsies. I know, I know. Alice is an artist, and she wanted to name the band. It's from a Henri Rousseau painting." "Oh, Rousseau. An Impressionist? Or Post-impressionist, right? I forgot whichI studied a little art history in college." "Yeah, that's rightI'm impressed, Bella." For a moment I thought Edward sounded a little patronizing, but he smiled at me again, and his adorable expression told me he was being anything but. Then, his demeanor changed to a more serious, curious one. He drew himself closer to me, our knees almost touching, his long arm resting on the back of the swingso very close to being around me. "You know, I meant to ask youIs Bella short for Isabella?"

"It is." I laughed, as that question did seem out of the blue, given Edward's now serious air. "I've always used Bella, though. Isabella just sounds so" "Beautiful?" He finished my sentence in the most surprising and satisfying way. "Well, my mom thought so." My smile grew wider, and I suddenly thought of Renee and her free-spirited, romantic notions. "For what it's worthI think so, too." Edward's words sent my mind reeling with possibilities. He paused for a moment, as if to let the meaning of what he said sink in. Then he asked, "Are you working again tonight?" Since I was caught off-guard by his comment about my name, I swallowed hard and almost gasped my reply. "YeahummmI'll be back in at seven. II have two more days of the night shift." I saw that Edward seemed contemplative and almost concerned with his next question. "So when do you sleep, Bella?" His brows furrowed with this, and I sighed and shook my head. "These days, just whenever I can." I'd had enough of my sandwich and placed it aside. I tucked my bare feet under me on the swing, and I noticed he was staring at them. A warm feeling washed over me, my heartbeat pulsing incessantly in my chest. "I'm really glad you came with Carlisle." I whispered boldly. I couldn't help but be honest. He stared at me intently and said, "Me, too." We searched each other's eyes, both lost in thoughts and in stillness. I was in awe of how Edward made me feel. I was lost in rambling thoughts when I felt his fingers lace around mine. Our first touch was electric and undeniable. My eyes widened with the sensation, and I could feel his fingers grip me tighter. Oh, his touch "Bellayou're so" Then Carlisle appeared on the porch, walking with his head down. He leaned on the railing, his expression dim. "Bella, I really think it's time to make some preparations," Carlisle's tone was low and melancholy. I could tell he noticed Edward's hand around mine. "Okay" I said hesitantly. "What kind?" He paused, and I knew what he was going to say. I jumped up from the swing. "Oh, Carlisle. You know he will panic if we take him to The Meadow Center." My eyes could no

longer hold back the tears. "He made me promise!" Carlisle placed his hands on my shoulders, pulling me into a fatherly embrace. Honestly, I was too tired to protest. The Meadow Center was a 24-hour hospice facility where Charlie would receive the finest possible care. Deep down, I knew this was best for him, but it was still difficult to face. "Realistically, Bella, we're looking at only weeks now." Oh. My chest heaved with the news, even though it was what I already knew. Carlisle held me as I sobbed. Edward gathered our things from the swing, and we moved inside. We discussed the details of when and how we would move Charlie. Carlisle made a few phone calls for me, and I was so grateful to have his help. Edward stood by, keeping a respectful distance, as we made the necessary plans. I could tell he was watching me closely, and I felt contentment under his gaze. Carlisle's cell phone buzzed. "Hello, Marcus." My head snapped up in attention. "Oh, I seeyeswell, it won't be long now. Sure. Tell Esme we are on our way." I breathed a sigh of reliefit wasn't about me, surely, but about Rosalie. "Did Rosalie's water break?" I asked. "They just started her on Pitocin to jump start her contractions," Carlisle said. "Marcus is going to break her water now. Her blood pressure is still too high to be safe. Edward, we need to head back to the hospital." Carlisle and I embraced once more, and we said our goodbyes. As he headed off to the car, Edward slowly moved backward down the front stairs. He took my hand and gave it a light squeeze. "Are you okay?" he asked. All I could muster was a thin smile, but I knew he understood. "Bye, Bella," he sighed, staring at me for a moment before turning to walk to the car. I offered a small wave and watched them drive away.

The next two days and nights were busy with work and Charlie and thoughts of Edward. Rosalie had her baby, and the Cullen's were ecstatic. Baby Emily Rose was 9 pounds and 23 inches. Jake had relayed the play-by-play of the birth, and I laughed when he told me how Rosalie screamed at him, "Jacob Black! Give me those damn drugs!" I saw Edward once more at the hospital, just before Rosalie was discharged. The family had come to load their car with all the flowers and gifts and balloons sent to her. I came in to have Emmett and Rosalie sign their discharge papers, and I found Edward holding the baby. For some reason, I couldn't look at him holding her in his arms.

That vision of Edward, holding a new life so fragile and delicate, overwhelmed me. Charlie's life was slowly slipping away, and there was nothing I could do. I struggled with all the strength I had to hold back built-up emotion and to keep tears from flowing. I left the papers for them to sign, told them to find Jessica at the nurse's desk if they needed anything, and quickly hurried down the hall. I ducked into the supply room and cried. I heard footsteps and a light knock on the door. Oh no. I opened it, and it was Edward. He stepped inside and shut the door. "Bella, are you okay?" I didn't answer. I couldn't answer. He moved toward me and took me in his arms, and I clung to him. I let my body sink into his, absorbing every ounce of his compassion and understanding. "Bella," he breathed into my hair. "Shhhit's okay. I'm here." And that was my invitation to let it all out. I cried in Edward's arms for seconds, for minutes, I couldn't tell. He planted soft kisses in my hair, whispering to me, soothing me. "Bella, it's okay." I felt secure, and I wanted this man to hold me like this forever. He moved back slightly to look at my tear-stained face. He wiped the tears away, softly with his thumb, from one eye then the other. "Bella." He was still holding me with one arm, his other hand lifting up my chin. "Oh, Edward. I'm so sorryyour shirt is soaked." I sniffled and noticed his long sleeve Stanford t-shirt dampened by my tears. "Don't worry about the damn shirt," he said, chuckling a little. "I just want you to be alright." And then he bent his face toward mine, softly brushing my lips with his. His hands moved to hold my face, and he pressed his lips against mine once more. "Bella, I" He didn't continue his thought, though. Instead his lips found mine again, still kissing me in a soft, almost chaste and innocent way. I lifted my arms around his neck, yielding to him. At that point, I lost touch with the reality I was at work and his family was down the hall. The connection between us was too strong for any of it to matter. His hands journeyed slowly down my back, pulling me even closer. They spread across me, in a wonderfully protective way, and I felt peaceful. I lifted my head slightly as he kissed my nose, and then my cheeks, as if to erase the tears away. "You really need a break from allfrom all of this." He motioned his head toward the door. "Can I take you to dinner Friday?" "Well, EdwardII don't know if I should leave" I stopped in mid-sentence as Edward

placed his forehead on mine. "Look, Bella. It's just for a few hours." "Edward, I want to go, but" I dropped my arms from around him as I tried to protest, but he didn't let me finish. "It's not good for you to be home all the time." I was conflicted, but I said yes. "Okay, thenI'll pick you up at six on Friday." And Edward kissed my lips softly once more.

Friday seemed like the longest day of my life. To be sure, I was anxious about going out with Edward. He was everything I could possibly want him to beeven more. And he wanted to go out with me. Still, I had to make more arrangements for Charlie's move, and that fact keep me grounded. I called Jake, and he agreed to lend a hand with the move next week. The good friend he was, Jake also was thrilled I was going out with Edward. I took a nap next to Charlie after reading him a few Sports Illustrated articles. When I woke, I leaned over and kissed his cheek. Carlisle and Sue both told me it was important for cancer patients like Charlie to know their caregivers were going on with their lives. Still, it was difficult to tell him about things I was going to do or wanted to do when he couldn't. I did decide to tell him about Edward. "Dadguess what? I have a date tonight." I said it happily and saw his eyes turn to the door. I imagined he was waiting for the man to walk through it. "I'm going to dinner with Edward Cullen." I put my hand in his and told him everything I knew about Edward. And I had made up my mind I wanted to know more. I kissed Charlie's forehead and heard Sue arrive. I spent extra time on my hair, deciding to wear it down. I pulled on my favorite jeans and a thin, green cashmere v-neck sweater. I decided on my brown wedge sandals, trying to keep my appearance casual and light. Never one for much make-up, I dusted my cheeks with a pink blush. In the mirror, I looked at my lips remembering how Edward's mouth touched mine. I ran my fingertips along the top one, then the bottom. Holy hell, I was excited. I applied my lip gloss, sprayed some perfume and headed downstairs. I heard Sue's voice and recognized Edward's. He was already here. I descended the stairs, clutching the railing to keep me steady. To say Edward was drop-dead gorgeous would be an understatement. He was wearing a blue chambray button-up, dark khaki pants, and a dark blazer. His face wore a five o'clock shadow well, the scruffy appearance made him even more sexy and masculine. Not many men could pull off that look. I greeted him with a smile, and he leaned in to kiss my cheek. He paused to whisper, "Bella, you look beautiful." I blushed, and out of the corner of my eye, I saw Sue nod with approval.

"Have fun, you two," she said. "Call me on my cell if you need anything, okay?" I hugged her, and hand-in-hand Edward and I walked out the door. I followed him, watching his gait, the ease in which he moved. He was sure of himself, but not too cocky, a trait that was very appealing. Edward led me to his car, an exquisite new black BMW, and opened the passenger door. I bent down to get in, but he held my hand back. "Bella, you really do look stunning" His hand rose to my face, his head tilting to mine. He kissed me tenderly, just as he had at the hospital a few days before. "This might sound presumptuous, but I really missed seeing you." I felt his eyes burn into me, and the muscles in my stomach twitched with a nervous delight. We both got into the car, and I sunk into the soft leather seat. "This is a really beautiful car," I said. "Yeah, but it has too many damn gadgets for my taste." Edward was fumbling with this and that trying to get it started. "I really miss my old Volvo back in Philly." Finally, we were on our way. "So, where are we going?" I asked casually. "I thought maybe we could go to Sam's Tavern." "Oh, that sounds great." Edward reached over and placed his hand on my thigh, right above my knee. I drew in a deep breath and rested my head back against the seat. He misread my gasp, and quickly removed his hand. "Sorry, BellaI didn't mean" He looked a little embarrassed, but I grabbed his hand and held it, placing it back where it had been. "It's fine, Edward. Really. It feels nice." We acknowledged the shared emotion with a smile, both pleased at how the night was starting. We arrived at Sam's Tavern, and it was very crowded, after all it was a Friday night. I wondered to myself what people would think seeing Edward and me together. Would they wonder why I was out when Charlie was so sick? Would they think, oh, now she's moved on from Dr. JamesTruly, I was tired of feeling remorseful and guilty and selfish. But I did deserve some happiness, right? I was jolted from those thoughts gnawing at my conscienceEdward took my hand and led me to the bar where we were going to wait for our table. Every time he took my hand, every time he touched me in the slightest way, my senses went into overdrive; certainly, I would follow his lead anywhere. "Bella, what would you like? Wine?" Edward asked me, brushing my hair back behind my ear. I had to focus on my answer.

"Sure, a chardonnay...Cakebread if they have it would be great." Edward ordered my glass of wine and a bottle of Guinness for himself. We were relaxed and content in each other's company, taking pleasure in the small talk most first dates bring, just enjoying one another. Our faces were very close, as the noise in the bar made it difficult to hear, but it was a comfortable closeness. He held my hand, rubbing little circles into my palm with his thumb. Even that simple movement upon my skin made it difficult to concentrate. There was definitely an attraction, something beyond the physical, something more monumental between us. And I hoped the feeling would last. Then I saw her. And Edward did, too. The flame of lovely reddish curls approached us; it was Victoria. Walking behind her were her two teen-aged boys, and behind themfuck! Marcus. "Edward Cullen, look at you! Such a handsome man." Victoria flashed her best trophy-wife smile and leaned in to kiss Edward's cheek. I tried to drop my hand from Edward's, however, he held it even tighter. From that I gathered he didn't want us to hide from anyone. That was a notion completely new to me. "Hello, Mrs. James. Nice to see you again." Edward was all manners and politeness. Marcus eyed us both warily, looking down at our hands, one entwined with the other. He held out his hand for Edward to shake, knowing Edward would have to drop mine. Oh, boy, he was pissed. "Edward." "Dr. James." Edward stood up, not leaving my side, and took Marcus's hand. Marcus patted him on the back, well, slapped was more like it, and then turned his attention to me. Oh no, really pissed. "Bella." Marcus nodded in my direction, his eyebrows slightly raised, and then he turned to his wife. "Victoria, you remember Bella Swan. She's one of my nurses." Your nurse? Fuck you, Marcus! "Bellahmmmno, I don't recall meeting you before," she purred. She smiled, exposing her blinding white teeth, only perhaps because Edward was standing there. In her eyes I could see a flicker of something, as if all of a sudden she knew it was me. Marcus had said he never told her about us, about me, but I could not trust him on that count. There was no telling what he could be up to at any given time. For all I knew, he could have told her I seduced him. What bullshit! "So, Edward." Victoria put her hand on Edward's shoulder as she said this, "Esme tells me you are working on a new project in Philadelphia. Is that right?" Her gold bangle bracelets clanged

together as she moved her arm. Victoria was unleashing her charm on Edward, and it was like watching a bird of prey circling over its next meal. But Edward was calm, confident and played it perfectly cool. As she touched him, he reached for my hand again. "YeahI'm on a small hiatus, though. I wanted to spend some time with Rosalie and the new baby. We'll start up again soon." "Well, that's fantastic, sweetheart. You are so talented." She touched Edward again, this time on the tip of his nose. What the hell, was he five? "So, what, are you kids on a date tonight?" Marcus asked, trying to keep his tone from being spiteful. In Marcus's eyes I saw something I didn't likejealousy. I'd seen that possessive look before, and tonight I wasn't going to give in to him. "Yesyes, we are. I thought you all were headed to Seattle." I replied with a smile, without a trace of bitterness in my voice. I was keeping it together, mostly because Edward was holding my hand in the sweetest way. Victoria snapped her head toward me after my remark about Seattle, eyeing me head to toe, definitely now with suspicion. I met her gaze, not backing down. "Oh, yeah, we're headed out tomorrow morning." Marcus added, turning to look at his boys. They were laughing and flirting with the hostess. I couldn't help but be amused by this, noting how that self-assured nature ran in their family. "Looks like we need to go save that girl," Marcus chuckled. "Edward. Bella." He nodded to us both as he made his reluctant retreat. "Well, thenlet's go." Victoria took Marcus's hand and blew Edward a kiss. Marcus never looked back. Oh, thank god. For a fleeting moment I thought maybe, just maybe, he was getting the picture. I was moving on, and so should he. With her goodbye, Victoria didn't acknowledge me at all, and I couldn't have cared less. She walked toward her boys, putting her thin arm around one of them. But then she glared at Edward and me one more time, a side glance over her shoulder, her eyes narrowingshe must know. I sighed and decided not to allow them to ruin my eveninghow could I? I had Edward at my side. I smiled up at him instinctively, and he returned it with the sweetest kiss on my cheek. Edward took both my hands and peered thoughtfully into my eyes. "Bella. I have a confession to make." He let out a sigh. What was he going to say? Was it about him? Me? "The other night at the hospital. When we met. I saw what happened with you and Marcus." His gaze was steadfast, and I couldn't look away from those beautiful green eyes. He squeezed my hands even tighter, as if he was reassuring me somehow. I let out the breath I had been holding.

"Oh, I see." I looked away from him then, wondering what he really thought of me. "Look, Bella. You don't have to tell me any of the details. But I need to know this" He paused and moved my chin with his fingers, so I was looking back into his eyes. "Has he hurt you, Bella?" I was shocked, of all the things to ask. I blushed, knowing I would have to lie. Now was definitely not the right time to divulge the secret of my scarMarcus was only 20 feet away. What would Edward do if he knew the truth? "EdwardII really don't want to talk about this now. Please. Let's just enjoy our night." I shifted a bit uncomfortably. "II don't want to do this now." I nodded my head in Marcus's direction. Edward glanced their way and turned back to me. "Bella, you're right. You deserve to have a good time tonight." He gave me the sexiest smile, and I almost forgot about everything around us. "Why, thank you Mr. Cullen." I looked at him through my lashes, thankful for the shift in mood. Impulsively, I kissed him sweetly on the mouth. He cupped my faceholy hell that felt so goodand kissed me longer. And with that I heard the hostess. "Cullen?" I followed the hostess first, moving through the bar crowd to get to our table. Edward was behind me, and I felt him run his fingers down the back of my arm, ever so softly, to take my hand. My heart beat faster and the butterflies in my stomach were on a collision course. I turned back toward him and smiled, amazed that he was walking with me, holding my hand, touching meThe hostess halted abruptly in the crowd, allowing some diners to pass by. I stopped short of running into her, and I felt Edward's body collide into mine. It was all muscles and warmth. I didn't want to move. I rested my head back on his chest and felt his lips in my hair. Oh my. The hostess sat us at a booth, and I slid into the bench. To my surprise, Edward slid in next to me. We both took our menus and read them over in quiet. We were so close, I couldn't focus on the menu at all. "Hmmmit all looks good. Why don't you order for both of us?" I offered to Edward. Sam's Tavern was an eclectic place, mostly known for their steaks. I doubted I could really eat all that much with Edward by my side. The waiter came, and he ordered, and I watched Edward say every word. His mouth, his hair, his hands, the manner in which he carried himself. It was beautiful to watch, really. We laughed, smiled, drank, ate, drank and flirted. Our evening flowed smoothly from one moment to the next, like we had been friends, or even more than friends, for years. We talked about my time in Florida, nursing school, and how I was getting used to Forks. We talked about his work, his research, his love for the piano and the guitar.

"Is there anything you can't do?" I asked him with a genuine reverence. "Ummmdeliver a baby?" We laughed. He told me how he and Jasper had wanted to form a band when they were younger, and now his little brother was living that dream. I could tell he was proud of both his brother and sister, especially since Jasper was happy with the life he had with Alice. I wondered what it would be like not to be an only child. Edward did make me feel wonderful. I could tell he was making a conscious effort to keep me engaged, my mind far away from Charlie and from Marcus. I appreciated that. When our knees would touch under the table, there was no awkwardness. It felt natural and right. Edward settled the bill, and we made our way out of the restaurant. I was so intoxicated by him that I didn't even look for the Marcus and Victoria. For all I knew, they had been long gone. We walked hand-in-hand to the car, and I suddenly felt disappointed that our date was almost over. He opened the car door for me, and I stopped to look at him. "What are you doing tomorrow?" Damn the wine. It was making me very bold. "Oh, shit. I almost forgot. I'm catching a flight in the morning to San Diego." He ran his fingers through his hair. "I have some footage to shoot during one of Angela's book signings." "Oh." It was a sad, disappointed little sound. I couldn't help it. I had an overwhelming feeling I didn't want him to go. I suddenly realized we are parked at the overlook. Edward glanced out his window toward the rising cliffs and sparkling water, glittered by the lights of houses and the radiance of the moon. "I love this place," he sighed, with a reverence that seemed both melancholy and nostalgic. I wondered silently what magic this place held for him, but decided to lighten the mood instead of pressing him. "So, how many Forks High School cheerleaders did you bring here back in the day?" I giggled under my breath as I said that, leaning my head back against the leather seat. I looked over at his handsome profile, my eyes searching his awesome features intently, waiting for his answer. "Cheerleaders, huh? Do you think I would have liked the cheerleader type of girl?" He raised his eyebrows and shot me that beautiful, crooked grin. "Oh, I'm just teasing youI don't know, Mr. Cullen, then what is your type?" My voice was strangely breathy, and my heart started racing as I awaited his response. What in the hell was he going to say? And at that second, I really, really wanted to know He breached the space between us by taking my hand and leaning closeso close I could feel his warmth, his breath, his being. I felt the longing and the pain of the last few months ignite a need in me so strong, so bold. I closed my eyes and hoped I knew what would follow.

He took my hand up to his beautiful mouth and kissed it. The sensation traveled from my hand, straight to my core. God, I hoped he wouldn't stop there. I opened my eyes and looked at him intently through my lashes. "Well, Isabella," he said in a low, velvety voice as he kissed the inside of my elbow, sliding his hands in the most sensuous caress over me. "My type would definitely seem to be" A soft, slow kiss on my forehead. "Ivory skin" Warm hands sliding deliberately to my neck. "A naturally beautiful, exquisite face" Honeyed kisses on each check. "Long, dark hair" Unhurried fingers combing through my hair. Oh, god, I loved this. This moment. I giggled and finally exhaled the breath I had been holding. I relaxed my head into Edward's welcoming hands, releasing all tension and giving in to the hunger for him stirring inside me. We shared a knowing smile, eyes locking in a way that was itself an acknowledgement of what was to come. My heart raced, and desire welled within me as he reached for the back of my neck and oh so gently knotted my hair around his fingers. He pulled me to him, ever so slowly, until I could feel his breath upon my face. Edward placed his incredible lips on mine, and at once I knew I was done for. Our lips met with a certain resolve that meant something far greater than just a kiss. Our lips opened and tongues touched in a way that was more intimate than anything I had ever experienced. Our first real kiss was long, wet, and very hot. It was new, but familiar at the same time. It was sexy as all hell, but I also felt protected. Perfection. When we finally parted lips, we stared into each other's eyes. I took a deep breath and realized I needed a way outa way out of all the built up emotion of my past. Some way to erase the nightmare that was Marcus, some way to ease the pain of an inevitable loss. "Isabella? Are you alright?" he whispered sweetly into my ear. "What are you thinking? Tell me."

My eyes darted to the darkness beyond the car window. Was Edward my way out? Well, I certainly couldn't deny what I felt for this gorgeous, sensitive man. Our kiss told me that. The electricity between us told me that. His hands told me that "Touch me, Edwardplease" I closed my eyes and waited for what I hoped would come next. Edward's breath caught, and I opened my eyes to see him, to gauge his reaction to my remarkably bold request. He closed his eyes and nuzzled my neck. He trailed feather soft kisses down my jaw, behind my ear, and down my neck. Again, I could feel the warmth of his breath against my skin, and every sensitive spot on my body ignited with fire. His long, knowing fingers traced the collar of my sweater, only to stop briefly above my breasts. My breath hitched, and I arched my back ever so slightly to regain his touch. He continued his route, circling my already hard nipple through my sweater. A caress with his palm, a gentle pinch, another caress. He moved his hand to my other breast that was longing for his touch. He kissed my mouth, but this time it was more forceful, more desperate. He traced my lips with his tongue, and the sensation left me panting for more. My breathing quickened as I realized how fucking much I wanted him. I wanted to feel his tongue on my nipples in that wayswirling, sucking, caressing. Oh I moaned softly in Edward's mouth, and I could feel the edges of his lips twitch up in a smile. We touched foreheads, and immediately I knew this was more than making out at the overlook. He pulled back and stared at me with the most amazing green eyes. I reached out and tugged at his shirt, untucking it. I slowly unbuttoned the top two buttons so I could move my needy hands inside. I caressed his neck and his shoulders. I leaned in to move my hands slowly down his chest, rubbing his nipples with my thumbs. I could feel his breathing increase and his heart beat quicken. He suddenly grabbed my wrists, and for a moment, I wondered what was wrong. He arched his eyebrowsagain, that look!and shook his jacket off and tossed it to the backseat. Ohhe wants more. Maybe I had the same effect on him as he did to me? Holy hell. I boldly made a move to shift against the car door, allowing my legs to fall open to welcome his presence. The back of my head pressed against the chilled window glass, but I paid it no mind. The heat that was building between us was enough for me. Edward leaned toward me, and I instinctively pulled my sweater over my head. Ever the gentleman, he carefully placed it on the dash. Our position in the cramped car was indeed awkward, but it was obvious neither of us cared. He stared at my breasts and traced the outline of my bra. I could feel his touch burning into my skin, leaving a tingling where his fingers had been. He took the palms of his hands and maneuvered them under my bra straps, caressing my shoulders as he lowered themexposing me for him to see.

"Oh, god, Bella. You are so beautiful." He reached up to kiss me sweetly on my mouth, knowing that this was something very intimate, very special. My body was on fire with a longing for this man. He took my breast in his hand and began the most pleasurable assault with his tongue. Swirling, sucking, and teasing my nipple. I was so turned on watching himhis eyes, lashes, his mouthI ran my hands through his tousled hair and tried to reign in my emotions. But I couldn't. He looked up at me, briefly, for what I thought may be my blessing to continue. "God, Edward, don't stop. Please" I purred. "Bella, you are fucking beautiful. And delicious" I placed my palm against his perfect face. He turned and kissed it, in a way that was the best possible combination of sultry and sweet. At that moment I knew for sure I was going to combust. He leaned up toward my ear and began to whisper softly, "I want to feel you, baby. Can I touch you here, Bella?" He ran his fingers down to the waistband of my jeans, descending to the place where I needed to feel him the most. I was swollen and wet and filled with want. I swallowed hard and nodded slowly. "I'm going to unbutton your jeans now. Is that okay, baby?" Oh, fuck. He was going to narrate his torture. He positioned himself over me and slid his fingers around the inside of my jeans, slowly moving toward the button. Suddenly, I was very aware of his erection, long and hard against my leg. Could this be any fucking better? I think not. My breath hitched as I could hardly stand the anticipation of him touching methere. I looked down and watched as he gladly unbuttoned and unzipped the obstacle of clothing between us. The visual alone of his long fingers and masterful hands moving closer to my wet core almost sent me over the edge. I hadn't ever felt this kind of lustful need. How was this possible? "Bella, baby, do you want me to touch you like this?" he said as he gently ran his hand over my panties. I moaned a little louder, heat radiating from my very being. "Or, like this?" His hand was now under the lace, fingering my lips in long, soft strokes. I continued to watch him as he touched me, realizing I might come just from that. I squeezed his shoulders tightly, expressing my desire to move on "OhBella. Baby, you are so wet." He growled low in my ear. He slowly rubbed two fingers down along my centertorturously, slowly, back up and down again.

"EdwardpleaseI need, hmmm, please." "Tell me, Bella. Tell me what you need." He kissed me hard, still stroking me, but now with more deliberate and intense motions. His kiss was powerful, all thrusting tongues and loud panting, foreshadowing the very thing he wanted to do next. Suddenly, he pushed two fingers into me, rocking his palm in a rhythm that would be my undoing. "Ahhhoh, god" I whimpered as I reveled in this motherfucking heaven. I felt a euphoric flash of heat sweep over me and realized my orgasm was oh so close. Even Edward was panting now, as my moans had undoubtedly excited him more. I reached for him, yearning to feel his length in my hand. Rrrrinnnggg. Our moment came to a spiraling crash as my cell phone shrilled inside my purse. "Damn!" Rrrrinnnggg. Edward slowly removed his fingers, then his hand. Rrrrinnnggg. The ringing, goddammit! I reached down on the floorboard and fumbled through my purse for the phone. "Hello?" Edward rested his forehead into my hair and laid his free hand across my stomach. I sighed at his sensitive touch. "Bella, honey. I'm sorry, but things aren't good here." It was Sue. Startled, I sat up and covered myself. Edward shifted to his seat and watched me closely. "He's been vomiting for about an hour. It is everywhere, a mess. Honey, I can't move him to clean things up or change anything. God, Bella. I'm so sorry." "No, no, Sue. It's okayI'llI'll be right there. Don't worry." "Bella, I swear, he had tears in his eyes." "Oh, Sue" I hung up, tossed the phone in my purse, and grabbed my sweater. I pulled it on and straightened my legs to zip and to button my jeans. I realized I hadn't said a word. I looked straight out the window. Edward reached for my face and wiped away the tears. Again. I couldn't even look at him. "Can you take me home please? They need me." "Of course I can. YeahheyBella. Look at me." His fingers grazed my chin as he tried to turn

my face toward his. But I fought it and continued to stare out the window Goddamn everything! The tears continued to flow, and we drove in darkness and silence to my house. As we pulled up my driveway, I noticed several lights on. Edward turned off the ignition and slid out of the car. He opened my door and held out his hand. I took it, but I could barely look into his eyes. "Thank you for dinner. Have a safe fli" He placed his finger up to my mouth before I could finish. "Shh" He bent down and grazed my cheek with his lips. He led me to my front door, and we were still hand-in-hand. The next three hours were a blur. A silent, painful blur. Sue, Edward, and I acted as a team. We lifted and cleaned Charlie, changed sheets, mopped floors, and spoke to Carlisle. When the world felt calm again, I headed to the kitchen to get myself cleaned up. At the sink, I felt electricity pulse through me as he approached me from behind, comforting me with his soothing hands as he rubbed my shoulders. Edward kissed my neck, and I rested my head against his strong chest. "Bella, I should go. I hate to leave you, but I still need to pack." I sighed as I dried my hands, my heart feeling heavy in my chest, knowing he would have to go. I really wanted him to stay; his presence was calming and comforting. That thought surprised me a little. I didn't know I could have such strong feelings for someone so soon. I turned to him, seeing that his blue dress shirt was still untucked, unbuttoned. I saw how it was now soiled from him helping me clean, and at that moment, I felt overwhelmed by his selfless gesture. "Edward, I really don't know what to say" I said quietly, my voice cracking. "Isabella, you don't have to say a word." He pulled me into his arms, breathing into my hair. "I'm glad I could be here to help. It's okay, baby." In his arms, I immediately felt a sense of relief. I felt safe, protected, and understood. I squeezed him as tightly as I could, fighting back the tears that wanted to flow. "Thank you, Edward. So very much." I held his hand as we walked to the front door. He grasped my hand tighter as he placed a soft, slow kiss on my forehead. His eyes were closed, and I could tell he was hesitant to let go. "I'll call you this week from San Diegothat is, if it is alright?" "Sure. I would really like that."

"Good night, Bella." "Good night, Edward." We smiled wearily at each other, and I slowly closed the door. Shit. I could fall in love this man. I really could.

4.

With Edward working in San Diego, I turned my full attention to Charlie, where it needed to be for the next two days. On Monday afternoon, all the preparations Carlisle made were complete. Charlie's move to The Meadow Center was underway. Jake rode with Charlie in the ambulance and I finished grabbing a few last minute items in the living room. It would not be the same without Charlie in this house. Many people were asking whether or not I would stay in Forks. A week ago, I knew what my answer would have been. But now I wasn't so sure. My cell rang, breaking my reverie. I ran to the other room to get it, figuring it must be Jake, and that maybe I had forgotten something or that ambulance was already arriving at the center. So, I said hello without checking the caller ID. "Heyjust heading out now to leave." I said, breathy from running. "Ah, Bella. Going somewhere?" Damn. It was Marcus. "Let me guess, on your way to see Edward Cullen?" I should have hung up. Why I didn't is a mystery. Instead, I asked bitterly, "What do you want?" "The truth, sweetheart." His voice was flat and cold. "You looked happy at the restaurant Friday night." He pausedI waited for him to say something else, but he didn't. So I spoke up. "You did, too, Marcus, with your beautiful wife and hormonal teenage boys who need your guidance and attention." I was tired of his games. I wanted this to be over and done. "Be careful, Bella. I might interpret your sarcasm as jealousyand that would turn me on" His words slithered down my spine. "Marcus" He thwarted my chance to say anything. "You know, Bella, Edward really isn't your type." He spoke slowly, very deliberately, as if I needed pause to comprehend him. His words made my skin crawl. "Oh, really?" I'd had enough. I continued harshly, "Well, then. I'll have to tell him that after he finishes fucking me senseless on the kitchen table." Silence. It didn't matter whether or not

Edward and I had had sex, Marcus would think we had regardless. We weren't breaking any rules, or vows, for that matter. "Bella! Goddammit! You want to play dirty? Fine, sweetheart. Go fuck your art school pretty boy." He was really angry, and I knew how unpleasant and dangerous he could be when he was angry. I stayed silent. "Just remember, bitch, how I've made you moan and comeand remember who you work for." Click. He hung up. I reacted by throwing my phone across the room. I watched it hit the wall and crash to the floor in a dozen shattered pieces. Shit! Moving toward the front door with the intention of going to meet Jake and to see Charlie, I ran my hand along the railing of the now-empty hospital bed. I didn't make it to the door. I fell back into the large, mechanical bed and curled myself into a fetal position and criedangrylonelyand out loud.

The staff at The Meadow Center was so helpful. The nurses spent two hours acquainting me with the daily processes. Charlie's morphine doses had been increased, which in turn made him less coherent. Once an hour or so he would attempt a sound forced from the back of his throat, but his lips barely moved, and his eyes were always distant. I tried to play along, imagining what he might be reacting to so I could carry on our one-sided conversations. Jake stayed with me that first afternoon. Around seven, I realized we had not eaten all day. "Jake, you really should go home. You haven't eaten." "No, noI'm good. I'm not on call until tomorrow night. How late are you going to stay? I can drive you home." "Thanks, but I'm going to stay here tonight. You knowsince it's his first night." "I understand. Do you want to go grab something to eat? I'll stay while you go." "Good idea. I don't know what I would do without your" He hugged me. "I know. You don't have to say anything. Hey, will you grab me a drink while you're out?" I smiled and headed out the door. I didn't have a cell, so I stopped in at a sandwich shop and placed an order. I went ahead and got Jake something, too, because I knew the man could eat. Jake was handsomethick, black hair, a dark complexion and a muscled physique. He was smart to boot, and I felt for him that he had yet to find that special someone. Our relationship would never go beyond platonic, because in many ways he was the brother I'd never had.

Our order was going to take a few minutes to prep, so I headed next door to an open book shop. I thought I could buy some more magazines to read to Charlie and some thank you notes I had been meaning to write. As I walked into Embry's Books, I noticed the size of the store was deceiving from the frontit was huge. I could spend all night in this place. I searched row by row for the magazines, but none were in sight. The rows became longer and they grew in number. I walked past the romance novels and the historical fiction, the science fiction and autobiographies, the self-help and then the culinary arts. Wait. I took two steps backward and turned down that aisle. I knew what I was looking for. A display stack stood in the middle of the aislewith the "book of the week"and there it was. Ciao Metro by Angela Weber. I picked up the book, a hardcover in a beautiful red and green jacket, reading the quote on the front: "Renowned Italian-American chef and entrepreneur Angela Weber uses her culinary skill and talent to bring the delectable cuisine from her menu straight to your table" I flipped the book overand there she was. A picture of the chef herself. This is Angela? Oh. Staring back at me from the book jacket was the face of an Italian goddess. Long, shiny black hair, flawlessly smooth olive skin, sparkling hazel eyes. Holy shitShe was Edward's "subject" for the next few months? Fuck me. I bought Angela's book and a few magazines for Charlie. I picked up the sandwiches and headed back to the center to relieve Jake. When I returned to the room, Jake grinned impishly at me. "What?" I threw the bag of food at him and gave him his drink. "What's so funny?" "Your boyfriend called." "What?" I was momentarily caught off-guard. 'RelaxI'm teasingbut Edward did call. Said he couldn't get you on your cell. He called here instead." "Okay, thanks. I'll call him later." He was still smiling at me. Jake could always lighten my mood, and I knew he was up to something. "So" He coughed a little, for dramatic effect. "You never did dish the dirt on your date last weekend." He raised one eyebrow at me, waiting for my answer. "Ohit wasit was great. Really." All I could think of was great? Not exactly the best or most accurate word to describe Edward or our time at the restaurant or our time in the car "Earth to Bella" Jake's words snapped me back to reality. "Great? Is that really all you have to say about it?" He shook his head in disbelief. I let out a sigh. "Ohit's just the timing. It's just not a good" He cut me off. "Bells, hey. If it's about Marcus, you need" Jake was as fed up with Marcus as I was, and I could hear the dislike in his voice.

"No, no. Of course not." I lowered my voice instinctively to a whisper, "It's Charlie. This is just the wrong time to meet somebody new." "You do need a break, Bella," Jake moved closer to hold my hand. "You have to start taking better care of yourself." "Yes, sir, Dr. Black." We smiled in silent agreement. He let my hand go and stood to leave. "Plus, for what it's worth, I don't think Edward Cullen is just somebody." He paused for a moment and continued, "I think he might be good for you, Bells." Jake left a little after ten, and I changed my clothes and got comfortable for the night with Charlie. My thoughts went to Jake, and about how I really couldn't ask for a better friend. He knew how to read me rather well, and this last year he kept me from wasting away in fits of sadness. I was thankful Jake knew not to discuss Marcus in great detail. The whole situation riled him as much as it did me. He did, however, want to know more about Edward. And eventually I would be more than happy to oblige. I would tell him how Edward made me feel beautiful, confident, and worthyways that Marcus didn't, or really wouldn't, want me to feel. But tonight wasn't the time or place to divulge such things. I debated as to when I should call Edward back. I was happy he had calledand I did miss him. I still questioned if that were possible after knowing him for such a short time. But I felt as though we could read each other pretty well, especially since he had picked up on the tension between Marcus and me. If our relationship were to go any further, the truth would eventually come out. But not now. I picked up the phone and dialed Edward's cell. Jake had written the number down on the back of an old magazine, with "Call him back!" underneath it. I smiled at the gesture, listening to the ringing on the other end. One ring, two, three. I expected it to go to voicemail and was deciding whether or not to leave one when someone answered. "Hello?" It was an unfamiliar, soft voice. It was a woman's voice. Fuck! "Um, hello. Isis Edward there?" My voice cracked from the lack of saliva in my mouth as I answered her. "Ohno, he can't get to the phone right now. Can I take a message?" The voice was still soft and controlled. Be mature, Bella. "Could you tell him that Bella calledum, returned his call." "Sure. Bella? Okay." Click. She hung up. And that was that. I sat with the phone to my ear trying to wrap my brain around what had just happened. I knew who Edward was with in San Diego. I glanced at the book I bought at the store a few hours ago

and turned it overwonderful. I hung up the phone, curled up and tried to get some sleep. Through the night, as the center staff came to do routine checks on Charlie, I fought the urge to jump in and assist. I had to remind myself of why we moved him here, but it would take some time getting used to. In the morning, I woke to the room phone ringing. "Uh, hello?" I was groggy and disoriented from just waking, and my voice was dry and hoarse. "Bella?" His voice smooth and confident. "Yes" I knew it was him. "Hey, it's Edward," he answered as if I didn't know. "It sounds like I woke you. Sorry. But I'm glad you're getting some rest." He sounded genuine, but I was still unsure of what to think about last night's phone call. "Yeah" I checked my watch, and it was after nine. "Sorry I missed your call last night. By the time I got your message, it was too late to call you back." "Hmmm. Okay." Awkward silence. "I'll be flying back up on Thursday. Are you working or" The buzz from the nurse's desk on the intercom interrupted him. "Oh, you know, that's the nurse. I'd better go" "OhI'll be in touch when I get back, okay?" "Sure. Bye, Edward." "Bye." That didn't go very well. I rubbed my forehead in frustration. Who was I to question anything regarding Edward? True, I could not deny the chemistry between us, but certainly, no commitment had been made. So a beautiful woman answered his phone at 10 o'clock at night. WaitWas I jealous? What a mindfuck this had become. The next few days I worked the night shift and spent my days with Charlie. I was mentally exhausted and emotional to say the least, but the hospital was keeping me busy with an onslaught of new patients. I hadn't spoken to Edward since Tuesday morning, and I really wanted to hear his voice. Friday night was my last night shift of the week, and on Saturday morning I went straight to the center. I walked into Charlie's room to find Carlisle and Emmett around his bed, the two of them

were in the midst of an animated conversation. And there was Edward. He was off to the side, leaning against a dresser. I froze. "Well, this is a nice surprise, gentlemen." I was polite and gracious. "Bella." Carlisle stood and embraced me. Emmett saluted me with a hello and a big grin. Edward straightened and moved closer toward me, to the end of Charlie's bed. God, he was gorgeous in faded jeans and a white v-neck t-shirt. His sunglasses were tucked into the "v" of his shirt, drawing attention to what lay beneath. "Emmett, how's the baby?" I nervously redirected my attention toward Emmett. "Oh, so great. She is the most awesome little thing. Rosalie has to nurse her, like, 24 hours a day." He chuckled and continued, "She's already gained two pounds." He was so proud. "Sounds like she's healthy. That's really good to hear. Please tell Rosalie I said hi." The atmosphere lightened, the smiles and laid-back banter were soothing my nerves. "Yeah, we were just telling Chief Swan about the summer ball roster and how things are shaping up for football season," Emmett declared. Oh. The casualness of the topic disguised the painful reality, and I glanced at Charlie. His eyes were distant, and it was becoming more difficult to look into them. "I know you guys made his day, for sure." I held back the tears, moved over to Charlie and kissed his forehead. Emmett rose and said his good-byes. Edward finally came toward me and hugged me tightly. He kissed the top of my head, and I felt happy for the first time in days. "I've missed you," he whispered into my ear. Edward pulled back and then spoke up, "I know this is short notice, butmy mom and dad offered us their tickets to the annual Blues Concert at the Cliff this afternoon." "Oh. This afternoon?" I was surprised, but continued, "That's really thoughtful. I've heard it's amazing." "Yes, we go every year," Carlisle explained. "Esme likes to purchase the VIP tickets. There's wine and hors d'oeuvres. The proceeds benefit the public school arts program." He looked over at Edward, and they shared a knowing glance. About what, I was not sure. "It's definitely an important cause," Edward added. "Uh, I haven't seen Charlie since yesterday and" I stumbled. "Bella, listen to me, I'm speaking to you now as a friend." Carlisle glanced toward Charlie and took my hand. He then looked emphatically into my eyes and stated, "It's been my experience, when a cancer patient at your father's stage in this dreadful fight, wellit's very important to let

them see you goto feel you leave." I looked at him with a confused expression, but I knew what he said was true; I wished it didn't pertain to Charlie and me. "It will be as if you're proving to him you will go on with your life. He will sense it, and he will have peace with it." The tears streamed a steady flow down my cheeks. I glanced at Edward, who was sitting in a chair next to me. His hand was over his mouth, as if to stifle his own emotion. Carlisle leaned forward and embraced me. The room was quiet and still. I heard Edward's footsteps shuffle toward the door, and then heard it click closed as he left. Once he was gone, Carlisle breathed deeply and held me by my shoulders. I knew he was going to offer some more advice. "It's going to be alright, you must know that. The sadness you feel about Charlie is to be expected." I looked at him intently. He went on, "But beyond caring for you father, when all of this has run its course, you do deserve to be happy, Bella." I shook my head incredulously. Carlisle lowered his voice in a more serious tone. "All of that mess with Marcus is in the past. You are a remarkable young woman who deserves better a good future, a loving partner. Someone more deserving of your attention." His words had me slightly flustered. "You certainly have Edward's." He smiled, but I was embarrassed by all this man knew. After all, he was technically my boss. "Carlisle, I just" The words would not come out. "ShhhNo more explaining and worrying." As Carlisle said this, Edward returned, seemingly more composed than before. Carlisle turned to Edward and said, "Son, how about we meet back here at two o'clock?" I looked at them both. "Yes," Carlisle made the decision for me. "You two will have a great time at the concert. Esme and I will come and sit with Charlie. She's wanted to come." I smiled appreciatively and was amazed at their generosity. Edward waved from the doorway, "I'll see you here at two, okay?" "Okay. Two."

Right on time, Edward breezed through Charlie's door wearing a stylish khaki-colored twill suit and a pale red dress shirtunbuttoned just one too many buttons, I assumed with the intention to kill me on the spot. He brushed past Charlie's bed and gave me a hug and a quick kiss on the cheek. Even though the phone call was plaguing me, I still felt comfortable with him, and I was excited to be going with him anywhere.

"Hi." He said softly as he dropped his arms. "You are so beautiful." He rubbed my arm from shoulder to elbow with his fingertips as he said this, and I literally felt my knees wobble from the sensation. I was wearing a vintage rose-colored shirt dress, belted at the waist, and high-heeled brown sandals. "Thank you. And you are quite handsome yourself." He took my hand and grazed my knuckles with a soft, slow kiss. Carlisle and Esme weren't far behind him, and we said our farewells. I walked over to Charlie, and I knew what I needed to do. "Dad, Edward and I are going now. We're going to the Concert at the Cliff. Remember you took mom a few times. I know she loved it." I leaned over and kissed his forehead. "Bye, Dad." And with that we moved slowly out the door. "Can I drive?" I offered, hoping that my old jeep wouldn't offend his sensibilities. After all, he had said he had an old Volvo in Philadelphia. "Surewhere are you parked?" "The silver jeep over there." I pointed across the lot. We walked to it, and he waited to open the door for me. I watched him glide around the front and jump in next to me. I took off my shoes and started the engine. He looked at me quizzically. "Sorry," I apologized. "It's easier to push the clutch without heels," I explained. "Don't apologize. I think I'm going to enjoy watching you drive." He ran his fingers down my arm as I was shifting gears. God I loved how he did that. The drive was not very long, so there wasn't much time to talk about San Diego. And it definitely was not the right time to talk about Angela and her answering his phone. He never came right out to say it was her, but I was sure it was. Still, that fact did not diminish how he treated me or how he made me feel. And I did want to have a good timewith him. The concert was held in one of the most beautiful locales just outside of Forks. The setting was magnificenta beautiful, open-air pavilion. The pavilion was built of wood and fit seamlessly with the verdant surroundings. Families sat on blankets, children ran about playing games, and couples danced to the music bellowing through the air. The fresh air felt wonderful, though it was typically overcast. The faint hint of a spring rain was oddly comforting. I supposed it was the notion of the predictability of rain in Forks because at the moment the rest of my life was extremely unpredictable. Edward leaned close and placed his arm naturally around my shoulders. We walked to our table, gathering two glasses of wine and a little something to eat. The round tables were covered in crisp white linen cloths and adorned with baskets of daffodils and other spring blooms.

Once the music started in earnest, we turned our chairs around to face the stage. The music was a lively blend of blues and contemporary jazz, but it was too loud to carry on a meaningful conversation. Instead, we talked with our eyes, our hands, our telling glances. As we sat with our shoulders touching side-by-side, Edward ran his fingers through my hair, ever so softly grazing my neck and back. My hand held his, and I caressed it gently in time with the sultry music. I felt Edward lean in and whisper in my ear. "Dance with me." Holy hell. I was not the most graceful dancer, and I was sure Edward was. He saw my hesitation and smiled. He wasn't going to let me off easy with this. He stood and held out his hand for me to take. I reached for it, and he pulled me flush against him, his lips speaking softly into my hair. "Isabella, I promise. I won't let you fall." I looked up at him and kissed him sweetly on the lips. "Okay, then, let's go." To say that we did much dancing would be a lie. We held each other tightly, clinging with the need and desire that had been ignited in his car a week before. My arms fit around his waist, under his jacket. His arms held my neck and my back. We leaned into our first passionate kiss since that night at the overlook. My lips sought his, and his tongue sought mine. It was eager and lustful. We had missed each other. Our hearts raced as we kissed again, this time our bodies melting together as close as decorum would allow. The rain started coming down, not torrentially, but enough to send people running for cover. We let the rain fall over us, as we kissed again and again. Someone whistled at us as they rushed by, and it broke the spell long enough for us to grab hands and make our way back to the jeep. "My turn to drive," Edward said as he helped me get in. He grabbed the seatbelt and slid it around me, buckling it in. He ran his fingers along the neck line of my dress, nearly soaked and see-through. He bent down to kiss me again, this time on my neck, and I couldn't help but let out a small moan. It was twilight and pouring rain as Edward drove me home. Our ride had been filled with a comfortable stillness between us. It was also filled with side glances and occasional caresses. I closed my eyes and let the moment envelop me, relaxing me. When we arrived at my house, Edward helped me from the jeep, kissing me softly before leading me to my door. The rain didn't stop us from holding hands, walking slowly, and enjoying each other's touch as we moved up the porch stairs. Our peaceful moment was cut short as we heard a car door slam. We turned to see, who else, but Victoria James. "You!" She yelled and pointed in my direction. She stood just beyond the porch light, shrouded in the shadows and unprotected from the rain. She was wearing a beautiful designer dress, no doubt now ruined, and pumps. Her curly auburn hair was matted to her face. Mascara had found its way down her cheeks, pooling into dark circles. Her heels dug into the dirt of my front lawn

as she sauntered toward us. Oh, shit. "So, Bella Swan." She was no longer yelling, but her tone was seething. Her hands flew to her hips. "You're the pretty little whore who's been fucking my husband!" Double shit. Victoria was indeed beautiful, the beautiful kind of woman who is flawless and perfect up close. She was the kind of woman who would lunch at the club on weekdays and had a personal trainer. She was the kind of woman who was always put together and socialized in the most sophisticated circles. But right now was different. Right now, she was the kind of woman scorned by a lying cheat of a husband. I almost felt sorry for heralmost. "Bella, come on. Let's go inside." Edward tried to turn me around, pulling me by the waist to go inside. But I would have none of that. "No, Edward. I have to face her." I wiggled out of his grasp, and made my way toward her. To his credit, he didn't try to stop me. "Be careful, Bella." The rain was coming down harder, and Victoria and I stood face to face, soaked through and through. That fact was lost on both of us, since we both were determined to have our say. "Don't you dare stand on my father's lawn and call me a whore." She edged closer to me. I stood my ground, not backing off. "I know you have been fucking him since I left." "Yes, Victoria. You left! That's the only reason I was with him. Ask your husband what he told me. Ask Marcus. I was never with him when you were together. And now you're back. So go take care of your family." With that, I saw her hand fly up to meet my face. She slapped me hard against the cheek. Fuck, that hurt! I held my cheek with my hand, not really surprised at what her response had been. Edward ran between us. "Mrs. James, go home. This isn't the time. Please, leave now." "You know, Edward, your mother would be disgusted to know what a stupid, little tramp you're sleeping with." She said her vicious words with a smile. Edward didn't have a chance to reply. I lunged forward, enraged. "Shut the fuck up! I don't want your pathetic husband. I never did! He lied to both of usdon't you get it? It didn't mean anything! It was just sex!"

"See, Edward. You heard her. Just sexjust like a tramp." With another satisfied smirk, Victoria turned on her heels, jumped in her car, and sped off. Damn it all to hell! I had said too much, too much for Edward to hear. But it was said, it was done. I hated Marcus, hated her, and hated myself for this whole mess. I hung my head in my hands. When would this fucking nightmare end? This would certainly make him run from me, and I couldn't blame him. I wanted to cry. Instead, I bolted toward the house, flinging the door wide enough to slam shut. I found the whiskey bottle, desperate to erase the sting from my cheek and the ache in my heart. I sank to the kitchen floor, wet clothes and all, and that's where Edward found me. He ran his hand through his hair and let out a deep breath. Was he deciding to stay? Was he going to join me in my decent? The quivering in my stomach told me I wanted him to. I really did. I watched him as he slipped out of his wet jacket. Even in my infuriated state, I was not blind to how sexy he was. He unbuttoned his cuffs and slid beside me on the tile floor. There we were, our shoulders touching, our thighs oh so close. Our eyes locked, his emerald green to my chocolate brown, and I felt that very familiar current course through my veins. My heart raced, and my body wanted more. "Well, Miss Swan. May I join you?" Oh, thank god. He wants to stay. He took the bottle from my hand and took a swig. I followed suit, and we laughed at our apparent disdain for glasses. I took the bottle, and in a mock toast, raised it. "Well, Mr. Cullen. Now you know the real Bella Swan. Nurse by day. Tramp by night." I took a drink and rested my head against the cabinet. "Edward, I'm sorry you had to witness that." He took the bottle from my hand and put it to his mouth to drink. Instead of taking a sip, he said, "Actually, Miss Swan, you are a nurse by night" He raised his eyebrows and hesitated, and I couldn't help but giggle. Of course that is how we met. We both rolled our eyes and laughed at his silly attempt at a joke. My laughing stopped as soon as I watched him take a drink. I stared at his beautiful lips close around the bottle. I watched his magnificent neck arch back. I suddenly felt warm. Those very lips had touched my mouth. Okay, now very warm. They had tenderly kissed my neck, my breasts. My body was reacting in ways I had never felt before, from those thoughts of Edward like that and from my chosen drink. "I have to tell you somethingmy dad explained the situation with Marcus." He handed me the bottle. Goddamn it! "There. Is. No. Situation. Edward." I took another drink out of exasperation. Would this mess ever be done? I handed the bottle back to him. "It really doesn't matter to me. I don't care about your past." He passed the bottle back to me

again. "You know, we all have one." Whoa. That thought made me take notice. It seemed unfair that my life was an open book. Would I ever know his most intimate secrets? The ache in my stomach told me I wanted to find out. "Look. Marcus and I were only together when Victoria took the boys and left. We were only filling a void. A stupid, stupid void. He was angry with his wife. And Iwell, Charlie had taken a turn for the worse, and I" "Hey, hey...stopyou don't owe me an explanation." I ignored him. I finished what I needed to say, as hurtful as it was. "I I was lonely. Really lonely, Edward." I took another drink and passed the bottle his way. I couldn't help but look down. What if he thought that was truly pitiful? The whiskey was making me honest, and I just couldn't deny the truth. Not to him. Edward took a deep breath. When he exhaled, I swore to myself that I could smell the whiskey mixed with the overall sweetness of him on his breath. My god. I was drunk. "Truthfully, I don't want to hear the details. I really, really don't want to think about Marcusand youtogetheror him touching you, Bella. He's always been a cocky motherfucker." His green eyes bore into me, and I was suddenly aware of his fingers skimming down my cheek. A jealous Edward? Mmmm. "It's still pink." His voice was low and raspy. My hand flew to my face. "Seriously? Let me see" I stood a bit too quickly and wobbled my way upstairs to the bathroom mirror. Damn whiskey. I looked in the mirror at the evidence of my punishment. Yes, it was still pink. From Victoria's slap. From the too many swigs of whiskey. From Edward's soft touch I looked in the mirror and shook my head. Wet, mangled hair. Wet, see through dress. Shit! I had been talking to him like this? Add insult to injury. I couldn't believe he was still here. I looked into the mirror again. This time, I saw Edward's reflection behind me. I flung one arm around my chest and the other to cover my face. "Don't hide, Isabella. You are so beautiful." He moved behind me, taking each one of my hands into each of his own. I was exposed, for good or bad, and we held each other's gaze in the mirror. We stood like that for seconds, for minuteshe was beautiful, compassionateand he didn't leave me. I felt my face flush from the desire pooling within. At that moment, I knew I wanted him. I wanted him in any way I could have him. The warmth of his breath washed over me as he moved flush against my back. He kissed my ear and his lips hovered there, making my body quiver with the most sensuous feelings. His mouth was warm and sweet, sweeter still as he teased my neck with tiny, breathy kisses. I watched him in the mirror as he did this, knowing it was one of the most erotic moments of my life.

I reminded myself to breathe. My chest rose and fell with every kiss, my body aching to be touched. He then released my hands and moved his to caress my breasts, just as if he could read my mind. He watched my reaction in the mirror, and our eyes were smoldering with lust and want. I could feel his erection through his thin, wet dress pants, and it made me want him even more. Our eyes were still locked in the reflection, and I watched his hands move from my breasts to the sash around my waist. He untied it in long, smooth strokes, and I realized where all of this was really going. I couldn't help myself as I gasped at his touch. The look in his eyes was my undoing. I pushed my head back against his strong shoulder and pressed myself against him as longingly as I could. I needed to feel some part of him, and I reached up behind me to run my fingers through his tousled, wet hair. I closed my eyes as I felt his long fingers inch my dress up my legs. I helped him with this effort, as we pulled the dress over my head, and he flung it on the floor. He easily unfastened my bra from the back, and as it fell away, I moaned softly. My head spun from the intoxication of whiskey and emotion. He replied in kind, rubbing circles around my hardened nipples and feathering my neck in soft, sweet kisses. I stood before the mirror still, only in lace panties and my high heels. So exposed, so vulnerable, so ready for him. His hands moved tenderly to caress the tops of my thighs and hips. I ached for him to touch me everywhere, and his heavy breathing told me he wanted to oblige. I sought out his neck with my lips, searching for his glorious touch. "Edwardplease" "Isabella, please what?" I opened my eyes to see him watching me in the mirror. "Tell me...tell me what you want." I could only pant his name in response. "Edward" He slid his hands inside my panties and pushed them down. They fell to the floor around my high heels, and I kicked them off to the side. In the mirror, I saw his seductive starehe was pleased the barrier was gone, and I was free for him to do as he wished. Oh god! "You're body is so fucking beautiful." And with that, he slid his hand across my stomach. I groaned for him to go lower, placing my hand on his, gripping, pushing, and wanting. His hands slowly made the descent to my aching core, his fingers finding what they sought. We locked eyes in the mirror again, and his hand gently pushed apart my thighs. His hand rubbed me back and forth, and I matched his gentle strokes with the movements of my hips. His fingers found my entrance, circling in the warmth and wet that met them there. One finger, then two, entered me slowly, and the sensation was overwhelming. He moved them in and out in long, luscious strokes. My head was spinning and my legs were unsure. But my hips had a mind of their own, as they moved in time with him.

"My godEdwardplease." His palm pushed against my swollen clit, creating a friction that left me wanting more. He curled his fingers forward and started a tortuous movement. They hit the sweetest spot within me, and I felt my body clench with an undeniable desire. "Oh, IsabellaI need you," he whispered huskily in my ear. "I want you. Here. Now." "Yesah, yes...now...we...need a..." I whispered, feeling his length behind me, long and hard. Very hard. The thought of him that way made the muscles in my stomach tighten even more. He used his other hand to undo his belt, then a button, then a zipper "Baby, let meget this on" I heard his plea, but I could hardly stand the need for him to be inside me. He was the perfect cocktail of sexy and sweet. Waiting for him, I quivered with anticipation. I felt my orgasm oh so close. He pushed my waist gently, slowly toward the sink, gripping my trembling hip with his very able hand. He pushed into me with the sweetest, slowest movement, and we both gasped at the intimacy of it all. And, again, we locked lustful eyes in the mirror. "God, Bellafuckso warmso fucking warm." I reared my head back with pleasure as he grabbed my other hip and picked up his perfect pace. Watching his eyes in the mirror, feeling him thrust and fill me from behind sealed my fate. "Just let go..." He continued his beautiful torture through my rise and fall. He knew this was exactly what my body and soul needed. I let go and rode out the wave of my release as I came around him, a release that washed away the heavy weight from my heart. "Oh, Edward" It was an intense, cathartic moment as I moaned his name again and again. His name on my lips was his torture, forcing him faster. "II'm close" Edward closed his eyes, buried his head in my hair and pushed against me once more. "FuckBella!" I felt him pulse with his climax, a sensation I so achingly welcomed. Spent, his body clung to mine. We stood motionless, reigning in the emotion of our heated passion. Edward kissed my shoulder softly, and our breathing slowed to a more normal pace. He caressed my back, my hips and then he pulled himself from me ever so tenderly. He righted me gently and turned me to face him, kissing me softly on my lips. I reached around his waist and hugged him, not wanting ever to let go.

He pulled back and held my face, searching for something in my eyes. "You okay?" "Yes, it's just so" I breathed, and my chest heaved from the raw emotion of what we had just done. "ShhhI know." He slid his hands down and gripped my naked bottom and lifted my legs around his waist. He carried me down to the living room sofa and laid me there. He carefully unbuttoned his shirt and slipped it off. "Wait here. Don't go anywhere," he said, kissing my forehead and flashing that drop dead gorgeous smile. I heard rustling and shuffling noises coming from the kitchen. When he returned to me, he was holding a carton of milk and the remnants of chocolate cake Sue had brought over. He sat next to me, and I couldn't help but admire his naked form. He was so breathtaking. "Well, are you gonna share?" I asked him, playfully nudging him with my elbow. He smiled as he took an enormous bite, his mouth full of chocolate. "Hmmmwell, I'll think about it." The next bite was mine, and he fed me from his fork. "Hmmm. That's good." I smiled back at him. "Yes, it is." At that moment, I shivered with pleasure, knowing it wasn't just the cake he was talking about. My face flushed brightly, I leaned over and whispered in his ear, "Edward, thank you." I kissed him on the cheek, then his neck. He took a deep breath and smiled. "Baby" was all I heard as he kissed my lips ever so softly once more.

5.

My face flushed brightly, I leaned over and whispered in his ear, "Edward, thank you." I kissed him on the cheek, then his neck. He took a deep breath and smiled. "Baby" was all I heard as he kissed my lips ever so softly once more. "are you cold?" Edward asked me, rubbing my shoulders softly with his hands. We had finished sharing the chocolate cake and the milk, sitting together on my living room sofa and talking candidly in all of our nakedness, for quite some time. The drafts of cold air in my old house were unyielding, even for late spring, but I wanted the ardent attraction between us to be enough to keep me warm. "A little," I replied honestly, and I shifted my body to snuggle next to him, craving the warmth he could provide. I made an uncontrollable move to touch Edward's chest, lightly skimming it with my fingers. "You know, I meant to ask you about" I said, but he cut me short of asking my question. "Hold that thought." Edward grinned widely and touched me under my chin as he got up from the sofa and went upstairs. I couldn't help but watch his every muscle movehe was alluring in every possible way. He was so much of a man, more so than any I had ever known. I thought about Edward holding me tightly with long, knowing fingers. I thought about him kissing me passionately with full, inviting lips. I remembered him being inside meneeding me as much as I needed him. And I felt an overwhelming desire wash over me once more. I had never wanted to initiate sex with any man beforebut Edward's body and what it could do to mehad changed my mind about that. Everything I had experienced so far with Edwardthe conversations, our dance, our time at the overlook, and especially tonightthey definitely meant more to me than just sex. Of that I was certain. I wrapped my arms around myself and sank into the sofa cushion. My mind was wrought with the pleasure Edward had given me, and I was eager for him to come back downstairs. He returned, holding the quilt from my bed and his clothes from the bathroom. Wait. I swallowed the lump in my throat as the thought occurred to me he might put his clothes on and leave. And I knew I really wished he would stay. I inwardly sighed in relief as he laid the clothes on the floor next to the sofa. He was staying. Yes. "Do you need anything else?" Edward offered quietly, and I shook my head no. "I am perfectly content, actually." I said, speaking from my heart. "Me, too." As he said this, he climbed back onto the sofa, wrapping the quilt around us. Heaven.

"So what were you going to ask me?" He nuzzled his head against my neck and kissed me sweetly on the cheek. "Thisthis necklace is beautiful," I stroked the silver beaded chain around Edward's neck. It was a long chain and came to rest just below his chestbone. The chain held a silver and gold rectangular charmalmost antique in its appearance. It was a filigree of some sort, and I figured it was a symbol for something of importance. "Oh, this." He smiled and lifted the chain from around him. He gently placed it in my hand, his fingers lingering a little longer than necessary on my palm. I inspected the necklace closely, running my finger over the imprints on either side. Both sides were a duplicate of the same scrollwork, the contrasting metals weaving a delicate and distinct pattern. "A gift from Jasper and Alice. They gave me this when they got married. For being their best man." "Ohis it antique?" I smiled at him with genuine interest, and I wondered what the markings meant. "I'm not sure if it's old. It's something Alice founda Celtic symbol for music. Leave it to her to find something unique like this." He shook his head and smiled reverently. "Hmmmit must be very special then." "It is" Edward said, and I could tell he was reflecting on the memory of his brother's wedding. "I was honored to stand up for them." He continued, "The wedding was very intimate. Just family and a handful of friends. But Alice perfected every detail. She's really good at all of that." I got the impression Alice was a force to be reckoned with and that she was quite capable in many ways. "They only knew each other about six months. The next thing we knew they were engaged." I was still holding the necklace, and Edward's hands had found my thighs, gently trailing a sensuous path with his fingertips. He made it very difficult to concentrate. "Yeah, uhthat was fast," I remarked with amazement, realizing what Jasper and Alice had must be undeniable. "What did your parents think?" I added, thinking of Carlisle and Esme's reaction to their youngest in love. "As soon as they met Alice, my parents knew it was the real thing." His eyes were piercing as he said the next part, "And they would know. They didn't question it. Jasper's never been happier." The conversation had taken a turn toward the serious business of marriage and love, and with Edward naked before me caressing my body with his fingertips, I felt lightheaded and emotional. The whiskey had long worn off, and everything I said from this point on would be garnered from sheer nerve. So I quickly changed the subject back to the necklace.

"Well, it makes sense this charm would signify music. Since you and Jasper are musicians." "True, but Jasper's definitely the musician in the family." "Well, I haven't heard you play. So I'll reserve judgment until I do." I gazed playfully at him with a raised eyebrow. He gripped my legs and squeezed a bit, suddenly excited by a thought. "Hey, you know he's coming to see the baby," he smiled. "You'll meet him then. Oh, but Alice can't come this time. School's not out til June." "I'd really like to meet him." I smiled at him in return and began to place the necklace back around his neck, where it belonged. I moved it over his handsomely disheveled hair, positioning it on his chest in such a way that made him shiver from my touch. And I was more than happy to reciprocate the effect Edward had on me. "Ohwhat time is it? I need to call and check on Charlie." "Here, use my phone." He reached down to the floor, searching in his pants pockets for his cell. He handed me the phone, and I dialed the center. I spoke with the night nurse who said Charlie was asleep and as comfortable as he could be. I was relieved to hear that. I handed Edward his phone, thinking about the vast differences between Edward's family, his parents and mine. His were still married, and mine were divorced. Reflecting on this, I couldn't help but feel choked up by our conversation. Edward had affirmed both his parents and his brother were living and breathing the true love between a man and a woman. I had never felt that way before, about anyonenot even an inkling before this. But listening to Edward explain Jasper and Alice's wedding and how much his brother loved his wife, well, I yearned for the very thing he was describing. I wondered if Edward had ever felt that way before. The room was still dark, shadows streaking the walls, the only light filtering from the next room. But it was still light enough for me to see the sparkle in his eyes and the lightness of our skin on skin. He drew me closer by pulling the edges of the quilt around me. That same intensity was still in his eyes, pulling me and guiding me toward him like a mesmerizing force. I leaned forward and kissed him, my lips consuming his with all that I had. I moved my hands down his chest, around his abdomen, caressing him in the most pleasurable way I could. I pushed him gently backward toward the arm of the sofa. I felt brave and bold, so I posed the question, the answer to which I really wanted to know. "Edward," I began in the most sincere way I could. "Have you ever been in love?" He was quiet, thinking. He moved his head closer to mine. "I mean, deeply in love? Like your parents?" He moved his hands to cup my face, staring intently into my eyes. The anticipation of his answer was maddening.

"Never" His eyes holding my mine still, hands still cupping my face, he kissed me sweetly on the lips. "Before" Another kiss. "Bella" Yet another still. "No one remotely that I wanted to" And one more. "marry." "I actually thought I'd be married with kids by now, but" he confessed, "but I just haven't had many serious relationships. Well, serious enough for that kind of commitment." My boldness continued, "Are you seeing anyone else?" "No one but you." Really? I thought about the woman answering his cell phone while he was in San Diegobut I couldn't dwell on that now. Not now. My mind reeled and my breath hitched from holding it during his intensely sensual and honest answer. He moved his hands from my face to my shoulders, I watched them glide down my skin, and I had to refocus in order to finish my thought. "Ohbut we've only known each other aand" I stuttered as his hands found their way over my waist and my hips and my thighs. "Bella, II honestly feel like I've known you for a lifetime. Don't you? Do you feel the same way?" His breath and his touch were intoxicating. I moved in to kiss him again. "Yes, Edward. Yes, I do." My heart beat wildly as I shifted my legs to straddle him, feeling him beneath me brimming with the same aching hunger I had for him. He moaned in my mouth as my tongue sought his, our kiss rekindling the fiery passion we had experienced earlier in the night. His hands desperately found my waist, pushing my hips downward, to meet what he wanted them to. I placed my hands on the cushion around him, looking for the assurance to continue. His eyes glowed with a desire that answered my question tenfold. I kissed his neck, lingering to taste it with my tongue in soft, slow circles. I moved to his ear, waiting for a moment, my breath tickling him and eliciting more pleasurable sighs. His chest rose to meet mine with each quickened breath, teasing my breasts with every touch. I trailed my hands back down his chest, following with my mouth and then sweeping with my tongue. I could feel his erection stiffen and twitch beneath me, more so with every kiss and every touch. I slid my body down the length of his, my hands following and gliding over his skin and then the hardness of his length. I ran my fingers over the tip of him, feeling the warmth and wetness of his desire for me. My fingers clasped around him, and I moved my palm in gentle strokes of long, languid movements. His hips shifted with my touch, and they rose to meet my hand, yearning for it to move faster still. With my other hand, I slowly traced a path on the inside of his thighs, around his pelvis, down his hips, and then back againall softly and sensuously.

"My god, Bellathat feels soummmgood." Edward's eyes were closed, but I saw a smile creep upon his lips. He was obviously enjoying the exploration my fingers were making. And his smile wasn't my only clue. His arms had moved above his head, his hands curled in a satisfactory bliss. My legs stirred with my own growing desire from watching him relish the moment. I moved my body, wanting to give him more, intending to kiss himthere. But before I could, Edward's hands gripped my wrists. He was not being forceful or menancing; instead, he was passionate and pleading. His eyes still closed, he moved his hands to caress my legs, up my back, and then down again. "Bella, II need to kiss younow." His eyes opened as he implored me. Before I knew it, Edward was hovering over me, his beautiful body on top of mine. Our lips met passionately, tongues swirling and touching with a yearning for more. Propping himself on one elbow, he used his other hand to discover the most sensitive places on my skin: my throat, my chest, one breast then the other, my hip, my thigh. There was an urgency in both his kisses and in his touch. "I need to kiss every inch of you" he repeated, positioning himself to do just that. "Yes, ohplease," I murmured, giving in to his wish. "Your skin is so soft." He whispered this as his mouth followed the route his hand had been. I arched my body ever so slightly and rearranged my legs to welcome his advances. "Every beautiful inch of you" was the last thing I heard him say. I gripped his shoulders, pushing ever so gently, guiding him, wanting him. Edward kissed my neck over and over again, his lips lingering with each one, as if to leave his healing touch on my skin. His hands caressed each breast, preparing them for the sucking and twirling of his tongue. I moaned from his erotic touch and I felt my orgasm stir within me. "Oh god, Edward" My body whispered in answer to his tortuous call. His hands traveled to my stomach, lips following their progress. I moved my hands to cover my breasts, as they were still craving to be touched. My legs squeezed him tighter, anxious for his next movements. Edward pushed himself up slightly, urging my knees wider, bending to kiss them one at a time. He watched me as I moved my hands around my breasts, and it willed him to press on. His hands caressed the outside of my thighs, his mouth beginning its advance to my knees. I watched his head move closer to my core, his lips moving closer still, I was dizzy with the need for him to touch meor kiss me there. "Edward, I" My hands slipped into his hair guiding him upward. "Shhh, babylet me love you like this." I moaned with delight and let his lips do their work. He moved his hands from the outside of my thighs to the inside, and his tongue followed in pursuit. My orgasm had been set in motion, and I saw him take satisfaction in watching the pleasure form on my face. He bent back down to continue his kissing and licking, his tongue moving. And then he stopped. Abruptly. I heard him make a seething sound.

"What? Edward, what's wrong? Why did you" I pushed myself up on my elbows to get a better look at his face. "What the fuckwhat the fuck is this?" He leaned up with anger in his eyes. Edward's finger traced the circle that was my scar. Shit! My scar from Marcushe could tell what it was? He could. It was obviously teeth marks, still too fresh to have faded from time. "Marcus?" Edward asked me through clenched teeth. I was too shocked to answer, still naked beneath him, lying there in silence. Edward sat up, but he was still positioned above me. "That fucking bastard!" He snarled, not waiting for my acknowledgment or denial. I assumed he could tell the truth by the look on my face. After all, I had been an open book to him. "I asked if he ever hurt you, Bella. Why didn't you tell me the truth?" "I didn't lie to you, Edward," I squirmed from underneath him, pulling my knees into my chest, resting my head down. "If you remember, I told you I didn't want to talk about it. I didn't want to ruin our time together. I didn't wantyou to think less of me." "Look at me." He reached for my face, his voice softening, pleading. "Marcus and my father have been friends for a long time. I know about himand Victoria. Their marriage has been a joke for years." He went on, "There were rumors about her with this man or that one, rumors about him and" "Other nurses at the hospital, right?" I shook my head, disgusted with myself for the first time in quite awhile. Edward had helped me to forget about many things, but much of it suddenly came flooding back. How things had changed in a split second, from wonderful to disaster. "Yesmy dad said one or two women filed complaints against him." "I've never heard that." "Well, it was years agoactually." He got really quiet, "Did he ever hit you?" "No, nonothing like that." "But this." He pointed his index finger to the spot on my thigh again. I exclaimed, "Marcus was angry with me, for what I don't know. Maybe Victoria told him she was coming back, maybe he could sense I was going to end it with him." "And" Edward was waiting for the truth. Shit.

"He bit me." "What the hellare you fucking serious?" His fist found the sofa cushion, and then he pulled at his hair out of frustration or angerI couldn't tell which. "BellawhatI meandidn't you tell anyone? He could have been arrested or fired." He was incredulous and his look nearly broke my heart. I couldn't tell if he was madder at Marcus or me. "No." My voice was small and quiet. "I haven't told anyone but you." I shifted my shoulders toward the arm of the sofa, away from him. I grabbed the quilt around me as tight as it would go. I was suddenly very aware of my nakednessthe illusion of our lovemaking unexpectedly halted by the reality of my past, by what Marcus and I had done. I couldn't blame him if he bolted from the couch any minute. Edward was still pulling at his hair when I looked at him from over my shoulder. I felt the need to defend myself. Looking at the shadowy silhouettes on the living room wall, I revealed all that I possibly could. And if the truth was not enough, then nothing about us was meant to be. "I remember you telling me we all have a past, Edward. Remember that?" I pulled on the quilt a bit more. It was serving as my shield, protecting me from judgment, from scrutiny. "Well, Marcus is mine. Yes, I had an affair with a married man. He told me Victoria had left him for someone elsesome man from Georgia. Said she followed him to Atlanta with the boys." "He told me he was lonely, and I felt for him. I was, too. New to town, Charlie sick. He lured me inhe knew I was vulnerable. And I let it happenall of it." "Sorrybut why did you let him hurt you? I just don't get itwhat was he thinking?" "Why did I let him? Interesting way to put it Edward." I turned to face him. For this, I wanted him to see my face, that I was telling him the truth. "I honestly didn't know any better. I mean, the way he was rough with meI guessed it was a game he liked to play." His eyes squinted at me, as if I needed to reveal more. So I continued, "I thought I could trust him, with him being a doctor. But I was nave" "Well, the James' are the last people I would trust. Victoria probably isn't innocent in all this, by far." "Okay, okayI know that. You don't have to drive it home so hard. I've got it now, you know." I looked down, continuing to ramble my explanation for everything. "I'm not verywell, experiencedwith relationships. I've only beenummmintimate with three men. And, Edward, you're one of them." His head snapped to look at me, deeply into my eyes. "Bella, noreally?" He shook his head, my words not quite sinking in. His eyes darted toward upstairs and the bathroom, at the sofa, and then back to me. My face burned from thinking about

all we had just done. Was he regretting it? Did I give too much away? Well, I certainly couldn't regret telling the truth, especially to him. I wouldn't regret our time together. I knew that to be true as well. He cleared his throat and continued, "I mean, what about college?" We were now facing each other, but with an entire sofa cushion between us. It felt like a great divide, widening by the moment. But my gaze was steadfast, I wanted him to see my honesty. "One boyfriend on and off for four years, Eric. While I was in nursing school, he was studying journalism at the University of Florida. He's a sports writer for the Associated Press now." I wanted to smile, thinking of Eric and how sweet he always was to me. We were more suited to be good friends than anything else, and our relationship was more superficial than rooted by love. "Were you" Edward hesitated to ask, but I knew what he wanted to say. It was the same question I had asked him earlier. "No, no. I wasn't in love with him. And I don't think he really was with me, either. It just wasn't that way with us." "AndMarcus?" His fists tightened again, and I watched them clench and release. "God, no! It was really just what you heard, what I told Victoriajust filling a void. At first it was nice to feel wanted. But then, it feltjust wrong. Now I know it was. He lied to her, too. He told her he wanted a trial separationjust time by himself to get his thoughts together. Like a mid-life crisis or some bullshit. She had her suspicions and came back to confront him. He probably told her I was stalking him. I have tried to stay away, but he calls and emails." "That son of a bitchBella." He leaned toward me and put his arms around me. "The thought of him doing that to you. I could" He kissed the top of my head and buried himself there for some time. Then he said, "If he puts one finger on you ever again" I didn't know whether to move or to sit still. I pushed back, releasing myself from his hold, to look at him. His fists clenched once more. Edward was taking all of this so seriously, and I had to admit I was a bit surprised. I guess he wasn't going to run after all. "You know, he's just not worth it." I took Edward's hands and held them, so they could relax. I rubbed them slowly, and he smiled at my touch. "But you are," he said as he kissed my cheek. My chest heaved in response to his words. "I'm just surprised to hear you've only had one boyfriendI mean, you are" I shook my head and didn't let him finish. "I'm just me, Edward." I smiled at him and shrugged my shoulders. Nothing more, nothing less. His nakedness was distracting, and I ran my fingers down the chain around his neck. I was tired of going on about me and the senseless events of my past. That didn't matter anymore, especially

if Edward was around. "Bella" He wrapped his arms around me and held me tightly. We kissed more fervently than before, as if that were possible, knowing these past few hours had brought us so much closer. Our breathing became jagged, and we moved as one. Edward guided me backward on the sofa, his weight above me a welcomed burden. One arm cradled my head to his, the other was left to its own devices, brushing downward over every curve of my body. That hand went lower, grazing my very corethe place that had desired him and waited for him. His touch was light but electric, sensitive but zealous in preparing me for him. Edward's fingers stroked me, finding a pool of undeniable want and need. They entered me, one and then two, slowly at firstalmost at an agonizing pace. I broke the silence by sighing his name again and again. He kissed me hard, coveting my mouth with his. We were all suckling tongueslightly grazing lipssoftly caressing skinknowing fingers thrusting in time. "Edwardmoreplease, oh" Still our lips on lips, he whispered his words in my mouth. "Isabella, I want to make love to you." I nodded my reply, and he shifted his weight above me. Edward withdrew his fingers and reached down to the floor into his pants pocket. I helped him with this task, and he then took hold of himself, and guided his way to my throbbing core. He made sweeping strokes, once again priming us to become one. I moaned with the anticipation of him entering me, and it was almost enough to send me reeling toward my climax. I felt Edward's heartbeat quicken with mine as he found my entrance and pushedso slowly and so perfectly. He groaned with pleasure as the feeling of us joining together was natural and right. His arm still cradled my head toward him, and I slipped one arm around his back. My legs drew up, a way to offer myself to him as best I could. His thrusts were matched by the movement of my hips, a synchronized duet of two people uninhibited by neither time nor space. For some time, we didn't kiss. We didn't call out each other's names. Instead, our eyes were locked together, transfixed by the intimacy of the moment. Edward's free hand found mine, and he slipped his fingers through mine. Our hands clasped together, just one more way our bodies had united as one. Our rhythm peaked as my orgasm was so close. I tightened around him and shuddered with my release. He kissed me long and hard as he came, my climax pushing him ultimately toward his. We had made love. Edward's head nestled my neck, his arms enveloped my chest and our legs entwined. I could feel his chest and the beating of his heart strumming behind me. It was warm, and it was sensuous. Our measured breathing was the only sound in the room. I closed my eyes and relished the moment of being secure and of being wanted by him, especially him. Edward and I remained like that for awhile, taking the utmost pleasure in our closeness, fading in and out of sleep.

I finally woke to a series of noises: the morning paper hitting the front door, Edward's cell phone buzzing from the floor, and Edward sighing contentedly in his sleep. The quilt was still around us, and our body heat had pooled together, glistening our skin with perspiration. At some point, I must have moved my body to face his. My head was on his chest and my leg was hitched over his stomach. And his long fingers were holding my hip in place. Oh mya naked Edward under a naked me. I lifted my hand to graze the stubble on his cheeks; it tickled my fingers, and I smiled to myself. I moved them lightly down his shoulder, following the contours of his arms, then his chest. My heart raced with every touch. Finally, he roused and kissed me deeply. "Mmmmgood morning." "Good morning." We kissed again and stretched our limbs as much as we could. "You know, I never asked you, when do you leave again?" "I'm leaving on the 28thso, in three weeks." "Ohhmmmthree more weeks." There was silence at the fact he was leaving for Philadelphia. "How long does it take to shootI mean, how long will you be gone?" He could tell where I was going with my questions. He kissed me sweetly on the mouth and explained his schedule. "I've estimated around 60 days. That includes post production. Some editingmy production assistant, Riley, usually does most of that." He pushed his hair back with his hand. "But I wantI need to work on this one." "Oh. How long has Riley worked with you?" "Well, I hired him for my last project. And he wanted to do this one with Angela." I lied there silently. Damn. I wondered if he could tell I stiffened a little when he said her name. I didn't dare tell him I bought her book, or I knew how gorgeous she was. "Hey you know after this wraps up," he shifted excitedly toward me. He began rubbing my leg softly, almost absentmindedly, as he continued, "I plan to take some serious time off." It sounded like an invitation of sorts, and it made me wonder what his time off would entail. "Really? So will you come back to Forks at all?" "I need to get some things in order first, but yeah, that's my plan." I looked down at our tangled limbs. Three weeks. And I was compelled to blurt it out "Edward, I'll miss you." I buried my head into his chest, taking him all in. He wrapped his arms

around me. "I'll really miss you, too." The kitchen phone rang, and I bolted from the sofa, grabbing the first thing I could find to put onEdward's shirt. I ran to answer the phone. "Hello?" "Bella, it's Carlisle. Listen, the nurse here at the center called me over about an hour ago." His voice was solemn and grave. "Why, what's wrong?" My stomach tightened into nervous knots. "Well, he's deteriorating, Bella. Rapidly. I think you should come here as soon as you possibly can." "Oh god. Okay, I will." Edward had just wrapped his arms around me from behind and began kissing into my hair and on my neck. I hung up the phone and pulled abruptly away from him, mostly out of frustration. "I have to go. Charlie's not good." Edward stood in the arched doorway between the living room and kitchen, wearing only his pants. "Oh no. I'm so sorryLet's go. I'll drive you." He moved to embrace me, but I backed off. "No, no I just need to go. Now." Tears were stinging my eyes. I stared at Edward, who was trying to be so kind, but I was pushing him away. "HeyheyBella." He reached for me. "Baby, stop shhh." He forced me into his arms. This time, I allowed the embrace. He wrapped his arms around me again, this time inside his unbuttoned shirt I was wearing. Even though he was warm, I shivered in his arms as dread set into my heart. I slowly backed away. I slipped out of his shirt and handed it to him. Saying nothing, I turned and hurried up the stairs. I showered and dressed quickly, all the while wondering what I would find at the Meadow Center. When we arrived at Charlie's room, Jake and Carlisle were standing in the hallway in an intense discussion. We all exchanged hugs, and suddenly I felt very embarrassed by how Edward and I looked. It was obvious he was in his shirt and dress pants from yesterday; I was a subtle mess in jeans, and my UF t-shirt. Edward shook Jake's hand. "Hey man, how are ya?" Jake replied, and he was casual and friendly, helping to diminish any awkwardness. Jake followed me into Charlie's room, stopping at the side of the bed to check the morphine drip. I stopped and shuddered. Charlie was unrecognizable even from yesterday. Guilt swept over me for leaving him, for dancing, for eating, foreverything. Damn, I'm a mess. I felt really nauseous.

"What are you doing, leave it alone!" I snapped in Jake's direction. Quickly and reactively, he moved toward me, grabbed my arm, and looked me square in the eye. "Bella, it's okay. Look at me. Stop it" he embraced me, trying to let the comfort sink in. "He's not in pain nowit's okay." I mumbled an apology and sank into the chair next to Charlie's bed. I put his hand in mine, and that's where it would be for the remainder of the day. Edward and Carlisle both came through the door then, and Edward moved toward my chair. He leaned over and spoke quietly, placing his hand soothingly on my free arm. "Bella, I'm going to run home, clean up, make a few phone calls. I won't be long." "Oh, okay. Do you need my jeep?" I asked, almost numbly. "No, I'll take my dad's car." He squeezed my arm with his reply. He turned to Jake, "Will you be here for a while?" The two men shared a knowing look, and Edward glanced back to me. "Yeah, I'm staying. I don't have a surgery until after lunch." "Good, okay well, thanks." Edward leaned over and placed a soft kiss on my forehead. We exchanged smiles, albeit strained ones, and he moved toward Carlisle, who was still standing in the doorway. When Edward reached his father, they embraced for several seconds. Oh my. My heart hurt. Carlisle's eyes brimmed with moisture as they whispered their goodbyes. Over the next two hours, Carlisle came and went as he answered pages and phone calls. Jake sat next to me at Charlie's bedside. He did his best to keep me occupied and to keep me sane. We recounted a few childhood storiesJake's skateboarding down the stairs at the police station and the busted lip that followedeating Charlie's "famous" venison stewand when I ended up in the lake, fully clothed, while learning how to cast a fishing rod. Back then, Charlie was healthy and strong. And nowI found it almost impossible to turn my tired body to look at his face. Why? I could only sit, holding his hand. I just couldn't look at his face, not today. Maybe I wanted to remember it as it had been, all those summers ago, instead. Edward finally came back, quietly moving through the door. I felt relief as I saw him, looking slightly refreshed, wearing worn jeans and a faded green t-shirt. Jake stood, allowing him to move in next to me. "Hi, baby" Edward kissed the top of my head as he sat down. Jake held up his hand in a mock wave, smiling at Edward's affection toward me, "Alright, I need to head over to the hospital. Call me if you need anything." "Hey, man. Thanks for staying with Bella." Edward shook Jake's hand again, and Jake made toward the door. "I'll see you later, okay?" I nodded and smiled weakly in response.

Edward leaned toward me. He put one arm around me and rubbed my back in a comforting and soothing way. "My mom sends her love. She's making some food to bring to you later." The thought of Esme sent an odd panic through me mom. I reached over to the room phone, still avoiding looking at Charlie's face. I called Renee. "HelloMom" My voice was weak and cracking. "Oh Bella bugwhat's happeningwhat's wrong?" "Mom, I think" I didn't need to say anything. She could hear it in my voice. "Oh honey. Are you with him now?" "Uhyes." I was trying with every ounce of will I had left to hold it all together. "Bellaput the phone to his ear if you can, okay?" "OkayI'm doing it now." I looked at Charlie's face just long enough to place the phone at his ear. I hoped Renee was telling him how much she loved him and what a good husband he had been to her when things were good. I began to sob. Edward began to rub my back again, very gently, to calm me. I pulled the phone away without looking at Charlie "Mom?" She could hear my sobs. "Bella, honey, it's going to be okay. I'll call you tonight, sweetie." And she hung up. I sat with the phone still to my ear as I focused on a tree outside the window. It made me think about the time Charlie sat with me at the airport, waiting with me for my flight home to Florida. I was about eight and had spent the entire summer with him, fishing, camping, and swimming. I remembered him being particularly sad this time when I left. He told me not to get divorced when I was "big" because it hurt worse than a tonsillectomy. I placed the phone back on the cradle, knowing his advice was true. At least a half hour had passed, and I saw Carlisle suddenly lean toward Charlie's face. It seemed to me as though he was whispering something in his ear. I sat up to take notice. "Bellatell him it's okay to let go." I froze. "What? Why?" I began to tremble. A nurse appeared in the doorway. "Dr. Cul" Carlisle raised his hand to stop her from speaking or entering. "Bella" Carlisle reminded me gently. Still holding his hand, I looked at Charlie's face for the

first time all day. "Dad" I began to sob harder, struggling to say the words I needed to say. "Dad, it's okay now. I love youvery much. Thank you for" I couldn't say anymore. I rested my head on our clasped hands. I shifted my head to the side and stared at Edward through my soaked lashes. The room was thick and still and deathly quiet. I sat like that for several minutes. Then, I heard the strangest sound come from Charlie. It was as if he made a gasp for air. And that was it Edward looked at me with grave concern. "Is he gone?" I asked. Edward's eyes darted toward Carlisle and then back to me. Edward nodded his head yes, reaching his hand out toward my face. He held his palm over my cheek. "He's gone, Bella." I knew at that moment I could never forget that image of Edward for as long as I lived. I felt a very odd sensation sweep over mean overwhelming rush of adrenaline. Edward continued to caress my cheek, but I stopped him. I quickly stood up next to the bed and started toward the door, forcing Edward to move out of my way. "I need to get his suit. I've got to go to Jenks funeral home." I continued my rant as I walked. "He only has one tie. I need to get that too." I was rambling, I knew itbut I couldn't stop. Edward grabbed my hand and pulled me into a tight embrace. I knew it was supposed to feel comforting, but I didn't feel anything. I was numb from head to toe. Carlisle approached us, and Edward released me. Carlisle took my face in his hands and looked me in the eyes. His voice was calm and wise. "Bella there's time for all those details. We'll help you. Let Edward take you home now." I nodded, and we moved slowly toward the door. "Carlisle, you'll stay until" "Of course." He smiled and I knew he would stay to take care of what needed to be done next. But before Edward and I made it to the hallway, I turned to look at Charlie one last time. I sighed with reliefhe finally looked at peace.

We drove to my house in silence. Edward held my hand the entire ride, while I looked blankly out the window. We pulled into the driveway, but I couldn't find the strength to get out. I sat there, unmoving, until Edward had to drag me from the jeep. "Let's get you inside." He held me up by the shoulders, and we walked step for step to my front door. He fumbled with the keys until he found the right one, and we went inside. I took a deep breath knowing that from now on, I would be here alone. Charlie wasn't coming back.

Oh. My heart, mind and soul were all flooded with emotions. I needed a bath, as I was sure people would begin to show up to pay their respects. The Cullens, the Blacks, the Clearwaters, the guys from the station. Maybe getting cleaned up would help me clear my head. "I need to get a bath." I told Edward as I climbed the stairs. "OkayI'll wait down here." He offered a smile, and I knew he was giving me the space I needed to be alone. I went to the bathroom and started the water in the tub. I sat on the edge, letting the water run through my fingers. I stood up to undress, almost in slow motion, one piece of clothing at a time. I made my way into the water, submerging myself as deeply as I could. The steam and the warmth were calming to my nerves, but my thoughts had a mind of their own. I closed my eyes to see flashes of Edward. Charlie's hospital room. Charlie's face. Edward again. I heard a slight knock. Edward. He spoke through the bathroom door. "Hey. Just to let you knowJake is here and my mom is on her way." I didn't answer him. I kept my eyes closed, wondering what I should say next. "Bella? Are you okaydo you need anything?" His voice was a little louder, and I picked up on a hint of worry in it. "You can come in." I replied, thinking he needed to see I was fine. He opened the door and bent down at the side of the tub. "Hey" He gave me a warm smile and said, "Feeling any better?" I took a deep breath. "Not really. I just don't know what to think about all of thiseverythingjust everything has moved too fast." "You mean with us?" His smile faded and his brow furrowed. "I just don't know what I'm doing half the time." I ran my hand through my hair, and tilted my head back against the tub. I was sure Edward could see my confused expression. He tried to take my hand, but I pulled it away. There was silence. He got up and went to the door to leave but stopped short to look back at me. "Take as long as you need in here. I'll handle things downstairs." He turned and took another step out the door. Once again, he hesitated. He looked back at me with those piercing green eyes, and I waited for what he was going to say. "Just so you know, Bella," he began, "I know what I think about all this." He pointed toward me and then to himself. "I'll be downstairs if you need me." And with that, Edward shut the door.

6.

I could hardly remember the few days after Charlie died. On Sunday night after my much needed bath, I went downstairs to find the house full. Esme was there with Edward and Carlisle. Jake was there with his dad, Billy, and the Clearwaters. For three days I stayed home and went through the motions of handshaking and nodding as people came and went to pay their respects to Charlie. Esme and Sue continued to bring food, and both helped keep coffee cups full and conversation flowing with the policemen and fishing buddies that came by. Jake was there to help in any way he could; he made the arrangements with the Jenks funeral home and gathered Charlie's dress uniform to take there. Thankfully, Jake was around, as I was not in the right state of mind to think clearly. By Wednesday night I was exhausted. I had heard the phone ring, and Jake answered it. I assumed from his side of the conversation that Edward was on the other end. I had not seen him since Sunday, but apparently he was calling to make sure I was okay and getting the rest I needed. When Jake hung up the phone, he found me and urged me to go to sleep. "Okay, okay" I finally relented. He followed me to my room, where I collapsed on the bed. He knelt by its edge, and we quietly listened to the soft voices downstairs. As he raised the quilt over me, he whispered, "Okay, Bells. You still owe me some details on Cullen. What's up? He sounded really worried about you." Even though my eyes were closed, I could tell Jake was frowning. He was worried about me, too. But I was slowly drifting. I really didn't have the energy to explain anything at all. "Hmmm" was all I could muster. I was out. On Thursday morning, the day of Charlie's funeral, I had shed many, many tears. I'd hardly eaten a thing, and sleeping soundly was very difficult. Emotions would ebb and flow, and I knew it was all my way of grieving for Charlie. Grief is a fiendish thing, but it was only part of the process I had to complete. I had to gather the strength to move forward. Away from all things Marcus. And toward accepting the overwhelming feelings I had for Edward. This was my chance to start part of my life anew. That afternoon, I put on my dark navy wrap dress and heels and pulled my hair back. Makeup would be useless, so I didn't even attempt it. Before I left, I went into Charlie's empty room. I wanted to bring something of him with me, and I settled on wearing his watch. It was an older silver Swiss Army watch with a black leather bandnot fancy, but very Charlie. I fastened it as

tight as it would go around my wrist and took a deep breath. It was time. I made my way to my jeep and opened the door. Just as I was about to get in, I was startled by a jolt of warmth, as two strong arms encircled my waist from behind. I turned around at once to see Edward's gorgeous, smiling face. Oh. Oh. He came for me. We embraced, and I could feel our heartbeats quicken their pace, our breathing accelerating. "Hey." I rested my head on his shoulder, pulling my arms around him as tight as they could go. "Hi." He kissed the top of my head. "Let me drive you, okay?" I looked up at him, and my soft smile said yes. He took my hand, rubbing it gently with his thumb, as he led me to the car. I didn't need to say a wordabout Charlie, about us, about anythingbecause I knew, somehow, Edward understood. Charlie's funeral was quiet and simple. Edward sat with me for the duration of the service, and for that I was truly grateful. With him by my side, I remained composed as I shook hands and gave hugs. After the funeral, the house was flooded again with friends. I stood in our humble living room, in front of a gathering of men and women, listening graciously to stories about my father's time on the police force, his fishing exploits, his building our house. I walked from room to room, hearing the stories his friends conveyed that told of a man who was respected and loved by the tiny town he served so well. I found Esme and Sue in the kitchen packing up food and cleaning dishes. "Esme, Sueyou don't have to do all this. I can finish." "Oh, I don't mind at all." Esme smiled, her beautiful features reminding me of her son. "Don't worry, Bella. We're almost finished. I have to run anyway," Sue explained. "I'm on my way to see my niece, Leah. She's due any time now." "That's right. Maybe I will see her at the hospital next week," I offered. "Well, she'll be in very good hands with you, Bella," Esme stated graciously. I thanked Sue and gave her a warm hug. I turned back to the kitchen table to survey its contents. "Look at all this food. I think I'm going to have Jake take most of it to the Forks Boys' Home downtown." "Bella, that's a terrific idea. You know, I volunteer there every other Wednesday. Those teenage boys can really eat. Most of them have never had a home cooked meal." She sighed and cupped my face in the most maternal way. "How are you holding up, honey?" "I'm good better." I cracked a small smile. "I can't thank you and your family enough for all

that you've done for me." My voice wavered weakly, but I managed to finish my sentence. "We adore you Bella. And your father was a very good, very special man." She turned completely to face me and said, "You know, Edward hasn't wanted to be anywhere but here with you. You two seem to have quite a connection." She reached for my shoulder and touched me encouragingly. I blushed at her candidness. "He's been" I shifted the focus from my loss for the right words to do him justice. "You've raised a wonderful family, Esme." "Thank you. They're all great kids. Say, you know, we're picking up Jasper on Saturday afternoon. He's coming in from Austin to see the baby. You haven't met him yet." "No, I haven't met Jasper." "Well, then, you must come for dinner on Sunday." It wasn't a question, it was a request. "Yes. Sure, I would love that. Can I bring anything?" "No, not a thing. Just you and your beautiful smile." I hugged her and went out onto the porch to see Edward. Carlisle and Edward were listening intently to a story Jake was telling. I leaned against the doorframe, listening to him tell about the time when the two of us got very lost in Seattle looking for an antique jewelry shop I had found on the internet. "Hey" I piped in. "Don't you dare blame meI wasn't the one too embarrassed to ask for directions." "Right, Bells." He said, mimicking my tone of voice, "Jake, let's just keep looking. It's on the map right here. Internet maps, huh?" I rolled my eyes at him. "Ugh. I give up. I just won't go shopping with you anymore." We all laughed, and the mood was more lighthearted than it had been all day. Jake was the last to leave, and when I returned from walking him to his truck, I saw Edward sitting, waiting for me on the bottom porch step. I went to him and stood between his legs. He rested his head on my waist, putting his arms around me. I pressed my hands into his hair, pulling him close, trying to say what I felt inside. Finally, we were alone. "Everyone's gone." I sighed, part exhaustion and part relief. "I'm herefor you, Bella." He looked up at me, and I pressed his shoulders more firmly. "Thank you," I bent down and whispered in his ear. This time, he gripped me tighter. "Will you stay?" I asked. He stood and moved toward the door.

"Absolutely." I had my answer. Hand in hand, we walked upstairs to my room. After the day we had, it was understood we would be content with just lying next to one another. Still, I wanted to be as close to him as I could. I reached for the buttons on his shirt; he pulled at the tie on my dress. We undressed in silence and climbed into bed. He curled behind me, and we laid together enveloped by the peaceful darkness. We talked quietly about the day and some of the stories we had heard. "I love the fact your dad built this house," Edward stated with great respect. "What am I going to do with the house?" I asked, perplexed by the notion I would live here by myself. "Whatwhat do you mean, do with the house?" I felt Edward's body tense behind me. I leaned my head back slightly to look at him. "I might" Edward cut me off before I could continue. "You might what? Sell the house?" He raised himself up on his elbow and looked down at me. I rolled onto my back, to see him clearly. "MaybeI haven't thought it through yet. But going back to Florida...Well, I just mean that I don't have any family here." I stated that fact in a low, soft voice. "You have me here." He bent down and kissed me chastely on the lips. I rolled all the way over, now facing him completely. "I guess you never thought you would get sucked into all thisCharlie's death and then, all the drama." He knew I was talking about Marcus. But I smiled to keep the conversation light instead of brooding. He sat for a moment, contemplating something. "Actually, I don't mind the drama." He smiled. "Remember, I'm a filmmaker." "Havery funnybut think about itin the short time we've known each other, we've experienced the cycle of lifewith Charlie and with your niece." "Well, if anything, it's a bold way to start a relationship. I guess you could say we've already been through it all," he said, smiling, with a glint of something in his eye. Perhaps he was trying to gauge my reaction to his mention of a relationship. "Is that how you really feel?" I leaned in closer. "It is." He pulled me into a loving kiss, his hands weaving into my hair, stroking gently. "You need some resttry to get some sleep." I closed my eyes while Edward stroked my hair, sweetly willing me to sleep.

I awoke in the morning to pounding rain beating against the windows. The room was still a darkened grey from the clouds outside. Edward and I were entwined, his head against my shoulders. I could feel his breath tickling my skin; it was warm and wonderful. I rose to go to the bathroom, reaching for my robe. Edward stirred a bit, but I tried not to wake him from his slumber. When I returned, he was awake, sitting up and looking out the window at the morning's rain. Even in the shadows of the early day I could see his hair was a mangled mess, his shoulders sloping in thought. Despite being across the room, I could feel the magnetic, undeniable pull to him. "Good morning." He heard me come closer. "Good morning." I climbed on the bed behind him and reached my arms around his waist. "MmmI'm glad you're here." I kissed his shoulder on one side and then the other. "I'm glad I'm here, too." I felt his chest heave as he smiled. I pushed him gently onto his back, kissing him softly. The raindrops were the only sound to be heard, splashing as they hit the windows. Otherwise, the house was silent and still, magnifying the desire between us. Edward's hands caressed my face, moving my hair behind my ears. They travelled to my shoulders, electrifying my skin through the satin of my robe. I kissed him again, shifting my body above him, as evidence of my desire for him. "Are you sure?" Edward murmured sweetly. I appreciated his willingness to offer me space, giving me all the time I needed to heal and to understand what was happening between us. But that very fact made me want him even more. "Absolutely," I said, borrowing his word from yesterday. "I'm sure." I unknotted the tie from my robe and slipped it from my shoulders. He pulled me down to him and kissed me so deeply that I felt the current throughout my body. My thighs tightened around him and I felt an urgency to go further. I broke our kiss and moved my palms around his chest, taking my fingers and trailing them down his beautiful arms. I found his hands and lifted them. Our hands touched, palm to palm. I moved one hand to my mouth, kissing it, taking his index finger and running my tongue along itsucking it ever so softly. "OhBella" I could hear him moaning, and his hips shifted so that I could feel his growing desire beneath me. Hearing Edward moan and whisper my name was empowering, so I took his other hand and did the same. "Touch me here" I took his hands and placed them on my breasts, guiding him to feel all the parts of me that yearned for him. He caressed me, pressing and pinching each nipple making me come alive with wanton pleasure. He ran his hands down my sides, his thumbs teasing me there. His hands returned to my breasts, and he began his sensual pattern again.

"MmmEdward." I moved my chest closer to him, and he lifted his head to kiss each breast, swirling his tongue and sucking each nipple with a force that flooded my core. I shifted my weight to straddle him, stirring my hips to create the intense friction we both desperately wanted and needed. "God, babyyou feel so goodso good." He repeated as I moved above him. "WaitBella. I need to get" Edward raised himself up to search for his pants. I tenderly pushed him back down, and he raised his eyebrows, questioning me. I bent down trailing soft kisses toward his ear. I lingered there, hearing his breath quicken. I whispered, "It's okay I'm on the pill" He turned sharply to look at me, a little surprised. I continued, "BeforeI just needed to be surethat it's only you and me" "It's only you, Bella." And that was all the reassurance we needed. He moved his hands down to my waist, and his fingers were both softness and fireI felt his touch radiate through me. His hands trailed down to my thighs and calves, then back up again. He moved his palms to caress my thighs again, and then he stopped, just short of where my scar waswhere it was touching his flesh. I watched his jaw tighten, as if he were the one who had experienced the pain. "I just want to" He started to say, teeth clenched in anger, his hands molded into fists at my thighs. I didn't want him to feel that way anymore; I wanted us to put anything that had to do with Marcus behind us. I raised myself above him and looked him dead in the eyes. "You have to get over this." I paused, searching his gorgeous green eyes, for an emphatic effect, "I only want you." My face hovered above his, my breasts skimming his chest, and I knew he could feel my heart racing. And I could barely handle his seductive look. He flipped me over onto my back and pressed his body into mine. I could feel his erection, solid and strong, against my leg. I moaned as I shimmed my hips to meet it. Edward touched his forehead to mine as he asked me, "You do want me, Bella?" It was his turn to look me in the eyes. I wanted to scream my answer, but I whispered it instead. "YesI want youyesonly you." The smile that formed on his lips was beautiful. "Mmmand I want you. Bella, I've never wanted anyone more." And he kissed me as deeply and passionately as he could.

Edward kissed my neck, all breathy and sweet, as he moved his hand to my thigh. His lips grazed my jaw, soft and patient, as he guided my leg around his back. He slid his tongue into my mouth, slowly and deliberately, as he eased himself inside me. I sighed contentedly into his mouth from the satisfaction of him filling me so completely. Our hips moved slowly at first, delighting in the sensations of our bodies uniting as one. The pace of our movements eventually rose to a perfect rhythmic motion. The rain had slowed, and the morning light began to filter into the room, shining hazy streaks across our naked bodies. The quietness of the house had been replaced by the moaning and breathing of us both. "AhhBella..." I felt the warmth intensifying between us, and I realized that I was in awe of this gorgeous man wanting me, pushing me toward a blissful peak. "Edwardohlike this." I pressed on Edward's shoulders, urging him backward. I kissed his neck and his lips as I shifted over him. I took my hand and guided him back into me. I moved my hands to rest on his chest as I quickly discovered a glorious rhythm with my hips. I watched his eyes close and his hands met my waist, guiding my hips, and moving them to keep their pace. "Bellathat'soh godso good." I smiled above him, leaning in to kiss his lips again, both of us glistening from the efforts of our lovemaking. "Baby, ahkeep going." His hands gripped my hips tighter, and I found the needy spot within me that wanted to be touched. Our heart beats, our breathing, our movementsall accelerating, climbing toward a common goal. "Oh, EdwardI'm sooh" I couldn't get the words out, as my eyes closed and my back arched from the most exquisite feeling. "Come for me baby" He felt my release as I tightened around himhis words, his hands, his looks, all fusing together to send me over the edge toward climax. "Don't stop" And I didn't. I moved with the fervent desire to please him as he had me. He squeezed my hips hard, as he came into me, throbbing with the aftershocks of our actions. For what seemed like hours, we laid sated, kissing, whispering, together We showered together quietly, enjoying the intimacy of one another. Edward lightly bathed my naked body as the water washed over us. With the soap, he cleaned my shoulders, my legs, my back. I raised my arms as he continued with them and my breasts. I returned the favor, savoring the feeling of my hands running the course of his body. We kissed, tenderly and sweetly, water falling to rinse everything away. Edward finally broke the silence. "You know, I realized yesterdaywhen Jake was talking about you obsessing over antique jewelryI don't know some important details about you."

"First of all, I don't obsess over material things, such as jewelryI think I was obsessing over his unwillingness to ask for directions. But I do like unique things." "Is that why you asked if my charm was antique?" I raised my hand to touch the charm, running my finger around the chain. "Yeah, I'd never seen anything like before." I picked up the shampoo to start washing my hair. Edward motioned for me to turn around. "Okay, so you don't obsess over jewelry, point taken. Well, what is your favorite, say, drink?" He started massaging my scalp, washing my hair. Well, that's a first for me. "Having lived in Florida, I've learned to like sweet iced tea." I laughed, thinking about Renee adding cup after cup of sugar to the tea after brewing. Sweet tea was definitely an acquired taste. "And what about you? What is your favorite food?" I asked him and then turned to rinse, lifting my arms to run my fingers through my hair. As I did this, he began to wash my breasts again, and it felt incredible. "Hmmmother than chocolate cake?" He replied in a teasing way, and I lightly smacked his shoulder. We laughed, and it felt so good to laugh. Still, his answer about the cake was too endearing for me to ignore. "It might be my favorite, too." I said, as the water rushed between us, and I couldn't help but kiss him again and again.

After almost two days together, Edward finally had to leave on Saturday to pick up Jasper at the airport. We promised to see each other for Sunday dinner at his house. I would miss him, and I had to admit it, I was slightly nervous to see his familyall of them, all at the same time. On Sunday afternoon, I pulled on my favorite jeans and a shirt I bought last summer in Port Angeles that I had yet to weara cream peasant top with beautiful, billowy sleeves. It was very romantic looking, and I felt pretty in it. For the first time in awhile, I wanted to look goodfor me and for Edward. I decided on wearing my hair down, letting it flow naturally down my back. I did the usual makeup, though, just a touch here and there to add some color. Finally, I slipped on some flats, grabbed a bottle of white wine to take with me, and was out the door. I had never been to the Cullen's before and was amazed by the beauty of their property as I drove around to their driveway. All the houses in this area were a reflection of those with wealth in Forks. The drive was filled with the family cars, so I pulled the jeep up on the shoulder on the main road. The mature trees on the property shrouded the house from the street. I walked up the driveway and saw that their house was contemporary art. Its large, sweeping windows and strong, angular lines were quite the contrast of my modest home. I took a deep breath and rang the bell. Rosalie opened the door holding her beautiful, but very upset baby Emily. Surprisingly, Rosalie was smiling warmly.

"Hi, Bella. Come in." I returned the smile, and I couldn't help but turn my attention to the crying bundle in her arms. "Hi, Rosalie. Thanks." I made my way into the foyer. "Is she okay?" As soon as I asked that, I heard singing, laughing and acoustic guitar encompassing the house. Rosalie motioned her head to the other room. "They are so fucking loud." She huffed, covering the baby's ears while she said the last part. She ushered me inside as she continued, "Emily's not a fan of these impromptu jam sessions. That's a fact." "Oh. I guess it would be a little loud for her." I offered a sympathetic smile as I touched Emily's cheek. I noticed the baby donned pink everythingand her complexion was as striking as her mother's. "Is it Jasper and Edward playing?" I asked her, and I strained to listen to what they were singing. I had wanted to hear Edward play, especially since I knew it meant so much to him. "God, yes. They haven't stopped since yesterday. If I didn't love them, I would have broken some fingers by now. That damn music." This time she forgot to cover the baby's ears. "Shit, don't tell Emmett. I promised I would be better around her." "My lips are sealed." I promised, and was happy that Rosalie's friendly humor was easing my nerves slightly. She casually led me toward the kitchen where we found Esme chopping herbs at the counter. "Bellaso good to see you, honey." She moved toward me, kissing my cheek and giving me a comforting hug. "HiGood to see you, too. I know you said not to bring anything, butI brought some chardonnay." "Oh, how wonderful, you didn't have to do that." "No, noI wanted to. As a thank you. For everything lately." "This Mer Soleil will pair nicely with the roasted chicken and spring vegetables." We shared a smile. As Esme continued with dinner preparations, Rosalie moved in closer to me. "Bella, I'm sorry I wasn't able to come to the service. Emmett said it was reallynice." "Oh, yeahI understand. It was good to have Emmett there." The music continued to spill into the kitchen, as loud as ever, as did baby Emily's wailing. "Can I help with anything?" I asked, trying to keep the moment from being awkward.

"No, noBella, go in and meet Jasper. I know Edward's waiting for you. They're in the living room right around the corner," Esme urged. I could hear Edward's voice from the next room. My heart fluttered with the anticipation of seeing him. It had only been a day, but I missed his smile, his hair, the way he made me feel beautiful. I heard a laugh, from Jasper I assumed, and a bellowing chuckle I knew was from Emmett. "Okay, okaywhat about this one. Do you remember this?" I heard the guitar strumming, playing music I didn't recognize. "Damn! I'd forgotten we wrote that! How does the first part go?" Edward's voice was excited, followed by more guitar. I held my breath as I walked into the room. And there they all werethe Cullen men and Emmett. Jasper and Edward were in two chairs, facing each other playing their guitars. Carlisle was on the other side of the room, in a leather chair, watching his two sons enjoying themselves. Emmett was on a sofa, feet propped up, as if he had been napping. When Edward saw me, he flashed the most brilliant smile. My breath caught from the sensation of seeing him. He was barefoot and wearing faded, well-worn jeans and a long-sleeved baby blue t-shirt, pushed up to the elbowshe was pure sexiness and confidence, holding his guitar. He made a move to get up, but I held out my hand for him to sit. "No, noyou guys finish. I've been waiting to hear you play." I returned his smile and looked to Jasper. Edward got up anyway. "I've been looking forward to seeing you all day." He hugged me tightly, so much so that my feet lifted from the ground. I hugged him back, and he kissed me swiftly on the lips. "I'm so glad you're here." "Me, too." Our little display of affection did not go unnoticed, as Carlisle cleared his throat with a smile and Emmett threw a pillow in our direction. I looked around Edward to see Jasper. Jasper had a decidedly creative edge to his appearance, with what would definitely be called a swagger. His dark blonde hair was fairly long and framed his face in an attractively unkempt way. He wore a black v-neck t-shirt and dark jeans. As I watched him play the guitar, his thick silver wedding band caught my eye. It made me think of Edward's necklace, and that Alice surely has remarkable taste. "Hi, Jasper. I'm Bella." "Oh, Bella" He looked down at his guitar with a cool seriousness, and began to play something I immediately recognized. "I've heard a lot about you since yesterday." He grinned, with his eyebrows raised. HmmmMy face flushed as I wondered what exactly Edward had divulged about us.

"Oh, really?" I jabbed Edward playfully in the ribs. He held up his hands in protest, shaking his head as if he had said nothing at all. The smile on his face, though, gave him away. "SureIsabella" Jasper started singing. "Girl, I dream about you every night" "AhhHendrix, right?" I guessed, since I had heard this tune since I was little, as not many songs had my name in them. "Hey, Edward. This girl's alright" He nodded his head and continued singing, "Hey, girlSo I think about you every day, oh, I hope you listen to me right" He played a little bit more until, this time, Emmett's pillow hit Jasper. It was all in good fun, and I could tell this was a family who enjoyed each other. I felt a tinge of sadness, remembering I was basically on my own. But I was brought back to the reality of being in this warm and welcoming home by Edward grabbing my hand and Esme calling out that dinner was ready. We walked into their dining room, which was casual but quite elegant at the same time. I sat across from Edward, wedged between Rosalie and Emmett. Emily was still being fussy, and the new parents seemed a bit stressed about it. "Rosalie, I'll hold her while you eat." I offered, and I saw Edward smile at my suggestion. I pushed my chair back slightly and cradled her in my arms, which gave me the opportunity to see this family at work. Dinner at the Cullen household was a different dimension entirely from what I was used tofending for myself and eating alone. Dishes of the roasted garlic chicken, fresh spring vegetables and seasoned red potatoes were passed around, the men helping themselves to hearty portions. Throughout the night the wine and conversation flowed from Emmett's newest recruit to Jasper's next gig in Austin. "Oh, Bella." Jasper called for my attention. "Hey, did you know you dad busted me one time for drinking." He laughed. "He scared the hell out of me for sure." Carlisle added, "I haven't forgotten about that one...he confiscated your cigarettes, too." "Oh, dear" Esme shook her head. "Well, that wasn't the first or last time you were in trouble, Jasper." "Bella, don't listen to themI was always an angel." He winked at me as he took a forkful of food. "Yeah, right, Jazz" Edward laughed and a knowing glance passed between the brothers. Rosalie took Emily so I could eat, and she whispered in my ear, "Trust me. They're all full of crap." "Oh, Rosalie, don't you start now. Belladon't believe her." Emmett chuckled and Edward chimed in, "I think Chief Swan caught you at the overlook oncewho were you with?"

"Don't start with meI can dish some dirt on you, Edward." Her eyes narrowed, as she laughed in the throaty, sexy way she could. "It wasn't me who got locked out of my dorm roomnaked." "Rosalie!" Esme exclaimed. "Bella, there really is no excuse for themthey have always tried to out do each other." "Let's save that one for another time," Carlisle interjected, but I was intrigued to hear the rest of the story. "Yes, let's do," Edward said, relieved, but smiling at me as he could see I was enjoying the repartee. "Oh, Edward, that reminds me" Esme turned to him as she passed more food around, "how is Angela doing these days?" My head shot up from my plate, and I waited to hear his answer. Angela was a name I hadn't heard in awhile. "She's doing good, Mom. Busy with the new restaurant. She's excited to start filming when I go back." "Be sure to tell her I said 'hi,' okay? And tell her thank you for sending the cookbook with you. I can't wait to try some of it out." What the hell? I swallowed my food in one agonizing gulp. Maybe there was more to Angela than I had thought. I took a deep breath and sighed. Thankfully, Carlisle suggested we have coffee and dessert outside. I needed the fresh air. "Who wants to come for a walk with me and Emily? It's not too dark yet." "I'll pass," Emmett collapsed into a lounge chair, holding his stomach. "I'll go," I offered. Edward came to me and kissed my cheek. "See you when you get back." I smiled and took Emily into my arms. I followed behind Rosalie while she got the stroller and baby carrier from the garage. We strapped her in and headed down the drive. "DamnI just love this time of year. All the flowers," Rosalie said as she took a deep breath before we turned onto the main road. "It's beautiful. I do miss the beach in Florida, though, sometimes." "I love a tropical beach. Emmett and I honeymooned in the Caribbean. It was perfect." I couldn't imagine much of what Rosalie did wouldn't be. "One day I'm sure I'll travel more. I just haven't found the time." I kept looking forward, noticing the trees and flowers around us.

"Edward knows some fantastic places to go." Rosalie added as we rounded up the hill to head back. As we did, I heard the engine of an oncoming car. It was a black SUV, an Escalade, a truck I knew well. I gasped, and Rosalie heard it. "Bella, what's wrong?" "It's Marcus James." I picked up the pace to walk faster. But the truck slowed as it passed us. I kept a steadfast gaze forward, not wanting to see him at all. But I could feel his glare through the window as he drove slowly passed us. "Oh, he's goneyou know they live a few streets over." Rosalie explained. I rolled my eyes and shook my head in disgust. She continued, "I know some of what happened between the two of you. Just know, I'm not one to pass judgment." I felt pale and sick to my stomach. I stopped walking for a moment to catch my breath. Rosalie touched my arm and asked me if I was okay. "You know, Rosalie, please don't mention this to Edward." I swallowed hard as I looked at her with pleading eyes. "Okay, not a word." We headed back to the house, and I felt it was time for me to leave. I was ready to go home, and Edward insisted on going with me. "Bella, it was so nice having you here tonight." Esme and Carlisle gave me a hugs in turn. "Well, I'm back to work next week, so I'll see you at the hospital." I said my goodbyes to Rosalie and Emmett. Emily had finally fallen fast asleep. Jasper put his arm around me as he walked us to the door. "It's good to finally meet you." He squeezed my shoulder with a sweet affection, "I'm sure I'll see you around." Edward and I walked down to my jeep, his arm around my waist and my head resting on his shoulder. "I had fun tonight," I said happily, forgetting about seeing Marcus at all. "And I really liked hearing you play. I wish I heard more." "Oh, I can bring my guitar." His face lit up when he said that. "Please do" I requested, remembering how happy he was when he was playing with Jasper. "Wait here. I'll run and get it." He kissed me on the cheek and turned to run up the driveway. I walked the rest of the way to the jeep, leaning on the door while I waited for him to return. I heard a rustling of some leaves and was startled to see a strange male form appear in front of me.

"Bella." Marcus approached me through the shadows of the trees. I clenched my fists instinctively. He had obviously waited until Edward had gone inside, leaving me alone. He came even closerclose enough to touch me. I wanted to move, but I was frozen in fear. "Oh, my sweet, Bella." He gasped this, standing before me, banging his forehead with his fist. Marcus looked at me with a heated stare. He lurched forward and grabbed both of my arms, pushing his body tightly into mine so I couldn't move. He boldly leaned in to kiss my cheek. I could hear him inhale sharply as he smelled my hair. Holy shit. "So you think you can fuck him now?" What the hell! He gripped me even tighter than before. My mind raced with thoughts of his glare and disgusting smirk. What could stop him from throwing me into his truck and driving away? I shook my head away from him and tried to ignore the wave of nausea growing in my stomach. I closed my eyes and wished for Edward to hurry, to hurry back as fast as he could. "I'm better for you than he isI can give you more than he can. You fucking know it." "Marcus, let me go. Now." I forced through clenched teeth. "Edward is coming back." "Good. Let him." He released me, and I turned to run, seeing Edward coming down the driveway. "Bella, what is it?" Edward quickened his pace as he came closer. "It's" "Hello, Edward." Marcus said in a menacing tone. "What the fuck are you doing here?" He dropped his guitar and almost leapt toward Marcus, and the two men were eye to eye, toe to toe. "Edward, he'she's not stable." I grabbed Edward's arm to keep him away, but he would not back down. He yanked his arm away. "Marcus, leave now, if you know what's good for you. She doesn't ever want to see you again. Don't you fucking get it?" "Oh, Edward" Marcus said in his most condescending voice, shaking his head, "have her then. You get what's left over." Marcus moved then, as if he were going to push Edward down. And in a flash, I saw Edward's fist fly to Marcus's face. Oh god! "No, Edward! Stop!" I screamed and pushed my way between them. Marcus lunged at me then, "You damn whore"

Edward pushed forward, grabbing Marcus with one arm and shoving me out of the way with the other. Edward pushed him to the ground, pinning down Marcus' shoulders as he seethed, "You son of a bitch. Don't talk to herdon't go near herdon't touch her." Marcus laughed his egotistical laugh. Even being held down on the ground, he was delusional. "Edward, just let him go! He's not worth it!" I moved to pull Edward back. Edward finally released him, and the two rose to their feet. Marcus dusted off his pants and straightened his shirt. "Edward, you win this time." He turned around and walked a few steps toward his truck. I felt relief that he was leaving, and I embraced Edward. At that moment, Marcus turned to face us. He pointed his finger in our direction and shook his head. He cackled with his parting words, "But, son, you don't know what you're fucking in for."

7.

At that moment, Marcus turned to face us. He pointed his finger in our direction and shook his head. He cackled with his parting words, "But, son, you don't know what you're fucking in for." Marcus leapt into his black Escalade and drove off into the shadows and darkness. Edward made a swift move toward the jeep. I just couldn't let him go after Marcus, not as enraged as he was. This had the potential to escalate to more unnecessary violence, and it had to stop. "Don't! Edward, wait!" I pleaded with him as I held back his arm. "Whatwhat's the matter? Are you hurt?" He grabbed my arms, almost shaking me to see if I was injured. The look on Edward's face, with his eyes quickly darting up and down my body, was panicked, a marked contrast to the defiant gaze he had shown toward Marcus just moments ago. He was worried about me, afraid I had been hurt in the scuffle. "No, noI'm fine." He pulled backward to go again, but I gripped his forearm tightly. "Bella, I need to" Edward tried to pull away; still, I wouldn't let him gonot like this. "What are you going to do? Chase him down?" I asked in disbelief from everything that had just happened, all of it so fast. "Dammit, Bella. He threatened you, meus." Edward stomped off toward the house, his hands combing furiously through his hair. "If I'm not going after him, then we're calling the police."

"No!" I shouted, as I ran to catch up to him. His pace quickened, and I could tell he was determined. He even walked past his guitar case without picking it up. "We can't! Edward, please!" I grabbed his shirt from behind, trying to make him stop in his tracks. "Wait!" I tugged harder, and he finally stopped. He spun around to face me, gripping my wrist, probably a little harder than he intended. He moved my hand to his mouth and kissed it. "Bella, someone has to stop this lunatic. It's getting to be too much." He held my hand in his, moving it to his cheek, holding it there while he closed his eyes and reflected on what he was about to say. "What will he do to you next?" His eyes opened and shot downward, and I knew he was thinking about my scar. "We can handle this ourselveslisten to me, please!" I begged him, pulling my hand away and grabbing him at the waist to pull him close to me. "I don't want the police involved. Please!" I buried my face into his shirt, but he pulled it up to his. "Why? This can't continueyou can get a restraining ordersomething, anything to stop him from hurting youworse than he already has." He was definitely irate, partly at me I could tell, for not listening to his rationale. "Listen to me, Edward," I began to explain my reasoning behind avoiding the police all together. "Part of this has to do with Charliethe policethey all know, I mean, they all knew him." "And" Edward urged me to continue. "Well, those men are family friends. I would hate explaining, you know, what I have donewith Marcusto them. I don't want to dishonor Charlie any more than I have." I wanted to bury my head back into his shirt, but I continued to look him in the eye. I clenched my arms around him as tight as they would go, trying to make him understand what I wanted to convey. "Bella, they won't judge you." He kissed the top of my head. "They can't blame you, baby." "NoughYou don't understand what I am telling you. I don't want them to know any of this! It's my choice." I broke away from him then, flinging my arms out in exasperation. "Marcus hasn't broken the law. I mean, you hit him, by the way" I couldn't help but smile and laugh out of nervousness. "...And it was fucking awesome." I needed to soften the mood, to calm us both down in order for us to think clearly. "It was fucking awesome, huh?" I moved toward him and clutched his hand. "Does it hurt?" I rubbed his fingers, and I wondered if he had been hurt by the punch. He shook his head. "Nodon't worry about me. I can handle that asshole. But I don't want him to lay another finger on you, Bella. I don't want him even near you."

"I have to work with him at the hospital," I sighed with the frustration of the whole ordeal. "Not seeing him will be impossible." "I don't like it. Not at all." "Look, you know I don't want the police involved. I just can't. But maybe Carlisle can help. He'll know what to do." "Let's talk to him now. This can't be put off any longer, Bella. Things will just get worse." He pushed on toward the house. "I knowyou're right. Wait." I grabbed his shirt again and looked down, pleading for one more thing. "Can we just talk with your dad? I'm not ready to face your mom with any of this." He kissed the top of my head and took my hand. "Sure, baby. I understand. We'll talk in his study. Don't worrywe'll handle it."

We sat in Carlisle's study, Edward and I sitting together on a large burgundy leather sofa and Carlisle standing behind his desk. He was scrolling down the hospital schedule on his iPhone. "Bella, you're scheduled to go in tomorrow night." Carlisle kept his eyes on his phone as his fingers slid and typed. "Marcus is on call." "Dammit, Dad. I hate that he'll be there with her." Edward reached for his hair again and tugged. I grabbed his free hand and held it. "Look, son. This is as per Bella's wishes. I will meet with them both tomorrow and lay the ground rules. Marcus cannotand will notjeopardize the welfare of anyone in this family. Or the reputation of the hospital, for that matter." "I definitely think we should speak with him together," I suggested. "What? Bellano. You want to be in the same room with him?" He turned to me, face to face. "Your dad will be there." I looked to Carlisle for reassurance. "Edward, I have to say my peacetell him it must be over. That it's been over." "I'm going with you," Edward asserted, standing above me. I rose to face him. "Nonothis is something I started, and it's something I'll finish." He sighed in defeat, knowing I was determined to do this my way. "Well, then, Bella." Carlisle hugged me goodbye. "I'll see you tomorrowabout an hour before you're scheduled to come in, okay?" I nodded. And so it was settled.

The ride to my house was filled mostly with silence. I could tell Edward was mulling things over and over. I felt as though I was beginning to read him rather well, as though we had always been friends or lovers. He caught me, out of the corner of his eye, studying him. "What is it?" "I was just watching you. Trying to guess what's going on in that complex brain of yours." "Really? Do you think you know?" "I have a pretty good guess" "Oh, you do?" He glanced at me, taking his eyes briefly off the road. "I hope so," I replied. Edward said nothing as he looked back to the road, but I felt his foot tap the gas and the clutch, shifting gears, accelerating us toward our destination. Edward followed me upstairs, and I walked into my room and switched on the side table lamp which filled the room with a soft white glow. I picked up my iPod and placed it in its dock. I found its remote and pressed play. The music was relaxinginstrumentalthe kind I liked to cool down to after a run. We needed something soothing like this to alleviate the tension from our encounter from Marcus. Something had changed since the ride home. I turned around and Edward was leaning against the doorframe, looking intently at the floor. The drum beat enveloped us, my thoughts were changing in time with the streaming sounds. It seemed as if Edward wanted to say something but couldn'tor wouldn't. I sighed and sat on the edge of the bed. I flicked one shoe off at a time, each making a slight thud on the floor. He looked up at me then, his eyes more intense than I have ever seen them beforemore than they were at the overlook, more than those staring back at me from the mirror the first time we had sex, more than the emerald green ones in my dream. He ran his hands through his hair, which I knew now to be a sign that he was thinkingabout what, good or bad, I couldn't tell. The music shuffled again, this time the electronic beat filled the room with a sultry rhythm. I stood up to go to him. "Don't." His word shocked me. Edward moved toward me instead. "Are you mad at me?" I asked, raising my eyebrows in wonder, my voice quaking slightly. I wanted to fall back onto the bed, but he held my wrists firmly in place. "No, Bella. Not at all." He moved his forehead to mine and whispered, "I was just thinking about what happened tonight and" I interrupted him, "Like you said, we are going to handle" My breathing accelerated with his proximity, his body so close to minehis hands on my skin.

"No, no" He interrupted me this time. "That's not it. When I thought you were hurtI felt something" He shook his head as he tried to articulate his feelings. "I felt like someone punched me in the gut." "You mean you were worried about me, right? Edward, I felt the same about you. I am so glad you didn't get hurt." I kissed him desperately on the mouth. "Oh, Isabella," He kissed me back, saying my name again. "Isabella, baby, I know it's more than that." His hands moved to my waist. My heart beat pounded in accord with the music pulsating through the room. He held my waist tighter and pushed his body flush against mine. The pace of our breathing quickened with every word he uttered, every beat we heard. "I need you to knowIcare so much about you." Edward said as his lips met mine again. They were feverish and anxious, his kiss stopping him from perhaps saying anything more. "ShhhI know you do." My hands instinctively went up to his chest, caressing him until they moved around his neck, pressing him down toward my waiting mouth. Our tongues danced and tangled. I felt his hands lift my shirt, so that he could feel my skin. His fingers found the front of my jeans, searching for the button. I reached down meeting his hands and helped him remove my jeans and panties together. I stepped out of them and sat down on the edge of the bed. I pulled off my shirt, sitting only in my white lace bra. Edward sank to the ground and knelt between my legs, parting them ever so slightly. He pulled his t-shirt over his head, and I helped unbutton his jeans. "But I want you to feel how much I do." He slid his fingers underneath my bra straps, sliding them down. He reached behind me to unclasp it, and I took it off the rest of the way. He gripped under my knees and gently spread my legs further apart. I made a move to cover my scar, hoping it would not upset him or alter the mood. He surprised me as he lifted my hand away, taking it to his mouth for a kiss. "Show me then...I want to know how much." I was sure to explode form the sensations traveling the circuits in my veinsbefore he even began to touch me there. His breath was warm and soft on my thighs. His mouth hovered over the permanent reminder of my past. He placed a very soft, slow kiss directly on my scarred skin, and he then looked up at me. "It's okay, baby it's okay." I shivered with emotion. "Oh, Edward," was all I could say. As I relaxed back onto the bed, I choked back a sob of relief. He had kissed my scar, and I'd let

himthis was what we needed to do. What Marcus had wanted to take away, Edward wanted to give to mefreely, deeply. My body melted with his every touch, his mouth and fingers moving to my core. He gently used his fingers to prepare me for his mouth stroking me softly, sliding them through what was waiting for him. "God, BellaI've wanted to do this since the first night I kissed you" I felt his warm tongue glide along the same path. He licked and tasted my warmth and wetness, tortuously slow. His tongue found my swollen spot, circling and sucking in a knowing pattern. I could feel my muscles tighten, my orgasm building. "Edwardbaby" I murmured as I gripped the quilt tightly with my fingers, the leverage I needed to hold on. His tongue continued with its glorious plan, and his fingers returnedthis time pushing inside meone finger and then twostroking me toward my climax. I cried out his name as I came for him, my body shuddering with the pleasure he had given me. "Bellababy" Edward moved along my body, kissing me sweetly as he went. "you're so beautifulall of you" I put my arms on his shoulders, steering him up to me. I looked into his eyes as I searched for his length with my hand. "MmmEdwardI want younow." I stroked him, he was warm and hard in my hand. I guided him toward me, welcoming him with all that I had. We made love until we fell asleep.

I woke up the next morning, well, the next afternoon, to noise in the kitchen. I smiled to myself as I pulled on a t-shirt and shorts. Edward was up to something downstairsand that was comforting. I went down to see the kitchen table set with what appeared to be a gourmet lunch. "What in the world did you do?" I was amazed at what he had pulled together while I slept. "You were totally out. So I ran to the store and got a few things." "II don'tI'mthank you. It's lovely." I went to him and hugged him from behind. "Here, sit." He pulled out the chair for me, and I smiled at his chivalrous gesture. He went to the refrigerator and pulled out a bowl of what looked like a salad. He served us botha plate full of a beautiful antipasto with artichokes, olives, and pancetta. "Wow, Edward. I'm really impressed." "Okay, don't get too excited, though. There are only a few things I can really cook." "Oh, yeah. Like what?" I probed. "Steak and burgers. You know, stuff on the grill." Edward jumped up. "I almost forgot. I tried something." I looked up to see him pouring a glass of tea.

"I wasn't sure how to do this," he said as he handed me the glass. He had remembered about the tea. I took a sip, hesitantly, at first. It was a little weak and needed some more sugar, but his effort was sweet just the same. I took another forkful of salad as he sat down to his plate. "Mmmthis salad is really delicious by the way." "Yeah. I can thank Angela for this one. It's something she showed me how to do." I almost choked on my mouthful. What the hell? Angela again. "Oh." I looked down at my plate. "What's wrong?" I had to work up the nerve to ask him about Angela. "I'm just going to come right out with it." "Okaywhat?" "Did you and AngelaI mean, your mom knows her. You've mentioned her besides just the film. It seems thathow do I say this the right way?" I came clean, finally. "Were you two ever together?" "I knew this would come up eventually. It was never the right time to explain." His face was very matter-of-fact. "Well" I waited for him to continue. "Yes, we were together for awhile. We dated after I left Stanford for New York." He shrugged his shoulders as if there was nothing more to divulge. "She asked me to do the film because we know each other, and she trusts my judgment with it. That's all there is to it, Bella." He pulled me out of my seat and on to his lap. "Trust me. There's nothing for you to be worried about." He kissed me sweetly on the mouth, peppering kisses up my jaw and toward my ear. I tilted my head away from him as he continued down my neck. He slowly slid his strong hand up between my thighs. My thoughts were flooded with desire, and I forgot about Angelaand lunch.

We showered quickly together, me getting ready for my encounter with Carlisle and Marcus, Edward to meet up with Jasper and Emmett. Edward reminded me to call him or to find his dad or Jake at any time if Marcus made me uncomfortable. I tried to reassure him that I could handle it. I dropped Edward off at his house, but before I drove away, I gave him the spare key to mine. "I enjoyed waking up to you cooking today."

"I loved doing itwell, that and some other things" I really hated saying goodbye. I went to work and went straight to Carlisle's office. I sat in one of the two black office chairs angled in front of his desk. We went over briefly what we would discuss, so there were no surprises. Apparently, Marcus didn't know I was going to be in on the meeting, which had me slightly worried. Marcus came in, and the adrenaline began to rush through me. I could tell he was taken aback by my presence. Carlisle spoke first. "Dr. James, thank you for meeting with us this afternoon. Please have a seat." "Dr. Cullen. Miss Swan." "Hello." "There's really no need for pleasantries at this point. We all know why we are here." We all nodded, and Carlisle continued. "It's my job, of course, to handle situations such as this one. But it is also my duty as a friend to you both, to ask for your utmost attention, confidentiality, and agreement in this matter." "It has come to my attention that your professional relationship has been breached. For the sake of the hospital's reputation, as well as your own, any and all such behavior related to this extracurricular liaison must cease immediately." Marcus sighed and placed his head in his hand. Carlisle's motive was to make this appear to be a reprimand for both of us. And it seemed to be working. "Carlisle, we've known each other for years. I want to formally apologize to you and to Bella, Miss Swan, for my past behavior. You know I would never do anything to warrant censure." I restrained myself from snickering in disbelief at his last comment; I had to keep up the guise Carlisle and I had discussed. "Surely not, Marcus. And you, Miss Swan. Have you anything to add to this?" "Dr. Cullen, I want to assure you that there is nothing, I repeat nothing, going on between Dr. James and me. Not now, not in the future. Our relationship outside the hospital is over. It has been for some time." Marcus shot me a quick glance, but it softened as Carlisle spoke to us. "I am certain, then, we won't have to meet like this again?" I shook my head and Marcus did the same. I was relieved that he was so contrite, that maybe this would be behind us once and for all.

When I returned to the hospital for work on Wednesday, my last shift of the week, Sue was in

the waiting area. She welcomed me with her usually warm smile. "Hi Sue. Is Leah here? Is she okay?" "Yes, yes she's fine. We got here around four this afternoon. That sweet girl Jessica got her all checked in. She's sleeping now." "Oh, okaygood. Did her water break?" "No, her water is intact, but Dr. James thinks he may have to go ahead and break it to move things along." "Okay. Let me get checked in, and we'll see what's going on." I gave her a reassuring hug. "Oh, Bella," Sue said with a sigh, "you know she's really nervous. And she called Paul, but he just isn't ready to deal with the situation. She's just devastated." She shook her head, her concern for her niece genuine and heartfelt. Suddenly it was my turn to comfort Sue, after all the time she spent helping me with Charlie. I would be there for both of them in any way I could. "She'll be fine, Sue. Please don't worry." I hugged her again. "I'll be here all night. And, most of all, she's got you." I had made my way to the nurses' desk to check in, and I saw Jessica and Marcus coming down the hall. "Hi, Bella." Jessica greeted me with her bubbly smile. "Hi, Jess. How are you? Dr. James." I acknowledged him as politely as I could. "I'm really good," Jessica replied in her enthusiastic way. "We're just headed into see Leah Clearwater." "Why don't you let me?" I offered. "Go aheadI'm sure you want to get home." "Okay, greatthanks," Jessica said as she made her way around me. "Miss Swan, I'll see you inside, then?" Marcus stepped into Leah's room, and I nodded. Before she walked away, though, Jessica leaned in toward my ear, "HeyI heard you're dating Edward Cullen. God, Bella! He's so hot! I'm so happy for you." She gave me a little hug. "Thanks, Jess. We'll talk soon, okay?" I smiled at her and went in to Leah's room to start my night. Deep breath, Bella. Marcus was talking to Leah, explaining what she could expect over the course of her labor. "Miss ClearwaterI'm going to check your progress. We'll decide what we are going to do next.

Okay?" Leah nodded silently, and I noticed her eyes were filled with tears. "OhLeah" I moved closer to her bed and placed my hand on hers. "Dr. James, can you give us a minute?" He hesitated, trying to read my expression. "Yessure." To my surprise, he left the room with a concerned and compassionate look. I shifted my attention back to Leah. "Leah, do you want me to get Sue?" "No, no I'm okay." But she continued to cry. "Leah, I know this isn't how you imagined it to be. You're going to be fine. You're going to be holding your baby soon and nothing else in the world will matter. And he's going to need you to be strong for him. Okay?" Leah nodded at my words and exhaled deeply. She wiped away her tears, and we sat in silence for a few more minutes so she could regain her composure. "I'm going to get Dr. James now and see if we can get things moving." I patted her arm and squeezed her hand. Her fear and emotion were heartbreaking. Marcus was explaining his next procedure to Leah when Jake came through the door to begin her epidural. It seemed to be a comfort to her to have him in the room as they were old family friends. When Jake and I were alone a little later, I made sure to mention to him that he should try to stay close by. "Hey, how are you doing in there with him?" Jake asked in his concerned, brotherly way. "It's fine I mean, he's being professional. He really seems to be trying." "Are you sure?" He wasn't sure whether or not to accept what I was saying. "Yeah, it's okay. I know it's hard to believe. I think the meeting with Carlisle scared the shit out of him." I looked in his eyes to gauge his reaction. "It would scare the shit out of me," he said with a little laugh. "I just think we made him realize we must move on from thisespecially if we're working here, together." I shrugged my shoulders, offering him the best explanation I could. After all, that was the bottom line. Marcus and I would have to work together. "I'm not sure I would just forgive and forget this easily. I guess having Edward around is giving you some confidence." I knew Jake was waiting to bring Edward into our conversation. We hadn't really had the time for a heart to heart on the subject. But Jake knew me well enough to see how happy I had become since meeting Edward.

"Yeah, wellhe's leaving next week." I could feel my face fall, and the reality was that Edward would be leaving very soon. "I mean, Jake, I have to work. There's no choice but to try to forgive and forget. I love my job too much for Marcus to screw up my career. He's fucked with my life enough already." "God, Bells, you're toughyou know that?" He nudged my arm as he left to see his next patient. Within the next few hours we were in the midst of Leah's delivery. Marcus was quiet and serious just as he typically was when he concentrated. Helping to deliver a new life into the world is a very intense experience. And though I'd been an OB nurse for over five years and witnessed many births, the anxiety and excitement of the actual process had never waned. Leah's baby boy was born perfectly healthy. Marcus and I caught each other's eye as he handed the baby to me to take to the warmer. We exchanged a very brief, relieved smile. It was a scene that had been played out many times over the past year, working side by side. But this felt different. I was almost exhilarated at the notion that we could handle this and possibly move forward, maintaining a working relationship. Marcus left the room when his work was complete, but not before saying, "Congratulations, Ms. Clearwater. He's a great looking boy." As he moved toward the door, he said, "Thanks for your help Ms. Swan." I nodded, "Sure, of course."

Thursday night Edward and Jasper arrived to pick me up for dinner. Edward seemed pleased to see me; his smile was big and bright as he kissed my neck just below my ear. I decided on wearing a new linen skirt my mom sent me. It was light purple with flowing vertical ruffles. I had settled on a smoky gray v-neck shirt and silver flats. Apparently, Jasper was our chauffeur for the evening. As Edward walked me to the car, this one was a black Mercedes, I saw Jasper lean over to push open the passenger door. I slid in and he flashed a wide grin. "Hi, yaIsabella" He almost sang it when he spoke. He was purposefully exaggerating his acquired Texas twang. Damn, he's so adorable. He was wearing a brown Fedora, a black and blue plaid shirt that was wrinkled as hell and rolled up to his elbows, and what appeared to be black jeans. Jasper had a witty, irresistible air about him, not the same as Edward's sexy confidence, but he was charming just the same. Edward looked gorgeous as usual, wearing dark jeans and an untucked white dress shirt. I doubted he ever could look bad. "So, gentlemen. Where are we headed?" I straightened my skirt and adjusted the seatbelt as we took off down the road. "Bella, my dear, we are taking you to the mecca of Port Angeles." We all laughed at Jasper's

joke. "SeriouslyAro's is a fusion of culinary art and entertainment. The best these here parts has to offer." He grinned and winked. "You up for some Italian?" I felt Edward's fingers graze my shoulder from the back seat. "Suresounds fine." I wasn't going to let my mind wanderfrom Italian to our brief conversation about Angela. So they had dated, and "Remember we used to go there with Mom and Dadthey used to have live jazz." Edward's hand had constant contact with the small of my back as we were lead through the restaurant to our booth. I slid in first, Edward beside me and Jasper across from us. The restaurant was not what I expected from something in Port Angeles. It was all exposed brick and medieval lanterns. The chairs were carved wood, much like an ornate church pew. The lighting was low and the music was livethey were right about the jazz. Aro's still had it. We ordered wine firsta bottle of a cool pinot grigioto accompany our arugula salads and lobster risotto. While we waited, the server brought us an assortment of freshly baked loaves of bread. "I meant to tell youAlice and I stopped by the center last week. Banner has done a total rehab of the art room." Jasper said, taking a bite of warm buttered bread. "Yeah, I know. I got an email from him a few weeks ago. He attatched some photos. It looks great." Edward took a piece of bread for me, and then one for himself. "Seth was therewith Tanya and Laurent." Edward looked up and stopped chewing. "Was he practicing?" He asked as he swallowed. "Of course he was. When is he not?" Jasper reached for another piece from the basket, and the brothers chuckled at their inside joke. I was lost as to who or what they were discussing, but I figured I would find out soon enough. "Heyyou're still planning on coming to our place in August, right?" Jasper asked and looked at Edward and then me. A slight tension filled the air, if I was not mistaken and Jasper and Edward shared a look. Hmmm. "That's the plan. We should be wrapped and ready by then." Edward looked in my direction and smiled. He reached for my lap under the table, giving my leg a little squeeze. "So, Bellayou really should come down to Austin sometime. Think you'd like it." "Oh yeah, I'd love to." I smiled at Jasper. "I've heard it's a really cultured place to visit. I hope to get out and travel more this year."

"Well, when you make it down, you can always stay with us. Alice and I would totally make room for you." "Thanks, Jasper." I said, touched by his words. "That's really nice of you." "Oh, sure. He and Alice run quite the bed and breakfast. I had to make my own bed, make my own coffeescrew thatI even had to cut the grass a couple of times in the middle of August." "He's not kidding. Alice can crack the whip." "Maybe you over stayed your welcome?" I teased, nudging his shoulder with my own. "How long were you there?" Edward's knee touched mine, and I instantly felt warm inside. "About a year." The server came with our salads, all of us waving off the obligatory cracked pepper. "My assa year and a half!" Jasper almost snorted with laughter. "Ohwait, were you filming?" I asked him as the reason for Edward's stay dawned on me. "Bella, don't tell me you haven't seen the film from the center.man, why haven't you shown her that yet?" "I don't know I mean, we haven't had time to, I guess. Do you want to see it?" "Of courseWhat's the name again?" "The Ballad of Meyer Street." "I'd love to see something you've made. Absolutely." He ran his hand up and down my leg again, I assume as his way to let me know he was happy I wanted to see his film. I continued, "In any case, Jasper, I'm anxious to meet Alice. I've heard so much about her." "Oh, yeah?" He flashed a wicked grin at his brother. "Only nice things, I swear!" Edward laughed. "Well, she's probably flying up in a few weeks, when school's out. She wants to see the baby and catch up with some friends of hers." "ReallyI'll miss her, then." Edward said, reflecting. "I'll already be in Philly working." "But Bella, you'll be around, right?" "Sure. I'll be here."

"Awesome. I'll have her give you a call. Maybe you can have lunch or something." We finished our meal, which was delicious, as well as dessert and another bottle of wine. The car ride home was filled with even more laughter and some singingmy singing, actually. The glasses of wine had obviously made me brave. The Mercedes was Carlisle's car, and its satellite radio was preset to his favorite channels. I pressed the radio buttons until I found a song I knew. It was the Stones' "Paint It Black." "Leave it to dad to have it programmed to the home of classic rock." "Aw, noI love this song. I haven't heard this in forever." I pushed the button to turn up the volume. I started singing the words. "I see a red door and I want it painted black" Jasper looked over at me, quite amused. "What? What?" I asked him, turning around to look at Edward in the back seat. He was shaking his head, and I acted as if I was offended. That made Jasper chuckle even more. So, I made a move to grab Jasper's hat. 'Hey, woman! Edwardshe's outta control up here." Jasper reached over and put his hat on my head. "Here ya go, darlin'," He said in his best southern drawl. And then I could hear stifled laughter coming from behind me. I looked back at Edward again. "Are you making fun of the hat?" "No" He leaned forward as far as he could go, "you look fucking hot in the hat." "Hmm. Well, then, you're laughing at my singing?" "No. Never. Never would I do that." Edward said, trying to keep a straight face. He then busted out with a deep belly laugh. I laughed, too, giving up. Honestly, the night couldn't have been any better. "Alright, kids" Jasper said as he drove up my driveway. "It's been fun. But watching you guys all nightI'm going home to call Alice." He laughed. "Bro, I will pick you up here around noon? Is that cool with you Bella?" I smiled as I put his hat back on his head. "Sure." His dimples were precious, and I couldn't resist giving him a peck on the cheek. "And thanks, Jasper." He flashed me a smile and said quietly, more reserved than I had seen him, "Edward hasn't been this happy in a long time. And I know it has everything to do with you." "Hey, heyyou twonone of that serious shit now" Edward pulled at my arm, moving us toward my door. Jasper honked the horn as he drove away, no doubt laughing at us.

Edward started kissing me as soon as we hit the porch stairs. His hands were raising the hem of my skirt and I wasn't sure if we were going to make it inside before clothes went flying. I couldn't wait to have his hands on me, and his pursuit proved he felt the same. "Edward" Kiss. "Wait" "Nope. I'm not waiting any more. Dinner was fucking torture with you and that damn skirt." He reached for me again as I backed up the stairs. "Are you playing hard to get?" "Umm, maybe" I turned to unlock the door, as fast as I could. "You know, I am pretty fast. I think I can catch you." "I'm not so sure about thatI'm a runner, don't forget." He lunged for me, and I ran a few steps backward. He missed, and I laughed as I turned to run up the stairs. But before I could make it up even the first step, he lunged again and this time caught me. "Damn. I didn't even stand a chance." He moved against me, my body between him and the wall. "NoBella. You never did stand a chance. Not with how much I want you." "Oh, really" and then his mouth was on mine, and we were all hands, mouths and tongues. My hands moved to pull off his shirt, and he pulled down my skirt and panties. We side stepped up a few stairs as I unbuttoned his jeans, and he reached for my shirt. Our lips stayed connected, as if we were afraid to break the spell. His hands searched for my breasts, and he flung off his jeans. We moved up a few more stairs until he was in his boxers, and I was just in my bra. I broke free in time to take the remaining stairs and guide him to the bed. "God, I fucking want you, baby." The drinks were talking now, and it was much like that first night we were together. "Then fuck me now" All inhibitions disappeared; it was pure want and lust. I crawled backward on the bed, beckoning him as I slid off my bra. With Edward I felt confident and sexy. "Shit, Bellayoutalking like thatI" I grabbed his mouth to mine and kissed him as passionately as I could. Our tongues were forceful, searching, probing. I took one hand and held his length, feeling its wet tip with my fingers and guided it to me. I was ready for him and couldn't wait any longer. As he pushed inside me, we both gasped, as it felt complete, whole and so right. I moved my hips with need and his thrusts answered mine. I wrapped my legs around him, as high as they would go, wanting him deeper, needing him more.

"Faster, Edwardbaby, I want it fasterI need you." His breath was hot and sweet, and it swept over my neck and my face as he exhaled with every other thrust inside me. "Fuck, BellaI needto taste you" His mouth found my breasts. As he kissed one, I ran my hand around the other. His tongue was warm, he lickedhe swirledhe tugged slightly at my nipple with his teeth. I arched my back for him to take the other one. The sensations were overpowering and I closed my eyes to absorb it all. I moved my hips ever so slightly, as his length found the sensitive spot within me. "Oh my godright therebabydon'tstop." My breath was ragged and my voice raspy as my climax rose, intensely and quickly. "I'm coming" I panted, "For you" He lifted his lips from my breasts and found my mouth. His lips crushed mine, kissing me with the same furious pace his hips were making. My body shuddered beneath him, tightening around him enough to make him cry out my name, his own orgasm as intense as mine had been. "Bella" I felt him throb within me as he came. We laid in the darkness, tangled in each other's limbs, sated and happy, slowly drifting

When we woke Friday morning, the bright sunshine was forcing itself through the bedroom windows. We made love once again in the shower, and I felt more alive than I had in months, maybe yearsI knew it was because of Edward. We had coffee and talked on the back porch before he left for Seattle with Jasper. They were going to a concert and planned to stay overnight. After he left, I worked around the house for a while and went for a run. That night Jessica, Mike, Jake and I went out for pizza downtown. Edward called my cell on my way back home. "Hey thereare you guys having fun?" "Yeahwe're just heading in to the concert so I wanted to say goodnight." "Ohwell, then, goodnight." I replied with a smile. "I miss holding you baby." "You do? It's just one nightsoon it's going to be two months." "Stopdon't remind me," he sighed. "Bella, be careful, okay?" "I will...promise. Have fun. Oh! Call me when you are on your way tomorrow." "Good night, baby." "Good night."

Saturday morning I ran downstairs to a knock at the door. I could see a delivery man with a box through the sidelights, so I opened it. "Miss Isabella Swan?" "Yes." "Here you go. Flower delivery. Can you sign here please?" "Sure." The man handed me a large white box tied with a beautiful lavender ribbon. The man left, and I pushed the door shut with my foot. I placed the box on the coffee table, feeling a swell of excitement at the thought of Edward and how incredible he was. God, what did I do to deserve him? I took off the lid and saw a stunning assortment of white snapdragons and white lilies. I searched for a card among the stems and again on the outside of the boxNothing. Hmmm. It must have fallen off. I picked up my phone and sent Edward a text right before I ran upstairs to take a shower. My flowers are absolutely beautiful! Can't wait to thank you properly when you get back Hope you two had funBella I finished my shower and grabbed my phone to see if Edward had sent a text back. Flowers? Be back around 3. Can't wait to see you too. Edward He didn't send them. I wonder who did? I got dressed and went to the kitchen to make something to eat. The phone rang, and I hoped it might be Edward calling from the road. Only 24 hours had passed since we were together, but it was becoming apparent that I missed him more and more when we were apart. I was beginning to dread next Friday. My heart raced as I picked up the receiver from wall phone in the kitchen. "Hello?" I was anxious to hear his voice on the other end. "Bella?" It was not Edward. It was a woman's voice. "Bella?" The voice repeated my name, but I couldn't respond. "Bella," She was more emphatic this time, and then I was certain I knew who was calling. I would know her voice anywhere.

"Yes." I was curt. "This is VictoriaVictoria James." Of course it was. I remained silent as she continued. "BellaI think it's time we talk."

8.

"This is VictoriaVictoria James." Of course it was. I remained silent as she continued. "BellaI think it's time we talk." I stood there for a moment, letting her words sink in. My first instinct was to tell her she was out of her mind. My thoughts flashed briefly to the two of us standing out in the rain, Edward trying to hold me back, and how she had slapped me. If that was her idea of talking, I wasn't into her kind of conversation. "Victoria, I'm not so sure that's a good idea," I replied. I could hear her sigh heavily on the other end. She waited a few seconds before saying anything else. I imagined Victoria tapping her fingernails, probably pissed she wasn't going to get her way. "I know the last time we saw each otherI mean, I had been drinking, Bella. I know that wasn't the best way to approach you." Oh. That wasn't what I expected. "You're right. It wasn't." I paused, waiting to hear her response. "Look, I really need to talk to you about Marcus. There arethere are things you should know..." Her voice trailed off into silence. I couldn't trust Victoria by any means, and I didn't know if this was some kind of vengeful ploy on her part. Was she trying to make Marcus mad? Or Edward upset? Or was this a way to get back at me? "Well, Victoria. What is it then? What do you need to tell me?" I probed, knowing she probably would not reveal much over the phone. I was right. "I think we should meet and talk about it. What about lunch somewhere?" "Oh, I really don't think so. Can't you just tell me now over the phone?" "No, no. I think it's best we do this face to face." "II don't think soNo. Whatever you have to say, you can say now."

Another sigh from her end. "Bella, we should meet. The sooner the better. Call me if you change your mind." We hung up, and I wondered what could be so telling that it had to be in person. What had Marcus said now? What else had he done? I shook it off, hoping that the meeting at the hospital with Carlisle had been enough to placate him. I hoped it was resolved once and for all. I opened the refrigerator to find something to eat, scanning over remnants of this and that. I stopped when I saw the pitcher of tea Edward had made the other day. I couldn't help but smile when I remembered him cooking for me and trying to make one of my favorite things. And then the familiar feeling in my stomach returnedit was a sensation that appeared every time I thought of him, every time he touched me. I'd never had a man do the things he had for me; and the way in which he did them stirred emotions within me I had never had before. Standing in front of the open refrigerator, looking at the remains of our meal together, I realized thisthis feeling I had right nowthis was what love felt like. I reached in and grabbed the pitcher of tea and closed the door. I was falling in love with Edward. I'm in love with Edward Cullen. My mind was spinning from the unexpected realization of forming those very words. I couldn't wait to see him when he came back, and three hours was going to feel like forever. When would I tell him? How would I tell him? I smiled to myself, feeling full of happiness, and spun around, going to get my phone upstairs to send him another text. I didn't know what I was going to write, but I wanted him to know I couldn't wait to see him. "Hello, Bella." "Holy shit!" I dropped the pitcher, sending it crashing to the floor. The liquid splashed around my feet and those of the intruder standing in front of me. "I'm sorry I frightened you" His voice was low and monotone. "What thewhat are you doing here?" I asked hesitantly, and I watched him put his face in his hands as he shook his head. For once, he was the one who seemed afraid. "Answer me, dammit!" I said, louder and with more confidence. "Marcus! Why are you here?" "Bella" His face was still buried in his hands. He wouldn't meet my gaze. "Marcuslook at me," I demanded. "Why are you here?" I inquired again, this time saying it slower, as if it were necessary in order for him to understand me. He finally looked at me then, and I saw tears flowing from his eyes. I never would've guessed that Marcus would cry in front of anyone, especially methat just wasn't his style. "Did you get the flowers I sent?" He sniffled some and wiped away the tears from under his eyes

with the heel of his hand. Now I seethe flowers are from him. My eyes darted to the living room where I had placed the box of flowers. Marcus took a step toward me, stepping through the puddle of liquid and glass on the kitchen floor. My posture stiffened as I remembered his parting words to Edward and me the other night. I couldn't be fooled by his tears; perhaps he did intend to bring me harm. "Stay where you are, please," I said rather firmly, but I changed my tact as soon as Marcus looked at me with a confused expression. It was obvious his state of mind was compromised, and I had to get the both of us out of this situation unscathed. "Marcus, you don't want to get cutsee the glass?" He took a hesitant step backward. "I did get the flowersumthey're lovely. See, there in the living room." "I had to find some way to talk to you Bella. I need to talk to you." "Okaylet's go to the living room to talk. I'll follow you in there." He didn't seem angry, just sad, distraught even. I debated as what to do next. I could reach the phone on the wall if I needed to, but my cell was still upstairs. I would have to play this out one moment at a time. I followed Marcus into the living room. He sat on the old green sofa while I moved to a chair across from him. I needed to keep my distance in order to gauge his mood. "I'm sorry I scared youthe door was open." Damn! I had left it unlocked after the flower delivery. Surely I was going to catch hell about this from Edward. He had told me to be careful "So, you decided to let yourself in?" He looked like hell; I'd never seen him look so unkempt before. His usually clean shaven face was now full of whiskersit may have been days since he had shaved. His hair was uncombed, and he was wearing jeans and an old, stained Mariners tshirt. Rarely did Marcus wear anything but khakis and a button down dress shirt. He was definitely not himself. "So, you got the flowers?" He looked around until he saw the box on a side table. "Yes, MarcusI said I did. But why did you send them? Carlisle made himself clear to both of us about, you know, our relationship outside of the hospital." "Fuck the hospital!" His change in tone was sharp enough to make me jump. "This is about you and me. You never gave us a chance." His eyes were pleading, and they looked very tired. "Marcus" I started to tell him that we never had a chance, but I heard my cell phone ringing upstairs. There was no way I could answer it and leave Marcus to his own devices. Suddenly I thought of Victoria's phone call this morning. She had wanted to talk to mewas she trying to warn me? The ringing eventually stopped, and the phone buzzed to let me know there was a voicemail. I ignored it, and Marcus appeared not to hear it at all. "we never had a chance." I could not say it any plainer.

"But Bellawe never decided it was really overand you just show up with him. Edward Cullen" His voice trembled as he almost spat out Edward's name. My date with Edward at Sam's Tavern had wounded him somehow; he sounded hurt and jealous. "Honestly, you and I were over way before then. In your heart you know that's the truth. Don't you?" "No, noI don't know that. Why him, Bella?" I wasn't going to answer he pressed on. "Edward's justhe's a spoiled kid. He doesn't even have a permanent home, doesn't have a steady job. What the fuck Bella?" "Just leave Edward out of this. He's older than me, and you know it. He's following his passionthat's his work. I guess you'll never understand that. And you and me," I said emphatically, "weren't meant to be anything more than" This time, the kitchen phone began to ring. Again, I let it, which irritated Marcus more. "Why did you turn out to be such a bitch?" His weight shifted to the edge of the sofa, and he leaned closer to me, reaching his hand toward mine. I sat back in my chair, avoiding his touch. His tone had changed, and I was on guard. "I had to be a bitch, as you say, to protect myself." "Protect yourself? From what?" "Marcus! You know! You lied to me and to Victoriayou hurt me that day at the Volterra." He looked away from me then. "That was the end for me, and you knew that." I could hear my cell ringing again upstairs. Shit. It could be Edward. If he knew Marcus was in my househe would explode. "But we had some good times" His voice trailed off as he looked desperately into my eyes. "No, no we didn't. Be honest with yourself. It was sexthat's all." "You didn't love me, then?" Again his voice turned to pleading with me, but it was a lost cause. We'd never talked about love, not once during the whole affair. He was certainly mistaken. "No. No! I never meant to make you believe it was more. We never even said the word love to each other!" "You never felt anything for me?" I sighed heavily and answered him with the truth. Then, again, the kitchen phone rang over and over. Again, I ignored it. "The sooner you understand the entire relationship was based on sex, the sooner you can move on."

"Bella, you know that's not true." "But it is! I am sorry that I didn't make it clearer to you we were over." "Do you love him? Bella, do you?" Marcus shook his head and put his hands to his face, hiding his tears from me. Was Edward what this was about? Had Victoria made him jealous, and he turned on her? Had I made him jealous and he tried to do the same with me? "Well, then, maybe it's just sex with him. Have you considered that, sweetheart? Maybe that's all you're capable of?" His voice oozed with the sarcasm I had come to know rather well. I shook my head and restrained myself from telling him to fuck off. I tried to remain calm and collected. "Obviously, you don't know anything about meor Edward. Look, your family needs you. Your boys love you, and you love themyou've told me that." He sat motionless and silent. "And Victoria must still love you, or she wouldn't be jealous or angry. Don't do this to your family, Marcus. I know how awful it feels to live through a divorce." There was a knock on my door. I jumped, not knowing whether or not to answer it. More knocking. I heard the door as it slowly opened, followed by footsteps in the foyer. It was then I heard a familiar and comforting voice. "Bellaare you here? Bella?" "Carlisle, we're in here." I replied loudly, and Carlisle appeared through the doorway. He was undoubtedly concerned, especially when he saw Marcus. "Is everything alright here?" He asked, walking toward the sofa to stand between us. "I'm okay, but" I stood up and went to Carlisle, whispering briefly about what had happened. "Well, Edward has been trying to reach you and was worried. He called me to check. I'm glad I did." Carlisle took a few more steps in the room. "Hello, Carlisle." "Marcus." "Carlisle, I would like to talk with you." "I think that's a very good idea, under the circumstances." "Would you mind taking me home?" Had he walked here? All the way? He rose from the sofa and stood to leave.

"Certainly." "Goodbye, BellaI'm" I didn't let him finish. Whatever he had to say wouldn't make a difference. "Marcus, don'tlet's just leave it at this. Goodbye." I looked at him, suddenly feeling a wave of pity and relief. Carlisle turned toward Marcus, "Would you mind waiting outside for me, please?" Marcus nodded, keeping his head lowered as he walked out the front door. "Bella, are you hurt? Are you okay? Did you let him in?" "I'm fineno, nohe let himself in. The door was unlocked. But I'm fine. Carlisle, I think he's got the message this time." "I know you don't want the police involved, right? Is that still your wish?" he asked, making sure I wanted this to stay a private matter. "Yes, it is. I'll call Edward and let him know what happened." I sighed knowing he would be angry with Marcus and irritated with me for leaving the door unsecure. "Ahbetter you than me. He was very worried, Bella." I hugged Carlisle and thanked him. It would be interesting to hear what Marcus wanted to discuss with him, and I was sure I would find out soon enough.

When I finally saw Edward, he was frustrated with me but mostly relieved I was unharmed. I made sure to tell him that Marcus had softened somehow, that he had finally understood what I had tried to tell him all along. Truthfully, I expected to receive the same type of lecture Charlie would have given me about safety and using my best judgment. Instead, he was adamant about me leaving Forks for a few days. Edward wanted me to go away with him, to leave the stress and chaos behind. "Bella, listen. Let's get away for a couple of days. I think it will be good for you." "I don't know. I have to work. I already took time off when Charlie" "I'll talk with my dad" "No, no. Please, no. I don't want any special favors. It's not right." "Please, just think about it." "Okay, I'll think about ityou know it's not about you. It's about all this other bullshit."

"I know. Just think about it, okay? I've got to go take Jasper to the airport. Do you want to go with me?" "I'm exhausted, actually. I think I need to lay down for awhile. Will you tell Jasper goodbye for me?" "Sure, yeah. I'll call you in a couple of hours." We kissed goodbye. No sooner had I gone upstairs, I heard my phone buzz. A text from Edward. Just you and me. Think about it I typed back my response. I willpromise. Going to sleep. See you later. I went upstairs to wrap myself in the covers and forget about the last few hours. I decided to give Renee a call. I hadn't talked to her since Charlie died, and it was good to hear her voice. We discussed Charlie's belongings, the house, her summer plans, and possibly traveling to see her in the fall. I promised to call or to email her more often. I couldn't muster the energy to tell her everything about Edward. But she heard in my voice that he was someone special in my life. "Bella bug, I won't pry. Just do what your heart needs, okay? You'll be fine sweetie. I love you." "I love you, too, Mom." I hung up the phone and began to drift. I wanted to dream about Edward, about us, about how I could reveal my feelings to him. I woke up to buzzing again.I looked at my phone with a grin on my face. Another text from Edward. "Go with me!" was all it said. I typed back Yes. And I fell back asleep. When I awoke, I called Edward to find out where we were going. "It's a surprise. I've planned everything. All you need to do is pack." "What do I pack?" "Just comfortable clothes, jeansand don't forget your bathing suit." "What? A bathing suit? How far are we going? For how long?" "It only takes about 3 hours to get there. Pack for a couple of days. Don't worry about work, either." "Edward! Iyour dadugh" I was exasperated, but I loved how he could handle everything

with such ease. "I know you said not to talk to him, but you deserve to get away. Relax, baby. This will be fun." "Okayso mysterioushmmmI have to admit it. I like it." "I think you willI mean, where we are going. I'll pick you up tomorrow morning around 10." I couldn't wait.

The unspoiled views of the trees and landscape were spectacular as we drove up the rugged mountainside. Edward explained he had never been where we were going before, but his parents had stayed there several times. They told him it was beautiful; the ideal place to take me. And beautiful was an understatement. The circular drive to the Quil Mountain Lodge and Spa was lined with manicured holly trees, large pots of freesia and native wild flowers. The lodge's expansive stone faade was warm and inviting. "Welcome, Mr. Cullen," the young, uniformed valet said with a pleasant smile. He opened our doors, and we stepped out into the fresh mountain air. "Oh, Edwardthis is unbelievable." "Wait until you see this" He grabbed my hand and led me away from themain property. The valet parked the car, and while our bags were being taken to our rooms, we walked down a pebbled path hidden by lush foliage, rocks and flowers. I could hear water rushing around us, aswe stopped near the end of the path. It was a waterfall, flowing just below the lodge. "Incredible" I gripped Edward's hand tighter, just from the sheer adrenaline of witnessing something in nature so pristine and remarkable. I was in awe of the water spraying glistening drops and the tiny rainbows they formed against the rocks. "We should be able to see the waterfall from the room." He pointed to the main building of the lodge itself, to a series of windows and balconies. The lodge was nestled above the waterfall and below the mountains which were dotted with spruce and fir trees. I hugged and thanked him with a kiss. We walked to the concierge to check in. He told us about our massages at the spa, the mineral pool, and the in-room dining that had been requested. We were escorted to our suiteit was elegant, yet spoke of the rustic Pacific Northwest. There was a cozy, plush down duvet covering the king size four poster bed. Black and white photographs of the verdant landscape hung on the knotted pine planked walls. A large fieldstone-framed fireplace was the focal point of the suite, which was already blazing when we arrived. Also waiting for us on the small dining table was a beautiful stoneware platter of strawberries, assorted cheeses and a bottle of Pommery champagne. He'd thought of everything.

We each took a glass of champagne. "To a well deserved break," Edward toasted. "How did you pull all of this off so fast?" I asked him, as he moved to me, grasping me around the waist. He tucked his face into my neck and placed a few slow, warm, soft kisses on my sensitive skin. "Well, I'll admit I'm not afraid to throw the Cullen name around when necessary," he whispered. Edward slowly pulled away and glanced at his watch. "We have about 45 minutes before our massages," He lifted his eyebrows with excitement. He went to the closet and slid the doors open. Inside were two long, white robes. "Here put this onI think we're supposed to go down to the spa in these. Don't worry. I won't watch or we might not make it down there after all." He kissed me swiftly on the cheek and chuckled, mostly to himself. I unfastened my belt and placed in my duffle. I slipped off my jeans and blouse, down to just my panties, and put on the robe. I was wrapped in the most luxurious, soft cotton. I had never felt so pampered in my life. Florida certainly had its share of expensive coastal spas and resorts, but I'd never had the opportunity to go. As I walked around to the main area of the suite, I heard Edward's cell phone buzz. "Edward Cullen." His answer was so confident. "Yes, Petergreatyou got my message." He was standing by the desk wearing only his jeans. He was jotting down something as he spoke on the phone. The toned muscles in his back moved ever so slightly as he wrote and shifted. God, he's beautiful. "Okay good, so you saw the transfer for the purchase?" "Yeah, I just ordered it over the phone. It is already scheduled for delivery." "No, not a baby grand. Just a standard uprightthat's all they have room for. I just want him to be able to playanytime." "So, you'll be in Philadelphia on Tuesday for the meeting with CI?" My heart sank as he said this; I wouldn't have Edward near me, with me, touching me, or holding me for much longer. I forced that thought out of my mind and focused on the nearly naked Edward in front of me. "Sounds good, thanks see you then."He was sexy as hell, even talking business on the phone. Fuck. "Hey, you're ready? That was fast." He was still standing by the desk, writing. I moved behind

him, and buried my face into his back. I wrapped my arms around him-running my hands along the smooth skin of his perfect chest. "SeeI can be quick." I began to sprinkle kisses on his shoulder blades. "You're going to make me forget what I am supposed to write down." He looked over his shoulder at me, smiling. "Oh, I'm sorry" I gave him another little squeeze. "That was Peter Varner, my attorney." "Oh." I ran my hands down from his chest to his stomach, twisting my fingers through the taunting trail of hair below his belly button. "So, you have a big meeting on Tuesday?" "Ummyeswith theCaius Internationalit's the group that"I was definitely distracting him, and it was awfully fun. My robe was open, and the hardened nipples of my breasts were flush against his back, teasing him. Oh, warm and wonderful. "Since I'm ready, how about I help you with these?" I ran my fingers along the waist of his jeans in front, pushing inside to caress himas far down as I could reach. "Bellawhat are you doing?" he asked, smiling and obviously aroused. "Like I said, I'm helping you get undressed." I turned him around and unbuckled his dark leather belt. I led him toward the bed and slipped it slowly from the loops of his jeans. I unbuttoned his jeans, pulling them down. He kicked them off and pushed down his boxers. His erection was hard and long before me. I looked up at him and instinctively licked my lips, teasing him even more, "Well, we now have 40 minutesI think I know something we can do to pass the time" "Ohwhat do you have in mind?" His lips twitched into a sexy, mischievous smile. I sat on the edge of the bed and took him in my hand, he was glistening before I even began stroking the wetness around him. "Bellathat feels so good." He closed his eyes and relished my touch. I took my tongue and licked his tip, swirling and tickling him with my deliberate motions. My hand continued moving as my tongue traveled up and down his length. I was just getting started. "Hmmfuck" "That's what I want to dolike this, baby" I said, looking up at him, his eyes still closed. I rubbed him slowly at first, back and forth, as my tongue swirled around him. With my other hand, I caressed him along his thighs and underneathmy touch exciting him more and more.

"God, baby, I won't be long." I took him in my mouth fully then, sucking him harder with each sweep of my hand and tongue. He tasted salty and sweetbetter than I ever imagined he would. Edward held onto my shoulder with one hand and my hair with the other, guiding me faster. His hips began to move in time with my hand and my mouth. His knees buckled with his release, throbbing with the pleasure my mouth had given him. "That was fucking incredibleI can't move my legs" he said as he collapsed on the bed beside me. I offered him a satisfied grin. "Damn Bella" he said as he pulled me to him. "You amaze me more and more every day." He cupped my face in his large, strong hands and kissed me slowly, gratefully. We kissed each other, passionately and sweetly over and over again. Still hungry for more, we groaned as we separated. "Now we only have 10 minuteswe'd better get going" I said, and we smiled against each other's mouths. When we returned from our massages, I started the water in the Jacuzzi. I took Edward's hand and guided him to the tub. I sat down on the edge to feel the water, as it was filling up with lavender scented bubbles. He leaned down and began slowly rubbing his hands over my bare thighs. His fingers softly danced across my heated skin. My body had never felt so alive. I made a move into the tub as Edward followed, sinking in behind me. I lied back against his wet, solid chest as his long, loving arms wrapped around me. "You're leaving in three days!" I blurted out, surprising even myself. He exhaled deeply. "I know." His voice was soft and longing. "I'm going to miss you, Edward. I mean, really miss you." I took my hands and wrapped them around his, tightening the grip around both of us. "Hey, take a month off from work. Come stay with me." He leaned down and nipped my ear with his teeth. He moved his hands down my stomach and along my thighs, stirring a range of emotions within me. "You know I can't do that. I have to work." We were both silent. He leaned down and began dusting my neck with his soft lips, as if they could make me change my mind. They just might. I gave into him, relaxing my body, allowing him to explore at will. His hands were suddenly cupping my breasts, and his fingers were teasing my nipplesrubbing, rolling and pinching me between them. I arched further back against his chest, opening myself to him, offering up the place that was throbbing for his touch. "Isabella...maybe this will persuade you." He slid his hands down my wet, but very warm body.

One hand was strongly spread across my stomach, as if bracing me; the other moved down between my legs. He gently parted my legs further and moved his hand to caress me, slowly running his fingers down along my center. My breathing naturally accelerated, and I moved my hips forward to urge him on for more. He smiled against my neck and whispered in my ear, "You like thisdon't you?" He began to stroke the most vulnerable and tender part of me with his long, skillful fingers. I lost myself in the sensation of his touch when I felt him move two fingers inside me, rocking his hand in a rhythm so intense and deliberate. "Oh, godEdwardmmmm...it's good." "Tell mehow good" His thumb found its proper place, and paired with the thrusting of his fingers, I teetered on the edge of the most glorious climax. I gripped his thighs and pushed my hips in time with his hands. His other hand was covering my breasts now and when the wave of heat enveloped me, I told him just how good it was. "It's so fucking good" Our groans echoed our pleasurehis was giving and mine was taking. I knew he could feel my climax rising, and he quickened the pace of his masterful touch. My legs trembled, and I rode out the glorious high of my orgasm. "That's itbaby" Edward cooed in my ear. He kissed and nuzzled into my hair softly, reassuringly. My body was limp and spent as I rested content in his arms.

Edward wrapped a towel around his waist and walked out into the bedroom. I brushed through my wet hair and tied it into a low, loose knot. I wrapped myself in my cozy, white robe. Heaven. I found Edward digging through his bag near the bed. I sank back onto the luxurious down duvet. "What are you looking for?" He stood up and smiled. "This." He held a perfectly square smallish box out towards me and lied down onto the bed next to me. My heart raced. He leaned up on his elbow and pushed the box towards me. I sat up and held it. "What's this?" The box was wrapped in a simple opaque tissue paper, and tied with jute. "Open it," he said anxiously. He reached up and tucked some loose hair strands behind my right ear, then let his fingers linger across the side of my cheek. I began to unwrap my surprise. "I found this in Seattle on Friday, before Jasper and I went to the concert." Inside the box was a beautiful, sterling silver, wide cuff bracelet. It resembled fine, intricate lace. "Oh, Edwardit's incredible, so pretty." I put it on and held it out towards him. He smiled at my reaction and at how it looked on my wrist.

"Looks like a perfect fit. The woman who owned the shop told me it is one of a kind, made by a local artisan. She gave me the artist's cardit's in the box, too. It's not an antique, but it is unique." "It is a perfect fit. I love it." I leaned in to kiss him, and our kiss deepened. "Thank you. No one has ever given me jewelry before." "Hmm. That's good to know. I've never given anyone jewelry before." "You know maybe this robe isn't exactly the right outfit for this gorgeous bracelet." "Oh, really?" He looked surprised but amused. "Then what would be?" I slid off the bed and stood in front of him, I ran the tie around my waist slowly through my hands. I let the robe fall open, and his lips twitched up to a sly smile. I pushed the robe off one shoulder at a time. His eyes swept slowly over my naked body. "There. Now it looks betterwouldn't you agree?" "I would definitely agree" He pulled me toward him to stand between his legs. He ran his hands slowly down the length of my body. I could feel his hardness against me. I whispered to him, "Edward, tell me thisyou and methis is more than just a physical solace for you." I looked into his eyes, searching for what my heart hoped it already knew. "Bella, how can you even ask me that?" He took my bottom lip between his teeth and tugged it ever so gently. The harsh words Marcus spoke had obviously rocked my security. I needed reassurance from Edward that this was truly more. "I justeverything has moved really fast with usI want you to know" I hesitated to form the words. I twirled the hair on his chest with my fingers. "I want to be sure that" "Heyshhh." He put his finger to my lips. "Stop. Baby, I think you're just feeling anxious because I'm leaving. We're going to be okay." He stood up, his towel falling away, and kissed me, his tongue desperately searching for mine. Our kiss was intense and powerful, and the desire between us radiated a heat that drove us to unite as one. I moved to straddle him as he sat back on the bed, maneuvering myself to meet him. I took him in my hand and guided him to enter me. The first few movements were slow. I wanted to feel every inch of him inside me, every inch of him filling my every want and need. Edward buried his face in my chest, murmuring my name as I slid up and down. His hands moved from my breasts, to my backI arched my back, offering my breasts to his most skillful tongue. His hands then found my hips, and his tongue continued to tease my nipples with the swirling and sucking that drove me quickly to the point of no return. His teeth grazed one nipple and then the other, forcing me to call out his name.

"God, EdwardI want you, faster" His hands worked my hips as we moved together up, down, and back up again. He slid one hand between our glisteningbodies to reach for my swollen spot, circling it in the way only he knew how. "Oh, my god, Bella" We climaxed together, our efforts reaching their ultimate purpose with a perfect end. We found our way under the down duvet of the bed and napped peacefully until it was time for dinner. Edward had arranged for room service, and we feasted on a scrumptious salmon over a polenta cake and a trio of saladsmy favorite being the cream cheese and grape mixture. I hardly had room for dessert, but it was a delicious chocolate mousse, and I never turn down chocolate. That night was perhaps the best night's sleep I'd had in years, and I couldn't help but think it was because I was sleeping in Edward's secure arms. The next morning we decided to take our breakfast mimosas and go for a walk along the grounds. We wandered our way over to two empty Adirondack chairs on the edge of the property. We sat our drinks and Edward's tan leather camera bag on a small table between the chairs. Edward usually took his camera bag everywhere he wentjust in case. He leaned back into his chair and stretched his incredibly long legs out in front of him. He sighed and appeared completely content in the late spring sunshine. "I'm not going to take no for an answer, you know that, right?" Edward said out of the blue. "What?" He caught me off-guard. "About Philly. Come visit me." He took my hand and ran his thumb around my palm. God, this gives me butterflies every time! "You are relentless. Yes! I will. Tell me when." His smile was genuine and truly the biggest one I'd seen. "Bella, I'm really going to miss you." He was still holding my hand. I swallowed hard and tried not to think about what that really meant. I wanted to enjoy every moment for as long as we had left. I reached into the camera bag and pulled out the video camera. "Mind if I try?" "No, course not." It was a typical camera, nothing overtly fancy, which surprised me somewhat. I guess I expected he would have something more complicated. "I know this can't be what you normally usewhere is your other equipment?" "No, I usually take this camera wherever I go. I never know when I'll see something I want to capture." He winked and grinned. "Riley and I moved most of the equipment into a leased studio near Angela's restaurant." Ah, fuck. The ex-girlfriend. I was sure I could formulate a question or two about her, but I refrained from going there.

"I can't wait for you to come and watch me work. I really want you to seewhat I dowatch the process. I've seen what you can do" "Well, delivering babies isn't quite as glamorous as what you do." "I'm not so sure about thatyou in actionit's pretty incredible." I smiled at his heartfelt compliment. "Well, let's find out" I opened the lens cover and switched it to standby. "HmmmAre you ever in front of the camera?" I asked, moving the zoom to fit his face. "Nonot very often. Sometimes we have to test somethingthen maybe. Why? What are you up to?" He shifted in his seat, maneuvering out of the way. "Move back the way you were.okayhere goes...I thought I would conduct an on camera interview of the brilliant filmmaker Edward Cullen." He laughed his infectious laugh and shook his head, giving into my little game. "Oh, yeah? Okay, fire awayhow do I look?" He was teasing, as he straightened his shirt and ran his hands through his hair. He sat back, still not entirely comfortable in front of the camera. Actually, he appeared somewhat shy. "You look gorgeous, dahling. Ready for your closeup?" I rolled my eyes and giggled. I settled into the large chair and looked at him through the view window. I clicked record. "So, Mr. Cullen, how many documentaries have you made at this point in your career?" "Five completed." "And what were the topics of say your two favorites?" "Let's see. One was a study of Johnny Coltrane. It was basically just a continuation of something I started in graduate school. It never really went anywhere public, but it was fun to make." "And was it on his life, music, both?" He raised his eyebrows, perhaps impressed I knew who he was talking about. I loved surprising him like that. "Both actually. I had this great professor, Kate Garrett, she loved old school jazz. She taught my Film Theory course. Anyway, she encouraged my interest in more culture-based films. Most of my friends were into statementjustice type docs." "And the other one?" "Wellmy last film is really important to me. It's about an after school center for a really great

group of kids in Austin." There was obvious pride in his voice, and he seemed lost in thought for a moment. "That's the one Jasper wanted you to show meThe Ballad of Meyer Street." "Yeah, that's the one..." Edward was squirming around in his seat again. "Are we almost done here?" He asked me, smiling, although seemingly anxious. "Wait, younot so fast." I peeked up at him over the camera. This was fun. "Just one more question. So, Mr. Cullen, you've traveled extensively doing research and filming. Where is your favorite place in the world?" "Favorite placehmmm. Forks, Washington." "Seriously?" I peeked over the camera again. "Not New York? Europe?" "Seriously. Okay, that's your last question." He grabbed for the camera, but I pulled it back. "Oh, noI have to know thiswhy is Forks your favorite place in the world?" He looked out over the lawn and at the waterfall. I waited, guessing he was formulating some profound answerhe was born here, his parents lived here, it was where he wanted to live and grow old. He sighed as he turned back toward me, and leaned closer into the camera, as if he was about to divulge something of importance. "Forks is my favorite place, because a very beautiful, brown-eyed woman lives there." "Oh" His answer took me by surprise, but he didn't stop there. I felt the familiar blush fill my cheeks. "This womanshe's amazing, actually. She's compassionate, but very strong." I swallowed hard. I'd never heard a man talk that way about me. My breathing hitched, and I was sure that my gasp would be audible on the video. And so he continued, and this time, it was me squirming in my chair. "What's more, she cusses incessantly." He laughed really hard at that, and then his look suddenly became serious and very sexy. "She has the smoothest skin I've ever felt, the most breathtaking face I've ever seen and, I have to say, the most perfect ass, and" I decided to tease him, so I rolled my eyes "Andthis is getting goodplease continue, Mr. Cullen." "AndI've fallen in love with her." I froze. I felt the hair stand on my skin and the breath leave my body in a rush. I couldn't take my eyes away from the view window. Edward was staring at my face and not at the camera anymore. I talked into the view window, stuttering slowly, trying to absorb his admission.

"Edwardyouyou have?" I finally realized what I was doing. I closed the camera and turned it to off, fumbling with my shaking hands. I looked at him, longingly and passionately. He held out his hand, his long fingers beckoning me to him. I moved into his lap and touched his forehead to mine. "You have?" I repeated, in a shaky voice, filled with emotion. "I most certainly haveBella, I love you." And I whispered, my lips almost touching his, "I love you, too."

9.

We went back to our suite to acknowledge our new declarations. We made love to the sounds of mid-morning coming from the open balcony doorsthe rushing water cascading over the rocks beneath us and the late spring wind gently rustling through the sheer curtainsthe only barrier between us and the nature below. Our intimate moments were so intense and passionate, that I'd never wanted to be anywhere so much in my life as I did in this place, at this very moment, or with anyone else. Meeting Edward had changed my life as I knew it, and in some ways I was sure were still unknown. After only a month we had fallen in love, but that month had been one of the most profound of my life. When it was finally time to check out, we reluctantly packed our things and headed to the car. It was a bittersweet departureour days at the lodge were peaceful and wonderful, but the prospect of Edward leaving Friday weighed heavily on my mind. Still, I had promised to visit him in Philadelphia as soon as I could make the arrangements to do so. Our car was waiting for us, and I watched as the same courteous valet who had helped us during our arrival roll around the cart with our luggage. Edward began to pack it himself, but the valet insisted. "It's in my job description, sir," the valet said, smiling as he did his work. So, Edward leaned on the driver's side as he took out his phone. He looked relaxed and content, in his grey t-shirt and jeans, his long legs stretched out in the sexiest possible way. Watching him scroll through his messages and missed calls, reminded me once again that he would be back to work in two days' time. "Hey, I forgotwhat time is your flight on Friday?" I asked, still admiring him and his handsome, confident air. "I took the latest one I could out of Seattle...1 o'clock. I won't get to Philly until almost

midnight." He looked up at me, his green eyes shining in the sun. I sighed. Finally, he asked, "Will you drive me to the airport?" "Of course I will," I smiled slightly and added, with another sigh, "I just wish you could stay the weekend." I walked up to him and leaned next to him against the car. He nudged me with his elbow as he went back to looking at his phone. "Bella, you don't know how much I would love to. But Angela's having her designer come to the restaurant on Saturday. I want to shoot whatever she is planning to do. Riley has been working the last few days getting ready for it. Apparently the work on the restaurant is almost done." "Oh, okay," I said as I rested my head on his shoulder. "We have two more nights at least." "Yes, two more nights at least." He leaned over and kissed my head. God, I'm really going to miss that. The car was packed, and it was time for us to leave. The valet wished us a safe trip as he held my door open for me to get in. Edward walked to the driver's side, still going through his phone. "Oh, my parents want us to come for dinner tomorrow night. It's kind of a tradition when one of us leaves. I'll call Mom later and ask her what time." He slid into the seat and asked, "Do you mind if we make a stop before heading home? It won't take long." "No, not at all. Apparently someone arranged for me to have the whole week off." I gave him a sly smile. "Where are we going?" Edward was already texting away on his phone, I assumed making plans for where we were going next. "Oh, another surprise. It's not far from your house. About 30 minutes outside Forks." Edward buckled his seat beat and gave me a peck on the cheek. His smile lit up his entireface. "We'll definitely have to come back heremaybe spend some more time. Walk the trails, eat at the restaurant. We didn't venture out of the room much." He laughed as he said this and gave my leg a playful squeeze. "Hey!" I squealed as I grabbed his hand and held it. "I had a wonderful time. I loved every minute." I looked out the window as the lodge began to fade from view. "I love you." He glanced at me, and I moved his hand to my mouth and kissed it. My heart was flooded with happiness. I just needed to acquiesce to my feelings and let my heart also fill with hope. We pulled off the interstate onto a road leading to an area called King's Sound, not far from La Push where Jacob's family lived. Edward maneuvered down several streets of sizeable houses with long driveways and mountain vistas. "Are we going to see someone you know?" I asked finally.

"Sort of." His answer was cryptic, but I played along. "You're one for surprises, that's for sure." "I hope this is a good one," he said as we pulled down a driveway flanked by two stucco light posts and a wrought iron gate. The property was full of mature trees and a sprawling lawn, and the landscape was rich with green ferns, wild roses, and violets in shades of yellows and deep purples. The house had a painted wood and brick faade in neutral earth tones, which made it blend seamlessly against the backdrop of the mountains and the sound. In front of the house, a gold Lexus sedan was parked with a woman leaning against the trunk. She was dressed in black trousers, a white blouse and black high heels. She must have been in her late forties, with perfectly coiffed blonde hair, pulled back tightly from her face. Her jewelry was big and gold. I had never seen her before in Forks, and I wondered who she was. Edward parked the car and took a deep breath. "Ready?" He asked, and I shrugged my shoulders, not really knowing what to expect. The woman looked up from her paperwork and smiled her red lipstick smile as soon as she saw us. "Edward!" She greeted him with a hug and a kiss on both cheeks. "How are you, dear?" "I'm doing very well. Nice to see you again." He retreated from her grasp and looked at me. "Irina, this is Bella, my girlfriend. Bella, this is Irina Pire. She is the family's real estate agent." "Hello, Bella. It's a pleasure to meet you." "Hello, Irina," I said politely as I offered my hand. She smelled heavily of perfume, and it lingered on my skin. Irina turned from me, back to Edward. "Yes, I have worked with your mom and dad for a number of yearsand now you and your sister. We're keeping it in the family, so to speak." So we were here to look at this house? "Well, Edward" she continued, "I'm glad we were able to narrow down some of the listings from the web site. This is a hell of a haul out here from Seattle to only look at one house." She laughed in a high-pitched, cackling sort of way. "Only for the Cullens, of course. So, what do you think of the outside?" "Good so farhow large is the property?" "Almost two acres. The house itself is 4,500 square feet. Five rather large bedrooms. Only two and a half baths, though. There's room to add another or two, which you might need to do. Come take a look." Despite her laugh and her made-up appearance, Irina's smile was pleasant, and she

seemed to be down to earth. I couldn't imagine Esme or Carlisle working with anyone who wasn't. Edward took my hand and led the way as we followed Irina into the house. I whispered so only Edward could hear, "Is this for you?" I was still confused as to why we were here, as he'd offered me very little to go on. "Possibly," he said with a sly smile. "Look around and let me know what you think. I want to see if it lives up to the pictures I saw on the internet." He let go of my hand and walked with Irina into the main living area. I stood immobile, still in to foyer, processing what was going on. I could hear Irina's shrill voice from the other room. "See, I told you. Just look at these windows. Floor to ceiling. Edwardimagine. Your piano could go right here." The clicking of her heels echoed through the empty house. "Just the view I was looking for, too," Edward said, admiringly. I walked into the room and gasped at what I saw. Through the oversized windows I could see spruce and fir trees, a large stone patio and a backyard spreading to the edge of the water. Beyond the water were mountains, reaching to a cloudy but blue sky. This room also had wall-to-wall bookshelves, built-in and made of a stained wood that was a shade darker than the toffee color of the wide-planked maple floors. "Bella can't you see yourself relaxing in this roomEdward playing? Children running around. It's the perfect house for a family. Waitthe kitchen! Come!" Obviously, Irina wasted no time with doling out her best selling tactics; she had us married with children in her mind. To be honest, I was taken aback by her candid talk of family and children, but I followed them almost blindly to the next room. The kitchen had custom oversized maple cabinets with contemporary pewter hardware. The flooring was made of earth-toned, rustic tiles laid on a diagonal. It all seemed to be quite new. Irina continued with her spiel, "The house was built in the late 1940's, so everything has been updated within the last two years. Granite countertops, gas Viking range and refrigerator. Dual dishwashers." "Two dishwashers?" I asked, amazed at the extravagance, but it was luxury that was understated and tastefully done. Edward laughed at my surprise. "Well, your house in Texas only has one, right? So it all evens out." Irina said, laughing. What house in Texas? "Alice and Jasper's house?" I wondered out loud, looking at them both. "Oh, noEdward's. I worked with the agent in Austin when he bought thatwhen was that Edward? Last year or the year before?" Irina had moved on to the bedrooms, not waiting for his response.

Edward cleared his throat and looked at me, trying to answer all of my questions with his eyes. "Uh, last year," he called out to her, and he continued as he looked at me, lowering his voice, "I bought a house near Jasper. It's a small" "Okay" I interrupted him. "I just didn't know that. I didn't think you" I was wondering what else I didn't know about Edward. Maybe I needed to start asking more questions. This time, he interrupted me. "I just want to have a house here, too, near my parents." "I understand thatI'm just wondering why you never mentioned it before." "This house just came on the market, and Irina thought I would like it. Let's go look at the bedrooms. We'll talk more in the car, okay?" I nodded as we headed for the other part of the house. The master was very spacious to say the leastI was positive the whole first floor of my house could fit into it. Irina opened a set of French doors that led to another patio outside. The air was warm, and the breeze from the sound whispered through the trees. The owner had left several potted flowers, some pink wild roses and different colored laurels, on the patio and walkway leading to a dock. "See, Edward. I told you the view is to die for. What do you think, Bella, dear? Could you see yourself having your morning coffee out here? Family dinners? It's a lovely house for a large family." I smiled and nodded, silenced by the lump in my throat. I was overwhelmed by all of her questions, especially since I really wasn't clear about Edward's plansfor the house, for us. I walked back through the doors to the master bathroom, appointed with European imported tile with an extra-large shower and beveled glass door. I ran my fingers over the granite counter wondering who had lived here before. What were they likechildren? Why were they no longer here? Transfer? Divorce? The master bath led to the closet, perhaps the largest closet I had ever seen. There were several rows of shelves and drawers, all made from the same light maple. "Hey," Edward said as he found me staring at the empty space. "There you are." "Hey." I gave him a half smile and walked the perimeter of the rectangular closet. "My clothes might fit into this one drawerright here." I pointed to the smallest section of the closet. "This place is so big for just one person, Edward. It's as big as your parent's house. Why do you need something so" He moved closer and wrapped his arms around me, kissing my head.

"Well, I hope not to be here all alone." He paused for a moment, searching my face for a reaction. My brow was furrowed, and I'm sure he could see the concern on my face. "I'm sorry. I guess I'm just a littleI guess there's still so much we don't know about each other." "Please don't say that, Bella. That may be true, but we're just starting outI know what I feel for you. I know I love you. Can't that be enough for right nowwhile we work out everything else?" I let out a deep breath. He continued, "I want a place of my own here, near Forks. I'm trying to think about the future. That's all. Really." He kissed me again, this time on the lips. Irina knocked on the closet door. "Hello in there you twoEdward? Well, what do you think? Do I put it on the short list?" "You know, Irina, I think Bella and I will talk about it on the ride home. I'll shoot you an email." He kept his eyes locked on mine. "Well, if this isn't the kind of thing you're looking foror if you'd rather be closer to townI am on my way to list a gorgeous home in the Evergreen Estates. It's owned by a doctor and his wife. They are moving soon to Atlanta. They want to sell fastprobably a good deal." Edward and I looked at each other knowingly. It had to be the James's house. Interesting. Maybe this was the reason Victoria wanted to talk to me. They are leaving Forks! Edward cleared his throat. "Ohokay. I'll let you know." "Well, I'll walk you out. I'm going to sign the other paperwork for that doctor then I've got to make that long ass drive back to Seattle. Hugs to Esme and Carlisle, okay?" "Sure, Irina. I appreciate you coming out here. This house is a real possibility. I'll be in touch soon." We got into the car and headed down the long driveway. I took one last look at the property and had to admit it was beautiful. One question was nagging me, though, and I had to ask Edward for the truth. "Edward?" "Yeah, babe?" "How do you do it? I meanI don't want to pry, butI know your parents are well off, but you haveso much." I looked out the car window, slightly embarrassed to bring up the subject of money. "Oh, I see. Is that what you are worried about?"

"I'm just not used to all the extravagancethe cars, the houses, the traveling. It's foreign territory to me, honestly." I kept my gaze steady out the window. "I'm not saying you're pretentiousactually, you're quite the opposite. I guess it just goes back to the fact I feel like I don't know you as well as I shouldby now." I looked at him then, hoping he would see the sincerity of my words. "It's all family money, Bella. My parents raised us to be responsible with how we spend itnone of us are frivolous by any means. I guess I could look at a smaller house." He chuckled, but only in a half-hearted way. "You know that's not what I mean. Did you inherit it?" "We all did. My dad's family had money, but my mom's parents were independently wealthyhad been for generations. They set up trust funds for the three grandkids. We got them when we turned twenty-five." "OhEsme's family then?" I nodded as it all made more sense to me now. "Yes, the Platts. Don't get me wrongI know we're very fortunate, Bella. That money has allowed my mom to work for the causes she loves, like the boys' home. Rosalie is able to do what she has always wantedmarry Emmett and have a family. Jasper has been able to follow his dream of being a musician. And I am grateful I can do what I do." "Now I feel like shit for asking you." I sighed deeply and regretted the whole conversation. "Just forget I asked." "No, noit's something you needed to know. I get so wrapped up in just being with you, sometimes I forget we don't know every minute detail about each other." He reached for my hand, and my anxiety regarding our conversation subsided. "So what did you think?" "About the house? BreathtakingreallyI mean it." "Good. I liked it, too."

When pulled into my driveway, I noticed a piece of paper folded in half on the door. I walked up the front porch steps as Edward unloaded my things from the car. I opened the note. It was from Victoria. I looked back at Edward, knowing this would probably launch him into a lecture about my safety while he was away. "Bella, what's wrong?" He asked me as he pulled the bag up the stairs.

"It's a notefrom Victoria James." "You're kidding. What in the hell does it say?" I opened it and read aloud her carefully penned words. Bella, I really think we should meet and talk about what's been going on. I need to tell you something. Please reconsider. -Victoria "Dammit. Are they ever going to leave you alone?" Edward snatched the note away and read it again to himself. "I think I should meet her. It may be the closure we all need." "Do you think it's a good idea? God, Bella. Just when I'm leaving. Fucking great." He was shaking his head out of genuine concern for me. "EdwardI'll be careful." "You don't need to be around those assholes. Listen, if you meet with her, take Jake with you." "No, god, no. I can do it myself. I think I can handle Victoriaplus, if we meet in a public place" I took the note from him and opened the front door. "Well, I think Jake going with you is a good idea. Just have him drive you and wait. I'd feel better about leaving you if I knew he was going. Don't get upset, but I've already called Jake to watch out for you while I'm gone." "You did what?" I looked at him in disbelief. "Ugh! Edward!" I smacked him in the stomach, more playfully than anything else. "Bella, if I can't be with youhe's your best friendhe's the next best thing as far as I'm concerned." "Fine!" I relented. He wanted to protect me, and he loved mewhat else could I possibly ask for?

Late Thursday afternoon, I pulled on a pair of dark denim jeans and a flattering shell pink tunic with capped sleeves to meet Edward at his parents' house. We planned to have dinner there, pack his things and come back to my house to spend the night before I drove him to the airport. I also put on the silver cuff bracelet he gave me; it was the first time I'd worn it somewhere. Carlisle answered the door when I arrived. He asked me to follow him to his study where we

could talk privately. We sat on either side of the leather sofa, and I felt slightly nervous and bit nauseous. He explained to me that he had convinced Marcus to take a much needed sabbatical from the hospital. Carlisle apparently told Marcus that it would be neither responsible nor ethical for him to see patients in his present state of mind. "Bella, I suspect the James' will be going to stay with family in Atlanta." "Okaythis is good news. But I'm not really sure what to say or to feel about this." "I'm hoping during his time off he will get the help he needs. Regardless, you can relax now. Move forward with your life and your work. I've already meet with a good prospect to fill his position." "Carlisle, I don't know how I'll ever thank you for everything you've done for me. I'm at a loss for words right now." Tears began to burn my eyes, but I would not allow them to fall. "The smile you've put on Edward's face is all the thanks I need, Bella. Every parent should see his son so happy." Carlisle gently patted me on the knee. "Say, let's go see what they are up to out there." We stood simultaneously and embraced. I lingered in his warm, fatherly hug, and it made me miss Charlie. I was comforted in that moment by Carlisle, but I still longed for the quiet strength Charlie's few but meaningful hugs offered me. I followed Carlisle through the house and outside onto the patio. Esme was relaxed in a chaise lounge at the edge of the pavers near the pool. "Bella! How are you?" She stood up and warmly embraced me. "You look so pretty. I hear you and Edward had a wonderful time at the lodge." Her smile was bright and loving. "Ohwe did. It's so beautiful up there. Thank you for mentioning it to Edward." "I knowthe waterfall!" She lowered her voice and grasped my forearm, "Isn't it just the most romantic thing? Carlisle and I love it there." She smiled and looked over toward her husband. He smiled back at her in a way that was at once tender and affectionate, doting and devoted. I blushed slightly at the sight of them, in awe to have witnessed such an innocent, but extremely intimate exchange. There was no denying that after many years of marriage and three children, Esme and Carlisle were still madly in love. My heart skipped a beat and my thoughts turned to Edward. Could our love ever be like that? I looked for Edward across the lawn and saw him, cradling baby Emily in his arms, pacing slowly and whispering in her ear. He looked up toward me and smiled. It seemed as though Emily was very close to falling sleep. She was swaddled in a pink blanket, and she looked so small in Edward's strong arms. "Rosalie went to Emmett's baseball game over at the high school. Edward hasn't put Emily down since she got here," Esme said with approval. "I'm sure he's going to miss her." He slowly approached us, and Emily was sleeping peacefully.

"Hey," Edward said quietly as he bent slightly to kiss my cheek. "I hope you don't mind, but I volunteered us to babysit for a few hours. Rosalie and Emmett are at a game." "Sure," I said as I gently rubbed the Emily's head. "I think I bored her to sleep with my narration of native tree species." We all laughed quietly. "Well, whatever works," Esme offered. "You were the same way. Carlisle would recite the bones in the body inalphabetical order to get you to fall asleep most nights."Edward rolled his eyes at this recollection. "I'll feed her, but you get to change her if, you know, anything happens," he laughed as he said this, but I was sure he meant it. "No worries, there. I've had lots of practice. I think we can manage." I smiled at him and the way he held her with such ease. How could I possibly love him more? "Edward, why don't you put her down in the cribbe sure the monitor is on, okay? Bella, let's head in for dinner. I hope you like vegetable lasagnait's one of Edward's favorites." We all ventured into the kitchen and sat at the table there. It was very casual, just the four of us, and we helped ourselves to caesar salad, the lasagna and a cool, clean Sauvignon Blanc. "Oh, Bella," Esme began the dinner conversation, "Edward tells me you have some experience working with underprivileged children." "Well, yesin Florida. The hospital I worked in was a teaching hospital, and most of our patients were high risk. Premature births, pediatric cardiac issues, different birth defects. We were affiliated with a couple of non-profit groups in the area, specifically The Haven House, a shelter for homeless families." Esme looked to Edward, her eyebrows raised with excitement. He shrugged his shoulders. "Just ask her, Mom." He took a sip from his wine glass. He had been watching me as I spoke. "It seems like you have the experience for an event I am working on. Actually, I am the chairperson this year for Forks' Summer in the City. Have you heard of it?" "I think I remember reading about it last year in the paper." Edward was still looking at me, and I shifted a little in my seat. Damn. His beautiful, watchful stare could be unnerving, especially when I was talking with his mother. Esme continued, "Summer in the City is an outreach program for Forks and the surrounding community. We partner with the boys' home to keep the kids there busy when they're out of school. We launch it all with a picnicthen there are four weeks of different kinds of camps from basketball to fishing."

"I would love to help, sure. I was on our hospital's annual pediatric carnival committee back in Jacksonville." "Oh, please tell me about that," Esme inquired. "Well, a group of us from OB and the NICU decided it would be fun to invite the families of the children who stayed at the hospital back each year for a carnival. Basically, it was a celebration of the children's progress. Our community really embraced it, and the families enjoyed reuniting with the nurses and doctors." I felt like I had talked too much, but Edward was smiling at me, his chin resting on his hand. He had stopped eating altogether to listen to us talk. "Just let me know what I can do," I told her, thankful to have something to do besides working at the hospital. "That would be really wonderful, Bella! Thank you. I will get in touch soon with the details. We still have a few weeks of planning ahead of us." We finished the simple, yet delicious dinner and were about to start coffee and dessert when Rosalie and Emmett finally returned. They were amazed Emily was still sleeping, that she had slept through dinner entirely. "See, she is still in one piece" Emmett joked as Rosalie placed the baby in her carrier. "Shut it! I knew she would be fine." Rosalie shot us an apologetic glance. Edward chuckled at his sister, knowing the truth that she probably had been worried about leaving the baby for the first time. "Thank you big brotherhave a safe flight, okay? I promise I'll email those pictures of Emily as soon as I upload them." She hugged and kissed Edward goodbye. Rosalie turned to me. "Bye, Bellathanks for tonight. When Alice comes to town, let's all have lunch, okay?" "Sure. That sounds great. I'd love to." Then the men shook hands, and Rosalie and Emmett left, baby Emily still sleeping through it all. We were enjoying our vanilla cheese cake in the family room, when Edward got up from the sofa and started rummaging through the media drawer under the television. "Hey, Mom. Where is your copy of The Ballad?" "It should be in that drawer. Are you going to watch it?" He looked at me and asked, "Bella? Are you up for watching one of my films?" "Absolutely. That's the one you were telling me about, right?"

"You will really enjoy it," Carlisle explained, "Edward did a fine job on that one. We are really proud of you, son." Esme rose from her place, collecting plates and cups. I made a move to help, but she motioned me to stay put. As she went to Edward, I noticed that she whispered something, for only him to hear. She gave him a kiss on top of his head. "Yes, we are very proud of you," she said louder before leaving the room. "Edward, be sure to come say goodbye to your mother and me before you leave tonight." Carlisle left the room, and we were alone. I settled back into the plush leather sofa, as Edward cued the movie to start. "Wait...tell me more about the center first." He sat down next to me, leaning back onto the couch and propping one arm behind his head. He took my hand with the other. "Joshua Banner started the Meyer Street Community Center a few years ago with basically no money. Josh is a public middle school English teacher in Austinjust an amazing guy. Anyway, Jasper introduced us after a show one night at a local bar. Josh and I talked about different things we had in common, and then he started to tell me about this program he ran for boys in foster care." "So he's a friend of Jasper's?" "Well, Josh knew Alice first from school...they taught together. And he's really into the local Austin music scenehe's a Sleeping Gypsies fan. They all kind of run in the same social circle." He pressed play on the remote, and exquisite music filled the room. A piano piece was dubbed over the movie's opening credits, which included a montage of bright, smiling faces mixed with pictures from what I assumed to be the center and the surrounding neighborhood "Beautiful. Is it you playing?" I asked. He smiled proudly, shaking his head. "No, that's Seth. Just waityou'll see." The Ballad on Meyer Street began with an adorable dark haired boy playing the piano with such ease and mastery that it gave me chills. After a few minutes, he finished playing, sliding off the piano bench, standing at the edge of a stage, and taking a simple bow. His smile illuminated his face, and his dimples were impossible to ignore. That must be Seth. Next was the beginning of an interview with Josh, his inspirations and musings woven throughout the piece. He was a thoughtful and prolific man, in his early thirties, who'd had a difficult childhood. He saved enough money over the course of his few years teaching to pay the rent on an old building in an underprivileged neighborhood in Austin. Josh began an after school program for the neighborhood kids, ranging in age from five to seventeen. He installed playground equipment and a basketball hoop.

He explained how fortunate he was for help in getting the Center on its feet. Alice Cullen came to teach art on Wednesday and Friday afternoons. Two years ago a very generous, anonymous donor offered him enough money to purchase several instruments, including a piano, five guitars, three sets of drums and a sound system. Also, Edward and Jasper Cullen had arranged for several local musicians to volunteer two to three days a week to come to teach the boys music lessons on the instrument of their choice. Apparently, over the course of a year, Edward documented boys and girls at the center learning their respective instruments. A dominant part of the film focused on Seth's journey at the Center, and it was clear to me that Edward's work on this became very personal. Edward spent a great deal of time interviewing Seth, his foster parents, and his music teacher at his elementary school. And as it turned out, Seth was one of three students Edward personally taught piano and guitar. Determined and serious, Seth was the only child who mastered both instruments, and it was obvious that at eight years old, he was a musical prodigy. Toward the end of the film, a recital was performed. A crowd of local artists, musicians and celebrities assembled at a large community hall to see the end result of a year-long journey for the children from the Meyer Street Community Center. Edward included a performance from each and every child, with Seth's breathtaking performance as the finale. Seth played a classical guitar piece first, then the piano, which concluded the concert. The joy in both Seth's and the other kids' accomplishments translated poignantly from the screen. The words of both the volunteer musicians and the children were profoundly moving, and it was obvious their experiences at the Center had made an impact on both teacher and student. By the time the final credits appeared, I was wiping away tears from my face. I looked over toward Edward, in wonder of his work. "Oh god, was it that bad?" He grinned at me and reached forward to wipe my tears. I knew he was kidding, and he knew I was touched by what I had just seen. "No! Stop it! It was amazing." I smiled through my emotion. "And you're amazing" We lingered for a moment, locked on each other's eyes. I wanted to kiss him, have him take me right thenbut we weren't alone. I could tell he felt the same, as suddenly he was anxious to pack and to leave. "Okayenough of all that. So, now you've seen itand I take it you liked it." He pulled me up from the sofa, my body reeling into his. "Yes, I did. Very much." We kissed softly, being careful not to get caught up in the moment. "Well, then, let's go. Let me say goodbye to my parents first, though." "Sure. Let's go."

When we arrived at my house, I was determined to make the most of the time we had left together. "I'm going to run up and take a shower. Do you want to join me?" "Hmm..." He leaned down and kissed me chastely on the lips. "As much as I want to, I need look over a couple of things and make a phone call. How about I meet you upstairs in a minute?" "Okay." I said, slightly disappointed. He could tell, and he shot me that sexy, sly grin. "I promiseI'll just be a minute. I need to call Riley before it gets too late." I went upstairs to take a quick shower, and when I finished, I found Edward in bed, propped up against the headboard reading some papers. He pushed an envelope across the bed when he saw me. "What's this?" I asked, curious. "Your travel itinerary," he said, in a matter-of-fact way. "Mine?" I pressed. I played along, though, teasing him by asking, "Oh, where am I going?" "Funny. Come here." Edward pulled me swiftly toward him, down onto the bed. It made me laugh out loud as I fell across his lap. He leaned down to kiss me and playfully nipped at my bottom lip with his teeth. "You're coming to see me in Philly over the July 4th weekend." "Really? Well, I'm not sure if that fits into my busy social calendar." I sat up to face him, pressing my forehead to his, closing my eyes. "In that case, I hope you decide to make some room for me, then." His breath was hot and sweet on my face, and he took my mouth in his again. The emotions that began to surface earlier in the night were reignited, and I felt a lustful need to be with him. I shifted my weight to sit astride him, pressing my still wet body against his. "Make love to me, Edward. I need to feel youright now." I whispered my words to him, softly and slowly. He gently placed his hands on either side of my face and willed me to look into my eyes. "HmmI like the sound of that." We shared a quiet moment lost in each other's eyes. He began kissing me again with soft, wet kisses-first on my mouth, then my neck. He opened my towel slowly and tossed it off the side of the bed. I slid back down onto the bed as he hovered over me with the intent to take what I so readily offered. Our breathing accelerated, and I felt even more excited and eager to have him inside me than I did the first time we made love. It was as if he

were addicting, and I couldn't get enough. Edward suddenly sat back up on his knees and pulled his t-shirt over his head, and I reached down to unbutton and unzip his jeans. He removed his jeans and boxers and slid back onto the bed. We were skin on skin, legs and arms entwined, our bodies warm and inviting. He lightly dusted his hand down from my neck and across my left breast, stopping briefly to rub his thumb over my hardened nipple, then over my stomach. "God, I'm going to miss this sight," he said, as his eyes swept over my naked and very aroused body. I smiled and held my hands up to him, pulling him back down toward me. I needed to feel him against me, trying to instill every touch in my memory. "AndI'm going to miss this little spot right here." He whispered this into the little dip at the base of my neck. I giggled slightly, because his tender kiss and warm breath tickled my sensitive skin. He gazed back into my eyes, arousing me more his lips that were twitched into a naughty smile. He shifted further down my body, continuing his testimony of what he would long for the most. "And how am I going to survive without looking at these?" I giggled more as he smiled against the delicate skin of my breasts. He kissed my nipple, so vulnerable to his touch, gently at first. And then he grazed his tongue around it purposefully before taking the peak entirely into his sweet mouth, sucking and swirling in a way only he could do. As he moved to the other breast, the giggling subsided. My body reacted strongly as the mood of our intimacy quickly shifted from playful to intensely passionate. Edward lowered himself further between my legs, running his tongue toward my navel, heating my skin as he moved. I watched his descent down my body as my desire was left to his mercy. I felt him pause briefly as he moved my legs to open wider. I looked up and our eyes locked; his were asking for permission to continue. "Edwardyes." His fingers caressed my thighs, moving closer and closer to the center of my desire. They found what they were looking for, moving inside me steady and slow. My heart raced with the anticipation of feeling his mouth on me, knowing what his tongue and fingers together could do. And then I felt his head dip between my legs, his tongue pushing into my center in slow, strong, deep strokes. He stopped briefly, whispering as his hands gripped my thighs tighter, "And your taste, BellafuckI'm really going to miss this." He continued with his plan, licking and sucking, as I reactively massaged my breasts in a desperate attempt to balance the overwhelming sensations. His tongue found my swollen spot, and his fingers entered me again, pushing and stroking until I felt the familiar wave of heat rush over me. "EdwardI" I couldn't articulate what I wanted to say, so I moved my hands into his hair, forcing him deeper. He repeated his torturous pattern of licking, swirling, and stroking until I could hold on no longer.

"Godyes!" I shouted, grabbing the cool sheets beneath me with my fists as Edward's hot, strong tongue pushed me into a bliss-filled oblivion. He rested his head on my stomach as my breathing slowed, and I caressed the back of his neck and the top of his shoulders lovingly. "I love you, Edward." He raised his head and moved over me, responding in kind. "I love you, too." He shifted above me, so he could look me in the eyes when he said that. He reached for him, pulling his mouth to mine, his chest to my breasts, his heart above mine. "I need to be inside you, baby" he pleaded with his words and his body. I responded with a silent nod. And my body welcomed him, and his length entered me slowly, gently. We soon found a rhythm of pure pleasure that was more intimate than we'd ever had. I reached up and brushed his cheek with my fingertips, and I ran my thumb over his beautiful, parted lips. He trapped it in his mouth, sucking it until we picked up our pace. The power of his thrusts increased, and I drew my knees up higher and wrapped my legs around his waist. "Damnyou're so warm," he said, recognizing the heat between us building. I wanted to come for him again so badly. And I was close. "Ahoh my godagain." "FuckBella." We found our release, climaxing one after the other. As Edward stilled inside me, I realized that I didn't want to let him go. I'm going to miss this so much.

When I came down the stairs, Edward was coming through the front door, presumably from putting his bags in the jeep. I could stare at him for days in his worn jeans, white dress shirt and casual khaki blazer. "You look beautiful, baby," he said, smiling at me. It was the infectious, warm smile that I was already missing. The one that greeted me the first time we met. I spent a few extra minutes getting ready that morning and decided to wear a long blue cotton scooped neck dress belted with a wide pale leather belt. I wanted to look good for him, for the last time we would see each other for weeks. Edward drove my jeep to the airport, and our ride there was filled with nervous banter about this and that. We had made love again in the morning, but that didn't keep the awkwardness of him leaving at bay. Finally, Edward pulled into the garage floor for general parking at Sea-Tac airport. As soon as he parked and turned off the ignition, his cell phone began to buzz. He grabbed it off the console, looked at the screen and immediately turned it to vibrate. He wasn't even in Philly yet, and it was already back to business. We got his bags out of the back and moved toward the entrance's automatic doors. I sat on a bench near the windows while Edward checked his bags.

When he was done, we sat closely together and talked a little, holding hands and making plans for when I would come visit. I kept my emotion intact, not wanting to ruin the moment. I could hear his phone vibrating in his pocket, as it had been since we arrived at the airport. "Do you need to get that?" I asked him. "No, not right nowit's a call that can wait. Well, it's time. I'd better get in line." "Okay." Tears immediately threatened to fall. He placed his long fingers under my chin and looked into my eyes. "Baby less than five weeks. That's all." "I knowI know." I forced a laugh and blinked back the tears as best I could. "I know I'm being ridiculous." "Bella" He placed a very soft, slow kiss on my mouth. He embraced me tightly, and we lingered like that, our bodies connected, for several minutes. I could hear him take a strong, deep breath. I thought of him telling me how he wanted to remember how I looked, what my hair smelled like, how I tastedfive weeks might be torture. "Okay if I don't let go now, I may never let go. Safe travels." I pulled away reluctantly. "I'll call you if there's time before my connection in Detroit." He cupped my face with his warm hands. "I love you, baby." His words forced the tears to resurface. "Heyhey. Come here." He took his fingers and lightly brushed them away and then kissed me softly on each cheek. We embraced briefly again. Again, I pulled away, this time taking a step back. "I love you, too." I forced a smile. He moved forward and placed another gentle kiss on my forehead. He took a few steps backward, still keeping my gaze, and we exchanged a parting smile. I was the first one to turn away, but as I did I had a second thought, and I glanced back to steal one last glimpse of Edward. He was standing in line for security, with his head down so he couldn't see me. He was talking on the phone. I stood there watching him as he talked, smiling the whole time until he hung up. Well, shit. I guess he finally took that call. This was not the last impression I wanted to have of Edward. But it was. So, I started my lonely journey toward the airport exit. I walked to the jeep and slid in. I sat motionless and with tears streaming down my face. I willed that the days until July would go by quickly. I wiped away the tears and put the key into the ignition. I heard a buzzmy phone. I had a voicemail. I looked at the numberit was Edward's. I listened the message, his voice smooth, soft and sweet.

"Bella, it's me. I know we just said goodbye. ButI miss you already" His voice trailed off, followed by a deep sigh, "There's a couple in front of me, and they're holding handsI needed to tell you againI love you, baby." Five weeks.

10.

I stood in the security line, watching the couple in front of me hold hands. I decided to call Bella and leave her a message. The look in her beautiful, brown eyes as we said good bye was haunting me. I pulled my phone from my pocket and dialed. I heard her voice answer on the other endand then there was the beep "Bella, it's me. I know we just said goodbye. ButI miss you already" My voice trailed off. A young woman and her boyfriend were standing ahead of me in the security line. They were holding hands, and occasionally he would nuzzle her neck. She would laugh, and he would squeeze her closer to him. I wanted Bella to be with me. I wanted to hold her hand, to have my arms around her like that. I sighed deeply and continued leaving my message, "There's a couple in front of me, and they're holding handsI needed to tell you againI love you, baby." I ended the call and pushed through the security line. I was compelled to admit my feelings when I told her I loved her. I'd never said those very words, especially in that way, to any woman before. I loved Bella, and I was in love with her. My dad always told us there was a differenceit was true he and my mother loved each other unconditionallybut being in love was something else. The latter part was the romance and the passion between two people, the sideways glances, the hand holding, the comfort in one another's presence. He told us there would always be peaks and valleys in any relationship, but, ultimately, you had to be in love with the person for it to survive. And it had for my parentsfor 32 years. In Bella, I realized I'd found that same kind of connection, that same kind of love. From the first time I saw her that night at the hospital, I could not tear my eyes away from her. I wanted to touch her flawless skin, run my fingers through her long brown hair, and feel her full, pink lips on mine. Her hair was pulled back loosely, accentuating the soft, stunning features of her face. I could tell, even under her scrubs, her body was perfect. Her breasts, her long legs, her hips as she movedit was almost too much, considering I was there for Rosalie. I had to control myself from the beginningand when I followed her outside for her breakI had no fucking idea I would see her and Marcus together. Dammit. Why did she have to sleep with him? Anyone else but Marcus. Shit, not him!

When he put his hands on her, I knew he had fucked her. It made me sick to my stomach to watch him touch herthe way he sneered at her and grabbed her arm. And the look on her faceit was more disgust, I think, than fear. I could tell she wanted nothing to do with him. Maybe I should have beaten the shit out of him thensome of the things he's done to her since. All of that could have been avoided. I just didn't act, and that has been a problem most of my lifejust like with Angela. I didn't want to think about her now, not with Bella on my mind. I walked through security and toward my gate. I didn't mind this part of traveling as most people did. These were the quiet, in between spaces that gave me time to think and to reflect. As I boarded the plane, my thoughts were consumed by Bella. God, the way she made me feelfuck if we hadn't been through a lot in such a short amount of time. I knew Bella was still reeling from Charlie's death. Damnthe look in her eyes when she heard him take his last breath. I couldn't imagine what she felt at that moment, what she must feel everyday about losing her fathershe's so strong and courageousshe's more of a woman than she knows. But I had sensed her insecurity after seeing the house with Irina. Fuck, I knew that could be a mistake. I need a house, though, some housethere. Yes, things were moving fasthell, things had turned physical so quicklybut I had no regrets. I just hope I've done enough to convince Bella that I want all of her. I want her to know how beautiful I think she is, inside and out. And smart. She probably has never given herself enough credit. But if she can hang with me and Jasper and two bottles of wine, she's something The flight attendant took my bag and placed it in the overhead compartment. I always thought flying first-class was pretentious, but I'll be damned if my legs didn't fit under the seats in coach. I took my seat and settled in, my thoughts returning to her. I had wanted this morning to last. It was the last time we would have sex, that we would make love until I would see her again in Philly. Bella was the one I wanted to look at first thing in the morning, the person I wanted to talk to the most. She was the sexiest woman I'd ever been withand she had absolutely no idea how sexy she waswhich was all the more appealing. She didn't even have to tryit was just part of who she was. Her eyes. Those goddamn, beautiful eyesstaring at me when I touched her skin, wanting me, searching mine when I moved in her, closing with pleasure when I made her come. Fuck, what I would do to look in those eyes the rest of my life. I rested my head back against the seat, put in my earplugs, set my iPod on shuffle. The first song that came on was Sarah Bareilles' "Gravity." God, it reminded me of her. The lyrics were sad and poignantthey told the story of how I felt leaving Bella behindno matter what I say or doI'll still feel you here 'til the moment I'm goneI never wanted anything so much than to drown in your love I closed my eyes and thought about this morning. I awoke with her head cradled underneath my arm, her breathing slow and steady. I didn't want to wake her, but I couldn't resist touching herI ran my fingers down over the soft skin of her arm and up against her back. She stirred beside me, small moans escaping from her mouth, and

stretched her arms and legs against me. I watched her breasts rise and fall against the sheets with every breath she took. Her neck arched back, and I became hard just from looking at her. I moved closer to her, propping myself up with my elbow, and looked down at her still sleepy face. With my fingers, I softly traced the outline of her lips and the contours of her neck. Her eyes fluttered open, and she looked up at me slowly, her lips twitching into her pretty smile. "Heygood morning," her voice was raspy from just waking up. "Good morning" I pushed her hair away from her face, tucking it behind her ears. My fingers found their way along her shoulder, her arm and down her back, gliding over the smoothest skin I'd ever felt. She sat up, pushing me back and straddling me with her long legs. God, how I loved it when she initiated. Bella leaned down to kiss me, slow and wet kisses on my lipsthen my neckthen back to my lips again. She was warm and soft, and her hair fell loosely around us. I took it in my hands, grasping it in my fingers, and holding it back away from her face. And my erection became harder with every touch. Bella felt it, too. She placed her hands on my shoulders as her hips began to movecreating enough friction to drive me crazy with the need to be inside her. I ran my fingers through her wet center, and she sighed almost desperately. My hands moved to her hips, positioning her above me. She moaned softly, sliding down to bury me deep inside her. She was slick and warm around me as she began pacing her movements for pleasure. We said nothing at first, our eyes and our bodies voicing all the emotion and love we wanted to convey. Her breasts with their hard, pink nipples moving over me were hard to resist. I leaned up and took her breast in my mouth, aching to taste her. Her sensitive skin was sweet on my tonguefucking delicious. She smiled and skimmed one hand through my hair. "Baby" I continued swirling my tongue around her nipples, taking possession of them one at a time. With each one, I sucked slightly, and her whimpers grew louder. I laid back so I could see her gorgeous face. "II love you," she whispered. "I love you, Isabella," I whispered back to her, almost too overwhelmed with a combination of physical and emotional pleasure to react. Damnwhat did I do to deserve her? I took my hand to rub herwanting her to remember how I could make her feel. She stared down at me intently, biting down on her bottom lip, moving her hand over mine. "I want you to watch me do this" she whispered, as she replaced my fingers with her own. Fuck yes. I slid my hand away and lightly grasped her thighs. She shifted back, closed her eyes, and began to touch herself slowly at first letting her fingers find a rhythm.

"Edwardtalk to me" she said, all breathy and seductive. Holy fuckI may never leave now. "Does that feel good?" "Yes, oh, yes," she said louder. Her eyes opened, and her gaze flowed from my face to her hand and hips in motion. "Bella, I want you to come hard, baby." We were both racing toward climax. I watched her hips, her breasts, her hand rubbingand her moaning was fucking torturing me. "Godyes!" She fell forward onto my chest, trembling and spent. I was so fucking close to exploding inside her. I quickly rolled her over, never leaving her warmth and brushed her hair off her face. That face. I held her cheeks between my palms. "Bella open your eyes." I wanted her to see what she could do to mewhat she did to me every time we made love. She slowly met my gaze. I looked into her eyes as I thrust deep inside her, feeling every inch of her tightened around me, and I lost myself in my own euphoric haze. "Sofuckinggood." I dusted kisses across her cheeks, down her jaw and onto her neck. Her skin was hot and sensitive to my touchwith each kiss she quivered beneath me.

I awoke to the plane landing in Detroit. My layover was only an hour and a half, and I had just enough time to call Bella and grab a burger or sandwich before boarding my next flight. I dialed her house number first. "Hey," she said, sounding pleased I called. "Hi, baby." I was happy to hear her voice. "Did you make it to Detroit okay?" "Yeah, just landed. I'm going to grab a beer and hopefully a sandwich. What are you up to?" I imagined her in her house, sitting on her bed, her long legs stretched out, waiting for me to run my hands up and down them. "I just got home from visiting Sue and Leah. I went over there to check on her and the baby. They asked me to stay for an early dinner. We had a great meal and talked for awhileThe baby is adorable. Leah's doing much better now." "That's good. She's lucky to have Sue around. Sounds like you had fun, BellaI'm glad you did. Heyare you working tomorrow night?" I blurted it out without thinking, really. "YesI am." I heard her take a deep breath. She knew I was still worried about Marcuseven though he wasn't working at the hospital anymore. He was still in town until his house sold, and I wanted to know what she was going to do about Victoria.

"Edward, I called Victoria back." She waited for my response. "Bella." I shook my head not knowing what to think. Was I overreacting about her safety? I knew things between us had happened fast, but was it my place to voice so much concern for her well being? I could only do so much to help her when I was all the way across the country. "Hey. It's fine. Really. We're going to meet tomorrow night during my break. At the New Dawn Diner, right across the street from the hospital." "I'm not sure I like this. Get Jake or my dad to walk over there with you." I pleaded a losing case. "I'll be fine. The place is full of hospital staff. Plus, Charlie's old friend Harry Young is always working late." She was really calm and seemedalmost grateful to talk. "But Bella" She stopped me before I could protest any more. "Your mom called me. I'm going with her to a planning meeting for Summer in the City. And she said Alice is coming to town, so I'll get to meet her. Seemy social calendar is filling up." She laughed, trying to keep from worrying about her. "I'm glad it is. Those kids will be lucky to have you around this summer" I paused. "Hey" Her tone was soft and sweet. "Thanks for your message." "I wish you were with me." "Me, toocall me when you can, okay? I'm probably going to bed early tonight." "Well, then, I guess I'd better go. Bella, I love you." "Love you" And she hung up. I wondered how much I would miss her over the next month. I had enough time to make one more call. It was only 8 o'clock in Texas-not too late to call. "Laurent, hey man, how are you?" "Ahhello, Edward! Guess what I am looking at?" "Greatso the piano arrived." "It's a godsend, really it is. They're all so excited around here now! We can't thank you enough." "Oh, you're welcome. It's no problem. So, then, you're telling me he likes it?" "That's an understatement. We have to ration the time between the piano and homework," Laurent chuckled. "Tanya loves having the music here, in the house."

"Good, goodheyis he there? Can I talk to him?" Laurent put the phone down. When it was picked up again, a small voice said "hello." "Hey buddy, how are you?" "Edward! The piano is so cool. Did you send it?" "Yeahso, you like being able to play anytime, huh?" "It's awesome! But Laurent said I can only play after homework. And I have to read for thirty minutes every night. So I can play after that. Are you coming to visit?" "I'm going to be in Philadelphia, in Pennsylvania, for a while. And school's almost out, right? Let me know how you do on your report card, okay?" "Sure. I think I'm getting all A's again. They said second grade was going to be hardbut it's boring. I hope I get Mrs. Walker next year. She has real live frogs in her classroom. Oh, and a rat." I couldn't help but laugh. He reminded me of myself at that age. "Maybe you will. But, listen. I'm going to send you some new songs to work on. And when I see you in August we can jam, okay?" "Cool, Edward. I can play the Chopin now. Did Laurent tell you?" "No, he didn't. I can't wait to hear you play it. Maybe Tanya and Laurent can record it, and you can send it to me. I miss you, and we'll talk soonbye." "Bye!" I heard clamoring and static as he tried to hang up. Finally, there was a click. Riley picked me up at the airport. Riley Biers was twenty-four, and still a little wet behind the ears. He was a good looking guywith light brown hair and a boyish charm that had all the women we worked with vying for his attention. Most women would definitely consider him handsome. He was the first to want to cut out of work to go out and party, but that was all because he was still young and could. But Riley was passionate about what we were doing, and he was smarthe graduated a year early from NYU with a BA in Cinema Studies, like me, and I hired him as an intern as soon as I could. He began working with me full-time right after we finished The Ballad on Meyer Street. "Hey, man. Thanks for picking me up so I didn't have to catch a cab." "Yeah, you owe me one. It's fucking midnight. Why didn't you catch an earlier flight? Plus, your carEdwardman, it's time to upgrade, you know?" Riley shook his head. He couldn't understand why I still had the old Volvo. I was too tired to go into my usual lecture about the car, but I was amused at the thought of him cussing me out on the way to the airport.

"It's not like you would be asleep now anywayand I told you. I wanted to spend more time with Bella." "Oh, shit. You got it bad, man." He laughed. "So she's really hot, huh?" "Hot doesn't do her justice." "Got pictures? I wanna see." "A few. But you'll see her in person when she comes in a few weeks." "She's cominghere? Oh, the shit will hit the fan then for sure." He whistled through his teeth, and I knew he was talking about Angela. "I can handle Angela." "You sure about that, boss?" "DamnI hate when you call me that. Especially when I am fucking tired as I am." "Too bad she's still into you. I would totally be all over that." I laughed. "Number one, she's too old for you. Number two, she would devour you in one swift stroke." He threw his he back and groaned, "God, I would fucking hope so" I shook my head as he paused, obviously thinking of Angela in doing just that, but not in the way I had meant. "Dude, I'm not that much younger, righttwenty-fouryou're full of shit. I would definitely go for that." "In your dreams, Riley. In your dreams." "I sure hope soseriously, though, Edward. About AngelaI'm just preparing youshe's on the warpath. She thinks we're behind schedule. Especially with CI coming on Tuesday." "That's bullshit. She doesn't know what she's talking aboutshe may know the restaurant business, but not about this." I took a deep breath and wondered what kind of mood she would be in tomorrow. I knew I'd have a problem with her as soon as she'd found out about Bella. "I just see her being more controlling than we want her to beshe has to realize she can't control everything." "Well, man, good luck with thatI don't know. She's tough." Riley shook his head knowing there would be a battle of wills on the horizon. I knew there would be one, too.

The next day I met Angela at Ciao Metro. She had her designer coming in to do some last minute decorating, because I had another photographer scheduled to shoot some promo stills for us next week. Of course, Angela had to be therea result of her controlling mentality. But it was part of who she was as a person, an effect of her unfortunate upbringing. Angela and I first met when I transferred to NYU from Stanford. I knew all the organic chemistry and biology of pre-med wasn't for me. My heart was somewhere elseand I had to search for where that was. I found it in New York, abandoning my father's dream of me being a physician in favor of my ownfilm and photography. Kate Garrett, Riley's aunt, had taught an undergrad seminar on film theory. It was the first of many courses I took with her as professor, and she helped me discover what it meant to see filmthat it is really an experience beyond what we watch on the screen. I met several good friends that initial semester, and one of them introduced me to Angela. So as clich as it was, we met through a mutual friend. It was one of those relationships where one thing led to another. She was unlike any of the girls from Forks, or from Stanford for that matter. At first, that intrigued me about her. She was different. Angela's family is half Italian, on her mother's side. She was born in Philadelphia, and her childhood was anything but idyllic. Her father abandoned his wife and three children when Angela was only four and her twin brothers were ten. She later found out her father had been incarcerated for a string of theft offenses. Her mother, Carmen, had several jobs to keep the family afloat. The brothers were Angela's main source of guidance. Well, at least one was. Eli ended up in prison, like his father, for auto theft and running a chop shop. Michael, on the other hand, was a hard worker who truly cared about his younger sister. Because Carmen was always gone, Michael would take Angela to the restaurant where he bartended during his shifts. Angela would hide out in the kitchen while her brother worked. This was where she developed an interest and passion for cookingit truly became her escape. She pushed her way through the tough inner city public school and won a scholarship to NYU. She majored in Italian studies, a tribute to her mother, but quit after two years. She left her scholarship behind to pursue her true passionto be a chef. So, she went to the Institute of Culinary Education in New York and fought to be where she is today. She has always managed to get everything she's wanted, and for a time, that even included me. I have always been one to forgive and forgetmaybe that's why Angela and I are still friends after all these years. I knew she had wanted to marry me, but I wasn't ready, and I didn't love her that waynot when we first met, not ever. We were more companions for the experience through collegedrinking, parties, the fun that you have when you're young. Angela was that kind girl in collegevery attractivevery hot, most guys would say. She was outspoken and very obvious about her feelings toward me. She told me countless times how much she loved me, but I never felt the same. At the beginning of our relationship the sex was funAngela was into things I had never experienced before, but soon the novelty wore off. Our relationship became more of a routine, more meaninglessat least on my partas time wore on. I cared for her, for her well being, but

not in the way a lover should. Not in the way a boyfriend or fianc should. I cared for her more as a friend. But I knew what she was capable ofshe had claws and wasn't afraid to use them. At the end of our relationship I suspected she tried to get pregnant. Sure, I wanted kidsmore than anything, but with the right person. Someone I was in love with, just not Angela. She couldn't understand why, and since she was used to getting what she wanted, she hated me for a while. But we would break up and then get back together over the course of six years, until finally the importance of her career pushed methankfullyfrom the forefront of her mind. Her restaurant and TV show were what she wanted she wanted most, well, at least for the last two years. Saturday morning, I met Angela at her restaurant. She was dressed in a tight grey skirt and a cream-colored silk tank top, her black hair hanging in curls down her shoulders. She had on a lot of make-upalmost too much. Obviously, she was now more concerned with her appearance as she became more successful. "Hey, Edward, baby." Her voice was smooth, and she was smiling as she leaned in to kiss my lips, but I turned my face slightly so that she grazed my cheek instead. That set her off. "Well, Riley's been here for five fucking days already, Edward," she hissed as she threw down a folder with pictures and papers, some of them scattering on an empty table top. "He said you were on vacation?" She made it a question instead of a statement, and she was fishing for something more than just where I went. I could tell. But I wasn't going to bite. She crossed her arms, shifting her weight to one side. "So?" Her eyes were wide, waiting for an answer that she probably thought she deserved. I shrugged my shoulders. "What Angela? Just come out with it. What do you want to know?" "What the hell, Edward? Fine. I willwho's the girl?" She dropped her arms and placed them on her hips, a more offensive kind of move. "She's the one who called in San Diego, right?" "She's not a girl. She's a woman. And honestly, Angela, that's none of your business anymore. It hasn't been for quite some time." "Well, who is this Bella? What kind of girl, I mean, woman could you possibly meet in Forks?" She didn't believe that someone from Forks could garner my attention. "I mean, you even said you couldn't wait to get the hell out of there." "You can judge for yourself when she comes to visit in July. She's coming for the fourth." "Oh! So you plan on introducing us? Hmm. Good one, Edward. Let me ask you thisdoes she know about us? I mean, that we were lovers? Or did you conveniently leave the fucking part out? Maybe you just told her that I'm the subject of your film?" "Ang, don't be such a bitch. Sure, of courseI've told her about us."

"Everything?" "Look, all this shit isn'twasn't part of the dealwe said this was going to be strictly professional" "What if I don't like our deal?" What she said was loaded with sarcasm and maybe a bit of jealousy. She moved closer and placed her hand on my shoulder, rubbing me slightly up and down. There was a time when I thought that felt goodbut not anymore. Once Bella and I touched for the first time, I immediately knew it was different I took Angela's hand and removed it. "If you don't like something we're doing with the film, fine, we can discuss it. If this is about you and methere are no renegotiations. Why do we always go back to this?" I walked away from her and to the bar, where we were setting things up for the day's work. She followed me, putting her arms around my waist. "Come on Edward. We have too much history to ignore." I pulled out of her grasp and faced her. "I know we do, but I've moved on. So have you. Let's keep this pleasant, okay?" "Have it your way," she said as she walked off. But under her breath I heard her murmur, "for now." Who knew what she had planned, but I was going to keep to my word and work with her and her conniving tacticsthis one last time.

The planned dinner meeting with Angela and the multimedia group Caius International was giving me a fucking headache. We met in a private dining room at the Middle Eastern restaurant Zahav, which was not far from my townhouse. I knew there would be some bullshit hitch to them funding this projectAngela had made it all seem too good to be true. Thankfully, Peter was in town to help me navigate through all the legal crap that I hated so much. I was grateful Peter was in my cornerhe knew I didn't take kindly to being played by the corporate suits we sometimes had to deal with. Caius International was the parent company of Cuisine Living, the channel that had offered Angela a primetime cooking show two months after I agreed to do this doc for her. My intent was to float it around as its own individual piece, but they convinced her that the biography we were planning would be a perfect promo for her debut on the network. So, they agreed to front the money for the entire projectand then some. Angela said she had negotiated for me to have more creative license than they would normally prefer, with the stipulation of allowing one of CI's production advisors to mirror my every fucking move. I asked to step out of the meeting briefly to catch some air. I was furiously running my hands through my hair, trying to calm my ass down. I felt someone grab my elbow. It was Angela. She had followed me outside.

"Edward, baby, come on. What's wrong? This is a great opportunity for me, for you, for us." "Angela, it's all bullshit. I'm fine with their design requests and schedulesbut I don't want some jackass following me around while I'm trying to work. And you know very well, if we give in a little, they'll just want more. And it's my fucking vision." "Ah, noactually, it's mine. It's my goddamn life we are putting out there, Edward." I realized right then the fight wasn't worth the effort. I reminded myself that I would do this last favor for herthen I would be finished with her. It was the clean break I needed from Angela and our past. "Alright, alrightI've committed. You know I don't go back on my word. I never have. Let's do this."

After our meeting with CI, Peter and I walked to the Dark Horse pub near Peter's bed and breakfast for a couple of beers. Peter ordered a draught of Guinness and I decided on a black and tan. "Look, Edward. I've known your family a long timeever since you were a teenager. You're parents have never been happier for you. I'm glad to know they are behind you one hundred percent." "Pete, I know in my heart I'm doing the right thing," I laughed when I said the next part, "and you've been there when I haven't." "Well, it was nothing your dad or I couldn't get you out of. Adolescent stuff. Kid's stuff, really. All wily teenagers get in some kind of mischief now and then." He chuckled with me. Peter had been there to talk me out of trouble when I'd been caught once with a fake ID and then another time when I had an "open container" of beer at a high school party. I was a minor in both instances, and each time my parents were thoroughly pissed. Those were the things that led my dad to second guess my judgment. Regardless, Peter kept my clean record intact. "In any case, they really like this gal you're seeingBella. Esme talked about her quite a bit at our last meeting when I went over the details with themshe's made an impression on your father, too." He took a sip of his beer and set it down lightly on the table top. "Since she is a part of the big picture now, what is your plan? Have you told her yet?" "What?" I laughed nervously, because I knew what his reaction was going to be. "No, not yet." I took a much larger sip from my bottle. "Wellthe paperwork is done. You do understand what that means, right?" "Yes, of course I do. I'm not having second thoughts, Peter. It's justI don't know. It's a lot coming at her all at once. Especially right now. She just lost her dad. And we've hada really intensebeginning to our relationship. I mean, things are happening very quickly. I just haven't

found the right time yet." "There may not be just the right time to tell her something like this. August is right around the corner. Look, if she's going to be in your life, you need to realize they may eventually contact her." "I know. I just don't want to lose her. I just found her" "I can understand where you are coming from, but she needs to hear this from you firstnot them." "II didn't expect to meet Bella" My thoughts flashed to that first night I saw her. I looked at Peter, trying to make him understand my point. "She's this incredible woman and" "Andand what, Edward?" he asked. "Shit. I don't know. My parents completely agree with you. They don't think I'm going about this the right way. They're worried she's going to be hurt, and I'll lose her. They think Bella is it for me." There wasn't a simpler way to put it. "Yes, yes they do. When I talked to Carlisle last week, he was concerned about this. He's come a long way in his trust and respect for you." "I know" I paid the tab and walked Peter back, and then I headed home. The entire walk I thought about Bella. I replayed conversations in my head, funny things she would say, how I loved to watch her laugh. I was exhausted from everything, especially Angela's crap. I had to be up by five to get everything ready for some filming tomorrow at Ciao Metro. I pulled off my t-shirt and pants, collapsing on the bed in just my boxers. If I were with Bella, we would be naked. God, her skin. I closed my eyes and imagined feeling her, touching her, hearing her moan beneath me. I remembered going to the Concert at the Cliff. That was our first time. That was when I knew I could fall in love with her. I'd found her in the kitchen, sunken to the floor, holding a whiskey bottle. Her clothes were wet, soaked through, clinging to her perfect body underneath. Her hair was sticking to the skin of her shoulders, long and dark and wet. Her cheek was red from where Victoria had slapped her. What a bitch. I wanted to run my fingers along the reddish spot, wanted to keep them going downbut I debated what to do nextif I left, I would regret it. If I stayed, I might not be able to control myself. She had that kind of power over me already. I took off my jacket, rolled up my sleeves and slid beside her on the tile floorhoping that our shoulders would touch. I heard her breathe a heavy sigh. Her eyes told me that she felt the samedesire shot through methe same as it did that night in the car. I definitely wanted more. "Well, Miss Swan. May I join you?" I hoped she would say yes. There was no way in hell I was

going to leave her now, looking like that, her nipples hard from being cold, maybe even from being so close to me. What the hell. I took the whiskey bottle from her hand and drankwhiskey would add to the warmth I already felt from being so close to her. She took another drink, laughing as she made a toast that was loaded with sarcasm. God, she was sexy. "Well, Mr. Cullen. Now you know the real Bella Swan. Nurse by day. Tramp by night." She took another drink and rested her head against the kitchen cabinet. Now both cheeks were pink, fueled by the liquor. She continued with an unnecessary apology, "Edward, I'm sorry you had to witness that." I took the bottle from her, intending to drink moreto get the courage to tell her how fucking beautiful she was, how I wanted her to laugh, how I just wanted her. Instead I made a dumbass attempt at a joke. "Actually, Miss Swan, you are a nurse by night" She rolled her eyes and then stared at methose wide brown eyes. They pierced through me, and the desire surfaced again. I shifted a little on the floor and our knees touched. Her breath caught again. I had to take another drink "I have to tell you something," I said as I handed her the bottle. "My dad explained the situation with Marcus" I only wanted her to know that it didn't matter to me. Well, it did to an extent, but since her affair with him was over "There. Is. No. Situation. Edward." She was pissed. Her lips pursed together as if she was going to say something else, but she took another drink instead. The wrong fucking thing to say, Cullen! I didn't want to screw this up with Bella. I had to fix thisfast. "It really doesn't matter to me. I don't care about your past." I tried to explain. "You know, we all have one." I really felt that way; it was the truth. God, I'd had my share of girlfriends. Angela was the most serious one. But she never make me feel the way Bella didever. "Look. Marcus and I were only together when Victoria took the boys and left. We were only filling a void. A stupid, stupid void. He was angry with his wife. And Iwell, Charlie had taken a turn for the worse, and I" "Hey, hey...stopyou don't owe me an explanation." But she looked away from me, determined to finish what she needed to say. She was opening up to menot hiding her feelings at all. "I I was lonely. Really lonely, Edward." She took another drink and passed me the bottle again. She couldn't look at me. I was amazed at her admission. She was being honest and it was very appealing, but I didn't want to hear about them having sex. I could figure that one out on my own, and I didn't want to think about another man touching her flawless skin. Fuck Marcus. "Truthfully, I don't want to hear the details. I really, really don't want to think about Marcusand youtogetheror him touching you, Bella. He's always been a cocky motherfucker." I looked at her, hoping she could see the desire in me growing. I was compelled to touch her. I let my fingers skim down the pinkness of her cheek.

"It's still pink." The words almost didn't come out. I was electrified by the way her skin felt underneath my fingers. Maybe I wouldn't be able to control myself after all. "Seriously? Let me see" She jumped up and stumbled upstairs, I assumed to look at her face. I sat for a momentI wanted to follow her up those stairs. I wanted her. If I didn't I would regret not following my first instinct. But what if she didn't want melike I needed her? Our brief tryst in the car suggested otherwise. Decorum be damned. And so I went upstairsclimbing them two and then three at a time. She was standing in the bathroom, looking in the mirror. I stopped for a moment and leaned against the door, taking her all in. Her hair was wet, ringlets sticking to her shoulders and her backher dress was still wet, snug around her gentle curves. I moved in behind her, wanting to touch her, but waiting for her permission. I startled her when she saw my reflection in the mirror and reacted by covering her breasts so I could not see. But it was much too late for that. "Don't hide, Isabella. You are so beautiful." I closed the space between us and took each of her hands into mine, pulling them to her sides. Her face flushed brighter than before, and she moved her back flush against me. I was sure she could feel my erection hard against her. I looked at her reflection in the mirror, hoping my face would show the longing and need I had for her. I kissed her ear, and I felt her body shake against me. My breath felt warm against her damp skinI wanted to warm it with my kisses, down her neck, maybe even further still. Her breathing quickened, as I released her hands and moved to caress her breasts. I watched her reaction in the mirror, our eyes fixed on one another. I needed to feel more of her skin, and I untied the belt around her waist, slowly as the anticipation of what would be underneath was the most erotic foreplay. She gasped as I slid it from around her waist, pushing herself against me again in such a way that I could not wait any longer. I needed to feel her, to be inside her, to show her I wanted to be with her. I reached for the hem of her dress, inching it up higher. She helped me pull it off and I tossed it to the floor. Her back was smooth and begged for me to touch itI reached for the clasp of her brareleasing her for me to feel. Her nipples hardened further as I rubbed them one at a time I kissed her neck softly, my lips never tiring of her taste. I moved my hands to her thighsgod, her legs are longand then around her hips. Her moans and accelerated breathing told me she wanted me as much as I did her. She moved so that she could kiss me. "Edwardplease" Her eyes were closed, and she was warming up to my touch. "Isabella, please what?" I asked herI wanted to hear it from her lips "Tell me...tell me what you want." "Edward" was her response, my name all breathy and sexy from her lips. That was all it took.

I pushed her panties down, and they fell around her shoes. Motherfucking dreamnaked and in heels. "You're body is so fucking beautiful." I couldn't help but tell her over and over again. I run my hand along her flat stomach and she gripped it, moving it, pushing lowerto touch her. I wasn't going to beg to differ, and I caressed her as I moved lower. I pushed apart her thighs, aching to feel her warmth and wetness. I twitched and felt my own wetness as I rubbed her back and forth. Oh god. Her hips were moving in sync with my hand, the friction of her on me was driving me fucking crazy. I reached forward and found her entrance, circling one finger, then two, entered her slow enough and long enough that her legs shook. "My godEdwardplease." I pushed my hand against her swollen clit, creating a friction that left her wanting more. I moved my fingers the way I wanted to move inside herhitting the spot that could make her come. Her body stiffened, clenching with desire. I knew I could make her come like thisbut I wanted to feel her, be inside her. And she asked me to "Oh, IsabellaI need you," I whispered in her ear. "I want you. Here. Now." "Yesah, yes...now...we...need a..." she whispered back. I was so fucking hard. I pulled down my pants and reached for a condom I had put in my pockethoping, wishing for this very thing. "Baby, let meget this on" I pushed her waist gently, slowly toward the sink, gripping her hips from behind. This may not be a ideal first time, but the hell if it wasn't the sexiest thingI looked at her one more time for her approval. She gasped her "yes." I eased into her from behind, and I knew I wouldn't last long. "God, Bellafuckso warmso fucking warm." She reared her head back, and I grabbed her other hip. I had to move faster, my pace quickened by the need to fill her. I watched her face as I thrust into her with each and every stroke, and her hips met my body with each one. I could feel her tighten around me, and she was close to her orgasm. "Just let go..." "Oh, Edward" She moaned my name over and over again and againwhich urged me to move faster with each thrust. Fuck! "II'm close" I closed my eyes, and buried my head in her hairone more and "FuckBella!" I came, pulsing into her warm and welcoming body. I had never felt an orgasm

so intense before. I clung to her, not wanting to separate, not wanting to let go. We stood there, in front of the mirror in her tiny bathroom for god knows how long. Finally, I kissed her shoulder softly, and our breathing slowed to a more normal pace. I ran my hands along the contours of her body before I pulled away from her. I wanted to see her face, not in the mirror, but up close. I turned her to face me, wondering what her reaction to what just happened would be. For a moment I was worried. What if she regretted it and cried? Instead, she put her arms around my waist and hugged me, squeezing tightly. At that moment it was confirmedI didn't want her ever to let go. So now, my life as I knew it was about to change drasticallyfor the best. And I wanted Bella to be part of it, too. I only hoped she would understand. I didn't want to scare her off with some of the things I was doing latelylike meeting Irinabut I needed to own a house near Forks as soon as possible. There were things I couldn't put off anymore. And I would tell Bella why as soon as I couldsome pieces just needed to fall into place first. When Bella came to Philadelphia, I would have to tell her the truth.

11.

The rain was falling hard and sideways. Nights like this one made me miss Florida weather. I stood in the quiet hallway of the hospital, under the hum of the fluorescent lights at the staff entrance, and zipped up my lightweight, blue parka. I strained to see the small parking lot of the New Dawn Diner across the street, deciding my route before I headed out into the dark, wet night. Pulling my hood over my head, I ducked out quickly from the safety of the hospital awning and sprinted as fast as I could to cross the street. Inside, the diner's dcor was simple and clean, but quite dated. The burgundy booths lined one side of the restaurant, under the large, picture windows. A few four-top square tables made a row down its center aisle. The patrons, though, didn't care about the diner's aesthetic; they were the tired, and often stressed, hospital staffor the occasional truck driver passing through Forksor the policeman on a break from the night shift. The tables were empty, so I surveyed the booths under the windows. And there she was with her deep auburn hair and striking faceVictoria was sitting alone. She was staring down at the table, looking rather despondent and lonely. I inhaled deeply and forced myself to walk toward her. It was too late to have second thoughts about our meeting. A booming voice stopped me in my tracks before I could reach her. "Short stack!" Harry Young shouted across the quiet, sparsely populated space. I couldn't help but laugh at his nickname for me from my childhood summers. Victoria's head shot up and looked our way. Harry worked his way around the counter to embrace me.

"Harry, how are you? Good to see you." I returned his hug in kind. "BellaI'm good. Buthow are you?" He held me at arm's length, then, searching my face for the answer. Harry had been Charlie's good friend, fishing with him nearly every weekend for many years. I remembered Harry vaguely, but Charlie would always brag about Harry's fish frying skills. "Oh, Harry, I'm fine. I'm working tonight," I smiled warmly at him. "I just ran over to meet someone for coffee." Harry paused for a moment and looked toward the floor. I knew what he was thinking. "I miss him, Bella," he said finally, still gazing down at the square tiles beneath us. "I do, tooeveryday. Hey, why don't you stop by the house sometime soon. Maybe go through his fishing equipment? I know Charlie would want you and your boys to have ityou know, put it to good use." "Really?" His voice cracked slightly. "Thanks, Bella. You have a kind soul, just like your dad." He moved back around the counter to grab a cup and saucer. "So, just coffee? How about some pie? Dish of ice cream?" He turned back toward me. I moved over to the counter and squeezed Harry's arm, offered him a reassuring smile and a peck on the cheek. "No thanks. Coffee's fine." I waited for him to pour the cup, unzipping my wet parka and hanging it over a stool. I took the steaming cup and then moved toward the reason I had come here in the first place. I sat across from Victoria at the small table, watching her twist and turn her wedding ring around her finger. She acted nervous and didn't make eye contact. The person sitting in front of me now was different from the one who had come to my house that night in the rain and slapped the shit out of me. She looked over at the man next to us reading the day's newspaper before she continued. "Did you two ever come here?" She asked me quietly. I waited a moment to word my response. "We did. For coffee. Sometimes for dinner." The time had come for all the questions to be answered as honestly as they could be. "Bella," She looked at me then, her eyes softer than I remembered. "I have no room to judge either of you. I just want you to know that. I'm sure you've heard that I've been unfaithful, too." "Victoria, I don't need to know those kinds of details. I want you to know it was over with Marcus and me long ago, months ago." "Marcus thought he loved you," she said blankly.

"Look, love wasn't what our relationship was about. I never loved him, never was in love with him. Please know that." She breathed in deeply, and I realized this had to be harder for her than for it was for me. She had much more at stake than I did. "I understand that now." Victoria continued to talk, and I listened silently. "I know he told you we were divorcing. But it was a trial separation, really. We needed some time apart. This isn't the first time he has strayed during our marriage. Mine, either. And our relationship has always been volatile. But I don't know what I would do without him, Bella" She paused a moment to look out the window. "You could say we are codependent in a rather unhealthy way. But he's been a very good father to our boys." It seemed as if she added this last part in an effort to redeem his behavior somehow. She went on, "And I'm sorry I hit you that night. I was very drunktoo drunkand under the circumstancesI wasn't thinking clearly." Victoria shook her head at the memory of that night. She folded her hands in front of her. "Marcus and I have both had our bouts with alcohol. That's one thing he is getting help for right now. They've let him take a sabbaticala medical leave of absence. Did I mention he's in Atlanta right now?" I shook my head but kept quiet. Listening to her was becoming painful. Her life had not been a happy one, certainly. "I love him, Bella. I want to work on our marriage. I mean, I want our marriage to work. He's a good man, was a very good husband. We just got off track." I swallowed hard and realized that I was part of her pain. She obviously loved him unconditionally. I suddenly felt as if I were going to cry. I looked out the window at the rain, trying to keep my composure. But the tears welled up anyway. "Bella, please don't cry" she offered, reaching her hand across the table toward me. She stopped just before her fingers touched mine. "I think we need to forgive and forget what we can. Start over." "I know you're right. I am sorry for the pain you've gone throughthe pain I've caused you." I sniffled and wiped the tears away. "Thank you for saying that. And I'm sorry for what Marcus put us both through. But he will get the help he needs. I'm sure of that" She looked as if she wanted to say something else. "Bella, I don't know why I feel compelled to tell you this, after everything we have both been through, but I think you should know. This may be the closure we all need to go on with our lives. To end all this mess we've made, once and for all." "Whatwhat is it? What do you need to tell me?" I asked. "I'm pregnant." I looked at her with a shocked expression.

"I know, I know. It came as a surprise to me, too. And I know you're wonderingthe baby is Marcus's. There is no question about that." She smiled and patted her stomach. "But the news scared the hell out of me. I'm older, and my lifestyle wasn't, hasn't beenwell, ideal for pregnancy. So I've really had to change things. This has been one hell of a wake-up call, you know?" "I'mI'm sure it has. Maybe this is what the two of you neededa reason to make thingsbetter," I offered, as sympathetically as I could. "Yesyes, it is. This is our second chance. And I'm taking itfor me, for Marcus, for our children. The kids and I leave next week to meet hima fresh start for all of us." "Victoria, I don't know exactly what to say. I hope it all works out for youand that you can finally be happy." "Me, too, Bella. That's really all we can wish for in this life, isn't it?" "Yes, it is." And so that chapter of my life was finally finished for good.

I woke up around three o'clock in the afternoon thinking about my conversation with Victoria. I'd never intentionally hurt anyone in my life, but I had contributed to the mess that was now their marriage. I hoped for their sons' and their unborn child's sake he and Victoria could heal and finally attempt to move on. Yes, I had started a relationship with Edward and put Marcus behind me, but I felt remorseful nonetheless. Charlie would be so disappointed in me if he knew any of gruesome details. I was grateful he'd never found out about Marcus. As much as I hated what Marcus symbolized in my life, it was an undeniable part of mepart of my history and my truth. I couldn't regret the way Edward learned about Marcus. After all, it was what it was. And in light of everything, I decided I would never keep anything that important from Edward, and I hoped that I would never have to. I was thankful Edward accepted and understood me just the way I was. And, most of all, he loved me despite the unscrupulous decisions I'd made. Today was the day I finally decided to take care of Charlie's things. I'd been putting it off long enough. I also needed to come to a decision about what to do with this housethis wonderful house Charlie built. I turned the doorknob to Charlie's room and stepped inside. The air in his room was still and warm. Tears stung my eyes as I looked lovingly around the room. I walked toward the closet with a box under my arm and began removing the clothes that hung there from the hangers. I smiled to myself as I folded one plaid flannel shirt after the next. I placed his uniforms in a pile on the bed, as I would take those to the station one day soon. I moved on to the dresser drawers and continued stacking his things into the box. After I closed the last drawer, I noticed Charlie's watch was on top of the dresser. I'd left it there after wearing it to the funeral. I put it slowly back around my wrist and had an idea that made me smile. I stepped backward to the bed and sat down, studying the tiny bedroom. At first, I thought I might

begin to cry. But the sadness I felt was different; I felt Charlie's presence surrounding me, embracing me. It was emotional and cathartic as I forced my thoughts to Charlie's last moments. Edward was there at the center. For me. Suddenly, I felt somehow refreshed and renewed. I stood up from the bed, picked up the box full of Charlie's things, and walked into the hallway. I didn't feel the need to close the door to Charlie's room this time. I sat the box on the floor near the stairs and went to call Edward. For the first time in my adult life I wanted someone to be there for me. I wanted that someone to be Edward. With Edward, it was alright to want and to need; he didn't judge me. I wanted his strong arms around me, and I wanted him to whisper in my ear that everything was going to be okay. I dialed his number, longing to hear his voice. "Hi, baby." He answered, sounding a little distracted. "Hey, are you busy?" I asked. "Uh...well, we're reworking some shot ideas with the food stylistbut I have a few minutes. You okay?" I could hear muffled voices in the background. "Yeah, I just wanted to hear your voice. II packed the rest of Charlie's things. I'm taking them over to your mom's tomorrow. She said she would donate them for me. We're having a work day for Summer in the City." "Oh. Alice should be there, right? Dad said she's flying into Seattle tonight." "I think soyour mom said she would be." "Prepare yourself." He laughed and it made my heart beat quicker. I missed him so much. "She's apparently really looking forward to meeting you." "I'm looking forward to meeting her, too." I heard someone call his name. "Holdon" He was answering a question about lighting or something I couldn't clearly hear. "I'm backsorryI wish I was there to help you with all that. You sound sad, Bella." "It's okay. I'm okay, really I am. Just missing him andyou. I think I'm going to go Port Angeles this weekend to buy some lawn equipment and summer flowers. I don't knowI'm feeling a little nostalgic about this house," I confessed. Edward was silent for a moment on the other end. I couldn't tell if he was distracted or just trying to find the right thing to say to me. "Wellmaybe it's this time of yearsince you spent summers there with Charlie." "MaybeI'm just feeling Charlie's presence in the house lately. Some things around here need some urgent TLC. You know the back door is starting to" I heard someone call for Edward's attention again.

"Angcalm down," he said away from the phone. He was talking to Angela. "What, Bella? Sorry...you were saying?" "No, nonever mind. You're busyso I get to see you in a few weeksI miss you" Again, I heard muffled noises on the other end. Edward must have put his hand over the phone, but I could still hear him. "I said I'll be right thereBella, baby, I need to go." His voice sounded agitated and sarcastic, which was unusual. "Suddenly, this person is on a really tight schedule." I thought he even sounded a little angry. "Sorry to call at a bad time. Talk to you soon." "I'll call you later, okay?" "Surebye" And we both hung up, ending the call that didn't go as I hoped.

I struggled to ring the bell at the Cullen house. My arms were full of the items from Charlie's room Esme had promised to donate. Suddenly, the door flung open, revealing my first glimpse of the very petite and delightful Alice Cullen. "Bella! Here, let me get that for you." She grabbed the box out of my hands, placed it down on the ground, and moved over so I could step inside. "You must be Alice. It's nice to meet you." I held out my hand to shake hers. Instead, she threw her arms around me in a friendly embrace. Oh. "It's so wonderful to finally meet you, Bella! I've listened to Jasper brag on and on about you for weeks now. And you're simply stunningjust like he said." She gave me another squeeze before letting me go. "Ohthank you." I replied, slightly stunned at her exuberance. I guess Edward was rightprep work was needed in order to meet Alice. "Jasper's too kind. I had a lot of fun at dinner with him and Edward when he was here." "Yeah, he's alright," she smiled, her eyes looking dreamy as she imagined her husband. "I think I'll probably keep him," she joked as she shrugged her tiny shoulders. "Well, come on in. Everyone is in here." I followed Alice as she bounced through the house and into the dining room. She was absolutely adorable. Alice had dark, short hair that was layered in stylish shag. Her facial features were flawless and well-defined. She was wearing a multi-colored, silk mini dress with a bold geometric design. She literally had a spring in her step when she walked, and I marveled at her grace and ease. I had only known her for a few minutes, but I could imagine the electricity between Alice and Jasper when they were in the same room.

"Hi, Bella," Esme said as she greeted me warmly with a hug and a kiss on the cheek. "You look so pretty today." She smiled as she lifted a stack of brochures and made room for me at the dining room table. "Thank you. I didn't work last night, so I feel well rested. I can't wait to get to work on this project." Rosalie walked in, carrying a sleeping Emily in a sling around her. "Hi, BellaI guess Mom has roped you into helping." "Rosaliewhere are your manners, dear daughter?" "You know, I'm just kiddingright, Mom? Bella?" "It's no problem," I responded happily. "I enjoyed working with the children at the hospital back in Florida." We worked diligently for hours, stuffing backpacks for the campers attending Summer in the City. Each one had a towel, water bottle, t-shirt and book. The last thing to be placed inside was a cd of children's songs played by local artists. "This is a wonderful idea...Alice, did you do the artwork on it?" I asked, figuring she and Jasper had orchestrated some part of it. "I did. Good call, Bella. Jasper and Edward make sure there is a cd for each camper every year. They love their music, you know." My heart raced remembering the first time I heard Edward and Jasper play. And then I thought about The Ballad of Meyer Street, and how integral Edward, Jasper and Alice had been in making those children so happy. We started placing the cd's into each pack when Rosalie asked me to hold Emily while she made her a bottle. "I'd love to," I said as I took the baby into my arms. Emily was growing bigger, her hair was now thicker, her fingers stronger. She was dressed in bright yellow dress today, a variation from the usual pink Rosalie had her in. I smiled at Emily's breathing, small and shallow, with an occasional deeper sigh. "Gosh, Bella. You're a natural at that," Alice wondered out loud, remarking at how calm I was with the baby. "I have the feeling you will make a great mother, Bella. Surely you want children?" I was caught off guard by Alice's comment. All eyes were on me, all ears waiting for my reply. This was Edward's family after all, and I was his girlfriend. I guess they wanted to know "Oh, I've had lots of practice holding and feeding babies. But for meI don't knowI haven't really thoughtI mean, I work such crazy hours at the hospitaland" I stuttered the words, spilling them out as best I could.

"Well, it seems to me you would do just fine with your ownwhenever that may be," Esme said, rescuing me from any more of Alice's questions on the subject. Just then, Rosalie came back with Emily's bottle and announced that Emmett's parents were flying them all out to their family's summer home on the Cape. Esme and Rosalie shared a laugh as Esme recounted the story about the summer the Cullens had rented a house in Nags Head, North Carolina. Edward had just turned ten, and he apparently was already obsessed with films. The owners of the house had a large collection of videos. Late at night, Edward and Jasper would sneak downstairs to watch movies. One was Jaws. Edward had loved it, but the shark really scared Jasper, who was only five at the time, to death. So for the remainder of the vacation, Jasper wouldn't go into the ocean or out onto the beach. Edward would sing the song from the movie, the one where the men are drunk on the boat while hunting down the great white, for yearsjust to taunt poor Jasper. "I can't get him to go into the water to this day," Alice said matter-of-factly. "Yeah, Edward was such a nerd. Didn't he do his science project on marine life or some shit every year? And he wrote that monologue in high school about a drunken boat captain. The drama teacher didn't even know what to do with it!" The women couldn't contain their laughter any longer, and I was enjoying hearing bits and pieces of Edward's childhood. "Oh, Bella. You're so much fun. Please tell me you're coming to Austin with Edward for" Alice was interrupted by Esme before she could finish. I noticed that they exchanged an awkward glance, but I couldn't tell what it pertained to. "Okay, girls. Let's take these out to the garage. The van will be here any minute to pick them up for delivery." We followed Esme outside, carrying as much as we could at a time. I helped Rosalie load Emily and her diaper bag into the car and then made my way back inside to grab more backpacks. I overheard Alice and Esme whispering, so I stood still, not wanting to interrupt. Were they talking about me? "Esme, this is just wrong. Pardon me for saying so. I know he's your son, butit's obvious he hasn't told her yet!" Alice sounded concerned. "Alice, I whole heartedly agree with you. But I can't say a word. We're respecting his wishes, as misguided as we think they may be. The truth will come out sooner rather than later, I have a feeling." "I'm calling him later. He'd be a fool to lose her over this. It'sit's just wrong." Alice huffed the last part, and I heard her feet shuffle back toward me. What the hell was that about? I certainly couldn't ask, so I put on a smiling face and went about the rest of my visit as if I had heard nothing at all.

We had finished the day's work, and it was time for me to go home. Esme made sure I knew how much she appreciated my help, and Alice continued her praises of me. She told me that Jasper had sent Edward some tickets to a concert to see an up and coming jazz musician in Philly for his birthday. I'd forgotten his birthday was just around the cornerJune 20. That was on a Sunday, and I made a mental note to be sure to call Edward to wish him a happy birthday, especially since I couldn't be there to share it with him.

On Saturday, the day before Edward's birthday, I spent the warm, early summer morning planting flowers around the house, along the sidewalk and at the end of the driveway. I had never been much of a gardener, and neither was Charlie since he rarely had the time and would have rather spent it fishing. But there was something relaxing about digging deep into the earth to make room for a new life to grow. I planted some red roses and several flats of yellow and blue wildflowers. I did a few other menial tasks around the housetightened the hinges on the back door, repaired a screen, and changed the outside light bulb. I listened to my iPod as I worked, and the time flew by as quickly. That night I invited Jake, Jessica, and her boyfriend Mike over for dinner. I had decided there was no reason I should mope and be alone while Edward was gone. Sure, I missed him terribly, but I had the right to go about my business and be happy. It was good to laugh and joke with my friends from the hospital. Jake left a little after midnight, so I decided to call Edward to wish him an early birthday. "Edward Cullen." He answered rather curtly. "Hey, there! Edward, it's me. Why so formal?" I asked. "Oh, hi, Bella. SorryI was distracted." "I wanted to call to wish you a happy early birthday," I said happily. "Thank youhow are you?" "Really good. But I wish I was there to celebrate with you." I could hear noises in the background, mostly music, yelling and laughter. "What? I can't really hear youwhat did you say?" "No, it's okay," I said louder this time. "So are you out to dinner or" "We're all at Ciao Metro. The crew threw together an impromptu birthday party for me." Oh, how nice. I could hear someone calling him, and I assumed it was Angela. "Edward come on! It's your favorite it's meltinghurry up!"

"I'll just let you go" "Bella, nowait I just can't hear a fucking thing in here." "Edwardbabycome on, now!" She was closer to him now, as I could hear her voice more clearly. "Happy birthday, Edward..." was all I could say as I hung up the phone. I knew he would call me later, and he would make it all make sense, but my mood had suddenly shifted. I would have to wait two more weeks to see what in the hell Angela was up to.

As soon as the pilot announced our decent into Philadelphia, a sudden sensation of nervous excitement rushed through me. I ran my hands through my hair and applied a tiny bit of lip gloss. I was grinning like a lovesick fool, and I couldn't help it. I couldn't wait to see his smile, to touch his face, to wrap my arms and legs around him. Oh god. I smoothed out my long black sundress, hoping to wipe away some of the wrinkles. This was the very first dress I'd ever bought solely for a romantic occasion. I smiled to myself thinking about that. I got off the plane and headed toward the main terminal. I had texted Edward to let him know I was on time, and we had planned to meet at the main landing near the escalators. I looked furiously through the mass of travelers and airport personnel. No Edward. My heart sank. I dug through my purse for my phone and saw a text from his number, but before I could read it, a strong, masculine hand grasped my shoulder. "Bella Swan?" I turned around to see an attractive man, but I didn't know who he was. He obviously knew me, though. "Yes?" I asked hesitantly. "Good. It's you. I was worried it would take longer to find you in here. Hi, I'm Riley." Riley was all smiles and manners. He tried to take my bag. "Hi, Riley." I smiled as it finally dawned on me that this was Edward's production assistant. I relaxed a little and let him hold my bag. "Yeah, you looked really surprised. Sorry about that. Edward got tied up with Angela. They're doing an interview, so he asked me to pick you up. He said he was going to text you." "Ohokay. I didn't have a chance to read his text. Well, thank you for coming to get me." Riley was very handsome. He wore dark khaki cargo shorts and a black t-shirt. His hair was brown and shorter than Edward's, stylishly layered on top and sheered short on the sides. And he had an irresistible smile. Talking with Riley was quite easy and comfortable; we had a pleasant conversation about my flight and the current heat wave in Philly. We made our way down to baggage pick up, found my suitcase and headed toward the parking garage.

"So this is the infamous Volvo?" I remarked. "Yes, can you believe it? He is so faithful to this damn car. Honestly, Bella. It's a little peculiar. I don't know how he'll ever replace her." We both laughed, and any nervous feelings I had were at ease. "How about I run you over to the townhouse so you can drop off your things. Maybe change if you need to. Then we can grab something to eat. I think Edward may be a few hours." "Sure. I haven't eaten much since I left home this morning." "Did you know Edward kicked me out while you're in town?" "What? Oh shit, you don't have to do that." " Oh, it's no problemI'm just kidding," Riley chucked. "I'm crashing with our camera guy, Jared. He's actually a better cook than Edwardso don't feel bad in the least." He flashed that bright smile, and I completely believed him. When we arrived at the townhouse, Riley parallel parked on the street, where dozens of people were bustling by. The buildings were large, built close together, and industrial looking; it was a very urban area compared to the small town of Forks. The neighborhood was a vibrant blend of multilevel brick townhomes, restaurants, pubs, vintage clothing stores and various professional offices. It looked as though many of the buildings had residences on the top floor. The interior of Edward's townhome was surprisingly modern for such a historic area. It had obviously been renovated not long ago. One entire wall was exposed brick which I assumed to be original by its rustic appearance. The floors looked to be vintageplanked dark pine and recently refinished. The windows were tall and narrow, an appropriate dimension to the high ceilings. The small, open kitchen was updated with black granite countertops. The entire space had a very open, fluid feel despite its narrow design. The master bedroom was a loft style, with an expansive landing area housing Edward's extensive and eclectic book, dvd, and cd collection. Edward had told me previously that most of the furnishings and artwork in the townhouse were his. The dcor was very artistic and modern. It was exciting to see a glimpse of who Edward was through his material possessions. He was certainly creative, worldly and thoughtful in his aesthetic. And I wondered, briefly, what his house in Austin looked like Riley explained Edward had suggested we go to sandwich shop around the block. I decided to change out of my sundress into a pair of short white shorts and a thin sky blue tank. I also opted for my running shoes, not being accustomed to sizzling pavement. Riley and I walked to the restaurant, taking our time and getting to know one another. He was as passionate about his work as Edward was, and he was quick to say how much Edward talked about me.

The little restaurant was casual, and not very crowded. There was a narrow bar with stools and five or six booths. We had missed the Thursday lunch rush. Riley and I slid into opposite sides of a booth toward the back of the place. I ordered a pastrami Ruben on rye, and Riley ordered a bacon and blue cheese burger. We both enjoyed a deliciously cold Yuengling draft. "So who was the interview withthe one being filmed today?" I asked politely, trying to make small talk. "Angela's brother, Michael," he answered with a mouthful of hamburger. He washed it down with some beer before he continued. "Yeah, the interview wasn't supposed to happen until next week. But Angela changed the planlike she always does. She called Edward at, like midnight, and said they had to do it today. Edward is really focused on Angela's back story...you know, her past and all. He says it's integral to his vision of the film. So, he has a bunch of Angela's family, her teachers, and people like that lined up. He pretty much didn't have a choice today," he added. "I see. So that's why you were stuck with me today?" I asked lightheartedly. "Just between us, I wouldn't call this stuck." He took another bite and swallowed. I laughed at his obvious compliment. I liked Riley and could see why Edward worked with him. "Edward hasn't really told me much about Angela's life. I'm sure it's fascinating." I probed, knowing Riley would mostly likely divulge what he knew. "Yeah. She's reallywelllet me see how to put this in a gentleman's terms. Her childhood was pretty much hell. She's pretty tough. Been through a lot. Kind of explains theuhedge she has now," he said as he continued eating his lunch. "You seem to be in awe of her," I teased. "Do I?" He grinned, in an almost wicked way. "Well, she's pretty much the total package. But Edward warns me all the time" "Warns you?" I interrupted him. "About what?" Now I was really curious. "Oh, you knowthat she's too old for me, too experienced. Shit like that." He rolled his eyes. "Experienced? Experienced withmen?" I raised my eyebrow and smiled, trying to conceal my real intent. "MenlifeI guess he would know." He laughed casually and took another sip of beer. He didn't realize what he'd said right away. When he did, he was all apologies. "Shit, Bella. I'm sorry. I didn't meanthis isn't the kind of thing you want to hear about your boyfriend."

"I'm fine, Riley. Really. Don't worry about it." I smiled and waved my hand so he would relax again. "No, Edward would totally have my ass if I" I interrupted him again, thinking it best for both of us if I changed the subject. "How do you like working for Edward?" "Oh," he chuckled lightly. "He's a pretty cool boss. He's a good guy." "Yes, he is" I agreed. "He runs a tight ship though with work. He can be pretty fucking intensebut he does it with that cocky smile, you know?" "I think that's what you would definitely call a smirk," I added, and we both laughed in agreement. "He can get really pissed though if things don't flow the way he thinks they should. Shit, when he and Angela disagreeit's so fucking entertaining." "Oh, is it?" I mocked slightly. "You probably haven't seen that side of him, have you?" he asked. "Actually, I've seen him angry onceand it wasn't much fun," I answered, remembering Edward's confrontation with Marcus. I shook my head, trying to dismiss that memory completely. "He's just extremely dedicatedmany say a perfectionist. It's cool though. My aunt Kate thinks he's got a huge future in filmmaking. She always brags about his unique style of storytelling." We finished the rest of our meal, and so far, thanks to Riley, I was enjoying my start in Philly.

On our way back to Edward's townhouse, we passed a small recreational area on the corner of Edward's block. It was fenced, with a small basketball court, a basic swing set and a metal slide. Two teenagers were shooting baskets and playing music from an old cd player. I could hear the booming bass loud and clear, and as we walked closer, I could tell the music was from the Black Eyed Peas. I loved that song and ran to it on my iPod. The boys were shouting and taunting each other over volume of their music. "Hey, Riley. Wanna play?" I asked him as we approached the fence gate. "What? Bellaseriously?" He looked at me with such surprise. "Hmmafraid of a girl? Come on." I grabbed Riley's arm and led him through the gate. "Let's

see if they'll let us play a little. I've been sitting down all day. I haven't had the chance to run much lately. It'll be funplease?" "Uhokay. Edward did tell me I had to do whatever you wanted today." He followed my lead toward the basketball court. The boys seemed excited to have some attention and were eager to see me play. We partnered up and tipped off. Much to my surprise, I made every shot I attempted. I wasn't as rusty as I thought. "What the hell, Bella?" Riley scoffed jokingly, albeit a bit surprised. "What? I played in junior high" He was so easy to tease and it was fun doing so. We continued playing for about twenty more minutes, until the boys decided to leave. They left the ball with us and told us a bunch of kids would be back later to use it. Just then, Riley's phone buzzed in his pocket. "Hey, Edward. Yes. She's with meoh...we're at the corner rec area, shooting hoops. Your girlfriend's kicking my ass. Okay, manwe'll be here." "I take it that was Edward," I said as I pulled my hair back and tied it into a makeshift bun. "Yeahhe's at the townhouse now. He thought we would be there. He's on his way." Oh. Suddenly, I was very excited to see him. So Riley and I continued playing until Edward showed up, trying to make shots from different places on the court. I was having a blast, and I could tell Riley was as well. It felt good to laugh and get some sun and exercise. The warm Philadelphia weather reminded me of the hot, humid summers in Florida. It would be good to get a little color on my cheeks. Riley was trying very hard to keep the ball from me. I was bent over, attempting to psyche him out, ready to knock the ball from his hands when I heard a low, drawn out whistle come from behind the fence. I stood up and turned around. Edward. And what the fuck, I froze. He was fucking gorgeous in khaki twill pants and pale blue shirt, with the sleeves rolled up to his elbows. His hair was a hot, disheveled, sexy messand it looked as though he hadn't shaved in a few days. Perfect, just like I remembered. "Well, what do we have here?" he asked, almost seductively. Fuck. My heart skipped a beat and I was really nervous all of a sudden. "What's the matteryou've never seen a girl play basketball?" I asked in a sarcastic but very playful way. Edward continued to move closer to me with purpose. Damn, that swagger will be the death of me. He put his strong arms tightly around me and started kissing meall heated lips and tongues desperately reuniting. He smiled against my mouth, finally breaking the kiss. "Yes, I have actually seen a girl play basketball, but I was admiring the view," he said as he kissed me again. I rolled my eyes dramatically, in jest, at him. "God, Bella. You look so beautiful." His hands cupped my face tenderly, and he was running his

thumbs over my cheekbones as he intensely searched my eyes. "I have to say that was one hell of a hello," I whispered as I reached up to kiss him again. I put my arms around his neck, standing tiptoe, not wanting to let go. "Hmmm," he sighed contently. Finally, Riley had seen enough. He cleared his throat to get our attention. "Ummheyguys I'm going," he called over to us, dribbling the basketball in our direction. "Oh, Riley. Sorrythank you for picking me up and spending the afternoon with me. I had fun!" I said happily and gave him a hug. "No problem, Bella. You're good companyeven if you did show me up out here." We smiled at each other, and I was happy to have made a new friend. "Did you finish?" Riley asked Edward in a more serious tone than I'd heard from him before. "We'll talk about it tomorrow," Edward answered, and he put his arms around me again. "Alright manyou're a lucky bastard, you know that right?" Riley winked at me. "YesI know," Edward replied to him, but never taking his eyes away from me. "Let's go home." Edward said, taking my hand in his. Edward didn't take his piercing green eyes off me as we walked hand in hand back to his townhouse. I kept stealing glances in his direction, and I couldn't believe how gorgeous he was. He was more breathtaking than in my dreams, than what I remembered. Twice he caught me looking at him, and each time his wide, bright smile told me how glad he was to see me. We said nothing in the way of words, but we smiled and laughed a lot, giggling at how ridiculously happy we were to see each other. Our pace was quicker than normal, and I can honestly say that I wanted to run as fast as I could to our destination. He held my hand, gripping is more like it, and I had lost count of how many times during our walk he brought it to his lips. Each time he kissed my hand, I felt the familiar, overwhelming emotion of desire wash over my body. My stomach was in knots of anticipation as I imagined being alone with him againfive weeks had been a long time, too long to be away from Edward. We walked up the stairs to his townhouse door, and he kissed me passionately as he unlocked it. I couldn't wait to get inside. "I missed you so much" I whispered, not wanting my lips to part with his. "God, Bella, babyyou have no idea." We stepped into the entrance of his townhouse, and he kicked the door shut with his foot. Before I knew it, his arms were around mehis hands in my

hair, then down my back, around my hips, and back to my hair again. He was touching me as if to make sure I was really there with him. We couldn't get enough of each other, our mouths and tongues making up for the absence of five weeks' time. He had backed me playfully against a wall, and the sensation of his body against me was intoxicating. My eyes closed as I was overcome by the proximity of him, and my arms and legs and mouth responded to his every breath, his every move. He nipped at my bottom lip with his teeth and then kissed me with his skillful but needy tongue. He paused for a moment, our breathing heavy, resting his forehead against mine. "Can we get naked, please, baby. I missed you so fucking much." Truth be told, he didn't really need to ask. But his plea was sexy, charming, and so fucking persuasive. I wrapped my arms tightly around his neck and hoisted my legs up around his waistthat was my way of answering "yes." I nuzzled my face so that I could kiss his neck, delighting in him all sweet and musky. He gripped me tightly and moved quickly up the stairs to his bedroom. He lowered me down onto the low, but rather large bed I got on my knees and pulled off my tank top and bra. Our eyes locked, and I watched him look at my face, then my breasts, and then my face again. I could tell he liked what he saw, and we both smiled the same teasing smirk. I began to unbutton my shorts, and I watched Edward take off his shirt. I stopped my task to watch him, to take in the beauty of his bare shoulders, his muscular chest, his flat stomach. "Are you going to take those off, or are you teasing me?" He asked as his pulled off his own pants. I sat back and he pulled my shorts off in one swift motion, leaving me naked except for my white lace panties. He made his move to hover over me, but I stopped him short. "Not so fast," I taunted him by pushing him up by his chest, back to where he was standing at the edge of the bed. I pushed my fingers inside the waist of his boxers, teasing them down ever so slowly. He kicked them off, and his erection was hard and long before me. I licked my lips as I looked up at him, my way of telling him what I really wanted to do. I wanted to taste him, to make love to him, to tell him how much I missed him I licked the tip of his erection, and his body clenched with the anticipation of me taking him wholly into my mouth. But I made him wait for it, just a little longer. His moans told me my mouth felt warmand good. I teased him with my tongue, sliding it up and down his length, all the while tickling his sensitive spots with my fingertips. He was wetter by the minute, tasting salty and sweet. Oh, Edward. His hands grasped for my hair, trying to find the traction to stand without falling over. I felt his knees buckle from the sensations I was making, and I relished in the fact I could make him feel oh so good. I finally took him fully into my mouth, in all of its warmth, and began a pace of sucking and swirling that made him call out my name. "God, Bella. FuckI fucking missed you so much," he said as he gripped me tighter. I held onto him with one hand as I made an upstroke with my mouth, sucking his tip and then swirling

around it with my tongue. It must have tickled as he quivered and laughed. I again took him completely in my mouth, quickening the pace to make him come. "Baby, stop. I want to come with youinside you." Edward got onto the bed, sliding down next to me as I laid on my back. He propped himself up with one arm, and used the other hand to touch me. He ran his hand over my breasts, one at a time, as if he were savoring every second of touching me. His fingers moved to caress my stomach, grazing over my panties and what lay beneath them. "Edward, touch me" I begged, as his hand slid inside. My legs opened wider to welcome his touch, to acknowledge the feeling I had missed so desperately. I was so wet, and his fingers stroked me evenly back and forth. "FuckI've missed feeling you. Feeling inside you," he whispered into my hair. "You are so damn wet, Bella." I moaned with pleasure and began massaging my breasts, which were longing for his touch. "I can't wait anymore, baby," Edward said as he pulled off my panties and threw them to the floor. I was panting with longing, feeling a true ache in my stomach that traveled to my core. "Edward, make love to menow.please Edward." He rolled over, his body hard and warm above me. I lifted my legs around his waist as he guided himself into me. When he did, we both gasped with the pleasure and fulfillment we both felt. It was complete and it was right. He lowered himself flush against my skin, and I entwined my fingers around his. He moved slowly at first, again savoring every moment of our bodies being connected. "It's been too long" he murmured against my cheek as he feathered me with soft kisses. "It feels so good, Edwardbaby, fasterpleasefaster" And he gave me my wish, as his thrusts increased in speed and intensity. Our bodies glistened, all sticky and sweet, with each move. "God, I'm close, Bella" "Me, toodon'tdon't stop" We panted togethereyes locked and hands heldas we climaxed together, which in my mind, was the most perfect reunion I could have imagined. We laid there, motionless and spent, still joined in the most intimate way as the setting sun filtered in through the window. "God, I've missed your body." Edward shifted his position and started to plant small kisses down my arm. "And I've really missed yours." I ran my hands down his back, as far as I could reach, and back up to his chest. I smiled at the beauty of him.

"You know, I'm hungry again." "Oh yeahyou want more, do you?" He was teasing as he crawled over me again. I playfully pushed him back, laughing. "You're crazy!" And we laughed together, before falling into a long and passionate kiss. "I guess I need to feed youyou need your energy, for sure. I'll go order something. How about beef, broccoli, brown rice? There's a great place around the corner. And I'll open a bottle of wine" He gave me a swift kiss on top of my head before jumping off the bed. "Sounds perfect." I smiled and watched him dress. Edward slipped on a pair of boxers, jeans and a white v neck t-shirt. I put on my panties and grabbed Edward's shirt, buttoning just one button below my breasts, and we headed downstairs.

We ate in the living room, using the coffee table as a makeshift dining area. The lights were dimmed, and the atmosphere was very relaxing. Edward played Jack Johnson's latest cd. The voice singing was smooth and sexy, and my heart leapt when Edward told me which song reminded him of me. The food was delicious, and we ate it straight from the cartons with chop sticks. When we were finished eating, so sated and into one another, we settled back into the couch. We drank some more wine, and Edward rubbed my feet. We talked about the Summer in the City project, the museums in Philadelphia, and how much I loved meeting Alice. But I noticed that Edward's mood shifted slightly after I mentioned that. He seemed suddenly serious and very pensive. It actually made me slightly nervous. But he leaned in to kiss me, lingering for a moment near my lips. He barely sucked my top lip in between his, and he reached to move some hair from my face. "Bella, I need to talk to you about something." Shit. I suddenly felt extremely nervous. "Wait! Hold that thought. I forgot your birthday present. Stay here!" I jumped up from the couch and ran upstairs to my luggage. When I descended the open staircase, I could see Edward's head was resting on the back of the couch, with his eyes tightly shut. He looked tense, and I could tell something was wrong. The butterflies began to swarm in my stomach. The nervousness went to nauseousness. I tried to hide my concern as I gave him his birthday present. "Happy belated birthday!" I sat down, snuggling into his side, and kissed his cheek. He forced his smile at meforced. "So what do we have here?" He teased, surely noticing the concern I could no longer hide. I'm sure my face looked worried. Still, he pulled off dark blue ribbon and ripped into the white glossy paper. "Ah, Bella! You're kidding me!" He kissed me swiftly on the mouth. His smile was wide and

glorious. "You do know this is the best movie ever made," he explained, excitedly flipping over the case to the Jaws dvd. "Well, your mom and Rosalie were talking about how obsessed you were with it. I know you probably already have a copybut surely it's not the 35th anniversary collector's edition." I looked at him with a raised eyebrow. He laughed lightly and smiled warmly at my gesture. "No, godthis is great. Thanks, baby. One day I'll bore you to sleep explaining how Spielberg creatively fit the eight-sequence structure into a film with a shark as the antagonist." We both smiled. He gently placed the dvd on the coffee table and ran his hand through his hair. And then it was back to a more serious Edward. I guessed the fun and games were over. "Okay" I said slowly. "So you wanted to talk to me about something?" I asked, not really sure I wanted to hear what he had to say. Edward gently grabbed my hand and began playing lightly with my fingers. "Well, first of allI wanted to ask youwill you please come to Austin with me in August?" I let out the deep breath I had been holding. "Yes, I would love to go with you. I would really enjoy visiting Alice and Jasper." Edward shifted slightly away from me and forced another smile. "Goodthat's good to hear, because I really want you to be with me. But, Bella, there's something else." He was truly struggling to find the right words. "Hey, hey" I said, stroking his cheek with my palm. It was his turn to be nervous, and it was something I was not used to seeing. He leaned into my hand and closed his eyes, seemingly searching for some security. "What is it Edward?" He took my other hand and held it tightly. We were sitting, face to face, hand in hand. He looked down at my hands laying in his, and he sighed deeply. Then, he looked back into my eyes. "BellaI'm going to be a father...I'm going to have a son"

12.

"What is it Edward?" She asked me innocently. I took her other hand and held it tightly. We were sitting, face to face, hand in hand. I looked down at our hands together, entwined, and sighed deeply. I knew what I had to do. I looked back into her big brown eyes before I said a

word. I didn't know how those beautiful eyes would see me again after I told herwould they be sad?...angry?...disappointed? I swallowed hard with the realization this might not go the way I truly hoped. Despite it all, it was time. I had to tell Bella the truth. "BellaI'm going to be a father...I'm going to have a son" My voice trailed off as I saw her face still with comprehension. She pulled her hand away, and her body recoiled slightly. A very small "oh" was the only thing that escaped her lips. I sat waiting for her to react somehow, but she just sat motionless. "Bella say something, anything." I moved in closer to her and held her hands again. I took that as a good sign that she let me touch herinstead of jumping off the couch and screamingfinally she spoke. "What do you want me to say?" she said, shaking her head slightly, but not making eye contact. She couldn't look me in the eyes. This was going to be more painful than I thought. "Well, his name is Seth. He's eight years old, and right now, he lives in Austin with foster parents." She finally looked at me. "Sethhe's the one in your film, right?" I shifted as close to her as I could. This was my chance to explain everything. "Yes. He isfrom The Ballad of Meyer Street. BellaI know this is a lot to understand" But she interrupted me before I could continue. "When?" She was still shaking her head as if that would help her understand more clearly. Her brows were furrowed, and she kept deflecting my gaze. "I mean, when did thiswhen did you" Her voice became soft and still. I took my hand to brush the hair away from her face, as I always did, but she pulled backalmost defensively. I let her hands go, and stopped trying to touch her. Maybe it was best if I explained it all first. "The adoption has been in progress for awhile. I filed the paper work shortly before I came home to Forksright before I met you." Bella got up from the couch and stood before me. She was in my shirt, and I realized at that moment as strong as she was, she was still vulnerable, still capable of being hurt by my actionsor my inaction. I had taken the wrong course by not telling her upfrontbut it was too late to rectify that now. Why did I still make those kinds of mistakes in judgment? Shit. She looked at me then, her arms crossed over her chest. "You've known me how longmonths, Edward! And you're just now fucking telling me this?" She stormed off toward the kitchen. To say the least, I didn't expect that reaction. Hell, I didn't really know what to expect. I'd been too damn afraid of losing her. I leapt from the couch and tried to catch her. I wanted to hold her and make her see I hadn't meant to deceive herat least not in the way she imagined. I grabbed for her arm, to pull her to me, to put my arms around herbut she pulled away. She took a step backward, stopping still against the granite countertop. Tears began to well in her eyes.

"I'm sorry I didn't tell you I was adopting Seth. Things between us happened so fast, and we were trying to get to know one another. You know that. We can't deny that" I told her pleadingly. "Exactly!" she shouted, even though I was standing inches from her. Her arms flew up and around in exasperation. "That's exactly what you do when you're getting to know someone. You tell her you're going to adopt an 8 year old boy. God, Edwardyou are fucking crazy." "But, Bella, you were going through so much. You'd just lost Charlieplease, listen" I tried to reach for her again, yet she pulled away. "How dare you lie to me. After everything we've been through already!" "I didn't lie. Dammit! I never lied to you." Now my patience was waning. "What the fuck is the difference? This isn't something you just forgot to mention. You deceived me, Edward." "Bella, I didn't want to overwhelm you. You had all of that Marcus baggage and" "Hell, noyou're not going to blame this on me." "That's not what I meant. Bella, please understand this was all set in motion well before we met. I made a decision not to tell you until I knew where we were" She cut me off. "You know what? That's not good enough. Do you know what all this tells me? Obviously you didn't trust me enough to understand...why is that, Edward? Did you think I was too fragile? Maybe too selfish?" She continued, and I let her get it all out. "I get itmaybe you were just looking for some woman to mother your child while you're off travelingyeah, following your creative visionOh, and perfect she's a nurse, even better" "Stop, baby. That's ridiculous. No. Fuck no! Of course not. You're the most giving woman I've ever met. It just was never the right fucking timeGod, Bella. I'm sorry." I ran my hands through my hair, the nervous habit I'd had for years. But right now I wanted to yank it the fuck out. "Maybe we shouldn't have spent so much time in bed and spent more time getting to know one anotherI don't even fucking know who you are." "Okay, Bella. That's enough." I raised my voice defensively. "You want to know who I really am? Do you?" "Yesso tell me." Her voice was strong, and she didn't back down. "I'm a man who met a talented, smart and loving child two years ago when I made The Ballad of Meyer Street. Seth had no family, no moneynothing. He's been in a good foster home, with an amazing couple, Laurent and Tanya. But it's not permanent."

"Every day I saw him at the Community Centerit hurt, Bella. I had so much shit growing up. More than any child could ever need. I had bikes, books, pianos, carsyou fucking name it. I had a mother who picked me up from school everyday with a smile on her face and a father who read books to me at night. They even took us to Europe when I was twelve. DammitSeth needs a home, and he deserves to have a loving familyhe's only eight years old Bella" "Edward, of course I understand your desire to help Seth. You're an incredible man. But it's the secretive shit I don't fucking get. If this was in motion before we met, then it was part of who you are. You should've told me." "What would you have thought?" "Honestly?" "Yes, honestlywhat would you have thoughtthat first night we were together at the overlookif I told you I was adopting a son? "HonestlyI would have thought you wereamazing." "And, nownow what do you think?" "To be truthfulright now I'm really confused and really pissed off. But most of all, I'm fucking hurt that you didn't trust me enough to tell me." "Bella, I can't tell you how sorry I am. I haven't always made the right decisions. I'm always afraid I'm going to hurt someone." "Ohand what's worseI've just realized your entire family knows about this. And they kept it a secret around me, toonice." Her tone was sarcastic, but also filled with hurt. "Yes, of course they know. But don't blame themplease, Bella. They were keeping it quiet because I asked them to." "And Carlisle? Your mom?" "My dad's very frustrated with meand, actually, quite protective of you." "This must be what Alice was whispering to your mom about.funny, I thought it was about Angela. Oh waitshould I pour some more wine while you tell me some deep, dark secret about her, too?" "Bella, pleasestop. Angela has absolutely nothing to do with any of this." "Does she know about Seth, about the adoption?"

"Hell no. She doesn't know anything about this. It's none of her fucking business." "That's a surprise. Everyone else knows but me. Finewe'll forget about Angela. So this is why you wanted me to go to Austin. I like how you asked me to go with you firstbefore you told me about your impending fatherhood." "God, give me a break heredammit. I thought you would want I want you to meet him, Bella." "Why, Edward? Why do you want me to meet him?" "What do you mean, why? Because he's part of my life, and I hope he will be a part of yours." "Ahnow I know why you have a house in Austinand why you need to buy a house in Forks. How soon will he be living with you?" "The adoption will be official in about 9 months. It's a very detailed processthere are interviews, some visitations." "Sounds like you're going to be very busy the rest of the year." "Yes, yes I will be." Bella suddenly tried to cover herself up, closing my shirt around her. She had never really been shy around me, but I couldn't blame her now for feeling awkward. "You know whatI need to changetake a showerI don't know. I just can't do this anymore. Suddenly I'm fucking exhausted." "Okay " she moved toward the staircase, but turned around to face me before ascending. She looked down at the ground before looking blankly in my direction. "Edward, I thought I was coming here for us to move forward in our relationship, not to take a step backward. I feel like you just kicked me in the gut." She walks up the stairs to the loft, and it wasn't long before I heard the water run in the shower. I stood there, motionless for seconds, for minutes. The music shifted to Enigma's "Mea Culpa." I chuckled to myself at the irony. How fucking appropriate. I started to clear away the empty take out cartons and half-filled wine glasses. The woman's voice filled the living area with her sultry voiceJe veux aller au bout de me fantasmesJe sais que c'est interditJe suis folleJe m'abandonneMea culpa Je ne dors plusJe te desirePrends moiJe suis a toiMea culpa "Take meI'm yoursIt's my mistake" Listening to the lyrics made me frustrated and sad. I felt like someone had punched me in the fucking gut. I couldn't stand it any longer. She was fifty feet away from mepissed and upset. I couldn't let this fester. I went upstairs and walked into the bathroom. She was already in the shower, her clothes thrown in a lonely pile on the tiled floor.

"Can I come inBella, pleasecan I join you?" She didn't answer me. I stood at the threshold with my hand on the door, debating. Should I leave her alone and let her think this through? Or should I try to make her work through this together? Fuck it. I pulled my t-shirt over my head and slipped off my jeans and boxers, adding them to the pile on the floor. I slowly opened the heavy glass shower door. She was sitting on the tiled ledge with her legs tucked under her, her arms wrapped tightly around them. Her head was resting to the side against the wall. She looked small and tired. The steam was punishing, she had the water temperature turned as hot as it would go. Despite the water cascading over her sad but beautiful face, it was obvious the water was mixed with scant tears. She didn't look at meshe wouldn't look at me was more likely. I knelt down in front of her to see if she would allow me touch her. She was being distant on purpose, so I would leave her alonethat I could tell. I gently gripped her right hand to hold it in my own, but she resisted my touch. "Baby, talk to me." She sat up slowly, setting her long thin legs on either side of me, her feet resting on the shower floor and looked at me straight in the eye. "I'm sorry I said those hateful things to you." "Shhh. It's okay" I said, running my fingers over her wet hair, her glistening face. "We're okay." I ran my hands up and down her smooth and slick thighs. I was slightly relieved by her apology. At least she was trying to connect, trying to make sense of it all. We needed to reconnect, to work through our painthe pain I had unintentionally created. "Bella, I want you to know I am prepared to fight for you. I'm not willing to lose you over this." "Edward, I'm sorry it'sI don't want to lose you, either." She fell back slowly towards the shower wall and her body seemed to relax. With her legs resting on either side of me, I continued caressing her, moving closer to her center. I needed to feel her, to make sure she wouldn't disappear. "Please, baby, let me touch you. It's still meit's still us" I strategically placed my fingers over her scar, which was fading with time, and began to kiss her gently on her soft, wet, and heated skin. "EdwardI don't" I took my time moving toward her as the water beat down on my back. But Bella was unresponsive instead of welcoming my mouth against her, she lazily lifted her right leg over my shoulder, spreading herself for me further without much emotion. Now was not the time for me to be timidI had to act and make her feel how much I loved her, how much I was in love with her. I continued with my pursuit in a hope against hope that maybe I could make her feel what I feltI desperately needed to feel that undeniable connection between us now more than ever. And I had told her the truthI would fight for her, for them both. I wasn't going to lose Bella or Seth. They were my future, my family.

I trailed my fingers lovingly over her thighs, caressing her stomach and her breasts, moving back down her arms. I let my lips follow my fingers, as I went back to her thighs, toward the place I most wanted to go. I gently parted her with my fingers and slowly touched her with my tongue. Her skin was warm and wet from the shower. Fuck! I missed thishow she tastes. God, she's gorgeous. I took my tongue gliding it slowly back and forth, then swirling and licking her swollen spot, with my sole intent to make her feel as much pleasure as she could. But Bella seemed indifferentshe'd always been so sensitive to my touch. I glanced up to look at her face. Her neck was arched back, and the top of her head was pressed hard against the stone tile. Her full, pink lips were parted slightlybut her eyes were closed. Not in a passionate way, but clenched tightly closed, as if she were in pain. And her hands her hands were not in my hair as they usually were, pushing me deeper. They were not moving softly over my shoulders and my skin urging me on. Instead, her hands were pressed against the tiled wallnowhere near me. I breathed heavily and continued to look at her. This is a different Bella. And I don't hear her at all. She usually loved my mouth on her, and she's always told me so during our lovemaking. I wasn't going to give up just yetI sat back slightly and pushed two fingers inside her. But she was indifferent to what I was doingand just as I began to move them inside her, her head dropped down. Our eyes met. It was a look I didn't recognize. Bella took a deep breath and tried to pull her leg off my shoulder. I eased my fingers from her, she closed her legs and stood upSo that was that. I moved out of her way and sat down on the ledge. I tried to grab her hand as she stepped toward the shower door, but her hand limply fell from mine. I watched her, her head looking down as she walked away. My heart sankI couldn't let this continue. I turned off the water and grabbed a towel. I walked into the bedroom, and there she was, standing before me, her towel draped around her. She'd had a change of heart as she held out her hand and led me to the bed. Our towels dropped around us, and we climbed in. Bella faced the wall of windows, and I climbed in behind her. I buried my face into her hair and was content to hold herlike thisfor as long as she needed me to. "Can we just lie here awhile?" she asked quietly. "I'm happy just to hold youI love you, Bella." I kissed her shoulder and rested my head there. She squeezed my hand that was around her waist, and we fell asleep. Mine was restless, as I continued to play the events of the past few months in my mind. Bella was rightI should have told her from the beginning. That was selfish on my part, certainly. Bella tossed and turned, I'm sure yesterday's events weighed heavily on herI had done the exact opposite of what I intended. I had hurt her anyway. When the morning sunshine beat through the windows in a glow of reds and yellows, I had already been up for an hour or so, mulling over what I would say to Bella next. She started to stir as the sunlight heated up the room. She was still facing away from me, and I couldn't help but kiss hersprawled out in her beautiful way.

"I don't know if I can" she whispered. "Shh yes, you can." "EdwardIit's just" I kissed the top of her shoulders and ran my hand down to her long legs. I heard her sigh and felt her muscles relaxmore than they had last night. "Bella" I whispered into her ear, pressing myself hard against her. I moved my hand around her, caressing her breasts, her very hard nipplesshe began to moan. "Edward" was all I heard her say. She rolled further onto her stomach, and she looked back at me over her shoulder. She opened her legs for me as I began to caress her from behind. I kissed her neck, my breath accelerating from the fact she was willing me to continue, not stopping me from showing her my love. I moved forward, laying my weight on her from behind. I sat back on my knees and gently pulled her hips up so I could enter her slowly. She was not as wet as she usually was, not as relaxed. I slid into her, feeling her warmth, wanting her to feel how much I needed and wanted her. But her face was still buried in the pillow, and I was afraid she was just going through the motionsmaybe, she was giving in just to please me. I would never want thatI had to make sure she wanted me, too. "Do you want me to stop, Bella? Because I will if you want me to" I wanted to make sure this was mutual, in light of everything that had happened between us. "Noplease don't stop" Bella's reply was breathy and full of the same desire I had for her. "I need you, Edward. Always." "Come here, baby." I said as I pulled her up, so her back was flush against my chest. Her head fell back onto my shoulder, and I ran one hand over her face, moving her hair behind her. And I felt her tears... "Isabella, I'm herelet me love you," I whispered into her ear as I caressed her breasts and kissed her neck. I gently placed one hand on her hip, guiding her slowly up and down, creating a rhythm that felt good to both of us. My other hand continued to knead her nipples, and I felt her body respond to each touch. Our breathing quickened, and Bella reached up behind her and pushed her hands into my hairit was the touch I had wanted to feel in the shower, last night, and this morningwhat would I do without thiswithout her? We found an amazing pace, the perfect rhythm, and I moved my hand from her breast, down over her stomach, toward her swollen spot. I began massaging her in time with our

movementsand her body reacted as her back arched slightly and she panted my name. "Edwardmmmm" I could feel her tightening around me, her body beginning to quiver as she was on the brink of her orgasm. "That's it." Our pace quickened, and my own climax was not far behind. "Ohoh" She reached down and placed her hand on top of mine, urging me on. "Bella, you're so beautiful." I wanted to tell her this over and over again... "I'moh god" Her muscles clenched and I held her as she rode out her release. "Tell me" "OhEdward!" She cried, her body trembling as she gripped me tighter. That pushed me over the edge, feeling her tighten around meand with two more thrusts, I filled her with all that I had. Damn, I love this woman so much "Fuck, baby..." We fell forward onto the bed, spent of energy and emotion. I gently pulled myself from her, and she rolled to her back. I laid down on my side, facing her, so I could look into her eyes, stare at her face. After making love, her cheeks were always flushed with breathtaking color. I began to stroke her hair, then lightly running my fingers up and down her arm. While I looked at her, she stared at the ceiling. The room was very calm, peacefuland very quiet. Finally, she moved to face me. And there we wereexposed and nakedlaying side by side, both of us longing, searching, and needing an answer. I sighed deeply, breaking the intense silence created by our lovemaking. "Bella, I love you so much. Let's just take a day at a time...until we can find a way" "But we aren't where I thought we were, Edward" I knew she was right. We had taken such great strides forward in our relationship, and my omission of truth had pushed us so far behind. My voice stumbled as I acknowledged her. "I know, babyI know" I kissed her sweetly. She looked at me first, without saying anything, and then rolled over to look out the window. I heard her sigh and then say softly "So what do we do now?"

13. Jasper Cullen POV Outtake

"Alright, kids" I said jokingly as I drove up Bella's driveway. I remembered riding by Chief Swan's house on our bikes when we were kids. We would pedal as fast as we could so we wouldn't catch a glimpse of him out in the yard or in the driveway. Little did I know, he would end up straightening my ass out on a few occasions in high school. A few of those incidents Mom and Dad knew aboutand a few they didn't. Chief Swan was a good man. I looked over at Bella, my hat propped lopsided on her head. "It's been fun. But watching you guys all nightI'm going home to call Alice." And that was no lie. Edward couldn't keep his hands off Bella for more than a few minutes at a time. They just seemed to be really comfortable together, even though they haven't known each other that long. I know it was love at first sight for me and Alice, so anything is possiblethat's what I absolutely believe. Still, I couldn't help but laugh at my big brother. Man, he had it bad for this girl. And that was good to see. Fucking finally. Bella was nothing like Edward's last girlfrienddamnAngela was such a bitch. I didn't like to use the word hate, our mother had taught us better than that, but I really, really didn't like that woman. And neither did Alice, which meant a lot in my book. "Bro, I will pick you up here around noon? Is that cool with you Bella?" She smiled at me and put my hat back on my head. I had to straightened it out since she'd put it on crooked. But after that much wine, she was acting carefree and relaxed. Edward had told me this last year for her was rough, and she deserved a breakdeserved to have a good time, to have someone watch out for her for a change. "Sure." She replied, and then she kissed me on the cheek. It was quick and sweet. "And thanks, Jasper," she added as she got out of the car. Edward was waiting for her, and I could tell he was getting impatientI'd never seen him like this about a woman beforenot in high school, not in college, not ever. I had to tell her how much she already meant to him. "Edward hasn't been this happy in a long time. And I know it has everything to do with you." I was serious and meant every word. Edward began to pull on Bella's arm, urging her out of the car. And had been right about her; she was beautiful. Really pretty, in a natural sort of way. And from what I could tell, her beauty ran inside and out. "Hey, heyyou twonone of that serious shit now" Edward said as he peeked in the window before closing the door and shooting me a knowing smile. I honked the horn as I drove away, and I could see the two of them kissing on the front steps. That was enough of that. I dialed my number back home in Austin

"Hey" I heard a very sleepy voice on the other end. "Hey, you. Did I wake you, babe?" I knew Alice was working hard on the last days of school. There were always art projects to grade, class parties, parent conferences, and a bunch other stuff she loved doing. Sometimes it made me tired just watching her go ninety miles to nothing. But that energy is part of what drew me to her, part of why I loved her so damn much. "HmmmHey, Jazzgod, it's good to hear your voice. I miss you." "ThatI like to hear. I miss you, too, A." "So how's Mom and Dad?" "They're doing their thingDad's still busting his ass at the hospital. Mom's planning Summer in the Cityremember you're helping when you come out here." "RightDidn't forget." I heard her yawn on the other end. "I saw the proof for the cd cover. It came out great. I'm glad you talked me into sending the red painting instead of the charcoal. You called it. Oh, tell me about the babyplease, please tell me she looks like Rosalie. God help her if she turns out like Emmett." "She lookslike a babyI don't knowtiny." "That's the best you can do?" "Emily's a beautiful baby girl. I think she looks a lot like Mom, but I would never tell that to Rosalie. She'd have my ballshold on, I'm pulling up in the driveway now." "Don't you dare hang up with me yet, Jasper CullenI'm not finished talkingwhat about Edwardand Bella?" Alice asked impatiently. I chuckled at her, picturing her bolting from the bed in a fitwhen she was on a roll, there was nothing to stop her. When we met in high school, Alice was the cutest thing I'd ever seen. My band back then was playing at a partysome kid's parents were out of town, and he'd paid us with fifty bucks and some beerand she started singing along to one of the songs while I was playing the guitar. She wasn't bigger than a minute, decked out in clothes she'd made herself, with her hair spiked in every direction. Aside from her looks, Alice's personality won me over on the spot. "Has Edward told her about Seth?" "Don't freak out A, but nohe hasn't told her. I think he's afraid of what she might think. Fear is keeping him from telling her straight up. I think he is searching for the right time." "Holy shit. This is bad. Really bad, babe. That's gonna blow up in his face. Mark my words. Wait 'til I get my hands on your brother. I need to shake some sense into that man. What in the hell is

he thinking?" Alice was fired up, and I could understand why. "I know, I know" But now that she'd started, I wouldn't get a word in edgewise. "This isn't some bimbo, obviously, we're talking about here. If he loves Bella as much as he says, then he needs to be up front about this adoption. I mean, Seth isn't a babyhe's a little boy. This is an instant family, Jazz!" We'd always thought Edward would get married and have kids first. Angela the bitch had been his only long term kind of relationship, but he knew she wasn't the kind of girl he would marry. He knew that from the beginning, and I often asked him why he was with her at all. Most of the time he would just shrug the question off, and as his younger brother, I went along with his decisionbut not without a few arguments on the subject. But Angela was a true piece of work: beautiful, street smart, talented, and very manipulativeand for Edward that last part was dangerous. He'd always tried to see the good in people. He knew how Angela really was, but he often refused to see the bad in anyone. He has always been an optimisteven in his brooding artist kind of way. Even though Edward had broken up with her several times, she always found a reason to get close to him again. She needed an apartment in NYC, said she was evicted or something, so he let her move in to give her a place to stayshe needed to study at some school in Italy, so Edward footed the bill and went with her. She always found some way to squeeze her way back into his life. When she cheated on him, that was the last straw for him. She'd slept with one of the men who loaned her the capital to open Ciao Metro. Edward broke it off for good, never rekindling any kind of romance with her. That was two years ago. So, fatherhood didn't seem to be in the cards for Edward until he met Sethwhen he came to Austin to work on the doc about the Meyer Street Community Center. Edward and Seth had an instant bond. They would spend hours playing the piano and guitar together, and sometimes we would all jam together. Edward's patience with Seth was an incredible sight to see. He's going to make a great father. At first, I think Edward saw himself in Seth, at least the artist side of himself. And, god, Seth is a great kid. Freaking smart, polite and wise beyond his years. It breaks Alice's heart that he's never known a mom or dad. When Edward told us all at Christmas dinner last year he wanted to adopt Seth, we all had our questions, but everyoneespecially Mom and Dadsupported him 100 percent. I think Alice asked him the most about the process and what the long term would mean for them bothhe said he would buy a house to establish residency in Texas, provide a steady home in Forks for them, and hire a tutor to travel with them if they were ever on location. "I'm calling your mother. Maybe she can talk some sense into him," Alice added. "You can do that if you want to, but you know she's gonna abide by his wishes." "You're right, but I can try...Oh, I forgot to tell you that Laurent brought your bike back."

"Awesomewe can go riding when I get back. I do miss having a bike out herethe weather right now is unbelievablenot too hot, not too cold. You know I love it when you ride with me." "I'm glad you don't have one there, though. I still worry about you on that damn thing." I'd had motorcycles for as long as I could remember, and Alice was slow to approve. It took me years for her to get on the back and go for a ride. She liked the Moto Guzzi I had now, especially since it was an Italian bike. "And then we all went to Manuel's for dinner with all the kids. Laurent told me the Department of Protective and Regulatory Services is going to begin interviews in August. Did Edward tell you that little tidbit?" "He didyou know, he mentioned going to Austin to Bella, though." "Oh, boy. Well, wellthis scenario he's cooked up should be interesting. He's handsome and sweet as hell, but damn if he doesn't have a screw loose sometimes." "It's my brother you're talking about here" "All I'm saying is I'm definitely looking forward to making the trip to Forks nowI'm just dying to meet Bellatalk to your mom and dad about all thissee EmilyI'm just" I had to cut her off before she lost her breath. "Okay, it's okay I get the point darlin'" "You know I love it when you say that to me" "I know you do, darlin'"

14.

"But we aren't where I thought we were, Edward" The look on his face told me I was right. His voice wavered slightly as he answered me. "I know, babyI know" He tried to kiss me sweetly, but the kisses somehow felt more desperate and needy than they had before. It was almost as if he thought I might run away without trying to salvage what we had together. Maybe that's what hurts the mosthe had been afraid to tell me the truth. I rolled over to look out the window at the Philadelphia morning, the summer sun beating rather warmly through the windows. "So what do we do now?" I asked him quietly, unable to push my voice much louder than a

whisper. I heard him exhale deeply and felt him shift his weight. Although we'd just made love, it wasn't enough this time. It wasn't quite the healing experience I was used to with Edward; it didn't feel as complete. I looked over my shoulder to see him sitting there, on the edge of the bed, running his hands through his hairthat nervous habit he had that was so damn sexy. I felt the sudden urge to reach out for him. To touch his chest, run my fingers over the chain around his neck, kiss him everywhereI did want him in my life. I did need him in more ways than just a physical one. That I couldn't deny. I rolled back toward him, propped myself up on one elbow, and ran my other hand gently down his back. He simply turned and smiled at me, a quiet and understanding smile, and then he got up from the bed. I watched him as he slipped on his boxers and his jeans. Then he headed downstairswithout saying a word. Shit. How in the hell did we get to this place? I couldn't help it as thoughts and feelings rushed through my mind. Yesterday, I flew across the fucking country to see this unbelievable man that I'm madly in love with, who makes love to me like I'm the only woman on earth... And then he tells me he's adopting an 8-year-old son. This is all so damn confusing. Edward had never even asked me if I wanted children. We talked about being in love and being married, but never in a conversation more than a few minutes long. I guess I now understand why. Fearfear of me saying nofear of losing meWell, he was right about one thingI never really gave him a chance to tell me about Seth. I certainly can't say what he's doing isn't incredibleSeth will be a lucky boy to have the Cullens as his family. Edward is such a kindhearted and generous man to want to provide him with a wonderful and loving homeand that's the heart I fell in love with. That's the heart I want to take care offorever. But why didn't he tell me the truth sooner? Damn it all to hell. I'm so fucking confused! I rolled out of the bed grudgingly and made my way to the shower. My head was pounding from crying and a lack of sleep, and my heart was heavy inside my chest. I turned the water as hot as it could go, hoping it would relax me and help me think straight. I grabbed a bottle of shampoo and began washing my hair, at once remembering the time Edward had washed it for me. He had rubbed my head so lovingly, washing my hair and my body. The shower wasn't doing me any good, I needed to clear my head, and this wasn't the way. Everything I did reminded me of him. I reluctantly turned off the water and dried off. I stepped out into the bedroom, where I could hear Edward talking on the phone in the living room below. "We're almost on schedule. I know, Kate. She's being typicaljust the usual Angela bullshit." He paused for a moment and then continued, "Yeah, I know. I'm trying. Really trying. Her story deserves to be told. I justWell, I know, I knowhey, Riley's hitting all the marks. He's developed a great eye. Sure. That would be fantastic. So you'll take the train down tomorrow? GoodI really want you to meet Bella. Yesshe isshe's here until Tuesday" He hung up and started moving around downstairs. At one point I heard him grinding coffee in the kitchen. I pulled on another new dressthis one a sleeveless, orange linen wrap sundressand my bracelet from Edward for my day out in Philly and headed downstairs. Edward's bare chest was beckoning me to run my hands over it and pretend it was yesterday; he was simply gorgeous. But

it wasn't yesterday, and the reality of our situation slapped me into submission. Slow down and relaxyou'll find a way to work it all out. I sat on a stool at the kitchen island and began flipping through the morning newspaper. I waited for him to say something first. He was quiet and it was obvious by his demeanor that he also felt the nervous tension between us. "You look beautiful," he said sweetly as he stood across the granite island and handed me a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice. "Thank you," I replied quietly and managed a soft smile. "I just talked to Kate Garrett," he added, trying to alleviate any awkwardness in the air. "Ohyour professor from NYU? Riley's aunt?" "Yes. She's taking the train down from the city tomorrow to spend the Fourth with Riley. She wants to have dinner with us." "Okay, sure. I'd really like to meet her." I smiled again, making an attempt at some semblance of normalcy. "Great. I'll firm up the plans, then. Sowhat would you like to do today?" The coffee pot beeped, and he headed for a cabinet and pulled down two mugs. "What do you mean? You're working." I'd planned on a day to myself to recoup from the events of the last day and night. I thought Edward and I needed some space for us both to think, and today would give me that time. "NoI'm not. I'm going to reschedule the shoot. It's not a big deal. We're doing some close up stills in the kitchen. Nothing too exciting. I want to be with you today." He'd poured our coffee and set the mug on the counter in front of me. "Edward, I knew you would be working today.and I think" "We could go to the museumit's one of my favorites in the country. There's a Renoir exhibit right now. I can get us tickets." He took a sip after he spoke. "Edward, stop. You don't have to babysit me or my feelings. I am going to the exhibit todayI planned on going there, Reading Market, and to see the Liberty Bell...maybe some other touristy stuff while you work. Okay?" "But, Bella" Edward was frustrated with my decision to spend the day alone. "Really, it's fine. Please. Just let me have some time today. We'll meet up later. "Babywe could"

"No, Edward. I'll meet you tonight at Ciao Metrothat was always our plan." "Okay, if that's what you want to dothen you can see what we're doing every day. Things are busy right now since Angela's getting the restaurant ready for its soft opening. But are you sure you're up to meeting" "Meeting Angela?" "Yesdo you want to do that now?" His eyebrow was raised, but his mood had lightened, probably happy that I was at least communicating with him on some level. "Absolutely. I'm looking forward to it, actually. I'll be there at seven." Bring it on, bitch. I took a sip of my coffee, and it was warm and strong. I got up to get some milk. I could tell that Edward was watching me as I moved. I opened the refrigerator door and grabbed the milk, and when I did, something dawned on me. "You know what? You're finally going to have to get a new car." I blurted out. "What? What do you mean?" He asked me, knowing that I had said something out of the blue. Edward got up and stood before me. I looked him straight in the eye, as if I were stating the obvious. "Your old Volvo is crap. It's just not very safe and responsible to drive all over creation with a child in that old car of yours." His body relaxed, his lips twitched up into a smile. He looked relieved that I had mentioned Seth. "I suppose you have a point. What do you suggest I get?" He moved in close to wrap his arms around my waist. It felt so good to have his arms around me, but I couldn't help but feel that his touch was bittersweet. I buried my face into his bare chest, and we held each other for the longest time. Finally, Edward lifted my face up gently with his fingers "God, BellaI'm so, so sorry. I never wanted to hurt you," he whispered as he looked deep into my eyes. I felt the tears brim to the surface, but I didn't want to let them fall. But dammit, if they didn't betray me. "I knowI believe that. I truly do." He kissed me softly and sweetly on my lips, but it quickly turned into the passion and desire we were both accustomed to feeling between us. My stomach clenched in its usual way, and the heat flowed throughout my body. I welcomed the feeling, but I broke away from the embrace first. "I just need some time to process all of this.what it all means to me, to you, to us. This adoption will change your lifecompletely." "I know it will. I'm not going to push you into anything, Bella. But I'm not going to lose you, either. I'm not willing to give up."

"You won't lose me, Edward. I love you." "I love you, too...so much." He looked into my eyes and brushed away my tears. "Do you have any pictures of him?" I asked as I straightened up and tried to hold back my emotion. "Pictures of Seth? I doI have a lot," he laughed. "You want to see them?" "Yes, of course I do." The look on Edward's face was one of excitement as he quickly kissed my cheek and ran upstairs to get his laptop. I sat back down at the counter, adding the milk to my coffee. We looked at the pictures together, and most of them were of Seth playing the guitar or the piano, or of him and Edward at recitals. "Hey, I have some cd's of Seth playingdo you want to hear one?" "Sure." I spun around on my stool and watched him go to the stereo. I couldn't help but smile at his passion and pride as he cued up the music for me to hear. We sat and listened for a while, with Edward beaming the entire time. He finally caught me staring at him. "What?" He asked, noticing I was watching him intently, searching every feature of his face. "What's wrong?" "Nothingnot a thing. I think you look like a proud father." It was the truth. It was obvious he loved that little boy. "Do I?" His face turned serious, taking in what I said as high praise. "Really, you do, Edward. I'm in awe. You're amazing. I meanwhat you're willing to do." He looked back at the computer screen and the picture of Seth that was there, one of him sitting at the Meyer Street Community Center holding his guitar. He was wearing a red vintage Bob Marley t-shirt and jeans. Seth's smile was contagioushe looked so happy and comfortable with his instrument. "Before I met youI never thought I'd meet anyone I wanted to spend the rest of my life withor someone I wanted to have children with," he said as he took my hand in his. "So I made the decision to make Seth part of my life. It was one of the easiest decisions I've ever made the answer was right in front of me. Seth's just a great kid." "I'm sure he is. And I can't wait to meet him." Edward shut down his computer and pulled me into his arms. "Thank you, Bella"

I spent the day at one tourist spot after another, the streets in Philadelphia lined with people for

the holiday. It was hot, and I figured I'd have to go back to Edward's to change before I went to Ciao Metro to meet the infamous Angela. My final destination of the day was the Reading Terminal Market, a maze of vendors and restaurants. There was live music, children dancing to the band in a sea of red, white and blue. But my favorite place was the Famous 4th Street Cookie CoI sat at a tiny table and ate the warmest, most delicious chocolate chip cookies I had ever had. It reminded me of my mom trying to make cookies when I was a child, an event which often ended in burnt cookies and a lot of smoke. Suddenly, I felt the urge to talk to Renee. I hadn't spoken with her much since Charlie "Hi, Mom." "Bella, honeyI can hardly hear youwhere are you?" "I'm in Philadelphiaremember, I told you I was going to visit Edward for the Fourth." "Sure, I remember. How are you? You having fun?" "I've spent the day sightseeingbutI need to ask you something." "What is it? What's wrong? I can tell there's somethingin your voice" "I just don't know where to begin" I told her the whole story, from Seth to Angela to everything in between. This may have been the most I had confided in Reneeever. But I needed some guidance; I needed my mother's advice. "Bella, I know you love himbut just make sure it's enough to make you happy. You're a strong woman, and I know one day you will make a wonderful motheryou do have that in you, you know." "Do I? What if it doesn't work outI meanyou and dadthe divorce." "Honey, love is a leap of faith. You will never know unless you try. My marriage to Charlie didn't work out, but look at me now. Phil is a dreamaside from you, he is the best thing that has happened in my life. He is my lover and my best friend. I wouldn't want to live without him. So you need to ask yourselfcan you live without Edward?" As flighty and sometimes misguided as she was, Renee was right. That was the ultimate questioncould I live without Edward?

I took a cab back to Edward's so I could get dressed and rest before meeting him and his crew for dinner. I went to the kitchen a poured a glass of wine to sip while I got ready. I leisurely showered and then decided on a pretty emerald green sundress to wear. It showed off the color I got today while I walked around the city. I also made sure to wear the bracelet Edward gave me. Ciao Metro was just a few blocks from Edward's townhome, nestled between a music shop and a jewelry store. As I approached the restaurant, I saw a large picture window with Ciao Metro,

Philadelphia written across it in a modern script. The door was heavyleaded glass and stainless steel. I was strong, and I could do thisI pulled it open and took a deep breath before I walked in completely. The space was narrow but deep, with the north-facing wall painted a dark chocolate brown and the south one painted white brick. The floor was stained cement, and the ceiling was all exposed beams and air ducts. These were also painted a stark white, adding to the modern dcor. Retro looking light fixtures hung over a shiny, polished stainless steel bar. A large, ornate mirror and black iron wine racks lined the wall behind the bar. Several small tables filled the restaurant, each adorned by candles that added a warm glow. All in all, the aesthetic was very similar to Edward's townhome. I was actually surprised at how intimate a space it was, somehow imagining a much grander scene. Still, my stomach sank slightly as I absorbed the beauty of the restaurant and reflected on how accomplished Angela truly was. Thankfully, the first person I saw was Riley. He was at the bar, zipping up a large black duffle bag containing what I guessed was camera equipment. His face lit up when he saw me, and he immediately put me at ease. "Hey, Bella! There you are!" He moved toward me quickly and gave me a friendly hug. "So good to see you." "Hi, RileyIt's good to see you, too. Am I late? Where is everyone?" I asked as I noticed we were alone. "No. You're not lateeveryone was starving.they're in the kitchen." "Oh, I see" "Angela sort of surprised usshe's prepared a 'welcome' dinner for you. She's been teasing everybody with the smell of it for about two hours now." "Oh, I didn't realizeI mean, Edward didn't mention she was cooking for me, us" I think Riley noticed my face as it fell into a frown. "Yeah, well, I don't think he knew what she was planning. Besides, he's been in a really weird mood all day. Anyway, the food smells damn good. Come onthey're back here." When we made our way around the corner, I could see Angela and Edward standing at the large industrial stove. There were two other men standing to one side and another woman, all I assumed were part of Edward's crew. I looked back toward Angelashe was leaning in toward Edward, feeding him a sample of something from a large wooden spoon. On the stove was an enormous saucepot, bubbling with whatever she had made. Lovely. Edward tasted it, as Angela stayed close to him, waiting for his response. It looked like this was an exchange that was very familiar to them, something they had done many times during their relationship. I had to take another deep breath to keep from losing my composure. I'd never been a jealous person ever in my entire life, but I started to realize what it felt like. "What do you think? It's good, isn't it?" She grinned up at him as he finished savoring the

mouthful. "Yeah. It's good. But it's different than the one you usually makethere's more oregano or something in there." Fuck me. But Riley spoke up before I even thought about turning around and running out the door. "Hey, guyslook who I found" He took my hand and led me the rest of the way into the kitchen. We walked around some stainless steel carts and a long prep counter. Edward looked up, and when he saw me, his face immediately lit up into that gorgeous smile. "Bella! Hey, baby..." He said loudly as he moved quickly toward me and embraced me tightly, giving me a chaste kiss on the cheek. Over his shoulder, I could see Angela smirking and staring at us, rolling her tongue in her cheek. I suddenly realized this evening with Angela wasn't going to be very pleasant. "Bella, this is Heidi and Santiagoand Demetri is over there. Of course you already know Riley." We all said our hellos, and then it was time to officially meet Edward's ex-girlfriend. "Ang, this is BellaBella, this is Angela." He still had his arm around me as he finished the introduction. I leaned over to her, holding out my hand. Thank god it wasn't trembling. And shitshe was stunningmore so in person than on her book cover. Her dark hair was long with a natural wave that curled at the ends. Her eyes were striking and enhanced by her thick, smoky eye makeup. Her eyebrows were perfectly sculpted, and lips were lined and plumped with the deepest plum color. She was wearing very tight black jeans with black stilettos and a dark purple sleeveless v-neck topwith her very generous cleavage spilling out. Right away, the differences between us were very obvioustruly we were like night and day. "AhhBellafinally we meet," her hand shake was more like a vice grip, and it caught me off guard. I guess I shouldn't have expected her to be soft and demure. "Yes, we finally meet," I squeezed her hand in return, both of us not letting go until Edward spoke. "Ang has made her Gramie's rigatoni for usit's really delicious" he said to me, then to everyone else, "Who's hungry?" There was a collective rush for plates and utensils as the crew gathered for dinner. "Don't forget to leave room for the bread pudding," Angela called out to them as they piled their plates full. "Bella, don't mind themjust push your way inyou're the guest of honor after all," she said as she handed me a glass of red wine. She was graceful and so put-together. I felt like an amateur girlfriend next to her. "Oh, it's a Chiantido you drink reds? It goes best with the meal I've prepared, but I can open

something else if you're not used to it" "Bella knows a lot about wine, actually. She has really good taste" Edward piped in over his shoulder. "Oh, I didn't mean to offend you, Bella," Angela responded with another smirk. "No offense taken, Angela," I said as I took a sip from my glass. "And the Chianti is delicious. It's from Tuscany, right?" I thought I was making polite conversation, but Angela looked at me with a raised eyebrow. "Edward, you're right. She's quite the connoisseur. Come, Bella. Sit and eat, and I'll tell you a funny story about when Edward and I were in Florence." She moved around the prep counter and slightly patted Edward on his assand right then I knew I was playing with fire. "Cut it out, Ang," he said as he handed me a plate. His brow was furrowed, but that was all he made of her flirtatious gesture. We all made our way back to the front of the restaurant, and we sat where several smaller tables had been combined to make a larger one. Edward sat next to me on one side, Riley sat on the other. Angela staked her claim directly across from us, with the others filling in the remaining seats at the table's other end. Angela sat her plate down and went to the bar to get two more bottles of wine for everyone. As she placed them on the table, she grazed Edward's cheek with her fingertip, running it down until she poked him playfully on his chest. He shook his head and let out a bothered sigh. He looked at me and mouthed the words, "I'm sorry." Once she sat, she continued her story about the two of them in Italy. It was upsetting to say the least. "As I was saying, Bella, Edward and I had a fantastic time in Italy a few years ago. Florence was our favorite place, wasn't it? I mean next to Rome, but that goes without saying." I looked over at him, waiting to hear his reply. "Sure it was beautiful. Very picturesque. Bella, I think you would love visiting Europe." He looked at me and smiled, but Angela wasn't about to give up. "You haven't been abroad? HmmmEdward, I didn't know you had a thing for small town girls." "Ang, don't you think" Edward started to say something, but I chimed in. "Oh, I've lived other places besides Forks. Plus, I've had a lot going on the last couple of yearsBut there are many places I dream of going to" Edward looked over at me and smiled. "And I hope I get to take you to some of them one day," he said, finishing my thought for me. But Angela wasn't satisfied. "Edward and I traveled quite a bit when we were dating. You know, six years is a long time to be

together. We had some good times, didn't we? Do you remember that little villa with the canopy bed?" She smirked at us again as she took a drink from her glass. I looked up at Edward. Six years? He'd left out that fact. Italy? He'd left out that information, too. My mind was reeling, and I was at a loss for what to say next, and Riley graciously changed the subject. "So, BellaI'm glad you're going to be here to meet my Aunt Kate. I think you two will have a lot in common. She is drawn to certain people, especially those who help and nurture others." "What do you mean?" Angela asked him. "Well, Bella's a nurseshe helps bring a new life into the world almost every day" Edward added. "And Aunt Kate probably has a million questions to ask you all about that" Riley laughed. "What do you think about babies, Angela?" "Uh, it's Ms. Weber to you," she chuckled. "As far as kids or babies go, I really have no fucking clue. I know how they're made. Ask me about cuts of meat or types of saucesthose are the things I like to talk about." "Oh, I love it when you talk dirty like that" Riley smiled through a mouthful of pasta. "You wish, Riley" Angela laughed as she flung her head back, her hair flowing in a wave down her back. She looked back at Edward and asked, "Edward, why did Kate never visit our apartment in the city?" "Not sure whyguess we were always busy," he said flatly as he pushed his plate away. "Kate doesn't like her very much," Riley whispered quietly in my ear as he gave my shoulder a reassuring nudge. I gave him a nod and a smile, and I supposed Aunt Kate wasn't impressed with marinara and sex appeal. I'd hardly touched my plate of food. I think Edward noticed, and he had his hand constantly around my shoulder or on my thigh. Still, all of Angela's revelations about the two of them were making for an extremely awkward time. So they'd dated for six years, traveled the world together, and lived together in New York. I was starting to wonder what else I would find out over the course of the weekend. Tonight wasn't the last I would see of Angela, that I was sure of. "That was delicious, Angela, thank you," Heidi said as she rose from the table. "It's the least I could do for your hard work," she said. Then she looked at me and added, without smiling or smirking this time, "Plus, we had to welcome Edward's BellaSo, who's left room for dessert and coffee?" Hands shot up around the table, but mine did not.

"None for me, thanks. I think I've had enough. I'm actually quite tired from sightseeing today." I took Edward's hand in mine as she was watching us. "Do you mind if we head back soon?" I tried to act happy and pleased, even kissing him on the mouth. "Sure, baby" We rose and said our goodbyes. I was gracious and said thank you to our host, even though I wanted to smack the shit out of her...maybe the opportunity to do just that would come later. Edward gathered his things, and we headed for his townhouse. We walked the few blocks home from Ciao Metro, not holding hands like we usually did when we walked places. Toward the last block, Edward finally moved close enough to put his arm around me and pull me close to him. The events of the evening were weighing heavily on my mind, and I was passed the point of keeping quiet. "Edwarddon't get upset, but we need to talk." I pushed the hair from my face so I could look over at him. I felt his muscles tighten around me. "What is it?" he asked. "First, let me say that I'm really trying here" I sighed and tried to continue. "I know you are. And I'm very gladbut what's wrong?" He looked over at me, his beautiful face lit by the lights along the street. We paused at the front steps of the townhouse. "I think we need to get some things straight before we can move on," I took another deep breath and willed the courage to speak my mind. "The situation with you and Angela is not okay with me." Edward stopped short of opening the door with his key. He threw his head back, as if he were in some state of despair. "Bella, please can we not argue? I'm really tired of it. I thought" "You thought what? I mean it, Edward. She has some fucking nerve!" We walked into his place, and he flicked on the lights as he went from the entry to the kitchen. He said nothing to counter my observation. He poured two glasses of water and handed me one. "Like I said before, I'm really trying herebut how the hell would you feel watching Marcus paw all over me at the dinner table? Talking about our nights here and there? Our vacation in Italy? Dammit, Edward, there's more to your relationship than you let on, that's for sure." I set the glass down on the granite counter, harder than I thought, and it made a loud clang. It surprised me that it didn't break. "Oh, goddon't you see? She's doing it all on purpose. She's jealous, Bella. It doesn't mean anything." He took his glass and started for the stairs. Did he think this conversation was over? Hardly. I trudged up the stairs behind him and watched him sit on the bed, taking one shoe off at a time. "Don't expect me to go with the flow, Edward. I'm not about to go back to Forks thinking about

that bitch with you all fucking daytouching your chest, calling you pet names, running her wicked hand down your cheek. It's ridiculous!" "Bella, it's all harmless" he retorted, looking rather annoyed I was bringing this up at all. But I had to get it off my chest and face the consequences, whatever they were. "Fuckshe's harmlessbecause I don't love her. It doesn't matter what she does. She does that shit to everyone, even Riley," he turned to look at me squarely. "Besides, baby, are you really in a position to judge how an ex should act?" "What? What did you say?" I was shocked he would stoop that low. "That was hurtful, Edward. I hope you didn't really mean that." "FuckI'm sorry. I'm just so sick of fighting with you, Bella." His hands went straight to his hair again, as I sensed his frustration with me increase. This conversation was going nowhere if he couldn't acknowledge that Angela still flirted with himeven in front of me. "Yeah, well, maybe this is the real Edward and Bella. You know we aren't under the guise of the small town romantic fantasy anymore. This is reality. You're going to be a father soon, and your ex-girlfriend of six fucking years still wants you in her bed." I slipped out of my dress and pulled a t-shirt over my head. "And I don't fit into that scenario. At all. Maybe my first instinct is rightthis is all happening way too fast." I grabbed a pillow from the bed and began to make my way downstairs. "What the hell does that mean?" He got up and moved to stop me. "Don't, Edward. I don't know what it means. But I do know that I'm tired...I'm going to sleep downstairs." I trudged down the stairs, flinging the pillow on the sofa plopping down with a big thud. I tossed and turned with restlessness and my thoughts kept returning to Edward and Angela and Seth and what Renee had told me earlier in the day. I finally fell asleep, but even in my dreams I thought of him The loft was dark and warm, too warm to sleep. I tossed and turned, waking to find myself alone in the king-sized bed, my nightgown clinging to my body with the dampness of sweat. Where was Edward? I slowly descended the stairs, quietly walking from the kitchen to the living room. I looked for him, finally settling my eyes on a shadowy form sitting in the large chair next to the sofa. I walked to him, resting my hands gently on his shoulders as I placed tender kisses into his hair. I ran my hands down the length of his strong arms, moving to trail my lips along the curve of his neck. "Edward, babyI missed you" I whispered faintly into his ear. I felt the heat as it radiated from his body, and I noticed he was nakednaked and waiting for me. Edward reached for me with his warm, soft hand, guiding me around the chair to stand before him. My chest heaved with anticipation as he took his hands and ran them up and down my thighs, dusting the edges of my nightgown with his fingertips. "Bella, I want to see youall of you" he whispered seductively back to me. I obliged his request as I lifted my nightgown over my head, revealing my naked self to him. From that point

on, neither of us spoke. Our hands, mouths, and hips said everything we wanted to say. Edward moved his hands over the contours of my hips, over the flatness of my stomach, to my breasts that were waiting for him. He touched my breasts, massaging them between his thumb and forefinger, pulling and pinching enough to make my heart race. I thought his tongue would follow where his fingers had been, but instead, he moved one hand up higher, those fingers caressing my neck and finally finding my mouth. I took his thumb and sucked it gently, twirling my tongue around it and then sucking it some more. I listened to him moan and felt him stir with desire beneath me. He gripped my hips, firmly and almost desperately, and I lowered myself on his lap. I straddled him, feeling his length hard and long under me. I ached for him so, as the wetness pooled at my core. I slowly guided myself over him, and we both moaned loudly at the union of our two bodies. Taking his face into my hands, I kissed him with both desire and need. As I found a steady rhythm above him, we continued exploring one another's mouths. My hands moved to his shoulders as I braced myself, and I felt Edward's softly touching my neck, my back, my legs. His touch drove me wild, and I arched my back and pressed my hips into him with every heated thrust. I ran my fingers through the hair on his chest. I wanted my lipsthere. I pulled at his necklace, running my tongue over the charm hanging therehe groaned with pleasure, and I continued on to kiss his neck, his shoulder and back again. We were intoxicated by the intimacy of the moment, and I again arched myself backward, wanting for even more. He found the very spot that drove me wild, relentlessly rubbing it in time to the movement of my hips. I rose and fell against him, each stroke more intense, more incredible than the last. Our bodies were slick with wet and want, our heads nuzzled togetherI felt myself clench around him When I woke up, my t-shirt was damp and my hair was sticking to my face. I brushed it out of the way as I looked around the room. It was still dark outside, and I figured it was around five or six in the morning. And then I rememberedHoly shit. That dream. As upset with him as I was, I couldn't get Edward off my mind. I stretched out my legs and realized there was a blanket over me; I hadn't brought one down with me last night, and I had fallen asleep on the couch, my arms wrapped around my pillow. Edward. He must have covered me up at some point during the night. I sat up, and then I saw himhe was asleep in the chair next to me, his feet propped on an ottoman, wearing only his boxers and t-shirt. He'd slept here to be near me. A lump formed in my throat, and I found it hard to swallow. He's right. I know that he is. And he's in love with me. I've never had a real relationship like this before. I'd never considered my long term future until I met Edward. Marriage? Children? The thought of having a child with him He wants me to be his futurewith Seth. How many thirty-year-old single men make the decision to devote their lives to an 8-year-old foster child? Not many. I have to put what's in the past behind usMarcus and Angela. Even though he's not in love with her, I somehow doubt I've seen or heard the last from her. I can deal with her when the time

comes. In the meantime, I have to trust Edward and hope that he will place enough trust in me. I rose quietly and knelt beside his chair. I didn't touch him at firstI wanted to watch him sleep for a few moments. One arm was resting on the chair, the other was lying still at his side. His head was tilted against one shoulder, and his breathing was slow and steady. I could see his chest rise and fall with every breath. I placed my hand where his heart was beating. Oh, Edward...He was gracious and kindartistic and creativean incredible man. And he loves me. I lightly ran my fingers over Edward's hand. He barely flinched. I continued to trace the outline of him, moving up his arm to his neck, and then to his face. That's when he opened his eyes slightly. We looked at each other for a minute, until he awoke fully, and I moved to curl up in his lap. I snuggled into his neck, inhaling and taking him inI softly kissed his warm skin as he put his arms tightly around me, surrounding me with his strength and love. "I take it I'm not dreaming" he whispered into my hair. I smiled against his skin, pushing his arms tighter around me. "No you're not dreaming. But you're forgiven. And I hope you can forgive me." "Really? Bella, I" He wanted to say more, but I cut him short. I wanted to finish my apology. "Wait, pleaseI have more to say" I kissed him again, this time on the mouth. "I'm sorry I yelled at you. We've been through enough. I just want to be happy. I want thisI want youI want us." I looked up into his eyes. They looked back at me with reliefand love. "God, Bellame, too, baby." "Do you think we can start over?" I smiled up at him, and he smiled backflashing that smile that made me melt. He laughed softly and gave me a little squeeze. He moved a hand to my face, raising my face to his with his fingertips. And for a moment, I thought he was going to kiss me. Instead, he looked deep into my eyes, and the overwhelming, familiar electricity between us ran its current throughout my bodyjust as it did the first time I saw him, the first time he touched meas he moved his lips closer to mine and whispered "Hi" A soft, slow kiss on my lips. "I'm" Another kiss. "Edward" A kiss again.

"Cullen" He said finally, and this time he kissed me as passionately as ever before.

15.

"Hi" A soft, slow kiss on my lips. "I'm" Another kiss. "Edward" A kiss again. "Cullen" He said finally, and this time he kissed me as passionately as ever before. The familiar warmth of desire flooded my body, mind and soul. "Take me to bed, Edward," I whispered softly against his mouth. He pressed his forehead to mine, licking his bottom lip before kissing me again. "Whatever you want, baby," he said as he lifted me upmy legs around his waist, my arms around his neckand carried me upstairs. "I want you," I said as he gently placed me on the bed. I sat up on my knees, my face still nuzzled into his chest. The warmth of his skin and the electricity between us was more powerful than my dream from last night could ever bemy reality was finally better than my dreams. I didn't want to let go of him, but Edward turned around to draw the blinds, as the hot July morning sun would soon fill the room. He moved around the bed behind me, embracing my waist and gently tugging at my t-shirt with his fingertips. He feathered my neck with soft kisses as he pulled my shirt over my head. Next were the pantiesI was naked in front of him, marveling in the way his hands made my body feel as they slowly caressed my hairthen my neckdown the contours of my stomachto my thighsand back up again. I rested my head on his shoulder and closed my eyes as I placed my hands over his as he made the same path again and again. I felt his erection long and hard behind meand his warm breath against me as he softly nipped at my ear, grazing it with his teeth, making me shiver with pleasure all over. Finally, Edward broke the silence. "Please don't leave me Bella." "Edward I won't" I said as I tried to look at him, but I could not see his face. It was buried

into my neck as he continued kissing me there. I turned around to face him, pushing my body against him as close as I could, wanting him to feel my desire to stay with him. I held his face in my hands and looked him in the eyes. "We'll figure this outtogether" I kissed him as I moved backward on the bed, pulling at him to follow suit. I pushed him back gently, helping him to remove his clothest-shirt over his sexy, tousled hairjeans down his long legsboxers off in one swift motion. I made my way up his body, starting with his legscaressing and feathering kisses as I moved. He slid down further, moaning with anticipation as I traveled to his thighs, around what was between them, his stomach, his chestmy mouth and my fingers exploring every inch of the man I loved so much. As I took his bottom lip between my own, his mouth twitched into his sexy, slightly wicked smile. "What do you think you're doing?" He asked as I released him. "Oh, I thought I might try this" I said as I moved my body along his, my breasts tickled by his chest. "And then this" I smiled my own wicked smile at him as I moved above him, straddling him, letting him feel what exactly I was going to do. "God, Bellafuck yes" His hands moved to my waist, and then we were joined together, both of us gasping with the pleasure of how it made us feelhim filling me completely and me surrounding him with warmth and love. "UmmEdwardand then maybe I could do this" I found the perfect rhythm, my hips working and moving to their own erotic beat. I placed my hands back on his thighs, wanting to feel him as deeply as I could. I felt the sweat glistening on my body, and my hair clinging to my face. Edward's hands explored my breasts, massaging and rubbingI threw my head back and moaned loudly from the sensation of it all. "I need to taste younow" Edward said as he pushed himself up, grasping my back and holding me to him, so our union would not be broken. My hands went around his neck, and my legs around his waist. His mouth found mine quickly, his tongue full of need and desire. My hips continued with their work, our new position filling me deeper than ever before. "Oh god, EdwardIoh god" I couldn't say anything else, my face falling against his. "I knowjust feel how much I love you," he said, all breathy and full of want. He kissed and caressed all of me that he could touch. I leaned back slightly, offering my neck to him...he licked and kissed it with his warm tongueI leaned back further, offering my breasts to himhis mouth found each nipple, his tongue swirling and licking until I almost came undone. "Edward, I" I moved forward and held onto his shoulders, our foreheads touching, our bodies glistening with the heat our love was creating.

"BabyI'mso sorryforeverything" He whispered to me as he held my face in one of his hands. His words, his breath, his body connected to minea fusion of ecstasy that pushed me closer to my climax. "I love you," I said between breaths, as my body tightened around him, and I experienced the most intense release I'd ever had. Edward's other hand moved to my hair, gripping me tightly as his orgasm followed mine. "GodohI love you" he said as he filled me with everything that he had. We fell back onto the bed, spent and sated with the intimacy we had shared. We wrapped ourselves in each other and fell asleep.

I awoke to the luxurious feeling of Edward's soft fingertips running through my hair and down my bare back. "Bella, are you awake?" he whispered. "Hmm? What time is it?" I asked in a groggy, but very content way, as I stretched out my arms and legs. Edward laughed as he answered me. "Almost noon." He ran his finger in tiny circles down my arm. It tickled and made me laugh. "You are so beautiful when you do that," he moved over me and gave me a quick kiss on my mouth. "And as much as I would like to lie in bed with you all day, we do need to run to the market. Riley and Kate will be here at five." "Oh" I said, surprised. "We're cooking here?" "YeahI thought I would grill some steaks, you could pick out the wine, we could make a salad," he said as he rolled over to the other side of the bed to get up and pull on his boxers. I sat up, searching for my t-shirt. "Can I make something?" I asked. "Of course," he said, looking over his shoulder to smile at me. "What is your specialty?" "Well, I make a mean pasta with cheese" I said, thinking of the things I liked to cook most for myself, or for Charlie when he still had a hearty appetite. "You mean like macaroni and cheese?" He laughed good-naturedly, but I pretended to be offended. "Oh, no" I scoffed playfully. "It's definitely not mac and cheese! I can do better than that. Noit's a recipe from a magazine I've tweaked over the yearsmore like a kind of spaghetti with a crme sauceso, there! Humph" I smiled as I threw off the sheet and jumped out of the

bed to head for the shower. Angela wasn't the only one who knew her way around a kitchen. I hadn't been able to cook much, especially lately, but it wasn't something I disliked doing. I actually enjoyed the prospect of cooking for him. Edward grabbed me in an affectionate embrace before I could make it to the bathroom. "That sounds" he kissed me on the lips as he finished his sentence, "perfect." "Goodshower?" I asked as I held his hand to lead the way. "Definitely" he followed me, but I could tell his mind was somewhere else. "What is it?" I asked him. "You know," he began with a sweet smile, "Seth loves mac and cheese." "Me, too," I smiled back. "But I bet he'll love this even more." I could tell my comment made him happy, that I wanted to meet Seth and get to know him. I started the shower and waited for it to get warm. "Bella, can I ask you something?" "Sure" "Before you met me, what were your plans?" "My plans? About my future?" He nodded. "Well, I don't know. Honestly, I was so focused on keeping Charlie comfortable and on working at the hospital that I didn't think too far ahead. I don't think I planned on staying in Forks, though." Edward looked at me with a hint of surprise. We both stepped into the shower. "Really? Why not?" Edward asked as he reached for the soap. "My job. I was a semester away from finishing my graduate courses when I left Florida to take care of Charlie. Actually, I still want to finish my master's degree. I miss my work with high risk patients in Florida." He began washing my back. There was silence for a few moments. He turned me around and began washing my arms, my stomach "What aboutpersonally?" he finally asked. "I don't know," I said as I took the soap from him and began to wash his chest. "All I see is younow." But he took hold of my hands and looked into my eyes. "Bella, tell me. I want to know how you envisioned your life to be, in say five or ten years." His brow was furrowed and the conversation suddenly took a serious turn. I swallowed the lump that

had formed in my throat. Where was he going with this? "Edward, II don't know. What's the correct answer? A husband, kids? Sometimes I did feel like I wanted all of those things. But" I paused as I searched for the right words to convey my feelings. "But, what?" he asked patiently. "I just fear the failure." That was the best that I could do. I did fear the worstlike what had happened to my parents all those years ago. "What failure?" Edward took the soap from me and began rinsing the two of us off. I let the water rush over me as he washed it all away. "I grew up as a child of a very sad divorceI can't describe the feeling of leaving Charlie at the end of each summer. I missed him. And Renee tried so hard to overcompensate emotionallyit was all just exhausting. It's taken us years to build a healthy relationship. It's very complicatedI guess I don't want to experience that sadness all over again." "But baby, some things in life are a risk worth taking. You have to trust yourself and your feelings. Are you telling me that you don't believe in marriage?" "I don't know what to say" I turned off the water and grabbed two towels, handing one to Edward. "Charlie never recovered from losing my mom. I know that he hurt for her until his last breath." Edward sighed at the gravity of what I had just said. "It's just" I continued, "Well, there are no words to explain how it feels to watch someone's heart break. I know my parents' divorce would have so much easier if they hadn't had me to deal with. I know they felt guilty for having me bounce between two households across the country. And I know what it feels like to be caught in the middleI don't ever want to do that to a child." We stepped into the bedroom to get dressed, but our conversation continued. These were things that had to be said. "I know it must have been hell growing up like that. I hate hearing all of thisI really do. But the insecurityit just doesn't seem like you. God, Bella. You're one of the strongest women I know. You have to believe not all marriages, not all families lose their way. My parents" I interrupted him before he could finish. I already knew Esme and Carlisle were the golden exception to the rule of divorce. "I'm trying. Please know that. But, Edward, it's not always black and white. It's the in between that gray areathat's so painful. I guess I'm pretty jaded. I've grown accustomed to living in the moment. I think that's how I was able to ignore the reality of what Marcus was to me. I think you are much more idealistic about life. I envy that." He stopped dressing and sat on the bed. He pulled me down to sit by his side, holding my hand in his. "I'm just hopeful, I guess. My parent's taught me to do more than just go through the motions.

They gave me the confidence to make things happen for myself. I may not follow their exact path in life, but they have given me the love and security to carve out my own." I squared my shoulders to face him, to look him in the eye. What I wanted to say was so important to me. "Edwardyou must give that same confidence and security to Seth." He was obviously touchedand maybe even relievedat how much I did care. "Bella, I can't change the way I handled the truth about Seth. I will always regret not telling you upfrontbut I need to know" His eyes were glistening as he asked his question. "Would you have walked away? From me? From us?" "No. I don't think I could've walked away from you what I felt when I first saw youwhen we first made lovewhat I'm feeling right now. I love you, Edward." "But are you that afraid of a futurelike what my parents have?" And that was the million dollar question. That is what he really wanted to know. I believe now, Edward loved me enough to marry meand he wanted to know if I felt the same. I had to tell him the truth. "I am afraid. I am scared. I don't know what this is supposed to feel like, honestly. I've never had a man love me this wayphysically or emotionally." He put his arms around me, and I suddenly felt safe and secure. He held me close as several minutes passed. "Bella, I've never loved any woman the way I love you. I want you in Austin with me. I want you to be with me every step of the way. I mean it. I've never felt so strongly about anything in my life. Please. Please go with me." I pulled back out of his embrace, just enough to look at him, to see his beautiful green eyes that were moved to the point of tears. "Yes, of course. I'll go with you," I said, and as I did, Edward heaved a sigh of relief. "Shhhbaby, don't worry." I held his face and kissed the tears away. It felt oddly empowering to comfort Edward for a change.

We got dressed and headed to the corner market hand in hand. The proprietors were French, and it didn't surprise me that Edward knew them well enough to ask about their children and their summer vacation...en franais. We grabbed two baskets and walked around the quaint store aisle by aisle, filling them with four filets, fresh tagliolini pasta, parmigiano reggiano and prosciutto for the dish I was making, and a mix of fresh greens for a simple salad. I selected a Bordeauxstyle blend of wine, Chateau St. Jean Cinq Cepages, to pair with the steaks and a bouquet of sunflowers for the table. We walked back to the townhouse, laughing and talking about Riley and Kate. I was excited to meet her; Edward held her in such high esteem. Aside from his parents, I had inferred that Kate was the person Edward looked up to the most. She had influenced his life a great deal, all for the best. He said she was looking forward to meeting me as well. As we prepared the meal, I felt alivehappy just to be with him. Edward selected the music, and

we sang and laughed to the Beatles as we seasoned the meat, chopped the salad, and made the pasta. Edward wanted to taste the pasta saucemaybe he wasn't so sure I could cook since I hadn't made much for him beforebut I could tell he was impressed. "Damn! That's really good. How long does it need to be in the oven?" I smiled at my obvious success. "Ohjust until it's heated through325 for about 30 minutes or so. Will you put it in while I get dressed?" "Sure" I kissed him on the cheek as I headed upstairs. I heard the music change as I was getting ready. Edward had put on some pleasant dinner musicHarry Connick, Jr., singing classic Sinatra. I peeked over the loft railing and saw him downstairs, setting the table or pouring the wine while singing along. God his voice was sexy as hell. I found myself rushing to get dressed so I wouldn't miss a minute of watching him. I slipped on a simple short, black matte jersey tank dress and some sandals. I brushed my hair and decided to wear it pulled back in loose ponytail. I put on a little make-up and my beautiful bracelet. As I made my way downstairs, I heard two new voicesRiley's and Kate's. "Ahthis must be Bella," Kate said cordially as I descended the last step and headed toward the living room. She walked to me, her arms reaching out as if to embrace me warmly. Kate was strikingmiddle-aged and beautiful with long, sandy blonde hair that fell wildly in tight ringlets around her face; it framed her small face and pointed features, and I noted that many people couldn't pull off that look. But she could, with her sun-kissed, freckled skin and brilliant smile. Kate was dressed completely in black, but her outfit was complemented by thick, silver bangle bracelets and large hoop earrings. Her style was immediately apparentshe was a very artistic and refined person. "Do you mind if I call you Isabella? I know that Edward does" Kate moved toward me with elegance and confidence. My smile was the answer to her question, and she placed one hand on my left shoulder and cupped my face with her right. "Oh, my godEdward, this face," she said as she turned to him and smiled. "You are absolutely exquisite, Bella. I hope you have been photographing this face. Your features areso calming and wonderfully pleasant." She then hugged me affectionately as if we'd known each other a lifetime. "Thank you...Kate," I said hesitantly, as I was at a loss for words. I had just met this woman, yet I felt completely at ease. "So, who wants wine?" Riley piped in. I looked over, and Riley and I smiled our hellos. He filled our glasses, and we headed out to the terrace where Edward had already fired up the grill. The terrace was small, and there was just enough space for the grill, a small bistro table and three chairs. At one point, Edward pulled me onto his lap, resting his hands rather intimately on my thighs, but he didn't seem concerned about it in the least, like we always sat that way, whether or not we were among company.

Kate and Edward spent a while talking about mutual friends, professors, or what other students were doing at NYU. I watched Riley closely following their conversation; he hung on Edward's every word. It was interestingand very enlighteningto listen to the three of them talking about the film and university community. Edward was completely in his element, praising his friends' and colleagues' work and ideas. His eyes lit up when he talked of New York City; I instantly recognized the nostalgia in voice, and I wondered how much he missed being there. It was obvious that Kate and Edward were very close and had spent a great deal of time together. She was very philosophical and quite knowledgeable in so many things, with a wonderful voice and soft laugh. She was similar to Edward in both manner and disposition, and I could see how and why they had easily forged such a great friendship. I often noticed Kate staring at me, searching my face for something, though for what I didn't know. The filets didn't take long, and before I knew it we were inside setting up the rest of the meal. Riley and I prepared the plates, and we sat around the table just as the sun was beginning to set. Edward made his place next to me, with Riley and Kate across from us. "So, Isabellayou're an obstetrics nurse. This is something you love?" Kate said to me, very directly, before I even took my first bite of food. "Yes, I do enjoy it very much." Edward gave my thigh a slight squeeze under the table. He smiled at me with a knowing lookhe knew this was Kate's way; ever the philosopher and professor, she loved to ask questions about people's lives. I also felt she was determining whether or not I was a good match her beloved friend. "I think it's wonderful," she added. " The notion of watching a new life come into the worldall the intensity of the very moment that it doesthat has always fascinated me." "Yes, I suppose it's quite amazing. Each birth is a unique experience, and I try to absorb the significance of it all with each one." "Absolutely. It's the plight of the world right now, I'm afraid. Everyone takes everything and everyone for granted. No one lives in the moment anymore. I have to say, I felt it the minute I saw youyou have a very peaceful aura around you. I know you are perfect for that work." Kate smiled at me as she took a mouthful of the pasta I'd made. "Oh, I do hope so. I just want parents to have the experience they deserveI want them to feel like they are in capable hands." "Edward, you know that's why your Ballad is utter perfection, don't you? You were in the moment with every single emotion and breath of those children. And they knew it. They felt respected and appreciated." "Not to butt in, but this is so fucking good. Edward, don't tell me you made this, manThen I'd be convinced you can do everything," Riley said as he ate the last of his helping of pasta.

"No, Rileyrest assured I can't do everything. Bella made it," Edward said, almost proudly. "It's as good as anything you could eat in the city," Kate added approvingly, and I felt as though the night couldn't be any better. After we finished our meal, we moved to the living room with another bottle of wine and our glasses full. "Kate, please tell me something about Edward in college. Anything funnyor mysterious." I glanced over at him, and he was smirking at me mischieviously. "Go on, Katetell her about the good old days." "Well, if I ever needed to find him" She chuckled at him and took a sip from her glass. "all I had to do was head over to Washington Square. He'd sit for hours with St. Jimmy playing guitar." "Who's St. Jimmy?" I asked her. "St. Jimmy was an elderly man who sat in the park seven days a week, nine months of the year playing old school blues on his guitar. Sometimes he would play the sax, but always the guitar with Edward. One day Edward asked if they could play together, and then the next they were best friends. Edward would bring him sandwiches and his favorite cream soda almost every day." Edward's grin couldn't have been any wider at the memory of him playing with his friend. "He taught me so much. He was an incredible musicianremember KateJimmy was the one who introduced me to Coltrane." "Edward bought him a new guitar, before he graduated." "Where's he now?" "He died last year, actually. I dedicated Ballad to him in the credits." I reached across the sofa for Edward's hand and held it gingerly, looking at his face and taking in the beauty of him inside and out. I could feel Kate's eyes on the both of us, and I wondered briefly what she was thinking. We laughed and talked some more about the different places in New York where Edward and his band had played, and when Esme saw Edward's tiny studio apartment for the first time. Finally, Kate admitted she was tired from her full day of traveling on the train ride and few glasses of wine, and that she was ready to head back to her hotel. Kate and I had a moment alone, and what she said to me was very candid. "Isabella, it's been such a pleasure to meet youyou're a true gift for Edward. You have beautiful soul, just like he does." "Thank you, Kate. I know Edward values your friendship very much." She rested her hands on my shoulders as if it would help me believe what she was about to say next. "He's deeply in love with you. And, honestly, I've never seen a bond like yourswhat a love you

both have created so soon. I've watched you both all night, and the two of you are in syncIt's amazing to watch how you interact with one another." "Really?" I said smiling that I was right about her watching me at times during the night. "YesI can tell you are very aware of each otherit's naturalit's right. I know it may be overwhelming to have such powerful feelings right now, but please don't fight it. Just let it bethis is your happily ever after." I was speechless, but I had to answer her in some way. "Oh, KateI do hope you're right." We hugged, and I knew I had made a new friend, one that would greatly impact my life somehow. "Edward, I hope you don't mind if Riley and I skip out on your get-together tomorrow. We'll be headed for Kennett Square. My old college roommate has invited me to her horse farm for a picnic." Kate was referring a party Angela was having for the Fourth. Angela had invited Edward's crew and several of her friends for dinner and to watch the fireworks from the rooftop of her building. "I know you'll be sad to miss it," Edward said sarcastically, as he and Kate exchanged a knowing glance. I suddenly remembered how Riley had said Kate didn't care for Angela very much. Well, that made two of us. As Riley headed out to walk Kate back to her hotel, he mentioned that his friend's band would be playing at Flannigan'sa bar within walking distance of Edward's townhouse. He didn't need to do much convincing, because after two or three bottles of wine, we were all feeling pretty good. When we made it to the bar, we saw that Flannigan's was quite crowded, patrons no doubt capitalizing on the long holiday weekend. The place was small, dimly lit, and very hot inside, but the atmosphere was festive with the busy bar and loud music. Riley's friend and his band were already playing, covering songs I knew from the radio and taking requests. We pushed our way through tables full of people and finally found Riley, sitting on stool along a brick wall covered in what seemed to be graffiti. He had saved two stools for us. Edward bought us a round of beers, but I was already reeling slightly from all of the wine and conversation with Kate. It felt so damn good to let loose, enjoy myself, and have fun with them. The band was incredibleRiley said they called themselves Ethereal Blonde, but I couldn't figure out why. There was nothing ethereal about any of those guys on stage, and none of them were blonde. But their sound was intoxicating, heavy on the guitar and drums, and I could see Edward assessing every note. And Riley was especially wound uphe was shouting requests and singing along to almost every song. Someone from the audience screamed a request that I couldn't hear, but when the band started to play, I recognized it as one of the songs on my iPod. "OhI know this one!" I said and started to sing along, forgetting the time when Edward and Jasper had laughed at my vocal skills. The band was playing Lenny Kravitz's "American Woman."

"Damn, BellaI love this song, toolet's go sing" Riley said, grabbing my arm and pulling me up on stage. I didn't have time to protest, and in any case, it was too late. Riley had put a microphone in my hand. I looked out into the crowd and saw Edward whistling and clappingfor me. Riley and I sang and danced on stage, with himthankfullysinging much louder than I did. When the song was over, the crowd stood and cheered. I had never done anything like that in my entire life, and it was incredibly fun. Hot and sweaty from being up on stage, I headed for the bathroom before going back to our spot. I couldn't wait to hear what Edward had to say about my duet with Riley. At first, I mistakenly went into the bar's very tiny kitchen. I asked for directions to the bathroom and was told it was down a narrow stairwell and then at the end of a long hallway. It was dark and quiet where I was going, but I made my way downstairs to the very small and definitely deserted bathroom. I was the only one in there, and from the looks of it, the only one that had been there in a very long time. I could still hear the bass from the band upstairs beating through the ceiling. I looked in the mirror and saw that my cheeks were flushed from all the dancing, singing, and laughing. I smiled happily at my reflection as I splashed some water on my face. I grabbed a paper towel, patting my forehead and cheeks dry. I did my best to rearrange my ponytail, but my hair was almost soaked through. There wasn't much more I could do with the way I looked, so I opened the door to the bathroom, hoping I could find my way back upstairs again. As I stepped out, a man was leaning against the wall directly in front of me. It took a moment for my eyes to focusit was Edward. "Oh my god!" I cried out in surprise. "Damn, Edward. You scared the shit out of me! What are you doing down here?" His arms were crossed over his chest, and he was looking at me so intently with those gorgeous green eyes. "What? What's the matter, Edward. You're scaring me. What's wrong?" "Nothing's wrongI promise," he said, moving toward me and closing the small distance between us. I looked up at him so I could see his face clearerhe had that look in his eyes. That damn, sexy look. I knew that look very well, even through the haze of wine and beer and elation. He pushed me gently against the wall, pressing his body against mine. He put his hand over my cheek, bending his mouth to my ear. The bass of the band upstairs was replaced by the racing beat of my heart. I held my breath and realized I could barely swallow. As many times as Edward had touched me, as many times as Edward had whispered in my earthis felt as if it were the very first. I tingled all over with the anticipation of what he was going to say. "Baby, do you have any idea how hot I am for you right now?" he whispered, moving his hand from my cheek to inside the scoop neck of my dress, finding my breast. I gasped at his words, his touch. "Really? Then why don't you tell me how much?" I teased playfully. "Why don't I show you" And with that, he kissed me hard, his tongue desperately searching

for mine. I felt his erection against my stomachand I knew at that moment I wanted him to take me right there, in that tiny hallway. My arms reached for his waist, and his hands gripped at my thighs. I yanked at the buttons on his jeans, and he pulled up the hem of my thin black dress. I reached for him through his boxers, and he pulled my panties aside. I moved my hand up down his length, so hard and long and wet in my hand. He stroked me there, his fingers a welcomed invasion, one pleasing thrust after thrust. I moaned against his neck, and I could feel his heartbeat quicken with each one. At last, he raised my legs around his waist and my hands gripped the back of his neck. We both cried out in pleasure as he entered me. "Fuck, Edwardit's so good, baby" My hands were gripping his hair, urging him on, harder and faster. "God, BellaalreadyI'm" Edward kissed me as his pace quickened and he was on the brink of his release. "Don't stopdon't stop" And the world around me disappeared as Edward filled me with his desire and with his love.

I heard the water running in the shower when I finally woke up. I was pleasantly surprised that my head wasn't throbbing after last night's copious alcohol consumption. My mind was suddenly flooded with thoughts of Edward and our hot, incredible, erotic encounter at the bar. Dear godwhat this man does to me. One minute he makes love to me in the sweetest, most romantic waythen the next he fucks me like a naughty one night stand. I feel like the luckiest girl in the world. While Edward was still in the shower, I pulled on one of his t-shirts and slipped downstairs to get some much needed coffee. He'd obviously been up for awhilethe coffee was already made and smelled wonderful, the day's paper was on the table, and his laptop was on the granite counter. I grabbed a mug and filled it, my intent being to sit down and read the paper. Instead, I noticed an open disk case next to Edward's laptop. I picked it up and turned it over. "Michaelunedited, V.1" was written in Edward's handwriting on the case label. The computer was on, and before I had the chance to talk myself out of anything, I clicked "play." And there was Michael, Angela's older brother, sitting for an interview. Michael was a very handsome man, with short dark hair and chiseled features. I could tell he was very muscular, that perhaps he liked to work-out, because he wore a fitted, dark t-shirt and jeans as he sat on a bar stool in what looked to be a kitchen in house somewhere. I listened and watched him tell horror after horror of the Weber family's very impoverished childhood. Their material possessions often came from a local Catholic charity, and school breakfasts and lunches were often the only meals they managed. Sometimes they wouldn't see their mother for days, as she worked two jobs to keep the small apartment their father left behind. Michael's voice cracked as he recounted the day Angela saw her father for the first time in the prison meeting area. She'd demanded to go see him one day, and that visit would be for the first and last time. The tears finally began to flowfor Michael and for meas he remembered

how Angela would lie down, night after night, on her sleeping bag hidden away in the restaurant kitchen where he worked, trying to finish her homework. I was so engrossed in Michael's poignant and revealing interview that I didn't hear Edward come downstairs. I felt him reach around me from behind, holding me around the waist. "Good morning," he said sweetly as he kissed my neck. I turned around to face him, and he saw the tears in my eyes. "It's tough to watch, isn't it? I was thinking about the edit this morning I'm might just leave it rough." "Edward, I feel selfish." "Bella, stop it. She's intense. You were right. She was and is being totally inappropriate. I'm sorry." "Butthere is a part of mewell, I feel sorry for her. I really do." "Don't. Angela's an adult now. Not the little girl he's describing. She knows better." He kissed me chastely on the lips and moved into the kitchen to get his cup of coffee. "And I've been thinkinglet's skip this party tonight. We can go watch the fireworks by the museum instead." "No, it's fine. You need to be there. Your crew, your friends" "I don't mind, Bella. I don't want you to feel uncomfortable." "Edward, it's okay. I'm an adult, too. I've had a lot to absorb the last few days. The other night I was just emotionaland maybea little jealous." "I know you've had a lot to think about," he said placing his coffee mug on the granite counter. Edward stood in front of me and cupped my face between his warm hands, smirking a little. "So, tell me about being a little jealous" he teased. "Oh, stop it!" I playfully teased him back, grabbing his hands and kissing him on the lips. We spent the holiday walking around the neighborhood, marveling at the architecture and taking pictures of our excursion. Edward took some pictures of me, and it reminded me of all the things Kate had told me the night before. I smiled at the prospect of Edward being my happily ever after. After a late lunch, a nap and a shower, we began to get ready for Angela's party. I decided to wear a comfortable and short, white linen dress. It was pretty with embroidered cream flowers and leaves down the front, and it had several fabric buttons on the back. They were impossible for me to get to, so I went to Edward for help. "Hey, babycan you button me up please?" He ran his hands down the exposed skin on my back, my body heating immediately under his touch. He pushed my hair to one side and began kissing my neckone kiss, then another

"You know" he said as he kissed me again, "we could just stay here tonight." "Mmmas tempting as that iswith your hands on me right now" "Is that a yes?" He asked as he kissed me a final time. "You can have me all to yourself when we get back. We don't have to stay longbut I think it's a good idea if we go." "Herestand straightshithow many of these buttons are on this dress?" We laughed together as he finished. "You look beautiful, as always, by the way," he told me as we began our walk to the restaurant. "So do you," I said as I reached for his hand. And he did. He was wearing jeans and a simple white t-shirt, but Edward's style was so effortless. We arrived at Ciao Metro to a lively scene on the rooftop of the old building. I had to admit, Angela had done an amazing job renovating it to accommodate her restaurant. There were large globe lights strung from planter poles in each corner of the smallish space. Jazz music was playing from the speakers hidden somewhere. A few teak tables were laid out with food and drinks. There were sliders, spring rolls, cold marinated asparagus, spinach dip with feta, a triple berry trifle, margaritas, sangria, beer and wine. Thirty or so people were already there, laughing and having a great time. I finally spied Angela, who was dressed in a very short red mini dress that hugged her every voluptuous curve. Her hair was pulled up dramatically on top of her head, highlighting her flawless face. Edward held me by the waist as he introduced me to the people he knew. We tried to avoid Angela as much as possible, but it was difficult in such a small place. "Oh, Edwardis that Michael over there?" "It isdo you want to meet him?" "I do," I replied as we walked toward Angela's brother. But Angela beat us to him. "Edward. How are you?" She asked him, plainly ignoring me. "Hello, Angela," I said, "Everything looks so lovely." "Thank you, Bella." Angela turned to Michael. "Michael, this is Bellashe'sshe's Edward's girlfriend, or whatever she is." I bit my lip, and before I could reply, Edward spoke up. "Michael, Bella is my girlfriend. She lives in Forks, not far from my parents." He pulled me

closer as he said this. "Hey, Bella. Nice to meet youyou have a beautiful name." "Thank you. It's short for Isabella, but only Edward calls me that." I looked up and smiled at him and gave Angela a side glance. "We need some more ice already. I have several bags downstairs in the kitchen. Bella, do you mind if Edward helps bring them up?" Angela asked with her best fake smile. I felt as though this was a test of some sort. "Sure, I don't mind. I'd love to talk to your brother some more." I watched as Angela and Edward made their way downstairs to get the ice. Michael and I talked for several minutes about his work as a bartender and how the restaurant business must be in their blood. He was kind and very different from his sister in so many ways. I immediately liked him. I excused myself from Michael and spoke briefly with Heidi and Demetri about what they would be working on next, where their next project would take them, how they liked working for Edward. The minutes wore on, and I realized Edward and Angela had been gone for too long just to get ice. I could only imagine all the ways in which she was trying to sink her claws into him. She had some nerve, that was for sure. Her flirting was blatant and was lost on no one. I could appreciate the hard life Angela had led until now, but that didn't give her the right to go against Edward's wishes. He had made it clearhe didn't love her and never had. He loved me. I made my way to where they had been headed, walking down the narrow stairwell from the rooftop to the kitchen. It was hot and humid, and the perspiration began beading on my forehead. I wiped it away with my palm, which was already wet with being nervous from what I was more than likely about to find. When I finally made my way down, I heard Edward's voice before I saw them. "Angela, you are out of your fucking mind," I heard him say angrily through clenched teeth. "Come on, Edward. Thisthis thing between the two of youyou know it won't last, baby," she purred at him. "I've told you this before. I love her. That's it. We are done. Been done. Over." I heard some shuffling before I peered through the doorway. Edward's back was against the large subzero refrigerator. And Angela had moved herself toward him, pressing her body against his. "You need to movenowI want to get back," he said, reaching for the bags of ice lying on the ground. Angela grabbed his wrist and held his hand, trying to move it to her mouth. I gasped at her nerve, her boldness. "For old time's sakeEdward, please" she pushed herself toward him more, one hand reaching for his chest. Edward quickly pulled his hand away and held her by the shoulders. I

waited, holding my breath, to hear what he would say to her. "I've had enough, reallyyou've gone too far this time. We only have a few more weeks on this. Don't make it any harder for us to work together than it already is. Bella is my life nowjust accept it and move the fuck on. And leave her out of any agenda you may havedo we understand each other?" Before she could answer, I cleared my throat and walked in. They both turned to me in surprise. "Ahhso, Bella" Angela turned toward me. "So what, Angela?" I moved toward her with purpose. "Edward and I were just having a little discussion" "I'm not sure I like your idea of a discussion." "Bella, let's take this upstairs, okay?" Edward asked, lifting up the bags of ice. "Maybe you can do it?" He looked at me with a wide-eyed expression. "Edward, could you leave usgo upstairs for awhile? I'll be just fine. I think it's time Angela and I have a little talk alone." "But, Bella" Edward pleaded, but to no avail. "It's okaythis is long overdue. I'll be up in a few minutes." "She's right, Edward. Let us girls talk it out," her voice was full of sarcasm. Edward hoisted the bags over his shoulders and reluctantly began to go upstairs. I turned around to face Angela, and she had moved within only inches of my face. My initial instinct was to back away from her, but I stood my ground. I could tell she was looking over my shoulder. "He's gone, so get this over with, shall we?" Angela said through her perfectly straight, white teeth. "I don't know who you really are, or where the fuck you came fromfucking Forks? But know this Bellathere's no way he'll stay with you." She grabbed my wrists and squeezed as hard as she could. "Get your fucking hands off me, Angela" I said, looking at her directly in the eyes. "Bella? Are you okay?" It was Edward. I turned around to see him peering back at us. He must have heard us. "Edwardjust go upstairs. I'll only be a few minutespromise." I yanked my hands from her grasp and moved so close to her that she bumped up against the prep counter. When she did, a glass fell and crashed to the floor. "Keep your fucking hands to yourselfdon't ever touch meor Edward again." I'd dealt with

Marcus and Victoria, and I could deal with Angela. Her mouth twitched up into a venomous smile as she stood up straight. For a moment, I thought she might push me back. But she didn't. "I will, for now. But know this, Bella. He always comes back" "Angela, lookyou're an accomplished womansmart, beautifulhave some self-respect. You need to move onEdward's with me now." "That's what you think. Just wait. You'll see. Edward always comes back to me. He always has, and he always will" "You need to stop being so desperate." "But Bella, there's just so much you don't know"

16.

"Keep your fucking hands to yourselfdon't ever touch meor Edward again." I'd dealt with Marcus and Victoria, and I could deal with Angela. Her mouth twitched up into a venomous smile as she stood up straight. For a moment, I thought she might push me back. But she didn't. "I will, for now. But know this, Bella. He always comes back" "Angela, lookyou're an accomplished womansmart, beautifulhave some self-respect. You need to move onEdward is with me now." "Just wait. You'll see. Edward always comes back to me. He always has, and he always willthere's so much you don't know" "Oh, really. Like what? I can only imagine the shit you'll come up with," I said sarcastically; now she'd made me really angry. I wanted to slap her, but I'd been on the receiving end of that before, and I didn't want to give Angela the satisfaction of being able to retaliate. It took all the restraint I had not to yank her perfectly coiffed hair from her perfectly delusional head. "Edward isn't as faultless as you think. He hides things from the people he lovesor thinks he loves." She crossed her arms over her chest, one eyebrow raised, her high-heel tapping, waiting for my reply. I decided to play this down, trying not to entice her anymore than I had already. For once, she had said something that was true. "I mean, reallyI know he hasn't told you about his son." Her emphasis on that last word was full of disdain.

"As a matter of fact, I do know about him. And I also know Edward didn't want you to know. How did you find out?" "Oh, I have my ways of finding out the details I want to knoweven little pieces of information about you, Bella, if I wanted to. So if he kept this from you for so long, what will he do next? Just think about that" Edward had concealed the truth about both Seth and the extent of his relationship with Angela from mebut I also knew how much she still wanted him, or at least wanted what she couldn't have. "Angela, what's happened between Edward and methat's our business. Not yours." "Bella, you're so nave," she laughed in my face. "He's so out of your league, honey. Soon enough, you'll bore himand, eventually, he'll toss you aside," she said as her hands went to her tiny waist, and she came as close to me as she couldso close I could smell her perfume. Before I could say another word, Edward and Michael appeared in the kitchen doorway. "Alright, Angelathat's enough! You're done," Edward said as he moved between us. She looked at him with a smirk, and I could tell she wasn't finished with menot yet anyway. "What's the matter, Edward?" She asked him, defiantly. Then, Angela turned to me, looking quite pleased with what she was about to say. "You didn't tell her about the pregnancy did you?" "Angela, don't start this again," I heard Michael say. "Leave them alone." He moved over to calm her down, but his words were lost on me. I felt the heat rise to my cheeks instantly. A sudden nausea overwhelmed me, and the floor and walls and ceiling of the kitchen became a muddled blur. Had I heard her right? I turned to Edward. His eyes were wide, and his brow was tense he looked as if he were in pain. I mouthed the word "pregnancy" to him, shaking my head in disbelief. I was too furious at both of themAngela and Edwardto cry or to scream. Instinctively, my hands formed fists, and I raised them both out of frustration. I raised them at no one, really, but Edward thought otherwise. He caught my arms just below the elbows before I changed my mind and my fists made contact with someone or something. "Bella!" Edward shouted at me, sounding shocked. He'd raised his voice at me, not letting go of my arms, even though I tried to wriggle out of his grasp. He looked over at Angela. "Angelaget a fucking hold of yourself," he tried to maneuver me around the prep counter while he was still talking to her. He pointed his finger in her face as he yelled, "This is so unnecessary. I'll deal with you later." This was a side of Edward I'd never seen before. We pushed through the kitchen to the front of Ciao Metro. "Hey guys " Michael shouted out after us. "Edward, will you two be okay?" "Sure, Michael. I'll call you laterjust take care of your sister." Edward ushered me quickly out of restaurant, without saying another word or letting go of my arm from his tight grip. When we

were finally outside and on the sidewalk, I yanked my arm away and promptly stormed off in the direction of his townhouse. "Bellaslow down. Bella!" "I don't want to slow down, Edward. This is a perpetual cycle of bullshit. And I don't fucking deserve it!" "You don't know what you're talking about. Come here! Please, Bella. Please listen to me." He pleaded as he ran to catch up with me. "Edward, stop. I don't even care! I don't want to know!" I lied. Of course I cared, and I did want to know the truth. But the idea of him having a baby with someone elsewith herwould break my heart. Abruptly, Edward grabbed me tightly and held me there on the sidewalk. Suddenly fireworks were being launched in every direction. It was loud, and the world felt as if it were vibrating all around us. I fought him briefly, but he wouldn't let go. I finally gave into his embrace, my arms hanging limply by my side. "Will you listen to me now?" I was silent, not as belligerent as I was before. Still, I couldn't look at him. My eyes were fixed on a storefront across the street. "Bellait wasn't my baby. Angela cheated on meover two years agowith one of the backers for the restaurant. And she got pregnant." He suddenly became very solemn. "But she lost the baby early onand she was devastated." "So you weren't the father?" "Noalthough at first she wanted me to believe it was mine. She was desperateBut I was always very careful when..." "God, EdwardI thought" "That's what she wanted you to think, Bella. But the truth of it isShe thought I would take her back, and we'd move on. She thought if I believed the baby was mine, I would marry her. But I knew it wasn't my child. She eventually admitted to the affair." The fireworks were still popping all around us, lighting our faces in the darkness. "What happened to the man?" "He was older, already with a family. When he found out about the baby, he ended it." I took in a heavy breath. The adrenaline was still pumping through my veins. Edward was still holding me, trying to keep me from shaking. "I was there for her. She had no one else to turn to. It was a bad end to our relationship, but it

was overit's been over for a long time. I've told you that, baby." "I know thatbut why? Why is she so vindictive?" "I guess it's because she's never seen me with another woman. A woman that she knows I love. This is obviously sending her into a very dark place. I'm sorry she's taking it out on you." "Then why do you continue to succumb to her whims and protect her? She's rightyou did keep going back, didn't you?" I asked him as I pulled away. I felt like I could look him in the eyes again. "It's just not healthyit's just not right. Maybe you were giving her a false hope. And this projectwhy?" Edward was frustrated, and as usual, his hands went straight to his head, his fingers running through his disheveled hair. "I don't fucking know. Fuck, Bella. I believed in this project once." He backed up to the building where we were standing, a small dry cleaners, and leaned against its brick faade. "It was easy to say yes back then. When I committed to making the filmthat was over a year ago. Baby, I hadn't found you yet." I wanted to forget about all this, and I kept shaking my head as I thought about all that had happened since I came to Philadelphia. And Edward kept talking. "You do believe that all that shit with Angela, everythingit's the pastright? But tonightshe was out of control. And you're hurt again." "I'm sorry I overreacted and let her get the best of me. Really I am," I said as I closed my eyes as I allowed those words to sink in. We were silent for a few minutes. "I just want to go home," I said finally. "Okay. Let's walk." Edward made a move to hold my hand, and I let him take it. I squeezed it a little as I clarified what I really meant. "No, Edward. I want to go home." "What? You mean to Forks? Bella" "You heard me" I let his hand fall and walked the rest of the way in front of him, my arms crossed protectively against my chest. I waited anxiously for him while he unlocked his front door. I walked inside and went immediately up to the bedroom loft. At first, Edward kept his distance and gave me some space to cool down. I threw myself onto the bed, took a few deep breaths, flung my arm over my tired face, and thought about the night's events. I replayed my conversation with Angela over and over in my head. Truthfully, there was nothing I would've done differently. Maybe I'd overreacted at the whole revelation, maybe not. My heart hurt for what Angela had been through with the loss of her child. She was a complicated woman who was perhaps in more emotional pain than she realized.

I didn't want to seem unreasonable, but at the same time, I was tired of being bombarded by surprises. I heard Edward downstairs in the kitchena cabinet being closed, water running through the tap. And then my thoughts turned to himPlease don't leave me, Bella...that's what he'd told me when we'd made love yesterday. Why the hell did being in love have to be so difficult? Things were wonderful one minute and then agonizingly frustrating the next. I slipped off my shoes and stood to take off my dress. I tried pulling it over my head, forgetting about the many buttons down the back. ShitI reached around and tried without success to get out of the thing by myself. Damn it! Edward approached the top of the stairs and saw me struggling. It was obvious he was suppressing a smile at my failing effort. "If you leave tomorrow, I'm going with you," he said as he set down two glasses of water on the dresser. "Ugh! What? Edward, just be quiet and help me with my dress, please. Dammit." In a huff, I turned my back to him so he could help me. He moved behind me and started to unbutton the dress. As soon as his fingertips grazed my bare back, I relaxed and reveled in his touch. "Edward" He didn't answer me. Instead, as he slowly moved from one button to the next, he peppered gentle kisses down my neck. "Edward?" Still no answer. But I felt all the tension begin to drain from my body as the kisses trailed down my shoulders to my back. "Edward" This time he answered me. "Do you want me to stop?" He'd finished with all the buttons, and with his hands against my skin, he pushed the dress off my shoulders. It fell softly to the floor. "No. I don't want you stop," I answered him faintly, my voice much quieter and calmer than it had been all night. He continued to kiss and to lick my neck and across the top of my shoulders. His hands found my breasts, and as he began to caress them, I suddenly felt weak under his touch, and I closed my eyes and leaned back into him. "It's just you and meit's been only you since I first saw you. You and no one else." "I know, Edward. I know you're telling the truth. I was just frustratedand maybe a little jealous." I turned to face him as I laid back on the bed, now only in my panties. "Jealous? Of Angela? Why?" I watched as his eyes moved over my body, looking at me, taking it all in. "Honestly?" I asked him, suddenly brave enough to tell him the truth. "Bella, you have nothing to be jealous about"

"But the thought of her having your childit really hit a nerve." I saw him swallow hard, comprehending the gravity of what I said. "Just promise me..." "Promise you what? I willtell me..." He stood, staring down at me, as he slowly pulled his shirt over his head and dropped it to the floor. "No more surprises, okay?" I asked him, spreading my legs slightly as he watched. I ran my hands over my breasts slowly, massaging each one. "I promise," he said as he began to unbutton his jeans. I watched him as he took them off and his boxers next. He gazed hungrily at me as I ran one hand ever so slowly down my stomach and along the top of my panties. Our eyes were locked on one another as our breathing accelerated. I was driving him wild. He licked his lips in anticipation as I slowly pushed my hand further. We held our gaze, and I smiled at him as I started to move my handstroking and circling touching myself the way he would. I arched my head back and closed my eyes as I continued to enjoy the pleasure I created. "God, Bella" I felt Edward climb onto the bed, his naked body hovering above my own. I opened my eyes and whispered to him. "Edward, I need your mouth on me, baby." "Do you? Tell me where" "Hmmhere" I whispered to him as I moved my hand more. He took my hand to his mouth and kissed my palm. Then he sucked each one of my fingers softly and slowly. He pulled off my panties and slid down to give me what I'd asked for. Oh my god. I grasped his hair, urging him down, wanting to feel his warm mouth on me. "Oh, Edwardthis is what I needed" I turned and moaned into the pillow. He raised his head, and although I couldn't see him, I could tell he was smiling. "You like this, don't you?" "Yesyes you know I do. Make me come," I said quietly as I lifted my legs and rested them on his shoulders, giving myself freely to him. He was all tongue and fingers, stroking and licking until I came undone and shuddered around him. My eyes were still closed, relishing the moment of complete and utter release. I felt him move my legs and move above me, his breath tickling my breasts first, then my neck. He lowered himself on top of me, his weight such a welcomed, comforting feeling. I moaned with pleasure as he sank into me, the events of the night fading away until I could see only the two of us in my mind. His movements were long, slow and loving, as if he were trying to savor every minute of us being joined as one. His breathing accelerated as he wavered on the verge of his own release.

"Damn, Bella. You feel so goodI don't want to stop," Edward whispered as he reached his climax, burying his face into my neck, holding my face with one hand. With his other hand, he laced his fingers through mine, and we laid joined togetherfor as long as we could. After our breathing slowed, he rolled over and propped himself up on his elbow to look at me. He had the sexy grin on his face, that look I loved so much. "What?" I asked him, poking him playfully on his chest. "You almost punched meback at the restaurant." His fingers circled around different places on my body, and his eyes followed them as he did. He was marking the places he wouldn't see while we would be apart. I would miss his touch. "No! Did I? Oh" My hands flew to my face so he couldn't see me blush. "I know, oh god. I'm sorry. It's justshe's so infuriating!" He moved my hands so he could see my face. "I'm glad we can talk calmly about this now. You're right about her." "She's jealousinsanely jealous. You know that she found out about the adoption, don't you?" "What? NoI never her told her about Seth." "Well, she knowsshe told me so during our little confrontation. She thought she would shock methat you hadn't told me about it yet." He sighed heavily. "I don't know who she's been talking to or how she found out. But I'll get to the bottom of it" "And maybe she's not completely over everything she's been throughthe babyyou. Honestly, I feel sad for her, Edward. Her life hasn't been easy" I rolled over so that I was facing him. "I can't imagine what it would feel like to want you so fucking much and not be able to have you." He pushed my hair out of my face, back behind my ear. His fingertips grazed my lips sweetly before he kissed them. "Isabella Swan, you will never know that feeling. I'm yours. Forever." I kissed him back, rolling over him so I could feel him underneath me. "I'm going to quit," he said after a few minutes of kissing and caressing each other. "What?" I asked, sitting up and straddling him. "Quitting what? What are you talking about?" "Angela's documentary. I'm done." "But you're not done. Edward, you can't quit." "I don't want to do it anymore. I don't like the direction it's headed," he replied, putting his hands behind his head. He continued with finality in his voice, "It's all fabricatedthere's no validity to what we're doing now. I'm fucking sick of the corporate eagle eyes. They are going to edit the

hell out of it anyway for their production." "Edwardstop it. You can't quit. Angela would be devastated." "Are you serious?" He looked at me with wide eyes and disbelief. "Bella, you're amazing. The woman has done nothing but cause you pain since you met herand you're worried about her feelings. God, baby" "You made a commitment" I said, interrupting him. "I know, but my commitment to you is more important. Please don't worry about this." He pulled me down to him and kissed me, perhaps to keep me quiet and distract me from our conversation. "You're trying to change the subject" I managed to say in between kisses. "Maybe" he said, kissing me once more.

The next morning I awoke to a melodious sound coming from the edge of the bed. It was Edward softly playing his guitar. I didn't move or make a soundI'd only heard him play a few times since we'd met, and I enjoyed the thought that he might start singing. The music was sweet, with a hint of somethinglonging or sadness maybe. I'd never heard the music before. I changed my mind and shifted slightly so that I could watch him; he was angled so I could only see his profile. His eyes were closed as he played. And then he began to sing Words get trapped in my mind... Sorry I don't take the time to feel the way I do. 'Cause the first day you came into my life My time ticks around you. But then I need your voice As the key to unlock all the love that's trapped in me So tell me when it's time to say I love you All I want is you to understand, That when I take your hand, it's 'cause I want to We are all born in a world of doubt

But there's no doubt, I figured out I love you Edward turned to look at me right before the tears began to flow down my face. Did he really just sing that to me? "Was that for me?" I asked after a few moments of us watching one another. He put his guitar down by the side of the bed and crawled in next to me. He sighed deeply, and told me this song was for me, that he and Jasper began working on it a few weeks ago. "This trip's been intense for you for us. It didn't turn out the way I'd hoped." "Hey," I sat up to face him, calmly taking his hands. "We're where we need to be. It's happened this way for a reason. It'll be okay." He lifted my hands to kiss them, and we started our last full day together. We stayed in bed most of the day, cherishing each othersnuggling, exploring, loving. Edward ordered a veggie pizza in the afternoon, which we also ate in bed straight out of the box. We talked for hours about everything we could think ofchildhood to college to our families...probably sharing the most about one another we ever had before. Thankfully, my last day here was much better than my first. The only interruption was Edward's phone vibrating incessantly on the dresser. "Edward Cullen," he finally answered. "Hello, Peter," he nodded his head a few times as he listened to his lawyer on the other end. "YesJust see what the damage will be. I knowprobably," he acknowledged, shaking his head. "Peter, I don't give a shit. No. I'll pay them from my personal account." His voice was firm and full of resolve. I garnered from his tone that he was talking about Angela and the documentary. "Alright. I'll be glad when it's done. Yes, that works for me. I'll be available tomorrow afternoon. I'm taking Bella to the airport, and then I'll be back here. Okay, Peter Thanks." He ended the call without saying a word to me. I sat up in bed, crossing my legs and arms. "What the hell are you doing?" I asked him in disbelief. He really was serious about quitting his documentary. "What? Belladon't look at me that way," he said with a smirk. He sat next to me on the bed, running his hands along my legs. I relaxed a little under his touch. "Baby, it's for the best. After you went to sleep last night, Michael called me. We had a long conversation, and he agrees with me." I flung myself back onto the bed. "Oh, shit. This is all my fault."

"No it's not. I wasn't happy from the beginning when I signed the contract with Caius International. I've never made a film under any restrictions like this. It's bullshit. Kate even advised me not to do it. I knew better." "What about Angela? The television pilot?" "Don't worry about her. Michael's going to talk to her, and he'll help me deal with it. CI will film the pilot and the doc the way they want to film it. Please don't worry." "Are you sure about this? I'm not sure what to say" "I'm going to come home next week, back to Forks. I just need to settle a few things with Peter before I fly out there. And I want us to start preparing to go to Austin." "EdwardI can't believe you'd quit this." "I told you that I am committed to youI don't want you to be hurt anymore. And being around Angela is the wrong thing to do. I did this for the both of us." "Don't say anything else. Just kiss me." I pulled him down to my lips and kissed him, my way of saying thank you. "I almost forgotI have something for you," I said happily as I jumped from the bed, making my way to the closet where I had my luggage. I went to my suitcase and pulled out a little black pouch. I sat down on the bed beside Edward and handed him the tiny bag. He smiled curiously at me. "What's this?" He asked, smiling as he untied the drawstrings and opened it. Inside was Charlie's black Swiss Army watch, the watch he always worethe one I wore to his funeral. When I'd packed up Charlie's room, I'd decided I wanted Edward to have it. He pulled the watch out of the pouch, running his thumb over the dial and his hands over the black leather band. I took it from him and started to put it around his wrist. "Bella, this is your dad's watch" he muttered quietly. "Yes. It was Charlie's, but I want you to have it. Now it's yours." I fastened it and held his wrist up to see. "Are you sure?" "I love you and I want you to have a small piece of me, of who I am." We smiled at each other through our bittersweet tears of loss and of love.

Early the next morning, I came out of a much needed shower to find Edward standing in the bathroom waiting for me. I had packed my bag and we had only a few hours left together. I knew

he would be coming back to Forks soon, but I would miss him nonetheless. He handed me a towel, and I suddenly realized we hadn't talked much about me leaving Philly. I guess it's true some things are better left unsaid and simply understood. "Thank you," I said as I took the towel and began to dry myself off. Edward just stood there staring as I patted my hair, my arms and then my legs dry. "What?" I asked him playfully, knowing full well the answer to my question. "I know that look." "You do?" He replied, moving closer and taking my towel. "What does it mean then?" "That you want something really bad" I teased as I backed away from him. The bathroom was steamy, and the mirror was fogged. I was up against the bathroom counter, and there was nowhere else for me to go. He approached me, and I was cornered. God, I was going to miss this. "You know me well," he declared as he picked me up so that I was sitting on the granite vanity. He slowly stroked my thighs as I moved them around his waist. I reached forward and pulled at his boxers, with Edward taking them off the rest of the way. He shifted his body slightly, his hands traveling to my core. "This" he whispered into my mouth. "I want this" he uttered as he began to caress me in long, languid strokes. His two fingers entered me, pushing inside, igniting my unquestionable need for him. And the need was for more than just sex; it was for intimacy, for friendship, for companionship, for love "Hmmyes" I moaned as I arched back and closed my eyes. "Look at me, Bella." I opened my eyes and peered into his. I reached for him then, feeling him so hard and hot in my hand. My hand wrapped softly around Edward's length, rubbing it gently and stirring lustful moans from him. "I'm ready I'm yours, baby," I said as I guided him toward me. He pushed inside, his thrusts filling me completely with each one. He steadied me with his strong hands around my hips. "You're fucking beautiful, Bella" "I love this, baby harderfaster" I gripped his shoulders and held onto him with all that I had. "Oh, Edwardyes" "Ahhyou'reso warmdammitI'm already close" He nuzzled his head into my neck as we experienced the familiar, delicious rise and fall we craved so much. He held me for several minutes, my legs still enveloping his waist, trembling slightly. "I know I haven't said this yet, but I'm going to miss you," I admitted as I brushed the hair from his forehead.

"I'll miss you, too." And with that, we moved reluctantly to the bedroom, where I started getting dressed for the long flight home.

We arrived at the airport terminal without much time to spare. Edward parked his car and he helped me with my suitcase. We knew our goodbye would be rushed, but perhaps this time that was a good thing. We wouldn't have time for an emotional goodbye. I was content with the promise that Edward would be home in Forks in one week. He embraced me tightly, with one hand gently holding the back of my neck and the other softly caressing my cheek. "Oh EdwardI forgotplease tell Riley goodbye. I really wish I could've done it in person." "No problem. He really liked you, you know. You'll see him again soon. He wants to come and hang out in Austin when we go." Austinsuddenly I felt a heavy weight on my heart. "That reminds me," he said as he reached into the backseat of his car. "Some reading material for the flight home." He handed me a tattered book with a black and white cover. I turned it over and saw Seven Plays by Sam Shepherd. "I saw one of your books at your houseTennessee Williams, if I remember correctly. I think you'll enjoy this. I was a stagehand in a production of True West at NYU." I flipped through the book, looking at the pages. There were highlights and underlining throughout. A smile crossed my face. "Thank you," I said as I hugged him tightly. "Have a safe flight" "I will. I'll call you tonight, okay?" "I love you." "I love you, too." He kissed me sweetly, slowlysucking in my bottom lip and giving it a gentle tug with his teeth. He touched his forehead to mine, and we smiled at one another for the last time. I arrived at the airport in Seattle, where Jake was waiting for me at the baggage claim. We gave each other a friendly hug, and he assessed my face, a worried look crossing his. "Stop it. What are you looking at? You're making me feel self-conscious." "Bells, you look tired." "Yeah, well, no shit. I just flew across the country. Get off my case, okay?" I said sarcastically. "No, Bella. I'm not being a smartass. You look exhaustedreally worn out. I'm not joking. Are

you okay?" He was concerned for me, I could tell. "The trip was intenseEdward and I had" "Okay, okayI don't want those kinds of details," Jake said, this time he was joking and trying to make me laugh. "I promise I won't go into that. I'll tell you everything when we get to your truck." "Alright, but you're okay though?" "Yeah, I am. I'm really good, actually. Edward and I are, too...Jake, I'm going to miss him." "I know you willbut there's some things going on at the hospital to keep you occupied. The new doctor has arrived in OB." "Really? And?" "And she's gorgeous and blonde and intelligent. Her name is Lauren Mallory. And I'm having dinner with her this weekend." I stopped in my tracks. "What? Seriously? Jakedon't do that. You know" "Hey! Watch it, Bells. This is different from you and Marcus." "Just be carefulplease?" "Bells, she's incredible. She's from Florida, too. Ohand shityou know who her brother is? Alec Mallory!" "WaitAlec Mallorythe pitcher from the Minnesota Twins?" "Yes! Rememberyour dad liked watching him play." "He did. I went with him one time when the Mariners played the Twins. Oh wow" I thought of Charlie and how much he had loved sports, especially baseball. "He's supposed to be a great guy. Didn't he retire from the majors though?" I'd picked up some trivia here and there reading the sports pages to Charlie when he was sick. "He did...last year. Shoulder injury, I think." "Waitdid you meet him?" "Yep. He's in town to help Lauren move. He's a scout for the Mariners now. That's one of the reasons she decided to move out here."

"Oh, I see" "You're going to like them." On the drive from Seattle to Forks I filled Jake in on everything that happened in Philly. Admittedly, he was irritated and slightly defensive that Edward had not told me about Seth, though he couldn't deny the adoption was admirable. "Bella, you know I support youno matter what. Your feelings come first for me." "I'm fine really, I promise. I just need a little time to prepare for meeting Seth. Edward and I have been slammed from all sides since the day we met. I swear, I think we can weather anything. He's a good man, Jake. I love him." "I know you do. But this adoption isn't going to be easy. I know how you feel about marriage and kids..." "I didn't say anything about marriage, Jake." "But don't you think that's what Edward's intentions are? He must want to marry you. I don't think he's the type to get into a casual relationship with just anyone, especially when he's going to be a father to this boy." "I think you can have a wonderful relationship and be a great parentwithout marriage. Plus, I'm only 27 years old...and you know the situation I grew up in." "Does Edward know that's how you feel?" Jake said as I sat silently. "Does he know you don't want to get married right now? But you doeventually, right?" "UghJust let it be, pleaseI don't want to talk about this anymore. My head hurts." "Fine. We won't talk about it. But the wound is still fresh, Bella I can tell. You aren't quite there. I know you." I was desperately trying to figure what adopting Seth really meant to me. Edward would be his father, but what would I be to him? Where would I fit in? Edward wanted me to be a part of the processso did that mean he wanted me to be a mother figure to this boy I'd never met? Jake and I stopped for a drink on our way back to my house. We sat outside of The Coven, a tiny little dive bar downtown, drinking our Crown and cokes. It was exactly what I needed to decompress after my long weekend. Jake dropped me off, and it felt great to be home. Charlie's home. My house. I took a shower and called Edward after slipping into bed. "Hey, baby."

"Hey." I paused for a moment. "It's so quiet herewithout you." "Here, too. I'll be there next week," he said, chuckling a little. "Then maybe it won't be so quiet." My face flushed, and I laughed out loud. His words alone made me shiver. "God, Edward. You are insatiable" "HmmIf I remember correctly, I don't think I'm the only one." I heard him sigh on the other end. "I'm feeling really good right nowabout everything. So relieved." "I'm glad. You're still confident about your decision to quit the film?" "Absolutely. I talked to Peter again this afternoon. He's flying in on Friday to handle the contract. Thankfully, CI was quick to release me. They never really wanted me to do this anyway." "But you didand Angela did." "Bella, I won't say that her story isn't important. My original vision for it is gonethat was over a year ago. Things have changed since then. I don't want my name and reputation attached to this." And then he said with resolve, "And Bella, you helped me realize it." "Well, I feel like I ruined it," I said weakly. "Stop, Bella. It's just not true. Let's talk about something elseso how is Jake?" "He's great. He's all wound up about the beautiful, new OB doctor starting this week. He met her yesterdayLauren. Oh," I laughed. "And I think he's even more excited that her brother is Alec Mallory." "Should I know who that is?" Edward asked innocently. I couldn't help but giggle at him. "No, not exactly. He's a retired Major League baseball pitcher. He lives in Seattle now, scouting for the Mariners," my voice turned quiet again. "Charlie loved to watch him play. He would have been so excited" My voice trailed off, and Edward was quick to say something. "I don't know if I expressed it to you enough when you were here, but I love Charlie's watch, Bella. It means a lot to me." "I'm glad. I know Charlie would be proud to know you have it." "I talked to Seth tonight," he added. "Oh, how is he?" "He was excited to tell me about the fireworks. Tanya and Laurent took all the kids downtown to see them. He described everything in visual detail."

"Hmmsounds familiar," I giggled. "God, Bella. It feels so good to be able to talk about him with you. You have no idea how badly I've wanted to." "It's okay, Edward," I said soothingly. "I want to hear more about him. I do." "We can save all that for another day. I can tell you're tired. Get some sleep, baby." "Sleep sounds really good right now. I'm working a double tomorrow to make up for my time away." "Well, good night Can't wait to see you next week. Love you." "Me, too, Edward. Good night, baby. I love you."

At the hospital the next day, I was making my way through the hallway corridor near the cafeteria, desperate for another cup of coffee when I heard Carlisle's voice. I hadn't seen him since Edward's admission about Seth. I wasn't quite sure how to face his family. "BellaBella could you please join us over here? I have someone you should meet," Carlisle said. I turned and moved back toward him. He was standing in the middle of the annex, flanked by a man and a woman on either side. "This is Bella Swan," Carlisle said with a large smile. "Bella, this is Dr. Lauren Mallory. She's our new obstetrics physician." Jake had been right. Lauren was strikingly beautiful. She was tall with smooth, fair skin and golden blonde, medium length hair that fell in waves down her shoulders. She had a soft, pleasant smile and sparkling blue eyes. She was dressed sharply in charcoal gray pinstriped pants and a short-sleeved black wrap sweater. She immediately held her hand out to me. "Bella! It's a pleasure to meet you. Dr. Cullen has told me what an incredible asset you are to the hospital. He thinks quite highly of you." Carlisle was beaming at me. Suddenly, he gestured toward the man on his left. I assumed he was Lauren's brother, Alec. He was very tall as well and quite fit. Alec had slightly darker hair than his sister, cut short, but with green, almost hazelcolored eyes. And he had a great smile. I had to admit he was most definitely handsomemore so in person than on TV. "That's right. Bella's one of our most experienced nurses on staff. She graduated at the top of her class at the University of Florida. She worked at a hospital in Jacksonville, mostly with high risk cases. She's a real leader here at our hospital." "Well, it's very nice to meet you, Dr. Mallory. I think Dr. Cullen is slightly biased."

"True, Bella's a close family friend," he said turning to me. "But you are one of the best we have here. Oh, and Bellathis is Lauren's brother Alec. He's in town for a bit to help her get settled." Alec also offered his hand to me, which was accompanied by his dazzling smile. "Very nice to meet you, Bella. Lauren and I both graduated from UF." "Really?" I asked, surprised. "Yes," Lauren said. "I graduated with a nursing degree, too, actually. Then I went on to medical school at home in Miami." My pager went off indicating I had a new admit in OB. "Oh, LaurenAlecsorry, but I need to run. It was wonderful to meet both of you. When will you start Dr. Mallory?" I asked as I turned back down the hallway. "I'll be here tomorrow. Maybe we can grab something to eat? Talk about the Florida Gators," she said with a friendly smile. "Sounds greatsee you tomorrow, then." Carlisle excused himself and followed me. "Bella, let me walk with youif that's fine with you," he said. I wasn't sure what to say or do. I'd thought so highly of Carlisle before finding out about Seth. Realistically, I knew my admiration of him shouldn't be tarnished for following his son's wishes; still, my feelings had been hurt by the Cullens' actions. I did want to hear what he had to say. "I suspect you might be upset with Esme and me. Edward called and told us that you finally know" I stopped walking and looked him in the eye. "Carlisle, I really don't want to overanalyze what's happened. I'm trying to respect you and your family. Edward explained it all. I know you didn't want to hide the truth from me, and I appreciate that. But I'll be honestI was hurt." "You know how much we care about you. I've seen you deal with so much recently. I admire your will and your strength. Esme and I ask that you accept our apology for the way it was handledI know she wants to talk to you herself. We love our son, and we're very proud of the decision he's made. And please know Edward agonized over how and when to tell you about the adoption," he said as he chuckled slightly. "It was actually the first time in probably fifteen years he's come to me for advice. Of course, he didn't take it." We shared a knowing laugh. "It's fine nowI just needed a little time to process it all. I know it'll work out for the best," I smiled up at him. "We'll find our way. And please tell Esme I will call her, okay?" "I'll do that. She'll be happy to hear from you," he said as he gave my arm a fatherly squeeze and headed back to his office down the hallway. I'd moved on to the break room to fill my travel mug with coffee when Alec approached me from

behind. "Bella! We meet again," he said enthusiastically. He'd surprised me, and I spilled coffee out onto the floor. Of course, it splashed spectacularly on his khaki pants. "Shit! Alecoh, noI'm sorry," I muttered as I grabbed some paper towels by the sink. I bent down and tried to soak up the puddle of coffee from the floor. "No, no. Don't worry about it. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to startle you." He crouched down next to me, took the paper towels from my hand and finished what I had started. "Are you trapped here all day?" I asked him as I stood up, blowing my hair from my face. My cheeks were flushed, oddly enough. He laughed again, his mouth forming a quite handsome smile. "No. Lauren had to run back to Human Resources to get a security code or something." And for a moment, we stood in an awkward silence, until my phone began vibrating in my pocket. "Oh, Alecexcuse mesorry" I said as I pulled it out and looked at the number. It was a text from Edward. My heart fluttered in my chest. I really missed him so much already. B-I was just standing and shaving at the sink. Made me think of you sitting up herewith your beautiful, long legswaiting for me. I miss you. Love, E. I felt the heat rise to my cheeks as I read the text againthree times in all. My smile was involuntary, and the happiness that filled my face was undeniable. "Wow" I heard Alec say. "I'd guess that beautiful blush is meant for your husband. He must have said something pretty incredible." "Huh?" My reverie was broken, and I answered him as coherently as I could after reading what Edward had said. "Ohno, nofrom my boyfriend. Sorry about that." "No not at all. I'm the one that's sorry," Alec moved passed me to grab another towel for the coffee stain on his pants. "Sorry for what?" I asked him. "Well, Bella, I'm sorry to hear that you have a boyfriend."

17.

"No not at all. I'm the one that's sorry," Alec moved passed Bella to grab another towel for the coffee stain on his pants. "Sorry for what?" she asked him. "Well, Bella, I'm sorry to hear that you have a boyfriend." Alec noticed that she looked at him strangely, almost in shock at his forward statement. "I can't believe I blurted that out." He was sorry, especially since Bella seemed very sweet. "I mean," he said, laughing almost to himself, "I'm a little out of practice being single." Alec motioned toward a table, offering a seat for Bella to sit down. They each grabbed a chair, sitting across from one another. Bella was physically beautiful to be sure, but Alec immediately noticed her gentle naturethe ease in which she moved, how comfortable she seemed in her own skin. That kind of grace was innatenot something someone learned how to do. "It's okaydon't worry about it," Bella said, smiling just enough to lighten the mood. "I just hope I didn't ruin your pants." She motioned her head to the stains on the bottom of his pants. She wanted to make a joke of it all, so Alec didn't feel uncomfortable. It was obvious he was trying to be friendly. "I'm used to it. I mean, I'm used to the messesI have two kids, so I know how it goes." "Oh," Bella said quietly. "Did you just end a relationship or" Bella was searching for the meaning behind Alec's statement about being single. "Divorced. It's been over a year now. I just haven't dated a whole lotnot much time, I guess." Alec smiled warmly, and Bella couldn't imagine this man not having many dates. He was very attractive, although she could tell he was older than she wasolder than Edward even. She guessed he was in his mid-thirties. "Oh, AlecI'm sorry" Bella's voice trailed off as she thought about his kids. She knew all too well how difficult divorce could be on children. "Actually, it's turned out to be a good thing for all of us. Christine, my ex-wife, and I are better as friends, which makes much better parents. I know this may sound strange, but we're happier now than we were before. It was a mutual decision, really. We got married very young. We just drifted apart." Bella noticed he seemed almost nonchalant in telling the details of this part of his

life. He had survived his divorce basically unscathed, not like Charlie, who brooded for years after his divorce from Renee. "We have two beautiful girls. Hannah is 10, and Hailey's 8. They're with their mom and her new husband right now" "In Seattle?" "Yeah, they all moved out here when I got the scouting job. I'm really grateful for thatI can see the girls any time I want during the week or the weekend when I'm not traveling." "How wonderful you can do thatI know that's really important to a child." "Ohdo you have any children, Bella?" "No..no But my parents were divorced. My mom lived in Florida, and my dad lived here in Forks. So I flew cross-country for visits. It wasn't an ideal situation, really." Bella thought about all the times she was picked up in one airport or another, dragging her suitcase and carrying her backpack of essential itemswhatever book she happened to be reading at the time, headphones and music, her diary. It was ironic how her carry-on contents hadn't changed much over the years. Alec could tell Bella's mind had wandered. "Well, Christine and I promised each other the girls would come first, no matter what." "That's very admirable." Bella smiled, but there was a moment of awkward silence between them. Alec tried to finish the conversation on a lighter note. "So who's the lucky guy?" He asked as he motioned to Bella's phone on the table. And she blushed brightly the moment she thought of him. "EdwardEdward Cullen." "Cullen? Is he related to Dr. Cullen?" "Yes, he isEdward's his oldest son." "Ahh, I seeIs Edward a doctor, too?" Alec's attempt at small talk was legitimate. He did want to get to know Bella better. Ironically, she didn't mind all of the questions. There was something comforting about Alec that she immediately liked. "No. Not a doctor. He's a documentary filmmaker." "Oh, that must be interesting. So he must travel a lot." "He does do some travelingyes"

"Is he filming something now?" "He wasin Philadelphia. He'll be back this weekend, though." "This must be pretty serious, then." "Yeah I guess you could say that." Bella's face flushed a bright pink again, and Alec smiled at her obvious rush of emotion. "How long have you two dated?" "Oh, ummjust since April, actually." Alec watched as Bella squirmed a little in her seat. He knew that three or four months wasn't a long time, but he and Christine had become engaged within six months. He was about to tell Bella just that when his sister Lauren suddenly appeared in the doorway. "Hey, Bella," Lauren said warmly. It was nice to see her brother smiling and talking with someone. He was such a good man and fathershe hoped he could eventually find someone that could make him happy, someone worthy of him. "Alec are you ready to go? I'm finished." "Sure," he said as he rose and held out his hand. "Bella, it's been a pleasure." She took his hand and immediately thought it felt strange against hers. It wasn't the familiar warmth she felt when Edward held her hand. It was definitely different. Alec held her hand a few seconds longer than he needed to, perhaps assessing Bella's reaction. "Yestake care," Bella said politely, and she watched the brother and sister walk away.

Edward held open the front door of his townhome for the hired movers as they carried out the last box. He squinted into the bright July afternoon sunshine as he saw Angela making her way down the sidewalk with haste and purpose, wearing very short dark brown shorts, an off the shoulder white short sleeve top and high heeled sandals. He had asked Angela to come by before he left, and he wasn't looking forward to the conversation that was about to take place. "Hey," he said, still holding the door open so Angela could pass through. "Hey. You wanted to talk to me todayso let's do it." Angela's tone was curt and to the point. She slipped inside the doorway with not so much as a glance in Edward's direction. Angela made her way into the kitchen, placing her bag on the granite counter and sitting on a stool. She crossed her legs and held her hands in her lap. Edward thought that a very demure pose for someone so brazen. "You're leaving today?" She asked, her head moving around the almost empty room. The only furniture that remained were those belonging to the landlord. "No, not today. In the morning. I'm staying at a hotel tonightlistendid you get my

messages?" Edward leaned on the other side of the counter. Angela swiveled the stool around to look at him. "Yes. I got them. I just haven't been in the mood to talk to you." She raised her eyebrows and shrugged her shoulders. "Okay..that's fair. In any case, I'm glad you're here. I have some things to say." "Like what, Edward?" "Angela, you know this is for the best. CI will make an incredible piece for you." Edward sighed deeply, as he knew the tears would probably be next. And as if on cue, they started to stream from Angela's big eyes. "But I wanted you!" she exclaimed, jumping off the stool and moving toward him. "I wanted us!" She had always been able to cry in order to get what she wanted. Edward usually fell for it, but this time was different. Her tears were real; she knew she had lost him for good this time. "Edward I know I made mistakesBut I've always loved you. We were so good together! You were so loving with me about the baby." As much as he didn't want to, Edward took her in his arms and held her hesitantly, but gently all the same. "Shhhokay. I know, Angela. I'm sorry for the heartache you've gone through" "You loved me though didn't you? Edward?" Edward pulled back and slowly let her go. He didn't know how to word this the right way. Angela was sure to be angry with whatever he said. "We had some good times. But we've both moved on. You're going to be a big TV star nowand the restaurant" "And you're going to be a father and whata husband? And live in the middle of nowhere? You love the citythe restaurants, the bars, the showsRemember all the fun we had?" "Maybe. But that was a long time agoand that's not what I want now. My mind has changed, and my soul has settled since then. You and I are very different people than we used to be." "I would have given you a child. I would have married youif you'd given me the chance." "But that's not what we were meant to be. You know it, too. You'd never be happy. It's overit's been over for a very long time. I love Bella. It will always be her." Angela furiously wiped the tears from her face, and her stance became defensive. "You're a son of a bitch. I'm fucking happy you quit. Your product is too fucking complicated anywayNo one gets your 'visions' Edward except you and your freaky art friendslike Kate what's her name."

"Okaythat's fine. Let's just leave it at that." He was trying to appease her so she would leave. She stomped off toward the door. "Angela, take care. You know I wish the best for" But she had flung open the door before he could finish. "Save it. Save your fucking bullshit for her. I don't want it anymore." And she was gone.

In the past, Edward would have worried more about what Angela would do next, but in the past few months he'd realized his relationship with her was nothing more than fulfilling his need to take care of someone. And Bella had been rightit wasn't a healthy kind of relationship at all. With Bella, it felt different. It felt right. He was more like her partner than a caretaker. Yes, Bella was somewhat vulnerable, but that was part of her charmpart of what he loved about her. She could be tough one moment, and tender the next. Edward locked up the townhouse for the last time and headed on foot to The Taproom Grille, the bar where Michael worked. He felt like walking the several blocks to clear his head. He had several things to take care of before heading back to Forks. He planned a surprise for Bella, and he couldn't wait to show her. All of the decisions he'd made latelyhe'd made them all with her and with Seth in mind. He never did that in the six years he was with Angela. Edward started to believe that particular relationship was based on needing a companionand nothing more. He smiled at the thought of seeing the woman he loved in less than two dayshe could hold her, run his fingers through her soft hair, smell her sweet skinhe shoved his hands into his pockets and walked on. Edward took a seat at The Taproom's oversized bar. The place was quiet with only a few patrons, sitting mostly at the tables along the exposed brick wall. The Taproom was known for its fantastic hot dogs and burgers, as well as over 200 beers to choose from. Michael had turned the business around, and truly he was more than just the bartender. He was fully invested in the daily operations, and like his sister, one day hoped to own his own restaurant. It was true that Angela could probably help him open his own place, but Michael was adamant about doing it on his own. Edward thought highly of Michael and his resilient, independent nature. He came out of the kitchen just as Edward sat down. "Hey, man" he said, offering his sturdy hand for Edward to shake. "Hey, Michael. How's it going?" "I'm greatbut the question is how are you?" "ActuallyI'm doing well, considering. I just had a talk with your sister." "Oh, shit. So how'd she take it?" Michael said as he turned to grab a glass. "She's pissed"

"Yeah, so what else is new? Right?" They chuckled slightly, and Michael set down a cold glass of Hacker-Pschorr. Edward took a sip and set the glass back down. "I tried several times to get in touch with her. She wouldn't answer me at first." "She was just trying to punish you. You know the drill" Michael filled two more glasses for other people now sitting at the bar. "She said she was tired of my bullshit, which is ironic." "She'll be alright, Edward. She has her way of bouncing back" "You're right. She always hasthere was no choice but to quit the film. I don't like quitting, Michael." "But you had tothere was no other way. Especially if this girl Bella means as much to you as you say she does." "She's amazing. I think this is it for me." "Well, she's not hard to look at, that's for sure," Michael commented, smiling. "Seems real kind, too." Michael knew that while Bella was pleasant on all accounts, she must have an edge to her in order to stand up to his sister. "She is." "That's goodI'm happy for you, man. You're not getting any younger" both men laughed. "And your adopting that boy, what's his name?" "Seth yes I amI'm going to Texas soon to go through the necessary process. Bella is coming with me." "You'll make a great father, Edward. I always thought you had that way about you." "Thanks. That means a lotI know it's been rocky at times with Angela and me, but I want you to know I appreciate your friendshipthanks for everything, Michael." "Anytimeyou've always been like a brother to methis door is always open for you, okay?"

Bella was working one of her last night shifts, which she felt was an enormous relief. She had seen a lot of Jake lately at work, and he could do nothing more than talk about his infatuation with Dr. Lauren Mallory. After checking on a new admit, she took her coffee to the break room to relax before making her rounds again. Before long, Jake had managed to find her.

"Hey, Bella. ListenI'm going to Lauren's house on Thursday night for dinner, and" "Yes, you told me," she interrupted him. "And I've told younot a great idea." Bella was adamant that Jake starting a relationship with the new, beautiful doctor would have negative consequences. But he wasn't so sure. He had told her that he had felt an instant connection, and that Lauren was one of the most intelligent, thoughtfulnot to mention gorgeouswoman he'd ever met. His description of her and how he felt when he was around her immediately reminded Bella of Edward. "I know what you told me," Jake replied, "But I'm going and so are you." "What?" Bella asked, taken aback by Jake's plans. "Why? I need to chaperone?" "Noit'd help keep things platonic. You know, for now" Jake was grinning widely, and he winked at her. Bella knew he was already head over heels. And actually, it was refreshing to see Jake so happy about someonehe hadn't had a girlfriend for so long. But Bella wasn't going to let him get away with it that easily. "Ummhow old are you?" she asked sarcastically, but with a friendly smile. "Seriously? Please, Bella? I don't ask for much" He sat down at the table, quite dramatically and took one of Bella's hands. He looked at her with the biggest eyes, his expression one of pure pleading. "Okay. But it can't be late. I have to work the next morning," Bella succumbed finally to his request. "You do? You switched?" Jake asked, surprised. He was still holding onto her hand. "YeahI finally decided. I'm switching to days. They offered me the daytime charge nurse positionand I'm ready for a change." Bella swirled a finger of her free hand around the rim of her coffee mug. Her eyes peered down into the black liquid, looking distant as if she was pondering much more than her job. Jake picked up on her mood, figuring she was lonely for Edward. "That'll be good, Bells. You'll have your nights backyou know, when Cullen comes home." He squeezed her gently, a knowing gesture between friends. They both laughed at what he truly meant. Jake got up and started to walk away, but not before he confirmed their agenda for dinner the next night. "Okay, then. I'll pick you up at six on Thursday." "GreatI get to be the third wheel." "Ohno, you won't." Jake said as he moved backward, quickly to the door. "Actually,

BellsAlec will be there, too. Maybe you can get his autograph" And with that, Jake left before Bella could protest anything. "Oh, shit!" she said under her breath. Bella jumped up to run after him. "Wait Jake!" she called, but he had already disappeared down the hallway.

Bella slept until two in the afternoon on Thursday after working all night. For some reason, she felt like she couldn't catch up on sleep after her trip to Philadelphia. She looked forward to working days and hoped her body and sleep pattern would get back on schedule. She didn't even have much energy to run, which was very out of character for her. She had made her mind up to go with Jake to Lauren's after all, wanting to be there for her friend. At first she thought it might be awkward with Alec there, but when she reflected on their conversation in the break room, she realized Alec could actually be a good friend. She wasn't attracted to him like she was to Edwardwhen their hands had touched, her body didn't fill with the same desire. That fact was amazing to Bellathat Edward could evoke such strong feelings from her. She knew, too, that no one else would ever make her feel the way Edward did. He was her one, true soul mate. Bella decided to bake a pie to take to dinner, although she hadn't baked one pie in years. She got dressed and headed out to the Fork's Farmers Market. The afternoon was warm, with a slight breeze. Bella saw a few people she knew from the hospital and some of Charlie's fishing buddies. She welcomed the small talk and was happy to be out and about among the friendly faces. She chose fresh blueberries for the pie, and some strawberries and melon for herself for later. We she got home, she prepped everything for baking the pie. Instead of the internet, she settled on getting the recipe from one of her cookbooks. Bella ran her hand across the cookbooks lined up on the counter. She chuckled to herself when she came across one: Ciao Metro. AhhAngela's cookbook. No thank you. She promptly slid it from its spot and walked decisively into the laundry room. With one swift motion, she dropped into the recycling bin with a thud. Finally, after a few attempts, Bella found a blueberry pie recipe from an old cookbook Sue Clearwater had lent her. She rinsed the berries, floured the pan, and was about to start on the dough when her phone began to buzz on the kitchen counter. It was Edward. "Hey" Bella answered cheerfully. She'd missed hearing Edward's voice every day. "Hey, babyyou busy?" "Don't laughas a matter of fact, I am. I'm baking a pie," she giggled into the phone. "A pie? Mmmsounds goodwhat kind?" His voice was low and sexy as hell. Bella's heart started racing. "Blueberryare you laughing at me?" She asked playfully.

"Not at all. What I would give to watch you bake it. Are you going to share?" "Oh, really? I wish you were here to share it with mebut Jake and I are going over to Lauren's for dinner. Remember I told you about the new doctor? We're going to her house for a little barbeque. I didn't want to go empty-handed, so I thought I would bake something." "Sounds fun. I'm glad you're going out. So you like her, this new doctor?" "Yeah, I do. She seems very nice. I'm looking forward to talking with her more about her work. That is if I can get a word inJake's on the prowl. He is beyond infatuated. OhLauren was a nurse before getting becoming a doctordid I tell you that already?" "No, I didn't know that. I'm impressed. Sowill it be a big crowd form the hospital or" he asked. "Uh no. Just the three of us andLauren's brother, Alec." "Oh, the baseball player brother." "YeahI mean, wellhe doesn't play anymorebut, yes, he's still in town and will be there," Bella sounded a little flustered, but she didn't know why. Thankfully, Edward quickly changed the subject. "I have some good newsI'm flying home tomorrow morning." "Oh! Edward, I'm excited! But I have to work tomorrow. It's my first day shift. What time are you coming in?" "You don't have to pick me updon't worry about it. I have a plan and a surprise for you." Edward's voice was happy, and Bella could tell he was smiling. "Oh? What is it? Tell me!" Bella teased playfully. "You'll have to wait and see. I'll be at the house when you get home tomorrow, okay?" "Okayshitnow I am going to wonder about thisI can't wait." "Me, either. Oh, and Bellasave a piece of pie for me please? Love you." "I will," Bella laughed. "Love you, too." She hung up the phone, and realized it would be hard to wait until Edward would be back in her arms.

At six that evening, Jake picked up Bella in his freshly washed truck. He was grinning from ear to ear.

"Don't say a word," Jake warned her as she climbed in. Bella wanted to say so many things: that his truck was immaculately clean, he had on cologne which he never wore, and he was wearing an outfit she'd never seen. He'd even bought new clothes for this woman! "I won't," Bella laughed as she climbed in, setting the pie carefully on her lap. "What's that?" Jake asked. "Blueberry pie," Bella replied proudly. "You made it?" Jake said, very surprised. "Yesand don't be an ass. I did make it, and it's going to be fucking delicious." The two friends headed to Lauren's, about a twenty-minute drive from Bella's house, and Jake jabbered the entire drive. Bella found it quite endearing that he was so nervous, and she tried to play along. She didn't want his nerves rattled any more than they were. Jake was driving rather fast, and Bella tried desperately not to stain her clothes from the pie she was holding. She was now regretting her decision to wear beige linen pants and a white, linen tunic. When they finally pulled into Lauren's driveway, Bella noticed the two cars parked thereone was a new white Toyota Land Cruiser and the other a red Audi sedan. She could easily guess which car belonged to whom. The cottage Lauren was renting was charming; it was small, but it was set among the most beautiful landscape. The property was on the edge of town, so the place was actually several acres of oaks, maples, and wildflowers. Alec opened the door, greeting us with his brilliantly handsome smile. "Hey, JakeBellacome on in," he said as he ushered us into the living room. Alec offered to take the case of Sierra Nevada Jake brought. "Bellawe can take that to the kitchen. Wowit smells great. Blueberry pie?" "Yes, it is," Bella answered with a shy smile. They all moved into the kitchen, where Lauren was chopping ingredients for dinner. She greeted them warmly and was happy Jake brought Bella. Even though Jake was a few years younger than she was, Lauren thought he was quite accomplished. Her mantra was not to date other doctors, which Jake was, but there was something about him that made her feel like she could break that rule. His feelings toward her were very apparent, and he was genuine about the way he felt. This particular quality about him was very refreshing to Lauren; she was accustomed to men trying way too hard to impress her. And it didn't hurt that while Jake's face was boyishly handsome, his physique was incredible to say the least. She could tell he took great care in his health and well-being. Soon, the beer was quickly opened and consumed, and they all worked in the kitchen and then out on the patio helping to prepare the meal. Alec seasoned the shrimp and the meat, and Jake and Bella assembled the kabobs. They talked comfortably about the weather, Lauren's new house, and the hospital.

Bella noticed how Alec tended the grill with ease. The smells of the meal were mouthwatering, and she was really hungry for the first time in days. When the conversation finally took its turn toward baseball, Bella was compelled to tell Alec about Charlie. "Alecmy dad, Charlie, was a big fan of yours." "Oh, yeah? He was a Twins fanway out here?" Alec was in disbelief. "Actually," Jake began to clarify, "he was an Alec Mallory fan. He took Bella to watch you pitch against the Mariners once." "That was a great night," Bella reflected fondly. "It was a shutout." "I remember that game," he replied, both amused and impressed by Bella's memory. "You obviously know baseball pretty well." "She does," Jake added. "She knows all the lingo. I won't take her to The Coven to watch a game anymoreit gets ugly." They all broke out into laughter, but Bella was quick to roll her eyes at her friend. "That was the first time I pitched a complete game. My first shutout in the majors," Alec's tone turned bittersweet. "Charlie was very excitedit was hard to get him to leave the stadium. He wanted to watch you and the team celebrate on the field." Bella remembered that it had been a night game, and that she had been too tired to protest. Jake reached over and held Bella's hand, giving it a comforting squeeze. She turned to him and smiled. Lauren finally spoke, offering her condolences quietly, "Carlisle told us about Charlie's passing. Pancreatic cancer is extremely difficult to beat. He was obviously a very courageous man. We're both so sorry." "Thank you, Lauren. Following sports was always a great escape for himwhen my parents divorced, when he became sickespecially during those last few months." "I wish I could have met Chief Swan. It sounds like we had a lot in common," Alec concluded, with a somewhat reverent tone. Throughout dinner, Bella could feel Alec watching her, rather intensely. Bella didn't feel uncomfortable. Actually, she was flattered to have the attention of such a handsome man. Her relationship with Edward had given her confidence about her appearance, more than she'd ever had in her entire life. "Do you miss it?" Bella inquired as she was slicing pieces of the pie for dessert.

"The game? Sure. But my shoulder doesn't." He took his hand and rubbed his muscular shoulder gently. "I did a rotator cuff surgery last week" Jake interjected. "That's not pleasant stuff. How long did it take you to get back into shape?" "It will never be one hundred percentso, it was time for me to quit. But not just for my shoulderI missed my girls too much with all the travel. I still travel, but not nearly as much as before. Eventually, the time away takes its toll on you and your family." Alec's comment about his girls and his constant travelling suddenly made Bella think about Edwardhad he made plans for Seth while he was away? Would he take Seth with him? What about his school? There were so many questions Edward and Bella had not discussed. These were things they needed to square away before she went with him to Austin. After dinner, the foursome decided to explore the property, to a place where a small creek divided the land. Lauren explained she hadn't had the time to walk around much, but the foliage was one reason she'd chosen to rent this particular place. "Lauren, can you grab a flashlightjust in case it gets much darker before we head back?" Alec asked as he and Jake led the way down a small path covered with ferns and wild roses. For some reason, this particular spot reminded Bella of home in Floridathis time of year she would be able to smell honeysuckle and jasmine in her yard. Bella and Lauren each grabbed a flashlight and quickly caught up to the two men, who had made it a ways down the path. They'd all walked together for a few minutes more and were suddenly startled by the sprinkler system. "Shit!" Lauren yelled through the spraying water. "You guysI'm sorry. I had no ideaRun for it!" They all ran for the porch, and by the time they'd returned to the cottage, all four were soaked through. They surveyed themselves, and at once began laughing. The beer and the laughter had certainly taken effect. "Oh, godJake. Go in and grab one of Alec's shirtsare they in your blue bag?" Lauren said as she and Alec ran inside to get towels. "Lauren, it's okay. We won't melt," Jake tried to calm her as he took a towel from her hand. There was a moment when their hands touched and eyes locked; Bella noticed it and politely looked away. It filled her with happiness that Jake's feelings could be reciprocated. "Here, I'll show you" Lauren said as she motioned Jake down the hallway. She called after Bella, "I have some clean shirts hanging in the laundry roomplease help yourself, okay?" "No problem, Lauren. I'll find onethanks." Bella found the laundry room, adjacent to the cottage's one and only bathroom, and opened the door to change. Standing there was Alec, of

course, shirtless while he was drying off. Shocked, Bella stood motionless for a second too long. "Oh, Alecsorry" she said, lowering her eyes and her head, instinctively covering herself. For a moment she had forgotten her own white shirt was soaked through. She turned quickly to exit. "It's okay, BellaI'm done. Here's a clean towel," Alec said, offering a towel for her to use. For the first time since she'd talked with him in the break room, Bella felt a slight awkwardness around Alec. She took the towel and pulled it around her chest. The hint of a sly smile flashed across Alec's face. He knew she was uncomfortable, and he wanted to make his retreat as quickly as possible so she could change. But she was so beautiful when she looked vulnerable like that, and he guessed her boyfriend appreciated such looks. He envied this Edwardhe was a lucky man. Bella was everything a man could hope forsmart and beautiful inside and out. With a little reluctance, he pulled a plain white t-shirt over his head. Bella sighed with relief when he was finally covered up. Damn that was distracting, she thought. "This shirt should dothis okay?" He asked as he handed her one of Lauren's baby blue t-shirts hanging on the laundry room rack. Bella shook her head "yes." She knew he saw her, her wet shirt clinging to her skin, and she was uncertain how she felt about that.

After work, Bella pulled into her driveway to find a large, new, midnight blue Suburban parked in front of her house. She'd never seen this truck before, and for a moment it worried her. She tried calling Edward as she moved towards the house, but he didn't answer. She stared at the SUV and headed toward her front door. Just as Bella put the key into the lock, Edward opened the door. She looked up at him, and his face was lit with his glorious smile. He was on his phone, but he grabbed her with one arm and pulled her into a tight embrace, softly kissing the top of her head. "Okay, Rosalieyesyes. We can be there by 8:30," Edward raised his eyebrows and mouthed the word "babysit" to Bella. She smiled and whispered "of course." Edward finished his conversation with Rosalie. "Yesshe just got home. Just relax. Alright, we'll see you then. Bye" He hung up the phone and reached both arms around Bella. He hugged her so tight that her legs lifted off the floor. "Hi! God, I missed you" Edward placed his mouth to hers, kissing her long and hard. Bella was easily caught up in the moment, tilting her head back and letting him pepper kisses down her neck "Waitbefore I won't be able to stopEdward, wait" "What's wrong?" "Nothing's wrong, but what's that outside of my house?" "My surprise! A Suburban. It's my new car.do you like it?" He was grinning uncontrollably.

"Well, it'sit's huge" Truth be told, it did take up almost the entire length of the driveway. "You told me I needed something new and safe. And that out there in your driveway, baby, is new and safe." "And huge! And you're adorable" She reached back up to kiss him again. "Come see" he said as he took her hand in his and led her outside. Edward opened up the driver's side door. "It has six air bags, electronic stability and traction control. Ohheated seats in the front and back. And the audio system is incredible. You want to hear it?" "No, I can wait." She grinned at his eagerness. They moved around to the back and Edward opened the back door with pride. "Edward, seriouslyfour people could sleep in there comfortably. What did you do? Go to a dealership as soon as you got off the plane?" She laughed, amazed at how Edward was so good at getting things done. "Noremember how I told you I had a surprise when I came back? I ordered it earlier this week, so it would be ready when I landed in Seattle." "AhhI'm almost afraid to ask this, but" "But what?" He saw her face look at her jeep in the driveway. It dawned on him she was probably wondering what happened to the old Volvo. "Riley took it for me. I didn't have the heart to do it," he said, almost solemnly. Bella put her arms around his waist and smiled up at him. "I debated on what to getbut this is perfect for my equipment, for Seth's guitars and bike and stuff" "Oh, I see you plan on spoiling him rotten," she said, teasing him and squeezing him a little harder. "I plan on spoiling him and youyes." He bent his head down and kissed her on the forehead. "So you were talking to Rosalie?" "Oh yeahshe called in a panic. She has some function tonight with herwhat did she call ither mommy and me group. Emmett is out of town at a tournament, Dad's at the hospital and mom has a cold. She knew I'd be here, so she wanted to know if we could watch Emily for a couple of hours."

"Okay. I'd love to see her. I bet she's grown a lot. Well, in that case, let me grab a shower. It was quite a day." "What happened? God, I've missed you," he admitted, unable to keep his hands from touching her body. "Well" Bella declared, "I delivered a baby solo, for starters." "Alone? That's incredible, BellaI know the mother was in very capable hands." "It all happened so fastshe didn't even get an epidural. After all was said and done, she apologized for screaming obscenities the whole time. She wasn't the happiest patient I've ever had. She scared poor Jessica to death." "But everything turned out okay in the end?" "Absolutely. Mother and baby are perfectly fine. Lauren was very gratefulshe sent me a text. She wants to talk to me tomorrow, too." "I'm so proud of you, baby," Edward lifted Bella up and carried her the rest of the way inside. "HmmmLaurenthat reminds medid you save me any of your homemade pie?" Bella's face crinkled up, and Edward knew his answer. "Oops, noI'm sorry" she said sweetly, kissing his cheek. "So it was that good, huh?" Edward said as he kicked the front door closed. "Yes, it wasthe guys almost ate the whole thing. I'll guess I'll have to make it up to you" Bella loved to taunt and tease him; his reactions to her were priceless. When he smiled at her that way, she felt it straight to her very core. "That sounds fairso how?" he asked as he ascended the stairs. "Let me think about itlet's seeI can start with this" she hopped down out of his arms and led him to the bathroom. It seemed fitting that this was where they first had sex. And it was a time that neither of them would ever forget. Bella reached to take off Edward's shirt, and he helped her pull it over his head. "Then this" She took off her shoes and then her scrubs. By the time she was nearly naked, Edward had already taken off his shoes and pants. "And then this" Bella's mouth traveled from Edward's mouth to his chest, to his stomach. He reveled in the warmth of her mouth and her tongue on him. It was a sensation he longed for when they weren't together. She was the very thing he needed to make his world right. Her soft, gentle hands reached inside the waist of his boxers. She pushed them down and Edward

was long and hard before her. She took him in her hand, and with her tongue, swirled the tip of him ever so lightly. "God, Bellathat tickles" he laughed. "Does that mean you want me to stop?" She asked playfully as she looked up at him. Edward raised an eyebrow, and followed that gesture with a sexy smirk. "You are so fucking sexy, baby." "You make me feel sexy, Edwardyour voice, the way you touch me, the way you want me" She took him in her mouth, sucking softly, as her hands caressed his thighs. "BellaI won't last like thisI want to be inside you" He closed his eyes, torn between wanting her to continue and desperately needing to feel inside her. Bella swirled her tongue around him one last time. She rose and stood flush against him. "Well, thenwould you like me to turn around?" Bella whispered in a seductive voice. Edward used all the strength he had not to take her right then. He watched her, in awe of her beauty, as she slowly turned around and pushed herself into him. "So, do you want me like this" she whispered, looking over her shoulder. "Yes, baby I love having you like this" he acknowledged, and she bent forward, pressing her hands flat on the tiled wall in front of her. Edward leaned forward and started kissing her neck and then her ear, his hands exploring her flawless skin. He reached around and began caressing her, preparing her for him. Edward grasped Bella's hips and pushed inside her, restraining himself just enough to enter her gently. "Bella, you feel so good" "I missed you so much" The tears welled in her eyes as she was overcome with emotion, with the love and desire she felt for him. They moaned together as Edward picked up his pace, and Bella offered herself lovingly to him. Edward was already close to his release, and he thrust into her as deeply as he could. Bella cried out his namealmost as if she were in pain. "Are you okay, baby?" Edward breathed heavily into her ear. "Yes, don't stopdon't stop," she replied. But with those last thrusts, Edward had hurt her. It wasn't on purpose, he hadn't done anything unusual or different than they had done together before. Still, Bella had never felt that kind of pain before, and it caught her off guard. It was the first time she hadn't come with Edward. And it had her worried. She kept her concern hidden when she turned to face him. She kissed him passionately as she told him how much she loved him. "Let's get cleaned up. I want to take you to get something to eat before we go to Rosalie's."

"Sure," Bella said as she turned on the water and stepped into the shower. Edward followed her lead. As they washed each other, Bella brought up the situation with Angela and the film. "So is everything squared away with the contract?" she asked him as she lathered the soap up and down his back. "Yes!" Edward's tone was one of relief. "I'm free. Peter did a hell of a job. They actually retained Heidi and Demetri to ride it out. That's a big compliment to them." "What about Riley?" "NoRiley wanted out, too. He wouldn't have stayed without me. It feels good to have closure. Ohand all my furniture, boxes, artwork have been shipped to Austin." Bella was silent for a moment, and she stopped what she was doing. Edward turned slightly to look at her. "How did she take it?" Bella finally asked quietly. She was talking about Angela. Edward knew that and had decided to mention Angela only when Bella was ready to bring it up. "She's finewe hashed it out." "What did she say?" "Basically that she hates my fucking guts, and that it's over." Edward took the soap from Bella's hands and began washing her neck, then her breasts, and then her stomach. "Well, then. That's good news, isn't it?" They both smiled, together.

As Edward and Bella pulled up to Rosalie and Emmett's house, she opened the door in a huff. "Hi, Bella," she called out. "Thanks so much for doing this last minute." She turned to her brother. "Good to see you back in town. I missed you and all that shit, but you're late." "Just gowe're herewhere's Emily?" Edward said as he kissed his sister's cheek. "She's asleep already. Bella, there's a bottle in the fridge if she wakes up. The warmer's on the kitchen counter. Call my cell if you need me." "No problem. Enjoy your evening out." Rosalie stepped outside, just long enough to see the Suburban in the driveway. "What the fuck is that?" she called out to Edward. "What? My new car?" He answered her, amused at her tone.

"That's not a fucking car, Edward. That's a damn bus. And you're going to ruin the environment with that beast." She turned on her heel and headed for her own car. Bella couldn't control her laughter. Edward started to shut the door on his sister. "Yeswhatever. Goodbye, be carefulhave fun tonight," he called after her, rolling his eyes. "I'm going to go peek at my niece," Edward said, quieter than before. "I haven't seen her in so long." Edward took Bella's hand as they walked into the nursery. They peered over the crib at the beautiful, sleeping Emily. Bella noticed how Edward sighed contently when he looked at her. She wondered if it were possible to fall in love with this man any more than she already was. Emily slept the entire time Rosalie was away, and Edward and Bella spent those few hours watching a movie and snuggling together on the sofa. It was a comfort to be back in each other's arms again. "How was she?" Rosalie asked upon her return. "She was perfect. She never woke up." Edward replied. "She's a very sweet baby Rosalie. Did you have a good time?" "Yes, I did. Thanks a lot for this. I needed to get out" Rosalie sounded relieved as she put down her bag and sat on a chair next to the sofa. "So Dad says you quit the movie?" "Yes," was all Edward said, not going into any detail. "Well, Edwardyou know I how much I loathe quitters. But I loathe Angela more. She never treated any of us with any amount of respect. And the two of you are good?" She asked frankly and with genuine concern, looking at the two of them holding hands. "Yes, couldn't be better," Edward smiled. He added, turning to Bella, "And I have absolutely no regretsyou ready, babe?" Thunder crackled in the background as Edward and Bella stood to leave. Edward kissed his sister's cheek. "I guess we should try to beat the storm," Bella suggested as she gave Rosalie a hug. "So are gonna let me drive?" Bella asked once they were outside, as she reached into Edward's pocket for the keys. He lifted his hands up in the air, giving her full access. Edward thought it was still fun as hell to flirt with her. Bella drove home carefully, as the car was pounded by the pouring rain of the summer storm. The thunder and lightning grew more intense as she pulled the Suburban into her driveway. She turned off the ignition, and clutched the steering wheel with both hands. "This thing is a tank, baby." She said, shaking her head.

"Do you really hate it?" He asked her, his voice tinted with disappointment. She reached over to him and softly stroked his hair. He could see her bright smile, even through the darkness around them. "No. I don't hate itand I can tell you are excited about it." "What I'm more excited about is being near you again." He reached across the center console and kissed her. "And I'm excited about seeing Seth in a few weeks and introducing you." He ran his finger down the side of her face, and she leaned into his touch. "How long do you plan on staying? In Austin, I mean. I really have to look at the hospital schedule. I just took this charge nurse position, and Lauren just started" But Edward interrupted her, before she could get stressed about the particulars, by kissing her again. "Heylet's talk about all of this in the morning. We'll figure it out. Please don't worry. I have a plan." Bella was almost too tired to protest. She fell quiet and enjoyed being near Edward, the rain and thunder being the only noise surrounding them. "You're right, okay" She succumbed to him willingly, welcoming his kisses more and more. At once, their breathing accelerated, and they both knew where the moment was headed. "Edward" Bella said, all breathy and wanton with desire. "Should we christen your new car?" Edward pulled back from her, slightly surprised, but he couldn't deny that he was both turned on and intrigued. "Bellawhat do you have in mind?" His breath was warm against her face. She leaned in closer and gave him a sexy, sly smile. Raising her eyebrow, she pulled back her seat and slipped off her jeans and panties. Edward sat motionless. "What are you waiting for?" Bella asked him seductively as she motioned toward his jeans. Eagerly, Edward unbuttoned them and pulled his boxers and pants down in one swift movement. He pushed his seat back and reclined it as far as it would go. Bella climbed over and straddled Edward, putting her arms around his neck. "I want you, Edward" "Not nearly as much as I want you" He moved his fingers to feel her. Bella was already wet and eager for him. She positioned herself above him and slowly, so slowly, sank down on his length. She gasped loudly at how it felt. "Oh, fuck it's deep" She moved her hips, sliding up and down, trying to find a position that was more comfortable. That pain she had experienced earlier in the dayit was back. Before she could say anything or ruin the moment, Edward held her face between his hands, crushing his lips to hers.

The storm began to subside as Bella moved her hips in a faster rhythm, gripping the back of Edward's seat. She wanted him to feel good; she wanted him to come. She wouldn't stop for him. The Suburban windows were steamy, and Edward and Bella were sweating from the union of their bodies. "Oh, godBella I'm close, baby" Bella picked up her speed and closed her eyes. As Edward found his release, Bella's head fell on his shoulder. He slowly stroked her hair and gently kissed her head. "I'm sorry you didn't come, baby" Edward said as he kissed her again. "You didn't this afternoon, either." Bella lifted her head and looked him in the eye. He knew her so well, even better than she'd thought. His breathing was still heavy, and the raindrops were still beating on the windows. Bella kissed him hard, and then whispered into his mouth. "I think I'm just tiredlong hours at the hospital." She kissed him again, hoping he wouldn't make an issue of it. "Well, now, Mr. CullenI have to admit it. I really like your new car."

When Bella returned to work the next day, she met Lauren in the break room for an impromptu meeting. "Bella, I wanted to commend you on the delivery yesterday. You were truly amazing under pressure." "Thank you. I'm glad the baby is healthy." "Well, you did a tremendous job. Have you ever delivered a baby before on your own?" "Yes, twice. In Jacksonville." "Your calm manner really helped that mother. I heard she was giving you a pretty hard time during labor." "She wasn't too bad. She was understandably nervous. It was her first birth." "You know, I also graduated with my BSN before I ever considered going to medical school. I always liked the personal side of nursing. I worried that if I were to become a doctor, I would lose that relationship with my patients." "Lauren, you seem wonderful with the patients. It's quite refreshing, to be honest. Not all doctors have that way." "Well, thank you. I appreciate that. I know about the hard work you doand I've meant to ask youhave you ever considered going to med school?" "Oh, no. Not exactly. I was one semester away from finishing my graduate work to become a

nurse practioner. But Charlie needed me." "Hmmmthat's interesting. Have you ever thought about becoming a certified midwife?" "I have thought about it. The program I was in didn't have the certification, and I just didn't have the money to go back to the University of Florida." "The University of Washington does. They have a midwife cert as part of their ARNP program." "I didn't know that" Bella was intrigued by what Lauren was suggesting. "Listen, Bella. I didn't want to get into all of this the other night at dinner, but I'm planning on eventually opening my own OB/GYN practice here in Forks. There isn't a female OB in town. Butmy real dreamis to start a free women's clinic. I think this community could be well served with one." Bella was becoming even more interested in what Lauren was proposing. "That's an incredible idea. This area is full of uninsured women and families." "You're truly a gifted nurse. I could tell that about you straight away. And yesterday's performance completely confirmed my decision to ask you this" Lauren hesitated a moment before she continued. "I was hoping you might consider coming on board with me, as a partnerhelp me get the clinic off the groundand maybe you might consider becoming a certified midwife to help with the OB patient load." "Really?" Bella was honored by the possibility. But a million questions flooded her mind. And many of them had to do with Edward, her future. "Please think about it. We'll talk again laterhash out more details. I'm in the planning stages, so you would certainly have time if you wanted to go back to school for the winter semester." "Lauren, I don't know what to say, except that I'm definitely interested in what we could do." Lauren smiled at her warmly, and then looked at her watch. "I'd better run. I have a few more patients to see." "Oh, Lauren. Before you go, can I ask you a favor?" "Of course." "Well, I've been having some spotting lately. And during my last cycle I was a little nauseated. I haven't been eating much. Menstrual pain is very intense. And, honestly" "Intercourse? Is it painful?" "Like never before. It has me worried."

"Are you using a contraceptive?" "Yes, I've been on the pill for several years. But I haven't had a pelvic exam or blood work since I moved to Forksover a year ago. I've been so busy with my dad and working" "I knowthings happen and we tend to put taking care of ourselves behind everything else. Why don't you let me do an exam and run some labs?" "Great," Bella said with relief. "Thank you" "Let's set up something sooner rather than lateryou don't want this to persist too longhow about tomorrow?" "I'll call down and make an appointment. See you tomorrow"

As Bella sat on the exam table, covered in a paper gown and nothing else, she was thankful to have this taken care of before she went to Austin with Edward. As a nurse, she knew something was not right with her body. Lauren completed a blood draw and performed a full pelvic and breast exam. Bella complained of pain during both. The breast tenderness and nausea were worrying to Bella for obvious reasons. But the pelvic pain had her mind reeling. "Bella, I'm going to run an ultrasound if you don't mind." "A vaginal ultrasound?" "I just want to look at something a little further." "Laurenis itokay" After a few deep breaths, Bella relaxed enough for Lauren to begin the ultrasound. Bella watched both Lauren and the screen closely, and she very nervous about what they would find. The darkened room was deathly quiet, and the hum of the machine seemed eerie in Bella's mind. Lauren stopped for a moment and tapped on the ultrasound's keyboard. A small, green square appeared on the screen. "Oh, god" Bella said quietly. "Do you see this, right here?" Lauren maneuvered so she could point to a specific area. Bella swallowed hard. "Yes, I do" "Bellayou do realize what this is, right?" "I do" Bella's voice was small as she saw the concern fill Lauren's face.

18.

"Bella, let me know when I can turn off the main water. The back is all locked up," Edward shouted from downstairs. He had just finished packing the Suburban for our road trip to Austinjust the two of us. I was in my tiny bathroom, looking at my pale and tired reflection in the mirror. I pulled my hair into a loose knot and exhaled. Four days in the car together would give us plenty of quiet time to talk. I had mentally rehearsed how to tell Edward about what Lauren had found, but I dreaded worrying him. My heart was heavy because I feared disappointing him A large cyst on my left ovaryall the increasingly painful cramps, nausea, fatiguethe cyst was the culprit. I would face surgery when I came home from Texas; the surgery itself and the recovery time afterward was a very unpleasant thought. Still, Lauren was confident we could wait the couple of weeks until after the trip. And really, there was no other choiceI had to go to Austin for Edward. As I rounded the bottom of the stairs, Edward hugged my waist from behind. "Ready?" he asked. "Yes" I replied quietly, trying to put on my best smile. He turned me around to see my face. "Baby, you look a little pale. Are you sure you're feeling okay?" He said brushing some loose hair out of my face. "I'm good," I nodded, still smiling. "But maybe I should grab a juice or bottled water for the road," I said as I broke from Edward's grasp and made my way to the kitchen. But he stopped me short as he kissed my cheek. "WaitI'll get it. You go ahead to the car," he grinned. Edward was so elated to be traveling, he had been in high spirits for days. I couldn't help but squeeze his hand tightly and kiss him back. I watched him take a few steps toward the kitchen before I headed out the front door. My heart sank a little deeper with every thought I had about what my diagnosis would mean for us. I knew Edward wanted me to meet Seth; this was something he had hoped for quite a long time. We would meet Laurent and Tanya, Seth's foster parentsand we would visit with Jasper and Alice. Actually, I truly wanted to do all of thatI just desperately wished I felt up to it. Edward's mood and demeanor were such a stark contrast to my own lately. I gathered he could sense it somewhat, but I tried to mask it as best I could. I just needed to find the right time and place to tell him the truth. I opened the door to the Suburban and was about to climb in when I saw Alec's Land Cruiser pull up in front of the house. What the hell is he doing here? Alec eased out of his car and waved. He was smilinghis face clean-shaven, and he was wearing athletic shorts and a faded blue Seattle

Mariners t-shirt. "Bella, I'm glad I caught you," Alec said while waving a large manila folder in his hand. "Hey, Alecwhat are you doing here?" I asked smiling as we met at the edge of the driveway. "I was on my way out of town, headed back to Seattle" he began. But I heard Edward approaching us, and I turned around to flash him a comforting smile. Edward's eyes didn't meet mine, though. They were locked on Alec. With my juice in one hand, Edward offered Alec his other one immediately. "Edward Cullen." As he introduced himself, his voice became deeper, more masculine somehow. Alec shook his hand with a smile. "Alec Mallory. Good to meet you, Edward." After they shook hands, there was a moment of awkward silence. Edward moved flush against me from behind and gripped my shoulders protectively. So there I was, in the middle of them both. Thankfully, Alec spoke up. "SoBella," he went on politely. "Lauren asked if I would drop off this business plan to you." "Oh. That's great. Okaythanks." I took the folder from him. "Well, Edward and I were just heading out of town ourselves. So, I'll have time to look it over on our trip. We're driving to Texas" "Business plan?" Edward whispered in my ear. I was suddenly very aware of his fingers on me. I looked up at him over my shoulder and tried to smile. "Oh yeah? Well thenhave a great tripdrive safe," he said as he turned toward his car. "Take care, Alec. And thanks." I waved goodbye and watched as he flashed us his brilliant smile, got into his car and drove away. I walked swiftly to get into the Suburban. Edward followed suit, and as we began driving down the road, I could feel Edward smirking at me. He leaned his head in my direction, one hand on the wheel and the other resting on the center console. "Sobusiness plan" he said quietly. "I was going to tell you on the trip," I said looking straight out the windshield. "Lauren wants to start a new OB/GYN practice here in Forks. Andwellshe wants me to join her," I turned to look at him when I blurted out that part. "Baby, seriously? That's great." He took my hand and squeezed it. "It is I'm really flattered. The best part isshe also wants to have a free women's clinic in town. There's a dire need for one."

"God, Bellathat sounds perfect for you." "But there's a catch. I have to finish my Master's degree first, so I can see patients at the clinic. Lauren also asked if I would consider becoming a certified midwife." "Wowyou must have made quite an impression on her. So how do you feel about this? I mean, where can you finish your degree?" "I could finish at the Seattle campus of UW," I watched his face for his reaction. "Edward, I'm actually really excited." "You should have Peter take a look at the logistics of the plan," he said, gesturing to the folder in my lap. "Just to be sure you're protected." "I trust Lauren. I wouldn't be a full partner. I don't have any money to invest, anywayunless I sold Charlie's house." "Bella, don't get ahead of yourself. We'll look at it with Peter this week. He'll be in Austin on Friday." He caressed the underside of my chin. "And if you need capital or any kind of financing, we'll figure it out."

After a very long day of driving, we decided to stop in downtown Boise for the night. We checked into a Hampton Inn and made our way to our room. Edward unpacked the few things we needed while I escaped to grab a shower. The hotel's bathroom was tiny but well appointed. I ran my fingers over the scented bath gels and shampoos and conditioners until I picked out what I wanted. My muscles ached from sitting all day, and I hoped the hot water would relax me. I climbed into the tub and unwrapped the hotel soap. The water rushed around my hair, my backI turned around and began washing head to toe. It felt good until I began washing my breasts; they were so tender it was almost unbearable to have the water hit them. Suddenly, the reality of my diagnosis flooded my mind, and it was all I could think about. I turned off the water and grabbed a towel to dry off. As I was pulling on my cotton pajama shorts and tank top, I heard a few soft strums on the guitar. Then there was a pausethen the strumming picked up again. I wiped away the condensation from the mirror and gazed. I did look paleand tired. Fuck. Again, I felt the fear of telling Edward about Lauren's exam deep in my gut. A chill shot through me as I stared at my weary eyes. I gathered my dirty clothes in a pile and grabbed my brush. I walked out to find Edward, shirtless but still in his jeans, strumming his guitar. He was sitting at the small table, with a pencil in his mouth, and occasionally he would stop to scribble something on a notepad. His brow was tense, and he seemed to be concentrating with great care. "Are you writing something new?" I asked him as I sat down on the bed. I began to brush my hair and studied him as his fingers moved over the strings and his lips mouthed some words. I

loved watching and listening to him play. "I want to have something for Seth to work on before school starts. I haven't heard him on the guitar in months." "Ohdoes Seth prefer the piano or the guitar?" I wondered aloud and continued to brush my hair. "He's a natural at both, but he loves the piano." "Who works with him while you're away?" "A volunteer from the Austin symphony teaches him piano. Stephenie is really good. She has three kids of her own." Edward paused and looked up at me. "But Jasper's been teaching him guitar." He rolled his eyes when he mentioned his brother. "What's wrong with Jasper?" I laughed. "Nothingwell, that's not true. I just know he's got Seth knee deep in Stairway to Heaven. I think he's better suited for classical guitar." I couldn't help but laugh harder. "There's certainly nothing wrong with Led Zeppelin, Edward. Besides, he's only eight years old. I mean, can you already tell what he's best at?" I raised my eyebrows at him and laid back onto the bed. "Yes. Actually, I can tellandare you laughing at me?" Edward seemed happy with our conversation about Seth, and even more amused that I was teasing him. "Oh, god" I started laughing harder than before. "What? What's so funny?" He put down his guitar and stalked toward the bed. I answered him between the uncontrollable giggles. "Pleasedon't beone of those parents" I said as he moved above me. I naturally placed my arms around his neck as he began kissing me. "Hey," he said after one kiss. "I have an idea," he said before kissing me again. "You could be the one to teach Seth how to sing." He looked into my eyes, waiting for my reaction. I gave him my sexiest smirk. "Oh, very funny, Mr. Cullen. If I recall correctly, you were quite excited about my singing in Philadelphia." "MmmI get excited watching you do anything, baby," he whispered as he began to kiss me with sweet, soft lips. Our tongues were desperate, searching and then finding the deep connection they sought.

Edward's thumb gently pushed back my jaw, exposing my neck for him to nuzzle at will. His other hand tenderly skimmed the side of my breast, and I arched back to revel in his touch. My skin ignited beneath his fingertips and his tongue, and my mind reeled with feelings of desire. He shifted slightly so he could push up my tank top, exposing my breast, all the while continuing his delicious and welcomed assault on my neckthen my earand then my chest with his teasing tongue. At last, he looked into my eyes as he slowly leaned down to take my already hard nipple into his mouth. His tongue swirled and sucked and licked it in turn. His mouth was warmit was hotand the way he did those thingsit made me want so much more. He ran his hand over my breast, slightly pinching and rolling my nipple between his fingers. I bit my lip to balance the instant pain I suddenly felt in my breast. My body tensed slightly something it never did with him. And while he sucked and teased my breast, his other hand continued moving downuntil he slid his fingers into the top of my pajama bottoms. I abruptly placed my hand over his to still him. When I pulled Edward's hand to my mouth to kiss it softly, he peered into my eyes. His face was full of concern. "My periodthe bleedingit's still heavy," I said quietly. Edward placed his hand to caress my face. His touch was gentle and thoughtful. "It seems like longer than usual. Bellaare you okay?" His hand had moved to my hair. He was running his fingers through it in soft, sweeping strokes. I hesitated a moment before I answered him. "No. No, Edward. I'm not okay," I blurted out the truth. His eyes widened, and we both shifted to sit face to face. "Babywhat is it?" He asked, but I sat silently before him. "Bella, please. Please tell me." I took a deep breath as I realized this was the time to tell him the truth. "WellLauren gave me full annual exam before we left. I haven't had one in over a year" I paused for a moment again. "And she found a cyst." I looked down at the bedspread. It was a golden color with sweeping scrolls of white. I traced the outlines with my index finger as I waited for Edward to respond. He grabbed both of my hands. His voice was soft, calm and full of concern. "Godbabywhere?" He leaned in to stare at my face. "My left ovary." I looked up at him, partly relieved to have told him the truth, partly fearful of what it could mean to our future. "What does this mean? The cyst" His voice dropped, and I could tell his heart beat and breathing were accelerating. "Is itcancer?"

"This type of cystit's usually benign." He shifted to put his arms lovingly around me. I leaned my head against Edward's shoulder. He began rubbing my arm in languid strokes. "What's the treatment?" "Surgery. To remove the cystand possibly the ovary" "Surgery? Bella! When were you going to tell me this?" There was alarm in his tone. He shifted again and began running his fingers through his hair. I knew what that meant. "Edward, I'm fine. Really. It's okay. The cyst is a little larger than what Lauren says she normally sees. It's obviously been growing awhile. But she said I had time to wait for the procedure until after this trip." I was trying my hardest to be calm and direct. But all I really wanted to do was crawl into his arms and let him hold me. "I'm flying back with you, and I'll go to the next appointment." He gazed at me with a resolve that made me think everything would be alright. "Noyou're not," I shook my head defiantly. "I can't ask you to do that, Edward. This trip is too important. You can't just leave with the adoption in progress. You have Seth to think about" I reached up and ran my hand over his cheek. I added, "If Lauren thinks there is any immediate change in the diagnosis, we'll go from there." Edward suddenly grabbed me and held me tight against his chest. His hands returned to my hair, calming me with his reassuring touch. "BellaI'm so sorryI didn't know" he whispered into my hair. "Did Idid I hurt you the other day?" He was referring to the last time we have made love. A pang shot through methis beautiful man loved me so much. "Shhit's fine, baby. I'm okay." It was my turn to reassure him. So, I rubbed his back in return and held him close. I didn't want to let go

I abruptly awoke to the noise of the heavy hotel room door closing. I squinted to see Edward handling a brown shopping bag and setting it down on the small table. "Good morning," he leaned over the bed to kiss me. "I hate to wake you up, but I figured we needed to get on the road. I wanted you to have a healthy breakfast first." I laughed at him. He was back to digging into the bag, pulling out its multiple contents. "Where did you go? When did you go? I didn't even hear you leave." I had slept soundly for the first time in a week.

"I haven't been gone long. I found a local market not too far from the interstateyou need to eat something to give you some energy. The complimentary shit downstairs won't do." I sat up, running my hands through my hair and rubbing my eyes. I watched him with a wide grin as he proudly explained what he bought. "Okaywe have strawberry probiotic yogurt, some granola to top it off, a banana, and some soy milk." I sat up on my knees and motioned for him. I was overwhelmed by his gesture to keep me healthy. "Come here" I pulled him down to me, cupping his face, kissing him intently. "You are truly the most incredible man," I said, kissing him again. "I love you." I whispered against his mouth. "I love you more," he teased lightheartedly, kissing my nose. We ate our breakfast in bed before hitting the road. For our second day traveling, we didn't make it as far as we'd hoped since Edward had let me sleep in. So, we spent our second night in Salt Lake City. Even though I'd never been there before, there wasn't any time to look around. He mentioned that one day we would go back in the winter, and he would teach me to ski. On, the third day we made it as far as Albuquerque. Excited about having some extra time to spend there, we visited a few tourist spots. We went to the Petroglyph National Monument and decided to check out the Piedras Maroadas Canyon. Edward and I walked part of a canyon trail taking photographs of the boulders and caves. He took many pictures of the landscape, and even a few of me against a backdrop of blue sky, white clouds and basalt. I was enjoying the adventure, loving every minute of spending time with him, but it eventually wore me out. I was so frustrated with the increased in fatigue, and Edward noticed. He was being so gentle and caring. He insisted we take our time with the rest of the trip and not push through all the way to Austin. That would mean another twelve hours on the road until the next morning. Instead, he decided we would pass through Lubbock and stay the night. The next day we would drive the rest of the way to Austin.

We arrived at Edward's house as the late afternoon sun was setting. His house was more like a cottage, really. It sat on a corner lot, in a neighborhood he said was full of renovated homes and young families. I had to laugh at his tentativeness as he pulled the Suburban slowly into the narrow driveway. "Are you afraid it's not going to fit?" I giggled. "Very funny," he said as he reversed and maneuvered some more. We made our way in through the front door, a beautiful deep mahogany color, with a charming circular inset of a sun and moon stained glass. Edward set down our suitcases and flipped on the

lights in the foyer. "What the fuck?" he exclaimed as he scanned the interior of his living room. "What's wrong?" "Alice! She fucking painted my house" he took a few hesitant steps around before moving onto another part of the house. "Dammitshe painted every room," he yelled back to me. "Come in hereI want to show you around." I laughed to myself as I imagined Alice planning her surprise for Edward's visit. Each room of the cottage seemed a different vibrant and unique shade. I followed Edward, leaving the small living room which was now a deep shade of juniper, to a sunroom on the side of the house. The sunroom was beautiful. The entire space was full of large windows, from the ceiling to the dark hardwood floors. What walls there were Alice had painted a dark eggplant color. In the very center of the room was a polished, ebony baby grand piano. "This shit will give me a headache. I can't believe she did this. Is this fucking purple?" He stood shaking his head, but there was a hint of a smile on his face. "I like it. It's really soothing" I giggled a little again. I walked up to the baby grand and ran my fingers over the top. "Your piano is beautiful." He lifted the fall and ran his fingers over the keys. "I'll play for you if you'd like" I took his hand and urged him on to the next room. "I'd like that. But I want to see the rest of your house first" As Edward walked me around, he seemed pleased that all of his paintings and belongings from Philadelphia were in place, thanks to Alice and Jasper. The house was fairly modest, two stories with two bedrooms and two baths. There was a small office addition on the second floor, where Edward kept most of his cameras and equipment. I noticed the office walls were covered with several black and white photographs. They were tastefully encased in simple black frames. "These are fantastic" I admired. "OhKate had these made for me. They're stills from my doc on John Coltrane." "What a nice gift," I remarked. "She thinks so highly of you, Edward I think almost like a son." "I guess she's like a second mother to me, and she really thinks highly of you, too." Edward took my hand and led me downstairs. The kitchen was fairly modern for such a quaint house. The cabinets were a light shade of pine and the countertops were a autumn brown granite.

As we walked back into the living area, I noticed a several pictures on the mantle of the stone fireplace. A few were black and white photographs of Seth playing the piano, and the others were various family photographsCarlisle and Esme, one of Rosalie, another of Alice and Jasper. I thought to myself that this was a very warm and inviting house. With its slightly artistic aesthetic, it was comfortable and secureit was Edward. I listened to Edward downstairs as he was locking up the house. He was singing a song I didn't recognize. I didn't think I would ever tire of listening to his voice. I imagined this is what it would be like every night if Edward and I lived together. Edward had explained during our drive that he had been in contact with Irina, his real estate agent. She had a house on a lake she wanted us to look at when we were both back in town. He used "us" and "we" so casually, like it was the natural thing to do. I had asked him what his plan would be for the futurewould he live in Texas? Have a house in both places? He indicated he wanted to live full-time in Forks, but he would keep this house in Austin to be close to Jasper and Alice. Apparently it had been a good investment, and his brother had friends that wanted to rent it. But all that wouldn't be for awhileAfter Edward adopted Seth, he told me he wanted to have him to finish out the school year in Austin. So, again, we would be headed for long periods of separation. He said he could come back to Forks after the first set of interviews, but he would have to return to Austin and stay for a few months. On the plus side, Peter indicated to Edward that he thought the adoption process would proceed rather quickly since Seth was older and had been in the foster system for so long. While he lived in Austin, Edward planned to work at the center, helping Josh Banner with teaching in the afternoons. When Edward walked in the bedroom, he was wearing only his boxers. He turned off the bedside lamp and slid in next to me. The moonlight filtered in through the large plantation shutters covering the windows. I curled up in his arms, nestling in as close as I could, and rested my head on his warm chest. "I'm glad we made it. I'm looking forward to tomorrow." We would go to the Meyer Street Center in the morning to meet Seth. I was going to meet Edward's son for the first time. "I am, too. I can't wait for you to finally meet Seth. And Josh." I felt him shift under the covers. "Josh sounds like such an amazing person," I said as I ran my fingers through the hair on Edward's chest. "He really is. He's one of the most selfless people I know. He's like a brother to me." "Can I ask you something?" "Anything" "From your film about the Centerand from what you've saidyou're the anonymous donor, aren't you? The one that's donated everything" I pushed up on my elbow so I could see his face. He sighed and was very still and quiet. He leaned forward and kissed me sweetly on my

forehead. "Yes" he admitted quietly. I reached over and kissed him on lips, unable to control myself from his reacting to his generosity and compassion. "I swear, Edward, your heart could cure the world of its misery." He laughed slightly at my comment. "I doubt that. I wish I could open a center like Meyer Street in every town." "Your parents did an incredible job raising you to be so giving and kind, baby." "They loved us unconditionally, Bella. That's all. You'll be the same way it's natural." I became lost in his words, in his wise and peaceful expression, in his hopeful eyes. My heart felt as if it were breaking. I feared that very thingwhat if I couldn't be the same way like he said? What if I couldn't be a mother like he envisioned? I swallowed hard at my thought and tried my best to put it out of my mind. "Every child should be so lucky to be yours..." I said as I reached for him again, kissing him sweetly. Edward's hands were cautious as they caressed my body. "Baby" he murmured as he kissed me back. "GodI just want to make you feel good...you know I would be making love to you right now...if we could." He held me close and his fingertips gripped me tightly. "Edward, I'm content with you holding me. It's all I ever need"

On our way to the center the next morning, Edward noticed I was fidgeting. First, I was smoothing out my short black shorts. Then, I was biting my lip in the visor mirror as I ran my hands through my hair. Finally, he reached over to hold my hand across the console. "You're shaking," he remarked. "I am? Oh" I withdrew my hand and noticed it was clammy, too. "Do you feel dizzy? Are you alright?" "Yes I guessjust a little nervous." I smiled at him, and he returned it with a reassuring sweep of his hand to my cheek. It calmed me instantly, like it always did. When we arrived at the Center, it was immaculate. The floors and windows were spotless, and all the equipment was in order. Edward mentioned that local high schoolers received community service hours by coming regularly to the Center to clean and to help keep things organized. Josh Banner greeted us at the door with his warm smile. Josh was surprisingly more handsome in person than he was on film. He was slightly shorter than Edward, with dark blond hair and deep

blue eyes. He was very tan and physically fit, dressed in a crisp, white t-shirt and jeans. "Hello, Josh!" Edward said enthusiastically, happy to see his good friend. "Hey guysgood to see you," he said as he embraced Edward in a friendly hug. "This must be Bella." Josh and I shook hands, and I was surprised as he leaned to place a friendly kiss on my cheek. "Everything is looking good," Edward exclaimed as he surveyed the space. "It's a little hectic right now. We just got our summer camp kids situated. Come on in." He turned to usher us inside. "Tanya and Laurent should be here any minute with Seth." Josh showed us around some of the new art room area. Kids and volunteers alike, one after another, greeted Edward with hugs. Right away, I noticed he was completely in his element. As a matter of fact, I'd never seen him as animated before. "Edward!" I suddenly heard a small, but excited voice yell at us from behind. We all turned to see Sethan adorable little boy with shaggy black hair and big, beautiful dark eyes. Seth ran quickly, his arms reaching out toward Edward. Edward knelt down, and wrapped Seth in a warm embrace. My heart felt like it was going to beat out of my chest. I took a few steps backward, not wanting to intrude on such a private moment. Edward and Seth pulled away from each other slightly and talked quietly for a few minutes before Tanya and Laurent joined them. Tanya was naturally beautiful, with long blonde hair that was braided with a leather tie. Laurent was strikingly handsome and muscular with long, dark hair that was also pulled back. There was an effortlessness to their style; it was bohemian chic. I immediately recognized the couple had a fascinating presence. "How are you, man?" Laurent said as he pulled Edward up and into another embrace. Tanya came close and kissed him on both cheeks. I noticed that Edward never released Seth, always keeping him by his side. I decided to make my way over slowly, still not wanting to interrupt the reunion of sorts. Edward turned toward me with a fabulous smile. "Seth this is Bella," he said, reaching for my hand to pull me closer. "Remember I told you about her?" I bent my knees just enough to meet him eye to eye. I held out my hand and swallowed so that I could talk. "Seth it's very nice to finally meet you. Edward has told me so many amazing things about you." He looked at my hand and then at my face, as if to study me for a moment. Instead of taking my hand, he lurched forward to hug me. He'd caught me off guard, and I fell back slightly, catching myself on the floor with the palm of my hand. My other arm went to hug Seth back. When I looked over at Edward, our eyes locked. His smile was wide, and he ran his hand through his hair, obviously fighting back emotion.

Finally, Seth said, "Hi, Bella!" I smiled at him, and he returned to Edward, reaching to hold his hand. We talked with Tanya and Laurent for awhile, and they had such a peaceful nature about them as they spoke. Laurent had an intriguing European accent that I couldn't quite place, while Tanya had a familiar Southern drawl, one that made me nostalgic for Florida. They were very interested in our road journey, especially New Mexico. I noticed Seth glancing up toward Edward while he spoke. Edward would look down at him and give his hand a comforting squeeze. It was as if he were reassuring Seth that he was really there in Austinwith himfinally. Truth be told, it was almost too much for me to bear. I was overwhelmed with so much foreign emotion that I had to excuse myself to the restroom. I went to the sink and flushed water over my face. Looking in the mirror, I realized some hard and true factsthis man I lovehe belongs here...this is like home to himit's where he feels aliveSeth, Josh, the Center, his familyMy heart and mind began to race in opposite directions. I placed my hand over my abdomen, willing my body to heal so that I could be a part of the future Edward wanted. Once I composed myself and made my way out to the main area, I found Edward and Seth sharing a piano bench. They were sitting at a dark oak grand piano in the far corner of the room. Seth was playing what I thought was a complicated piece while Edward was intently watching every move his tiny fingers made. I leaned against the back wall to take it all in. I noticed Edward's feet working the pedals as Seth worked the keys. Only once did Seth seem to get hung up on a note. And Edward was quick to correct him, placing his gentle hands over Seth's to guide him easily to the next key. When they finished, there was no clapping, no wordsjust satisfied and proud smiles. It was obvious everyone at the Center regarded the music as serious business. Finally, Seth announced he wanted to go on the playground. He ran straight to a newly installed cedar swing set. It was strategically placed under a few tall pine trees, surely as shade from the blazing Texas sun. When I walked out to them, Edward was standing in front of Seth teasing him by pretending to grab his feet as his swing came forward. Seth laughed hard, throwing his head back in pure childhood bliss. "So, Edward. I've been wondering. When you adopt mecan I call you dad?" I watched Edward's face closely. He didn't flinch or take time to ponder. "Sure you can. Call me anything you want," he calmly replied. And without further thought, Seth shouted, "Watch this!" He pumped his legs a few times to go higher, and then he leaped off his swing, landing on his knees in the sand with a thud. "WhoaSeth, who taught you that?" Edward asked, his brow furrowed with concern. "Jasper!" He yelled without missing a beat, and he was all giggles as he returned to the swing, ready to do his trick again. Edward turned toward me and we laughed. After a few more turns on the swing, Seth jumped off for the last time and took Edward's hand. They walked toward me

and Seth grabbed mine with his other. I sucked in a silent deep breath, as his sandy fingers wrapped around my own. His gesture was so simple and innocent, yet it spoke volumes about how much he trusted Edward. Because Seth trusted Edward, he undoubtedly trusted me. We slowly made our way back inside, with Seth pulling on our hands, trying to lift his legs, so we could swing him. He was giggling because he knew he was too big. Suddenly he stopped and looked up at me with his wide, black eyes. "Bella?" he asked sweetly. "Yes?" We stopped to hear what he wanted to say. He put his hands on his hips while he was deep in thought. "Well, if I call him Dadthen, Bella, what can I call you?"

19.

"Well, if I call him Dadthen, Bella, what can I call you?" Seth asked. I glanced hesitantly at Edward. I took a deep breath and smiled at Seth. "You know what my mom calls me? She calls me 'Bella Bug.' Isn't that silly?" Seth nodded his head and giggled a bit. I went on, still smiling at the dark haired little boy, "And Edward calls me 'Isabella' sometimes. But I really like 'Bella.' Is that cool with you if you call me that?" Seth beamed widely and turned to Edward, seemingly satisfied with my answer. "Race you to the door!" Seth yelled out as he took off toward the Center's back door. "Heyno fair!" Edward called out as he raced behind him, pretending to run at a much slower pace. When I reached the building, Edward was grinning, but slightly panting, as he held the door open for me. "I think he could actually beat me. Especially in this Texas heat," he said. "I still liked watching you run, babymaybe you can race me next time," I said with a raised eyebrow as I poked him playfully in the stomach. He grabbed me from behind and gave me a quick squeeze, kissing me sweetly on my cheek. His mood was exuberant, and it showed in everything he did at the Center. As we made our way in, Tanya and Laurent waved us over to where they were speaking with Josh.

"Are you headed out?" Edward asked as we approached them. "Yes, I have to get to campus, and Tanya has a docent meeting," Laurent answered. "Can I go in my camp group now?" Seth asked as he tapped on Josh's arm. "Sure, buddy. I'll take you," Josh offered. Edward told Seth we would be around to eat lunch with him and then hugged him once more. "Bella and I want you all to come over this weekend," Edward said. "Oh, how nice," Tanya replied as she hugged Edward first and then me. "Sounds wonderful. We'll give you a call." Laurent placed a kiss on my cheek and offered Edward another friendly embrace. I realized Edward had surrounded himself with the kind of people who were innately kind and warm: Kate, Riley, Laurent, Tanya, Joshand Seth. The impact they had on each other's lives was quite profound, and I could see why he felt so at ease here in Austin with them. We spent the remainder of the morning with Josh in his small, casual office. He and Edward discussed some fiscal issues and future funding. Edward reminded Josh of various civic leaders and their promises to help out the Center. They discussed a promotional package for the Austin Independent school district, which Edward offered to photograph and design. Edward was quite enthusiastic and so focused about everything he did that involved Meyer Street. His thoughts and ideas seemed to flow naturallyhe had solid business sense and distinct creative visions. I asked Josh whether or not he was required to have a nurse on staff at the Center. He explained there was one during the camp, because they had two special needs children participating this summer. I offered to look through the Center's first aid procedures and supplies to be sure everything was up-to-date and in order. I enjoyed learning more about the inner workings of the place Edward loved so much. I especially liked watching the two men interact with such fervor over the future and its possibilities. There was a knock on the office door and a husky young man peeked around corner. "Hey, Randall. Come on in, man. You boys all set for the lunch crowd?" Josh inquired. "Sure we are, boss. I brought some of my brothers from the fraternity house with me today," Randall replied in his low, burly voice. Josh introduced us to the tall, well-built young man. Edward was tall, but Randall towered over him. Apparently, he had been a linebacker at the University of Texas until he was sidelined by a devastating knee injury. He had pledged a fraternity to keep involved on campus and had been instrumental in generating collegiate volunteers for the Center for the last two years. His fraternity brothers were there helping to prepare lunch for all the campers. Josh explained community volunteers typically committed a week at a time to cook and to serve the kids lunch during summer camp. "So, Randall. What's on the menu today?" Edward asked.

"Ahhh man. We're making my mom's chili mac. It's awesome. But definitely not spicy for the kids." Randall chuckled through the rest of his reply, "Don't worryI didn't see any Tabasco in the kitchen anyway." I was in the kitchen doling out food on trays for Edward and me when he snuck up behind me. I felt his warm breath on my cheek as he stole a kiss. I looked back at him and smiled. "Here, Bella. Let me get that. Go sit down," he said. "What? I've got it. Edward, you don't need to baby me," I replied, thinking he was being a bit overprotective about my health again. But he leaned in closer to my ear as I grabbed two plastic forks and laid them onto the tray. "I'm not babying you. I'm just tired of Randall the frat boy and his brothers staring at your ass," he whispered, smirking and raising his eyebrow at me. "Oh, shut up! They are not!" I said, smiling and rolling my eyes. Edward let out an overdramatized gasp. "Hey! You can't say 'shut up' inside the Centerit's against the rules." "Oh, yeah? Well, so is 'ass,'" I said in a hushed tone. "And, by the way, you're cute when you're jealous," I wrinkled my nose at him and then pinched his cheek. I grabbed my tray and purposefully moved ahead of him, overemphasizing the swing of my hips. I heard his beautiful laugh as I walked away. While we ate chili mac with Seth and his friends, children constantly approached Edward. They were hanging all over him: offering high fives, hugs, laughs and smiles. They were anxious to show him missing teeth or to tell him about being on the honor roll, or when they would next be in a recital. He was completely attentive to each child, taking the time to make everyone feel special. I noticed Seth beaming with pride that Edward belonged to him. Throughout the rest of the afternoon, Edward observed some music lessons and offered suggestions to the younger volunteer teachers. I met with the camp nurse, and we checked supplies and discussed the special training she'd had to work there. Finally, we stopped in to say goodbye to Seth. Edward took Seth's hand and led him over to some chairs in the corner of the room. I could see Seth's shoulders rise and fall a few times; he was crying. Edward spoke to him very calmly, and I noticed Seth wipe his face with the back of his hand and nod at him. I could hear pieces of their conversation. Seth didn't understand why he couldn't go home with Edward now that he was back in town. Edward tried to explain in as simple terms as he could that the adoption would take some more time. Seth would live with Tanya and Laurent for just awhile longer, but soon enough, they would live together as father and son. As they approached me, I could see that Seth's eyes were slightly red and his cheeks were damp. Edward had a strong, loving hand on Seth's shoulder. I knelt down in front of this much-loved

boy who would soon be Edward's son. "Seth, it was great to spend the day with you. I loved hearing you play the piano and meeting your friends. I can't wait to see you again. Can I give you another hug?" I asked proactively. But he didn't make eye contact with me until the last part. He reached his arms out and hugged my neck. "I made you something in art today," Seth proclaimed before running over to his table and grabbing a small braided creation. He placed into my hand and smiled. "It's a friendship bracelet. I started on it last week, and I was going to give it to Tanya, but she already has one so this one can be yours. Do you like it?" I nodded my head "yes" wholeheartedly as I slipped it on my wrist, just below the cuff bracelet Edward had given me. "Thank you Seth. This is awesome. And you know what these are all my favorite colors." I reached out to hug him once more, and then Edward leaned down and took his turn to do the same. As we walked out to the car hand-in-hand, Edward explained in more detail why Seth was crying. "He wanted to come home with us. I told him he'd come over with Tanya and Laurent in a few days. Then he'd have some full weekends with me soon." Edward opened the car door for me. "He just doesn't understand the whole process. We go through this every time I'm here." He shut the door, and I watched him walk around to the driver's side. His hand went through his hair a couple of times before he got in and buckled up. "Well, it's a lot to absorb at that agehe's very mature for his age, butgod, he's still only an eight-year-old. Plus, he's already been through so much." I grabbed Edward's hand across the center console. "He's an amazing child, Edward." "He is. He really is." Edward said, squeezing my hand tighter before we drove off toward his home.

That evening, we'd made plans to see Jasper and his band, The Sleeping Gypsies, in concert with Alice and Josh. I was pretty tired from the full day at the center. My bleeding had ceased somewhat, but I still felt like taking a nap before getting ready to go out. Edward came into the bedroom, gave me a loving kiss on my forehead, and told me he would be working in his office. He sat softly on the bed next to me and caressed my hair and then my back until I feel asleep. I awoke a couple of hours later to my phone vibrating on the nightstand; I was surprised to see Jake's number. "Hey, Bells. Just checking on you. How's it going?" "I'm good. How are you?"

"Great. Lauren and I are going out for dinner tonight." "AhhSo things are really good, then," I giggled. "I'm happy for you." And I genuinely was. It was about time someone took notice of all the wonderful things Jake had offer. "Did you meet Seth yet?" "Yes. We met today. You know, Jakehe's an amazing kid. And Edward is just incredible with him and all the kids." I yawned a little as I finished that last part. "Are you sure you're feeling okay, Bells? You sound really tired." "Ohstop it. I just woke up from a nap. We're going out tonight, so I wanted to rest up for being with Jasper and Alice. I'm fineI promise." "Alright. But you need to take it easy. Promise me that?" "Yes, Dr. Black. I will take it easy. Tell Lauren 'hello' for me. And, heyhave funand promise me you won't act obnoxious." We both laughed and hung up.

I was standing at the closet in my bra and panties, deciding what to wear when Edward walked into the bedroom. Fresh from the shower, he was wearing a white cotton towel around his waist. He sat down on the edge of the bed holding his phone. My heart raced at the sight of him: wet tousled hair, glistening chest, and his sexy smile. I wanted to devour him. It had been too long since we'd made love, and I truly missed the intimacythe pleasurethe ecstasy of being with him. "I'm sending Jasper a textto let him know what time we're meeting them." His eyes were focused on his phone, his fingers quickly typing. I moved over to him and stood between his legs. He finished his text, set his phone down on the bed, and looked up at me. Before I knew it, his arms were around my waist. "Hi," he whispered as he kissed my bare stomach. His tongue lingered on my skin. "Mmmyou taste so good." I ran my hands through his hair while he continued his kissing, licking and tasting. "Edward, I miss you. I miss you so much." I felt him smile slightly against my now very warm skin. I angled his head gently backward so we could look at each other. First, I licked my lips to tease him, and then I sank down on my knees to the floor. With our eyes still locked on one another, I slowly opened his towel. His length was hard and wanting. "Let me do this for you, baby" I murmured as I moved my mouth closer to him. I heard him inhale deeply, and his hands gripped the sheets on the bed. He was ready for me.

"I want to taste you, Edward" I said as softly and seductively as I could while I took him in my hand. I rubbed his length with a few long and slow strokes, feeling his complete desire for me well within my grasp. I placed my hands on his thighs, gripping them gently, as my mouth enveloped him. A lingering sigh escaped his lips, and I was content in knowing I could offer him such pleasure. As my tongue and mouth swirled and moved in time, Edward's hands grasped my hair, adding a slight pressure to my movements. His breathing quickly accelerated, I could tell he was close to losing control. "Baby, oh fuck," he moaned as he found his release. "Come here," he said softly as he pulled me up to him and held me close. "Thank you," he breathed, with a slight hoarseness in his voice. He kissed me tenderly, with a loving hand caressing my cheek. His hands began delicately traveling down my back, then around my stomach and up to my chest. He pushed my thin bra straps off my shoulders one at a time. He lightly ran his fingers over the top of my breasts. My arms reached around his neck, and I pulled his lips to my mouth. Our kisses were deep and passionate, and I wanted him desperately. But I knew that was impossiblefor now. "Let me touch you, baby. I just want to feel youI want you to know how much I want youno matter what." He gently caressed my stomachmy thighstracing his finger over the outline of my panties. His mouth followed the path of his fingers, adoring every inch of me, showing me how much he loved meno matter what. He held me in his arms until it was time to dress for our night out with Jasper, Alice and Josh. I decided to wear a silk, wine-colored tank top, jeans and brown wedge sandals. I was putting on some lip gloss when Edward peered around the corner of the bathroom door. Fuck! He was so gorgeousHe was wearing a black button-up shirt with the sleeves rolled to his elbows, my favorite jeans, and a very satisfied smirk. "Ready?" he asked. "Yes. Is this okay?" I stepped back and gave him a full view. Edward offered up a sexy grin and reached for me around my waist. "You're gorgeous. I'd better keep my eye on Josh tonight," he said, placing a few slow kisses on my neck. His touch made me shiver. "What? You are so ridiculous. What is it with you and all of this jealousy lately?" I teased. "That reminds me, though. Does Josh have a girlfriend?" "No, not now he just ended a long relationship. She was really selfish. Just didn't respect the long hours he spent with the kids. He was pretty torn up about it." "Oh, no. That's too bad. He's seems like a great man." Edward turned me around to face him. He

cupped my face with one hand and held my back with the other. "How are you feeling?" he asked, searching my face for a flicker of truth. "I'm fine, baby. Just a little tired. But I'm looking forward to seeing Jasper and Alice." I smiled up at him and kissed him again. When we arrived at the legendary Antone's Nightclub, the pretty brunette who was greeting patrons at the door squealed when she saw Edward. He placated her with a kind hello and politely asked how her classes went last year. "Shit, I can't remember her name," he said into my ear. "She's worked here for a couple of summers." I nodded, and we moved a little further inside. When I turned my head back, I saw the brunette still smiling at Edward's backside. i couldn't help but smile and appreciate the effect Edward had on just about everyone. "Edward Cullen. What the hell?" An extremely tall and well-built man shouted as he moved toward us. "Felix! How the hell are you?" Edward shouted back, offering him a handshake and a masculine embrace. "Bella, this is Felix. He's the manager hereFelix this is my girlfriend, Bella." "Bella" Felix managed to say before he grabbed my hand and kissed it. "Edward, I knew you would get the best looking woman out there, you son of a bitch." I couldn't help but smile at Felix. He was charming in his own, no nonsense way. Edward and Jasper had obviously spent a great deal of time at Antone's. Edward explained that Felix really helped the Sleeping Gypsy's get their start. He would let them warm-up crowds and play in place of cancellations. Alice and Josh were sitting at a small table toward the back of the bar. She leapt up as soon as she saw us, grabbing and hugging me tightly while Edward greeted Josh. Alice then reached around to Edward and hugged him with the same enthusiasm. "What the hell did you do to my house?" he asked her, but only with a slight hint of seriousness. Edward had a smile on his face that he couldn't hide. "Oh, my god! Don't you love it?" she squealed with delight. "No, I don't. Alicepurple? Really?" "Edward! That's not purplethe bottom coat is 'Deep Hyacinth' with an overlay of 'Wild Sunday Orchid'don't worryyou'll be alright," she said as she patted his chest. He took her hand and gave it a slight squeeze. I could see the knowing glance pass between them Edward couldn't be mad at Alice even if he tried.

Alice was elated to have everyone with her. She looked absolutely adorable in a tiny cream tank dress and flat sandals. "So where's my baby brother?" "He's in the back. Go find himhe's been wound up all day about you guys being here tonight." "Let me grab some drinks on my way. Bella, what do you want, babe?" "A cokediet." "You sure? They have an extensive wine list here. I can go grab it." I shook my head, and Edward looked slightly concerned. "Okaydiet coke." He ran his hand across my neck, ever so gently. "Alice? Josh?" "Oh, I'm good. Thanks, Edward," Alice said as she stared at me. "I'll take another Jack and coke. Thanks, man," Josh replied. Once Edward disappeared, Alice leaned in toward me to make conversation. "Is he really pissed about the paint?" "NoI think he's just teasing you," I smiled. "He's such a mess. It'll grow on him." Edward returned to the table with Jasper behind him. As he set the drinks down, I stood to hug Jasper. "Bella! How are ya? Shityou look a little tiredEdward didn't have to drag you out tonight!" "Well, we've been driving for four days. But I'm good. Really. No worries." I gave him a big squeeze and tried to change the subject. "This place is great. Can't wait to see you in action," I beamed. "It should be a good show. We've been working on a new set. HeyI almost forgotEdward told me you'd be interested in singing with us tonight." "What?" I looked at Edward, horrified. "Ha! You know better, Jasperyou've heard me sing!" We all laughed. "Belladon't let them talk you into anything"Alice offered, pulling on my arm and urging me to sit. The others followed my lead, and we sat together before Jasper went on stage. Edward slid into the chair next to me, keeping his hand on my back in a protective way.

"Edward tells me you met Seth today," Jasper said. "Yeshe's a great kid. Adorable." "Yeah, he's a keeper." We listened to Jasper's band play, and I was amazed at how good they were. The vibe was blues, but with a contemporary twist. I watched Alice as she looked at her husband on stage; and many times he caught her gaze. There was no denying the reverence and the romance in their eyes. Throughout the night, Edward was very attentivewhispering in my earasking me how I was feeling, rubbing my backI rested my head on his shoulder and reveled in just being with him. For the last song, Edward went on stage and played with his brotherJasper was so excited to have him up there, the two of them singing and playing the guitar together. I didn't think it was possible to be attracted to Edward any more than I already was, or to love him any more than I already did, but watching him up therelike thatI realized what I thought simply wasn't true. Sitting there at Antone's, I understood how madly in love with Edward Cullen I truly was.

Saturday morning Edward and I met Peter Varner at Kerbey Lane. Edward confessed it was his favorite restaurant in all of Austin. It was a 24-hour pancake house that he and Jasper frequented after concerts. Peter was a very friendly man, and he appeared genuinely delighted to finally meet me. He'd arrived shortly after we did, and we ordered coffee all around. Edward and Peter both ordered blueberry pancakes and sausage, and I had a short stack of apple wheat cakes with fruit. "So, after the home study this month, the DFPS will set up a series of pre-placement visits. Bella, if you plan on living with Edward, we'll need to file for your background check. Anyone permanently living in the home is required to have one," Peter stated. "But I won't be living here in Austin," I quickly replied. I looked over at Edward after I had blurted out that fact, and I realized immediately I should have been more tactful. From the look on his face, I could tell I'd hurt his feelings. It was unintentional, but I had hurt him nonetheless. Edward's face fell, and his hands went straight to his hairwhat he always did when he was upset, nervous, or uncomfortable. And deep down, I knew our impending separation was weighing heavily on both of us. "Oh," Peter responded quietly, looking at Edward in a rather confused way. Then he turned back to me, "Sorry, Bella. I just assumed..." I smiled politely at Peter to ease the tension. "In any case, we'll get this all taken care of, Edward," Peter added as he stacked his papers neatly and put them back into his leather briefcase. There was a moment of awkward silence before Edward finally spoke. He cleared his voice, and I noticed it was slightly raspy.

"Bella can't live here, Peter. She's been offered an incredible opportunity with a new doctor in Forks," he looked at me as he spoke. There was still an undeniable love in his eyes, and I could tell he was proud of meregardless of whether or not I could stay in Texas. He continued, "She's looking at opening an OB/GYN office and free women's clinic. I was hoping you could look over the plan" "Oh, I didn't bring it with me, Edward," I realized. "Is it a true partnership? Will you have to come up with any capital, Bella?'' Peter asked in full legal mode. "I can't do that, I'm afraid. I'll have to go back to school for a semester to finish what I need, so I know most of my savings will go toward that. So, unless I sell my father's house, I'll have to settle on being Lauren's employee. Actually, Peter, this is all so new...I'm still trying to absorb the details." I shifted in my seat, running my hands nervously over the silverware in front of me. "What if I gave her the money?" Edward asked Peter. His eyes didn't meet mine, even though I looked at him in shock. He had offered before, but we had never talked about it further. "Edward! No...absolutely not," I responded, shaking my head decidedly. Edward sighed, "Bella...why won't you let me help you do this?" He reached for my hand, and I let him take it. "Look, it seems like you two have a few things to discuss before we move forward with anything else...the adoption or this new business deal. I'll process the necessary paperwork for Bella's background check for the adoption...might as well get that out of the way. Okay?" Edward and I both shook our heads "yes." After all that, I was feeling slightly overwhelmed. I didn't want to upset Edward since I knew he was only trying to help me. Honestly, I wasn't used to someone being so willing to do everything and anything for me. It would be hard to stop being so damn stubborn. Could I just let my guard down and let him love me the way he wanted to?

A few days later, Tanya, Laurent and Seth were on their way over for a visit. I'd prepared two pitchers of Sangria, and Edward began playing something new on the piano while we waited for them to arrive. I walked over and sat beside him on the bench. I ran my fingers over the white keys. The noise it made was rather unpleasant. I turned up my nose as I looked at him. He was thoroughly enjoying the fact that I had no idea what I was doing. He took my hand into his and gently pressed down onto the keys. "Middle C," he said as he began an attempt to teach me a chord when the doorbell rang. Friendly hugs and kisses were exchanged with all at the door. When we moved into the living room, Seth saw bags from a local toy store on the floor. He pulled on Edward's sleeve slightly to

get his attention. "UmmEdward?" He asked as he motioned toward the bags. "Oh yeah, those are for you. They're from Carlisle and Esme." "Are they coming to see me, too?" Seth asked as he started tearing into the bags. It was true he was a prodigy on the piano, and even the guitar, but deep down, he was still a kid who loved presents and playing with toys. "Yepin a couple of weeks," Edward answered smiling. Seth pulled out a National Geographic puzzle of Washington State, a coloring book of the human anatomy, and a brand new basketball. He immediately began dribbling on the hard wood floors. "Sethnot in the house. That's something for outside. I'll take you in a minute," Edward said. "I'll shoot some baskets with you," I offered. Seth and I ventured out into the dry, hot air of the Texas evening. I forced myself to chase Seth a little around the small driveway. I didn't have much energy, but I wanted to spend some time with him. Once, we laughed together as the basketball bounced off Edward's new car. I noticed Edward watching us out of the small window in the side kitchen door. "Bella, are you gonna live with us, too?" Seth asked, catching me off guard. I wasn't sure if Edward could hear us. If he could, I didn't want to say the wrong thing or to disappoint him with my answer. "Well, I have to go back to Washington soon. I have a job as a nurse in a hospital there," I responded. He stared at me as if waiting for more explanation. "I also have to go to school soon, just like you," I added. "What for? You're older than me and already have a job." I laughed a little at how simple he made it seem. "I'm going to go back to school so I can be a better nurse. And you're never too old to go back to school." I was lifting Seth to make a basket when Edward walked out. "Bella, be careful," he warned. "I've got him. He's light," I replied. "Yeah, Edwardshe's stronger than you," Seth giggled. "Oh, yeah?" Edward charged after Seth and threw him over his shoulder. Thankfully, he took over the basketball playing. I sat on the stairs as they played. I was feeling very emotional

watching them take turns shooting baskets. Charlie would have loved to do this with a grandson. He was going to miss so much. Edward was teaching Seth the proper way to hold a basketball. Was there anything this man couldn't do? Suddenly, Seth ran up the stairs next to me and tried to shoot a basket from the top step. He then jumped down over the set of five steep concrete steps onto the driveway. "Seth!" Edward scolded. "That's not a good idea. Okay? It's different at they playgroundjumping in the sand or the mulch. You can really hurt yourself on the concrete. Do you understand?" Edward asked with authority. Musical prodigy, manners and sweetness aside, Seth was still a young boyand Edward seemed to handle it all without hesitation. I walked inside, realizing our guests were alone. Tanya and Laurent were relaxing on the sofa enjoying their Sangria. "Bella, I brought you something." Tanya said as she dug into her bag. She handed me a small, but rather heavy, object wrapped in white tissue paper. I opened it carefully. It was an exquisite, clear, thick glass bowl with a scarlet-colored symbol on the bottom. Knowing that Tanya was an artist who owned her own fused glass studio, I realized quickly that this was one of her original pieces. "Tanyathis is absolutely beautiful. Thank you." "I made this especially for you. The design is an ancient African symbol of strength and perseverance." She went on to explain, "Edward picked out the design for you." I turned the bowl over and delicately ran my hand over the engraved inscription I found there. "Where there is love there is no darkness" "It's a Burundi proverb," Tanya smiled. She added softly, "And he chose the inscription." "It's wonderful just perfect." As I stood up to hug Tanya, Edward and Seth came back into the house. Edward could see I was holding the bowl, and he smiled knowingly at me. For the rest of the evening, Seth played the piano in the sunroom while we visited in the living room. I enjoyed hearing about Laurent's position at the University of Texas as Department Chair of Medieval Studies and Tanya's work as artist in her studio, New Dawn Glass. It was exciting being amongst such cultured discussion. I considered myself fairly well read, but Laurent, Tanya and Edward were more so. "Seth, you're pounding," Edward stopped in mid-conversation to correct Seth. It was as if he always has an ear out for him, being a father obviously came naturally to him. Would being a mother seem so effortless to me? "Bella, I brought the ingredients for Seth's favorite dessert. If you'd like, I can show you how to make it," Tanya said. I was slightly surprised by her offer, but honored all the same. We went into the kitchen and began making the Leche Asada, which Tanya explained was essentially a

Latin American Crme Brulee. Tanya was very graceful with her hands, and her demeanor was lovely. We were enjoying each other's company in the kitchen while Edward and Laurent listened to Seth as he continued to play. "Tanya, will you have another foster child when Seth leaves?" I asked, not knowing the right way to word my question. "Yes. Actually, there is a three-year-old boy, Tyler, who's moving in with us next week." She smiled happily and continued to stir the boiling milk and egg mixture. "I think you and Laurent are a remarkable couple. I admire what you doso much." "Well, Bella, we love children. They are a gift of innocence in this jaded world. We couldn't have our owndid you know?" "Oh, I'm sorryI didn't know that." "Yes, it's true. We tried for several years. But it was all resolved in our hearts when we received our first foster child. It's so wonderfully fulfilling. It doesn't matter where the children come from, Bella. They just need your love and guidance." For a moment, I was lost in Tanya's beautiful words. I glanced out to see that Seth had moved from the piano to the sofa. He was sitting next to Edward, leaning into his side, as he read from one of his books. I heard Laurent make a joke about how times Seth had read the first Harry Potter book. "You'll be a wonderful mother to Seth, Bella. When you're ready" "OhI" Tanya surprised me with her words, but I could see in her eyes she understood exactly what I was feeling. By the time we finished our dessert, and it was getting late. Laurent whispered to Seth that it was time to clean up his things. Seth began to pout slightly, and he was reluctant to do what he was asked. We said our goodbyes, and I noticed Seth grabbing Edward around the waist. Edward explained to him the next time he came over, it would be for the entire weekend. Seth perked up slightly, but I could tell he didn't want to go. After they left, Edward and I cleaned up the kitchen together, quietly. I was washing the dishes at the sink, and Edward moved in behind me, wrapping his arms around me. I leaned back into his strong embrace, relishing in the comfort his arms gave me. He pushed my hair over my shoulder and whispered into my ear. "Thank you." "For what?"

"For being herefor being you." I turned around and caressed his face with my hand. "I love you," I whispered back to him. "I love you, too, Bellaso much. Sometimes I can't believe how lucky I am to have you in my life." We finished cleaning up and made our way upstairs. It had been another long day, and we decided to finish the night with a warm bathtogether.

After our bath, we climbed into bed, and Edward put on some music. It was a subtle jazz sound, soothing and mellow in every way. I pulled a pillow under me and laid on my stomach. Edward began to massage my back and shoulders. "Hmm...I'm going to miss this again," I told him, thinking about our time apart when he was working in Philadelphia. We would be apart for months this time instead of weeks, and the reality of a long distance relationship would soon sink in. But after a few moments of feeling his hands over my skin, I relaxed under his touch. Even Edward was quiet for a few moments, and then the massaging stopped. "What's the matter?" I asked him. "Don't stopthat felt so good." He didn't reply, so I turned to my side and propped myself up on my elbow. He looked down at me with a strange expression. I swallowed the lump that had formed in my throat suddenly. "Well, maybe we shouldn'tmiss thisanymore," he finally responded. "What do you mean?" I asked him quietly. "I'll be here. And you'll be there" he said as his voice trailed off. "The long distance..." I explained hastily, "We've done it before, but" "Butwe could just end it then..." His voice was calm and deliberate. He avoided looking at me, instead focusing on the bedsheets. I sat silently, and this time I couldn't swallow at all. "We could just end all the separation...the long distance..." he paused long enough for me to muster a worried reply. "Edward? What do you mean by that? What are you saying?" I sat all the way up, enough to meet Edward face-to-face. I put my hand under his chin and forced him to look me in the eyes. He peered at me for an agonizing moment before continuing what he wanted to tell me. "I'm saying we wouldn't have to be apart anymore, Bella...if you would marry me."

20.

"I'm saying we wouldn't have to be apart anymore, Bella...if you would marry me." It wasn't the way I had planned on asking her to be my wife, but Bella didn't have to have all romance and flowers. She wasn't that kind of womanand I knew how she felt about marriage and how timid she was about making that kind of commitment. But I also knew how much I loved her; I wanted her to be with me the rest of my life. "Baby" Bella said softly, looking into my eyes, as she ran her gentle palm over my cheek. She then placed her hands delicately on my thighs as she leaned in and kissed me. I already knew what her answer was going to be, so I returned the kiss and held her beautiful face between my hands. "Edward, I just" she whispered, closing her eyes before she finished what she wanted to say. I knew I had gone too far by asking that of her, but I wanted her to know where I hoped our relationship would go. She shifted her weight slightly and ran her fingers through her hair. "I just don't know if I'm ready" she said quietly, then looked away. I kissed the top of her hand and held it in mine. "Bella it's okay. I understand. Really, I do. I caught you off guard." We were holding hands now, and I felt her small hands squeeze mine. "I don't want to hurt you. You know I how much I love you. You know how much I want to be with youalways. But everything has been in fast forward lately. I'm just " Her voice quivered slightly. For a moment I thought she was going to cry, but she didn't. "Hey, heylook at me," I told her, turning her face back toward mine. "We don't have to do this right now." We were silent, and I wanted to give her time to tell me what she was thinking. "One thingI just don't think I can give you everything you want in your life" she said hesitantly. "But you do. You already do, Bella," I told her, stroking her hair as it fell down her shoulders. "You're the perfect woman for me. I'll wait." "But what if I'm never ready, Edward? What if I can't be the wife and mother you think I can be?" And there it wasfinally I'd heard her reveal her ultimate insecurity. That's what she was most afraid of. "Baby, don't worry about all that now. Let's just get through the next few months. We have a lot going on. I'm not going anywhere." I could see the concern still in her eyes. "Please don't give up on me," she pleaded as she threw her arms around my neck.

"Baby never," I replied. And I held her closely, in a silent and protective embrace until she fell asleep. The next morning, things were quieter between us. I worried that I shouldn't have put Bella in the position to decide our future, but we needed to define what we wanted. I had to consider Seth in any decision I made, and we both faced priorities that came first at the moment. Marriage would simply have to wait. After all, Bella and I would be together again soon. I hoped to visit Forks as often as I could. So, I attempted to reassure her with embraces and kisses as I helped her pack before we made our way to breakfast with Alice and Jasper. After we ate, Bella and I stopped at the Center so she could say goodbye to Seth and Josh. Seth teared up, which made Bella very emotional. "Seth, I'll see you soonokay? Don't forget to practice shooting baskets," she said and then leaned down to whisper something in his ear. All I could make out was my name. Seth turned to me, his hand covering his mouth, trying to conceal his giggles. On the way to the airport, I held her hand the way I usually did. I didn't force the conversation, and we drove in a comfortable silence. She knew how I felt, and I knew I would wait for her. So, we said our goodbyes like we had in the pastwith promises to talk, text and plan. I missed her the minute I walked away.

Several weeks had passed, and Bella and I talked any chance we could get. But talking on the phone couldn't quench the need I hadI missed everything about her: her hair, her body, and the way she smiled at me. She had plans to enroll at UW for the winter semester, and she was back to work and feeling as well as could be expected. Lauren had wanted to schedule Bella's procedure as soon as she returned from Austin. Instead, Bella wanted to wait until after she finished her UW application and visited the registrar on campus. She also told me she wanted to wait for when I could be there, too. I wasn't happy with her decision to hold off, and neither was Lauren, but she insisted. So, it was set for the last week of October. I'd made arrangements to fly home then to take care of her. And since I had missed her birthday, I promised Bella to celebrate with her when I came back to Forks. I stayed busy working at the Center with Josh, and Austin's school board had contacted me about filming some public service announcements for the school year. Carlisle and Esme had come to town for the home study and family interviews. The next step in the adoption process was the first preplacement visitation. That had been this weekend, and it could not have gone better. Everything was moving as quickly and as smoothly as Peter said it would. I was walking to my car after dropping of Seth at Tanya and Laurent's when my cell began vibrating in my pocket; it was my father's number. "Dad," I answered, excited to tell him about my first weekend alone with Seth. My dad and I hadn't talked in over a week, which was unusual, but I had been busy preparing for Seth to stay

with me. There was so much to talk to him about since they'd left Austin. "Edward, I" I cut him off before he could finish his sentence, anxious to relay the events of the weekend. "I just dropped Seth off at Tanya and Laurent's. He slept until 10:30 this morning," I chuckled. "I think I wore him out this weekend. Yesterday, we" "Edward, listen, why I'm calling" Dad interrupted. "Do you know what's happened?" "No, what? What's happened? Are you and Mom alright?" "Son, we're fineit's about Bella." His voice was calm but gravely serious. "What's wrong? I haven't been able to get a hold of her since Thursdaybut I thought" My heart began pounding in my chest. I gripped my phone a little tighter. "Well, I just spoke with Renee," he paused before saying anything else. "Renee? Why? Dadwhat's going on?" I was really worried now. If something were to happen to BellaI tried putting that thought out of my head. "Edwardshe's in a hospital in Seattle. Alec had to rush her to the ER," he explained with restraint. I tried to stay composed, but it was becoming more difficult not to panic. "Alec? Why was she...what the hell is going on! Dad?" "Her cyst ruptured, Edward. She'd gone to Seattle to do some paperwork at the university. She and Alec were having lunch, and apparently she collapsed suddenly from extreme pain." "Oh, godis she okay?" I felt hot and very weak. I was scared. My dad continued to tell me what had happened. "She wouldn't let anyone call 911. So, Alec drove her to the closest ER. They discovered the cyst had ruptured." "DadI" "She's alright, son." "I'm leaving now. I have to see her. I'll call you back later." I hung up the phone and prepared to leave immediately. I was going to Bella. My drive from Seattle to Forks was longit felt like the longest drive of my life. It had been raining since I landed, and the clouds did nothing for my mood. I'd received a text from my dad

that Alec had driven Bella home from the Seattle hospital, and that Renee had flown into town to care for her daughter. And I couldn't stop thinking of Bella. Was she in pain? How was I going to be able to help her? How would this affect her health from now on? Part of me was pissed I wasn't the one with her when it happened; I wasn't the one who took her to the hospital, sat with her in the ER, or drove her home when all was said and done. That was the jealous part of me the part I hoped would disappear as soon as I walked through her door, so I could concentrate on taking care of the woman I loved. But when I pulled up to Bella's house, I saw Alec Mallory's white SUV in her driveway. Son of a bitch. Why the fuck is he still here? Perhaps the possessive side of me wouldn't be quieted so easily. I parked on the street and ran inside to avoid getting soaked by the constant rain. As I opened the door and shook off my jacket, Alec came around the corner from the kitchen. "Edward. I didn't realize" he said, stopping in his tracks. "What are you still doing here?" I asked, squaring my shoulders to confront him face to face. "I drove Bella and Renee back from Seattle" he began to explain, his voice calm and assured. "I know you did. And thank you for thatbut why are you still here?" It was a simple question, and I wanted an answer. He took a deep breath and took a step closer, his voice still composed. Obviously, he wasn't threatened by my presence as I was his. "I'm still here because I was putting away some groceries Renee asked for. Look, Edward, I know this is a bit awkward but Bella" he continued, but I cut him off. Fuck the explanation. "You know what, man, I'm fucking tired,&