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Chapter 1

I hated the weekends. They meant I wasn't at work and not being at work sucked. Hard. Plus, they often came with a bonus round of twenty questions. I sighed at the thought of the impending interrogation as I finished writing my lesson plans for Monday. I loved my roommates, Rose and Alice, I really did. They were my best friends after all, but they were also the biggest pains in the ass that ever lived. They just couldn't get it through their pretty heads that I was just fine staying in. Like last night, they got all over me about not going out for happy hour - on a Thursday no less "C'mon, Bella. Have you seen yourself? I mean, in something other than sweats? You're gorgeous, you have a great body, you're funny and you're wasting your 'good years' inside this apartment in sweatpants nasty gray sweatpants at that! You don't even put on those velour pretend-their-not-sweatpants sweatpants!" Alice said. "I'm just not into the bar scene, that's all," I explained. Rose said, "We know, but you have to get out of the apartment now and again. You know, 'see the world'. You live in New York City for Christ's sake!" "We just went to a movie," I stated. "Yes, that's right, Bella. We did go to a movie like three weeks ago, where you sat in a dark theater shoveling popcorn into your face. How exactly is that 'seeing the world'?" Rose asked. I packed my grade book and ungraded essays into my satchel thinking about how they just didn't get me. I wasn't into what they were into. Can't a person change? And okay, so my ego was shot to shit, but what the hell was wrong with sweatpants?

I shoved the make-up assignments for an absent student into my bag next. I planned to drop it off to her after the gym and before I headed home, where the torture would commence. Yet again. I made my way in the arctic February air towards the gym, my mind not far from the last thing Alice said: "Look, I know you hate talking about this, but I'm going to say it anyway. You have to stop letting what happened between you and Jacob screw up your life. You have to! You've spent too long avoidingwell, everything, and it really has to stop. Don't you remember when we were in college how much fun we had together? You were such a riot. I just wish you could be more like the old you." Did she have to go there? I mean, just because I didn't want to go out or date or move my ass from the couch did not mean the crap with Jacob from three years ago was still affecting me. Needless to say my frustration made for a good workout. Coming out of the gym, a bonechilling mist had begun to fall and, of course, I forgot my umbrella. Figures. I arrived at my student's fancy apartment building, damp and shivering. Spring needed to get here - and fast. Stepping into the warm, luxurious lobby, I defrosted a mere moment when I noticed the elevator doors open and about to close. So with my clunky bags slung on my shoulders and slapping against my hips, I lunged inside with only a second to spare. I was startled to see a guy inside the compartment already, leaning on the side near the buttons. "Hi," I breathed out in surprise. He nodded in response, not lifting his head in any way, oddly interested in his nails. I stepped to the back of the elevator, making space, even though there were only the two of us in it. As the doors closed and we began to ascend, I slid my eyes very casually over to the guy. Upon inspection, he was cute. Strike that - he was ridiculously good-looking.

Tall and lean, his black leather jacket hugged his broad shoulders just right. Coppery bronze hair poked out from the back of his navy baseball hat which hid his eyes a little. His strong jaw line was peppered with short scruff. Not that I was staring. Oddly enough, for some reason, he looked familiar. Maybe one of the guys Rose or Alice dated? I mentally sifted through the roster of men they had conquered when a name nestled itself in the center of my mind: Edward Cullen. Holy crap! EDWARD CULLEN? The Edward Cullen? The one from 'Life in Eden'? I leaned forward a little, squinting, trying to get a clearer picture, praying I didn't get caught Oh yeah, it was him, it had to be. If not, this guy was a dead ringer for him. I forced my inner teen not to squeal 'Holy shit!' I'd never been this close to a celebrity before, certainly not one this good looking. A giggle rose in my chest and I quickly shoved a sock in it. What is wrong with me? Get a grip. I peeked again. Dear Lord he was hot. I grinned thinking of what Alice and my students wouldn't give to be here right now. Of course, a nice moment wouldn't be complete without the Karma gods yanking me back to Earth as usual. They tapped on my shoulder ridiculing my sweaty body, my long, dark hair escaping its elastic and my smudged off make-up. I tugged on the sides of my open winter coat, closing the view of my wet clothes and, hopefully, containing my stench. I shook my head. This is my life. In the midst of cursing my luck, the elevator came to a sudden, jolting stop, tossing me forward a bit. I caught my balance gripping onto the walls. Oh my God, could this get any worse? "What was that?" the hot man said in an English accent no less - as he looked up and around. In any other situation I'd be putty in his accented hands, but at that moment I no longer cared about my sweaty self or the very handsome man or his amazing voice, because

THERE WERE NO WINDOWS! The space shrank and my chest tightened from lack of air. "Maybe try pressing the door open button or something?" I offered, noting the shakiness in my voice. Please don't let me lose it, I prayed. He pressed the button, but nothing. He tried a different button. Nothing. "Hmmm" "Try ringing the emergency bell," I blurted out. My lungs had not yet remembered their function and I knew from my thudding heart that my body would require air soon. "Right," he replied and searched the rows of buttons. The bell rang. We waited. There was no response. Panic built inside and I channeled it as best as I could into my tapping foot. "I'll just use my cell," the man said aloud, his back still to me. He dialed. "Hello Marcus, I'm stuck in your liftalrightthanks." Inhaling Exhaling I was focused on the steady rhythm of my breathing when he turned to face me. No doubt taking in my semi-hyperventilating self, I watched his eyes widen as his phone slipped from his hand. His cheeks grew red as he swiped at the flying phone once, twice, finally catching it midair. He straightened up, cleared his throat and said, "My manager lives upstairshe said he'll phone someone." He rubbed the back of his reddened neck a couple of times. In, out, in, out "Thanks, because small spaces are not my thing," I said attempting humor in this very unfunny situation. In, out, in, out

I took a deeper breath, letting it out in a slow whoosh, finally steadying my heart and breathing. I raised my head and met his ridiculously green eyes, which only got my heart racing anew. He gaped at me, his mouth open slightly, perhaps worried about my current frame of mind. "Are you alright?" he asked with genuine concern. I nodded. "I'll be okay," I muttered, focusing my eyes quickly on my running shoes, as heat rushed into my cheeks. In, out, in out We were quiet for a few awkward moments when I realized if I didn't distract myself from this four-walled cell, I was going to hit full panic-mode and wouldn't that be a little embarrassing. "You look familiar to meare you Edward Cullen?" I peeked up and asked. "Yes," he answered, seeming to brace himself. There I was a sweaty mess and virtually panicking a mere three feet from the hottest guy I'd ever been near, not to mention the tiny fact that he was a world-famous actor. That moment only confirmed what I learned a few years ago: my life + men happy. You know what? Screw it. "I'm Bella Swan," I said, holding out my hand to shake his because screw you karma. "Edward Cullen," he replied, shaking back, a shy half-grin aimed my way. "So do you live here Bella?" I had been focused on the in-and-out of my breathing until he said my namewrapped in English velvet. It caused a mild case of swooning that I hid well. I think. I hope. "No, teachers can't afford places like this," I said trying to sound cool amongst my alarm and idiotic swooning.

"You're a teacher? You're not how my teachers looked," he muttered under his breath. "So what're you doing here then?" "Um, I'm dropping work off to a student who's been out sick all week." In, out, in, out Surprised eyebrows greeted my comment, "I didn't know teachers did that sort of thing." "What sort of thing?" "You know, going door-to-door, leaving homework for all the children," he laughed lightly. "Yep, just like Santa!" I joked back. "So what do you teach?" "English, at an all girls high school here in the city." He shuddered a little. "All girls, eh? What's that like?" "Well it's fun, challenging sometimes andthey sure do enjoy you." I couldn't help but smile. He shook his head, "This is so embarrassing." Edward Cullen embarrassed? What? "Don't be embarrassed, it must be nice to have so many fans." "It's flattering, definitely, but it's still rather bizarre." He shrugged and looked away. "You mean it's weird to have people screaming over your every move?" I teased. He laughed and nodded, 'Sometimes I feel like I could have a full-on panic attack." "Ah, much like I am about to do here." He stopped smiling and leaned in a bit, "Are you alright?"

I nodded. "I think if I keep talking it'll keep me distractedif you don't mind," I said because I looked nuts and now I was proving it. "No, it's fine," he replied, clearly holding back a laugh. Asshole. Ignoring his amusement I asked, "So what are you doing in New York?" "I'm here for a few meetings then I head to London tomorrow for a short break, then back to LA for my next role," he said, sighing softly. "Wow. That's a lot of traveling. Do you come through New York often?" I asked, calming down, my mind settling. "Well, often enough. I assume you live here then?" "Yeah, not too far from here actually." "Have you always lived here?" "No, I grew up in Connecticut, but moved here about three years ago." "And Connecticut is?" "The next state over from here about an hour away." "Oh. So you moved here for work?" "For the most part." He nodded, slightly puzzled, but asked, "So you enjoy teaching then?" "Pretty much, but it's like any job I suppose it has its ups and downs.well, except your jobs perhaps." I smirked. "Yeah, there's nothing bad about my job," he chuckled sarcastically. I squinted a little at him, my mouth quirking up as I said, "Gosh, yes, it must be brutal to be ridiculously good-looking and earn gobs of money all while thousands of women throw themselves at you. You really, really have it rough."

His eyes widened and his mouth plopped open. Cocking his head to the side, he gave me a crooked smile that nearly stopped my shaky heart. He shook his head and replied, "Honestly, I am quite lucky, I have a brilliant job, but it has its ups and downs too," he said quoting and challenging my words. "So what's the hardest part?" I challenged right back. A small smile played on his lips as he shook his head again slightly, muttering, "Uh, I don't know" I could tell he was hoping I'd drop it, but I waited out the awkward silence and he finally responded. "I suppose the hardest part is that right now things are good, but I wonder what will happen if the public tires of me." He seemed bashful and honest and it surprised me again. How can he be bashful? "Well, considering the fact that all of my students are obsessively devoted to you, I don't see that happening anytime soon." He shrugged, "Thanks." I didn't know why, but I felt compelled to explain further. "I mean, I know your business is all about looks, but I don't think you could be as successful as you are without talent. I admit I've only seen your most recent movies, but I thought you were really good in them.and it doesn't hurt that you seem like a nice guy." Slowly, a perfect smile rose on his already perfect face, causing my face to sprout yet another round of horrific pink. Shut up, Bella. The elevator quickly jerked, then stopped, rudely reminding me of my location inside this cell from which there was no escape. Or windows! We both gripped the walls to catch our balance. I must have looked terrified because Edward examined me carefully, reaching his hand to my arm, and once again checked in with, "Are you alright?"

In, out, in, out I was doing my best to remain calm and not hyperventilate from the panic that was building too quickly inside. In, out, in, out Finally, when I felt in enough control, I answered, "I think I'm okayMaybe I should sit." I dropped my bags from my shoulders and slid down the smooth wall to the floor. "Here," he said, taking my hand to guide my sliding. The moment my clammy hand met his warm, strong grip, butterflies flooded my belly. It was a sensation I remember feeling maybe once in my life, but it was so long ago I couldn't be sure. "Did I tell you how little I liked closed spaces?" I said breathing in and out steadily. "You mentioned it," he smiled softly, joining me on the floor, his forearms resting on his bent knees. Outside the elevator, we heard the sound of someone banging on something out there. Muffled through the doors, walls and whatever else separated us, a male voice called, "Hey! You okay in there? It'll be a few more minutes." "We're fine!" Edward yelled back. He turned to me, "Are you fine?" I nodded and breathed in and out again. "So is your family still in Connecticut?" he asked, surely because I looked so on the edge. I released a quiet exhale. I looked up into his eyes and found them soothing - soothing enough to respond, "Yes, they're all still there. You're from England obviously?" "Yeah, London." "Do you see your family much?" "Not as often as I'd like. I try to go back when I can, but it's difficult with so much traveling for work. They keep me grounded though."

"Especially now I bet, with all the hype of your movie and all that goes with it, you know, like girls hurtling themselves at you. Nothing like family to put you in your place, right?" He laughed. "Precisely. My sisters don't let a moment pass without reminding me what an idiot I am." I nodded, knowing exactly what he meant my family was never big on stroking egos. "Do you see your family often?" "Often enough," I said. Purposely changing the subject, I asked, "So what's your new movie about?" He furrowed his brow, but answered, "It's about a guy who tries to find himself and how he deals with the outcomes of his decisions. It's a bit more of a drama different than 'Life in Eden'." "Sounds-" BOOM! The elevator shook hard this time, ripping the breath from my chest. I gripped onto the floor, my body rigid, and muttered, "God, I wish that'd stop happening." I was on the verge of tears so I clamped my eyes shut. Edward whipped out another question, "So you work out?" His voice was calming. In, out, in out When I pried my eyes open, he jutted his chin in the direction of my open coat that exposed my sexy sweatiness. Oh JesusI tugged it shut again. Yeah, uhI try to go after work. I feel better afterwards, but half the time I have to drag myself there. How about you?" The simple chit-chat dragged my mind from the obvious danger I felt. Once more, I focused on his kind eyes and allowed myself to drool over his incredible looks whatever it took not to freak out. "I go when I have to," he grimaced.

"It's got to make it easier if they're paying you to work out, no?" "Yeah, but it doesn't make me enjoy it any more though. I'm not all that athletic," he said, seeming to apologize for his brawny public image. We sat perpendicular on the floor for a few quiet minutes as I tried to fully recover from the last jolt. He offered, "You know, I'm enjoying the quiet in here." "Except that I'm making you talk to me. Sorry." "No, don't be sorry. It's nice to have a normal conversation for once. I'm not sure the last time that happened." He frowned as if he was trying to remember the last time. "Of course I need to be in a death trap to have it." He was simply joking, but the mere mention of 'death trap' ignited my panic once again. "Death trap, ha! Yeah." My voice was high. "Oh, sorry about that." In, out, in, out I shook my head chanting silently: refocus, refocus, refocus, green eyes, green eyes, green eyes. Finally I asked, "Aren't conversations part of your job description?" He shrugged and said, "Wellyes, I do talk with people all the time, but I'm not sure the last time I spoke to someone about normal things like their work and family without prying eyes and ears recording everything. Anyway, it's usually just me prattling on about what I've done to some journalist." Again, I was taken aback by a guy who from all accounts should be a pompous ass, yet he seemed just the opposite. Suddenly, the elevator jostled us and began inching its way to the next floor. When the doors opened, the burly building maintenance man and Marcus were waiting. "Edward! Let me help you up," Marcus urged, holding out a hand, clearly distressed over his prized possession sitting on the floor of an elevator.

"That's alright, I've got it," Edward said standing up and turning to me, "Let me help you." Before I knew it, he had my hand in his and was lifting me upright, pulling me from the elevator into the windowed hallway. Edward stepped back into the elevator to retrieve my bags. I grabbed one from his hand automatically and took in a huge gulp of air. "Thanks," I uttered, probably all flushed again. "Bella, this is my manager, Marcus." I looked to the typical middle-aged business man short and a little balding and held my hand out. "It's nice to meet you, Marcus." "Nice to meet you as well, Bella." "Everyone okay?" the maintenance man asked. "Yeah, fine," Edward answered as I nodded. "Alright, I have to run a check on this thing. Use the stairs for the next few minutes, okay folks? I'm going to shut it down till I make sure it's all set." The maintenance man turned and left. In awkward silence, Edward, Marcus and I stood there. I finally broke in with, "Well, I should be going," and I turned to take my other bag from Edward. Edward didn't let go of the bag, but turned to Marcus and said, "I'll meet you in your flat, alright?" My heart skipped. He wants to talk to me alone? Marcus glanced between Edward and I, and with an impish grin said, "Okay. Nice meeting you Bella." He walked down the hall to his apartment as Edward and I watched. Once Marcus shut his door, Edward turned his full attention to me. "It was very nice talking with you, Bella." My God - my namein that accent and I can finally appreciate it. "I was just getting used to it in there," he joked, slaying me with his golden-boy Hollywood smile.

I pulled myself together as best as I could being half melted and all and replied, "Me too. Thanks for the distraction." Edward paused, examining me a moment, then asked, "You look a bit shaken, are you sure you'll be alright?" "Yeah, I'll be fine. Of course, I'll be avoiding elevators for the rest of the day and my life." I smiled. Edward smirked back, glanced down at his shoes and made a quick swipe across the back of his neck with his hand. "Perhaps, getting a drink later would help you unwind from our little trip?" he asked tentatively. Whoa. Did he just asked sweaty me for a drink? There was no question I should have said no, because really, what was the point? But then I remembered Alice and Rose would be riding me about going out, so against better judgment I answered, "Okay." "Do you know Mickey's Pub? It's a little hole, but it's quite a relaxed place." "I've been by it. What time?" "Is nine alright?" "Sure, I'll see you then." I took my second bag from him, smiled in appreciation and left. I floated my way to Michelle's apartment, dropped off the work, and left the building, maneuvering around a small group of camera wielding people. I walked home in a fog literally and figuratively. I replayed the entire stuck-elevator event in my head. After several passersby shot me weird glances, I realized it was because I was walking around New York City streets wearing a dopey grin. I rolled my eyes at myself and forced my cheeks downbut then the thought of meeting him later that night crept in and the grin was back,

bringing a giggle with it. That's when I scolded myself. Don't even Bella. He's probably just looking to get laid. I toyed with the idea of telling Alice and Rose about the afternoon, but I knew they'd drill me for every detail and their questions would only tie my stomach in more knots. So I decided there was no need to let on it was only one night anyway. When I arrived home, Alice and Rose were lounging in the living room with the TV on. "Hi!" I called out. "Hey!" Rose answered from the recliner chair. Alice's nose was stuck inside the paper, no doubt scouring it for any special man-hunting events. I put my bags down and began sifting through the mail. "So what are you girls planning tonight?" I could feel Alice whip her head over at me because I never inquired about their plans. "We haven't decided yetyou want to come?" Oh boy, here goes. "Um, I actually have plans," I said feeling two sets of eyes boring into my skull. "Really?" Rose asked awaiting further information. She muted the TV. I turned to face them. "Well, after your grand inquisition last night, I gave it some thought and I figured it wouldn't hurt to go out for a drink. A few work friends have been bugging me too, so I said I'd go to a bar with them. Not that there's anything wrong with you guys, but you like the loud meat-market bars and they're going to a pub, so" "No, that's fine. I think it's great you're going out tosocialize," Rose stammered. Alice and Rose exchanged glances of relief and shock.

We made dinner shortly thereafter and discussed important things like what we were going to wear. Admittedly my wardrobe was lacking. It was mainly t-shirts, jeans and lame teacher work clothes, so Alice and Rose were more than happy to help me out. I would have protested far more if I knew just how many outfits they were going to toss my way. We found that Rose's dark denim jeans, Alice's snug violet button-down shirt and my ancient black leather jacket looked pretty good. Of course, Alice insisted I wear these ridiculously high-heeled leather boots. Rose and Alice sat on my bed, smugly admiring their fashion victim. I couldn't help but smile at their enthusiasm. I stood in front of the full-length mirror twisting from one side to the other making sure everything was in its place, when Alice blurted out, "You're such a bitch." "Why?" I asked. "Because you have a great ass and you hide it in hideous sweatpants," she said giving my behind a hard whack. "Ow! Shut up," I said, laughing back at her, rubbing my stinging ass. "So what pub are you going to?" Alice asked. "Mickey's?" "Oh, that place. It's kind of a dive." "Really?" Oh where did I agree to go? Rose elbowed Alice. "Yeah, but I'm sure you'll have a good time," Alice amended. Before we headed out in different directions, Rose reminded me to call their cells if I needed them. I really hated when they got all motherly like that.

Chapter 2
It wasn't a far walk to Mickey's, but I took a cab anyway. Who wants to walk in heels to a bar? On the cab ride over I was all fear and nerves. Did I know how to be on a date anymore? The last date I'd been on was the final straw in my mother's forced attempt to get my love life back on track. I still can't believe I let her meddle, but I was broken by then and didn't care. Soon after that last date with the supposed 'perfect man' who nearly humped my leg at dinner, I swore off men, and for three years I'd been living my life well enough. I had all I needed: a successful teaching career, a cute apartment with my friends in the greatest city, and even though I was scraping by, what more did I need? I'm not quite sure what happened on that elevator. Somehow I agreed to drinks with a famous actor who was likely looking for a one night stand. I hadn't had many of those. Only twice had I tried it; but both times I ended up feeling used and empty. God knows I'd had enough of feeling like that. So, sitting in the back of the cab with frayed nerves and a queasy stomach, I thought back to Edward's easy green eyes and his warms hands helping me up on the elevator. It didn't help the nerves. Why am I doing this? The knots in my stomach tightened as I got closer. Would he blow me off? At least I made the right decision by not uttering a word to Rose and Alice, thus saving myself from a grilling as well as humiliation if he was a no-show. As the cab pulled to a halt outside Mickey's, I sat unmoving and stared at the obvious dive. Very much a hole-in-the-wall, it came complete with a hazy glass window I couldn't see through and what looked like a homemade sign. It was hardly a place for a celebrity. Or a single girl for that matter.

The cabbie's loud throat clearing brought me back. I paid, climbed out into the frigid night air, and feeling slightly faint, I stood on the sidewalk talking to myself like the crazy person I'd become in the last six hours. What the hell am I doing? It's just a drink, Bella. Calm down. You can do this. Breathe And just when I thought I was ready What the hell am I doing? Bella, he's just a guy. You know how to be calm and cool. You do it everyday at work. Put on the game face and get in there. With a deep inhale and exhale of winter air, I stepped up to the solid wooden door and pulled, gulping. The rush of warm air stunned me a moment, giving me a chance to scan the scene in the dimly lit bar. There was a cozy feel inside with friends chattering, laughing and drinking. Tables lined the left hand wall, a few patrons occupying their seats. In the far back several people played pool and darts. My eyes shifted to the thick, mahogany bar on the right. The seats there were all occupied with others hovering nearby as well. I realized that I had, thankfully, escaped the notice of all the patrons. Except one. At the end of the bar sat Mr. Spectacular and he was looking directly at me. Holy crap. Our eyes locked, my breath hitched and Edward's blank face quickly swung up into that devastating smile. His rumpled hair looked deliciously damp and his blue, plaid button-down shirt looked so soft I wanted to run my hands over itthen under it Oh my God, Bella! I felt the heat of an embarrassing blush burst on my face. I had never been more grateful for crappy lighting in my life.

I made my way to him, grumbling to myself, "Game face, game face." He twisted on the barstool to face me. I could smell the soap and shaving cream that licked him clean, I mean, washed him clean. Oh my God, what is wrong with me? "Hi," I sputtered because every muscle in my body had just sprung to life and I wasn't sure what to do about it. "Hello," he said in that swoony English accent, smiling wider and casually glancing at me, head-to-toe. "I almost didn't recognize you. You lookdifferent than you did in the lift." Is that good or bad? "Well, I showered and changed from my sweaty clothes," I semi-joked, hoping he wasn't disappointed he asked me here. Edward quickly responded with a shake of his head. "Yeah, I mean you looklovely." I smiled a little, my heart jammed up in my throat. "Would you like to have a seat?" he asked, nodding in the direction of a few empty tables. "Sure." He hopped off the barstool, grabbing his leather jacket and led the way to a table located behind a pillar, hiding us from the general view of the bar. He held out my chair, which impressed the hell out of me. I sat down as he took the seat across from me, throwing his jacket over the back of the chair. I unbuttoned my coat, shrugged it off, and twisted to drape it over the seat. When I turned back I saw his eyes shift swiftly from the center of my chest to my face. Oh God, did my shirt unbutton itself? Fucking Alice for making me unbutton this thing so low. I covertly took a peek phew. All was in place. A waitress appeared. "What can I get you?" "Bella?" Edward indicated for me to order first. "Um, I'll have what he's having."

"Two pints please," Edward said, tapping his almost empty glass. The waitress turned and left. "I'm glad you were able to meet up," he said. "Sure. My roommates were harassing me about going out so" "Oh, they know you're here?" he asked, tightening up a little. I smiled. "Don't worry. They know I'm here, just not with you. They're too nosy." He looked relieved yet confused. "So what were your roommates doing tonight?" "They went to a bar." "Do you usually go with them?" "No, I'm not really into bars." I shrugged. "I'm sorry. Would you like to go somewhere else?" Stupid me. "No, not at all. It's just that they like to um hunt for men and it's just not my thing." Oh God, what am I saying? "You don't like to hunt for men as well? The guys come to you then I suppose?" He grinned at me. "Oh yeah, they flock," I said dryly. Edward laughed. "You don't have a boyfriend then?" "No, I have a husband," I dead-panned. "What?" he coughed, choking on his beer. I smirked. "No, I'm kidding. I don't have a husband or a boyfriend. I've sort of taken a break from dating."

He chuckled, "Well, aren't you the comedian." The waitress dropped off our drinks. He continued, "So what do you mean, 'a break'?" Shit. "I just wanted to focus on my career for a while," I lied, taking a long sip of my beer. "Oh," he nodded. "So how long have you been a teacher?" He took a sip too, keeping his eyes on mine. I examined his face a moment. "Are you trying to figure out how old I am?" Edward grinned, seemingly ashamed. "Well, I didn't want to offend you." "I'm 31, and you are?" "23." Simultaneously, we nodded and swigged our beers. Crap, he's young. "Shall I go back to the nursing home now?" I joked after a too-long pause. He shot me his devastating smile again. "Not yet, Miss Daisy." I chuckled and we drank again. Admittedly, this flirting felt good, sort of like stretching out after a long flight. "So, now that we have that out of the way, is there anything else you'd like to know?" I asked smugly, challenging him with a smirk. He countered with a raised eyebrow. "Alright, if you don't really do the bar thing, what do you do at night?" Oh crap. "Well," I said before dragging it out with another long sip. "It's not that I don't like bars, but lately I've been kind of a homebody." He paused a moment. "You don't go out much?"

"No, not that often." "Really? Why not? I would imagine high school girls would drive you to drink. It's happened to me," he laughed, shuddering slightly and downed a long sip. I grinned. "They do sometimes. It's just that staying at home has been more my speed lately. You know, Miss Daisy and all." I took a sip and then asked, "So what do you do at night?" which I immediately regretted. Surely it was party after party, girl after girl. He shrugged. "I go out with friends when they're around, but when I'm working I'm not left with much time to socialize." "Oh." Duh, he's not going to admit he's sleeping with the masses. "Do many of your friends from London live in the US?" Edward drank and nodded, answering, "One of my friends, Emmett, moved here a couple of years ago, but the others live back home. We visit one another when we can." "Is Emmett an actor as well?" "No, he's a musician. He plays all over LA with his band. They're quite good." "Really? Wow, that's cool. What kind of music do they play?" "I have no idea," he chortled, "Alternative rock? Bluesy rock with an edge? I'm not sure, but whatever it is, it's bloody good. What sort of music do you like?" For a split second I considered telling him, but I decided not to. "Everything really. I go more for the song than anything else. How about you?" "I'm the same way. There's not one kind of music I like; I'd listen to anything." I snickered, "So I guess we're both musical whores then, throwing ourselves from genre to genre." "Yes, 'Whores-R-Us'," he laughed out and took another swig. "So how do you like New York?" I asked.

"I really enjoy it. It's such a fascinating place. What's it like living here?" "Amazing. There's always something going on and-" "Even if you're a homebody?" he interrupted, leaning in a little. I shook my head, grinning like an idiot, and felt spurred on by his challenge. I leaned in as well, answering in a low, sultry voice, "Even homebodies come out of the house now and again." Edward sat back, giving me that damn hot crooked smile and swallowed more beer. I giggled a little in my glass as I drank and glanced over to see an open pool table. "Would you like to play pool?" "Sure," he said. We stood and as we walked over to the table I teased, "Do you even know how to play?" He narrowed his eyes. "Yeah, Yank, I know how to play. We have pool in England too." "Oh, okay. It's just you're so young. I wasn't sure you knew what to do," I smiled, shrugging my shoulders innocently. He stopped dead and looked me straight in the eye. "I know exactly what to do," he said with confidence. We both knew he wasn't solely referring to pool. Then again, neither was I. I couldn't help but smile and tease, "Yeah, sure you do." He glared playfully at me as we grabbed cues and chalked them. He began setting up the table. "Do you play often?" I asked, wanting to know just how badly I was going to get beaten. "Often enough. I hope you aren't offended when I win." I raised my eyebrows at him as he slid the triangle of balls onto the mark, glancing up to gauge my expression.

"Win? We'll see about that, Brit." Now I had to make a concerted effort not to lose. "Old ladies, I mean, Yankees first," he said, indicating for me to break. I grinned and gave him the ol' evil eye. He stood away from the table at the opposite end, leaning on his cue and grinning, looking every inch the Hollywood star. If I was going to attempt to win, I couldn't look his way. His tousled bronze hair and mesmerizing smile were far too distracting. I took in a deep, calming breath. Bending over the table I aimed, trying to recall any strategies on how to play pool because, oh my loins, all my mind wanted to think about was skin against skin. I pulled the cue back and with as much force as I could muster, I hit the white ball. Of course it was a shameful break. It tapped the group of balls, causing only a few to come away from the pack and certainly none went in. "Impressive," he teased coming in for his turn. I narrowed my eyes at him and stepped back awaiting the slaughter. Edward examined the arrangement of balls and aimed for a yellow striped ball, which slipped right in. He looked up at me and shot me an 'I've got this in the bag face'. He found his next move, took aim, and got that one in as well. His self-satisfied smile grew wider. He needs to go down. On his third shot, the balls made contact, but the purple striped ball skated by the pocket. Trying to hide his annoyance, he glanced up at me and said, "All yours." He dragged over a barstool to wait. As I sought out my move, he asked, "Would you like another pint?" "Sure. Thank you."

A waitress appeared in moments. I aimed at my orange solid ball and by the grace of God, it went in. I silently patted myself on the back for getting something in. I began searching out my next move when I felt his eyes examining me. I wasn't attuned to these things usually, but with him at one end and me at the side, my peripheral vision must have picked up on his gawking. I was afraid to look, so instead I focused on finding the best option and sucked in my belly a little more. I walked around the table needlessly because my mind was wrapped up in how the jeans made my ass look and how my hair fell and if somehow I had food stuck in my teeth that I was unaware of. This was one of the reasons I'd come to dislike dating too much obsessing over crap that didn't matter in the end. And it annoyed me that I was letting that exact stuff mess with my mind. "You think you might go for another one this century?" Edward chimed in, noting my delay. "I'm sorry big movie star, do you have lots of other places to go to tonight?" I asked with a grin, throwing him completely off balance, not knowing how to respond. With a cockeyed smile, he shook his head. "Nowhere else I want to be," he said, watching me, as he sucked down more beer. Whether he was joking or not, I didn't want to contemplate it much, so I forced my attention to the purple ball I was aiming for. Once again it went in. I almost obnoxiously 'wooted' but restrained myself. Feeling more confident, I found my next shot and it went in as well. I turned to look at him, with a wide, taunting smile. "Are you a ringer or something?" he blurted out. "A ringer?" I laughed. "Yes, you caught me." He shifted uncomfortably. On my next turn, I missed the red ball I aimed for. "See? Now it's your turn, Jinx," I teased, taking his place on the stool.

He snorted but still came to the table with obvious determination. While he was busy eyeing his next turn, I was busy eyeing him. So far, I'd only been able to look him in the eye a few times. I had gotten so used to being unaffected by men, that when Edward's eyes met mine, not only was it startling, it was overpowering. I could only hold his gaze for a few moments without becoming terribly pink. So now that he was distracted with trying to beat me, I had the freedom to check him out. Without his baseball hat on, his hair and face were deliciously revealed. His thick hair was expertly cut to compliment his strong jaw and cheekbones. The longer pieces in front fell just so along his forehead, highlighting his captivating eyes. If he were not already a movie star I would suggest he become one. I watched how carefully his hands worked the cue; how the perfect shape and thickness of each finger moved like he knew how touse them. As he bent over the table to aim, his shirt tightened over his back muscles as they stretched and retracted to deliver force forward. I had to be careful not to sigh aloud. Or drool. By the time I came back to Earth, he had pocketed two more balls. He was up 5-3. He aimed for the next one, but missed. "Damn!" he muttered, mostly under his breath on the way back to the barstool. As we passed, I brushed by him a little closer than necessary and teased, "Aren't you a bit competitive?" He raised an amused, flirtatious eyebrow at me. I didn't miss my next shot or the one after. I was astounded by my lucky streak. A very rare thing. With another round of beer, we continued our sparring dance around the pool table until we battled it out for the last ball, the black eight ball. Edward took a shot at it, aiming for a corner pocket, but it gently bounced off the green bumper. He rolled his eyes in disgust and stepped back a smidge, impatiently waiting his next turn.

I stood across the table from him, humored by his frustration. I bent, aimed, and glanced up briefly, catching him whisking his eyes from the view straight down my shirt, back to the pool table. I flushed and refocused. I angled my cue, pulled back and tapped the white ball gently, causing the black ball to drop in. I rose up slowly, stifling a laugh. I nodded at him, silently rubbing in my victory. Edward put his cue down. "You are such a ringer." I giggled. "Wow, I have to tell you, I haven't had this much fun in ages." "Yeah, I'm sure," he teased, rolling his eyes. I put down my cue as well and we stepped over to the nearby wall to finish our beers. "So have you recovered from today?" Edward asked, taking a drink. "I think so. Not sure if I'll ever venture on an elevator again, but yes. And, thanks again for chatting with me in there. I really needed that diversion." "Yeah, it was a rather difficult task." "Wow, aren't you a charmer?" I glanced at my watch. "It's late." He took my wrist in his hand to confirm the time and I froze staring at his fingers on me. "Did they give you a curfew at the home or something?" He let go of my wrist. "Maybe. They want to make sure I don't get myself in trouble." No words could be truer. He simply stared a moment, sipped his almost empty beer and said, "Well, I'm not leaving it like this. I want a rematch." "Hmm," I murmured. Truthfully, I didn't want the night to be over. I wanted to stay, but I was tipsy and flirty and liking this whole thing far too much for my own good. I needed to leave now before I made a mistake. "Maybe some other time. I'd like to bask in my win for a while." He nodded. "So are you heading home then?" He sounded disappointed.

"Yeah, I think it's time." "Would you like me to walk you home?" I grinned. "No, that's okay. I took a cab here, I'll just take one back. Thanks for tonight. I had a really good time Edward. It wasfun," I said, realizing that's exactly what I had. "Me too. And I'm not joking, I want a rematch. You cannot be the last to win." I laughed, "Yeah, well, we'll see about that." He smiled and rubbed the back of his neck a moment as I finished my last swig. "May I phone you sometime?" he blurted out. Uh oh. "Umyeah, okay," I said, reluctance seeping in my voice. I wanted to see him again but I knew it probably wouldn't happen; he was just being nice. He furrowed his brow a second as he took out his phone and readied it for my number. "212-555-2364," I said slowly as he punched the digits in. He looked up when he was done and paused. "Do you want mine?" "Uhyou know, why don't we leave things in your court. You have my number and if you want to call me, you will." I really didn't want to care. He nodded in response, seeming perplexed. We put on our coats and headed out into the cold, crisp night. The sidewalk was empty and oddly quiet for a New York City night. He turned to me, his hands shoved deep in his pockets. "Alright, so I'll phone you?" he asked as if unsure I really wanted him to. I realized he was misinterpreting my reluctance and I needed to clarify. "I had a very good time tonight Edward, and if you'd like to call me, I'd be happy to hear from you." A shy grin appeared, "Alright then, I will." He leaned in and kissed my cheek softly.

Although it was well below freezing, the heat that radiated from my face could have warmed a small country. I hailed a cab as quickly as I could, said goodbye and left. Inside the cab the emotions I had so effectively contained burst out. My heart pounded and a wide smile etched itself on my face. I even giggled several times. The night replayed in my head and I beamed. I couldn't recall the last time I felt like that. I hoped Edward would call, but I knew chances were slim. He was a world-renowned actor, a very hot commodity, so why would he bother with me? I chalked up the night to a fantastic little memory to shelve and bring out the next time I was having a bad day. I arrived home before my roommates, giving me time to calm myself and get my story straight. I washed up, changed and crawled under my chilly covers. Shutting my eyes, Edward's face swam into view, as did our banter and my winning. I giggled again. I was brought back to the real world upon hearing laughing and tripping in the living room. I hopped up to greet my drunken roommates. "Hey lushes!" I called peering out of my bedroom and walking over. "Hey Bella, you have a good night?" Rose asked, slurring a little. Alice didn't wait for a response before launching into a tipsy story. "You'll never guess what happened?" she nearly yelled, grabbing onto my shirt. "What?" "We just saw Edward Cullen!" Alice giggled and whooped. Oh shit. "Really?" I asked trying to hide my panic.

"Yeah, well, we were on our way home and decided to stop by that bar you went to when we ran into him on the street! Oh my God, Bella, he's gorgeous!" Alice stopped and grabbed a glass of water. "Yes, and we weren't the only ones to see him," Rose added, removing her coat and plopping on the couch. I followed her. "What do you mean?" My heart was in my throat, as was my stomach. Alice came in with her glass, sloshing a little water onto the floor as she made her way over to the couch and sat next to Rose. "Well," Alice began, "He was taking a picture with some hideous girl and her friend and so we figured it was okay to say hi, so we were like, 'hi!' and he turned and shook our hands and we asked what he was doing in the city and if he wanted to have a drink with us and-" Alice stopped to take a huge gulp of water. I could have puked. "So, did you have drinks with him?" I asked as casually as possible. "No," Rose answered, "he said he needed to sleep. Then Alice here," she nudged Alice with her elbow, "asks him for his number." "Did he give it to you?" I asked impatiently. Alice nodded as she drank more water, dribbling a bit. "Well, he gave her a number," Rose corrected. My rush from earlier vanished. I was upset with myself for entertaining the idea that perhaps this could be more than just one night. Men. That's why I don't date. "Wow, that's amazing!" I lied, mustering enthusiasm. "Are you going to call him?" "Yep," Alice blurted out and dove across Rose for the hot lips land line Alice insisted we keep. Alice dialed and waited, sprawling on the sofa. Rose shoved over, laughing.

"Hi Edward? This is Alice, I just met you outside like a half hour ago and I was wondering if you wanted to come over for a drink." I heard a loud male voice boom through the phone. Alice's face became aghast. She hung up. "Well?" Rose asked. "That wasn't Edward, it was some guy named Marcus and he was a little ticked off." I clamped my mouth shut to stifle my laughter. He gave out his manager's number? "What are you all smiley about?" Rose asked, eyeing me suspiciously. "Nothing, that's just funny. I wonder whose number that was," I played off. "So how was your night?" Rose asked. "It was a lot of fun. I had a good time." Rose beamed. "Yeah? You had fun? At night? With people? At a bar?" "Oh shut up you." I threw a small pillow at her. "Alright you drunkards, I'm going to bed." I stood and glanced at Alice who was comfortably sprawled out. "Alice, are you sleeping out here tonight?" I asked whispering in her ear. With only snorting snores as the reply, Rose and I looked at one another and broke out laughing. Rose stood too and covered Alice with a blanket then turned to me. "I'm so happy you had a good time tonight. I don't want to make a big deal of it, but, I really hope it continues. I've missed you." She hugged me tightly and went to bed. I crawled back between my cold sheets. It felt so good to lie there, stretching out. I felt more relaxed than I had in a long time, yet it annoyed me that I felt relieved that Edward hadn't given out his real number. I shouldn't have cared. I couldn't afford to. It was just for fun, I reminded myself.

I settled into my pillow and sighed. Then I heard my cell beep, indicating a message. I grabbed my phone off the nightstand and listened. "Hello Bella," said Mr. Spectacular. "I wanted to tell you again what a good time I had tonight... And now you have my number in case you feel like ringing me.Uh, anyway, I still need to properly kick your arse in pool. I'll be scheduling a rematch soon." He sniggered and hung up. My head flopped against the pillow when another giddy giggle slipped out. I shook my head at myself and fell asleep trying to control an uncontrollable smile.

Chapter 3
After beating Mr. Spectacular's round, tight backside in pool, the weekend passed as any other; I graded essays and created lesson plans for the upcoming week. For better or worse, work was my life. After the Jacob ordeal, I threw myself into it full-force, finding its routines and expectations soothing. It gave me purpose and direction at a time when I was utterly lost. Luckily, I enjoyed the work. I loved being a positive influence to impressionable teen girls, plus the work challenged me and kept my mind well occupied. It was my lifesaver of sorts. When Monday rolled around I overheard the usual high-pitched chatter of my students discussing their weekends as they sat in homeroom; what shoes they bought, where they went, who they talked to. Listening to two girls, Taylor and Mackenzie, discussing their activities, I couldn't help but silently inject my own commentary as I fiddled with the papers at my desk. Taylor: I went to the movies with Josh this weekend! It was so much fun. I had drinks and played pool with Edward Cullen! Mackenzie: Oh my God! How was it? Tell me everything! Well, it was fantastic actually. He's funny and down to Earth and his scent is sooh God, don't even get me going on that. Taylor: It was amazing. We actually held hands at one point, and I thought my heart was going to jump out of my chest! Me too. In fact my heart is still pounding. Mackenzie: Did you kiss him too? No, just a peck on the cheek, but I have to admit, I wish we had

Just then the girliest giggle slipped out. I slapped my hand to my mouth, shocked at myself. Thankfully, the bell rang and I went about my day, no one the wiser about my date with Mr. Spectacular. On Tuesday night I sat curled up on the sofa correcting papers as Alice and Rose watched TV. When I heard my phone ringing in my bedroom, I hopped up and casually sprinted. "Hello?" I asked, getting it just before it went to voicemail. "Hi honey, how are you?" Oh Lord. Renee. My mother, Renee, called me often enough to analyze me, er, check in on me. She was none too happy with the state of my life and she wasn't all that subtle with her hints. The woman had more opinions than I had hairs on my head and she offered them without solicitation. She was my mom, so I loved her, but she liked to push, push, push me. "Hi, mom. I'm good. How are you and dad?" "Just fine, honey. What's going on? How's work?" Work. Yes, the one and only topic that held no tension. My parents were proud of my career choice. They often smiled and gushed over it being the 'perfect profession for women' because all the time off made it easier to be a mom. Not that I had any desire to be a mother, but clearly they did. And even though my brothers provided my parents with grandchildren, it was me they wanted married and spawning yesterday. "Work's good," I said. "We're gearing up for the state's annual exams, so it's been pretty tough to motivate the girls. They have no desire to think about the tests; they're all hopped up on spring fever and prom, but other than that things are good." "Oh, I'm sure they'll do well, honey. You're such a great teacher." "Thanks mom." It's coming.

"So have you and the girls done anything exciting lately?" It's nearly here. "No, not really. We saw a movie recently, but we've all been so busy with work." "So, does that mean you haven't been on any good dates?" It arrived! I rolled my eyes and held in my laughter at the predictability of it. "No, mom, no good dates," I lied. I would've loved to spill the beans, but then she'd run down her checklist to see how well matched we were. Is he Italian? Catholic? Does he attend church? What's his family like? What kind of job does he have? And while those questions may be important, if he wasn't up to her snuff, she immediately dismissed him. "No dates?" my mom tsked on the other end. "Bella, isn't finding a guy one of the reasons you moved to the city?" I shook my head as the annoyance built inside. I tried, but I couldn't keep the frustration out of my voice. "Well, mom, if something happens, you'll be the first to know." "Fine, Bella. I was just asking to see how you were," she said sharply. Guilt. It was her trump card. She played it every hand and it won every round. I sighed to myself. "I know mom, but you don't have to worry about me," I said, softening my voice and giving in. "I'm not so sure about that, honey. I always worry about you. You need to think about your future. You are getting older and," Renee stopped. "Oh, your father just came in and I have to get his dinner ready. We'll pick this up next time. I'll talk to you soon, sweetheart. I love you." "Love you too mom."

Great timing, dad. By Wednesday, my high from the weekend faded. I wasn't shocked Edward hadn't called. Disappointment was inevitable. Edward was very famous and I was not. Edward lived an exciting life and I did not. And even though I promised myself I wasn't going to care, there was a part of me that did and that frustrated me to no end. For so long I had been successful at shutting down my romantic needs. I felt pride in my ability not to need a relationship, but last Friday night seemed to have caused a few cracks in the system I had so well controlled. Finally, with the day behind me and my roomy sweats on, I leaned against the soft pillows on my bed, grading another stack of essays. Halfway through the third one, my cell rang. Please don't let it be mom again. "Hello?" I asked, bracing myself for another round of twenty questions. "Hello, Bella." English velvet. I immediately sat up, scattering the papers all over the bed. "It's Edward," he said when I hadn't spoken yet. "Hi," I muttered, my heart having gone from 0-60 in seconds. "Didn't think I'd phone you?" he teased. "Um, actually I tried not to think about it," I blurted honestly. "Oh," he said, sounding disappointed. "But I'm happy you did," I quickly clarified. "How are you?" "I'm well. What are you doing? Am I interrupting?" "Yes, you're totally interruptingI'm grading papers." I snickered.

He laughed. "Oh, sorry to disturb." I sat there smiling and flushing while I doodled swirls on the corners of my grade book, feeling every bit of 16 again. "So, how's London? That's where you are, right?" I said casually, because I could hide the excitement in my voice, but not on my goose bumped, flushed skin. "Yeah, it's nice being home for a bit. Old bed and all." "Sounds relaxing. So, what have you been up to while you're there?" "Well, eating mostly. My mum is cooking everything she can think of. My dad's been begging me to come home more often. He says he hasn't eaten this well in years. My sisters have been around as well, but they're just completely useless. I can't make a move without them tearing into me. I know it's all in good fun, but they're hideous." I grinned. "What do you mean, 'hideous'?" Edward sighed and said, "Well, like the other night we went out me, my two sisters and a couple of friends, to the pub down the road, like we often do. And while we're there, a couple of girls were glancing over at me and they came up for an autograph and photo. And, I know it sounds awful, but it's not a big deal, it happens often, but that's all my sisters needed. The more we drank, the more my sisters got out of hand. They were going up to random women, telling them I was looking at them and wanted their numbers and how I was too shy to ask, and a whole line of bullshit. It got worse and worse and I ended up having to run out of the bar like an idiot. Literally, Bella, I had to run. It was so humiliating. If they weren't my sisters, I'd have murdered them." I couldn't speak I was laughing so hard. All I could imagine was Edward's face contorting in terror as the rabid women closed in; him tossing his glass into the air, his hands flailing wildly, as he leapt for the door; and how he ran all the way home squealing like the last little piggy. "Bella?" Edward asked after a moment. "Bella?"

Tears poured out of my eyes as my cheeks muscles cramped. "Hangon," I stuttered out, "My sideis splitting." "Oh. Very nice. You think it's funny too, eh?" Several snorting giggles later, I breathed deeply and got myself under control enough to get out, "Oh my God, Edwardwell you have to admit it's pretty funny." "Yeah, yeah," he said, with humor in his voice. "I guess it's payback for giving out Marcus' number," I said, rubbing my cramped cheeks and wiping my eyes. "What?" Edward asked, befuddled, then, "Oh, uh, how did you know about that?" "I know because the girl you gave the number to happens to be my roommate." "Really? What are the chances?" "So, why give out Marcus' number?" "Do you think I hand out my number like it's free cake or something?" he asked, mildly amused. "No, I suppose not." "It's just a joke, really. At least to me. Marcus hates when I do that, but for some reason the idea of drunk girls phoning his house makes me laugh So what have you been doing?" Edward asked, obviously changing the subject. I finally calmed down. "Just working. You know, what we regular folk do when we're not being chased by hordes of women." I burst out laughing again. "You think you're so funny, don't you?" he said, chuckling. "I'm sorry, I'm just kidding."

"Anyway," he started, clearly stifling a laugh, "I'm going to be in New York this Friday night before leaving for LA on Saturday, so I was wondering if you wanted to meet up again. Maybe have dinner or play some pool?" he taunted. "Pool? Don't you think you should practice a while before you play me again?" "Just prepare yourself to lose." "Yeah, yeah," I giggled. "Well, dinner sounds nice. Where would you like to meet?" Even though I was able to crack a few jokes, my heart thumped in my throat. One side of my mind repeated: holy shit, holy shit, holy shit, and the other shouted: what are you doing Bella? In a split second the ramifications of saying yes to another date were clear: it would be more difficult to say no the next time and it would be easier to get wrapped up in an impossible thing. Plus, he was far too young and he was an actor every girl lusted after. I knew no good could come of this. "Well, how about I pick you up?" "HmmI don't know. If you come to get me, I'll have to explain to my roommates and that could be rough," I said, thinking aloud. "What will they do?" "They'll just want to know every detail and to be honest, I kind of like this being quiet, know what I mean? I hope you aren't offended." "No, not at all, I understand completely. Welleven though it's horribly rude, I could come by and phone you once I'm outside." I thought about it a moment. "Yeah, okay. What time?" "Is eight alright?" "Perfect I'm happy you called Edward." "I'm looking forward to seeing you. Take care, Bella."

"Bye, Edward," I said, hanging up and flopping back onto my pillows with a smile that spilt my face in two. In typical 'me' fashion, I worried. On the one hand, I was thrilled he called and we set another date, yet on the other handwe set another date! What was I doing to myself? I'd built a perfectly sturdy fortress around my heart, had guards patrolling even, yet here I was telling the guards to take a hike while I peered over the wall contemplating a break out. This was not a smart idea and I knew it, but I just couldn't help myself.

Chapter 4
By the time Friday night rolled around I had a story ready and waiting to put into action. As Rose, Alice and I relaxed after work watching TV, Alice asked in her bubbly party-girl way, "So ladies, what's on the plate for tonight?" "Feel like going to Hunt Club? They just opened," Rose suggested, flipping through the channels. "Perfect!" Alice responded, clapping enthusiastically. "You coming too, Bella?" "No, I don't think so," I said, staring at the TV and trying to play it cool. I could feel Rose's eyes scrutinizing me. "Why not?" I looked over at her raised eyebrow and pursed lips. "Keep your panties on, you. A few teachers from work are going to dinner to celebrate a birthday, so I said I'd go with them." Rose paused and nodded, "Oh. Okay. I'm happy you're not sitting here at least." "You know," Alice began, "If you're going out more often now, maybe you could join us once in a while?" "You're right. Next time, I promise." And with that, we continued our evening, finally prepping for our night out. Once again, I tamed my excitement as we dressed. Not just so that my roommates wouldn't suspect anything, but for myself as well. If I went in with expectations, I knew I'd get hurt when Edward found someone more exciting to take to dinner. Alice tossed outfit after outfit my way as Rose sat on the bed like judge and jury, declaring a verdict. By the time we got to the tight black dress that screamed TROUBLE! my hair had more static than a bad phone connection. The problem wasn't the boat-shaped neckline that expanded out to the smallest fraction of material at the edge of my shoulders. No, the 'trouble'

part was the wide-opened V that dipped down to the top of my ass in the back. I'd never felt more naked, fully-dressed, in my life. Once again I twisted and turned in the full-length mirror trying to decide if I could carry this off. "Are you sure I don't look too dressed up orslutty?" Alice answered, "Slutty? No way. Geez, Bella, why the hell do you work out if you don't show off the bod now and again?" Alice stood up behind me and began a show-and-tell of the dress's highlights in the mirror. "Look how nicely it hugs your curves," she said, skating her hands down my silhouette. "And, if you throw your hair up loosely like this," she gathered my hair to demonstrate, "Look at how awesome your back looks." She spun me to the side to show me with her free hand. "And from whatever angle you're seated tonight there will be a fantastic view of you." She let my hair fall and she plopped back on the bed. Rose leaned in and whispered, "And you might even talk to a boy!" I rolled my eyes as they sniggered. If they only knew. "You two are like evil Fairy Slutmothers, you know that, don't you?" I said. We all laughed, and oddly enough their encouragement made me feel much less selfconscious. After Alice forced her hairstyling up-do techniques on me, I spent the last few minutes at my dresser, attaching earrings and trying not to hyperventilate. At eight on the nose, my phone rang. Edward was waiting. Holy crap. Breathe

With my heart pounding its way to his car, I uttered to Alice and Rose, "My ride's here. See you later." I clumsily yanked on my long coat. Making my way through the building's corridors, I sternly reminded myself this was just a dinner, nothing more. It was only the shock of the crisp March air that kept me upright when I spotted a blacked-out Audi waiting for me. Breathe I walked towards it and, with nervous fingers, I fiddled with my purse anything to distract my mind from the fact that he was probably watching me. I opened the car door and paused for a moment, catching a glimpse of Edward's right leg pressing on the brake and his strong right hand cupped around the gearshift. Good Lord, I need a stiff drink. Breathe "Hi," I greeted him, entering the car as gracefully as possible; his scent of soap and shaving cream was intoxicating. Shit. Make that two drinks. "Hello," Edward said, his handsome features illuminated by the dash. "I still feel rude not coming to your door." "Really, it's okay. It's better like this, for me anyway. I hope you understand." He smiled at me and nodded, "I do." We pulled down the street. I spied him from the corner of my eye, all drool-inducing in his black blazer, black button-down shirt and black pants. Normally, black was safe, but on Edward Cullen it was very dangerous. Game face, Bella.

"I wasn't sure if you would be picking me up or if you'd come with a driver or something. I really don't know how this stuff works." Edward chuckled, "I only use drivers when they make me. I like driving myself." Not a prima donna. Nice. "So is this your car?" "No, it's a rental. My car is on the west coast. I've found that it doesn't fit quite so easily in my bag," he laughed. I shook my head and grinned. "So, how are you? How was your trip?" "It was alright. I can't believe I have to get on another plane tomorrow." "Awful jet lag, I bet." "Oh yeah So, what did you tell your flatmates?" "Flatmates, huh?" I chuckled, as did he. "I told my 'flatmates' that I was having dinner to celebrate a co-worker's birthday." "Oh? Where's my present then?" "Sitting in your passenger seat," I joked. He glanced my way and smirked. "Well then happy birthday to me." Oh my loinsbreathe We arrived at the small Italian restaurant and parked on a quiet side street. We walked sideby-side, hands warm in our own pockets, as I followed Edward into the alley. "Where are we going?" I asked, a little concerned. "To the side entrance. It keeps things more private. You know, since you don't want your flatmates to find out." He smiled. "Right, my flatmates."

My stomach lurched as it hit me that I was on an official date; one I was equally excited and scared to death about. For a brief moment I wished I was home, safe. Yet, as he held the door open for me, smiling his beguiling smile, the cool breeze blowing his hair a little, the doubt and fear simply vanished. We followed the host to a small, very private area, one they must use for small parties. The lights were appropriately dim and there were virtually no other customers around. I placed my small purse on our square table in the corner of the room and began to unbutton my coat. "Let me help you," Edward said, standing and waiting behind me. My God, this guy has manners. I let the coat slip from my shoulders, feeling his hands take the weight of it. As I turned around to thank him, I noticed a stupefied expression on his face. "Are you okay?" I asked. Edward nodded his head. "YeahyeahI'm fine," he muttered as he rubbed the back of his neck and placed my coat gently over an empty chair. Once we were seated and examining the menus, Edward leaned in, swallowed and whispered, "You lookamazing in that dress." I blushed like crazy. "Thank you," I said, ducking behind the menu. Our waiter came by and took our drink order: whiskey for Edward and wine for me. "So, what's all this about?" I asked, gesturing to the empty, candle lit room. With a half-smirk, he replied, "Well, like I said, I figured if you didn't want your flatmates to know about this, we ought to be extra cautious." I rolled my eyes at him. "Right. I think you just don't want to be seen with me." "Why would anyone want to be seen with you?"

"Wow, you're so smooth, so full of charm." He laughed. The waiter arrived with our drinks and we ordered our dinner. I took a sip of my wine. "So, how was the trip home, aside from the running-for-your-life moment which, by the way, still cracks me up?" He shook his head, "Yeah, well, other than that it was very nice. I just relaxed with my family and saw some friends. Nothing too exciting." "Tell me about your family," I asked, leaning in, ready to listen. "What would you like to know?" he asked as he took a drink. I shrugged. "Umwhat do your parents do?" "My dad is a doctor and my mum is an interior designer." "They've been married a long time?" "Yeah, they met at university, and got married after they graduated." "Do you get along well with them?" Edward took another sip. "Yeah, definitely. They're very supportive. I don't think I'd have gone into this or kept at it without them behind me. All the rejection is incredibly discouraging." "I bet you don't get rejected much." He laughed a bit, "More than you might think, actually." "And you have two older sisters right? They sound like a riot." "Yeah, a riot," he rolled his eyes, smiling. "Elizabeth is the oldest, she's in advertising; Kate's next and she's in fashion. We get on well enough, now that we're older anyway." He took a sip of his whiskey.

"Have they always picked on you?" "Of course." "What else have they done?" I asked, leaning closer and grinning. He narrowed his eyes at me. "Why do you want to know?" "I just think it's funny. That story of you at the pub with them had me giggling for days." I started chuckling again. "I'm glad you found it so entertaining." I briefly patted his arm and said, "Yes I did. Now, what else have they done?" I couldn't help pushing this. He smiled and shook his head like he couldn't believe he was about to offer up more to me. "Well, when I first started appearing in the papers, they'd cut out the photos and draw all sorts of things on them." "Like what?" "Why are you torturing me like this?" he asked with a grin. I grinned back, but said nothing. "Fine. They would put marker makeup on them or draw horns and then send them to me. Things like that. Really quite mature." "Really?" I giggled, covering my mouth. "Siblings, you gotta love them." "Yeah, I suppose. So how about you? What's your family like?" I grabbed my glass and took a massive gulp. The topic warranted that. "Well, I have three older brothers. My mom stayed at home with us and my dad is a detective." "Did your brothers pick on you as well?" "Oh yeah."

He paused, waiting. "Wellwhat'd they do?" "A lot," I said, purposely being coy. "Bella," Edward said, reprimanding me with humored and pursed lips. "Okay, let's seewhen I was little, maybe four or five, if we were playing outside and an airplane flew overhead they would run up to me and say all panicked, 'Bella, they're coming to get you hide!' and then I'd bolt under the nearest bush and cry, waiting to be kidnapped by aliens." He cracked up as I took another long drink. "Do you get on now?" he asked. I smiled and shrugged. "For the most part. Not back then though. I was odd man, or er, odd girl out. Still am sometimes." "It must be nice living relatively close to them. You must visit them often." "Often enough. I go home for nieces' and nephews' birthdays mostly, but work ties me up a lot, so I don't get there as often as they'd like." "So you're an auntie?" he snickered. "Yep, Auntie Bella!" "All your brothers are married?" "Yep, married with kids. I'm the only hold-out," I snickered as I gulped more wine. This topic always made me anxious, but thankfully our food just showed up. "So you enjoy living here then?" Edward asked before taking a bite of his steak. "I really do actually. When I first moved here, I had to get used to things like the subway, buying groceries, that kind of stuff. City living is far different than suburban, but I really like it. Do you come to New York a lot?" I asked, taking a bite of my salmon.

"Yeah, I'd say I'm here pretty often. Most of my work is on the west coast, but with flying to London, I do stop over here often enough Do you think you'd ever live anywhere else? Move back to your hometown perhaps?" "No. I wouldn't move back thereI like living here even though I don't feel tied here, know what I mean? Although I do like my jobwould you move back to London?" "Yeah. I don't feel I've left really. I go back as often as I can." "Do you enjoy all the traveling you do?" He nodded. "I do enjoy it. I get to visit so many places, but I sometimes wish I didn't live out of a bag." "Must be difficult to be a bag boy," I chuckled, "Especially if you lost your luggage-" "Don't even say it," he interrupted me. "It's happened before and even though I don't travel with much, when you're without clean underpants or a toothbrush, it's quite frustrating." "I'm guessing that didn't happen today then?" I smirked. He leaned in and quietly said, "No, because if it did, we'd be buying me underpants right now, not eating dinner." I laughed. As we ate, our conversation volleyed back and forth, uncovering tidbits of each other's lives. I, of course, steered the conversation away from my past. After dinner and several drinks in, I slowly stroked the stem of my glass, listening to his beautiful mouth tell mesomething or other. My brain heard maybe every third word as I tried to figure out exactly what shade of green his eyes were. Emerald? No Jade? Nah Grass? Definitely not And then I saw his fingers slide on over to stroke my wrist oh so softly. I swallowed hard watching his perfect fingers trace tiny swirls on my reddening skin. Is he still talking?

After a long while of chaste yet loin-igniting skin to skin contact, I heard Edward ask with a taunt and a smile, "So, how about that rematch?" I shook my head to refocus. "Gee, I don't know. It won't upset you to lose two times in a row?" He narrowed his eyes. "That won't be happening." "Uh huh, we'll see." We gathered our things and as we walked to the car Edward's hand found mine. His warm, firm grip not only heated my chilly fingers, but fanned the flames that were slowly engulfing me. Lord, I need to find a fire extinguisher soon. I looked around the nearly silent street as we got to his car. "You know, I think you just think you're famous. I haven't seen one photographer yet." He opened my car door and sighed deeply. "You do know you just jinxed us."

Chapter 5
We headed to Mickey's once again. Entering the bar and without stopping for a beer, Edward made a beeline to the back pool tables. By the time I unbuttoned my coat, Edward had whipped off his jacket, racked the balls and chalked his cue. He was all business and, evidently, the game was on. "I'll let you break again because that might be the only time you'll get a turn tonight," he said with a smug smile, standing across the table from me and rolling up his sleeves. I dramatically cracked my neck like a prize fighter and with a grin, bent over the table. With all my might I broke the pack of balls, scattering them clear across the green fabric. I even got one in. "Impressive, no?" I teased. He glared at me. I circled the table, knowing I was totally going down. Last time was a fluke and I knew it, but that didn't mean I was going to make this easy. Oh no. In fact, my pickled brain decided the time honored art of distraction was the best strategy, and lucky for me the Fairy Slutmothers poured me into a tight, backless dress and fuck-me heels. Poor Edward. Coming to stand on the same side of the table as Edward, I bent forward slowly, wiggling my ass to better line up my shot. I aimed, shot, and missed. Shit. I pushed up from the table, threw him my sexiest smirk and suggestively said, "All yours." His mid-step trip told me my plan was going to work beautifully.

I sat on the stool he dragged over and noticed his hard stare at the table. He took his time aiming and got the ball in. As well as the next three shots. Damn him! He was kicking my ass and strutting around the table like the cock that owned the hen house. Do something! Use the plan! Balls to the wall, Bella! I urged myself, giggling silently at my innuendo. As Edward pondered his next move, I decided my cue needed immediate chalking. I sauntered past him to reach the chalk, noticing his eyes following me. With my back towards him, I picked up the square of chalk from the edge of the table and oops! it fell out of my hand onto the floor. I gracefully squatted down, scooped up the chalk and slowly rose letting my ass lead. I finished chalking the cue, turned around, and reveled in his slack jawed face. "Everything alright?" I asked, innocently, feeling victorious already. He snapped his mouth closed and narrowed his eyes for a fraction of a second. Saying nothing, he turned his attention back to the table, studying it as if something might move on its own. He exhaled, releasing a low whoosh of air. He aimed and missed. His jaw flexed as he sat on the barstool to wait, twirling the cue upright in his hands. I was relieved it was my turn since he had such a huge lead. I took my time aiming, purposely giving the cue a few extra strokes in and out of my fingers. I aligned my shot and got it in. I straightened up, feeling good. I found my next shot and again, stroked the cue like a proper dirty girl, and pocketed that ball too. Edward fidgeted as his knuckles around the cue whitened and his knee bounced. "Only four more to go," I goaded while aiming, but missed the shot. Ugh!

With laser-like determination in his eyes, he hopped off the barstool. As I passed him, I grazed his forearm with my fingertips and used my throaty bedroom voice to whisper, "Good luck." He froze for a fraction of a second, his eyes blinking several times. Edward stood, staring at the remaining balls for some time, seemingly lost in thought. Finally, he aimed, shot and got the ball in. He didn't glance my way as his next shot slipped in as well. Crap! I was desperate. I perched myself casually on the stool across from where he stood, crossing my legs so the side of my thigh was on display. For extra effect, I hiked up my dress several inches too, exposing a whole lot of upper thigh just in case he looked over. As he bowed to take his next shot, he did exactly that - he glanced up. His sharp intake of breath and minor coughing fit were rather satisfying. Go Bella. Recovering, he shook his head a little, breathed hard through his nose and focused on the balls, his chiseled jaw clamped down. He aimed and missed. Edward straightened up and marched over to me. As I hopped off the stool to take my turn, he snatched me by the waist, yanked me against his body, and with his lips brushing against my ear, whispered, "Two can play at that game." He released me quickly, flashing a wicked grin and leaving me with a nose full of soap and shaving cream scent. Oh. God. I had to consciously remind myself to breathe. In Out I refocused; I couldn't give up. "What are you talking about?" I remarked casually. He chuckled darkly, boring into me with wicked green eyes.

I don't know how I was able to focus with the salacious thoughts flashing in my mind, but I did and managed to make my next shot. He tapped his cue with impatient fingers. Although I missed the next one, I simply grinned politely and stepped back from the table, still a little woozy from his whispering. With only one more ball to go before the eight ball, Edward teased in the most obnoxious sing-song voice, "You're going to lose." He knocked the last one in and headed for the eight ball. Crap! I was out of ideas, and obviously out of luck. He aimed for the black ball, and as my luck would have it, it slipped right in. With a triumphant swagger, he came over to me, his face mere inches from mine. "Looks like I'm the winner," he gloated with a hot crooked grin I wanted to both lick and slap. I nodded, my expression indifferent. "You know, this just means we're tied," I mentioned nonchalantly, backing up a step. "What?" he laughed, taking a step toward me. "Well, then let's play again." I considered it for a moment. Lord knows I didn't want the night to end, but I also knew I was riding a very fine, barely-there line. This was a dangerous game. A game I shouldn't be playing. "I should really head home," I said, rounding the corner of the table to move away from the temptation. "Are you serious?" Edward asked, with mouth-gaping shock. "Yeah, I really should," I said more to convince myself. He stared at me a moment, rounded the corner toward me and firmly stated, "No, you're staying out."

"Excuse me?" I asked, smiling and taking one step back. "You're not going home yet, Miss Daisy. It's early." He stepped forward. I laughed and tried to back up further, but he closed the remaining distance by clasping on to my waist. He leaned in and softly spoke in my ear, "If you really want to go home, I'll take you, but I'd really like to stay out with you longer." One neck whiff of soap and shaving cream mixed with a corner of lip hitch was all it took to convince me. I am so screwed. Captured in his pretty-boy web I relented, "Okay," while somewhere inside of me bells and whistles sounded in alarm. We were about ready to order the beer we hadn't had yet when Edward looked off, his face falling. I followed his gaze to see a sidewalk of figures and flashes going off outside the large, grimy front window. He sighed. "I think if we go outside right now, we won't be alone." Oh no. "What does that mean?" I asked quickly, the panic rising inside. "It means this isn't as private as I thought." I had forgotten who he was. Sure he was still Edward Cullen, movie star hottie of the moment, but he was also Edward Cullen, English hottie who knew about opening doors, pulling out chairs and changing my insides to mush. How foolish, Bella! With my heart in a tizzy, I asked, "So what do we do? Can we go out a back door?" I stared open-mouthed at the flashing window as my knees grew weak. Edward touched my arm to capture my wide-eyed attention. "That's the only entranceIt's probably not that bad, Bella. It looks like only a few paparazzi, although, if we stay here, there will be more soon enough." "So we should go then?" We have to go. We have to go!

"Yeah, I think that might be best." He reassured me with a gentle smile. "They'll take photos as we walk quickly to the car." Nerves gripped my belly. "But I'll be in the pictures too," I said, stating the obvious aloud. I knew that although they were after Edward, my face would be in there too, which meant I'd have to explain to someone, somewhere, something. I loved this being private. It was my secret and I didn't want to have to share it with anyone. I suddenly had no choice. He chuckled, "I suppose if we're leaving together then you'll be in the shot, yes. But don't worry, that window looks terribly filthy, so I'm not sure how those photos will come out...Are you alright? You look rather pale. I know this must be strange for you." My stomach churned, but I shook it off. I had to. "I'm fine. I just wasn't expecting this. That's all." "It still takes me by surprise, but really, it'll be alright," he said, gently stroking my arm. I nodded. "So, once we're outside, just go directly to the car. In fact, if you go out a few minutes ahead of me they won't pay as much attention to you. They might not even take your photo." "Alright." "Don't stop or say anything, even if someone gets too close; just keep moving, alright?" I exhaled. "Okay." We put on our coats and, with my heart racing and hands shaking, I made my way to the entrance while Edward hung back. Several bar patrons watched me leave. I silently cursed ever leaving my bed. Once outside, the paparazzi deemed me 'no one' and didn't bother snapping my picture, thank God. I scurried to the car. From behind I could hear the moment Edward left the bar as a clicking frenzy ensued and questions were shouted out.

I heard the doors unlock as I approached the car and I scrambled inside the passenger seat, shutting and locking my door. Moments later Edward entered the car as the paparazzi swarmed, flashing into the car to catch a glimpse. I bent down and covered my face. We pulled down the road. "Are you alright?" Edward asked, trying to watch me and the road at the same time. "Yeah, I'm okay," I said, my voice shaky. I breathed deeply. "Does that really happen on a regular basis?" He snickered. "It's ridiculous sometimes. Believe it or not, that wasn't all that bad." I blinked trying to erase the spots. "So are those going to be bad for business?" "What?" "You know, 'he's out with a female'!" I mocked. He chuckled, "I'll just say I was out with my granny." I smacked him on the shoulder with my purse. "Very nice. I'll report that the babysitting went well." Edward laughed. "So where do you want to go?" "Well, I'm not up for that again." We sat in silence, driving aimlessly for a few minutes. "Hear me out, alright?" he asked, glancing at me nervously. "Alright," I answered cautiously. "There aren't many private places to go. The same thing might happen at any other bar we go to, so that leaves us with two places - my hotel room or your flat."

Chapter 6
Too many thoughts crashed in my head at once. The most prominent one was of tackling him to discover just how non-athletic he really was. But I knew better. One hot, sweaty night with a famous actor would be, well, fantastic but also the end of me. It was bad enough I was beginning to like him more than I should. "It sounds worse than it should. I'm not looking to sleep with youunless, of course, that's what you'd like," Edward snorted. He cleared his throat. "Really, I'm not trying to pressure you, and if you just want to go home on your own, that's fine, but I'd like to talk with you more." I considered it a momentCould I do this? I raised an eyebrow at him. "Talk, huh?" "Yeah, honestly." I watched him glance from the road to me, anxiously awaiting a reply. So long as I kept myself in check, I'd be okay. Yes, I could do it. "Okay, this is the deal, Edward. Drive to my apartment. If my roommates aren't home yet, you can come in, but if they are home, then we'll say goodbye downstairs." "Fair enough," he said with a satisfied smile. After ditching the paparazzi, we pulled up outside my building. I glanced up at my windows and saw the lights off. "Looks like they're still out. Let's go." I took a deep breath and said a silent prayer: Dear Lord, please keep me from getting naked. We walked up the stairs and into the small apartment I loved. Art prints and photos decorated the warmly painted walls. Our mix of cozy, yet modern furniture was arranged to maximize the space. Gauzy drapes hung over the long wood shades in the living room. Luckily it was relatively neat. It always felt like a home rather than an apartment to me.

I led the way in, flipping on a light in the teeny galley kitchen on the right and asked, "Would you like something to drink?" "No thanks," Edward said, walking right past me to examine the photos we had in every nook and cranny of the living room. I turned on a lamp in the living room and watched Mr. Spectacular wander about. Holy crap, he's in my house. Breathe "Well, this is going to sound just as bad as what you suggested earlier, butsince I'd rather not have my roommates know you're here, we'll have to hang out in my bedroom just in case they come home. Is that okay?" I asked, realizing how silly a question that was. He nodded quickly, taking a few swipes across the back of his neck. "Yeah, no worries." I am so inviting disaster. I led the way to my room, connected to the living room by only a few footsteps. Edward closed the door behind us as I turned on my stained glass bedside lamp that cast a muted pink hue. I slipped off my coat as he examined a photo on my dresser. "Those are my brothers," I said, hanging my coat in my closet. He looked up at me. "Other than the dark hair and the fact that they're male and you're female, you look different than they do." I walked over and peered over his shoulder at the photo. Soap, shaving cream gah! "What do you mean?" I knew exactly what he meant. "Well, you have creamy, pale skin and they've got an olive skin tone. They've got dark brown eyes and yours are" He leaned in to verify, his warm breath heating up my face and

entrancing me. I felt myself start to sway, but stopped before I accidentally knocked his nose with my head. "Like a steely blue; even the shape is different. They're beautiful," he said, his eyes lingering on mine. "Thank you," I said, breaking the gaze when an embarrassing blush flared up yet again. What was I thinking? This was such a bad idea. He studied the photo more. "They're rather large too, aren't they?" I chuckled at the fear in his voice. "Yes, and they are a bit protective." "Yeah, well, I'll remember that," he said, placing my brothers gently back on the dresser. "You can take your jacket off, you know," I said. And everything else Bella! "Right." He shrugged off his blazer. Walking over to my lounge chair that sat in the corner piled with academic journals and textbooks, he laid it across the back while I kicked off my shoes. He picked up a book and flipped through it. "I enjoy reading as well, but do you actually read these for pleasure?" "No, those are for reference." I smiled. "Thank God," he grinned, placing it back down and began studying a photo collage that hung on the wall nearest the chair. "So who are these people?" he asked. Man, he's curious. I came to stand next to him, shorter now that I was barefoot. I gave him a quick tour with my fingers. "Those are my brothers there. These are my parents." My dad, tall and strong with his wavy black hair, and my slender mom with her short, fiery red hair, were a striking pair. Edward leaned into the photo then looked at me a moment, then back at the photo.

"I can see how your brothers look like your parents, but youyou don't really. Are you adopted?" I snickered. "No. I feel that way sometimes, but no. I'm just the recessive one. Odd girl out, remember?" "Oh, yeah, that's right." He smiled gently. He focused in on another photo in the collage. "Who are they?" "Those are my roommates, Alice and Rose, and that's more of my family there," I noted. "And this group shot who's this?" he asked, pointing to a photo that contained everyone I already mentioned except for one Jacob. I froze. Oh no. "That's an old boyfriend," I muttered having forgotten about the picture. Shit. Shit shit. "Old boyfriend, eh?" He leaned to examine the photo of a dark haired, handsome man with killer dimples who looked more like a Swan than I did. No, no. Stop looking. "You date a long time?" "Too long." "And how long might that be?" I need to die. "I met him right after I graduated college. We dated for about five years," I said, running my words together. He raised his eyebrows at me. "Wow, that is a long time." "Yeah." Please stop. "So, why didn't you two marry? I mean, five years"

Oh God. Maybe I should distract him. If I whip off my dressUgh! That'll just be worse. I was cornered. I had to say it. "I was engaged to him," I said, my heart thumping. "Really? What happened?" He gaped at me, and with curious eyes, waited for a response. I shook my head a bit, suddenly feeling that pit in my belly open its wide mouth. I rarely spoke of this. For so long it was all I ever thought about and the pain was so deep that I eventually I busied myself enough not to have time to consider it. "Um..." It was all too easy to remember The clear blue sky, the warm breeze, the birds chirping signs. Signs I'd been hunting for months; signs to reassure me this was right. The night before was by far the biggest, clearest sign. After the rehearsal dinner, as Jacob and I stood on the stoop of my parents' house saying goodnight, he cupped my face in his hands, and planted the softest kiss on my lips. With his wide, dimpled smile he beamed, telling me how thrilled he was that I would become his wife in less than 24 hours. My heart was swollen with love. I nearly skipped into the house counting the hours And so, on the day I looked like a fairy tale princess, all signs pointed to 'perfect'. It was silly of me to have ever doubted. My parents always told me that if I'd played by the rules I'd win the game. Lord knows I played by the rules, and so with the beautiful sky shining down, I knew for certain I was about to win. Pulling up outside the church, my dad in his spiffy tuxedo leapt out to open the limo door for me. He looked so handsome. Taking my hand and beaming at me, he lifted me from the seat as gentle as a father with his newborn baby. When the photographer made me pose in mid-rise I nearly lost my balance and fell, and would have gotten annoyed, but not that day - all was right with the world. I was about to marry my Prince Charming after all. A man my parents were thankful I'd found. The one who was Italian, Catholic, smart, funny, had a promising career and of course, he was good-

looking. My mother constantly squealed, in anticipation of the beautiful grandchildren I'd surely birth. With my mother and Jacob's parents already seated, my father, Alice, Rose, and I gathered in the vestibule of the church. We straightened bouquets, touched up makeup, and fluffed my dress while waiting for our cue to walk down the aisle. The three of us girls quietly sang, "Going to the Chapel," giggling the entire time. The scentoh the sweet, light scent of the roses and tulips that energized the air. And the string quartet, whose musical notes blended gracefully as one, swept me up in the most romantic of moods. It was like a dream. I played with my bouquet. Should I hold it low near my hips? Or at my waist? I tried varying levels while we waited for what seemed like too long. I laughed at the predictability of it Jacob always ran late. To everything. My mother used to make that tired joke about him being late to his own funeral. Suddenly, the doors behind us crashed opened. Seth, Jacob's best man, barged in, sweating and breathing heavy. My dad put his hand on Seth's shoulder. "Are you alright Seth?" Seth leaned over, his hands on his knees. He shook his head, his chest rising and falling with deep breaths in and out. He caught his breath before saying, "No." We all froze. The worst ran through my mind. Jacob's been in an accident. He's hurt. My God, he's dead! My heart pounded a hole in my chest. "Oh my God, what's the matter? Is Jacob okay?" I asked, shaky and desperate.

Seth took another breath, straightened up, then continued, "I went to pick him up and he didn't answer the door so I let myself in with the key from under the mat and found this on the kitchen table." He handed me a small, folded, torn-off piece of notebook paper addressed on the outside to 'Bella'. By the look on Seth's face I knew he already read it. I flipped it open. I can't do this. I'm sorry. I blinked at Seth then at the paper a few times, trying to wrap my brain around this. For a few moments I wondered if this were some kind of incredibly vivid nightmare except the pain that gripped my chest tied me firmly to reality. No. No, no I could hardly breathe. I blinked harder, trying to wake up. Surely being left at the altar was just an urban legend, not a real thing, not really happening. What? Why? What happened? I was ready to commithe was ready to commitbut he dumped me what happened to being his wife? What happened to forever? Fierce anger, crushing grief and utter humiliation flooded me. Who knew that six words on a torn off piece of paper could pack such a devastating blow? My father, Seth, Rose and Alice stared at me, silently waiting for me to say something. I shook my head. The soundless minutes ticked by as my heart cracked and finally severed down the middle. My father, needing someone to direct his anger towards, turned to Seth and snapped, "What is going on here?"

Seth backed away, holding up his palms, afraid. Hearing the rumble of loud voices, my brothers joined us. "What's going on?" Peter, my oldest brother, asked. Rose relayed the events as I stood listening to her. Who was she talking about? And then I glanced down at my white dress, all sparkly and new and realized it was me andthis was real. But I played by the rules! I should have won. That was the deal! I heard questions being asked of me, but I had no words to answer with, there was only heartshattering confusion. Finally, when many voices blurred into white noise, I tapped on Rose's shoulder, whispering, "Get me out of here." Without another word, Rose grabbed my hand and the keys to her car and drove my mangled heart and me far, far away from the scene. I shook my head, clearing myself of the memory and quietly answered, "Heleft me on our wedding day." Edward's eyes bulged. "What?" he shook his head in disbelief a moment before spluttering out, "Whywhy would he do that?" I shrugged, staring at the photo of the heartbreaker. "Well, the short story is that he fell in love with someone I thought was a friend. It seems they were together for about six months before our wedding. I guess he couldn't commit to me when he felt that way about someone else. Her." I pointed It out in a group photo in the collage. I turned and sat on the edge of my bed trying to shake the sick that rumbled deep inside. Edward continued staring at the photo a moment, rubbing the back of his neck. "Alright, two questions: why do you still have these photos and why would he leave you for her?" I sighed softly. "Honestly, I only kept the photo that's got her in it because it was the only group shot of my sorority together and I thought I'd gotten rid of the other one," I huffed, mad at myself for having forgotten. "And evidently, he was happier with her than with me."

I stared at my bare toes, afraid I had just scared Edward off when I felt the bed shift as he sat beside me. He stayed quiet for a moment and I could feel his eyes on my lowered head. He's going to make an excuse and go now "Bella, I don't know what that guy was thinking. She's a six to your ten. He couldn't be a bigger arse." I chuckled, watching my fingers twist nervously in my lap. "Thanks, but looks aren't everything." "Yeah, I know, but there is much more to you than good looks." "That's very nice of you, but-" "No, I'm serious," he interrupted forcefully. "You havequite a lot in your favor." I could feel a marked shift in mood; a vast difference from earlier, when our heavy flirtation played openly around the pool table. "Thank you for being so sweet," I said, embarrassed. We were quiet for another moment. "I hope your brothers found him." He nudged me playfully with his shoulder. I picked up my head and smiled devilishly. "They're still hunting." He laughed quietly. "Your parents must have been quite angry at him." I breathed deep. "That's a whole other story and I think I've tortured you enough tonight." He grinned and nodded. "Fair enoughso when might I see you again?" What? He's not running? I smiled in relief and said, "You're the one going across the country. You tell me."

Edward thought out loud, "Well, I leave for L.A. after some meetings tomorrowand my schedule is insane this weekbut I believe I have a couple of days off at some point coming up. I forget the exact dates. Anyway, perhaps we might see each other then?" "But won't you be in L.A.?" I asked, reminding him just how far away he'd be. "It's not that far by plane." "I still have to work." I couldn't and wouldn't blow off work to take a trip. Not for a guy. I knew better than that. "Maybe I'll fly back then." Holy crap. My heart launched itself into my throat. "You'd fly back to see me? You must have a million girls at your disposal on the West Coast," I teased - sort of. "Truebut I'm running out." I laughed, "Oh, so I guess it's time to move on to the East Coast women then." He peered down at me through his long lashes, his entrancing mouth pulling up on one side, "Or woman." My heart danced in my throat, but I wouldn't let myself buy it. "Woman, huh?" "Bella, really now, how many women's bedrooms do you think I just hang around in?" I raised an eyebrow, giving him the 'do you really want an answer?' face. He rolled his eyes and explained, "For your information, if I was merely here for one thing, I'd have had you undressed long ago." I snorted. "You think so, huh?" "Yes, I do. I'm just too polite." "Too polite?" I cocked an eyebrow and nearly busted out laughing.

"Or maybe I'm just an idiot," he said, red-faced and grinning. We broke out in laughter, releasing the tension in the room and that's when our eyes locked, speaking the same language, craving the same thing. The atmosphere shifted once again, instantly growing tight and thick with heat. The smile on Edward's face faded as he watched my lips part in anticipation. I could feel long dormant hormones flood my bloodstream, as my heart knocked about my chest so hard and fast I thought it might simply stop. His hand reached up, slid across my cheek then curled its way around the nape of my neck, gently pulling me towards his mouth. Edward's beautiful face was closer than it had ever been; that soap and shaving cream scent was right there, urging me in. Finally, our lips met with one gentle kissthen twothen another It wasn't long before I flicked my tongue against his full lips like a secret knock can I come in? And just like that, his mouth opened-sesame and our tongues did a whole lot of getting-toknow-you. I stroked his freshly shaven cheek, feeling the muscles of his jaw loosen and tighten as our kiss deepened. Not a second later, his other hand was in my hair too, pressing our faces together as if there were any space left to close. I'd daydreamed over and over about how it would feel when his perfect lips captured mine, but this his hands holding my head to his, his mouth wanting mine, tasting my mouth tasting his, was more sensuous than I could have imagined. Before long, consequences began piling up in my dizzy head. I pulled back slightly, knowing I was on the verge of crossing that line I'd drawn for myself. Yet one glance into Edward's sultry green eyes lured me back in, making it all too easy to surrender to my awakening desire. Without thought, our bodies shifted to face one another better as we continued our kiss. With one hand still knotted in my hair, Edward skimmed his other hand down the length of my arm, causing chills to erupt in the wake of his touch. I nearly shivered.

Allowing the hormones to take control, my hands and arms crossed themselves behind his neck and my body pressed itself against his. I wasn't sure if he lost balance or I unknowingly pushed, but in an instant I found myself on top of him as he fell back onto the bed. I nestled my hips into his side and thigh, snaking a leg around one of his. He fiddled with my hair, trying to take it down, so I reached up and swatted his fingers away to gain access. He sniggered in my mouth. Once I unclasped my hair, his hand immediately wove its way back in there, holding my head steady as his other hand made a slow, exploratory circuit down my exposed back and up my sides, inching closer to my breasts with each lap. Meanwhile, supporting myself on one elbow, my free hand took full advantage of his body finally touching mine. I slid my hand across his chest and down his torso, feeling the rippling muscles that lay hidden under his clothing. God did I ever need to excavate. I took my time at the buttons of his shirt, undoing one after the other. Once his shirt was completely undone, I tugged at the t-shirt underneath, untucking it from his pants. Why is he wearing all these damn layers? I snaked my cool fingers up underneath his shirt, along the warm, soft skin of his toned stomach, feeling him arch into my touch. I lightly grazed his chest with my nails. And then he moaned. Oh Lord I was desperate to pounce on him, but I refrained, reminding myself of that stupid line I promised I wouldn't cross. Edward lightly kneaded the back of my head with one hand, while he made slow circles on my tailbone with his other. Instinctively, I pressed my hips to his giving his hand the green light to travel lower. After stroking my hip a few times, his hand drifted down to the hem of my dress, playing with the edge between two fingers. When he released the fabric to glide his hand up my hip, he hiked up my dress another inch or two, skimming his fingers along my thigh in the process. I couldn't help it; I had to grind my hips into his again.

God, what is he doing to me? His hand reached my waist and I thought I was out of the red zone, but then his hand skated down to the hem again. Crap. I was crumbling. My resolve was quickly fading. And I was more turned on than I'd ever been. He toyed with the fabric again, winding it around his fingers, then finally hooked a finger underneath the edge and slid upwards, bringing the hem even higher. His other fingers splayed out as the dress rose, skimming over my thigh that was wondering what the hell was going on? It hadn't seen action like this in years. His hand stopped at the top of my thigh by my hip, but then inched around to my thong-bared ass and squeezed the flesh. Oh. Jesus. Nearly lost in a sex-stupor, an annoying practical voice kept shouting warnings. I ignored the voice, focusing instead on Edward's other hand where his thumb circled at the edge of my breast as if asking for permission. Yes, yes, I answered by arching and twisting into his touch. My body hadn't been handled in so long; I couldn't help but let out a low moan. I was caught between desperately wanting this to continue and stopping. The warnings grew louder. But his handsmy God, they lit me on fire when they skated down my bare spine, across my ass, and up my thighs. I nearly combusted when they began showing my breasts a good time through my dress. Another moan escaped me, which seemed to elicit one from him. I ran my fingers over the peaks and valleys of his six-pack and up his firm chest through a small patch of chest hair. His heart raced just like mine. He tightened his grip on my ass as I shifted over him more, practically pinning him down. I lightly scratched my nails down his side and slipped a finger beneath the waistband of his pants. I moved along the edge, tracing across the roughness of his happy trail. I rolled my hips into his; my thigh told me he was ready. So was I.

Should I start on his belt? 'NO!' shouted the voice. But I want to, so badly. It's just a belt. I could feel the uncontrollable frenzy starting. I teased my tongue along his bottom lip, flicking it on his upper lip. Another groan from him fueled me on. I circled my hips against his in a slow, steady rhythm, making sure to press my thigh against his hardness with each rotation. I was close to the point of no return. One more hip grind or tongue flick and I'd have to get naked. His fingers spent a moment with the small bit of fabric at my shoulder and just when he began to ease the material down I heard a noise and broke off. "What was that?" I asked, pulling back and half-sitting up on one elbow. Dazed by my abrupt interruption, he muttered, "What?" as his hands froze on my ass and breast respectively. We both listened. I heard giggling and tripping only a few feet and a door away. "It's my roommates," I whispered. "I'll be quiet," Edward assured me, guiding my mouth back to his. I leaned over him again, kissing him just as passionately, our hands exploring once again, but the brief interruption allowed the warnings a chance to be heard loud and clear. I had myself turned to 'off' for so long that now that my switch was flipped, I didn't want to stop. Yet I knew if I let things go too far, it would probably be the end. If he gets it all now, what's left to come back for? I'd just be another notch. I had to stop and I needed to be honest. "Edward," I breathed out, pulling my lips a fraction away from his as he sensuously massaged my breast. "Yeah?" he mumbled against my mouth, another hand at the small of my back gently pressing my hips against his hardness.

Stop? Go? Stop? YesI have to. I backed off again. "I'd really like for this to continuebut I don't think that's a good idea." I swallowed, feeling his warm breath travel upwards along my neck as he planted kisses centimeters apart. "Why?" he murmured into my ear as he sucked on my ear lobe. With one hand at my shoulder, the other on my ass, his hold on me tightened. I don't know whywait, yes, I do "Do you really need me to tell you?" I asked faintly, without an ounce of conviction. I have to move away if I'm going to stop. It would have been so easy for me to give in. His passionate lips and divine hands were making me acutely aware of just how long it had been since my last time; and now that I allowed my hormones an inch they were begging for a mile. I pulled back, trying to look him in the eye. "Yes," he answered quietly, looking at me a moment before coming at me again with those tasty lips, kissing along the edge of my jaw. I knew he was making it difficult. I pulled away again, leaning back on both elbows, making it impossible for him to kiss me from where he was. "Because I like you," I admitted, finally catching his eye. Edward wasn't having this distance. He pushed forward to hover over me and said, "I like you too," before continuing the assault to my lips and my neck. "No," I said, after a few horribly indecisive moments, pushing him away with my hand and sitting up fully. "I really like you and I don't want to be 'that girl in New York I can hook up with when I'm passing through'." I worried that throwing this out there would kill things, but then again, if it did then I was right not to let it go further.

Edward sat up too and ran his fingers through is disheveled hair, letting out a deep, calming breath. "Bella, I like you too," he stated as if it was common knowledge. "And I was serious before when I said that I don't often go hanging out in girls' rooms chatting." "So you sleep around a lot? I mean, of course, why wouldn't you? You're only 23, you can have anyone and, really, there's no reason you shouldn't," I spluttered out in one breath. He wrinkled his brow at me. "Let me be straight with you," Edward said softly, pulling his hand through his nearly just-fucked hair again, rubbing his neck twice. "I don't sleep around. I really don't. The papers make it out like I'm for rent for God's sake. Have I had my share of fun? Yes, but I will also tell you that you will not be the 'girl I hook up with in New York'. No way, you're-" He paused, like he was about to say one thing, but said instead, "You'll be the 'granny I hook up with in New York'." He smiled playfully at me. My mouth dropped. "And you'll be the terribly inexperienced student I have to tutor," I said quickly, squinting hard at him and smiling. After a deep breath, he said more seriously, "I really do like you, Bella, and I'll understand if you don't want this to go further tonight, not that I agree with it, but I do understand." He smiled. "Thanks," I said, praying I didn't ruin things. "I should probably let you sleep. Do you think it's safe for me to leave?" he asked. I listened for Rose and Alice and heard nothing. "I think it's safe." Edward stood up, turned around and offered his hand to me. I grabbed on and he pulled me up in one quick swoop against his chest. He held me there tightly for a moment, stroked my face and kissed me once, gently. "I would really like to see you again. May I phone you tomorrow once I get the dates of my days off so we can make plans?" I breathed out in relief. Perhaps I didn't kill things. "Yeah, I'd really like that."

I arched up to kiss him again. Our hands quickly spread into one another's hair and around necks and waists again, kissing just as passionately as we had while lying down. He broke away. "You are giving me very mixed signals here," he semi-joked, a little breathless. "I'm sorry. I guess I just want to make sure you want to come back." Edward shook his head. "That's not even a question. Believe it or not, I am actually an honest person." "Yeah, okay, I believe you." I opened my bedroom door and peered out. "Alice and Rose must be asleep." I escorted Edward to the apartment door holding his hand. "So, you'll call?" I whispered, still wary I had ruined things. "Yes, I will," he reassured, twisting his fingers through mine, then kissed me again. "I'm very much enjoying my time with you, Bella. I'll ring you tomorrow." With that I watched Mr. Spectacular walk down the hallway until he was out of sight. I laid in bed wondering if I made a mistake by stopping things. My body was pissed off, that's for sure, but my mind, well, it was relieved. It was wrong, but I giggled, knowing his poor hand was going to get a work out. I thought back to our dinner, our flirtatious pool game, the revelations of my past and of course the handslots of hands. As much as I hated to admit it, I liked him - too much. So, I naturally worried I'd be let down, that he'd turn out to be a liar or I'd get my healing heart handed back to me bleeding once again. With so many thoughts invading my head, it took me a long time to drift to sleep, but when I finally did, dreams of sex hair, magic hands and soft lips soothed my worried heart.

Chapter 7
I woke up the next morning smiling and stretching and smiling and twisting around and smiling and giggling and smiling. It was appalling. Edward seemed too good to be true and I knew it. So why was I smiling? After smothering my giggles with the pillow, I shook it off and got ready for the gym as I did every Saturday morning. I stopped in the kitchen to grab a snack before heading out and found Rose there, hovering over the coffeemaker. "Hey Rose!" I said, hip-checking her. "Hey. You're awfully peppy this morning," Rose grunted out, re-gaining her balance and giving me the once-over. I chuckled. "How was your night?" "It was good," she grinned, her eyes half-open and her voice raspy. "We went to that new dance club. It was so much fun. We're going again and you are coming no excuses," she said, pointing her finger at me. "How was your dinner?" "It was very nice," I said, as I grabbed a granola bar. "Okay, so tell me, how many guys did you meet? Alice and I made bets." "You sound like my mother," I said, smiling and rolling my eyes. "So what are you saying? No one came up to you? You were completely naked in the back." "No, seriously, are you in cahoots with Renee?" I asked with a wider smile. "Shut it, Bella. I'm just surprised. Not one, huh?" Rose repeated, looking awfully confused. "No, Rose, none. It was just dinner. Maybe if I was dancing" I teased, shimmying my shoulders at her. "How about you? Anyone good?"

Rose shrugged and glanced at the coffee's progress. "I talked to a few guys, but the best part was watching Alice. I swear she danced with the whole bar. She just kept turning around and there'd be a new guy she'd move a little with," Rose laughed, modeling Alice's slinky moves. I burst into laughter as Alice came shuffling in. "What did I do last night? My back is killing me," Alice complained, gripping her lower back, wincing. Rose and I looked at one another and cracked up. "What's so funny?" Alice wanted to know, narrowing her eyes at us. Rose and I quickly surrounded Alice, demonstrating the bump-and-grind routine that likely caused her aches as we howled. "Very funny, girls," Alice said, hung over and unenthused, moving out from in-between us. "So how was your night, Bella?" "It was nice. Not much bumping and grinding for me," I teased, knowing that wasn't completely accurate. "You need to get laid, Bella. You know what they say use it or lose it," Alice blurted out as she grabbed a bowl and spoon. "Classy, Alice," Rose said, smirking. I laughed. "Hmm, I'll give that some thought." You have no idea how much thought I've given it..."Alright, I'm off to the gym, be back later." Later in the afternoon Rose, Alice and I lounged around the TV. "So, Bella, you're coming out with us tonight, right?" Rose turned to ask with an eyebrow that dared me to give it a hard time. "Where are you going?" I asked, smirking, because I already knew my answer, but wanted to torture them a bit. "I think we're going dancing somewhere. Right Alice?" Rose said.

Alice nodded excitedly with her mouth full of Cheetos. "Hmmmaybe," I responded as I heard my cell phone ringing in my bedroom. "Be right back." I jumped up to answer it. "You'd better say yes!" Rose yelled after me. "Hello?" I asked. "Hi Bella. How are you?" My heart, recognizing the English velvet, tried escaping my chest by way of my throat to get closer to the hotness. "I'm good. How are you?" I asked. With liquid legs, I managed to close my bedroom door before fully melting into a pile of grinning goo on my bed. "I'm well. Did you have a nice day?" "I did, thanks. How did your meetings go? Are you still a star?" I chuckled. He snorted. "My meetings went well, thanks. So, what are you doing tonight?" "I'm going out with my friends actually," I said, surprised to find myself looking forward to it. "Really? Venturing out, Miss Daisy?" I chuckled, "Ha-ha, yes." "Where are you going?" "Dancing." "You like to dance?" he asked in a low, heavy breath. "Yeah, I haven't been in a long while though." "I bet you're a good dancer," he said so seductively, I considered having phone sex. Then I internally slapped myself.

My mind, however, still writhed in pleasure from the Mr. Spectacular-induced euphoria and flashed back to his hands reading my body like Braille. I let out a silent breath to calm myself. "Well, let's just hope I don't hurt myself after they force me into ankle-snapping heels." He laughed, "Force you into heels, eh?" Oh my God! Shut up, Bella! "They just like to torture me, that's all," I said, attempting to smooth over the fact that I had Fairy Slutmothers who'd been unwittingly pimping him my body. "So is that why you don't want them to know we've been out?" he asked and I could tell he was grinning. "Yeah," I said, cringing in embarrassment. I suddenly heard garbled voices through the phone. "Sorry," Edward said, "they're boarding us now... I, uh, wanted to know if you're available next Saturday night? I checked my schedule and I have Saturday and Sunday off and thought I could fly back." Holy crap! I had no words and I think my heart stopped. He called just as he said he would! He was flying out just like he suggested! My head whirled in a fury of thoughts and excitement so fast I honestly thought I might faint. Thank God I was sitting down. "UmI mean, I don't have to if you-" he started. "No, no," I interrupted, "I'm just, umyes, I'd love that as long as you don't mind flying back here for only two days." He really must be running out of women on the West Coast. "I don't mind at all. I fly a lot," Edward replied simply. He was quiet a moment. "I'm looking forward to seeing you again," he said softly. "Me too." I found myself calculating how much time it was between now and then. I heard the muffled loud-speaker voices over the phone connection again.

"I'm sorry, I have to go, but can you do me a favor?" he asked. "Sure." "When guys come up to you tonight, tell them to leave you alone, alright?" he asked, chuckling. What? "Maybe," I teased, "only if you tell the packs of women that hurl themselves at you to leave you alone." "Not a problem," he stated quickly. "So I'll see you next weekend. Maybe I can give you a call later in the week to work out the details?" "Yeah, that sounds good. Thanks for calling, Edward. Have a safe flight." "Thank you. Bye, Bella." I literally floated off my bed. At least I think I did. I had no recollection of touching the floor as I stumbled about my room aimlessly, shaking my hands out. Oh my God, he's flying across the country to see me...ME! ...Wait, does he do this often? Is this his modus operandi? I shook my head. And what was with that request? I knew I didn't have much time in my room without drawing suspicion from Rose and Alice, so I spent several minutes wiping a Texas-sized smile from my face. I went back out into the living room as if Mr. Spectacular didn't just phone me. I stood in front of Rose's line of vision to the TV. She tried to look to the right of my legs and I shifted right. She switched to the left and so did I. "What are you doing? Get out of my way!" she said, smacking my thigh and laughing. "I'm trying to tell you I want to go dancing with you guys tonight," I said, smiling.

As Rose gaped at me, I felt the force of Alice jumping on my back and hugging me from behind. I fell forward onto Rose who was laughing, but also trying to signal that we were crushing her. I flipped over next to Rose, with Alice still hooked on my back like a monkey. Sitting on Alice's lap, we all laughed. "You know what this means, right?" Alice asked, squeezing me hard. "What?" I gasped out. "Time for some bibbity-bobbity-boo!" Rose and Alice frightened me with their excited laughter. "Simmer down, Fairy Slutmothers. I will be your Cinderella, but on one condition." "What?" Rose asked. "I want to be comfortable." They busted out again in evil cackles. "Hey, I'm serious," I said when they hadn't agreed or stopped laughing. "Yeah, alright Bella. So how about I get out the Bedazzler and we dress up those sweatpants," Alice said, snickering some more. I gave them my best evil eye. A few hours later I was forced into a tight pair of pants, the ankle-injuring heels and a tube top. A tube top! "I am not wearing a tube top. No way," I said as I took in my look in the mirror. "Why not? It's comfortable," Alice reminded me with a grin. "Yeah, but I am not wearing a tube top that will no doubt find its way to my waist in the middle of the club."

"Good," Alice said, like she had this planned from the get-go. "This is what you're wearing. This or the tube top." She shoved it in my hands. I held up the scrap of material. "Where's the bottom?" "It's a dress Bella," Alice said as if I should have known. "A dress? Holy easy-access!" Rose rolled her eyes. "Just try it on." "Fine." I tried it on and looked in the mirror. The tight jersey halter dress was comfortable and the plunge definitely showcased my girls. The hem came to just above my knee. "Okay, this isn't as bad as I thought. I didn't realize it stretched." Alice huffed from behind me. "Who are you? Miss Daisy?" she asked and I got red, very red. Shit! Do they know? Barely breathing, I waited for them to start in on the questions. "It's not supposed to stretch that far down," Alice said, scooting the dress up to slightly higher than mid-thigh. They're not saying anything? "Oh, okay," I agreed, not wanting to raise suspicions. We headed out to the dance club. It was the first time in a very long time I felt content being at a club. Normally, I'd get yelled at after I checked my watch for the tenth time in an hour. There were so many nights I thought my watch was broken. We got drinks and headed over to a table. I couldn't remember the last time I'd been to a dance club. It looked a bit different, yet oddly the same: groups of women wearing glorified underwear, eyeing the scene, and every guy, flexing his muscles, deciding on his prey. Everyone was good-looking and Rose and Alice fit right in they were both so striking. We sat there for sometime, drinking and chatting amongst ourselves when I noticed Alice's leg begin to bounce.

"You ready to shake it, ladies?" Alice asked, raring to go. She hopped up and Rose and I followed her to the dance floor. Boy, was I rusty. Whereas Rose and Alice found their groove quickly enough, it took me some time to get my hips into the rhythm. Finally, once I let myself relax and feel the beat, the three of us were laughing, swaying, and throwing our arms-in-the-air-like-we-just-don'tcare. Hip-checking one another and pretending to grind up on each other, we howled in laughter. My cheeks hurt from all the fun. Naturally, three girls dancing like we were without abandon was like ringing a dinner bell. Come and get it boys! Alice being Alice basked in the attention of the hungry men, while Rose remained a little more reserved and I had only one secret guy on my mind. A few men approached me throughout the night. I was polite, but declined all offers, something I would have done regardless of Edward's 'request', which still boggled my mind. Why would he say that? The night felt like old times. The next night we sat around watching TV, snacking, and doing paperwork together in our living room. Casually chatting about the work week ahead, I heard the announcer on Tinseltown Tonight mention the story 'What Your Favorite Stars Did This Weekend', along with the name 'Edward Cullen'. Oh no. Without breaking conversation, I looked inconspicuously from my papers to the TV, then to Alice and Rose and back at the papers. On my second lap, I noticed Alice watching the show with interest. Oh crap. That's when the footage rolled. There was Edward leaving a bar in New York alone. No, wait! There was a girl there too, but she was blurry; only the back of her head was seen as she hunched over in the front seat of a car. I barely recognized myself would Alice? With my heart in my throat I glanced at Alice who looked at me. My face flamed.

"You know, that girl is so fucking lucky. That guy is so hot. God! And he's even hotter in person how is that possible?" I shrugged. "No idea," I said as casually as I could manage. I looked down at my papers to hide the incriminating evidence of my freaked-out face. I was certain Alice didn't know. If she did, she would've sat on me until I gave her the whole story. I contemplated telling her and Rose, but the mere thought of all the rapid-fire, prying questions made me more nervous about the whole situation. I figured if it remained secret, then it wasn't real and nothing bad could happen. At least, that's the foolishness I fed myself. Luckily, work rescued me once again, keeping me so busy I barely had time to think about Edward calling or not calling. At night, however, when my mind was allowed a few moments rest, it would dwell on his handsome face, remembering his sensuous mouth traveling along my lips and chin and neck. I wondered what would his mouth feel like on my breasts, or even lower. But then I stopped torturing myself. Would he even call? Would he even remember? Most likely he'd get wrapped up in his movie and forget all about the things he said. I wouldn't blame him; he lived an exciting life. A life most people dream of. By the time Thursday night came and I hadn't spoken to him, I knew I was right. Why would he remember some random female all the way across the country? I laid in bed reading, distracting my mind before clicking off my light, when my cell rang startling the crap out of me. I fumbled for the phone. "Hello?" I asked. "Hi Bella," Edward said brightly. My body immediately reacted: heart twittering, face flushing, stomach churning. "Hi?" I said like a question because I was so startled. "It's Edward," he stated, sounding confused. "Of course it's you, hi. Sorry."

"Not sure which guy it was?" he teased. "Yeah, it's hard to keep them all straight," I joked back. "How's the movie making going?" "Quite well, thanks. They're setting up the next scene now, so I thought it'd be a good time to call. I figured you'd be home at this hour." "You figured right." He chuckled. "Did you have a good time dancing with your friends?" "Yeah, it was fantastic. I forgot how much fun dancing was." "Did you behave yourself?" he joked. "You're funny," I said. Of course I was good, I'm always good. He cleared his throat. "So, uh, are we still on for this weekend?" He sounded unsure. "You bet." "Would you like to have dinner again?" Do I detect nerves? "Sure. Where?" "I'll take care of it. Would eight o'clock be alright to come by?" "Yeah, that would be fine." "May I come to your door this time or shall I be rude again and ring you when I'm out front?" I laughed. "Actually, you can come up. I think my roommates will be out," I said, not giving away the full story that Rose and Alice would be away for the weekend in Boston. "Alright then, I'll see you Saturday at eight," he said, sounding more confident. "See you then and thanks for calling, Edward." "My pleasure, Bella."

Holy crap! In less than 48 hours he'll be here again I fell back onto my pillows, both elated and scared silly. Why was I involving myself? I wasn't just playing with fire here - I was jumping in the middle of the inferno and hoping not to get burned.

Chapter 8
Friday afternoon brought Rose and Alice packed and ready to go to Boston for their weekend trip. "Are you sure you don't want to come with us?" Rose asked with her bag in-hand. "We're going to Quincy Market and maybe on a whale watch, probably to a museum. You should come, it'll be fun," Alice said, nudging me with an elbow. "Thanks, but I have so much work to do," I said. I didn't have that much work. "You and your work." Rose rolled her eyes. "Okay, well, we'll miss you. See you on Sunday. Call us if you need anything." "Okay. Goodbye ladies, have fun!" I shut the door and counted 29 hours before Mr. Spectacular arrived. With so much nervous energy rumbling through my shaky veins there was no way I could possibly relax. I did the next best thing: I cleaned. I started in the kitchen. I scrubbed the shine off the counters, the finish off the cabinets, cleaned out the near empty fridge then mopped the 12 floor tiles again and again and again. I headed to the bathroom. I washed down every tile surface, even using an old toothbrush to get into the nooks and crannies of the grout. I polished the mirror, catching a glimpse of my red-cheeked face. I shook my head and felt the panic rising. Or was it vomit? I couldn't be sure, so I dove back into the bleach and cleanser, pushing the nerves away. After the bathroom I dusted the furniture and vacuumed the carpets in the apartment like my life depended on it, which of course it seemed to. I fluffed and straightened the pillows on sofa.

I headed to my bedroom where I made the mistake of lying on my bed for a few minutes. The moment I did, every fear, worry and nerve came right to the surface of my mind and had me nearly hyperventilating. I sat up and consciously breathed In Out In Out I glanced at the clock... Oh no. I had 25 more hours to kill. I scrounged up some dinner and made a list of all the things I needed to do. I couldn't believe how long my list was. I decided to complete my work from school. That always helped. Finally, too exhausted to stay up, I washed up for bed and slept hard. I woke the next morning feeling good until it dawned on me that there was T-minus 12 hours and counting before Mr. Spectacular arrived on my doorstep. I dressed for a run in the park. I ran, talking to myself. What is your problem, Bella? You've been to dinner with him. You've talked with him on the phone. And you've had a wonderful time, every time. What is the problem? As my feet tapped against the pavement in a steady rhythm, the truth hit me: I was setting myself up for disaster. He was young, and I was, well, not so much. He was famous and I was Bella Who? But the scariest part was that there were no safety nets this time. None. Zero. Zilch. Zip. It was all on me. And if he and I ended up back at my place I was going to have to be strong. Very strong. The thought was terrifying. I ran for the longest time, lost in thought. It wasn't until I felt a bug hit my teeth that I realized I was jogging with a smile. How embarrassing and gross.

I got home, showered and went out to buy groceries. When I got home I realized there was a message on my phone. Setting the groceries on the counter, I listened to the message. "Hi Bella, um, I just wanted to let you know I'm boarding my plane and, um, I'm looking forward to seeing you later." I'd never had a rush of adrenaline shoot through my veins like it did at that moment. I sat on the very clean kitchen floor and breathed. In Out... In Out... I let out a hard whoosh of air and settled my mind. I have things to do. I can't dwell. I shook it off and put the groceries away. Afterwards, I turned on the TV and half-watched some terrible movie while the computer in the corner called my name. "Bella, come over here and Google Edward," it said. "No. I am not Googling him." "But there's so much you could learnso much to know." "True." "And, you could be prepared this time." "Preparedmaybebut if I see something I don't like, then what?" "Then you'll know." "Know? What will I know? I know I'll be more confused and God knows I don't need that. For heaven's sake, look at me. I'm having a stupid conversation in my head with a computer."

I walked away from the temptation and went back to my list. Next up? The outfit. Without the Fairy Slutmothers to guide me, I felt a little lost to be honest. But I could do it. I could doll myself up. I ransacked Rose and Alice's wardrobes, finding myself rather entertained at some of the items I came across. I giggled wondering if they moonlighted as secret strippers. It'd make a lot of sense. I piled the options on my bed. Trying on one thing after another, I finally decided on a sleeveless black top with a funky, asymmetrical neckline and black, wide-leg dress pants. Sure, no body parts were hanging out, but it was stylish and sexy in an understated way. I believed the Fairy Slutmothers would be proud of my choice. The good news was that the afternoon flew by. The bad news was that by the time I had to get ready, I had a gaping hole in my stomach. I hadn't eaten much all day and it wasn't for lack of trying. I had little appetite and nothing tasted good. I guess that's what happens when Mr. Spectacular flies across the country to take you to dinner. It was nearly 8 pm and my heart finally calmed down. That, or it was about to give notice. Sitting on my bed, I strapped on my heels and thought how insane my life had become in the last few weeks. Tonight's the third secret date with the most famous guy on the planet. How the hell did I pull this off? I took a moment to give myself the once-over in the mirror and firmly attach my game face for the evening. It's a good thing I did, since in the very next moment, the door buzzer sounded. My heart flip-flopped in my chest, then planted itself in my throat as I made my way to the door. I even felt my ears grow hot. I let out a breath and pressed the button. "Hello?" I said all drawn out like I didn't know who was waiting to be let in downstairs. "Hello Bella," he chuckled. "Who is this?" He laughed. "Senior services."

I snickered and pressed the button to unlock the door downstairs. As I waited, I thought of how easily Edward brought out my silly side. Of course, when he actually knocked on the door I realized he also brought out my inner scaredy cat. With my heart thumping hard, I opened the door to find the most brilliant smile on the most breathtaking face aimed right at me. I couldn't help but return it. "These are for you," Edward said, revealing from behind his back a vibrant mixture of wildflowers. My eyes widened and I gasped. Aloud. "Do you like them?" he asked nervously as he handed them off to me. "Very much so. Please, come in." I smiled and blushed. Stepping to the side, he came in bringing that soap and shaving cream scent along. Between the flowers, his scent and his charcoal gray trousers, blue button-down shirt and coordinating sports coat, I realized how inherently weak I was. "Let me put these in water," I said, stepping into the kitchen as he followed behind. "I tried phoning you earlier. I wasn't sure what your favorite flower was. I thought maybe roses or tulips, but-" "These are my favorite. Thank you," I interrupted, knowing that roses and tulips used to be my favorites until wildflowers just knocked them out of the park. I filled up the vase with water and arranged the bouquet quickly. I leaned in and sniffed. "These are beautiful. You really didn't have to. I mean, you flew all this way and-" "I wanted to." He threw me a smile that actually caused my legs to jolt. Like telekinesis or Fonzie or something. He caught my arm. "You alright?" he asked. I wanted to die from embarrassment. "Yeah, I'm fine. Happens a lot when you get older. You'll see." He smiled again. Crap.

"Are you hungry?" he asked. "Sure," I answered, feeling more nauseous than I did all day. He helped me with my coat. I grabbed my keys and purse and we walked downstairs to his car where he opened my door and waited until I was in. The interior smelled like him too. I took a huge lungful of the delicious scent while I ogled his every steamy step as he walked around the front of the car. I am a goner. We arrived at a steak house, once again entering through a side door. The host led us to a curved booth, facing away from the majority of the restaurant; a slightly less private area than last time, but nonetheless intimate. A small candle illuminated the immediate table area, creating the perfect atmosphere for a romantic evening. Once again, Edward helped me as I slid off my coat. His gentlemanly gestures would be the death of me. We sat comfortably close in the cozy banquette and ordered drinks. "So tell me about the movie how's it going?" I asked, amazed that he was finally here, right next to me. "It's going alright. The weather wasn't cooperating for a few days, so we had to shoot around it, but other than that it's going well." "Who's in it with you?" "Tyler Crowley, Irina Hererra, Tanya Denali to name a few." A wave of dread washed over me Tanya Denali. Tanya Denali was the pinnacle of beauty and Edward's female counterpart in Hollywood. Every guy wanted her, every girl envied her and it made me more nauseous to think Edward probably made out with her everyday last week. I totally should have Googled him. Concealing my nerves and panic I casually asked, "How is it working with them?"

"Very good. They're easy to work with. Tyler's a great guy a joker, Irina is quite sweet and Tanya's fun." Fun? Tanya Denali is fun? I need to know more. "So what's Tanya Denali like? I bet you have a crush!" I teased. Edward laughed softly, "Tanya's cool and yeah, I'm not going to lie, I do have a bit of a crush." My stomach lurched. Of course he has a crush on Tanya. Every guy does. "On you," he said, leaning in and smiling. "Oh yeah, huh?" I joked, playing off the fact that my stomach dropped to my toes. Edward leaned closer, "Yeah," he whispered very near my ear. Hairs on my arms stood in salute to the hotness. With perfect timing, our drinks arrived and we ordered dinner. I gulped my wine then shifted topics. "So, what's the movie about again? A guy finding himself, right?" "Yeah, I play this guy who seems to have his life in order, but ends up making bad choices along the way too many women, drinking, drugs. It's about how he tries to pull his life back from the edge, so to speak." "Oh, so it's your biography?" He laughed out, almost spitting out his whiskey. "Yes, the 'Edward Cullen biopic'." I smiled. "So how did you get into acting?" "I started at school, in school productions, so I've been at it awhile," he chuckled and took another sip. "Did you like school?" "I did actually. I did rather well too, but I was more interested in acting." "So are there videos of vintage Edward Cullen around? I'd love to see them."

He shook his head, horrified at the thought. "No. There is no way you'll be seeing those. I could only imagine the comments." I laughed. "So what do you like most about acting?" Smirking, he narrowed his eyes at me. "Are you an undercover reporter?" I chuckled. "What? No. Sorry, I don't mean to grill you." "I'm only joking. I'm just surprised you're interested, is all." "Why wouldn't I be interested?" He shrugged and took a sip. "It's just that most girls know my story. You know, Google and all that, so I figured you knew." "You think I Googled you?" I was this close to Googling you. He shrugged and glanced down. "I thought maybe you had." "Do you want me to Google you?" I teased. "No. I'd rather you didn't." "Hiding something?" I smiled. He grinned. "It's hard to hide things when cameras lurk about." I sipped my wine, our eyes remaining on the other. "We haven't been fully discovered yet," I said, shrugging my shoulders. "Do you just love taunting fate?" I laughed. "No, I don't. I'll shut up... So I really am curious, what do you like about acting? "Um, I suppose it's being creative everyday. Working on a character's motivation and the physical attributes. It's a fascinating process. Plus, there aren't many jobs out there that encourage the imagination."

"No, there's not." I took a sip of my wine. "I've always wondered - is it difficult to become close to other cast members only to cut ties once filming is over?" "Yeah," he nodded. "Sometimes it's harder than others. It depends on the environment really, but usually you stay friendly to some degree because you go through so much with them emotionally. Plus, there's the PR thing you do with them down the line." "I think I'd have a hard time doing intense emotional stuff with a group of people everyday, then leaving it all behind only to head to a new place to do the same thing all over again." He grinned. "Yeah, it can be difficult. I suppose you have to like change and travel to be an actor." "Of course you have to like money and fame too," I teased. "True. You have to be a money-whore, and the key to the fame thing is to be seen with very trashy women," Edward said, nodding at me and smirking. I laughed. "Happy to help." Our dinner arrived. "So have you always wanted to be a teacher?" Edward asked as we ate. "Um, I like what I do, but I didn't grow up with that career in mind." "Was there something else you wanted to do?" I paused. I felt like he was worming in through the crevices of the walls he was slowly cracking apart. "Yeah," I admitted hesitantly. "What is it?" I took a deep breath. Go on, say it. "WellI've always loved music so I guess I hoped I'd be a musician or something one day," I blurted out quickly, feeling very silly. He seemed to freeze. "Really? Do you sing or play an instrument?"

"I mainly play the piano and violin." His mouth plopped open."Wow, that's amazing. You play the piano and the violin?" "Yeah," I shrugged, feeling shy. "I can play a bit of guitar too, but I haven't practiced in a long time." Come to think of it, I can't remember the last time I played anything. "Playing instruments just kind of comes to me, I guess." "Why didn't you pursue music as a career then?" "That's a long story," I said, staring at my plate, jostling the vegetables around. "You seem to have lots of those." "You have no idea." I shook my head a bit, taking a drink. "Well, let's hear it," Edward said, putting his fork down. He leaned back, ready to listen, looking at me with gentle eyes. I gulped more wine and nervously began, "I've always gravitated toward music. I started playing piano at maybe four or something just goofing around at home nothing formal. My parents knew I enjoyed it, so they gave me lessons when I got older, and then I took up violin easily enough and loved that too. I minored in music in college, played in concerts there. My parents encouraged the extra-curricular-ness of it, but they weren't too keen on me relying on that for a living, you know? They didn't think it was realistic. They thought I needed to have a real job to count on." I finished the last part mimicking my father's deep voice. Edward furrowed his brow. "So you went into teaching by default?" I shrugged. "Sort of, but I really do enjoy teaching." "So, why didn't you become a music teacher then?" "Well, I thought about it, but for me, playing music was an escape and teaching it made it more like work. It took the joy out of it to teach people the notes and how to move their fingers and whatnot. It was something I wanted to keep for me. Maybe that's selfish, I don't know." I looked down and played with my vegetables more.

"I understand. It can be difficult to share something so personal," he said kindly. I nodded. Always uncomfortable talking about myself, I needed a subject change. I looked up and asked, "So, do you ever wish you were in one place all the time for work?" He blinked a couple of times, probably thrown off by the switch, but went with it. "Uhyeah, sometimes. I do enjoy traveling around even though most of the time I'm stuck inside a hotel room. But there are times I wish I didn't have to pack up and go. Do you like traveling?" "Yes, but I don't do it very often, unfortunately. You need money to travel and living in the city eats up any extra money I might otherwise have." "So, if money were no object, where's one place you'd love to go?" "Hmm, one place?" I thought for a moment. "There are a few places, but if I have to pick one, I guess I'd say Italy." "Yeah, Italy's nice." "You've been there?" "A few times, mostly for press, so I didn't get to see much. I'd love to go there again and spend time really seeing the sights. I've always loved the artwork." "Oh yeah, me too. The artwork is breathtaking in the books anyway. I can't imagine seeing the David or the Sistine Chapel up close. How about you? Is there any place you haven't been that you'd love to see?" "I'd love to go to Africa on safari," Edward admitted. "Oh yeah, that would be amazing. See? There are just too many places to pick just one." He grinned. "So what's your favorite film?" With a wide smile, I answered, "Life in Eden!" "Ha. Ha. Very funny." He rolled his eyes. "Really, it stars my favorite actor," I said straight-faced.

"Oh, yeah, who?" he played dumb, as if he wasn't the star. "Erik Mitchell," I answered. Erik was a supporting actor in the film. "Yeah, Erik. He's hot," he teased, hiking his voice up like a 13-year-old girl. I laughed. "Wow, I'm equally impressed and afraid. You do that frighteningly well!" "Don't poke fun. I'm quite proud of my teen girl voice," he said smugly. "It's on my resume even: 'Edward Cullen's skills include speaking like a schoolgirl'," he finished high-pitched. I laughed even harder now. We ate a bit, enjoying a few moments of relaxed silence. Edward asked, "Really, what's your favorite film?" "Well, I like funnier movies, like romantic comedies. I don't like sitting and crying really, so some of my favorites are 'While You Were Sleeping', 'Ever After', 'Love Actually'-" He interrupted. "Very girly," he said, sneering. "Yes, well, smarty, I am a girl! And how about you? What do you like, tough-guy?" He chuckled. "I like Rambo 1, Rambo 2 and Rambo 3." I snickered. "Come on, seriously." "I like all different kinds drama, action, comedy. The completely foolish ones where they poke fun at other movies - those make me laugh." Figures. I grinned and shook my head. We ate a little more in silence. "So do you rent an apartment in L.A?" I asked. "No, I own a house there, but I travel a lot, so I'm only there occasionally. I liked your apartment. It was rather charming quite, um, cozy." He laughed. "Well, millionaire, I don't have the cash to sit pretty in a lavish penthouse like some people."

Edward snorted. "Yeah, 'millionaire'," he said, scoffing at the idea. "Well, most people I know can't afford to fly across the country to go on a date." He leaned in and in a low voice said, "Believe me, if you were on the other end of the flight, most men would find a way." I playfully narrowed my eyes at him. "You think you're such a charmer. You probably say that to all the girls." "Yes, to each and every one," he retorted, grinning. By the time dinner was over I was tipsy once again. I was also scooted right up against him. The sides of our legs touched while his arm draped along the back of the booth behind me, his fingers grazing my shoulder. I sat back, allowing my eyes to feast on his strong jaw, sculpted cheekbones, and full lips lips that were all over mine last time, the ones I dreamt of traveling over every sacred place on my body... It was then I realized I'd had too much to drink. He smirked and asked, "So Miss Daisy, if it's not too late for your ancient bones, would you like to break our tie tonight?" I squinted my tipsy eyes at him. "Ancient bones, huh? No. No pool, I don't want to risk a hip or anything." He laughed. "Good, because I was wondering if I could hear you play some music?" I sat up completely caught off-guard. "Uh" He chuckled, "What's the matter? Are you allergic to playing or something?" Oh no. "No it's just that playing live for someone is hard for me." He furrowed his brow at me. "I don't understand. You said you were in concerts." "Yeah, I know, but it was easier to play in front of a crowd when the bright lights blinded my view of everyoneI know, it's weird, but playing with someone right next to me has always freaked me out. Plus, I don't have a piano."

He sat silent and frowning, watching his fingers trace the sweat on his glass. Shit. He's flown all this way, I have to do something. "Well, I have some old tapes from college you can listen to," I offered. His face perked up. "Yeah? I'd love to hear them." I nodded and smiled that he seemed happy again. "Okay, let's go." We gathered our things and as we headed over to my apartment I realized I'd just put myself in the exact position I feared. It was as if I'd just offered my vulnerable, exposed neck to a vampire.

Chapter 9
Walking in, we slipped off our coats and draped them over the back of the sofa. "Can I get you something to drink?" I asked. "Some water would be nice, thanks," he answered, following me into the kitchen. I filled two glasses and we stood across from each other against opposite counters in the small kitchen, sipping water. Edward looked about. "How do you cook in here without setting the flat on fire?" I laughed. "Very carefully." He chuckled and meandered into the living room. "So where's your music?" he asked, poking around near our sound system. "I have it in the other room. I'll be right back." I put my glass down and left to dig out the old tapes that resided somewhere in my overstuffed closet. Clicking on my bedside lamp, I pulled open the closet door. I reached way in, along the side, fishing around for the shoebox. Feeling it, I carefully pulled out the dusty box. I realized I hadn't listened to these tapes since college. Like so much else in my life, music had been put on hold. I plopped on my bed and opened the box. I turned over several cassettes, reviewing their spines. I finally found the right one and went back into the living room where Edward stood, enthralled with the cassette deck's eject button. "Watch this," he said, pressing the eject button as the tape deck slowly tilted open. He raised his eyebrows at me, proud of his new discovery. I snickered. "Have you never seen a tape deck?"

"I think in a museum once," he snorted. I grinned and rolled my eyes. "Is that it?" he said, nodding his head at the tape in my hand. "Yeah," I said, reluctant to play it. "Well, come on then, let's hear it." Boy was I anxious. Sharing my music was difficult for so many reasons. I felt the need to preface the tape. "Ok, well this is something from college, so it's really old and I wrote it myself." "You write music as well?" he asked raising an eyebrow. "Yeah, but this is old and-" "Just play the thing, Bella." I nodded and with fumbling fingers, I popped it into the player and hit 'rewind'. He placed his glass on the table and sat on the edge of the sofa, grinning at me while I cringed. Why is he smiling like that? I'm about to completely embarrass myself. When the whirring noise stopped, I pressed 'play' and swallowed hard. There was no way I could sit. Instead, I gripped onto the stereo unit and stared at the shaggy brown carpet. Thank God I'm still a little tipsy. As the first soft notes began, I peeked up. Edward was looking down as he leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees, clasping his hands in-between them. As the tempo gradually increased and the notes ran up and down the scales the oddest thing happenedI could almost feel my fingers on the keys, traveling the keyboard, touching each ivory with careful timing and precision. It was so familiar - as if I'd played this piece earlier in the day, whereas it had been years.

I kept an eye on Edward as casually as I could, what with my throat closing and having to remind myself to breathe. Edward looked up and stared ahead, seemingly focused on the melodies blending, rising and falling between the harmonies. As the music took a melancholy turn, his eyes seemed to grow sad. Oh God, he hates it. I knew it. How's he going tell me? Is he going to be blunt like my mother, pointing out each and every wrong note? Or like Jacob who half-listened and fed me the 'it was nice' comment? As the piece built to an emotional crescendo, Edward's eyes met mine and narrowed, like he was trying to make sense of something. The concluding notes drifted from a faster tempo, back to a slow, steady one. When the song ended, I hit 'stop' and waited as if for bad test results. He stared at me, remaining silent for an uncomfortably long time. Finally he spoke. "Christ, Bella. You're killing me." "What do you mean?" I asked, my stomach churning. "I mean, that was bloody brilliant." "Yeah, thanks." I half-smiled. He's probably buttering me up, hoping to get a piece. He shook his head at me. "No, Bella, that was beautiful. You are" He slid his hand across the back of his neck and continued, "It was seriously moving. And, you wrote that? I can't understand why you didn't pursue music. You'd be doing quite well, you know." I grinned. "It's a little late now I think." "It's never too late Bella," he said, furrowing his brow and shaking his head. I shrugged it off. "Are there more songs on there?" he asked. "Yeah, a few more."

"May I hear them?" I didn't think I my nerves could handle sharing more. "How about I let you borrow it." He lit up. "Yeah, I'd love that, thanks," Edward said, holding out his hand. I really couldn't understand why he wanted to hear more, let alone borrow the tape. I slid the tape out of the player and held it up. "Do you even have a tape player to listen to this?" "I'll find one," he said, snatching it up and quickly planting it in his jacket pocket. I took a seat next to him on the sofa and asked, "So, are you hungry?" "No, we just ate," he chuckled. "Are you?" "Actually, yes," I snickered. "Dinner was about all I ate today, so I think it's catching up with me." What the hell, I might as well be totally honest. Thank God for wine. "Why didn't you eat?" I tilted my head to the side. "Wanna guess?" Puzzled, Edward shook his head until realization hit him. "Me?" "Yeah, smarty pants." I nudged him with my elbow. "Wow Really? I'm surprised." "Why are you surprised? I'm sure plenty of girls are nervous around you." I took a sip of water. He shrugged. "I guess It's just that you always seem so cool and calm; I didn't think tonight was a big deal for you." The water almost shot from my mouth. "Are you kidding? I've had a hole in my stomach all day and night."

He laughed, "Perhaps you should be the actor - I never would have known!" Turning more thoughtful, he asked, "Why are you so nervous exactly?" "Seriously?" "I really don't understand why you're nervous." I shook my head and put my glass on the coffee table. Wasn't I an obvious swoony mess? "Edward, I haven't been out on dates, ones that I actually wanted to go on, in years. Yes, sadly, years, not to mention the fact that the date is you," I said, pointing up and down at him as evidence. I let out my first relaxed breath of the night and boy it felt good. His mouth plopped open. "Wow... I didn't expect that. At all." "C'mon, Edward, really?" He swiped at the back of his neck, shaking his head. "Yeah, look, if we're baring souls here, I've been rather nervous myself." I raised a suspicious eyebrow at him. I don't buy it. Why is he nervous? He rolled his eyes at me. "You're always challenging me in a very good way, of course, and I've certainly never flown anywhere to go on a date. My best mate thinks I'm mad for doing this." Edward laughed nervously. "What? You've never done this before? You said it was no big thing that you're always flying." "Yeah, I am on planes a lot, but I've never gotten on one just for a date." My jaw dropped. "You haven't?" "You think I often get on planes for dates?" Edward cracked up. I shrugged and nodded since I was speechless. He put his glass on the table and shifted to better face me. "Let's get this straight, I do not do this often never have, in fact."

Why would someone go to all this effort to go on a date with me? I shook my head and stared down at my fingers. "WowI'm blown away here." "You blow me away," he said quietly. My head snapped up to meet his piercing eyes. Oh my God. My heart thumped so hard, I could hardly swallow. He reached up and cupped my face in his hand, stroking my cheek with his thumb. He watched my mouth as he said, "You have been on my mind far too much." I couldn't help it. I lunged. My lips collided against his with urgency and desire. My hands wove into his trademark hair, tugging him on to me as I leaned back against the sofa. He wrapped his arms around my waist, holding me tight. "Hang on a second," I breathed out after a few moments, pushing him up. "I'll be right back." I maneuvered out from under him and stood up. "Where are you going?" he asked, looking confused and slightly disheveled. I leaned over him. "Meet me in there?" I nodded to my bedroom. Trying to stifle his smile, he said, "Alright... just in case of your roommateseh?" I shook my head slowly and grinned. "They're away for the weekend." I saw his jaw drop before I bolted to the bathroom and shut the door. I leaned against the sink, while the yin and the yang duked it out. Holy crap. Breathe, Bella. In Out

Okay, if I sleep with him, I'm totally setting myself up for heartbreakCan I handle that? Does it matter anymore?...I just don't think I can say no again. I just can't. I want him. Desperately. I frantically brushed my teeth as my mind scrambled, thinking of all we just admitted. The fact that Edward, for the first time ever, flew across the country just to go on a date - with me! boggled my mind. I could feel my heart Morse-coding a mating call to Edward, who was waitingin my bedroom. I need him. I need his body on me, over me, in me I knew if I stayed in the bathroom much longer, I'd over-think things like I always did. I could not let that beautiful man in my bedroom go to waste. No way. I breathed in and out, calming myself. Finally, I looked in the mirror and gave myself the pregame pep talk. Okay Bella, if you're going to do this, you need to take control. That way you won't get hurtactually, no, you'd still get hurt, but it would hurt lessI think. For God's sake, go for it. Do it. Give him a night he'd be hard-pressed to forget. You can do this. With a deep inhale and a quick fluff of my hair, I adjusted my ample girls to sit proudly in my demi-cup bra under my shirt. I nodded at myself, and with fierce purpose, I made my way to my bedroom. Edward sat on the edge of my bed, gripping its edge with white knuckles as he stared down at his bouncing knee. Oh my God, he's nervous. When the click of the door sounded, his eyes whipped up to meet mine. I stood against the door a moment, drinking in his impeccable features illuminated by the soft glow from my lamp. My God. He's beautiful. Be bold, Bella. Take control.

I grasped the hem of my shirt, inching it up, bit-by-bit, till it hit the bottom of my bra. I paused and smirked. He smirked right back. I brought the shirt up over my head and tossed it to the floor as my hair cascaded down and around my black lace bra. His eyes widened slightly. I stepped closer, but still out of his reach, and unbuttoned my pants. His eyebrow cocked up as his mouth parted. I unzipped my pants and let them drop around my ankles as a soft gasp escaped his lips. I stepped out of them and stood still for a moment in my matching panties, bra and high heels. I could almost hear him panting. I stepped forward between his parted knees. His hands immediately gripped my hips, his thumbs rubbing my belly. "Your body is unbelievable," he said, swallowing hard. "And watching you do that is worth 100 plane rides," Edward whispered in his silky English accent, his green eyes darting from my bra to my panties. I grabbed his shoulders and bent over to look him right in the eye. "So, are you all done then?" I taunted in a hushed voice, playfully hitching up an eyebrow. He laughed darkly. "Nonot by a long shot." "Good," I breathed out and pushed him back onto the bed. I straddled his hips, sitting on his thighs. As he reached up to pull me close, I grabbed his wrists and placed them at his sides. I shook my head. "Not so fast. Keep your hands here. Do you understand?" He blinked at me, surprised, his breathing rapid. "Yes." He nodded. I grinned in response. "Good boy." I unbuttoned his shirt, kissing every newly exposed bit of warm skin as I went. When the last button was undone, I sat up and pushed the fabric to the sides, giving me a full view of his taut chest. Oh wow...

I smirked at him while I lightly skimmed my nails across every ripple. He took in a shuddering breath. Well done, Bella. Keep going. I bent down again, kissing up the center of his chest, then to the left for a little nipple lickingmmm. I took my time kissing up towards his neck, making sure I lightly dragged my lacy breasts over his sensitive skin. I loved how he squirmed. I continued to suck and nibble along his collarbone, his neck and his ear. Oh God, that soap and shaving cream scent Twice when he tried to touch me, I pulled back and shook my head at him. "Not yet," I whispered. And twice he groaned softly. I headed south again, kissing through his soft chest hair where his heart pounded hard. I continued on until I hit the trail to Treasure Island where I'm sure he was already sailing at full mast. I sat up on his legs with his belt right between my thighs. His hands lifted up to grab my waist, but I placed them down again, shaking my head. He groaned in frustration. I smirked, grinding my hips in one firm rotation against his anxious package. I pulled his belt tight to unlatch it. His eyes closed briefly and he shook his head a little, impatiently tapping his fists on the bed. Nicely done, Bella. Go on I unhooked the belt and separated the two ends. Our eyes remained locked as I scooted down a smidge. Unbuttoning his pants, I let the zipper down, purposely grazing his hardness. He groaned out. I almost groaned too. I skimmed my thumbs along the waistband of his boxer briefs. Then I stopped. "You're probably too jet-lagged. I should let you sleep," I teased, lifting one knee in a mock dismount. His eyes widened and in one swift movement, he flipped me on to my back, pinning my hands above my head as he hovered over me. He shook his head, narrowing his humored eyes. "Jet-lagged? Let me show you just how jetlagged I am," he growled.

I giggled. "If you insist." He smirked and leaned over me, crashing his lips to mine, our tongues twisting together. Once he let go of my wrists, I yanked his open shirt down off his arms and tossed it to the floor. I kicked off my shoes and even though I could barely reach, I did my best to shimmy his pants down. He wiggled them off and soon he was sporting only his boxer-briefs and one hell of a hard-on. Gah! He laid against my side with one leg over mine, supporting himself on an elbow. We continued our kiss as his hand drifted down my neck and collarbone then over to a breast where he taunted my nipple through the delicate fabric. Oh Lord My hands tangled in his hair as I pressed my mouth harder to his. I curled one leg around his waist and circled my hips against him. He broke away from my mouth, kissing my chin, my neck, and down to the edge of my bra, along my cleavage. He eased the material down with his mouth, flicking his tongue closer and closer to my hardened nipple. It was such a sensuous tease I felt compelled to push my breast into his face. He slipped the strap off my shoulder, pulling down the soft bra cup, but huffed when the fabric flipped back up, cutting off access. He snaked his hand around my back and unhooked it. Slipping off my bra, he tossed it to the floor and sat up, straddling me to take a gander of what he'd just exposed. "Bloody hell," he muttered, breathing heavy and hard, cupping my breasts and thumbing my nipples. I writhed under him, closing my eyes as jolts of sensation shot through me. When I opened my eyes, I saw him bent over my breast, ready to flick his tongue against my alert nipples. He sucked and kissed them, giving each of them equal time and taste. Holy Mother of God I was within an inch of climaxing. I have to work on my stamina. I snaked a toe into the waistband of his boxer briefs and slid them down, rather deftly I might add. He shook them off. I wanted to ogle his bare body and lick every inch, but he blocked

my view as he tended to my excited breasts. I settled for running my hands over whatever soft skin I could reach. As he continued sucking my breasts into his mouth, he skimmed a hand down my stomach, over my hip, and down my thigh. On his way back up, he slid his fingers along the delicate skin of my inner thigh, barely grazing the center of my panties. Oh God, please I squirmed with need. I tried adjusting my hips so he would finally stroke the spot I yearned for him to touch. When he quietly chuckled at my movements, I knew he was trying to drive me crazy. Dick! I pushed him off of me and onto his back. I rolled on top of him, straddling his hips. "Be nice," I warned as I slinked my body down his, kissing his torso as I went. I figured that someone as stunning as him would have to be lacking below the belt just to balance all the beauty out, but Dear Lord, if his erection wasn't as perfect as his face. I wanted nothing more than to get him in my mouth, so that's just what I did. I opened wide and took that big boy in Go Bella. "Oh fuck," he groaned out, looking down quickly, our eyes catching. His head flopped back onto the bed with an even louder groan. "Mmm," I murmured, sliding my tongue along his hardness and swirling it over his tip as I came to the top. I took him in, further this time. "Oh, Christ," he whispered out. I continued for some time, up and down, sliding him in and sucking him up. His hands were lost in my hair as it splayed out across his chest while low groans escaped him over and over. I couldn't help but mutter, "Mmm," now and again in response. Having control over him was intoxicating.

"Stop," he whispered suddenly, grasping my shoulders and pulling me up on top of him to kiss me hard. He wrapped his arms around me as our bodies ground together. He pulled back to look at me. I noticed tiny beads of sweat on his forehead. "Are you on anything?" he asked. "Yeah," I answered, rubbing my hips against his again, anxious to get back to things before the annoying voices started talking me out of this. I leaned over and once again our passionate kisses continued. He looped his fingers into the last remnant of clothing that remained: my panties. He rocked one side down then the other. I shifted around to assist and he tossed them to the floor with everything else. At last, naked him against naked me, he slid his hands across my ass and rolled on top of me, positioning himself against my side. As his hand wandered between my thighs, I opened up, desperate for his direct touch. He slid his fingers against my wetness. He exhaled sharply. "Oh fuck," he muttered against my lips as his fingers circled me with the perfect amount of pressure. Oh Godoh yeahright there I moaned and moved my hips against his hand as he picked up speed. Around and around his fingers slid, my breathing erratic. He was slowly launching me out of this world and into the one where nothing but sensation mattered. Oh God No, no. I'm losing control. I can't let that happen. I pushed him off me and onto his back, setting myself astride him once again. I angled my hips to position our bodies just right. He grabbed my wrists to get my attention. With a husky whisper and eyes on fire, he asked, "Are you sure, Bella?" I looked down at his breathtaking face and form. I breathed out, "Yes." Please don't break my heart. "Are you?" "Oh yeah," he panted, nodding and firmly grasping my hips.

With our eyes locked, I slid his body into mine. His mouth fell open and his eyes widened. I gasped a little, closing my eyes and arching as the sensation of complete fullness overtook my body and mind. I moaned as I rose up and came back down on him in one slow, deliberate movement. He moaned. "Bella," he whispered, his eyes closed. I leaned my hands on his chest as he clutched my hips harder. We moved out in opposite directions then collided together. His hardness fit so perfect inside as my body swallowed him entirely. Our rhythmic pace in, out, in, out - kept up, both of us growing sweaty and slippery with our exertions. He cupped my breasts, tugging at my nipples with just the right amount of pinch. When I leaned down to kiss him, he sat up, wrapped his arms around my body and gently placed me on my back. He continued his deep, fulfilling thrusts. Completely lost in him, I had no idea how much time had passed. Nor did I care. My heart boomed about my chest so hard as I felt tears rising inside. I cannot cry. His strength and soft touch, his tight body wanting mine, moving to a rhythm we created all of it commanded every cell in my body to attention. Low in my body, deep in the place I had shut down, the cylinders began firing, rattling and shaking my body alive. I could feel the tingling, that incredible sensation, building and growing stronger. In and out, hard and fast, our hips pulled away then pushed against the other's. As he hovered over me, leaning on his elbows, his eyes searched mine as if looking for the answer to some mysterious question. I was unable to give it more than a moment's thought as I felt the tightening begin. I wasn't sure how much longer I could hang on. I needed to release, but I wanted him to come with me, something I'd not experienced with anyone. "I want youto come, baby," I urged him in a whisper at his ear. "Oh fuck," he muttered as his eyes opened wide, and as if on cue, his lips parted with a sharp intake of air and out came a guttural moan, so deep and satisfying. I came at almost the same moment, his reaction pushing me over the edge, my release forceful and pounding.

He collapsed on top of me, our chests heaving as one. Edward rested his head on my chest as I wrapped my arms and legs around him, hugging him tight against me. We laid there for a long while as I ran my fingers through his soft hair, feeling overwhelmed by it all. He picked up his head and shot me the laziest, most satisfied grin. He pressed a gentle kiss to my lips. My heart jolted once again. I felt more nervous now than I'd ever been. I realized just how vulnerable I'd become. I swallowed hard as worry flooded me. But then, as if he could read my mind, Edward scooped me up, cradling me into his side and drew the sheet over our bodies. I laid there with my head against his chest, nestled in his strong arms, breathing in that soap and shaving cream scent that somehow soothed me. He pressed several kisses against my head as he combed my hair through his fingers, lulling me to sleep. As I drifted off, I thought I heard, "You are so beautiful, Bella," whispered in the dark, but I couldn't be sure. As I began to awaken the next morning, the memory of hard bodies and wet lips danced in my head - along with loud clanging. What the hell? A little disoriented, I pried open my heavy eyelids and turned over to wrap myself around Edward, buthe's gone! What the fuck? He just left? I called out, "Edward?" as calmly as I could with my groggy voice. "Yeah?" I heard from the next room. "Ahh!" he laughed out, along with that same clanging sound. "What are you doing?" I chuckled in relief, sitting up and tucking the sheet up underneath my arms.

A moment later, Edward appeared in my doorway holding a bowl of cereal and wearing only his boxer-briefs. I watched him walk towards me, rocking his perma-sex hair. There is no question my jaw dropped. Oh dear Lord. I really did sleep with Mr. Spectacular last night. I blushed and smiled as my insides flipped with excitement all over again. "I got us something to eat. I was starving." He smiled at me as he sat on the edge of the bed. "I thought you might be hungry too. You didn't eat much yesterday, remember?" He winked at me. I smiled and peered into the bowl. "You found the Lucky Charms I see." He nodded. "Sorry if I woke you up, I was trying to be quiet." He planted a quick kiss on my lips. "That's okay. Is my kitchen still standing?" "For the most part," he teased. "How long have you been awake?" I asked, running my hand through my hair and rubbing my eyes attempting to wake up more fully. "Ten, fifteen minutes? Here have some," he said as he held out a spoonful of the cereal. I opened up and he slipped it in. "So have you had breakfast in bed before?" He asked all proud of himself as he took another bite. I chewed a moment, swallowed, and said, "This is breakfast in bed?" I sniggered at the idea that cereal with milk could count. "Ha-Ha. Alright, so I'm not a good cook." "Is this considered cooking?" I teased again, my smile widening.

He narrowed his eyes at me. "Yes it is, thank you very much. It's quite difficult to get just the right amount of milk so as not to make the marshmallows soggy. I do have to ask though, what's with Lucky Charms? I didn't think girls ate this rubbish." "Clearly, you've been hanging out with the wrong girls." I laughed and opened my mouth for more. "Clearly." He grinned. "So what are you doing today?" I asked as he fed me another bite. "I don't have any plans. I just have to be at the airport by five." He scooped up more cereal and ate some himself. "Oh. You have to leave. That's right," I said, my heart sinking as the realization of the distance hit me. "Yeah, I do," he said, sounding disappointed too. We finished the remaining cereal and he placed the empty bowl on the nightstand. "So what would you like to do today?" Edward asked, eyeing the sheet that barely covered my assets. I listened and heard rain tapping against the windows. "Well, it looks like a walk in the park is out." "I'm happy to stay in. We could just watch a movie or something," he shrugged. "I suppose, but I don't have any of the Rambo movies," I said, hanging my head in pretend disappointment. He snorted. "I'm sure you have plenty of girly movies thoughwe could play cards?" Edward suggested, nodding to the deck of cards on my nightstand. "Okay. How about 'Go Fish'?" I asked. "Yeah, alright and I'll probably win that too," he said, giving me his sexy crooked smile.

Why? Why does he have to be so good looking? "You are so asking for it. You're on." We situated ourselves on the bed. I re-tucked the sheet snuggly under my arms, while he sat with one leg folded under the other in front of me. I shuffled and dealt. "By the way," he asked, "What's 'Go Fish'?" I giggled and explained the simple rules of the card game: Each person gets seven cards; the rest gets put in the middle. Each player asks the other for a card they need to make a match. If the other person has it, they have to hand it over, if not then they have to 'go fish' from the pile. The player with the most pairs wins. "You go first," I said. "Do you have a five?" "Yes. Here." I handed it over. Making a pair, he went again, "Do you have a seven?" I raised an eyebrow. "Yes." His turn still. "Do you have a Queen?" I smiled. "Yes. Last night, actually." He looked up from his cards and narrowed his eyes at me. "Oh, really nice." He threw the cards to the side, and leaned over me forcing me to fall back onto the pillows. He tickled and wrestled me a little, making me laugh. He stopped suddenly. "Was it that bad?" he asked smiling, but I knew he was secretly worried. Lord knows he had nothing to worry about. I smiled. "Well, let's just say it's a good thing I'm a teacher," I teased. He looked at me sideways a moment. Finally, he shrugged his shoulders and leaned in a fraction from my lips, said, "I guess practice makes perfect."

"That's what I tell all my students," I said, staring at his mouth. I yanked him on to me, and the passion kicked in just as intensely as the previous night. He spooned me in bed afterwards, his arms hugging me tight. The rain outside continued to pelt the windows but it somehow made relaxing in bed with a naked Edward like a cozy, warm cocoon. "So, when can I see you again?" Edward asked into my ear, pressing a soft kiss on my lobe. "When are you free?" I asked, scooting back against him a bit more. I didn't want him to move from this very spot, let alone fly across the country. "I'm not sure of my shooting schedule really. I'll have to stay in L.A. for a while though. I don't think I have more than a day off here and there for the next several weeks." "Oh," I said, wondering if this was his way of saying goodbye. It would be hard to believe he really wanted to plan something that far out. "Of course, you can always come out to see me," he suggested. I froze. "You want me to come out to L.A.?" "Only if you want to Do you want to?" he asked with a nervous chuckle. "Yeah, definitely," I uttered, my mind busy taking in the offer. "Well, don't teachers get time off?" he joked. "Yes, we do. I actually have spring break in a couple of weeks," I said thinking out loud. "Perfect. Why don't you come out then?" "Really?" I said, not wanting to be a nuisance. "Yes, really," he mimicked me and squeezed me tight, nuzzling a tickly kiss on my neck. We lounged about the rest of the day. We played rounds of cards as we talked, snacked and laughed. We did eventually get dressed, only to get undressed again.

I'd never felt so alive. It was unlike any time I'd ever spent with Jacob. With Jacob I always felt reserved, shy even, holding back from really enjoying myself. I hadn't realized that was the case until I was here with Edward. Now, I felt sexy and free. Discovering I could be like this with someone wasexhilarating. As five o'clock ticked ever closer, we were sitting on my bed chatting, playing a tie-breaker game of War when I heard the locks turning at the apartment door. Click, click, click. "Shit!" I whispered. "What's the matter?" Edward asked, looking around. He stopped to listen. I'd all but forgotten about Alice and Rose. I was visiting The Land of Lust with Mr. Spectacular - why would my mind be anywhere else? I heard them talking and moving about in the next room. I thanked God my bedroom door was shut. Edward quietly snickered, "It's alright, Bella, the cat has to come out of the bag at some point." I rubbed my face with my hands. "Yeah, I guess, but I'm just not ready to let it out." I tried to laugh it off, but I was slightly nauseated. "What are they going to do tar and feather you?" he chuckled. "I wish," I said rolling my eyes. "It'll be that bad? C'mon Bella, it's not like you set fire to the flat. Although, it wouldn't be all that surprising considering your kitchen." He nudged me with his elbow, smirking. I looked at him and gulped, my belly doing flip-flops. Edward glanced at the clock. "Sorry, but I really should be going anyway. I do have a plane to catch."

"Yeah, I know," I said, nervous at the impending questioning and bummed at saying goodbye. I just didn't want my time with Edward to end. Edward stood and offered his hand to me once again. He pulled me into a tight embrace. "I'll ring you to set something up?" I nodded, trying to smile back. "You can ring me too, by the way. My phone does work." His smile faded as he became serious. He lightly stroked the side of my cheek with the back of his fingers. "I had an amazing time, Bella. I won't forget this trip in a hurry." Looking up into his sincere green eyes, I found myself lost in him again. My heart swelled at the memory of last night. "It was a pretty nice weekend, wasn't it?" He nodded, smiling widely. "Oh yeah. Definitely. I'll phone you tomorrow, alright?" "Okay." I smiled at him. Just before he turned the knob on the bedroom door, he gave me a gentle kiss and snorted, "Good luck." I rolled my eyes and braced myself.

Chapter 10
"Hello ladies," Edward announced like the ringmaster to the circus this was about to become. Holding my hand, he walked to the apartment door while I scurried along behind him, cringing. Simultaneously, Rose shot her head out from the tiny kitchen and Alice ran out from her bedroom. Pure shock possessed their open-mouthed faces. "Hi?" Alice squeaked out in a high-pitched voice, as she stood frozen in her bedroom doorway, holding a shirt. "Hi," Rose mumbled with a mouthful of food, trying to swallow and pull it together. The room shook with curiosity as they watched us with bulging, intense eyes. "Goodbye Bella. It was a fantastic weekend," Edward continued loudly, with a giant smile and emphasizing 'fantastic'. Obviously Mr. Spectacular thought he was Mr. Funny. I would have smacked him if I didn't feel like puking. He snatched me up in rough embrace, dipped me slightly, and smushed a too-long kiss to my lips. He pulled back, letting me go so quickly I had to catch my balance. "Thanks for a great time. I'll phone to you tomorrow." He snorted a little, leaving me with a last, brief kiss and a mischievous wink. With a deep breath, I slowly closed the apartment door. I held on to the doorknob gathering my strength for a moment, feeling their laser-beam glares boring into the back of my head. I turned around to face the onslaught. "So, how was Boston?" I tried. "Oh no you don't. You give up every last detail. Right. Now," Rose sternly ordered, grabbing me by the elbow. She marched me over to the recliner chair and set me in it. She and Alice planted themselves firmly across from me on the sofa, arms crossed and waiting.

Beads of sweat gathered nervously on my forehead. I swallowed. "What do you want to know?" I mumbled. Alice's face screwed up. "Oh my God, Bella! Jesus, I know you've been living under a rock, but please tell me you know who just left here. Please!" I took a breath. "Yes Alice, it was Edward Cullen." "That's right - Edward freakin' Cullen!" Alice stood and started pacing back and forth in front of the sofa as her arms waved about, "And why was he here? What did he mean 'it was a fantastic weekend'? And he's calling you tomorrow? He came out of your bedroom for God's sakes!" She shot her face right into mine. "II went on a date with him this weekend," I said quietly, leaning back and hoping the volume of my voice would make this go away. "What?" Alice blurted out, straightening up. "Wait, just back up a minute. How did that happen? How did you meet him? Start from the very beginning - and tell us the whole thing! Understand?" Alice demanded, plopping back down and resuming the crossed-armed 'tude. Oh God. I'll just give them the abridged version. "And no beating around the bush either!" Rose warned, wagging her finger at me. Damn it. "Alright, alright!" I held up my hands in surrender. "Keep your panties on, ladies." I took a deep breath and began, "Okay, so a couple of weeks ago I was stuck in an elevator with him and-" Alice interrupted, "What? An elevator? A couple of weeks ago?" "Yes, I thought you wanted the whole story." "Yes, yes, go on, sorry," Alice said, shaking her head a little.

They both leaned further forward, their eyes wide. I could almost hear their mouths watering for the upcoming juicy details. "Okay," I nodded. "So, yes, we were stuck in an elevator. Then we had drinks that night. About a week later he was in town again and we went out to dinner. Then he flew back this weekend and we went to dinner again." I could almost hear the wheels turning and clicking in their heads. "Bella, where what" Rose spluttered, "You mean all those times we dressed youthose were dates with him?" "Yes," I mumbled, hunching and feeling like the worst friend in the world. We were silent a moment. "Alright, get on with it, soyou're dating Edward Cullen?" Alice asked to clarify. I looked at my fingers twisting in my lap. "I don't know if you'd call it 'dating', but yeah, we've been on a few dates." "Come on!" Alice exclaimed, annoyed. "God, you suck at telling us the good stuff. Spit it out. I want to know everythingso, he flew out to see you? And why was he coming out of there?" she asked pointing at the bedroom. I raised an eyebrow in answer to that silly question. "You slept with him?" Alice asked, her eyes as wide as saucers, leaning forward more. "You are going to fall off that seat and yes." I let out a huge whoosh of air. "Holy crap!" Alice yelled out, as she smacked her open mouth with her hand. I flushed and shrank in my seat. Rose shook her head at me, her face serious. Oh God, she hates me. "II can't believe you slept with the guy." "Why?" I said, my stomach falling. Did I make a terrible mistake?

Rose rolled her eyes at me. "Bella, relax, it's just you've barely been on a real date in, God knows how long, and when you do, you go out with Edward Cullen? And you sleep with him? It's insane andfantastic!" Rose let out a burst of giggles. So did I. "What's he like?" Alice asked leaning in even further, grinning from ear-to-ear. "He's funny and charming and sexy and" I felt the heat rise up into my face as my mind drifted off, thinking about the slip and slide from last night and this morning and this afternoon. Alice's fingers snapped in my face, bringing me back to present time. I shook my head. "Over here, hello, wake up So, he's going to call you?" Alice said, impatiently wanting every bit. "He said he would and you are so going to fall." Her ass teetered on the very edge of the sofa. "Are you going to see him again?" Alice asked with a giddy laugh. "I think so." Rose turned to Alice and said, "She really does suck at telling us this stuff." Alice nodded. "Well, how'd you leave things?" Rose asked, raising her hands. "Um, he mentioned me visiting him when I have spring break in a couple of weeks." Rose and Alice's mouths fell open again. "Edward Cullen wants you to fly out to visit him?" Rose shouted. Loudly. It hurt my ears. "Yes, shh." "Are you going to go?" Rose asked, lowering her voice. I shrugged. "If it works out then I suppose I will."

"So, wait, wait, waitLet me get this straight," Alice said, slipping off the edge and onto the floor. Without missing a beat, she stood up, sat back down and finished. "You meet Edward Cullen on an elevator, then go on a few dates, then sleep with the guy and now he wants you to fly across the country to visit him?" "Yeah, I guess that's it." God, she made it sound simple. "Holy crap!" Alice squealed again, launching herself at me, throwing her arms around my neck, nearly choking me. "I'm so excited for you!" she yelled into my ringing ears. "Me too!" Rose squeaked, jumping up and adding her arms to the hug, causing the three of us to fall into a heap of arms and legs on the chair I occupied. After much laughter, we broke away and untangled ourselves, still sitting smushed together on the chair. "So all these weeks, you were dating him?" Rose asked, narrowing her eyes at me, yet grinning. "Um, yes," I admitted feeling terribly. "Why didn't you tell us?" Alice asked, flicking my arm. "Ouch! I don't know. I guess I thought you'd grill mewhich you did." Rose said, "So? Do you know how awful it was to watch you drag yourself from day to day, knowing you were missing out on life? It wasn't fun, Bella. We want to be in on the good stuff too you know, and my God this is good." She smiled wide. "And we all know you had fun didn't you?" Alice asked, elbowing my side and smiling. "Yes, I definitely had fun and I'm really sorry guys. I should have told you. You know how crazy I get worrying." Rose smacked my arm. "Ow!" I said, rubbing it. "Why'd you hit me?" "That's for keeping this from us!" Rose laughed out. She continued to dole out smacky-taps all over me as she continued, "You'd better,"

Smack. "Never," Smack. "Keep shit like this from us again." Smack. I was trying to block the smacks but Rose was a tough chick to hold off. "Okay!" I surrendered. "I won't." Smack. "You promise?" "Yes," I said, finally catching her wrist. Finally, we all flopped back against the chair, our hips squished together and our heads all touching. "So when will you know about going out there or not?" Rose asked. "I guess I'll talk to him about it this week. I'll have to buy a plane ticket." "And clothes, Bella. You need some seriously slamming clothes to bring. And we are accompanying you shopping, just so you are aware. God knows you'll try to pack the damn sweatpants," Alice added laughing. "I will not." "Liar," Alice said. "So is this a serious thing?" Rose asked.

I shrugged. "I don't know. I'm trying not to think about it." If there was one thing I avoided, it was thinking about where, if anywhere, this might be headed. Why get my hopes up? "I mean, it's all very new and you know how it is when things are new." "Yeah, all hot-and-bothered!" Alice exclaimed. We roared. "Seriously Bella, I'm really happy for you," Rose said. "Me too," Alice said, as we grouped hugged together. With the workweek beginning, I had to refocus. I couldn't get lost in the 'I Slept with Mr. Spectacular and I Might Be Visiting Him in LA' world. I had work to do. So, on Monday night, the girls and I sat around the living room, watching TV and doing work as usual when my cell phone rang. Of course I bolted to my room to get it. "I wonder who could be calling Bella?" Alice remarked, feigning wonder as I sped out of the room. "Hello?" "Hi honey." "Oh, hi mom. How are you?" I asked, plopping down on my bed, massively disappointed. Will he blow me off? "I'm fine honey. Were you expecting someone else?" Oops. "No, I was just doing work and was startled by the phone," I lied, trying to avoid the rundown of questions. "So how's work going sweetheart?" "Good. You know, the usual." "Don't you have spring break coming up?"

"Yeah, actually, in a couple of weeks." Spring break in LA? Wow. "Think we might see you?" "I'm not sure. I have to see what the girls are doingso how's everything with you and dad?" Changing the subject usually worked. "Oh, just fine. We had lunch with the Palumbos today." "That's nice. How are they doing?" "Very well. Actually, do you remember their son Alec?" "Yeah, he got married a few years back, right?" "Yes, but he just got divorced." "Oh, that's too bad." "Yes, it is, but then we were talking about you and we were saying how nice it would be if you two went out, you know, just to get requainted." I wanted to vomit. Here my mind was bathing itself in dirty thoughts of Edward, and my mother was trying to set me up. Again. "I don't think now is a good time for that." "Why not? When is a good time, Bella?" Renee snipped. I knew she already had me married off to the guy by the time her sandwich came at lunch. "It's just that I'm really busy right now and I don't have time to date." "You know, I hate to break it to you Bella, but you are getting older and it's only going to be that much harder to have children." I rolled my eyes. "Yes, well, I'll keep that in mind," I muttered. "It's getting late. I'm sure you have to get some sleep since you're so busy." Her words were loaded with their usual dose of guilt and sarcasm.

"Yes, I am tired," of this conversation, I wanted to throw in there but didn't. "Well, good night then honey," my mother huffed, trying to push her annoyance to the side. "Good night mom." Frustrated, I snapped the phone shut and started to leave my bedroom when my phone rang again. Shit, she's not done grilling me. I stopped and answered it. "Hello?" I said cautiously. "Hello, Bella." Ahhimmediate melting and smiling. "Hi Edward, how are you?" I sat back down, letting the smooth velvet voice envelop me. "I'm very well. How are you?" He sounded so sweet and cheery. "I'm good, thanks. How was your flight?" "It was fine... how did the inquisition go?" He snickered on the other end. "Thanks for that display by the way." "It was my pleasure," he snorted. "So really, how did it go? I've been wondering. They looked a littlesurprised?" "Yeah, to say the least, but it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be." He chuckled. "Well, that's good. What did you tell them?" "That you were very lame and I didn't know what all the fuss was about." "Of course you did. Thank you. You are so very sweet," he laughed. I giggled. "No, I told them I had a very nice time what did you tell your friend?" I asked titfor-tat. "That I drove Miss Daisy all the way home!" Edward burst out laughing.

I gasped and sniggered, "Oh my God! That's horrible!" "I'm just joking. I told him I had a lovely time." "You did?" I could feel my heartbeat quicken. "Yes, I did," he said, his voice lowering a little. "Is that all you said?" I teased. Of course I wanted to know more. He chuckled. "No." "Well, what else did you tell him?" "Hmmwhat's it worth to you?" he asked with a little laugh. "Tell me what you want and I'll tell you if I can give it," I teased back. He chuckled. "I want whatever you're willing to give." "Did you like what I gave you last time?" I heard him let out a deep breath. "More than you know." "Is that what you told your friend?" "I don't kiss and tell." "I don't believe you." "I told you I'm an honest person." "True If that's the case then what else did you tell your friend? Tell me - please?" I asked, lowering my voice to a seductive whisper. "Well, when you ask like thatum, he asked if I wanted to see you again." "And what did you say?" I asked, lying back on the bed with a pounding heart and a smiling mouth.

"I saidyes." "Just 'yes'?" That's it? He let out another deep breath. "Yes, I said 'yes' but between you and me, I left something out." "And what was that?" "It's that I want to know how many days it is until your spring holiday." "And why do you want to know that?" "So I can count them." Oh my God. He wants to count the days! Mr. Spectacular rendered me speechless again. "Are you still there?" he asked after a few moments of silence. "Yes," I said, breathlessly because my lungs had decided to freeze up. "You... want to count the days?" "Yeah," he said, sounding shy. I let out a silent whoosh of air. "Um, well, let me look, hang on." I sat up and grabbed my school bag. With trembling hands, I pulled out the school calendar. "Looks like the week of March 19th." "I'll still have to work while you're here, so would you like to bring your flatmates along?" Holy crap. "Seriously?" "Yes, seriously Bella," he mocked, chuckling. "That way you can have fun while I'm stuck at work." "If you have to work that much, maybe I'd just be in the way," I said, offering him a way out. "Absolutely not. I'll see if I can switch a couple of things around too. Do you want to come in on the 19th then?"

"Um," I said, shaking my head to clear it from the velvet that held me tight in its grasp. I thought about that week for a moment. "Actually, I have this fundraiser thing for work I have to do on Tuesday, so I wouldn't be able to come out till Wednesday. Is that a problem?" "Not a problem at all. So you can come out Wednesday and stay till Sunday then?" He sounded excited. "Would that be too much for you?" "Not at all, but there's no pressure. You can stay as little or as long as you'd like you can even bunk off work the following week," he sniggered. I laughed. I was far too committed an employee to blow off work. "Wednesday to Sunday sounds great. I'll need to check on my roommates though." "Of course I'm marking my calendar nowsixteen days" he murmured into the phone. Holy crap. Holy crap. Holy crap. My heart sped up. He continued, "I'm sure it's late there, so I'll let you get some restI'll be thinking of you in that bed of yours." His voice dipped low and quiet. My heart lurched and I felt tingly all over. "Yeah, well, you aren't alone in those thoughts." He chuckled. "Alright then Bella, good night." "Goodnight Edward." No sooner did I snap my phone shut than a nosy hand tapped on my door. I opened it. "Well?" Alice asked, desperate to hear the latest. "You're funny Alice," I said, coming back out into the living room with Alice trailing on my heels. "Well, come on! Don't leave me hanging. What'd he say?" Alice asked. I sat next to Rose on the sofa and Alice joined me on my other side.

"I'm going out there on the 22nd and he wants you guys to come with me," I said quickly, clasping my hands over my ears ready for it. "AHH!" Alice screamed. "Really?" She bounced up and down in her seat. Rose and I laughed. How could we not? She was adorable shrieking like that. "Yes, he said he still has to work, but that if you guys came we could go out while he was working." "Oh my God! This is fantastic!" Alice said, grabbing my shirt and shaking me. She let go as she began turning it over in her head. "I have vacation days too..." "I'll check my calendar tomorrow at work. I've always wanted to go to L.A.," Rose said, smiling as widely as Alice. "I hope it doesn't cost that much," I said, stating the realities of being an underpaid teacher. "I'll check around tomorrow on the Internet and see what I come up with, okay?" Rose offered. "Thanks. I love you guys," I said, so thankful for them. "We love you too," Rose said, hugging me. "And then, we'll go shopping!" Alice said, joining the hug. "It'll be fantastic."

Chapter 11
I arrived home from work the next day with an armload of fixings for a special dinner I planned for Rose and Alice. They were always there for me - through thick and thin, through the wedding dress and the sweatpants. They were my sisters really, and they'd gotten me through some of my most difficult moments with love and humor. After foolishly keeping Edward a secret, I needed them to know just how much I appreciated them in my life. As I chopped the veggies for the salad, a knock came at the door. After drying my hands on a dishtowel, I opened the door to see a delivery man holding a long, white rectangular box tied with a light pink satin ribbon. "Bella Swan?" "Yes." "This is for you. Please sign here.Thank you." I signed the clipboard and managed to take the rather large box from the man without dropping it. "This is for you too," the man said, placing a manila envelope on top of the awkward box. "Thanks," I muttered, angling myself through the doorway and kicking the door shut with my foot. I hurried over to the small dining table in the corner of our living room and set the box down. Quickly untying it and lifting the box top, I gasped as the pinks, purples, oranges, deep reds and yellows flooded my eyes. It was by far the most breathtaking wildflower assortment I'd ever seen - and a hell of a lot bigger than the last bouquet. A card placed perfectly on top read: Fifteen days. Oh. My. God

Speechless once again, my heart flipped and flopped and did a little jig in my chest. I shook my head in disbelief. I grabbed the envelope and ripped it open. From the inside I pulled out three first class plane tickets. Holy crap! My head spun. I stood frozen, staring from the flowers to the tickets, from the tickets to the flowers. This is insane. Rose came in the door during my catatonic moment. "Whoa. Those are some major flowers. What'd you do to the guy?" she laughed and nudged me. I slid my wide eyes over to her face, shaking my head. "What's wrong? I held up the plane tickets. "Oh my God! He sent you a plane ticket?" Rose shouted in disbelief. "So what's the matter? You look like you just witnessed a death." "No, he sent us plane tickets. First class," I corrected, fanning them out. "And I don't know what's wrong, I mean, I should be thrilled here, no? I'm just feeling scared out of my mind." "It's going to be alright," Rose assured me, gently rubbing my arm. "He obviously likes you." "I know," I said, gulping and feeling like my head might pop. "Relax," Rose smiled reassuringly. "This is a good thing and it's supposed to be fun. Don't ruin this for yourself." "What do you mean? I don't want to ruin any of it - that's what I'm afraid of," I spat out in one fast breath.

"I know you wouldn't, so just relax. Try to enjoy the moment instead of thinking of every bad thing that could possibly go wrong. This is a good thing. No, I take that back this is a great thing. You're finally living a little and you're young, well, sort of," she teased, nudging me, "and you have the hottest man on the planet pining for you! Just enjoy it, would you? Plus, I'll be there with you take a deep breath now." In Out "Better?" Rose inquired. I nodded. "Yes, I think so. So you'll be able to come too?" That idea settled me some. "Yeah, I checked at work today. It's going to be a great time, trust me," Rose said in her evercalming way. "I still can't believe he sent us plane tickets," I said, feeling a broad smile begin to take shape across my face. "Oh good, the color is coming back," she joked, watching me blush. "Clearly, the man is smitten here. What did he say when you called to thank him?" My face dropped. "Oh shit. Yes - call him. I haven't yet. I need to." "Yeah, that'd be nice," Rose said, giving me a shove towards my room. "I'll be right back." I scurried to my room, closing the door, and sat on my bed. I took another deep breath and picked up my phone. With trembling fingers, I dialed. Why am I so nervous? "Hello?" came the velvety English accent. "Hi Edward," I said, my heart pounding in my throat... "It's Bella." "Who? Hmm, let me thinkthere's only one Bella I know and she never phones me."

I giggled. "Well, she's phoning you now," I joked back, immediately calming and feeling at ease. "Anyway, I wanted to thank you for the flowers, they're beautiful and for the plane tickets too - you really didn't have to do that." "Well, with what educators make these days." He snorted. "Yes, well, thank you, it more than made my day." "Good, I'm glad so what are you doing now?" he asked. I could almost hear his smile. God knows I could picture it. "I'm just getting home from work and was about to make dinner. What are you doing?" "I'm waiting for them to call me for the next scene, so I was just listening to this new tape I got." "Tape? What is this, 1985?" I joked. "I know. Some old-fashioned composer only tapes her music." I giggled. "Well, how's is it?" I asked as if it weren't mine. "Eh, it's alright, I guess." He chuckled. I heard muffled voices in the background. "Bella, I'm really sorry, I have to go, they're calling me on set. I'll ring you tomorrow or you can even ring me again. It was a very nice surprise." "Maybe I will." "I doubt it, but that's alright," he laughed. "I'll phone you tomorrow." "Okay and thanks again, Edward. It was incredibly sweet and generous of youI'm looking forward to seeing you." "It was my pleasure, Bella and I'm very much looking forward to seeing you as well." I sat on my bed a moment, trying to let it all sink in - flowers, plane tickets, visiting Edward in L.A. It was so wonderful. Too wonderful. I knew for certain the moment I let my guard down, ominous dark clouds would roll in and cover over my sunny skies. It was inviting disaster to

feel this happy. Nonetheless, I couldn't help but beam when I came back out into the living room to find Alice's face buried in the flowers, sniffing away. Alice straightened up. "Freakin' Edward Cullen just sent you amazing flowers and plane tickets so you could visit him. What the hell kind of karma lottery did you win?" She giggled. I smiled, shook my head and said, "He sent us plane tickets and I have no idea." That weekend, the girls and I hit the stores. Admittedly, my wardrobe was pitifully lacking in 'fun' clothes. There hadn't been a need before, but now? Well, the Fairy Slutmothers had me in their evil clutches and were intent on adding a little ho-ho-ho to my life. Bustiers, short dresses, low cut tops and tight pants basically anything that looked painted on or left me half-naked was their goal. "God knows you have enough jeans, t-shirts and sweatpants," Alice said. I could almost hear her eyes rolling after I protested from the dressing room. "You need some clubbing clothes." "What the hell are 'clubbing clothes'?" I asked from inside the stall as I was trying to figure out where my head and arms belonged in a scrap of a shirt. "You know, clothes you wear when you venture outside of the house to a public place at night. Clothes you wear when you go visit your hot movie star boyfriend," Alice explained. "He is not my boyfriend," I corrected. I heard them snigger. "Rose," Alice said loud enough for me to purposely hear, "Has she been drinking again?" "Yes, I believe so. In fact, I think she might be drunk on loooove." They cackled like the evil women they were. "Shut it, you two." After hitting more stores than I thought existed in the city we made our way home. Flopping down on the couch, our bags still in hand, I remarked, "Who cares if I have to sell my organs to pay off my credit card, right? As long as I look good."

As the week progressed, I grew more anxious. I jumped at quiet noises, I got startled when someone talked to me and I cleaned and cleaned some more. Finally, two days before we left, I couldn't sit still as Rose and I watched a movie in the living room. I got up, got water, sat back down. Then I got up again to use the bathroom then came back down. After getting up the fourth or fifth time, I settled myself on the edge of the sofa, my knee bouncing. Rose turned to me. "It's going to be fine." "What are you talking about?" Oh my God, I sound like Minnie Mouse. Rose smiled gently. "Bella, what are you worried about?" "I'm not worried," I snapped, not believing myself for a second. "Um, clearly you are. You're like a bunny on speed over there. You have to calm down. Try to remember what a fantastic time you had together when he was here." My mind drifted to delectable Edward until my worries rudely interrupted. "But what happens if when he sees me he's changed his mind, remembered me differently or something?" Rose wrinkled her brow. "Bella, he knew what you looked like when he asked you to visit him. He's sent you flowers, plane tickets, you've talked on the phone several times just in the last few days. He's obviously looking forward to seeing you." Rose leaned in and smiled. "He's not going to change his mind." I knew she was right, but it was hard not to worry. What had begun as a few fun and casual dates was now a sleepover vacation on his turf. I desperately wanted to trust in this, to let myself go and enjoy the ride, but something inside gnawed at me to hold back. ~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~. Wednesday finally arrived and I sat aboard the plane tapping my fingers and feet. "You're like a one-man band over there, Bella," Alice whispered to me. "Relax."

I nodded and tried, but it was no use. I was a nervous wreck. Logically, I knew he liked me. No guy goes through all that trouble if he just wants a piece of ass, but I just didn't get it. Why me? I liked him way more than I should, and I knew I would only be left heartbroken in the end. That's just how things went for me. On the plane, my saving grace came in the form of tiny bottles. I downed two? Three? Four? Whatever the number, I was beginning to feel giggly. Alice and Rose laughed at me. I'd be laughing too if the high-heeled shoe was on the other foot. Between the drinks and some much needed fresh air once off the plane, I'd calmed down. We picked up our bags and headed out into sunny Los Angeles. "He has to work so he's sending his friend Emmett to pick us up," I said, still tipsy, as we searched for the guy sent to collect us. Rose spotted a small sign that said, 'Bella Swan' held by a cute, well-built guy with jet black hair and a sweet smile. "Bella?" the man said, looking at each of us as we approached him. He was English too. "Yes?" I answered. "Hi, I'm Emmett, Edward's friend." "Hi Emmett, it's nice to meet you." I held out my hand and we shook. He gave me the onceover. "These are my friends, Alice and Rose." "Nice to meet you Emmett," Alice said smiling as she almost bubbled over from excitement, shaking his hand vigorously. "Good to meet you," Rose said calmly, taking her turn with the handshakes. I noticed the sparkle in Rose's eyes this was her kind of guy. "It's nice to meet all of you as well," Emmett smiled, like he knew something. "This way," Emmett said politely, leading us outside to a black Audi parked at the curb. "Nice car," Alice commented.

"Thanks, it's Edward's." Emmett stuffed most of our luggage into the trunk as we got in. Rose just so happened to find her way to the front seat, so I sat in the back with Alice and the rest of our bags. "So how was your flight?" Emmett asked as we pulled out. "It was good," Alice said. "So have you and Edward been friends for a long time?" "Yeah, we go way back. We met at primary school back home in London." "Are you an actor too?" Rose asked, batting her doe eyes. I almost laughed, but didn't. Emmett smiled, peeking over at her. "No, I'm not an actor. I run around for Edward a bit during the day to make some money while I pursue a music career." "Wow, cool," Alice commented. "Have we heard any of your music before?" Rose asked, smiling at him. "No, probably not. I do small gigs at bars here and there, but hopefully one day you'll hear it on the radio." He smiled wide at the idea. "Bella plays music too," Alice revealed. I shot Alice a look. "Yeah, Edward played some if it for me," Emmett stated. Oh shit"He did?" I asked feeling self-conscious. "Yeah. It was well done, Bella." "Thanks," I mumbled. Rose turned around to face me, her face stunned. "You played Edward your music? What did you play?" "Just an old cassette from that spring concert junior year of college." I shrugged and brushed it off.

"I'm surprised. You never let anyone hear that stuff," Rose said. "So when does Edward think he'll finish for the day?" I asked, switching topics. Emmett checked his watch. "It's two o'clock now and Edward hopes he'll be done by about five o'clock tonight. I'm going to take you over to his house and he'll meet you there when he's done." "Okay," I said. Oh God...I'm going to see him soon. "How's it living in New York?" Emmett asked us. "It's great. It doesn't look like here though," Alice said, looking out the window at the difference in the foliage. "Have you been to New York before?" Rose asked. "Only on layovers. I'd like to properly visit sometime." He smiled. The ride didn't take long. We pulled up to a gated entrance then followed a winding road to a small house, nestled in the side of an incline. Emmett parked in the short driveway. We unloaded the car and headed up the long staircase to the front door following Emmett. The one floor home was average in size and featured an open floor plan. Walking into the dining area from the front door, a rectangular wooden table sat to the right with several books stacked on top; a jacket hung on the back of one chair. The galley kitchen on the left was open by a breakfast bar. The decent sized living room sat in front of the dining area. The surroundings were undeniably male: the decorations were sparse and basic, but everything seemed organized, and the furniture was decent quality. There was little trace that the white-hot actor who lived here earned quite a good living; except for the huge flat-screen TV and stereo system that were the focal points in the living room. Emmett showed us the bedroom area that sat behind the kitchen, only a short hallway from the living room. "Here are the two spare bedrooms. You can pick whichever to set up in," he noted to Rose and Alice. Then he turned to me. "And you can put your things in here," he said, smiling

devilishly and pointing to the third bedroom which looked lived in. This must be Edward's room. "Okay," I said, concealing my angst. I don't know why, but my traditional, old-fashioned side spoke up, making me contemplate all it might mean that Edward wanted me to stay in his bedroom. It was completely irrational. We slept together three times in the less than 24 hours he was over my place and here I was worried about what this meant. "Edward went grocery shopping too, so if you're hungry, there's actually food to eat here," Emmett said laughing, finishing the quick tour in the kitchen. "There's not usually food here?" Rose asked confused. "Well, Edward doesn't cook much," Emmett snickered, checking his watch. "I'm sorry to leave you so quickly, but I have an appointment. If you need anything, here's my number," he pointed to a paper on the breakfast bar, "and here's Edward's mobile oh, but you probably already have that. Alright then, it was nice meeting you and I'll see you later for dinner." He glanced in Rose's direction with an interested half-smirk. "Okay," Rose answered for us. Emmett left and the three of us stood silent for a moment, waiting for Emmett to be out of sound's reach. "AHHH! Holy crap!" Alice shrieked at the top of her lungs, jumping up and down a little. "I can't believe we're in Edward Cullen's house!" We laughed. "I've got to admit, this is pretty cool," Rose shared, smiling widely. Their excitement was infectious and somehow calming. "Yeah, it really is," I agreed, beaming. The three of us wandered around examining everything. There were only a few pictures on the walls mostly arty stuff, some 'Life in Eden' merchandise sat in a corner on the floor, along with a few bits of merchandise from other films Edward appeared in. An acoustic guitar

case leaned in the corner next to stacks of books, while more books and CD's lined the built-in bookcases. There were a few photos without frames scattered about. We didn't recognize anyone in the photos. "Well, I'm going to get settled," Alice said eagerly, heading to the bedroom she had chosen. Rose and I followed suit, going into our respective rooms. I was grateful I had some time alone to examine Edward's room. I needed to get reacquainted. It was average in size - not nearly as tiny as my bedroom. His queen-size bed fit comfortably in the space to the immediate right of the door. Sunlight filtered in through the honey colored wooden shades on the wall opposite the door. Below that sat a chair and a desk that held a small shaded lamp, an iPod, some random papers, pens, a calculator, several CD's, and pieces of gum. My eyes widened when I noticed a small calendar lying there with red X's crossing out the days. Holy crap, he really was counting them. I breathed deep and kept moving. I carefully opened the closet door on the left wall, catching a trace of his soap and shaving cream scent. My heart skipped a beat. There hung Edward's shirts and pants. His shoes lined the floor. It wasn't an impressive wardrobe; not one you'd expect to see from one of the hottest actors in Hollywood. It was basic just like everything else in his apartment so far t-shirts, jeans, black jeans, all variations of the same. I made my way over to a dresser with a mirror that sat against the left wall. I noticed some photos stuck in the mirror's seam: a dog in one, a group shot of some people in another. Then I spotted a small folded piece of paper on the dresser addressed to 'Bella'. I flipped it open and read: Feel free to put your things wherever just shove my stuff out of the way. Make yourself at home. The nerves that I thought had disappeared, came back with a vengeance. This was real. Holy shit.

My breathing quickened and my heart pounded. I'm here and he'll be here too, very soon. My too-practical side panicked. Stop! Leave! You'll get hurt if you stay! It's unsafe to be here! It's unsafe to be here! But then the optimistic, romantic side of me, the one that had been sidelined for so long, roared back with a rebuttal: Do not listen to that nonsense! He's been kind and generous. He's been so sweet. Look at all the trouble he's gone to for you! He's even stocked the kitchen with food! The moment I thought this I heard Alice yell from the kitchen, "Hey! This guy's got Lucky Charms!" I smiled wide, able to breathe again. I felt my muscles relax. We spent the next few hours settling in. We hung out in the living room on the black leather furniture and talked. "So, how are you doing? You seem better now that you got drunk on the plane," Rose asked with a grin. I laughed. "I'm fine. Not drunk anymore, but I think I'm good - for now anyway." Alice popped at the seams, bouncing on the sofa. "I'm just so excited. This is the coolest thing ever!" I smiled. "I'm so happy you're both here, otherwise I might be on the floor of the bathroom twitching about now." "You'll be better once you see him," Rose assured me, smiling. It was just about six o'clock when we heard footsteps and keys jingling on the outside steps. A large lump formed in my throat. This was it...

Chapter 12
"Hello," Edward said, with a wide smile. He entered the room looking every bit the sex god he was in his dark jeans, navy blue t-shirt and hair perfectly astray. He tossed his keys and some papers on the table and walked over to us. "Sorry I'm late. How was your flight?" We all stood up and I noticed Alice's star-struck mouth hanging open. Rose elbowed her and Alice's mouth clamped shut. "It was good," I said, feeling a wave a relief he didn't run away and he was smiling too. He nodded. "I don't think we've properly metRose, right? And, Alice?" Edward said, stepping over to them with his hand outstretched. I gawked at his gorgeous face and a bicep that balled up as he shook hands. Edward stepped over to me. "It's Bella, right?" He smirked. I beamed. "Wow, it's impressive that you can keep so many girls' names straight," I joked back, shaking his hand. "Well, it's easier since I've dubbed you 'Spring Break Granny'," he teased, taking my hand and pulling me into a strong embrace. "I'm so glad you're finally here," he whispered in my ear. Like magic, all the nerves of the past hours and days simply vanished into thin air. "Me too," I said, my heart filled with excitement. "Are you hungry?" he asked us as he pulled away from me, keeping his arm around my waist. "I thought we could have dinner." "That sounds great!" Alice squealed, embarrassingly happy. Edward smiled at her enthusiasm. "Is an hour alright?" "That's fine," Alice said, as she grabbed Rose's hand and darted off into her room. Edward took my hand and led me into his bedroom.

He clicked the door closed and tugged me into his arms, pressing a long, gentle kiss to my lips. He pulled back and gazed down at me with those hypnotic, emerald eyes. "You're even prettier than I remember." I flushed and grinned like an idiot. He turned serious. "I have to ask - are you alright with staying in here? I wasn't sure if I was being too presumptuous, so if you'd rather, you can share a room with your friends or I can sleep on the sofa." Who is this guy? His honest, simple acknowledgement of the sleeping logistics put all those previous worries out of mind. "Right here is just perfect, thanks." He nodded, pleased, and angled his head to kiss me again. No sooner did we start kissing than our hands began roaming. I'd spent so much time worrying that he'd regret asking me here that I'd all but forgotten how he lit me up like a pile of dry kindling. I knotted my fingers through his thick hair, cradled his neck and pulled him deeper into my mouth. His hands roamed lower, one at the center of my back, the other at the top of my ass, pressing my hips to his. Well hello there, Mr. Spectacular, Junior! He walked us backwards until I felt the edge of the bed hit the back of my knees. I fell backwards onto the mattress and he climbed on top of me. Suddenly, a loud knock came at the bedroom door. We froze to listen. "C'mon Bella, I have your stuff in my room. And the bathroom's freeoh and we only have about 45 minutes left, so get out of there and get your ass moving," Alice ordered. Edward cocked his head to the side. "Is she always this chatty through a closed door?" "I'm surprised she didn't just barge in." He laughed. "Go get ready. I don't want to rush this." He kissed me once again before flopping onto his back, grinning from ear-to-ear.

"Alright, but knowing you it probably wouldn't take that long anyway," I teased. "You wench," he laughed, swatting my ass as I got up. "Hey - that's for the 'granny' comment earlier," I said, giggling. "So, what are you wearing tonight?" he asked, lying on his side, propped up on an elbow. "You'll have to wait and see!" I said with a wink, walking through the door and shutting it behind me. I sprinted into Alice's room, panicked. "What am I wearing?" I said, as if I came emptyhanded. "Calm down, Bella. I have your outfit all set," Alice said, most pleased with herself. She held up a garment bag and unzipped it dramatically. "Voila!" The three of us got ready in a fever pitch in Alice's room, laughing, zipping up one another and helping each other with hair styling. We heard a knock at the front door. Rose shushed us to listen as we pressed our ears to the bedroom door. "Hey, are we ready to go?" Emmett asked. I elbowed Rose and waggled my eyebrows. She smacked my arm. "Did you think they'd be waiting for us?" Edward chuckled. We giggled silently. "So, I must admit, this is quite a group you have here," Emmett said. We heard beers clank. The three of us raised our eyebrows and beamed before we resumed our primping. Finally, we were ready. We stepped out into the living room where Edward and Emmett were relaxing, drinking their beer. Hearing us, they stood up and Edward's eyes met mine, giving me that sexy half-smirk. My face flamed.

"You lookawfully nice," Edward said, eyeing my outfit from my ultra high shoes and fitted black suit to the major cleavage peeking out from my low-cut top, all the way to my hair pulled back into a stylish ponytail. "As do you," I said, feeling shy, yet turned on as I checked out his black pants, black blazer and deep green button down shirt that matched his eyes. I can't believe we're finally together. He grabbed my hand, smiling. "Let's go." We drove to a restaurant and headed in through a back entrance. We were seated in a private area, a place seemingly built for the quiet escapades of celebrities. The five of us talked, laughed and drank, getting to know Emmett and discussing our trip and Edward's movie, Emmett's music, and such. By the end of the dinner, with God only knows how many drinks in me, I was pleasantly at ease. "Are you up for pool?" Edward asked the group. Rose and Alice weren't really pool people, but they were excited by L.A. and just went with it. After dinner we made our way to Big Ben's, a small English pub, which had darts and pool tables. Although Big Ben's had a touch of glamorous L.A. sheen, it was still a bit grungy. It was obvious this was not a 'hot spot' for celebrities; I figured Edward was hoping to fly under the radar. With yet another drink in my hand, I rode a lovely buzz. I giggled too much, as did Rose and Alice. As the night wore on, I couldn't help but wonder: why is Edward keeping his distance? Why doesn't he have his arm around me? Or his hand around my waist? I settled for standing so close our arms brushed against each other, stirring up the soap and shaving cream scent that pulled me in like a magnet. "How long have you all known each other?" Emmett asked us. Rose responded. "We grew up together same schools, even same college." "So you've known Bella a long time then," Edward sort of asked.

"Yeah. What do you want to know?" Alice asked like she was ready to volunteer vault information. I raised a tipsy eyebrow at her in warning. Edward smirked, glancing at me, and obviously enjoying my squirming. "Has she always been a ball breaker?" Rose and Alice laughed hard. "Well, she's always been fun except when Jacob had a hold on her. She was a bland oatmeal cookie then," Alice said, taking a long sip. "Really?" Edward commented. "Oh yeah. He squeezed all the fun out of her. Thank God he's gone," Alice said. I stood there hoping this was the end of this particular conversation. "Who the hell is Jacob?" Emmett asked. Oh Jesus "Jacob is Bella's ex-fianc," Rose stated, batting her eyes at Emmett. "You were almost married?" Emmett asked, his mouth gaping. "Yes," I mumbled before swigging my beer. A very long swig. "Yeah, he was a total asshole. Left her at the altar," Alice said casually. I gulped. "Bloody hell! He fucking left you at the altar?" Emmett turned to me, wide-eyed, for confirmation. I nodded and drank more, shooting a warning look at Alice and Rose that neither of them noticed. I saw Edward watching me from the corner of his eye. "But that was only the beginning," Rose offered. Oh no.

"The beginning?" Edward asked, very curious. "Oh yeah. It was bad," Rose said. "After it all went down, like a month or so later, her parents forced her on a string of blind dates. It was a train wreck. Poor girl wanted to be left alone. That's why she came to live in the city with us." I could not believe my friends were offering up this information. I stood, frozen, listening to them gab on about my brutally painful past. "They set her up on blind dates? Why?" Edward asked. I saw Alice's mouth start to open to respond. I had to say something. I was not about to have my crappy past discussed at length in the middle of the bar. Plus, Edward didn't know me all that well and I didn't want to scare him off. "I think that's enough all of you," I said. They all turned to me as if they were surprised to see me. It was awkward for a moment until Emmett broke in with, "No worries, Bella. If it makes you feel any better, this one's spent the last week cleaning his house like he's never done." Emmett tapped Edward's chest. "Gave me loads of laughs I tell you." I peered up to see Edward shutting his eyes in embarrassment. Laughing ensued and the conversation moved on. However, I still needed a break. I excused myself and went into the bathroom alone. I stayed in the stall, trying to rid myself of the memories that came surging back from around the time of the wedding. Like the annoyed look on my mother's face when she came back from lunch with Jacob's mom after the debacle, accusing me of not being 'present enough' in the relationship, for not giving him all he needed. It was bullshit like it was my fault he'd been carrying on with a friend and ran off with her the day we were supposed to marry. Her accusations were as devastating as getting dumped through a note while wearing a wedding dress.

In the weeks after things fell apart with Jacob, I was so numb and broken, I didn't argue with my mother when she meddled in my love life. She'd always known better and I no longer trusted my own instincts. My parents may as well have stuck me on the front lawn with a 'for sale' sign around my neck. As if they were trying to marry me off before my expiration date, they told their friends, colleagues, anyone and everyone about 'poor single Bella'. I went on blind date after blind date, not having the strength to argue with them. It was easier to go and eat a meal away from the constant scrutiny of my parents. However, the worst part of every date came afterwards, when my mother would pummel me with questions about the date, pointing out what I should have said or done. The entire mess stripped me of any remaining confidence I had. Gradually, over the past three years, I had built it up enough to risk my fragile heart on a guy that I knew could leave me far more devastated than Jacob had. And that guy was in the bar now, probably wondering where I'd gone to. I washed my hands and examined my face, touching up my makeup. Alice came in. "Hey, where'd you go? You okay?" I shrugged and nodded, putting my lipstick back in my purse. "I'm really sorry, Bella. We got carried away out there. We shouldn't have been going on like that." I looked at her. "It's okay. I know you didn't mean anything by it andit's probably time I start letting it go, you know?" Alice grinned at me and rubbed my arm. "Still, we shouldn't have said anything." "Don't worry about it." We hugged. "Come on, your Prince Charming is getting an earful from Rose," Alice informed me. "What?" I said, stopping dead.

"Oh you know her, she's probably got him jacked up against the wall, threatening him." "Oh geez," I said, knowing Rose would kick anyone's ass if I asked her too. Both Rose and Alice were incredibly loyal, even if they were big-mouths. I took a deep breath and we headed back out into the bar where I spotted Rose and Edward engaged in a serious, whispery conversation. As if I didn't know who and what it was about, I approached them. "What are you two talking about? You're over here all huddled together." They both clammed up and took obvious sips from their drinks at the same time. "You two would suck as spies," I said, rolling my eyes. "What? I was only telling him what a slut you are, that's all," Rose said, flashing her teeth in an obnoxious smile and walking away to paw at Emmett. I glared at her and turned to Edward, "Well?" "Well what?" "What was she telling you?" "That you're a massive slut," he reiterated, straight-faced. "But I said that I already knew that." He smiled his charming Hollywood smile at me. I narrowed my eyes at him. "Oh good. Glad the truth is finally out there. Now I can hook up without a conscience." Edward covertly placed his beverage-free hand on my lower back, lightly stroking his thumb in soothing circles. It was exactly what I needed. He leaned down and whispered in my ear. "Are you alright?" I grinned at him. "Yeah, I'm fine. He nodded, continuing with the circles that were beginning to make my legs grow weak. "You were gone too long."

I smiled wider. He continued, "Please don't leave me alone for that long again. Rose scares me." I laughed, suddenly feeling all those awful, churned up memories sink back to their rightful place, hidden in the pit of my belly. "So, looks like Emmett made a new friend," Edward said, nodding his head in the direction of the eye-batting, hair-flipping, head-back-laughing duo of Rose and Emmett. I grinned. "Emmett's a nice guy. He was telling me earlier that he guesses that you slept with about 110 women." "No, not 110probably more like 150." "And I guess I'm 151?" "Hmm," he put his finger on his cheek, "I'll have to check the notches on my bedpost." "And I'm the slut?" I accused as he laughed. We never got around to playing pool. We were all pretty tanked as we headed back to Edward's apartment. Upon leaving the bar, fans and cameras waited outside. Rose, Alice and I walked ahead of Edward and Emmett, but we overhead the photographers throwing questions at Edward as he left. "Did you have a good time tonight, Edward?" "Who are you with?" "Look at you, Edward three women!" Like bullies on a playground they hoped for a reaction, but Edward remained tight-lipped. The paparazzi continued their questioning and snapping of pictures until we pulled away from the curb.

Alice was the first to throw herself onto her bed, fully clothed and still made up. Rose managed to wash up, as did I. As Rose and I shared the bathroom, washing our faces, Rose turned to me. "I'm sorry about earlier, Bella. I should have kept my mouth shut." "It's okay, Rose So, what did you tell him?" I raised an eyebrow at her and grinned, wanting to let her know we were okay. Rose smiled at me, "Just that if he hurt you, I'd make his life hell." "You did not." "Oh yes, I did. And you know what he told me?" "Oh Godwhat?" I said, bracing myself. "That he likes you more than you know and has no intention of hurting you." I squinted my eyes at her, as if by doing so I would be able to divine the truth. "He really did say that Bella," she said, turning to leave. "And try not to keep us up all night, okay slut?" "Bitch!" I said, laughing, as she shut the door. I finished brushing my teeth and headed back into Edward's room to see he'd been a busy bee, lighting a few dusty votive candles. His back was to me as he fumbled around with his iPod. I closed the door, watching him silently as he slid it into the dock and pressed the button, filling the air with soft music. His sweet gestures were utterly disarming. He turned around and we both grinned lazy, drunken smiles at each other. "So, what? You think that by lighting a few candles you're gonna get a piece or something?" I asked, smirking. Edward smiled shyly and shrugged an innocent shoulder. "Maybe."

I giggled and cocked my head to the side, beckoning him to me. Edward stalked towards me with his eyes on fire, ready to go. I held my palms against the door as he stood right in front of me, one hand leaning against the door above my head, caging me in, and the other curled around my waist, his thumb stroking my side. He watched my lips, as if awaiting further instructions. I glanced down at my jacket and back up to him, signaling him to remove it. He complied with a smirk, slowly threading the button through the hole. He slid it down off my shoulders, tossing it to the floor. I raised an eyebrow. He ran the back of his fingers down my arm and bent down to kiss me, but I pulled my lips away. He narrowed his eyes in confusion, but I nodded at my shirt. He grinned as he removed it and then all my other clothing, until I stood there in only my satin, steel-gray bra and panties. He bent to kiss me again, but I shook my head at him. He breathed deep and groaned in frustration. I smiled. I grabbed the front of his shirt and switched places with him. He gripped my waist, stroking my ribs with his thumbs as his eyes flitted up and down my body. I undid each shirt button at a snail's pace noticing his eyes growing in need. I peeled the shirt down off his arms and tossed it in the pile with my clothing. I gathered his t-shirt from the hem, slowly lifting it up over his head and flung it too on to the growing pile. His naked chest rose and fell in short breaths, as if begging me to do as I pleased. I lightly ran my nails down his torso as his eyes rolled closed. The moment he opened his eyes, I suggestively licked my upper lip. His breath hitched and the next thing I knew, he bent down and hoisted me up and over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes. When he nearly threw me on the bed I laughed out. He climbed on top of me. "You're trying to drive me mad, aren't you?"

This time, I was the one to shrug innocently. He chuckled darkly and shook his head at me. Then he went at me with a vengeance. The hesitation from last time was replaced with greedy mouths and needy hands. Lying on top of me, he pressed his hips against mine. I locked a leg around his waist and ground my hips against his in response. Lying side-by-side, I unlatched his belt and removed his pants as fast as I could. Meanwhile, he whipped off my bra, then panties, taking a momentary break to suckle my breasts. "God, I missed you and these," he said, kneading my breasts before putting his mouth to one and then the other. "Mmm," I murmured, feeling his warm breath and tongue swirling around my nipple, flipping all of my switches to 'Oh God, yes!' mode. Our deep kiss continued as his fingers skated down my naked body and made their presence known at my entrance. Round and round his fingers traveled, spreading out the slickness in preparation for his imminent arrival. "Mmm," I moaned in his mouth. "You like that?" he whispered against my lips, giving our tongues a momentary reprieve. "Oh yeah," I responded, wanting him to never stop. "How's this?" he whispered, kissing me again as a finger slipped inside. "Oh," I breathed out, arching. "More," I muttered. He chuckled in my mouth and suddenly two fingers stroked in and out of me, his thumb working wonders on the outside. "I've been thinking about this so much," he said, softly. "Really?" I breathed out, wondering what exactly he thought about.

"Oh yeah. You're body isso sexy andwet and I love the way your back rises off the bed when I touch you like this," he said, finding that one secret spot the one that not only made me arch, but call out. "Oh God," I shouted. "That's right, Bella. Feel it," he whispered in my ear. Without thought, I reached down and grabbed his hard length and began stroking him in accordance with the intensity of my pleasure. His breathing immediately grew erratic and he groaned often. Like cause and effect one stroke from him then one stroke from me, one moan from him, one moan from me, faster from him, faster from me, up and down we went, both of us getting closer and closer to the peak. And then he stopped. I was confused a moment until he rolled on top of me, between my legs. His hardness quickly found my softness and suddenly there was a whole new kind of give and take happening. His rippled body was so smooth and soft. I forgot how good his body felt against mine, how it heated me from the inside. The magic of his lips against mine, his strong arms at my sides, my legs up and open for him all of it was, quite frankly, spectacular. Gently in and gently out he moved, pulling out nearly all the way, then sliding inside a little deeper each time. I breathed hard, my heart throbbing in my chest, my whole body responding to his thrusts but I needed more. I clutched his ass and pushed his hips into mine, silently asking for deeper, deeper and harder. So much harder. And he complied. The bed began to knock against the wall. Thump! Thump! Thump! Somewhere in my head I realized that other people were in the house. "We should probably be quiet," I whispered, knowing once my lust stupor was over I'd be embarrassed and harassed about it the next day. "Fuck the quiet," he grunted, continuing his powerful exertions.

"You're right," I said, making the move to roll on top of him. He flopped onto his back and I sat up on him, straddling and connecting to him again. Up and down I bounced on his hips, feeling him hit that deep place that sparked chills along my arms and legs. I shut my eyes, as the tension built in my belly. Edward groped my breasts, then gripped my hips to assist the up and down. I opened my eyes. "Oh, fuck," Edward said, his face tightening and nearing his release. "I've been waitingtofeel you come," he whispered. "Yeah?" I asked, my voice rising, so on the edge. He nodded, breathing hard and heavy, his eyebrows scrunched together. Another three up and downs and there I went, tumbling over the edge of pleasure, calling, "Oh Edward, yes!" "Fuck..Bella!" he responded as he filled me with all he had. With chests heaving, I flopped down on him as he held me tightly. I inhaled heaping lungfuls of that soap and shaving cream scent. Mmm I sat up after a few moments and began to dismount when he stopped me. He held my hair off my face and said, "You are so beautiful," then pulled me down to kiss me gently. It was startling. Never had a man made me feel so special, so perfect and yet so afraid. I laid down, snuggling into his side and nestled my head on my favorite pillow - his warm chest. He held me tight with one arm while his other hand played with my hair for a while. "Are you going to the beach with Rose and Alice tomorrow?" Edward asked softly in the dark. "We talked about it, but nothing's been set yet, so I don't know. Are you working?" I asked, yawning a little and toying with his smattering of chest hair. It was such a cozy spot. "Yeah, unfortunately, I have to be on set."

"I thought you liked being on set," I mumbled. "I do," he replied, sounding surprised at himself. As I began drifting to sleep, Edward whispered, "I'm not sure if you'd be interested, but would you like to come to work with me tomorrow?" I woke up a little and sat up on an elbow to look at him. "Why wouldn't I be interested? I'd love to come." He smiled and brushed my hair back off my face. "So you don't mind missing the beach?" "Not at all. I've been to plenty of beaches," I grinned. And I had, having grown up on the shoreline of Connecticut. "Alright then," he said, grinning. After a last kiss, I settled myself once again on his chest, our legs intertwined. With his strong arms around me, and his fingers running softly down my back, I fell asleep thinking: What was I so worried about?

Chapter 13
"Good morning," I heard whispered as tiny kisses pecked at my ear. A thumb stroked my cheek, stirring me further. Resting on my belly, I flopped my head in the direction of the velvet voice, but my eyes refused to open. "Good morning, Bella," Edward said again, snickering and brushing the hair off my face. "Mmm," I mumbled, grinning. "Are you still interested in coming to work with me today?" His hand skimmed down the length of my naked spine under the sheet. Again, I tried to open my eyes. One managed to open and what a view it got - Mr. Spectacular sitting on the edge of the bed, smirking at me. His damp hair and fresh soap and shaving cream scent made my mouth water and my heart weak. "Sure, as long as you don't think I'll be in the way," I mumbled with my face half against the pillow. "Absolutely not, but we have to leave soon, in about half an hour." I stretched. "Okay. I'll get ready then." "Would you like me to help?" he teased, his hand traveling over the swell of my ass. "Not unless you want to be late." I grinned sleepily. "Alright, I'll meet you in the kitchen." He chuckled and gave my ass a little squeeze before getting up and leaving the room. As I stumbled about trying to gather my things, I realized that I had zero tolerance for alcohol and a headache that thumped, thumped, thumped for meds. I snorted thinking about the 'thumping' from the night before, but the snorting made me wince. Thankfully the shower

helped some. I washed up, styled my hair into an easy ponytail and put on a little makeup. I dressed in jeans, a green t-shirt and sandals because what do you wear to a movie set? And with Advil in hand, I headed out into the kitchen, ready to go. Edward raised his eyebrows at me. "Well, that was fast." "That's because Alice and Rose are still asleep and not coming at me with beauty products." Edward laughed. "Are you hungry? I have Lucky Charms," he said proudly, shaking the box. "How shocking. I didn't think famous people ate that stuff," I snorted as he handed me a bowl full. "Well, we like to keep in touch with the little people," he said, pouring the milk. "How sweet," I said, swallowing the pills and washing them down with cereal. "We try," he joked as I held up a spoonful for him. He opened up and I slid it in. ~.~.~ As we drove in his car, Edward seemed tense. "Is something wrong?" I asked, feeling anxious all of a sudden. He made a quick swipe across the back of his neck and shrugged. "Nothing's wrongit's just that I think it's best if we keep some distance between us when we're in public." "Oh," I muttered as my heart sank. His eyes darted from the road then back at me a few times. "Please don't misunderstand me, Bella. I don't want to keep distance from you, but there are so many prying eyes and ears here in LA and especially on the set. I know how private you are and if the paparazzi suspects something romantic they'll find out who you are and dig up old photos, hack into your emails whatever, and I don't want to see that happen to you... I probably should have said something yesterday."

Was that why he was distant last night at the bar? It was true that the last thing I ever wanted was attention drawn to me. I liked coming and going unnoticed in every area of my life. I nodded. "Okay, so no humping in public?" I smiled. His face relaxed with loud laughter. "Fondling is okay, just not humping, alright?" "Got it," I said, winking at him. Once we arrived on the studio lot, I stood for a moment marveling at the creativity that surrounded me. I'd never seen anything like it: enormous, full, realistic reproductions of town streets, city streets, gardens, and buildings from different eras. Actors walked around in costumes aliens, renaissance folk, cops. It was like all these pieces of the world brought into one place like some old Twilight Zone episode. It was strange and breathtaking at the same time. Edward shook hands with a few people and gave me a quick tour. When he introduced me he simply referred to me as 'Bella' with no identifying label. We arrived at the interior set he filmed in and Edward introduced me to his cast mates. "Bella, this is Tyler." Tyler was about the same age as Edward with chestnut eyes and hair and a well-built body. Another strikingly handsome guy made for Hollywood. "Hi Bella. It's nice to meet you," Tyler said warmly as we shook hands. "I've heard good things about you." Edward's mentioned me? "Nice to meet you as well," I said, hiding my shock. I would have thought about it more, but I was being introduced to Tanya and Irina who were somehow more attractive in person. "This is Irina and Tanya," Edward said. "Hi, pleasure to meet you," I said, my ego shriveling fast as they blatantly sized me up from head to toe. I could almost hear the questions they asked in their pretty heads: Who is this and why is Edward with her? Thankfully, Edward ushered me out before I could come completely undone.

"I'll see you in a few minutes," Edward said to his three co-stars, guiding me away from the group with his hands in his pockets. "I'll take you to my trailer. You can relax there while I get my make-up on, alright?" "Sure," I said, wondering why I agreed to go to his work. God, I feel like a lost puppy. Edward opened the door of the small trailer for me. It was no bigger than Edward's living room, yet much narrower. Once inside, it took Edward no more than one minute and no movement to show me around the inside. "I'll be back shortlyare you alright?" he asked, taking my hand in his and trying to discern how I was managing. "Yeah, I'm fine," I lied, feeling like the ugly duckling among swans. "I'm really happy you're here today," Edward said, kissing me swiftly. He left the trailer after stunning me with a loin-igniting smirk. Alone in the trailer, I moved in a slow circle, taking in the space. It was very similar to a Winnebago my uncle lent my family for a trip when I was a kid. How the hell did I manage to get myself 'on-set' with Edward Cullen? It was beyond strange. I couldn't quite rectify 'Edward Cullen', hot movie star with 'Edward Cullen', hot, sweet guy I was staying with. It made my hung-over brain hurt, so I made myself comfortable on the couch that was part of the living room/dining room/kitchen combo and turned on the TV. I needed to numb for a while. Edward came back soon enough and asked me to accompany him to the set. I figured I might as well get the full experience. Who knows when I'll be able to see something like this again? Walking with him to the set, I couldn't help but stare at him. He knew I was gawking and he rolled his eyes. "Would you stop that?" he asked, blushing a little. "I can't help it. I'm just trying to see how the makeup looks on you." How could he look more handsome? How is it even possible?

Amused, he shook his head and ignored me. "I mean you look the same, but I bet if they added a little lipstick you'd be a great looking girl," I teased. He burst out laughing. "You work wonders on my ego, you know that?" I giggled. "Actually you lookreally, really good." He raised his eyebrows and stopped walking. "Oh yeah? How good?" I laughed and kept moving, getting to the set just in time for me not to answer. There were so many people milling about in this giant indoor space, adjusting this and that, marking areas, taking readings. It was odd how much went into one scene. So much preparation by so many people and yet the actors got most of the glory. Edward began explaining some of the behind-the-scenes aspects to me when a woman armed with a clipboard came up to him and spoke with him on the side. I stood alone, captivated by the crew prepping for the scene: men on ladders adjusting lights, furniture getting moved, people talking and pointing with tools and clipboards in hand. I was in the middle of a whirlwind; the excitement was palpable. A curvaceous figure suddenly appeared in the corner of my eye. "Hi Bella. How are you?" Tanya asked, her perfectly straight, gleaming white teeth greeting me. "Hi Tanya. I'm well. And you?" I said, watching her eyes start at my toes and work up to my head. Crap. I'm in jeans and a t-shirt. Up-close Tanya was flawless with her sexpot eyes, her long, strawberry-blonde locks curled perfectly at the ends. Her skin was smooth and creamy. True, she had her hair and makeup done, but honestly, she didn't need a stitch of it. Shit. This is who Edward is working with - every day.

"I'm great. Are you enjoying your visit?" Tanya asked as if she were hurrying through a polite set of questions before getting to the point. "Yes, it's amazing how much goes into making a movie," I said, noting all the commotion. Tanya nodded. "So how do you know Edward? Are you related?" I grinned. "No, we're not related." Tanya raised an eyebrow at me and carefully pushed a thick section of shiny hair over her shoulder. "So you're not his aunt?" I almost choked on nothing. "His aunt? No, I'm not his aunt." Where the hell is Edward? As I clung to my vanishing confidence, an evil smirk appeared on her perfect face. With her nose slightly in the air, she casually commented, "I guess I'm just surprised Edward brought you to the set today." "What do you mean?" I asked as my heart plummeted into my belly. She shrugged a petite shoulder, flicking her long hair over it and grinned a little more. "Well, we're doing a bedroom scene today and I'm not sure why he'd want you to be here for that." What? I was too thrown off to care that Tanya got the reaction she was looking for: my mouth dropped open, my eyes blinked in disbelief and confusion. Why would Edward want me to see this? "Oh?" I eeked out, swallowing hard. Tanya nodded slowly, obviously enjoying this. "Oh yeah. We had a semi-sex scene a few weeks ago where I lost my top, but today is the real deal. Both of us full-on nude going at it. And knowing how Edward moves, it'll be incredible. That boy oozes sex appeal, don't you think? Not to mention his face is to die for. That's half the reason he's famous. I have to admit that this time on this movie with Edward - I really don't mind being nude. Pretending to do it with someone as hot as he is makes all the crew's gawking totally worth it." She mushed her

lipsticked lips together then popped them as she examined my frozen face. "Well, enjoy the day." She strutted away in triumph. I felt ill and my lungs began closing up. The idea of Edward being all over another girl, let alone beautiful, bitchy Tanya Denali, was a hard thing to swallow; it would be even worse to witness. I need to escape. Right now. Coming to work with Edward was clearly the wrong move. Why would he want me to be here for this? As I stood with my legs glued to the floor, I heard Edward being called onto set. We caught eyes and he shook his head at me and mouthed, "I'm sorry." Move Bella! I started for the door, but they wouldn't let me out until the take was over; they didn't want unrehearsed noises interfering. I did the next best thing - I waited in the back, out of the way. I looked down and clamped my eyes shut for extra protection, but then I heard his voicethat English velvet voice morphed into a hard American accentit was so strange that I couldn't help it - I looked. Edward and Tanya stood in a fake, dimly lit, grungy bedroom. I heard their dialogue loud and clear until I was rendered deaf the moment Edward snatched Tanya into his strong arms and crashed his face to hers. My mind flashed to last night when he kissed me hard like that. Holy shit. Lips smacked and hands explored up hard bodies and down soft, supple spots as Edward pushed her onto the bed just like last night. Holy shit. Edward's fingers roughly tore at Tanya's thin, lacy top, ripping it open, exposing her perky and hopefully fake breasts. Does he like hers better? Holy shit. Look away Bella! Now! I forced my head down until forever passed and I heard the director yell, "Cut!"

And then I heard Tanya say with an evil cackle, "Go Edward! I love that big Eddie came out to play." With my heart in my throat and my ego needing mouth-to-mouth, I crashed through the doors before another moment could pass. I fled to his trailer. I paced inside the trailer, their 'scene' replaying over and over in my head. What am I doing here? Why am I bothering? He likes her. He likes her! Tanya Denali. Bitch. Worry, fear, and insecurity gripped every part of me. It was bad enough when Jacob cheated on me, but here I was with a guy whose job it was to grope hot women. I couldn't trust my fragile heart to that. I need to quit while I have a sliver of reason left. I left the trailer and found a security guard who helped me call for a cab. By the time I got back to Edward's and fumbled with the hidden key in the door, I could hardly breathe. That's it. I have to go. I began shoving my things in my bag when Rose and Alice, red from the day in the sun, appeared in the doorway, looking at me like I was nuts. "What are you doing?" Alice asked. "Packing." "What the hell happened?" Rose asked, touching my arm mid shirt shove. I shook my head and opened my mouth to answer when Emmett appeared in the doorway. Emmett's eyes widened and flitted nervously about. "I, uh, just got a call from Edward. He, um, wanted to know if you were here? He said he tried calling your mobile, but there was no answer." I shook my head. "I shut off my phone." "What did he do?" Emmett asked as if he wasn't sure he wanted to know. I explained the whole thing, from Tanya's comments to the 'scene' that replayed in my head on a sickening loop.

"How did he not know it was that kind of scene today?" Alice asked in shock, rubbing my arm. I shrugged. "Because he's a fucking idiot," Emmett blurted out. We all turned to look at him. "UhI should probably go." Emmett backed up. "Oh no, Emmett you get over here and explain yourself," Rose commanded. Emmett mumbled, "I know he's been distracted lately and-" "Distracted by Tanya, obviously," I said, as the gaping hole in my belly widened, making me nauseous. Emmett continued, "I don't know much, Bella, but if there's one thing I do know for a fact, is that he likes you, not Tanya." "Then why did I hear Tanya say that he got a hard-on during their scene?" "What?" Rose and Alice shouted in unison. Emmett's eyebrows shot up and he shook his head as he backtracked from the room. Although they were shocked, the girls talked me into staying, saying I would regret leaving without talking to Edward about it first. But I knew it was them who wanted a word with him. We already had dinner plans and so, the three of us girls readied in Alice's room. As I sat on the bed with Alice styling my hair, a knock came at the bedroom door. Rose opened it. There stood Edward looking all kinds of remorseful and, unfortunately, spectacular. "Hello Edward," Rose said, blocking the door. "Hi Rose," Edward said, peering around her. "Is Bella-" Rose cut him off. "So Edward, how was work today?"

I saw Edward's eyes widen. "Um" he mumbled. Edward looked up and over her arm trying to find my eyes. I glanced his way, but Alice yanked my head by my hair to face hers. "Ow," I whimpered. "I'm sorry, Bella," Edward said over Rose's arm. Rose continued, "You know Edward, today I realized why they pay you an obscene amount of money. Groping Tanya on a daily basis must really do a job on your psyche." From the corner of my eyes I saw him rubbing his face until my head was once again yanked away from him. "I guess you don't know Bella all that well, now do you?" Rose asked. "What do you mean?" I could almost hear his heart falling. "Hey Alice, remember in college when Bella finally started to enjoy herself?" Oh no. As Alice brushed and straightened a section of my hair, she said, "You mean when she had half the campus lining up to take her out?" "Yep, and she's not exaggerating Edward," Rose said, "But, of course, Bella being Bella had no idea of the slew of men that fawned over her." "Slew?" Edward asked. "Edward, I can name you ten guys right now that went to bars on a regular basis just for a chance to talk to her - and not just because she's got a beautiful face. Right, Alice?" "Oh yeah," Alice said, "Let's see there was Mike Scalesi, Keith Haldrin, Brian and Brendan Gramble" Oh Dear God... Rose continued, "You see, once she escaped the constant pressure her parents put on her -"

"Matt Dribner, Alex Massey, Kevin Bergdorf" Alice continued. Rose said, "She realized she could relax and have fun-" "Jonathan Frette, David Hoff, and you can't forget Chris Wilner." Rose whipped her head in our direction for a second. "Oh God, now he was a fine specimen. How many dates did you go on with him, Bella?" Alice allowed my head to turn up enough for me to see Edward's tightened jaw and worried eyes. "Um, four dates, the senior formal and one summer." Rose turned back to Edward. "In fact, Edward, I don't think Bella ever had to buy herself a drink not once. Even nowadays, she has a way with men and still doesn't realize it. I mean, she got you to buy her plane tickets." I peeked over to see Edward nod and the pulse in his neck quicken. "What I'm trying to tell you here Edward, is that you don't forget that you're supposed to get naked with your co-worker and invite my friend to witness it. And just in case you weren't catching my drift, men flock to Bella like bees to honey she can have anyone she wants and she doesn't need to be famous to have them. So, I believe you should count your lucky stars that Alice and I think you might actually be a decent guy who made a stupid mistake and talked her into staying." Edward stood on tiptoes to see me over Rose's head. "Staying? You were going to leave?" he asked his eyes widening. I shrugged and Alice yanked my head away again. "Bella, I'm-" Rose interrupted him. "Not now Edward. We have to finish getting ready for dinner. We'll be ready in 10 minutes," she said as she shut the door in his face. "What are you doing?" I asked, wondering if Edward would be asking us to leave after that.

Rose rolled her eyes. "Listen, we let one guy fuck up your life and that is not going to happen again at least not on my watch, you get that?" I smiled at her cocked eyebrow and pursed lips. Thank God for Rose. From the moment we left the bedroom to the moment we sat at dinner, the girls wouldn't let Edward talk to me alone nor sit next to me. I was kind of shocked they were going this far, but then again, screw that. The initial awkwardness began to dissipate once the drinks began flowing. "Alright another one," Emmett challenged us after we correctly answered all of the Grease trivia questions he'd thrown at us. "Come on, big guy, give it to me," Rose said, drunk as a skunk. Emmett snorted. "Okay, what color is Frenchie's hair at the malt shop after starting beauty school? Do you know? Huh?" "Emmett, are you trying to trick us with these lame questions? Pink. Her hair was pink," Alice said, snorting into her wine. "Fuck Okay, you'll never get this one. This is like a super challenge question. Are you ready? What is the name of the T-Birds rival gang?" Emmett leaned in, waiting for us to screw up. "The Scorpions!" I said, giggling. Emmett fell back against his seat exasperated, shaking his head. We all roared at his response, except Edward who was uncharacteristically quiet, just as he had been the whole night. He nodded and grinned, keeping an eye on me like had throughout dinner. "Honestly Emmett, I can't believe you know so much about Grease," Rose said, beaming at him. "We should do Grease karaoke sometime." Emmett pointed at Rose. "Don't toy with me, woman. I have been after this prick to do it with me forever. I even told him I'd sing Sandy's part." He elbowed Edward hard in the side. Edward caught his balance and grinned, but said nothing.

Before long, we were back at Edward's house since he had to get up early the next morning. When I went into Edward's bedroom to gather my things to wash up, he followed me, shutting the door behind him. I ignored his presence. "Bella," Edward said, standing there watching me move around. When I said nothing, he said, "Bella, please, we need to talk." I got my stuff and left the room to wash up. How can I look at him? My heart's been in my throat all night, trying to repress the thought of him getting hard from groping Tanya's perfect body. When I came back in, Edward was sitting on the edge of the bed, resting his elbows on his knees and his head in his hands. He picked up his head, and with worry written as plain as day on his face said, "Bella, I'm so fucking sorry I forgot about today's scenesdo you want me to sleep on the couch?" I remained still, standing over him. "What I want is to know if you like her." He shook his head. "Who? Tanya?" "Are you going to play dumb here? Yes, Tanya. Do you like her?" He shook his head, seeming confused. "No, I have no interest in her." "Then why did I hear her say that you got it up during your scene today? I mean, I always hear actors say how technical it is, how unromantic it is but you got an erection, so you're obviously attracted to her. Why the hell am I here, Edward? If you like her, why ask me out here and flaunt it in front of me?" I nearly shouted at him, but reigned in my hurt and frustration. At that moment, Edward's eyes couldn't have been wider, nor his mouth more open. He shook his head and stood up in front of me with a confused and slightly amused expression, which did not help matters. "Why the hell are you smiling?"

He ran his hand across the back of his neck. "Because, oh fuck, Bella this is insane and entirely embarrassing! Yeah, I got a fucking erection today andfuckit was horrifying. You probably won't believe a word of this, but I swear on my mother's life, I was fucking thinking about us last night during that scene I'd just stepped away from you and your scent was on my hands - andsometimesnoall the time every time I think about us, like that, I get hard. And that's the thing I think about you so fucking much that I don't think it's normal. That's where my mind's been on you. I've been late to work after staying up late thinking about you, I've forgotten half my lines because I've been distracted by phoning you, and yeah, I forgot they switched the schedule today because once again, I was so focused on you coming hereso, no, I have no interest in Tanya none. How could I? You own my head," he said, watching me closely with remorseful eyes. Holy crap. I shook my head. I wanted to believe him. "I'm not lying, Bella." I nodded. "I'm so very sorry," he said softly, shaking his head and running his hand across the back of his neck. "I can't believe you think of me that much." He nodded. "I might need an intervention," he said chancing a smile, which I couldn't help but return. He tentatively reached out to touch my shoulders. When I didn't protest, he pulled me into his arms, hugging me tight. Ahhsoap, shaving cream We embraced for a long while before I whispered in his ear, "Does this mean you often walk around with hard-ons?" He snorted in my hair then pulled back. "It's painful and embarrassing I'll have you know. I've had to carry a jacket or something, just in case."

I shook my head, smiling. "I don't believe you. It can't happen that often." "Oh no?" He grabbed my hand and put it against the boulder sitting under the fly of his jeans. "OhI see." I nodded and smiled wider. "And have you always cursed this much?" He laughed and pulled me into his arms again. "I'm so happy you didn't leave." One embrace led to two, which led to clothes flying. Dear Lord, if it wasn't one of the hottest rounds of make-up sex I'd ever had. Afterwards, we lay in bed, talking face to face with our legs still tangled. "Tanya's still a bitch you know," I said. Edward grinned. "Yeah, I know." "She asked if I was your aunt, Edward." His eyes widened. "Fuck, no she didn't." "Yes, she did. Then she went on to explain how getting naked with you wasn't a problem because you're so hot and sexy." He shook his head. "Stop Bella. It doesn't matter what she says or anyone else for that matterI like you, not her." I nodded, still a little bit raw inside. He ran his thumb across my cheek, then his fingers through my hair, finally cupping my head in his hand. "Bella, I know I fucked up today and I know my job is really weird, but please trust me when I say that I'll always be honest with you." I examined his earnest eyes a moment. Not sensing one 'liar' warning bell going off, I nodded and prayed that I could finally let go and do that.

Chapter 14
"Good morning, Bella." MmmEnglish velvet "Is it morning already?" I mumbled into the pillow lying facedown. "Mmhmm." I could almost hear Edward's smirk. I rolled onto my back, the sheet covering my naked assets. Hearing his quiet laughter, I smiled. I opened my eyes to see Mr. Spectacular dressed and sitting on the edge of the bed. He leaned down, pressed a gentle kiss to my cheek and then grinned a knowing grin. "What?" I asked. He shook his head. "Nothing." "Say it," I warned playfully. He waited a moment, deciding. "You're even beautiful when you wake up." I snorted, shook my head and rolled my eyes. "See? That's why I didn't want to tell you. I knew you wouldn't believe me. I told you I wouldn't lie," he scolded. Then, in one swift movement, he grabbed my wrists and dove into my neck, grinding his stubbly face under my chin, causing me to laugh so hard I could barely breathe. "Stop!" I yelped, wiggling in vain. "No," he muttered, his warm breath, lips and scruff still tickling my neck. "Will you believe me next time?" "Yes," I giggled. "You promise?" He asked, continuing the torture.

"Yes!" I shrieked. I finally twisted my wrists free and pushed him off me. He sat up, laughing. "That's what you're going to get from now on if you don't believe me." "Okay, okay! I believe you," I said, still giggling and rubbing my neck. "Now, listen up, pretty girl," he said, emphasizing 'pretty' and leaning his face toward my neck just in case. "I have to go to the gym, but I'll be back in a little while. Maybe we'll catch breakfast afterwards?" "The gym?" "Yeah, I have an appointment with the trainer this morning." He grimaced and rolled his eyes. For some reason, the mere mention of the gym brought on guilt. Guilt over skipping so many days and guilt over having consumed more alcohol in the last 48 hours than I had in the last three years. "Can I come with you?" He raised his eyebrows at me. "You want to go to the gym? Yeah, of course you can come, but I have to be there in fifteen minutes." I groaned and shut my eyes. "It's alright Bella, you don't need to work out. You worked out last night, remember?" I opened my eyes. "I did? Well, I didn't break a sweat, that's for sure." "Get your arse up before I go for your neck again." I protected my neck with my hands and shook my head. "Okay, okay." He laughed as he left and shut the door. I gathered my things and washed up quickly. I put on some shorts, a t-shirt and my sneakers and threw my hair up into a ponytail. I got into the kitchen five minutes later. "Are the glam girls still asleep?" he asked.

"Obviously," I said, pointing to my au naturale face. He laughed and swatted my ass. "Well, you look good au naturale too." "Thank you," I said, smiling, easily accepting the compliment this time. "That's much better," he said, grinning that hot grin. Once we arrived, Edward and the trainer began their routine while I stretched and worked out on machines and with free weights. Every once in a while I spied Edward through the mirrors: his awkwardness lifting weights shocked me. I remembered his comment about being 'not all that athletic', but I didn't think he was serious. But he was. It was true. I wouldn't have believed him had I not seen him first hand. My oh my, how wholly adorable he looked. He seemed so tormented by the trainer as he tried lifting the weights in uncoordinated movements. Obviously, it didn't matter because the results? Oh Lord, the resultslean, rippled results that I loved running my hands and mouth over. A few times I caught him glancing over his shoulder, searching. I got the sense my presence added to his awkwardness. At the end of my workout, I made my way to a treadmill and started to run, something I'd done for nearly forever. A few minutes later Edward settled himself on the treadmill next to me. We smiled at each other as he started. I noticed him eyeing my speed register as he clicked his a notch higher. I clicked mine up a notch too. He clicked his higher again. "Are you trying to race me on a treadmill?" I asked. "Yes, and you're losing." He snickered. "Am not," I said, increasing my speed. "Yes you are," he said, increasing his again.

Bit by bit, we increased the pace, growing sweatier and more out of breath. Finally, we were both sprinting and I was ready to die, but I wasn't giving up. "I'm making you sweat now, aren't I?" he joked between breaths. I laughed. "Too bad you can't do that when it really counts." He burst out laughing, almost slipping off the treadmill, and we left the gym a sweaty, laughing twosome. With Edward off at work with The Bitch of Denali, the girls and I spent the warm, sunny day shopping and seeing some local sights. It was such a beautiful place with green palm trees, bright blue sky, and sun that warmed your skin to the perfect temperature. We laughed, bought too many things and lounged at the cutest outdoor restaurant where we peoplewatched for the longest time. It was a wonderful distraction from the thought of Tanya humping Edward's leg at work. It helped that Edward called me several times to see how my day was going. Each time we spoke, he told me he couldn't wait to see me that night. He also apologized that he would have to work later than expected. He insisted we go ahead to the dance club as we'd planned and that he and Emmett would meet us when he was done. After grabbing a bite to eat, we headed back to the house to relax before the second portion of the night began. All dressed, I glanced down at the lacey, scoop neck corset top that squished my boobs up and nearly over, the skinny black jeans and the heels that begged fate to twist my ankle. "I can't believe I'm actually wearing this. I sort of feel like I'm a dominatrix or something." Alice snorted. "Well, you know what they say - if you beat it, he will come." "Alice!" I said, howling in laughter with Rose. When we arrived at the bar, I quickly scanned the room hoping Edward got through with work early, but no such luck. We ordered drinks and headed to an empty table. The place was just like any club we'd find at home: light enough to know where your glass was and dark

enough to make everyone look better. The only difference was the drop-dead gorgeous women scattered around the room. I could feel the tide of insecurity washing over me. Rose nudged me. "What's wrong?" "Nothing," I said, attempting a smile. "Bella..." she pressed. I sighed. "Rose, look around. How can so many beautiful women be in one place? It's just not normal." She smiled at me. "No. No it's not, but that's because this is the plastic surgery capitol of the world...stop worrying." Alice looked between Rose and I. "What are you two talking about?" Rose answered, "She's psyching herself out of the game here, looking at all the pretty women." "What?" Alice said, rolling her eyes at me. "Listen you, Edward is not coming in here to hook up with anyone but you. That much was clear last night. If he wanted someone else, you wouldn't be here. So shut up, hoist your girls to attention and let's get some shots in you. Come on." Alice was right. I was being ridiculous. Rose and I followed Alice to the bar where she ordered two rounds of shots. "To Bella. May she never wear those ugly ass sweatpants again," Alice said as we all held up the first shot and downed it. The next one went down just as smoothly. "Okay, let's go ladies!" Alice said. "Wait! One more." I stopped them and ordered another round of shots. The two of them raised their eyebrows at me in surprise.

"Someone certainly has their party on tonight," Rose said. "Well, when in Rome..." I joked. Why not let loose a little? I held up the shot. "To my roommates, my very own Fairy Slutmothers, thank you. Thank you for being here, for always cheering me on and for squeezing me into a top I can hardly breathe in." We giggled, clanked and drank. We headed to the dance floor where the beat was hard and the lights were fast. An alcoholic haze settled over me and soon enough my worries were forgotten. As the three of us danced, I watched in awe as Alice batted her eyes in every direction, eager to lure someone into her little web. Of course, she happened to snag the eyes of a cute blonde guy who stood with his five friends against the wall. She glanced his way, smiling, all the while keeping the beat. Her mating dance was so damn impressive. The blonde man approached Alice shortly thereafter, and the two began to dance next to us. Rose and I exchanged amused glances, enjoying the Alice-Snag-A-Man show. My brain swam in tequila as I danced. The bass thumped in my ears and inside my chest, the furious strobe lights adding to the fog I was in. I felt out-of-body, getting lost in the beat. In fact, I didn't even notice that the friends of Alice's current boytoy had started dancing around us, until Rose elbowed me and nodded at the man-fence. She and I laughed as I scanned for Edward yet again. Nothing. In my visual search for Edward, however, I happened to catch eyes with one of the men around us. He was tall, quite handsome with dark hair and blue eyes and rocked a nice body; perhaps in another world I would have been interested. The next thing I knew, he shot me a sexy smile. Out of instinct I grinned back, a little confused. Is he smiling at me? I looked behind me to check and scanned for Edward while I was at it. Where the hell is Edward? I turned back around to find that Handsome Man had moved closer to me. Not too close, but closer. I continued dancing, lost in my own rhythm, ignoring Handsome Man as best as I could.

After a while, I searched the room once again for Edward and that's when I spotted those familiar green eyes, slightly shrouded in shadow by the baseball hat brim, ogling me. With a beer in hand and wearing an untucked button-down shirt, jeans and a leather jacket, Edward leaned casually against the nearby wall. The strobe lights flashed against his full lips and sharp jaw line, sending my heart flying and my insides flipping. How long has he been there? How did he get in here without notice? I suddenly realized I was in the middle of the boy corral. Is he upset? Nervously, I took a chance and grinned at him. He grinned back and shook his head slightly. Interestingwhy the hell is he over there? And then, even in my inebriated state, it dawned on me he was watching me dance. Dirty boy So with a whole lot of alcohol-fueled confidence, I happily obliged. I swiveled my hips in slow, seductive circles, alternating with my chest and shoulders in time to the music. Take that, Tanya I peeked over at Edward now and again, catching him sip his beer, every bit of him focused on me. His eyes burned under that cap, his lips wet and parted. It was like a dream. He was like a dream. How did I end up here? Staying at Mr. Spectacular's house? He made my belly tumble with nerves and fear, yet at the same time he breathed me alive - more alive than I'd ever been. When I smirked, he smirked back, spurring me on. I slinked my body to the music remembering his hands traveling down the length of my body, up my thighs, caressing my ass while his tongue circled my erect nipples, drawing them to their fullest peaks. I thought about the look in his eyes right before he'd come - sheer pleasure mixed with wonder - and the guttural groan that would escape his open mouth I glanced his way again, in awe that the incredible man standing hidden under the baseball cap would be touching every inch of me later bringing me to my release with those perfect fingers that wrapped around the neck of the bottle. Then after we traveled to the moon and

back, I would lie wrapped in him and fall into the deepest slumber - and even then I'd dream of him. Edward was slowly invading every part of my life. I grinned at him again and his smirk widened into a smile. I wondered if he knew the salacious memories I recalled. But then Handsome Man interrupted my dirty daydreams. He reached for my waist and bent forward into my ear. "God, you know how to move." I was horrified. This isn't for you. I stepped back without saying a word. Over Handsome Man's shoulder I saw Edward with a clenched jaw, push off the wall and begin to move in my direction. Of course, four unbelievably attractive and barely-clad girls stopped Edward in his tracks. I stopped too. I danced half-heartedly, watching Edward smile and pose for pictures. It's his job... It's his job... It's his job But the girls didn't leave after. No, they threw their heads back in laughter as they clung to Edward, pawing the arms I longed to touch. Remember what Alice said, Bella - he's here with you. He's here with you. The green-eyed monster ached to rear its ugly head as the girls stood on tiptoe, pulling down on his shoulder to whisper in his ear. He's here with you, he's here with you, he's here with you I was proud of myself for not becoming unglued, but then Handsome Man wrapped his hand around my waist again and leaned in. "Why'd you stop dancing? Do you know how incredibly hot you look?" Oh no. Handsome man was moving in for the kill. I had to leave the dance floor. And even though I'd kept my wits about me regarding the pawing of Edward, it would be better if I didn't stay and witness any more. I began heading for the safety of the bathroom when Handsome Man caught my arm. With a pretty smile that ended in dimples he asked, "Where are you going?" He followed my gaze to

Edward who was still being hugged, stroked and rubbed against. "Don't waste your time on him. He's got his hands full already." God, even a total stranger sees what I see. What am I doing? With my happy bubble burst to bits, I slid out of his grasp and made it a few more feet until Handsome Man snatched me by the waist again. "Come on, don't leave," he said in my ear then pulled back to look at me with his piercing blue eyes. "You are the hottest chick in this place." I shook my head, escaping toward the bathroom once again. I nearly made it when I heard, "Where the hell are you going?" as someone seized my shoulder. I spun around to smack Handsome Man, but found an enraged and confused Edward. "What?" I said in surprise and meeting his anger. "Hey, let go of her. You've got your groupies back there, hotshot, and I saw her first," Handsome Man said, grabbing my arm. "Get your fucking hands off her," Edward said in such a way, Handsome Man removed his hands immediately. Oh boy. Eye-to-eye, Handsome Man got in Edward's face. "You got a lot of nerve. You're up to your elbows in women over there, yet you come over here and ruin my thing? Fuck that, you greedy prick." "Fuck off. She's with me," Edward said, inching closer to Handsome Man. Oh my God, are they going to fight? Handsome Man stepped in. "Like hell she is. Then why wasn't she actually with you?" Edward narrowed his eyes at the man then glanced at me then back at the man. Yeah, Edward, why weren't you with me? I had an eyebrow raised waiting for the answer.

"Because I liked watching her dance and you're fucking lucky I let you stay near her that long," he said to Handsome Man through gritted teeth. "This is bullshit. You actors think you own the fucking world." Handsome Man turned to me, "Listen Beautiful, are you with this guy or what?" The world seemed to stop with two sets of eyes trained on my face. I knew my mouth hung open, stunned at the scene before me. "Bella?" Edward snapped. I looked between the two of them, settling my eyes on Handsome Man. "Yeah, I'm with him," I said, overwhelmed. Handsome Man shook his head at me and walked away. Edward turned to face me. "Were you going to leave with him?" he asked with furious eyes and a tight jaw. "What? You think I'd leave with a strange guy? That's the kind of girl you think I am?" I said, not only offended, but now monumentally angry. Edward seemed taken aback, but pressed on just as riled up. "I know you were probably pissed off when you saw me with those girls and-" "And what? You thought I would hook-up with someone else just to get back at you? What the hell, Edward?" My heart pounded in the center of my throat. I could feel the tears prickle at the corners of my eyes. I refused to lose it in the middle of the bar, so I turned to leave. I got about three steps when he pulled me back. "Where are you going?" he asked. I shook my head and turned to leave again. He snatched me by the arm and held on this time. "Stop running away from me!" he spat out. "Why? What do you want to discuss, Edward? Me leaving with him?"

Edward's eyes narrowed and grew dark. "I wouldn't let you." "You know, between yesterday with Tanya and now tonight with those girls and your obnoxious assumptions, maybe I shouldn't tell you the truth: that I was handling the fan thing pretty well and that I was only trying to get away from that guy by escaping to the bathroom. Maybe instead, I should lie and tell you that I was going with him that way you would know what it feels like to have the person you like pawed at and humped on." Edward's jaw tightened and his eyes widened. "Maybe I should tell you how I was leading him into a dark corner just like the one we're in now. He was pretty hot after all, Edward. And maybe I should mention how I was about to let him grind his in-shape body on me, let him touch me, and stick his tongue in my mouth. I bet he'd taste good." Edward breathed hard through his nose, his fists clenched. I continued, "In fact, it's so dark, he could probably get away with slipping his hand down my pants and touching me you know, right there and we both know my moans wouldn't be heard above the music." Even in the flash of the strobe lights, I could see Edward's face burning up. "And then he'd-" Edward lunged forward and crashed his lips to mine. He pushed me back against the wall only a few feet away, locking me into place with his arms and hips. "What are you doing?" I said, after I struggled to free my lips from his unrelenting mouth. "Letting you know that no one's going to touch you or kiss you in dark corners or anywhere else, except me. No one," he growled, attacking my mouth again. His teeth grated against mine, his tongue delved so deep I could hardly breathe. And I couldn't move at all. His body held me prisoner against the rough, brick wall. He continued for several minutes, applying the slightest bit more pressure every time I squirmed.

It was the oddest thing. For as angry as I was at his rude assumptions, I was even more aroused by his forceful possessiveness. After resisting for who knows how long, I finally relented, kissing him back with just as much passion. We remained pressed against the wall even after he relaxed enough to allow my body to curve into his. More! My body screamed as our hips continually ground together. Now and again his moans vibrated in my mouth and through my closed eyes I saw bright flashes of light. He broke away from me and grabbed my hand, leading me down a hallway. "Where are we going?" I asked, trying to keep up with his hurried pace. He glanced back at me. "Home," he snapped. Outside the bar, the sidewalk teemed with paparazzi flashing away. As we bolted, Edward ignored the flurry of questions hurled his way like, "Have a good time tonight Edward?" or "Who are you with?" or "Is that your girlfriend?" He was unusually serious and focused. We got in the car and Edward handed me his phone. "Text Emmett. Tell him he's going to have to bring your friends home," he commanded, all business. The ride to his house was silent. Every time we hit a red light Edward stared at it as his thumbs tapped impatiently on the steering wheel. When the light turned green he'd speed till we hit another light, his thumbs tapping harder. Holy crap. I was still annoyed, yet giddy inside. He screeched the car to a halt outside his house and we hopped out. He snatched my hand, nearly dragging me into his house. Edward shut the door and sprang at me.

Chapter 15
We'd barely made it in the door when Edward's hands seized my face, kissing me like his life depended on it. In all of two steps, he had me backed up against the closest surface the dining room table. I could do nothing but hold on to his shirt because it was quite obvious he was a man on a mission. His hands cupped my ass as he hoisted me onto the tabletop. He positioned himself between my open legs, his mouth never leaving mine. With one hand holding my head steady and the other at my lower back, he kept our bodies aligned and his hardness against my center. "No one," Edward snarled against my mouth. I had no idea what he meant, but I knew he was still furious - and I was more turned on than ever. I couldn't help but kiss him back just as hard, but then he dove his tongue deeper. When I hugged his neck so tight that under normal circumstances he probably would've been uncomfortable, he tightened his grip around my body so hard that I was immobile. He was out to prove a point. He allowed a fraction of space between us and without breaking our kiss, flung his hat off and shook his jacket down off his arms, letting it fall to the floor. Then his hands came back at me, roaming greedily across my corset-covered breasts. "Where the bloody hell did you get this outfit?" "You don't like it?" I asked against his hungry lips. He looked at me with dark, intense eyes. "Not like it? I couldn't stop watching you fucking move in it...and I wasn't the only one." With that comment, his lips jammed against mine again. His hands slid up and down and across my back. It took me a moment to realize that he was looking for the ends of the corset's laces - the laces that were there for effect only. "Edward-"

"Shh," he said against my mouth, finding the ends and frantically untying them. He ripped the laces through their holes. "Edward," I tried again, but was met by an even harsher, "Shh," so I let him finish his fruitless untying. Done with the laces, he pulled at the top, expecting it to be loose, but it didn't budge. Tugging, pulling, and huffing up a storm, he unlocked his lips from mine. "How the fuck do you get this thing off?" he said so impatiently it was funny, but I didn't dare laugh. He was in no mood for jokes, that much was clear. His frustrated eyes watched as I revealed the column of hook-and-eye closures hidden down the front. He huffed again. As I began undoing the closures, he stared at the flesh I was slowly exposing. His breathing remained rapid, and even though he was still highly agitated, heavy doses of lust rolled off him. I held the sides of the corset together as I unhooked, and when I was done with the last one I stole a glance at him. His hooded eyes were on fire. He whipped my hands away. "Give me that," he said, ripping the top open and down my arms, flinging it somewhere. He stared at my bare breasts as I sat on the table, my hair falling just above my rosy circles. His jaw clenched. "No one," he growled again as he cupped both breasts. Thumbing and tugging on my hard-as-nails nipples, my head tilted back as I reveled in the sensation that traveled directly from my breasts to my groin. When I suddenly felt hot moisture, I looked down to see Edward bent forward and his tongue circling one breast while fondling the other. He sucked on my breast, lightly biting my nipple. I ran my hand through his hair. His beautiful face and wondrous tongue all over my breasts made my legs shaky. My head tilted back again as my eyes rolled closed. "MmmGod this feels so good," I muttered, as I leaned back on my locked elbows.

Edward straightened up, stared at me a moment and began unbuttoning my pants. Although my desire was through the roof, his intensity was slightly off-putting. With the button unbuttoned and the zipper unzipped, he rocked the sides of my pants down. I lifted my hips to help. He pulled them down to my ankles where he cast off my shoes and whooshed my pants off by pulling on both legs at once. There I sat, topless and wearing only thin, lacey panties. I reached out to grasp the hem of his shirt. "No," he barked, backing off a little. OkaySo I'm nearly naked and he's fully dressed. Interesting... His tongue found mine in a heartbeat as he held the sides of my face. I felt him tipping me back to lie on the table. I leaned back on my elbows as he whipped his shirt off, tossing it who knows where. He hoisted his knee and began climbing up like a panther ready to attack, when he whacked his head on the light suspended over the table. "Fuck!" he yelled, pulling back and rubbing his head. "Fuck!" I sat up. "Are you okay?" I asked, stopping the swinging light and reaching out to rub his head. He glared at me, stopped wincing and stood up. He yanked me to my feet, reached around my legs and hoisted me up and over his shoulder, muttering, "No-fucking-one." In a huff, he carried me off to the bedroom. Upon entering, he kicked the door shut then brought me over to his desk, sliding the desk chair across the room till it hit the dresser. Oh boy. He sat me on the edge. I glanced behind me there was stuff all over the desk. As it was I sat on papers and, ouch, possibly a pen.

I glanced up at shirtless Edward standing between my legs, who as far as I was concerned, could not look hotter under any circumstance. He could look happier, but definitely not hotter. As if he read my mind when I pulled the pen out from under my leg, he reached around me and shoved the mountain of crap off the desk and onto the floor. Holy. Shit. After the clanging, banging, crunching, and thudding subsided, he asked, "Better?" raising a this-is-a-rhetorical-question eyebrow at me. I nodded like a good girl, and for the briefest of moments, saw the flash of a very satisfied smile on his face. But when I looked again, it was gone. He came at me again with those lips that were swollen from hard, relentless kisses. His tongue, forceful and needy, searched my mouth, just like his eyes did when he pulled back slightly. "No one else, Bella," he growled. I nodded, but he clarified anyway. "No one else is going to touch you like this, right," he more stated than asked, with his mouth against mine. He ran his finger down the center of my chest to my panties, hooking inside and snapping the lacey material against my skin. "No," I breathed out. He kissed me more, pulling back again to ask, "Or like this?" He cupped one breast firmly and kneaded it, thumbing my nipple and sending erotic shocks through me. "No," I whispered again. He straightened up and ran both of his hands along my open inner thighs, staring down at me through hooded eyes. His thumbs circled on either side of my heated and desperate center, dying for his direct touch. He watched my chest rise and fall with excitement and anticipation.

Edward inched inward with his magic thumbs, finally stroking the lacey-covered spot that screamed his name. My breathing picked up and my mouth fell open. "How about here, Bella? Anyone else going to touch you here?" he asked, deep and low. "Nono, Edwardplease," I moaned, my eyes rolling back and closing. He slipped the crotch of my panties to the side and slipped his fingers along my holy-GodI'm-drenched core. "I might be young Bella, but I'm not a fucking idiot. I've always known you could have anyone. You didn't need to prove it tonight," he whispered, in a husky voice, stroking me. It felt so good but I was so conflicted. He wants to discuss this now with his handthere? "I wasn'ttryingoh Godto prove anything" I panted. "Why were you leaving with him?" "I wasn't.Edward" "Whose fingers do you want here, Bella?" he asked, sliding a finger inside me. "Oh God," I breathed out, my mind warring with my body for focus. "Yours..." Then his hands were gone, but a moment later they were at my hips, grabbing onto my panties. He roughly tugged them off me and flung them. He stood back, examining my naked, open-for-business form. Our eyes locked. Please Edward, mine cried. He shook his head at me, deciding his next move. Slow torture? Rough sex? Anything! I didn't care. All I knew is I wanted him close, I wanted him with me, in me, and no longer angry. "Please Edward," I pleaded, wet and hungry for his body to make up with mine.

That's when my body took over. Leaning back on one arm, my other hand slipped over my belly and down my thigh. He watched me carefully, in control of his face, but not his jaw, which tightened. "Please?" I begged, slipping my fingers over the place I wanted him. Take Me, my fingers urged. His mouth parted, and I could hear his breathing quicken. I continued to let him know that this, this is where I needed him. His face loosened as his hands went for the button on his pants. Oh, thank God, I thought, watching him fumble with his button and zipper, getting annoyed all over again. "Edward," I whispered, afraid he'd stop. He glanced up at me and my hand, and shoved his pants and underwear down quickly, freeing the ride I needed to board. He really was spectacular from head to head to toe. He leaned over me, kissing me again, trying to remove his pants the rest of the way. Stepping on them, left, right, left, right then suddenly yelling, "Oh fuck!" as he tried grabbing anything to stop him from falling. I didn't know what happened as I watched him lose the battle and plunk down onto his ass, pants still connected. My first instinct was to laugh, but oh no, it was too precarious a moment for that. On the wooden floor he sat, head down, knees up as the silence stretched on. I froze, waiting for his reaction to determine mine. He reached under his foot and held up a pen. "Your pen?" he asked with a cocked eyebrow. His face was stone I couldn't read any emotion on it. I, on the other hand, found it highly amusing that the same pen I sat on tripped him. I didn't laugh, but I had to bite my lip hard not to. He held the pen up to give it to me - why, I didn't know since I wasn't about to stop and write a letter. I hopped off the desk and reached down to take it and that's when he snatched my arm and pulled me down on top of him. "Ahhh!"

He wrapped his arms around me and I lifted my face to his, afraid he'd be furious again. We stared at one another for a long moment until his face cracked into a smile. "You want to laugh, don't you?" I bit the lip that had already curved up without me knowing. "No." He shook his head, but his face was lighter, softer and still wearing that beguiling smile I loved. "Go on, laugh, even though I'm trying to be all cool here," he said. "No, I won't laugh," I said, biting down harder. "Andclumsiness is cool," I said, bursting into laughter as his smile grew wider. He shook his head at me. "Clumsy? Let me show you just how clumsy I am." And with that he rolled on top of me and kicked his pants off the rest of the way. He smiled and kissed me with softer lips, more affectionate and caring. It wasn't a minute before we were full throttle again. He leaned up, hovering over me, gazing into my eyes. With my arms wrapped around his neck and my hands tangled into his hair, he sunk deeply into me. Simultaneously, a groan of relief escaped our lips. I firmed my grasp around his neck as we moved out in opposite directions, colliding in the middle. I shut my eyes and arched my back slightly, using my leg around his waist to push him deeper. My body and mind basked in the feeling of his hard, tight skin sliding inside my soft, wet center. Pushing, pulling, pushing, pulling "Look at me, Bella," he whispered softly. I tilted my head up and met his burning eyes. The emotional intensity overwhelmed me; chills ran down my arms and legs and I almost needed to break the gaze, but didn't. Pushing, pulling, pushing, pullingharder and faster our bodies connected, climbing higher and higher.

Eventually, I recognized that look on his face - his beautifully chiseled face screwing up as he neared the pinnacle of pleasure. I was on the edge myself as all my senses gathered. I want to come with him Breathing in quick pants I nodded at him, and he nodded back in understanding and then, in a powerful explosion, we reached the top of this mountain together, loudly groaning out in a deep, gratifying release. He collapsed on me, resting his sweaty head against my shoulder as we caught our breaths. I wove my fingers through his hair. After a few moments, he leaned up, smiling. He gently stroked the side of my cheek. Pressing a tender kiss to my lips, he pulled himself from me slowly. I already missed him. He stood up and held a hand out to help me up. I scanned the room as he led me to the bed. Papers and pens were scattered all over, scripts were tossed around, books were open face up and face down, his surprisingly unbroken lamp laid on its side, the desk chair rested against the dresser, sticks of gum were everywhere and clothing was strewn across the floor. "Oooh, Edward. You made such a mess," I tsked. "Well, I blame you." He snickered, peeling back the sheet and holding it up for me to get in first. "Me? How do you figure?" I laughed, sliding in as he scooted in beside me. I settled my head against his chest as he wrapped his arms around me and kissed my head. "Yeah, you. You nearly made me shag you on the desk." "I made you? You carried me over there, Captain Caveman." He snorted. "That's because you whispered, 'shag me on the desk, Edward'. Must be an American thing." I laughed. "Desk sex is an American thing? Well, then you should be happy I'm broadening your horizons."

"That you are," he laughed, but I felt somehow there was a snippet of truth in there. I snuggled back into his warm chest, my body tired and relaxed. "Are you still pissed?" he asked softly, stroking my arm with his thumb. "Pissed? You mean drunk?" "Yes, American girl, drunk," he chuckled. "No, you pretty much killed my buzz when you almost got into a fight in the bar. Were you drunk?" I asked, pretty sure he was sober. He snickered. "No, I wasn't, I just" he shook his head and stopped. I leaned up on my elbow again. "You just what?" "I just never had that happen before." I raised an eyebrow totally confused. "Never had fans dry humping you?" I teased. "What is wrong with you?" He laughed. "No, I mean, yes, I mean, no-" "Whatever. Women dry hump you in public. I get it." I laughed. "Stop it. They do notnot really anyway," he snorted. I rolled my eyes. "We both know you get dry humped, the question is what never happened before?" He grinned, but looked serious nonetheless. "I never 'almost got into a fight' in a bar. Never. I don't fight. I've wrestled around with my sisters when they tried to make me play dress-up, butI justnever got so angry, sowhat's the word?" he looked off, searching. "Possessive?" I grinned. "Yeah, I guess, possessive. I've never felt so compelled to protect what I, um, what I hope is mine." He looked at me with those hopeful green eyes that made my face light up in a huge smile.

"I never had anyone fight over me beforeit was kind of nice. Except for the part where you accused me of being a floozy and going off with a stranger." He grimaced. "I'm sorry about that. I saw the guy following you off the dance floor and thought you were pissed off about those fans." "Actually I wasn't pissed off about the fans." "You weren't?" "No, I wasn't." "I don't believe you," he smirked. I shook my head and took a deep breath. With a smile, but serious all the same, I said, "This may be a little shocking because honestly, I'm surprised myself, but umI've come to realize that the fan thing is a part of your life and your job and even though I don't like it, it's there. It's part of your 'package', if you will. I mean, I definitely like your other package better though, you know?" I smiled. He laughed. "Yes, yes I do." He tucked my hair behind my ear as I continued, "Okay, and so after your unprovoked attack upon my neck this morning, I realized that if I'm going to be yours, which I would very much like to be, then I'm going to have to start trusting you and what you say." I looked down. Saying it out loud made it real and far scarier, but it felt good nevertheless. He lifted my chin to meet his eyes and smiled as his hand curved to the back of my head, pulling my face to his. He kissed me softly. Then my yawn interrupted us. "Go to sleep, Bella," he said gently with a grin. I sank back down against his chest, his arms wrapping me a little tighter than before. I yawned again and before I fell to sleep I whispered, "No one else, Edward." His chest vibrated with a soft chuckle. "No one else, Bella," he said with a kiss to my head.

Chapter 16
Oh GodWho is talking so early? I turned over, exhausted mentally, emotionally and ooh my back, physicallyoh yeahphysically. The thought made me giggle which made my belly ache which made my head hurt. God, I'm too old for this I sat up a little, my head not throbbing as badly as I expected. I rubbed my eyes as I surveyed the room. What a mess. I giggled again, thinking about last night. Then laid back, smilingno one else. Speaking of no one else, where is Edward? Then I heard the voices again - it was Edward and Emmett in the kitchen. I did what any self-respecting girl would do I tried to eavesdrop, but it seemed the harder I listened, the harder it was to make out any coherent words. I did, however, catch a 'Bella' from Emmett followed by a 'sod-off' from Edward followed by what I think was laughing and wrestling. What are they saying? A few quiet moments later, the bedroom door opened. "Good morning. Been up long?" Edward asked sweetly. Look at himin nothing but pajama pantsmy heart noticed and sped up, probably hoping to hump him like everyone else. "Just a few minutes," I said, my face lighting up. He sat on the edge of the bed and kissed me softly on my cheek. I grinned. "You still look tired," he said, brushing my hair off my face. "Yeah, well someone kept me up half the night." "I didn't hear any complaints."

"That's because you were too busy staking me as your own." He laughed. "Who was that bloke?" "I have no idea buthe was kinda sexy." "Oh yeah?" I nodded. "Oh yeah. Especially when the pen took him out." Smiling and blushing, he shook his head. "So what were you and Emmett talking about out there?" "Sorry. Did we wake you up?" "Only when I heard my name." I grinned. He nodded and said nothing. "Well?" I asked. "Well, what?" "Well, what were you saying?" Edward grinned. "He was giving me a hard time about what a state it is out there." "Oh! The mess!" I covered my mouth with my hands, feeling hot purple spread across my face. Edward laughed. "It's alright. They kicked everything out of the way to get past." I covered my face with the sheet. "Oh God." "If it makes you feel any better, it's definitely not as bad as it is in here." He pried down the sheet to peek at me. "You've got a lot to tidy up." "Excuse me?"

"You made the mess." "Me? I think not. You, sir, were a man on a mission last night. You wouldn't even listen to me about my top." "What about your top?" "I tried telling you that the strings wouldn't loosen it, but you wouldn't listen." He laughed. "Actually, it's not that bad out there. It's just your topand your trousersand your shoes and my hat and jacket on the floor." I groaned and covered my face again. "Oh God. Emmett thinks I'm a slut now." Edward shrugged. "If the shoe fits." I swatted him hard on the shoulder. "Ouch!" Edward said, rubbing his shoulder. "I'm joking, I'm joking" "By the way, why do you always hop out of bed in the morning? I'm always waking up alone." "I do?" I nodded. "Fuck. I didn't even realize it. Shove over," he said, pulling back the sheet to slide in. He stopped to gawk at my nakedness. "Why am I leaving that?" I shrugged and scooted. I snuggled into his chest while he wrapped his arms around me the position that just felt so good, so right. "So today's my day off we get the whole day together. What would you like to do?" "Hmmyou could skate out of bed before I wake upor you could give me a tour of the set." I laughed while he groaned. "Or we could go to a dance club."

"You're never going to want to visit again, are you?" He laughed softly, sounding a tad nervous. Visit againit was such a bittersweet thought. The sweet of visiting again cut with the bitterness of leaving. I could have easily allowed the bitter to take over, but I decided that for once in my life I was going to enjoy the moment the here and now. I pushed the bitter away and vowed to savor every sweet moment this day offered. Tomorrow I'll deal with the bitter when I have to. "I don't know. We'll have to see, Edward. This right here is pretty nice. Let's stay like this today and I'll visit again." He squeezed me tight. "Done," he said, kissing me and kissing me and caressing me and kissing me. And then my belly growled like a possessed Linda Blair. Edward pulled away. "What the hell was that?" He looked me up and down. I giggled. "My belly." "Are you alright?" "Yes, I'm fine. My belly is a little hungry is all." "Well, it looks like we'll have to leave here sooner rather than later." He kissed me again and made a move to get up. I grabbed onto his arm. "No, not yet. My belly can survive for a little longer. I don't want to share you with anyone yet." "No?" he turned, beaming. "No. I've shared you this whole time - with everyone and I mean everyone." I chuckled. "I just want to be alone with you a while longer. Okay?" "Yeah, it's more than okay." He laid back down with a big ol' grin on that gorgeous face while I settled into my favorite spot right in the nook of his chest.

We laid there talking about everything and nothing. It was so easy. Our conversation was effortless, the lulls cozy and his body was the warmest, safest spot I'd ever been cocooned in. It occurred to me that it was never like that with Jake. Talking was overrated in Jake's book and simple, affectionate gestures were more or less a prelude to sex. Yet, with Edward, affection was just a part of being close and was as natural as all the talking and laughing we did; I could do it all for hours days on end even. It seemed that after deciding to take the leap of faith, I was more relaxed and open to the possibilities of what this could be. Eventually my belly yelled at me again. "Christ, Bella, are you sure nothing's about to claw its way out of there? Get up, let's go and get some breakfast." I giggled as he stood up. "Do you ever eat here?" He snorted. "Not really. I'm not much of a cook." "Unless it's cereal with milk. Then you kick assbut don't you ever get tired of restaurant food?" The poor guy never ate home-cooked food unless he was, well, home in London. He smiled. "I don't think about it, really. Come on." Up and dressed, the five of us went to the cutest hole-in the wall to eat, successfully flying under the radar. With a giant bite of pancakes in my mouth, Rose turned to me. "So Bella, looks like you were super tired last night. You couldn't even wait to get to the bedroom before getting undressed..." Oh God, here we go. I tried to chew quickly, knowing I'd have to defend myself. Edward blushed, but was holding in a laugh just the same as were Alice and Emmett. Rose slung her arm around Alice and continued, "Our little Bella, ho-ing it up. This is why we love you. You are a secret slut."

I swallowed and raised an eyebrow. "You know what's really weird, Rose? How early Emmett arrived this morning at Edward's house - really early this morning. Too early. In fact, if I didn't know better I'd think he slept over last night." Rose gulped and I spied a quick glance at Emmett who was drinking and drinking and drinking his coffee. "I love you too, secret slut" I said, smiling and taking a victorious bite of pancakes. Alice chimed in with a giggle. "Pfft. You two are both total sluts. I'm the only one who remained virginal last night." Rose and I almost choked. Rose said, "Virginal? You are the biggest slut of all! You are Slut Almighty!" "You're the Girl who cried Slut!" I said. "Mother Slut." Rose fired back. "Sluterella." "Slut White." "Sleeping Slut." "Alice in Slutland." By this time, Emmett and Edward were laughing so hard they were silent. The three of us girls couldn't stop laughing either. After the jokes and the food, we went outside into drizzling skies it looked like our beach plan was a no-go. We decided to head back to Edward's house and relax on the soft leather sofas, which was a far better option in my opinion. If I had to share Edward on my last full day, I wanted to share him in a small group. Without dry-humping fangirls. After Emmett kicked all of our asses at Wii Boxing, he decided to further punish us by making us play him at Guitar Hero.

Emmett pointed at Edward. "You're first." Edward rolled his eyes, stood up and strapped on the guitar. I nearly lost it. Between Edward's rumpled hair, holding a guitar like he meant it and the guitar strap prying his button-down shirt more open than usual, I almost did inappropriate things to him right then and there. But I didn't. Instead, this whole 'Edward Rock Star' fantasy rolled through my head. His coppery hair glinting off the stage lights, his perfect fingers strumming the chords, holding them just right, curling his fingers around the neck of the guitar, his chest beaded with sweat. And then he'd singhis wet lips brushing against the microphone. I didn't realize that I groaned audibly until Alice asked, "You okay there, Bella? You're all flushed." "Yeah, yeah I'm fine," I said, regaining my composure. By this time, Edward had lost. He gave the guitar over to an eager Rose and grinned at me as he took a seat beside me. I know I sighed because Edward crossed his eyebrows at me, curious, yet humored. I focused my attention on Rose who was battling it out with Emmett. Between Emmett's verbal taunts and Rose's retaliating punches to Emmett's arms, it was highly entertaining. After a bit I leaned back into Edward's arms and nudged my nose against his cheek. He grinned down at me. "I don't want to share you right now," I suggested in his ear, hoping he'd remember what I said this morning. "You read my mind," he whispered back. We snuck off to his room, shutting the door and the world out, sharing the better part of the afternoon only with each other. Bitter didn't have a chance when we were alone and undressed. Eventually we made our way back into the living room where the three of them were watching TV.

"So, Emmett, you're playing tonight, right?" I asked. "Yeah. There may be an agent there, so you never know." Emmett grinned and shrugged, tempering his excitement at the prospect. I glanced at a swoony Rose and waggled my eyebrows at her. She shook her head at me, trying to hide her smile. "What time do you have to set up?" Edward asked as he stretched his arm along the back of the sofa behind me and gently massaged my neck. Oh those fingers "I have to be there by seven at the latest." "So you won't be joining us for supper then?" Edward asked. "No," Emmett said. The let-down look on both Emmett's and Rose's faces made my wheels turn. "What if I make dinner here instead of us going out? That way Emmett can eat with us and no one has to rush or anything." "Yeah, that'd be great Bella," Emmett said, a smile returning to both his and Rose's faces. "You know how to cook?" Edward asked, turning to me. "She cooks all the time," Alice blurted from the recliner as she flipped through a magazine. "Really? Like what?" Edward asked. "I don't know." I shrugged, feeling self-conscious. "You know, whatever." He stared at me. "What are you in to mood for?" I asked, shyly. "What are you good at?" he asked in a quiet, husky voice, nuzzling in close. I quirked an eyebrow and whispered back, "What aren't I good at?"

His smirk turned to a hearty laugh. Later that afternoon, Edward and I headed to a grocery store to pick up the necessary ingredients to make a very simple Italian dinner: spaghetti, homemade meatballs, tomato sauce, salad and garlic bread. He bolted into the store, flipping his hood over his head. I watched in humored disbelief. "Nice disguise. You know, if the actor thing doesn't work out, you could totally be a spy." I laughed. He shook his head at me, smiling. "I blend, Bella." "Oh yeah, definitely." He nudged me with his elbow and grabbed a cart. I wouldn't think grocery shopping could be fun, but somehow it was with Edward. Maybe it was just doing something so mundane, or maybe it was watching the faces on the people we passed go from 'Why's that guy wearing a hood?' to 'That's Edward Cullen!' that made it a good time. Whatever it was, I knew Edward expected that reaction and was uncomfortable with it, but was still willing to come with me, and that said a lot. With bags of groceries in hand, Edward and I arrived back at the house to find Rose, Alice and Emmett engrossed in the TV. Edward and I walked over to see what they were watching. "Oh my God" I chuckled upon seeing a younger, yet very scrumptious Edward on screen. "What did you put on?" Edward huffed, annoyed at Emmett. "Just that movie what's it called?" Emmett asked Rose who didn't turn away from the screen to answer. "The Riot," Rose answered quickly, curled up next to Emmett on the loveseat. Guns fired, bombs blew up all around, and Edward was in the middle of the action dressed in ratty clothing, hair mucked with dirt and his face covered in soot. He carefully planted explosives around an already battered building.

"Come on Bella," Edward urged, trying to pull me away. "Uh, yeah. One second." I was already sucked in. There was no question it was a slightly cheesy film, probably one of his firsts. His face looked younger and the defined, stunning man-jaw of now was a work-in-progress then. But even though he was made up to look a mess, there was no tempering his looks. His beautiful green eyes popped out amongst the grunge and grime. I stared in disbelief that this was the same guy standing to my left, holding groceries in his arms. "Come on Bella," Edward repeated. I looked over to see his sweet face, screwed up in obvious embarrassment. It was endearing and charming. "Do you have to watch this?" Edward asked the group, annoyed and fidgety. "This is my favorite part," Emmett noted, ignoring Edward's question, too interested in the film. The part showed Edward climbing a broken wall with explosives attached to his back. He turned his head to speak awkward lines to the guy behind him the fault of amateur script writing, not Edward. I glanced at Edward who seemed to shrink behind the brown paper bag, rolling his eyes. Back on the screen, Edward spoke his lines as a bomb exploded above his head, sending him flying. "Yeah!" Emmett loudly enthused, fist-pump and all. "Bella, let's please put the groceries away," Edward begged. "You don't want to watch? Looks likeA Riot," I teased. "Let's go," he said, shaking his head as we headed to the kitchen. He unpacked the groceries as I searched out the necessary cooking equipment, all of which I found surprisingly enough. "If you don't cook, why do you have a kitchen stocked with pots and pans?"

Edward laughed. "It came with the house." He opened the refrigerator, pulled out a beer and held it up to me. I snorted and nodded. "Beer and pasta every man's dream." Edward cracked open our beers and leaned against the counter, watching me as I chopped and added the ingredients into the hot pot. In mere moments, the sweet garlic and onions sauting in the olive oil infused the air with mouth-watering scents. "God, that smells good," Edward remarked. "So have you been cooking a long time?" "Yeah, my whole life really. I grew up with Sunday dinners where lots of my relatives would come over and eat." I smiled at him and continued to chop and add the tomatoes to the garlic and onions, adding yet another delicious layer of scent to the air. As I continued to cook, he continued watching me. Now and again I'd look over and he'd smile a big, awfully satisfied smile and sip on his beer. "You don't need a recipe or anything?" I laughed. "Not for this." Edward came up from behind and leaned his chin on my shoulder as I mixed the meatballs. "Can I help?" "Hmm, I don't know. So rarely are my hands full of a satisfying amount of meat," I teased in a husky voice. "Is that a challenge?" he mumbled, nipping at my neck. I shook my head. "No, no challenge. Just the facts." He dove into my neck again, tickling me with his chin and holding my elbows to my side. I almost dropped the ball of meat. "Stop!" I laughed, finally wriggling away. "Fine! You can help! Go cut up the salad stuff."

He narrowed his eyes. "You'd better watch it." He laughed and went to the fridge, staring inside it for several minutes. "What's the matter?" "Nothingso I need lettuce and is this pepper for the salad too?" He held it up. "Yes, if you want that." "How about this tomato?" "Yes, Edward, the tomato too and the cucumber and the red onion." Edward grabbed all the veggies and brought them to the counter, along with the wrong kind of knife. I silently watched him fumble about, trying hard to cut everything just so. It wasn't until he nearly cut off his finger that I said something. "Edward, let me help you there. I really don't need to find your finger stub in my salad." He chuckled. "Oh come on, am I really that bad?" "Yes, it's okay though. Now watch." I grabbed a better knife for chopping veggies then came up behind him and placed my hands over his. "Like this, Edward." Unfortunately, because I was shorter than him, I couldn't see around him. "Ok, this isn't working." We switched places, with me on the inside and his hands over mine this time. Leaning against the counter, I began cutting the onion as his hands followed my lead. Slowly, but surely I felt the heat of his breath getting closer and closer to my neck with his lips finally brushing against my quickening pulse. Edward began scattering tiny kisses along my neck, lightly pressing my hips into the counter. My chopping slowed down to a virtual halt as his kisses turned to wet nibbles. I could feel myself letting go of the knife, my body giving into him and the sensations he was stirring up in me. Slowly, he removed his hands from mine and turned me around to kiss him. That's when I sniffed. He pulled back to see my eyes red and wet. "Oh my God, you're crying! Why are you crying? Oh God, I'm sorry. What did I do?" He asked, holding his hands out not knowing what in the world was going on.

I laughed. "Edward, it's not you, it's the onion." He let out a huge gush of air. "Oh, thank God. I couldn't understand how I could screw up cooking too." I laughed and grabbed his shirt to pull him to me. "Nowwhere were we?" He grinned and came at me again, pressing my body into the counter and kissing me hard. His arms wrapped around my waist and mine around his neck. We stood there amongst the halfchopped salad and sauce bubbling away, kissing like there was no tomorrow becausethere wasn't. I'm leaving this is our last night. No, no bitter allowed Our bodies grew closer I even slid my ankle up and down his calf as he pushed his hips into mine. "What are you two doing?" Rose said, interrupting us. She called out to Emmett and Alice, "You were right, they were in here getting it on." "Don't you have another round of Guitar Hero to lose?" I said, breaking away from Edward as he stepped back, grabbed his beer and gulped it down. Rose shook her head at me. "Secret slut," she mumbled, smiling, on her way out. Edward and I finished cooking and quickly enough, wine was poured and dinner was on. The five of us sat around Edward's long rectangular table, passing the dishes and filling our plates. The scent of the sweet basil tomato sauce, toasty garlic bread and succulent meatballs and spaghetti wafting through the air teased my taste buds. A quick toast and we all dove in. After several moments of silent eating, I glanced up to catch both Edward and Emmett regarding their plates with reverence. Hovering over their plates, they'd twirl a massive forkful of spaghetti, hold it up, and open w-i-d-e, then immediately dive back down to ready another bite.

I had to stop eating to watch the hilarity. Both guys were completely unaware that not only was I watching them, but so were Rose and Alice. It took all we had not to burst out laughing and interrupt the hungry-man entertainment. But, eventually we couldn't hold back any longer. We erupted in a fit of giggles. "What?" Emmett mumbled, looking up with one cheek bulging. "I guess you're hungry?" Rose laughed, wiping sauce splatter from his cheek. Edward and Emmett noticed one another's bursting chipmunk cheeks and had to hold in their laughter or there would be meatball spray. Emmett chewed, finished swallowing and blurted out, "This is bloody good, Bella," before plunging in for another bite. "Thanks." I beamed. How could I not? I finally felt able to contribute in some way to our stay. Edward had opened his house to us, paid for so much, and the girls came and supported me like the world's most fantastic bra, so this was the least I could do. Between bites and second helpings, we talked about everything, switching from topic to topic, trying to fit it all in on our last night. "So, Emmett," I asked, "What can you tell me about Edward that I couldn't find out from a Google search?" Edward dropped his fork, but with his mouth full he couldn't say a word. "I've got nothing," Emmett said, shrugging. Edward nodded his head, pleased with Emmett's answer until Emmett continued. "Nothing like the fact that he had your music put on his iPod and has played the fucking thing so much I could probably play it by ear by now." My mouth hung open. "What?" I looked over at Edward who was beet-red and let out a whoosh of air. Holy crap.

Emmett continued, "And that he's never had a girl stay over here before because he always goes back to their place." "Mate," Edward said, holding his hands out in a what-the-hell fashion. "What? You do." "Shut the hell up." Emmett rolled his eyes. "So I guess Edward's a secret slut too?" Alice asked, raising an eyebrow. Emmett pursed his lips, thinking. "Hmmnot really. I mean, he usually leaves a couple of days a week free - you know, to recover." "Fucking prick! What the hell?" Edward scolded across the table. Emmett busted out laughing. "I'm only joking, Bella. The boy's been a saint for too long. I thought maybe he lost his dick or something." My thudding heart slowed down. "Oh, okay." "But I will tell you that he had a calendar he crossed off the days on before you arrived." Rose and Alice's mouth dropped. "Yeah, um, I knew about that," I said, blushing and feeling shy and protective of that information. Emmett turned to Edward. "You told her that? You're a fucking pussy. You don't tell girls that." Edward laughed. "What? You just fucking told her." Emmett rolled his eyes and turned back to me. "And the fact that he's become a total pussy since he's met you." "Sod off. You're a pussy yourself," Edward said chuckling.

"What? How am I a pussy?" Emmett asked, incredulous. "You cry every time Sandy leaves Danny at the drive in." "Yeah? And? It's a rough part, mate." Edward continued, "But what I really want to know is, why do they drive up into the air at the end?" "It's supposed to represent them flying off you know, growing wings and learning to fly on their own, without the T-Birds and the Pink Ladies." We all sat silent, stunned at Emmett's 'deep' explanation until Edward broke the quiet with, "It's still fucking stupid." Emmett turned to me. "Just so you know, Bella, he cried like a baby a fucking baby - at Titanic. I'm not joking." Edward threw a balled up napkin at Emmett as the girls and I laughed. Stuffed like Thanksgiving turkeys we flopped ourselves once again on the living room sofas. "Bella, that was fantastic," Emmett said, patting his satisfied, bulging belly. "Thanks Emmett, I'm glad you liked it." Emmett checked his watch. "But, it looks like I've got to roll myself out of here now. We'll see you all in just a bit?" "Of course," Rose answered, smiling sweetly. With that, Emmett got up and left, winking at Rose before heading out the door. "I should probably start to get ready," Alice commented as she got up and stretched. "Me too," Rose said, standing and leaving with Alice. "You too?" Edward asked, rubbing my neck.

"I probably should," I said, leaning in to his massaging fingers. He worked my neck even harder. "But this feels so good." Edward leaned up into my ear, nibbling a little. "Let me make you feel even bettercome on." I grinned. "Alright." We started to get up when we heard Alice yell, "Bella!" from her room. "She really has her timing down," he chuckled. "Yes, she does. Let's not listen to her." "Bella!" "I think you should go. We'll have time later." I groaned. "Be back in a few." I heard Edward flick on the TV as I headed to Alice's room. He was a guy. How much time did he need? Primping and preening complete, I came out into the living room in my skinny jeans, the strappy top I struggled to find my way into and of course, heels. Edward, in all his effortless good looks, greeted me with a kiss. "You look fantastic," he said, eyeing me up and down. "As do you," I said, taking note of his black jeans, t-shirt and blue button-down shirt. It was the man-iform but God he looked delicious. And the black leather jacket he threw on was the cherry on top. Yum. We headed to the pub, making our way in through the usual side door. It was crowded already. I was amazed at how stealthily Edward moved about in the bar, hardly capturing the notice of others. Rose and Alice positioned themselves closer to the stage, while Edward and I hung back in the shadows to the side.

With beers in hand, we huddled in the dark, observing the reinstated no-public-contact rule. Dark and dim, the stage was set, but silent. Nonetheless, the volume was loud in the bar as people milled about chatting with friends and laughing. There was a buzz in the air waiting for Emmett's band. I turned to Edward and pulled his ear to my mouth. I could smell his freshly shaven face. Mmmsoap and shaving cream "So how long has Emmett been playing? I didn't realize how popular they are." He leaned in. "Yeah, they've grown quite popular recently, so there's more of a crowd now, but he's been at it a long time, getting serious about it these last couple of years." Just then the lights dimmed and with a momentary hush, the crowd erupted into thunderous clapping and hooting. The music started, then the stage lit up. With Emmett on guitar, he and his band began playing funky, bluesy rock. It wasn't full-on dance music, but the beats were addictive. I could feel the fiery passion behind the pounding instruments and strong vocals. Edward and I watched and enjoyed the music as the night wore on. I often caught sight of Rose and Alice who were right up in front jumping and dancing. I'd never seen Rose so loose. Only once did two girls approach Edward. He spoke to them as I stood there, no doubt taking a protective stance, but otherwise accepted this weird fact of Edward's life. They took a quick photo with him and left. A short while later, Edward leaned into my ear. "Would you like to go?" "Now? You don't want to wait for Emmett to finish?" I watched Edward glance around the room and shake his head. "No, I have the feeling that we should leave before then." I followed his gaze noticing more and more faces turned in our direction. "Emmett wouldn't mind giving the girls a ride back," Edward said. "Yeah, alright, I'm just going to say goodbye to Rose and Alice, okay?" He nodded.

I wove my way through the tight crowd, finding the girls beaming and sweaty. I told them the plan and made my way back to Edward who was being kept company by four more women. From a short distance I grinned at him as he took the last photo with the girls, bidding them farewell. He nodded at me to follow and led me out the back way, through the inside of the grimy kitchen. Once outside we bolted to the car as the paparazzi began to converge. Edward pulled away quickly, but it took a while to shake the pursuing paparazzi. We wove in and out of traffic, pulled down alleys and merged back into traffic again, onto the freeway then off then back on again. Finally we lost them, and now, alone in the car with only the droning hum of the engine, my heart resumed a calming pace. After I stopped whiteknuckling the dash, I noticed we weren't heading in the direction of Edward's house. "Where are we going?" Edward glanced over at me with a mischievous smile. "It's a surprise."

Chapter 17
"A surprise huh?" I asked. "Do you like surprises?" "It depends." He smiled devilishly and drove some more. A surprise! Ahh! So far I'd loved all of Edward's surprises flowers, plane tickets, candles, the movie set no, scratch that. But this surprise I knew I'd like since the goofy grin on his face matched my equally goofy and giddy insides. I watched out the window for clues as to where he was taking me, but I had no idea where we were to begin with. We spent some time on the highway, exited then cruised our way through a more rural area, and finally down a dark, winding and seemingly deserted road. We hadn't passed a car in some time. Finally, in the middle of nowhere, Edward pulled to the side of the road. "We're here." I looked out the window and saw nothing. "Here? What's here?" Edward snickered and got out, which seemed to indicate that I ought to as well, so I did. It was chilly here, wherever I was. I rubbed my arms while he was busy at the trunk, clanking things and gathering something. I blinked my eyes, trying to adjust to the lack of light. With my limited vision, I could tell that on one side of the road there were large structures, probably rocks, since they weren't trees. On the other side of the car, lay a scattering of bushes and low-lying rock, but mostly it looked like sky. We must be high up. Where the hell are we? "We have to walk for a bit," Edward said as if he could hardly contain himself. "Okay," I said, grinning at his mischievous smirk.

Clutching a duffel bag and a blanket under his arm, he clasped my hand and guided me across the uneven dirt and around a few scraggly bushes and more rocks. The full moon, hanging low, not only lit the way, but also helped my eyes adjust quickly. Finally, Edward led me down and around one last large, looming boulder, and there it was the most phenomenal view. I gasped. Awestruck, I stood on a large flat ledge, gazing out at the expansive beauty that overlooked the ocean far below. With a soft, cool breeze blowing in my face, the distant sound of breaking waves and the smell of the salty, beachy air enveloped me. The sky and water, both a deep navy blue, had only the shimmer of the water to denote the difference between the two. The stars, along with the moon, glittered in the sapphire sky and reflected in the water many meters below. It was like something out of a movie, which shouldn't have been surprising given who I was with. "So what do you think?" Edward asked nervously. "Iit's" The cool air rushed in and out of my gaping mouth as I tried to get my brain to form words. "It's beautiful." I turned to see him smiling wide, so very proud of himself. "I thought you might like it here... I know your friends got to go to the beach the other day while you were with me on set." He rolled his eyes at how poorly that went. "And since this morning was rained offI don't know, I thought you might like to see it too, and I've always thought this was the best view." "This is incredible," I said, turning to take in the natural beauty that stretched out before me. "You know, I've grown up on beaches, but thisI've never seen this." It wasn't just the view that caused chills to prickle up and down my arms and my heart to thud so hard it hurt it was the moment and the man, too; both were unparalleled. "Here," Edward said, placing the bag down and fluffing out a soft, gray blanket across the ground. He crawled onto the blanket, flipping down the corners that folded up. Then he sat in the middle and patted the space next to him. "Come and sit by me." I bent down and scooted right against his side, our thighs touching. Both of us leaned back on our locked arms, looking out.

"This couldn't be more beautiful," I said, gazing out at the deep indigo palette. "Do you come here a lot?" I slid off my shoes, placing them next to me. "Quiet often. It's my own little hideaway. I found it about a year ago and come out when I want to be alone." It struck me. "You don't get 'alone' very often, huh?" He chuckled softly. "No, not really. I mean, it's alright. I'm not complaining, but sometimes it's nice to be outside and not have a camera lurkingwait a sec," Edward said, interrupting himself. He turned away and unzipped the bag that sat on his other side. "What is that?" I asked, smiling and trying to peek. "Another surprise," he chuckled, clanking around. I shook my head in disbelief, loving every single second of this. Edward pulled out two glass flutes and a bottle of champagne. "Flutes and champagne? Um, wow," I said as my mouth flopped open yet again. He laughed. "Impressive, don't you think?" Edward handed me the glasses. "Yes. Very impressive. When did you do all this?" Edward began opening the foil. "While you were getting ready earlier. Girls take an inordinate amount of time to get ready." I laughed. Edward popped the cork and I caught the first drops in one of the flutes. "So, what are we celebrating? Finally getting me out of your hair tomorrow?" "Am I that obvious?" he deadpanned as he poured. "Pretty much." I handed him a full glass. He laughed. I laughed. But the laughter died out the moment his face lost the smile and his green eyes filled with melancholy.

"I've had an bloody good time with you and I wanted you to remember your last night here. I hope you'll want to come back." He clanked his glass to mine then looked at me so unsure and yet hopeful. "Why wouldn't I come back? I've had a fantastic time." "Yeah?" he said, brightening. "Yeah, silly," I said, nudging his shoulder with mine. We sipped from our glasses. "I guess I just thought that after the whole on-set thing and the dance club thing that maybe it was too much for you." I smiled. "I'll admit I'm not used to dating catnip." "Catnip?" "Yes, catnip you know, the thing that drives all the pussycats crazy?" We laughed and drank. Edward stared at the glass that dangled in his hand between his bent knees. "Speaking of whichI, um, was curiousare we going out? Is that how you'd classify it? I mean, you know, do you want to date other people? Are we-" "I thought we established the whole 'no one else' thing last night," I interrupted nervously. He's changed his mind. He grinned. "I suppose we did, but things were kind of heated and I didn't know if you meant it." "I meant it did you?" "Yeah, of course. I have no interest in anyone but you." One deep exhale and the biggest, goofiest smile broke out across my face. I couldn't help it. "So we'll just date each other then?"

"Yeah, exactly. So that means I," he bit his lip, "can call youmy girlfriend?" I could see his chest freeze, his whole body unsure of saying that word aloud. And truthfully, the word 'girlfriend' gripped at my heart. I was right there, teetering on the precipice of elation or devastating pain. I nodded slowly, watching his green eyes sparkle in the night. "Yeahif you want to you don't have to, just if you want to," I said. He shot me a shy, half-smirk that gah! in the moonlight couldn't make him look better. "Yeah, I want to call you that." "So I guess that means you're myboyfriend." The word tumbled from my mouth as I gulped and my heart thumped in my belly. He lit up like a Christmas tree. "Yeah I'm you're boyfriend." He leaned in and kissed me softly. "Well, my boyfriend, this whole thing is a fantastic surprise," I said, pulling away after a moment. "I'm happy you like it here, my girlfriend. No one else knows about it." I giggled. "No? You've never brought other girls here? Not even Emmett?" "No. You're the first person I wanted to share this with." My mouth fell open. "Really?" "Yeah. Plus, if I brought a blanket and champagne up here with Emmett, he'd think I wanted to go Brokeback on him." I burst out laughing and it took me a minute to recover. "God, you're funny and I can't believe how amazing his band is." "Yeah, they're fantastic." "I was wonderingdid it bother you to have to leave his gig early?"

Edward's demeanor shifted from light and happy to uncomfortable and pensive. He sat quiet for a few moments then answered, "Honestly, I would have liked to stay, but then that wouldn't be very nice to Emmett." He took a sip of champagne then spoke more. "I try to be very aware of things like that. Emmett deserves all the attention at his gigs. He doesn't need me getting in the way. He's my best mate and famewell, people see it as a good thing, but it can ruin things too. Emmett could easily be pissed off about it, but he isn't." "Sounds like a blessing and a curse." He nodded and thought a moment before speaking. "Yeah, it is. Don't get me wrong, I know I live a very blessed life. I honestly never expected to be in this position. I know the fame thing furthers my career somewhat, so I am thankful for it, butI don't know...it's such a strange triangle. I love to act and struggled to get jobs until I did something noticeable. Then all of a sudden I got all these roles thrown my way, which was brilliant, except with all the choices came this odd second job of courting the public. It's a strange, sort of symbiotic relationship." He looked out over the water, his face sad, yet peaceful. "You don't talk about this much, do you?" I asked quietly, stroking his arm. "No. It comes off as whiney and spoiled." "Or just honest." He shrugged. "Maybe, but no one wants to hear an actor complain." "But it obviously affects you." "Yeah, of course, but the majority of fans I meet are absolutely lovely people. It's just that other part the constant cameras, the gossip, the people following me in cars - that part is incredibly unsettling." "I bet. Just the few times I was out with youit unnerved me." "Exactly because that's what it is - unnerving. Like one day a few weeks ago I got up very early on purpose, probably before most people, and went for a coffee. I drove half-asleep to the coffee shop down the road; I went in, bought my coffee and when I came out there were about ten photographers snapping photos. I can't understand how they got there so quickly. It's

frightening. It's like they don't sleep or they work in shifts or something, just waiting and watching." He hung his head for a moment. "I don't know; it's bizarre." "Is that why you haven't shown anyone else this place? Because you're afraid you'll get caught coming here?" He lifted his head, taking a moment to look out over the water. "Yes and no I just want somewhere to go alone apart from my house. You're the first person I trust to show this place to. I know you won't sell me out. Emmett made it sound like I'm shagging everyone, but I haven't I don't but girls have sold me out before, Bella. It's very hard to find someone I can and want to trust." "Yeah, I know exactly what you mean," I said, my mind launching itself into my past. His gentle, empathetic eyes examined mine. "I know you do. Is that why you haven't let anyone in - it's too hard to trust? Or were you waiting for him to come back, because, honestly, I can't understand why you aren't taken." I released a silent gush of air as the muck got stirred inside. "When Jake leftmy life was turned completely upside down. All the things I had counted on happening suddenly weren't going to happen and it left me hanging. So I would say, yeah, at first I did hope he'd come back just so I didn't feel so lost. And I didn't put myself out there because it wasn't worth it. Getting hurt like thatI just didn't want to be in that situation again, you know?" I glanced over to see him nodding and listening intently. I continued, "I just got used to things by myself and I was fine with that. I've always been kind of a loner, so I've never felt compelled to have a boyfriend." He nodded again and took a sip. "I'll understand if you don't want to talk about this, but why did you date your ex?" "Umhe seemed to have what I was looking for at the time." "And what was that exactly?"

"Wellhe was nice and good looking and he had a good career," I stopped to think of the other qualities, but came up short. Edward furrowed his brow. "For someone you were going to marry, that doesn't seem to be a very impressive list." "I suppose" I stopped, confused. Even after all this time I was still trying to make sense of it; mostly I avoided thinking of it if I could. I thought aloud, "I mean, he was decent guy, well, up until the end of course. My parents, who always pushed me in the right direction, thought we were perfect together. Even my mother loved him and she's a hard one to please." "Did you love him, Bella?" Edward asked softly. "W-what?" I stuttered, taken aback and entirely absorbed by his question. "Did you love him? You said your mother loved him, but did you?" I shook my head, trying to stop the onslaught of thoughts. "Yeahyeah, of course I loved him," I answered automatically, but did I? Did I really love him? "You didn't stay with him for your parents' sake then?" "No," I answered, but my mind spun anyway I'd never thought of it that way before. Oh Goddid I? No...no. I couldn't have. It made me nauseous. It was too much. I barreled on with what I knew. "The thing is I thought he was happy, Edward. I mean, I was happy enough, but our relationship, the last part of it anyway was a lie. I realized the only thing I could trust was my career, so I threw myself into it completely. It was all I had left. It's all I know." Thankfully, we sat silent a few minutes as I fought to keep down the bubbling panic in my throat. I stared at my crossed legs, breathing hard as the panic rose once more. I downed the rest of my champagne to keep it at bay. I breathed. That's better. As I exhaled, I felt Edward's hand slide across my back, soothing me with calming circles. "I'm sorry all that happened to you," he said quietly.

I looked over at Edward whose face seemed to ask a million questions questions I couldn't answer. I can't think about this anymore. The panic hovered too close, ready to overwhelm me, so I did what I did best I ended the topic and tried to lighten the mood. "I can tell you that right now, Edward, here on this cliff, I'm thankful he left me. Plus, I was waiting for some hot celebrity to ask me for a date." He laughed, and it was just enough to snap us back into the spectacular night he planned. "Oh really?" he asked, quirking an eyebrow. "Yep, but I'm still waiting for that to happen." "Not to burst your bubble, but that's sort of a long shot," he said. "I know, so I've decided to lower my standards. No offense." "Of course, none taken." He continued to laugh loudly. "That's why I like you, you know." "Why?" "Because I laugh so much with you even on the phone you make me laugh. And you're talented and beautiful and" he gazed at me, almost as if he wanted to say something else, but said, "and you're one hell of a cook. That dinner was bloody amazing." "You eat out too often," I said, nudging his shoulder again. "I do, but you've ruined restaurant food for me. What am I going to eat now?" "Well, you always have Lucky Charms." "I suppose, but I won't survive long on Lucky Charms. You'll just have to come back soon. Speaking of which, when will I see you again?" "I don't know, Edward. I don't have any more vacation time until school ends in June."

"Fuck. That's two months from now." "Yeah, I know." My heart sank. Is this it? He gave me a sweet sideways glance. "Well, my girlfriend, we'll have to plan a few weekends in-between then." "I'd like that, my boyfriend." "I'll call Marcus to find out my schedule before you leave tomorrow. That way I can c-" he stopped himself, but I was pretty sure what he was going to say since he got this bashful look on his face. "Count the days?" I smiled. "Yeah," he snorted in admittance. A chill shivered through me. "Are you cold?" "A little, but between the champagne and you, it's not so bad." He gulped down the rest of his champagne and placed our empty glasses against his bag. Scooting back, he leaned against the towering rock behind us. He opened his jacket and unbuttoned his shirt, leaving only his t-shirt as a final barrier. Patting the space between his bent knees, he said, "Come here" I scooched over and planted myself in his leg nest. "Wait," he said before I got comfortable. He reached into the magic bag. "How's this?" he asked as he pulled out another soft blanket, draping it over our laps. He wrapped his arms around my shoulders, capturing me in the soap and shaving cream goodness. God, I'm going to miss that scent. "Warmer?" he asked. "Mmm, much better."

We snuggled there for some time, relishing in the rushing ocean sounds, the glittering stars and the heat of our bodies nestled together. In 24 hours I'll be thousands of miles from this chest, this scent, these arms. God, it hurts already. I whispered, "I can't thank you enough not only for this incredible surprise tonight, but also for the last few days here. It's been so much more than I could have hoped." Edward's hold grew tighter as he nuzzled his nose into my hair. After he brushed my hair over one shoulder, he sprinkled my cool neck with warm kisses, whispering, "I wish you didn't have to go, my girlfriend." "Me too, my boyfriend." I melted back into his arms, sharing the heat of his body, and enjoying the chills each warm kiss sent along my arms. I turned my head into his lips, craving his mouth on mine. Kiss after kiss grew deeper and deeper as his hand cupped my face. Under the stars and wrapped between soft blanket and amazing man, my heart swelled with happiness. Well, except for the faint, practical voice that nagged me of the impending distance and the emotional dangers of his work. Will my heart be safe? Will he feel the same once I leave? Will the distance become too much? My thoughts raced from here to there, growing louder and more ominous, but I ignored them by focusing on his perfect fingers that skimmed across my breasts and down my body, sparking me alive inch-by-inch-by-inch. I spent my last evening with Edward on a cliff, memorizing the feel of his lips, the sensuous touch of his fingers and the passion our bodies expressed. The next morning came too quickly. I stood in Edward's room packing my things as he came in and plopped down on the bed next to my suitcase. "I just left a message for Marcus to call me back," Edward said.

I nodded because for every shirt I folded and placed in my bag, the heavier my heart grew. It frustrated me that I was tearing up. I kept my head down, hoping no tears would give me away. I used my hair to shield my face as best as I could. "Are you alright?" Edward asked, trying to peek at me. "Yeah, I'm fine," I insisted, shaking my hair further in my face. He touched my arm. "Bella?" Damn it. "Yeah?" I said, folding and folding. He stood up, grabbed the shirt from my hand and found my eyes. He furrowed his brow. He cupped my face in his hands. "Don't cry. We'll see one another again soon." I nodded because that was all I could do. "I promise. Trust me," he added. I grinned. "Okay." As he shook his head at me, my open suitcase caught his attention. I followed his confused gaze. He reached down inside my luggage and from under the pajamas I never wore, pulled out his blue and green plaid shirt. "What is this doing in there?" he asked holding it up, smiling like he caught me. Which he did. A volcanic heat rushed into my face. "II" I stuttered. "You what? Are you stealing from me?" Pink. "Stealing? Oh my God, no no no noI-" "You what, you thief?" "Oh God, I am so embarrassed." Magenta. I covered my face.

"Go on" he snickered, prying my hands off my eyes. "I, umOh GodI really like the way you smell and-" "The way I smell?" he cocked an eyebrow. Crimson. Purple. "Yes. You smell really good and I don't know, I just wanted to bring it home. Put you under my pillow or something. I should have asked. I'm sorry." I closed my eyes and shook my head wanting to die. Well, not really die, but disappear long enough for him to forget. Where the hell are the cockblocking Fairy Slutmothers now? When he didn't say anything or move for a very long time, I peeked out one eye. He was beaming. "Soyou like the way I smell and want my shirt to put under your pillow." "Umyeah." "Fuck, yeah. Take it. I love that you want to do that. Did you think I'd say no?" "I don't know. I was more embarrassed to ask than anything else. I hoped you wouldn't miss it." He snatched me into his arms and kissed me hard. "I'm going to miss you, not the shirt. I will be highly envious of the shirt though." "Don't hate on the shirt, my boyfriend. No one else, remember?" He snorted. "No one else, my girlfriend."

Chapter 18
It was nearly nine p.m. when we lumbered into the apartment, dropping our bags at the door and collapsing on the living room sofa and chair. "How am I supposed to get up tomorrow? I'm exhausted," I said, my head lolling on the back of the sofa. "What do you mean? You're always dying to get back to work," Rose snorted, with her eyes closed and her head against the chair's armrest. "But that was before she had a boyfriend who kept her, um, occupied over and Over and OVER AGAIN!," Alice said, laughing as she mocked an orgasm. "Oh my God!" I said as we laughed and I nudged her hard with my foot. We fell silent, on the verge of sleep, sprawled out on the furniture. Then my cell rang from inside my bag located all the way across the room. I dragged my sorry ass up to hunt it down. "Who the hell is calling me?" "It's probably Boyfriend Orgasmo," Alice snorted. "Oh shut it," I snickered, finding my phone on the third ring. "Hello?" "Hi Bella," the English velvet said. I was suddenly wide awake. "Hi, how are you?" I asked, making my way to my dark bedroom. "I'm fine. How was your flight?" "It was okay. We actually just got in," I said, turning on my bedside lamp and plopping down on my soft bed. "Wow, yeah, I suppose that would be about right."

"What did you do after I left? Did you cry all afternoon?" I chuckled as I laid back on my bed. He sounded so close except he was over 2,000 miles away. How depressing. Edward snorted. "Yeah. Emmett stroked my hair and made me cups of tea." I laughed. "What did you really do today?" "Not much. I read my script, almost beat Emmett at Guitar Hero, thought of you, you know, the usual." "You thought of me?" I asked, smiling. "Of course. And I was pissed off that I didn't swipe something of yours to put under my pillow until I realized that my sheets smell like you. Looks like I won't be washing them till you come back," he said proudly. "Eww, Edward, that could be like 2 months from now." "Okay, fine. I guess when I come through New York in a couple of weeks I'll have to steal something." "A couple of weeks? Really?" I beamed and bounced a little on the bed. He chuckled. "Yeah, I spoke to Marcus today and I have to go to France at the end of this week for about 2 weeks, but then I've gotten myself a layover in New York for two nights on my way back to LA." I bit my lip. "So exactly how many days before you come?" "Seventeen." I giggled. "Just so you know, you won't be able to stay here when you come to New York though." "What? Why not?" I could tell he wasn't sure if I was joking. "Well, it's just that I've got this boyfriend who might not like it." He snickered. "Boyfriend, eh? Is this a new thing?"

"Yeah. It's new." "So I guess that means you like him a lot if you only want him sleeping in your bed." "Yes I dodidn't you get a girlfriend recently too?" "I did." "How's she?" "Amazing. Just spent four days with her. She only left this morning and I miss her already." "I bet she misses you too." "You think so?" "Without a doubt, and I bet she's wondering how she's going to go back to the real world of work tomorrow after spending four days in paradise." "Fuck, I miss you, Bella," he sighed out. "Me too, Edward." We were quiet a moment. My tears surfaced, but I didn't let them spill over. Two weeks is nothing work will make it fly by. "Well, at least you can snuggle your sheets in the meantime." "True, but I'm still not washing them soon. I'm going to wait until it only smells like me, which I think you'd enjoy, come to think of it." I laughed. "You bet I would." "Alright, I know it's getting late there and you have to go to work tomorrow, so I'll let you go off to sleep now. I'll phone you tomorrow." "I'd like that." "Good luck at work."

"Thanks." "Good night, Bella." "Good night, Edward." I arrived at school the next day extra early. Even though I had everything prepared before I left for LA, I still had to make a few photocopies and get papers in order. Buried up to my nose in some filing, I heard a knock at my classroom door as it opened. "Hi!" Carolyn, my classroom neighbor said. We supportive teaching colleagues who bounced ideas off each other and laughed together often. Carolyn's daughter, Alyssa, had the privilege to attend our school tuition-free because her mom worked here. She was one of my favorite students. "Hey Carolyn! How are you? You and Alyssa have a good vacation?" I asked as I continued filing. "Yeah, we had a nice time. Didn't go anywhere, which was nice. Went shopping, cleaned closets, Googled hot celebrities on the Internet." I froze and whipped my head up to stare at her. Carolyn stood there in her tweed pants and soft blue sweater grinning like the cat that caught the mouse. "I'm sorry?" I asked. I know I didn't tell her I was going to L.A. Oh God. My heart picked up speed. "What did you do this break?" she asked all sly-like, still smirking. I raised en eyebrow at her. "Carolyn?" Carolyn shut the classroom door then planted herself on a desk. "I just want you to answer yes or no, okay?" she leaned in to ask me, sounding as giddy as a teen. "Okay," I reluctantly agreed.

"Did you go to California this break?" Oh no. "Umyes. Why are you asking?" My palms got sweaty. "Well, Alyssa had a sleepover and the girls were giggling like crazy and shouting and being really loud, so I went in to see what they were screaming about and they showed me some pictures." "Pictures?" I squeaked, my face flaming and my stomach falling to my feet. "Yes. Pictures. Pictures of a very handsome man that actor guy they like - and this girl that looked like your twin." Carolyn smiled knowingly. With my heart packed up and gone, my face drained itself of the red and replaced it with a clammy sheen of green-white nausea. I bolted to the computer, nearly tripping on a desk. "Holy shit, Carolyn. What did they see?" I nearly shouted as I waited for the computer to start up. "Bella, calm down. It's not a big deal. There wasn't a close-upwell, actually there was but nothing that showed your face clearly - his face and, er, his tongue were in the way." "What?" I nearly vomited. Finally, the computer booted up and I entered, 'Edward Cullen' into the search engine. Over 12 million results. Damn it. I narrowed it by date. And there we were Edward and I at the grocery store. Okay. Edward and I out at a restaurant. No big deal. Edward posing with some fans in a night club.

Oh God, the nightclub. Edward and I in an intense conversation at the nightclub. Oh Lord. Edward's body pressing my scantily clad body against the wall, his hand just under my breast. Oh Jesus. And thena close-up of our mouths with the shine of glistening tongue. Holy Crap! One after another, on and on, picture after picture shot from slightly different anglestongues licking, hands high, hands low, too lowI could hardly control my breathing. "So I guess someone had an exciting vacation," Carolyn quipped. "Oh my God, Carolyn, what am I going to do?" I sat with my head in my hands, feeling sick. My face burned in embarrassment. "Bella, it's okay. I think it's wonderful you had such a great time. It's about time you got yourself a social life. I was getting worried about you." Carolyn smiled and patted my back. "Wonderful?" "Yeah, the guy is pretty darn good-looking." I shook my head. She was not getting this. "What exactly am I supposed to say to these girls about the photos? I'm their teacher! I'm supposed to be a role model!" Carolyn smiled. "Believe me, you certainly are their role model now." "Oh my God," I said, putting my head between my knees. "This can't be any worse." I breathed. "Bella, it'll be fine. Most of these girls are making out or worse with their boyfriends after school anyway. It's not like they don't know about that stuff."

"Yeah, but it's one thing to kiss your boyfriend after school, it's another to see your English teacher sucking face with an actor on the Internet!" I did my best to control my breathing when someone knocked on the door. "Hi ladies," Mr. Banner, the school principal said. Short, with a perma-red face he was the kindest of men, always supportive and encouraging. He was like my at-work father. I sat up and put my game face on. "Hi Bob, how are you?" I asked calmly with a forced smile. "I'm good. You two are here early. Well, you're always here earlyand late Bella." He chuckled. "So, Bella, let's meet on Thursday after school to discuss the fundraiser alright? We can figure out where exactly we need to target the funds. Thanks for working on this over your vacation as well. I can always count on you, Bella." I continued smiling, "You're welcome. Okay, so Thursday it is." "Have a nice day ladies," he said exiting the room and closing the door. I let out a huge whoosh of air when he was gone. "Holy crap, Carolyn." "Bella, really, calm down. You are a grown woman, you're fine." "So what do I say to the girls when they ask?" My face flamed all over again. "Well, if it was me, and God knows I wish it was, I would give as little information as possible when and if they ask you." "If? You know they're going to ask." "Okay, so when they ask, just don't say much." "How are you so casual about this?" Carolyn chuckled. "Because it's fantastic! You deserve this. You've been spending way too much time here. You're like a school rat."

"What the hell is a school rat?" "I don't know, but the point is, you're here too much and all the girls like you and look up to you, so I'm sure they'll respect you and your privacy." "Seriously? I'm making out with an actor they drool over in photos posted on the Internet and you think they'll respect my privacy?" Carolyn laughed again as we heard the rumblings of teen feet stomping up the stairwell. "Are you happy?" "What?" I asked, thrown by her question. "Are you happy with him?" I breathed and nodded and smiled. I couldn't help it. "Yeah." "Then that's all that matters. Listen, have a great morning. I'll see you at lunch and you can tell every last detail of your hot week away to this old married hag, okay? I have to get my jollies somehow." I chuckled as my heart steadied and I exhaled deeply, releasing the fear. "Okay." I stood in the hallway as the girls walked toward their lockers. Each and every one of them stopped and stared, then ran off giggling. I spent the entire day red-faced and sensing every unspoken question. I overheard girls debate if it was really me in the photos. Thankfully, my working wardrobe did not consist of working girl clothing, so I think they had a hard time believing it could be me. Luckily enough, no girl had the guts to ask if it really was me, even though the proof of their English teacher getting down and dirty was right there on the Internet. As happy as I was with Edward, seeing the girls gape at me with wide-eyed awe disturbed me. I prided myself on being a positive role model for girls whose main role models consisted of half-naked singers and movie stars, like bitchy Tanya Denali, all of whom tossed themselves about the glittery, famous world with little self-respect. And now I was one of them.

After an exhausting day of humiliation, I laid in bed, occupied by new papers to grade when Edward called. "Hi Bella. How was your first day back at work?" He was so chipper and I was so crabby. "Sucky." "Oh no, what happened?" "Wellmy entire stay in LA was all over the Internet. Everything, Edward - from grocery shopping to eating out tothe nightclub. It's all there. All of it and I spent the whole day with my students whispering and staring at me like I was a slutty circus freak." There was silence on the other end, then a quiet chuckle. "Are you kidding? You think this is funny?" "I'm sorry, no. I know it's not funny," he said seriously, then chuckled some more. I was silent. He noticed. "C'mon Bella, think about it. If you were a teenage girl you wouldn't think it was fantastic that your incredibly hot and sexy teacher whose scent is still on my sheets by the way was going out with a celebrity?" I was so annoyed. I ignored the sheets comment. "Hot and sexy? What? Are you kidding me? They don't know you're my boyfriend, they think I, you know" "What?" "One-night-standed you." "What? Oh come on, Bella. We know that's not how it was." "But they don't and I'm not about to explain it to them. It's just ugh, I didn't even think of this happening. I mean, in the back of my head I knew photos were being taken, but my time there was so removed from here. It's like I'm living two lives: one in which I'm the role-model

teacher to impressionable teen girls and the other where I'm kissing a hot actor in a dark corner for ALL THE WORLD TO SEE!" "A hot actor, eh?" he joked. "Don't start, Edward." "Sorrylisten, the thing is, Bella, those photos will be yesterday's news by next week. Believe me, it's happened to me before. The rags get hold of a picture-" "A picture? Try hundreds." "Okay, they get hold of hundreds of photos and say whatever they want. It's awful, no doubt, but it fades pretty quickly too. By next week, it'll be all over." I breathed in and out, trying to calm down. "Do you really think so?" "Yes, I do, my girlfriend." And boom. With two teeny words he had my annoyance tamed and the corners of my mouth turning up. "Okaybut what if it doesn't die out in a week?" "Then when I see you, I'll make sure to comfort you over and over and over again." He chuckled low and seductively. I smiled more. I could feel my body relaxing into his soothing English velvet. "Hmm I may not want it to die down now." He laughed. "Really, it'll be ok." "Okay, Mr. Movie Star, I'm trusting you here." "Yes, that is the name of the game, Bella." I giggled. God, either I was a sucker or a sap or just really digging this man. Or all three. "Go to sleep. You'll feel better in the morningI miss you," he said. "I miss you too...thanks."

"Thanks for what?" "For cheering me up." "That's what boyfriends do, don't they?" "I suppose." "Sleep well and I'll phone you tomorrow." "Okay, good night." "Night." I braced myself for another round of gawk-at-the-teacher on Tuesday, but surprisingly it wasn't nearly as bad as the day before. In fact, by Wednesday things seemed to have quieted down even more, just as Edward predicted. The girls were less giggly and the gawking less obvious. Of course, prom was right around the corner and if anything could distract the girls from the gossip, it was dresses and potential dates. Thank God for boyfriends.

Chapter 19
The week flew by and on Thursday afternoon, I sat in Mr. Banner's office waiting for him with my yellow fundraising folder in-hand. His office was a God-awful mess with papers stacked on every surface and books piled high on the floor. Of course seeing the mess reminded me of the scandalous disaster Edward and I created at his house after the nightclub. I smiled from ear to ear. I counted the days until I'd see Edward again as I doodled the letter 'E' on my folder, making little swirls at the end and around it, just like a 16 year old girl. I chuckled to myself. What is the matter with me? Upon hearing the office door open, I quickly scribbled out the 'E' and sat tall in my seat with the posture of a professional woman who wasn't just daydreaming about her hot boyfriend. "Hi Bella, sorry to keep you waiting," Bob said as he walked to the other side of his desk and sat. "No problem," I responded, noticing his bald forehead was uncharacteristically red and beaded with sweat. Bob sat quiet for a moment, fiddling with an array of pens on the desk. Finally, he peered over his glasses and looked at me. "Bella, I'm not quite sure how to begin here...there's a situation I need to speak with you about." Oh God. I froze. My stomach lurched and I felt a burning heat invade every pore. "Situation?" I croaked out. Bob looked at his pens and straightened them into a neat row. "I'm just going to say it Bella I've been inundated with phone calls and emails from several outspoken parents wanting some kind of explanation for the photos of you on the Internet." My heart sunk to the depths of my bottomless-pit belly. I couldn't breathe. He waited, watching me. I couldn't answer.

"I'm not in the habit of keeping tabs on my staff outside the workplace; however, in this case, I had to do some, um'research' to see what these parents were referring to." He stopped again, took in a deep breath and continued to painstakingly adjust the heights of the pens to match. "Quite frankly, Bella, I was shocked and very disappointed to see what looks like you in those photos." Oh Godoh my God My heart thudded inside my chest and in my ears. Bob waited again, first looking at his row of pens then at my beet-red face. "Is it you?" I sat wide-eyed with fear and humiliation. I prided myself on being a model employee, but there I sat in the principal's office with a dry mouth and a stomach that was at once tied in knots and churning deep, nauseous regret. I wanted to explain. I wanted to tell him that those photos captured a budding romantic relationship, not some random sleazy fling, but I was shaking, shocked and ready to vomit. I only thought to give an answer to his question. "Yes," I whispered, my throat closing and my eyes focused on the floor. I peeked up after a moment. He leaned his red, sweaty forehead against his chubby hand. "For goodness sake, Bella, what were you thinking?" Again, words failed me. I shook my head, more nauseous by the minute as my heart pounded its way out of my chest. Bob's sincere, sad eyes looked me over. "You deserve to have a social life like anyone else Bella, but you cannot imagine the position this puts me in right now. I purposely waited a few days so I could check it out for myself." He paused and shook his head. "I hoped it would die down, but it's getting worse. Parents are calling me left and right, threatening to pull their daughters if you aren't removed and they're rallying other parents - and you know how they work, Bella - they're a demanding bunch. They pay steep tuition for their girls to come here to learn not only academics, but for moral guidance." Oh God, oh God

I couldn't catch my breath yet I was breathing hard. He stared at the pens again and continued, "That said, I can't have one of my teachers portrayed in compromising positions on the Internet, and as much as the girls may be impressed by it, what message is it sending, Bella? That it's okay to kiss and do...other things... with a man in a bar? I know you're an adult and you can do whatever you like, but when it threatens to damage my school's reputation, I cannot condone or even turn a blind eye to it. Not to mention there's the morality clause in your contract, Bella." Morality clause? I shook my head and my heart raced. I was desperate to stop this careening train, but how? How? He looked down, and continued quietly, "I was really hoping not to turn down this road, Bella" Road? Oh no "You've been such a dedicated teacher, and I know how wonderful a person you are, butthe bottom line is that I need the parents to remain happy." No no He paused a moment and examined what could have only been my blotchy and red face. He shook his head at me, regarding me with deep sadness. "You're going to have to leave." NO! My eyes popped, my heart raced recklessly in my chest and tears brimmed in my eyes. "Leave?" I asked shaken, praying I heard wrong. This can't be happening. Bob nodded his head regretfully. "I'm very sorry Bella." I sat with my hand over my mouth as a tremor shook through my woozy, faint body. Bob focused on his stupid pens again. He continued, "You've been so dedicated to this school from the moment you started I thought the best way to handle this is to say you're taking a

leave of absence. Publicly, it hasn't been confirmed that it is actually you in the pictures and I think that saves us both some headaches. And, in a few months, when this has become yesterday's news I'd be more than happy to give you a recommendation - to a school outside of the New York City area." A few months? Outside New York? What? My head spun in dizzying circles and I thought I might lose it, but instead a strange calm overcame me, flipping my switch to autopilot. I stood up in a daze, my knees wobbly. Bob stood and walked around his desk. "I am very sorry it's come to this," he said, his voice full of regret as he hugged me like the atschool father he'd become. "You can pack some of your things tonight, but the custodian will be here Saturday morning so you can gather the rest of your belongings." I nodded and shuffled to my classroom, literally pinching my arms in the hopes I'd awake sweating in my bed, tangled in my sheets. This can't be real. It can't. With trembling hands, I fumbled about in my classroom, packing a few personal belongings and left. I walked home so completely absorbed in my own thoughts I'm not sure how I didn't get run down crossing the streets. When I arrived at the apartment, Rose was home from work. "Hey Bella," Rose said casually, until she caught a glimpse of my face my ghastly white, sunken face. "Oh my God, Bella, what happened?" Rose asked, throwing her arm around my shoulder and guiding me to the sofa. I shook my head hoping she would tell me it wasn't real. "I just got fired," I mumbled, dropping my bags and sitting, staring in space. "What?" Rose spat out and sat next to me. "The internet pictures from the nightclub in LA" I whispered.

Rose closed her eyes in realization. I continued, my voice calm, but hysteria circled me like a hungry vulture. "I thought it was all dying out. I thought it was over, yesterday's news like Edward promised but parents called the school and Bob couldn't have me 'tarnish their school's reputation', so he asked me to leave." Rose said nothing as she rubbed my back and shook her head. "How can they do that? Who's to say that was you?" "I did." Her eyes widened at me. "What? You told them it was you? Why?" I shrugged and stared at my feet. "I don't know, Rose. I don't know. II should have denied it, but I was so completely thrown by it all." Rose straightened up, and in best-friend fashion, tried to find the bright side. "It's going to be okay. You'll just get another job and it'll be fine." I shook my head at her. "Bob won't give me a recommendation unless it's to a school outside of New York Cityso I don't see how that's possible. I'm basically blackballed. And public schools don't pay enough so," I said, leaning my elbows on my knees and covering my face, wondering why my life was falling apart all over again. Rose said nothing for several minutes. "Well, maybe you don't have to go back into teaching." I removed my hands from my eyes. "What else am I going to do Rose? Work at a coffee shop? As it is I can barely afford to live here." "I can always help you out until you get another job," Rose offered. "No way, Rose. No way. This mess is my fault and I can't have you pay for that." Rose nodded and said more quietly, "So what do you think you might do?" "I don't know," I whispered.

I stood up, and like the zombie I felt myself becoming again, shuffled to my room and shut myself behind my bedroom door. Rose and Alice left me alone. They knew I needed time. I spent the night lying on my bed, so stunned I was unable to cry. It was all so hopeless. If I didn't return to teaching I wouldn't be able to afford to stay in my apartment, but I couldn't return to teaching in the city since Bob wouldn't give me a recommendation. The more I turned it over in my head, the sicker I grew. The only answer I could think of was the worst one of all: moving back home. I shoved my head between my knees, rocking a little as I nearly hyperventilated. I was worse than beaten down. The despair I'd recently escaped from whispered my name, beckoning me with its crooked fingerI couldn't eat, I couldn't sleep. I didn't want to talk to anyone so I didn't. I didn't even answer Edward's calls. I didn't know what to say. On Sunday, I escaped to the gym, praying that a hard workout would clear my mind. I lifted weights, ran fast and sweated gallons, but no new options appeared. On the walk home, however, I felt a glimmer of hope. I had no idea why, or what the hope was for, but something deep inside me felt there was a silver lining in this darkness. Clinging to that sliver of hope, I opened the door to my apartment to find all of the awful had suddenly gone from bad to worse: My mother and father were waiting for me on my living room couch. Fuck.

Chapter 20
Sweaty and completely unprepared, I swallowed hard and slapped on my game face. "Hi. What are you two doing here?" I said, as if I was pleasantly surprised. As I walked toward the living room, I glanced into the kitchen and saw Rose widening her eyes at me, as if signaling a warning. "Hello honey," said my beautiful mother, Renee. "Can I get you something to drink?" I asked politely, hoping to bypass whatever this was. "No, that's okay, we don't plan on staying long. Sit down, Isabella." Crap. They never visit and now my mother is calling me Isabella and telling me what to do in my own house. Like the very respectful girl I was raised to be, I took a seat on the chair facing my parents while my heart pounded. Renee scooted to the edge of the sofa, leaning forward as her eyes bored into me. With a calm voice she said, "We were visiting with Mr. and Mrs. Flashman and their daughters last night. You remember them, don't you?" I nodded. "They're teenagers now, can you believe it?" Oh crap. I know where this is headed. I nodded again. "Their daughters were telling us how they were looking at some trashy celebrity magazine and they thought they came upon photos of you in Los Angeles." Renee paused, staring at me as if trying to will the information out of me. I froze and gulped, but remained calm. "Oh?" There was no way I was going to volunteer an inch.

Renee continued, "So we said we didn't know a thing about it. We said that if our daughter had flown all the way across the United States she would have told us because what if, God forbid, something happened?" She paused again to test for confirmation of the information. I gave nothing away. Renee shook her head at me, her eyes growing darker, narrower. "But the girls were insistent it was you and showed us the magazine." My mom reached into her Chanel bag and pulled out the magazine, already folded back to the correct page. She flopped it onto the coffee table and said, "I must say, it looks like you kissing some actor," she said, wincing at the word 'actor' and pointing at the magazine with her well-manicured nails. The same photos I saw on the Internet were now in front of me in tangible print. Oh God. I was all but a trapped animal in my own apartment that would soon not be mine. "Of course, your father and I were surprised at how much the woman in the photos looked like you. But, we couldn't imagine that you, our Bella, could be there with someone so much younger than yourself, what with you being a role model for your students. And, of course, we couldn't imagine that you would be kissing some strange young boy in a bar for everyone to see. We know we raised our daughter to behave better than that." Oh God I glanced toward the kitchen. Rose stood in the doorway, hiding yet listening, looking down and biting her lip. "Don't look at your friend - she isn't going to answer for you," my mother snipped. "So - is that you?" she accused calmly. We both knew she already had the answer. I stared down. Why is this happening to me? Why? I would have lied if it weren't for the fact that I was going to have to call them in a few days anyway to see if I could move back. I was cornered. "Yes," I admitted softly as I glanced up and braced myself.

Renee's face shifted quickly. Like the swift fury of a tornado, Renee breathed deep through her flared nostrils, letting out the raging anger she was waiting to justify. With an eerily quiet voice, she said, "How could you do this to yourself? To our family?" "What do you mean?" I asked quietly, intimidated by Renee's laser beam anger projected my way. I squirmed as I always had around her, like an ant under a magnifying glass in the sun. "You are our daughter," she huffed out. "We taught you to respect yourself or at least I thought we did, but, clearly you're just giving yourself away! Do you know how humiliating it was to be sitting there with the Flashmans while our daughter's loose lifestyle was revealed to us?" she spat out, her hands waving about. "And what are you, a mature 31 year old woman, doing with a boy so young anyway? It's disgraceful, not to mention disgusting, Isabella," she spat venomously. "Is he even legal?" "Momhe's twenty-three." Renee shook her head at me and continued unleashing her anger. "23? 23! For God's sake, Bella! How could you?" My mother took a moment to compose her rage, breathing deep and shaking her red hair a bit. "I know we taught you better than this. You cannot fathom how angry and disappointed we are." I said nothing, did nothing, kind of like 'playing dead' to avoid certain death. Renee's fingers tapped on the sofa as her nostrils flared out and in. The anger in her voice was clear even though she spoke evenly. "So, do you like him, this 23 year old?" she asked with a sneered lip. This was definitely a rhetorical question. I learned long ago not to answer those. When I didn't respond my mother covered her eyes in exasperation. "Oh Jesus in Heaven! He's just a boy, Bella! Don't you know that? He's infatuated with you! What do you think he's going to marry you? He doesn't have any respect for you. None! Not if he's kissing you in a bar for quite literally the whole world to see! I said nothing as my heart fractured a little more.

Renee glared and continued, "We thought you were smarter than that. We thought that maybe you learned a thing or two after Jake left you. This boy is so young and, don't you see? You are just the girl of the moment! Of course, he'll find a younger girl to latch onto and then what, Bella? You'll just end up in the same situation again, just like after Jake, and he'll move on while you will have wasted even more time floundering." Renee huffed, calming a moment. "And quite frankly, I'm surprised that after this you haven't been fired." I nearly vomited. I looked down, breathing in steady breaths, trying to keep composed and still. "Did you get fired, Isabella? Did you get fired over this?" Renee roared pointing to the magazine as both her and my father's eyes widened with anger. I hid behind my hands, nodding the awful truth to them. Another wave of pain washed over me and nearly dragged me under as my heart severed down the middle. A sickening silence bellowed through the apartment. Charlie just sat there, taking it in as he always had, letting my mother fume. "I feel sick to my very core!" Renee breathed like an angry dragon. She continued more calmly, "I assume you need to move back home?" I nodded when I peeked up. Through gritted teeth, Renee spoke with a quiet voice, "How could you do this to yourself? What happened to you? When you lived with us, you were always so responsible. Now look at you! You've ruined your whole life over what? A quick fling with some actor? Gah! You should feel lucky that you have a place to come home to." She let out a heavy sigh. "When are you moving back?" I peeked up to see her lip curled up, staring down at me with furious eyes. "Probably next weekend." "Fine." My mother stood up and signaled to my father to follow her lead. They both grabbed their coats and headed for the door.

My mom turned to face me before marching out in a huff. "I'll see you at home where you should have been this whole time anyway." She shook her head at me and said, "You are wasting your life." My dad lagged behind a moment and in a low, sad voice said, "We are so disappointed in you." As the apartment door closed behind them, I burst into tears, knowing they were absolutely right.

Chapter 21
"It's going to be okay, Bella," Rose said, helping me over to the sofa. We sat down and I took deep breaths in an attempt to calm myself. "Don't listen to her. She's horrible," Rose said, handing me some tissues. I wiped my eyes with the tissues and looked up at Rose as she rubbed my back. "Seriously, Bella. She's always given you a hard time. You know that." "I know Rose, I know, but I should be used to it by now. Hell, I'm thirty-one years old. I should be able to speak up for myself," I said, frustrated and hurt. "Don't do that to yourself. You know she intimidates the fuck out of everyone. Especially you. And you weren't ready for her surprise attack, that's for sure." "How long were they here before I got home?" "Maybe five minutes. I tried calling you, but you didn't have your cell on you!" I shook my head and wiped my nose. "Still, I should have been able to say something." "You know arguing with her is pointless. She's always had her own very unique view on things," Rose huffed and rolled her eyes. "I know, Rose, but the thing is she's right. She always fucking right!" "She is not, Bella! She doesn't know you're happy." I sniffed and wiped my eyes again. "Would it matter? If I said, 'but mom, I'm happy', do you think she'd let it go? Be happy for me? No. No matter what I do she's never happy for me well, unless I'm teaching. She likes that." I breathed out as the tears surfaced again. "I just want to know if she's ever going to look at me, like she looks at my brothers, and just hug me, tell me she's proud of me? We're always at odds with each other." "It's because she doesn't understand you, sweetie."

"Why does she seem to understand everyone else?" "I don't know, Bella," Rose said quietly, looking down. "It doesn't matter if I'm happy or not. The thing is we both know she's right - I don't have a job because I decided to whoop it up with a world famous actor. Rose, I didn't even think about how those photos would affect my life. Not once. What is wrong with me?" "Nothing is wrong with you. How were you supposed to know all of this would happen? You just can't move home, Bella. She'll suck the life out of you." I shook my head again. "Damn it. I knew this sort of thing was bound to happen. I felt it. It's why I never wanted to leave the apartment in the first place. I was fine going to work, working out, coming home-" "You were not fine you were a shell of a human being that is not living. Look, it all seems sort of grim right now, but it'll work out, you know? You have to trust that something good will come of this. There has to be a reason for it all." "Sort of grim? I'm moving back home to live with them." "Why do you need to move home, Bella? Why can't you stay here? I can afford it. It's what friends do for each other." "Because Rose, as much as I want to stay, I can't have a career here any longer. New York is a dead end for me now." "And Connecticut is the way of the future?" "No, but oh damn it. I don't know," I said, flopping against the back of the sofa and covering my eyes, wishing this away. "You need to call Edward, Bella. Emmett called me and said Edward is very worried. He wants to know why you haven't called him. I didn't tell him anything except that I'd have you call today." I sat up, emotionally wrung out, but broke down again. "What am I going to say to him?"

"Just tell him what's happened. He cares about you." I inhaled deeply. "I care about him too Rose, but that's not going to make everything all better. This is just the biggest mess." I got up and shut myself in my bedroom. I laid on my bed for hours, thinking things over and listening to the messages that stabbed me anew each time I replayed them. Thursday: "Hi Bella. I've just arrived in France. I thought perhaps you'd be home, but looks like I missed you. I'll phone you tomorrow. Good night." Friday: "Hi Bella. Did you get my last message? Maybe my phone's not working properly over here. Anyway, call me when you get this. I miss you." Saturday: "Bella, why haven't you phoned me back? I'm worried here. I can't focus on anything. Please call me. I just want to know if you're ok. I'm phoning Emmett to see if he knows anything. Call me, Bella." Oh God! I sat up amid the balled up tissues and wiped my wet face again. You have to calm down, Bella. I inhaled and exhaled, trying to quell the sickening nerves twisting in my stomach. I dialed and took one more deep breath. Edward answered on the first ring. "Bella?" said the English velvet overcome with worry. "Bella, are you alright? I've called you and you haven't called me back. Are you okay?" I heard his breathing pick up. I inhaled deeply to steady myself. Calmly, I said, "No, I'm not okay. I got fired from my job, Edward." "What?" he blurted, sounding shocked. "What? Why?" I exhaled slowly. "Because of the photos of us in LA together - kissing in the nightclub-" "You got fired over those photos?" he interrupted, speaking slowly in disbelief. "Yes." Steady, Bella. Breathe. "Photos like that - us kissing violate morality clauses in my contract. I'd never even thought of it before because, well, I've never dated anyone famous. It never mattered before."

He huffed out like I punched him in the gut. "Oh fuck, Bella. Fuck! I shouldn't have kissed you. I shouldn't have touched you in public. Fuck! I'm so sorry so, so sorry. It's all my fault. I fucking knew better. What can I do? Can I call someone? Do something? Tell me, I'll do it. I'll go to the school, sign photos-" I breathed. "I wish that would work, but it wouldn't matter. It's over." "No, it's not. Fuck, who should I talk to, Bella? Fucking tell me who to fucking call!" he yelled into the phone. From head to toe, my body trembled. "Edward, I've already cleared out my stuff and I'm-" I breathed again, trying to calm down, but it wasn't helping. "You're what?" "Moving back to my parents' house," I whispered. "What? Why? Just get another job." "It's not like that, Edward. I wish it was, but it's not. I have no career here anymore. I've basically been blackballed in New York City-" "Blackballed?" "Blackballed, blacklisted - whatever. The point is I'm shut out." "That cannot be fucking legal, Bella." "Legal or not, the heads of all the private schools are tight they talk, even if they are competitors. Without my principal's recommendation I might as well be blackballed." "Can't you work at a state school? Those snobby fucking bastards don't know what they're fucking losing." "I taught at the most prestigious school in New York City, Edward. It paid better than any other school. It was why I could afford to live in Manhattan. Now I can't afford it anymore, soI have to move home." I swallowed hard to stop the tears that pushed against my eyes. Breathe...

"No, you don't have to move home. I can help you, I've got money." "I wish it was that easy, but it's not." "Yes, it is, Bella. It is that easy. I write a check to you and you're all set." My hands shook. Calm yourself, Bella. The tears spilled from my eyes and the pain in my heart spoke through my hoarse voice. "The thing is, Edward," exhale, "this isn't just about financeseven if I accepted your money and found another teaching job," breathe, Bella, "our careers just don't mesh. In your business you need publicity; it's a big part of your career, but for me, for my career, it's lethal. No one is going to hire a teacher whose life is reported about in the papers. No one. I'd get fired again the second new photos came out. It's an awful reality I've tried to figure a way around for four days, Edward. That's why I didn't call you." He was silent for several long moments. Then in the softest whisper he asked, "Are you splitting up with me?" Tears streamed down my face as my heart pounded and my stomach turned. Breathe. Breathe. "I don't want to, Idon't-" "Then don't, Bella." "What other choice is there, Edward? I need my career. It's what I know. It's who I am." "Bella, we can sort this out together. Look, we'll keep our distance in public, I'll not say anything about you to the press, I'll-" I shook my head and wiped my eyes as I interrupted, "None of that will matter when the principal at whatever school I'm teaching at is fielding phone calls from parents and administration about the most minor things I'm reported doing with you. Even dinner out with you is a liability for me, Edward. I'm a liability." Inhale. "You know as well as I do that there's just no way around it - our careers will just keep colliding. It's a horrible impasse, Edward." I couldn't hold back any longer; I sobbed into the phone. Heartbreaking silence dominated for a few minutes as I steadied myself. Wiping my tears and taking deep breaths, I continued, "I'm so lost and confused. I just want to teach here and live here and date you and it seems I can't do any of those things. Damn it! I finally trust someone,

something and wham! I lose everything I know. I can't even trust myself to make a good decision, Edward. I don't know II think I just need some time to figure out where I'm going, what I'm doing. My life is such a mess right now. I just keep floundering." The silence stretched on. "Edward? You still there?" I whispered, wiping my nose. "Yeah it's justIFuck. I'm at a total loss here. I don't know what to say except that I'm incredibly sorry and it's all my fucking fault. I'll do whatever you ask, Bella - I will, but I'm scared that if we do take a break, we'll never see one another again andI want to see you. I need to see you. I want us to sort this out together. Please Bella." I broke down, sobbing into the phone again. "Please don't cry, Bella, I'm here. I want to see you," he said so softly, so gingerly. I caught my shuddering breath. "Do you know how badly I want to see you? But knowing I can't have you with the way things are now - it might just put me over the edge, Edward." I continued to weep, but silently. In a quiet, pained voice he asked, "Do you think I'll ever talk to you again?" I shook my head, feeling more nauseous by the minute. "I don't know, Edward. I hope and pray I figure something out to change things, butI just don't know." We were silent for a long while, neither of us wanting this to end, and wondering if this would be the last time we ever spoke. "So timeyou just need time," Edward said, with the faintest sliver of optimism. "Yes, just time, Edward," I said quietly, forcing my voice to be steady. "I understand and I'll give you your space, Bella. It's the least I can do after fucking up your life, but I want you to know that I'm here for you. You can phone me any time." I was on the verge of losing it. "Thank you, EdwardI'll miss you with all my heart."

"I'll miss you too, my girlfriend." We hung up and I fled to the bathroom to throw up.

Chapter 22
Even after the week from hell, from losing my job to losing Edward, when my parents' large, white colonial home came into view, all of it finally became painfully real. My mother greeted me with a hug and pursed lips. I knew it was a mere prelude to the tough love that was sure to come. By lunchtime, my dad, one of my brothers, Rose, Alice and I had moved all of my things back into my old bedroom. Afterwards, the three of us girls secluded ourselves outside on the front steps with china plates on our laps, eating the healthy lunch my mother prepared. "I know I left my bed at the apartment since it was too big to fit in the van, but I'll come pick it up soon," I said, pushing the salad around on my plate. "Leave the bed, Bella. You know we're saving your bedroom for you, right?" Alice asked. "You probably shouldn't. I won't be-" "Shut up, Bella," Alice said. "You'll be back. I know it." I grinned politely. "That's very optimistic of you." Alice shrugged and grinned. "There's nothing that makes me think otherwise." "Nothing, except my lack of job, money and a life. Right. I'm sure I'll be back in a jiffy," I said, trying to make light of the situation because otherwise I'd just burst into tears again. Rose said, "You're coming to visit us too don't give me any crap about it, and I'll be calling you incessantly. I have to make sure Renee doesn't sell you off as a mail order bride without at least a dorky shower beforehand." We all laughed lightly, a little awkwardly. That night, once everyone had gone and my parents were asleep, I laid on my old bed, in my old bedroom. Nothing much had changed since I lived here in high school. The walls were

still a lavender shade from back when lavender was the 'in' color. The lacey curtains my mother loved adorned the three, eight-paned windows. My large, double-door closet, which held stylish clothing during high school, now contained the professional wardrobe I no longer had a use for, as well as the remnants of my attempt at a social life. The room smelled the same too. Come to think of it, the whole house smelled the same; it was an indefinable scent that one would only notice if they'd been away from it long enough. It was too dark and quiet. I'd grown so accustomed to the city's noises that being away from the life I had loved felt awkward and wrong; then again maybe it was the fact that I had nothing left from the life I'd just started living again that made me uneasy. I could hear my parents snoring away down the hall, probably dreaming of how they planned to finally set me straight. I turned over on my side, flopped on my back, then on to my belly. I kicked out my restless legs. I was so exhausted, yet I couldn't sleep; my mind spun wildly, turning over all the awful from the past week. The tears pricked at my eyes when I thought about how humiliated I was after losing my job; how my best friends lived so far away now. My throat retaliated against the rising emotions by forming a lump and closing off. I almost won the fight until my mind and heart floated to Edward. I shoved my face into my purple pillow to muffle my sobs. After a few minutes, I got up and fumbled around my half unpacked luggage until I felt it: the soft flannel of his shirt. I pulled it out and immediately clutched it to my face, breathing in his scent. For the briefest moment I was back in LA, wrapped safely in his strong arms. I crawled back into bed and hugged the shirt tight. Even though my situation kept us apart, it didn't change the fact that I still wanted him - the shirt would have to be enough. "Edward?" My heart swelled. "Hi!" I squeaked, running to him and throwing my arms around his neck. He hugged me right back, swinging me around. "I miss you, Bella," he whispered in my ear. "I miss you so much, Edward." We held onto one another for the longest time. I could smell that soap and shaving cream scent that instantly soothed me and lit me up.

I shot up in bed to dark, eerie silence and a pounding heart. Holy crap. I huffed in and out, looking around. I stood up and looked inside the closet, behind the door. Is he here? By then I'd fully woken up and realized I was semi-sleepwalking. I flopped back into bed with my heart hammering, trying to find a sleepy place. I stared at the ceiling and the tears began to fall once again. Knock. Knock. I stirred and creaked open an eye. Where the hell am I? I saw the purple walls and sunlight and I remembered. Ugh. Knock. Knock. "Yeah?" I croaked out. The door opened and my mother peered in. "Bella?" Renee said softly. I blinked several times as I tried to see the clock. 8 a.m. on a Sunday? What is she doing? Renee glanced around my room, sighed at the disarray and said, "Don't forget, church is in an hour." Church? You've got to be kidding me. I was in no mood to go to church, but even less in the mood to argue. I threw on the first thing I found: a pair of black pants and a white top and brushed my hair into a quick ponytail. I sat, stood and kneeled totally unfocused on the mass itself but on how I ended back at square one? Square one was awful enough the first time around why do I need a do over? After church, my parents stopped to talk to various friends while I stood off to the side, waiting for them to finish. I didn't want to speak to anyone. I just wanted to go home. I overheard my parents speaking with a shrunken, cane-wielding elderly woman I'd never met. "Is that your daughter? She's beautiful," the elderly woman said kindly, with a sweet smile.

Renee turned around and smiled. "Yes, that's our girl. Bella, come here please." I moved forward and graciously shook the woman's clammy, boney hand. "Bella, this is Mrs. Vito," my mother said. "Nice to meet you," I said politely, forcing a smile. "Why haven't I met you before?" Mrs. Vito asked. I opened my mouth to answer when Renee interrupted, "Because she's just come back to live with us again." "Oh? What happened dear, did you get divorced? It's such a shame, so many people getting divorced nowadays," she summed up, speaking sweetly to me. Again, I began to answer, but Renee chimed in, "No, Bella has never been married-" "Thank God," I mumbled loud enough for my mother to hear and shoot me a quick glare. Renee continued with her calm voice, "She lost her job." "Oh, that's too bad," Mrs. Vito said. I clamped down on my jaw to hold in my anger as well as my tears. Hold on. Only a few more minutes. "If you hear of any teaching openings, let me know. Bella's a teacher," Renee said, proud of that fact. "Oh! That's a lovely profession. I'll keep an ear out." Later that afternoon, my brothers with their wives and kids in tow, came over to visit my parents as they did every Sunday. I never came to these gatherings. My three good-looking brothers were each two consecutive years older than me. Because they were graced with the gift of penis, they were given a free pass from the pressures my parents placed on the only vagina sporting offspring in my family - me. As males, they had their own,

less strict set of requirements and each of them had successfully fulfilled them. I was the black sheep. Growing up, my brothers tortured me as brothers do. They'd take my dolls and hurl them across the room, scare my friends and me, and freeze my underwear, but underneath it all was love. I knew it, they knew it and my parents knew it. My parents instilled in them that as the only girl I needed protection, which I didn't. So in-between the torturing, they were ready to fight my fights. It was sweet, but needless to say, dating was not an enjoyable experience. Admittedly, having everyone in the house the entire afternoon was a good distraction. Plus, my parents were too busy giving the grandkids rides on their knees to critique my nonexistent life. During the visit, I held myself together, grinning and speaking occasionally; however, I knew that once night hit and I was alone, the desperation would fill me, and the waterworks would begin. I awoke the next morning with my eyes puffy and sore. I threw on my roomy gray sweatshirt over my tank top and sweats and made my way downstairs to the kitchen for breakfast. Renee, still in her robe and pajamas, sat at the heavy, rectangular table in the large country kitchen as swirling steam rose from her coffee cup. It was a bright space with light yellow walls and elegant white, wooden cabinets. The place looked like the 'after' shot in a home improvement magazine; it was Renee's pride and joy. "Good morning, Bella," Renee said pleasantly enough, pulling the newspaper down and peering over her glasses at me shuffling into the room. "Good morning," I answered, opening the tall pantry cabinet and pulling out the only box of cereal available - Wheaties, my mother's favorite. There's not even any good cereal in hell. "What do you have planned for today?" Renee asked. I sighed quietly. I found a bowl and a spoon and poured out some of the tasteless cereal. Why does she buy this crap? "I don't know, mom. I figured I'd focus on breakfast for the moment," I said, sitting at the island and pouring the milk.

"Perhaps you should call the schools today to see if you could put your name in to substitute teach. It'd be a great way to get your foot in the door." There was no way I was going to subject myself to that kind of horror. Subbing was not teaching it was crowd control. "We'll see," I responded in my cereal, not wanting to talk at all, much less about that. "Well, don't think you can just sit around you know," Renee warned. I began gobbling up the mushy flakes because the faster I was done, the faster I could leave. Plus, soggy Wheaties were gross. "Up on the refrigerator is a copy of our schedule," Renee said. I peeked up to see her nod at the fridge. "Okay," I muttered, taking a bite and chewing fast. Renee continued, "I just wanted you to know where we were. We've gotten ourselves a nice routine and I didn't want you to think I was going to be cooking and cleaning up after you." I looked up at her. "I don't expect you to cook or clean up after me," I said, annoyed and not nearing the bottom of the bowl fast enough. "I just wanted to be clear is all," my mother said. I nodded and finished the cereal, placing the bowl into the dishwasher. "Honey, do you think you could rinse that out first?" Renee asked. I sighed to myself. I took it back out, rinsed it, stuck it back in the dishwasher and fled to my bedroom. I closed my door and looked at the clock. It's only 8:30 am? Crap. I decided to go for a run that always helped. With my workout clothes on and iPod in hand, I stepped out into the crisp, early spring air and felt better already, especially with my familiar music blasting in my ears. As my feet tapped against the pavement of a side street, I began formulating a plan. Step one: find a teaching job. I knew once I started working again, I could shove the overload of

feelings down deep in the well of emotion that I kept closed tight. It was so much more manageable that way. Plus, I could move out. Move out! I decided my first step would be to contact my former principal the one I worked for in Connecticut four years prior to escaping to New York. Returning home from my run, I spotted Renee dressed and vacuuming the museum-like living room. As I passed, I spotted my old friend, the piano, sitting in there looking as lonely as I felt. I bolted upstairs before Renee could shut off the vacuum and 'talk' to me. I took a shower, attempting to let the warm water relax me even though it didn't. Nothing seemed to help the hole in my stomach, or was it my heart? In either case, I toweled off and threw on my gray sweats. Thank God Alice never actually bedazzled them. I sat at the computer in my parents' bookshelf lined office, revising my resume. I turned around when I heard a quick knock at the door. "Hi honey. I'm heading out for a bit, do you need anything?" Renee asked poking her head in. "No, I'm fine. Dad's at work?" "Yeswhat are you doing?" My mother asked coming to look over my shoulder. Go away. "Fixing my resume," I muttered, focusing my attention back on the screen and the changes I was making. Renee lit up. "Really? That's great. You know, this past Friday, your father called your old principal, Mrs. McGrath, to let her know you were coming back." I whipped my head around. "What? Why did dad do that?" I asked, trying to reign in the horror and anger that overtook me. Renee huffed. "Well, we're certainly not going to let you go to waste over here." "What do you mean 'go to waste'?" I snapped angrily.

"Bella, if it were up to you, you'd probably just sit around here and sulk. Don't you remember the last time with Jake? You just moped around. We're not going to let you waste any more time doing that. Your life is precious, Bella." Oh my God. I might kill have to her. "I didn't mope around, Mom." "Yes, you did. You wore your sweats the whole time, just like you are now, except this time it looks like you showered." "So, I'm not allowed to be sad?" "It's not that you can't be sad, honey. It's just that time is marching ahead with or without you, and if you want to do the important things in life, then you can't waste time wallowing. It's unhealthy." I raged inside. I could feel my heart thudding and my breathing accelerate. How dare they step in like that? Do they think I'm completely incapable? But my years of being the dutiful daughter took over and I shut up and turned back to the computer. Renee, ever so observant, took the hint and left. I needed a job fast. Before bed that night, my cell rang. "Hello?" "Hi Bella, how are you?" Rose asked. I immediately smiled and relaxed. "I'm okay. How are you guys doing? I miss you." "We miss you too. I guess that means you'll have to visit us soon, like this weekend." "Um, doubt it." "Why? Why can't you come?" "Because there's this thing called a job that I don't have that gives me money to be able to haul my ass into the city"

"Oh shut up and get over here." "I can't." "Yes, you canyou need a break from Renee. I can tell she's already got you slumping and into sweatpants again, huh?" I chuckled looking down at my sweats. "Why does everyone have such an issue with my sweatpants? They're comfortable." Rose chuckled too. "So what have you been doing aside from dodging Renee?" I snorted at the truth of that. "Revising my resume." "Already on the job hunt, I see. You think Asshole Bob will give you a recommendation now that you're far away enough from his precious school?" I chuckled. "Probably. I was going to call my old principal I worked with here, but it looks like my father already took care of that for me." "What? He called your old principal for you?" I sighed. "Yes." "I cannot wait for Halloween. I am totally egging your parents' house." I laughed. "I dare you." "No need for a dare." There was a pause. I knew what we both wanted to discuss, but I wasn't about to talk about Edward. I was barely hanging on as it was. "My offer still stands, Bella. I can afford your rent-" I cut her off. "I know, Rose and I really appreciate that, but I have no career in New York, okay?" Rose sighed. "We miss you. All of us."

Don't ask Bella. Don't ask who she's referring to even though you already know. "I miss you too." She sighed again. "I'll call you tomorrow, okay?" "Sounds good." "Kiss the sweatpants hi for me? I miss seeing your ass all flabby in them." "Shut up," I said, chuckling. "Night sweets." "Night." I laid back on my out-of-style paisley comforter and now, thanks to Rose, I wanted to talk to Edward. Who am I kidding? I want to be with Edward. I want to nestle my head in the nook of his arm and chest. I want him to hold me close and tell me this all this crap - will work itself out. But it won't. Why can't I just have him and a career too? I flipped open my phone and saw his name just waiting there. 'Edward' How easy it would be to just press the button, to have the velvet voice soothe me to sleep but no. Calling him will only make this harder. I tossed and turned in bed, finally handing myself over to the sadness that called to me all day, only to find release at night under the safe cover of darkness. "Edward!" I called out, spotting him looking perfect as always. He turned around and shot me his beautiful smile. I ran to him, like in a movie, but we weren't in a field, we were somewhere I had no idea where and didn't care. All that mattered was that my boyfriend was there. I leapt at him and he caught me, holding me tight.

"Oh Bella, I've missed you," he mumbled into my hair again and we continued our embrace. He put me down, but still held me close. "I'm so happy you came back." "Me too. I've been so lonely without you." "Why did you leave?" he asked with sad eyes. "I had to." His face fell completely and he let me go. I awoke with a start, breathing heavy. I flopped back on my pillow and adjusted his soft flannel shirt under my head. I fell asleep chanting, Edward, please wait for me. Wait for me...

Chapter 23
By Friday of that first week home, my resume was polished and ready to go. I headed to the post office and mailed them out. It felt good to complete step one of the Get the Hell Out of Hell plan. Not wanting the satisfied feeling to end quite yet, I decided to steer clear of the Microscope and spend some time at one of my favorite places in the world: the town's library. I loved the library. There was a cozy factor I just didn't find anywhere else really. The quiet, the peace, the thousands of worlds waiting on shelves for me to discover; it was a magical place. God, how I loved the musky, wooden scent of the books and the way the spines of new books fought against the first cracking. Walking in, I naturally headed over toward the fiction section, but stopped in my tracks in front of the check-out desk. I shouldn't read fiction. There's usually romance in fiction and that's the last thing I need to read. So what else? Nonfiction? Yes. Planes? Yep, planes are safe. Trains too. Or maybe automobiles? I stood there giggling at my lame joke when I was tapped on the shoulder. "Can I help you? Are you here for the job?" I turned to see a vest-wearing, older woman with permed, gray hair smiling at me. "Job?" I asked. "Yes, the job," the woman said, pointing to the 'Library Assistant' help wanted sign on the counter in it's 8x10 frame. "Oh. Can you tell me about it?" She smiled, leaned in and whispered, "Dear, it's basically shelving the books." I smiled. "Oh, well, I can do that." Why not? I have nothing else to do and it'll keep me busy until I find a teaching job. Ten minutes later, I'd learned that the woman was the head librarian, she'd been working there for the past fifteen years and she thought I'd do just fine.

It was mid-afternoon when I proudly went home to tell my mother I was good for something. She was loading the dishwasher. "Hi Mom," I said, grinning. My mom looked up at me and smiled in return. "Hi Bella," she said casually as she kept loading the dishes. I opened the refrigerator, looking for a snack. "What did you do this afternoon?" my mom asked. With my head in the fridge, I casually explained, "I mailed my resumes then headed to the library for a while. I ended up getting a job there actually." Dreaded silence. Oh no. "A job? Doing what?" I turned around to see my mother's raised eyebrow aimed at me. I breathed in. "I'll be assisting the librarians with shelving the books and organizing things." My mother silently appraised me. I wondered when the tumbleweed would roll by. "This is just for now, right? You don't plan on that as a career." I sighed in frustration. "Yes, it's for the time being, mom. I thought you'd be happy I was working somewhere, doing something." "I am, Bella. I just think you're too smart to spend the rest of your life shelving books." I shook my head. Exasperated, I left the kitchen. I sped up to my bedroom that was a genuine mess. Most boxes were still stacked; some were open with their contents half spilling out. I spent the remainder of my Saturday afternoon trying to right the disaster I'd managed to create in a week. I sat down and dove into each box, examining each and every artifact of my life: from photos of the girls and me, to photos of my nieces and nephews, to old textbooks and old shoes. I sat

there for hours getting lost in one memory or another, smiling fondly at some of the outfits I'd actually worn in public. My heart stopped and a smile as wide as Texas grew on my face when I found my box of music. Inside the cardboard box was blank sheet music, books of Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, old class notes and programs from various concerts I'd played in. My mind sifted through memory after memory of my musical life. Knock. Knock. "Come in," I said, sitting in the middle of the disaster. My mom peeked in. She looked about the mess, happy, yet disgusted. "Hi honeyare you organizing?" "Trying to," I said, mostly ignoring her. "That's very good. Your dad and I are on our way to pinochle." "Okay." "I don't know what time we'll be home, so good night." "Night." I resumed the clean out and came across my black folder with the white cleft note in the corner. Smiling, I opened the folder and saw them: my compositions. I hugged them to my chest. "Well, hello! I haven't seen all of you in a while." I took the musical scores out and examined them, fondly remembering the experience of composing each of them. "Hey, I know, why don't we have a playdate?" I giggled like the dork I was and bounced downstairs to the mausoleum of a living room with my folder and turned on a table lamp. "Hi there," I said, sliding onto the mahogany bench of the piano. "Looks like Renee's kept you clean at least." I ran my fingers over the spotless cover.

Slowly, I creaked open the top, revealing the black and white keys. I beamed and my heart lit up. "Let's have some fun, shall we?" I giggled and placed the music on the rack. I slid my fingers across the keyboard in one long scale from low to high and laughed at just how loud it was in the quiet house. "Oh my God! You're in tune too? Go you!" I said, patting the piano gently. "Okay kids, ready? Let's play!" I lined up my fingers to play Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata the relatively easy piece I always warmed up with. I could see and hear the notes in my head like it was just yesterday that I last played it. I pressed down on the first chords andmy fingers slipped. I lined myself up again and began, but my fingers only went a bar or two before they faltered. "Okay, come on fingers," I said, trying again but hitting a discordant mess of notes. My smile faded as I stretched my fingers a few times before trying again. Again they stumbled. "What is going on?" I snapped, as my heart sank. I tried again but my fingers weren't nimble and my pinkies weren't reaching the notes. I shook my hands out as my heart raced. "Come on!" It just wasn't happening - my hands couldn't do what I saw them doing in my mind. A sick, hollow fear twisted in my belly. "Oh God, I can't do this either? What the hell?" I yelled loudly in the silent house. I stood up and paced in front of the piano as the tears threatened. I shook my hands out and breathed deep in an attempt to calm down. When I'd gathered myself, I sat again and closed my eyes a moment, envisioning my hands working the keys. I opened my eyes, gave the keys a death glare and tried again, but my hands didn't work like I pictured them. I stood up and breathing hard, I ran to my phone in my bedroom and dialed. "Hey Bella!" Rose said happily.

"Rose," I breathed, panicking. "II can't... It's just not working right. I can see it in my mind, I can hear it, but I just can't do it-" "Slow down, Bella, take a breath." I breathed, not feeling any better. "Now, tell me, what are you talking about? What can't you do?" Rose said calmly. I breathed again. "I can't play the piano, Rose. I found my old music and my parents are out and I thought I'd play for a while since it always made me happy, but I just can't do it. My fingers aren't working. I'm hitting all the wrong notes!" I shrieked and pulled on my hair. "Breathe. Deep breaths, Bella" In. Out. "Why can't I do it Rose? Why? What is going on with my life?" "Bella, you haven't played in a long time. How can you expect your fingers to do what they haven't done in years?" "I don't know. I mean, have I lost this too?" "No, no sweets, you haven't, you just have to remind your fingers what to do. If you took years off of running, you wouldn't be able to run as far as you do now, right?" In. Out. "TrueI just why did I let it go?" "Well, that's what happens when you're busy falling in love. You and Jake were inseparable, Bella. You went to all his intramural baseball games and his work events and you were in the midst of getting your teaching certification. You justput music on the back burner."

"Why did I do that? For what? So that now, when I have nothing else, the one thing I thought I'd always have is gone? Damn it! I'm a complete idiot!" I spat out as I paced across my shag carpet. "No, you're not an idiot and it's not gone. The music is still in there. Your fingers just need reminding. It's like the bike thing, you know? Get on a bike after, um-" In. Out. "You never forget how to ride a bike?" "Yeah, that's it. It's true. If you can see it all in your head, it means it's still there. You just need to practice." I breathed out, only slightly relieved. "I suppose I can't believe I did this to myself." "It happens, Bella. You can't beat yourself up over it. The good thing is that you have time to practice." "Hell, do I have time." I breathed, gaining control again. Rose's soothing voice and encouraging words calmed me. "Are you feeling better?" I breathed out. "A little." "Good. So, how are you other than the panicking? You get sold at the market yet?" I laughed lightly. "Ha. Ha. No. They haven't found a suitor with enough cattle. Actually, I found a job." "A teaching job? Wow, that was fast." "No, not a teaching job, one at the library shelving books." Rose sniggered. "My God you live in the fast lane, Swan."

I laughed. "I know. You're jealous." "Highly. Well, that's good. It'll keep you busy if nothing else. Sohave you talked to anyone?" Oh no. "Anyonehmm you mean like Renee and Charlie?" "You know who I mean." "You mean He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named?" I teased because I really wanted to avoid this topic. "Are you on your Harry Potter kick again?" "It's never ended - you know I've always had a thing for Cedric." Rose snorted. "Bella, you make me laugh, and stop avoiding my question - have you talked to Edward?" I sighed. Clearly, she was not letting this go. "No, I haven't. It'd be too hard, Rose. You know I want to, but-" "But what? Just call the guy. He misses you. You know that, don't you? I don't know why you're torturing yourself like this." "Torturing myself? Do you think I want to be without him? I miss him like crazy. I think about Edward all the time. I even dream about him and it's actually painful to wake up." "So call him, Bella." "I just can't, Rose. It'd be such a tease that's the real torture." Rose paused before she asked, "So do you think it's totally over with him?" "I don't want it to be, but honestly Rose, I don't see how it can work." I sighed heavily, my heart sick. "Even though I probably shouldn't, I'm still clinging onto that one percent chance this situation might work its way out. I'm hoping that at some point, something, somewhere gives; that an answer, a new option anything, comes to me, but the reality is it's nearly

hopeless." A wave of despair washed over me yet again. I had to breathe deeply to keep my voice even. "Do you have to teach? Can't you do something else?" Rose asked gently. "Like what? Teaching is what I do. I've done it forever. It's what I went to school for, it's what I know. We've talked about this. If there was only a way to have them both." My breathing grew rapid as I fought to hold back my tears. God, I hated what an emotion wreck I'd become. We were quiet a moment when Rose said, "I just think you ought to know that Emmett told me-" "No! I don't want to know, Rose. I don't," I said, my heavy emotions seeping through my voice. "I'm sorry. I wasn't trying to upset you. I just want to see you happy and I've never seen you happier than when you were with him." I wiped my tears and breathed, controlling myself. "I know. I never felt happier." We were silent again while my head and heart gave up the fight and wallowed in thoughts of Edward. Rose said, "Look, you go back to playing show those fingers who's the boss, got it? And I expect to get a progress report in a couple of days." I managed a grin despite my watery eyes. "Thanks, Rose. I'm sorry to be such a mess. I'm just trying to figure it all out." "I know you are. I wish I could help more." "You already have - you always make me feel better. What would I do without you?" "I don't know, but you'd be down one hot friend," she chuckled lightly. I smiled. "And that would be tragic. I miss you. Talk to you soon." "Miss you too. Good night, Bella."

I spent a while longer at the piano, futilely trying to play. My fingers remained rigid and stubborn. When I decided I had enough, I closed the piano cover and adjusted everything in the room to look as though it had been undisturbed. I didn't want to field questions from Mother Superior. I climbed in my bed and gripped Edward's shirt tight. My body was stiff with frustration over allowing myself to lose my musical abilities. Playing had always been so important and such a big part of my life. I can't believe I let it go. I let it go My body tensed. I don't want to let go of Edward. I don't. I'd only known him for six weeks, but every moment with him was nothing short of magical. Was it even real? "Edward?" My face split in two when I spotted his back not so far away from me. I ran to him and, like a giddy teen, tapped him on the shoulder. As each beautiful feature turned to face me, my breathing faltered. He was so handsome. "Bella!" he said, beaming back at me and scooping me up in his safe, strong arms, his scent soothing my aching heart. "Oh Edward, I missed you." "Me too. Come with me," he said excitedly, letting me go, but keeping my hand in his and leading me somewhere. He opened the double doors to a massive room that housed the largest concert grand piano I'd ever seen. I stopped in my tracks. "Play for me, Bella?" he asked smiling. Scared, I swallowed hard and nodded. "Good," he said, leading me to the piano bench. I slid in and he sat beside me, grinning proudly. I stared hard at the keys as my heart pounded in my chest. Nervously, I began to press the keys when an ear-splitting sound screamed from

the piano. I tried again, but the same horrible screech sounded. Panicked, I looked over to see Edwardwho was no longer there.

Chapter 24
RPOV: I was laying on the couch reading when my cell rang. "Hey Emmett, how are you?" "I'm well, baby. How's it over there?" "It's good. Glad it's almost the weekend. What are your plans?" Emmett sighed. "Probably babysitting Edward again." "He's still bad, huh?" "Bad? He's fucking miserable. I actually had to cut off his beer supply every night this week. I've never seen him like this. And if he's not pissed, he's a moody motherfucker so I end up throwing a beer at him to get him to shut up. It's a fucking vicious circle." "Shit." "No shit. Thank God the end of filming is coming up. The poor sod needs a break. Oh fuck." "What?" "I am so fucked." "Why? What are you talking about?" "Once he's done filming he'll have even more time on his hands. Fuck! I'm going to have to lock him in his bedroom. I feel like his mother. I'm a fucking mother now." I couldn't help but giggle. Emmett's dramatics were so endearing. "Are you laughing at me?" "No, definitely not," I said, reigning in my laughs.

"Yes, you are! You come here and babysit then! This is the worst fucking job ever! I can't even enjoy getting drunk with him because he's such a raging arsehole." "I'm sorry, Emmett. Edward sounds like he's in a really bad place and you know what? Bella is too." "Is she pissed all the time too?" "No, Bella is dealing with her ridiculous mother who's always making her feel like crap. I could totally punch the woman. Plus, everything in Bella's life is in-flux, so she doesn't know what to do." "Well, maybe she can ring Edward or something?" "Do you think that would help? At first I thought it would be a good idea too, but honestly, I think it might just make it worse." "Worse? How can it be worse, Rose? I was fucking minding my own business watching Grease at his house while he was sleeping in his bedroom - with the door closed mind you, until I heard him waking up and I fucking scrambled to get the remote control thing fuck Rose I'm actually scared of the bloke. Anyway, I couldn't find the remote fast enough and he comes out, sees the carnival scene with Sandy and Danny singing together at the end and he took a shoe and threw it at the telly - hurled the fucking thing across the room. Almost broke the fucking TV! I swear to Christ he needs something. Maybe he needs to get laid, but if I suggest it-" "What the hell, Emmett! Don't try to get him to fuck someone else! Jesus, what the hell is wrong with you?" "Look! I fucking know! I know that isn't the best option, but he's fucking miserable. I figured at least if he -" "Emmett, you shut your damn mouth right now! If I hear or even sense that he is remotely close to screwing someone else while my friend is living the real-life tale of Mommie Dearest over there with her parents, I will board a plane and hurt you. Do you understand me? I. Will. Hurt. You."

"Okay, okay. Calm down. Fuck. I just don't know what else to do. Can't you get her on a plane?" "Emmett, she won't even come to visit me and I'm like an hour away. Ugh. This just sucks." "Bloody right it does, and you know he's just waiting to hear that she got a job." "What do you mean?" "You know that once Bella gets a job it's all over, right?" "Yeah, I know." "Right, so as of now, Princess Pleasant is nothing compared to what he will be once he finds out she got a job. Fuck. Did she slip him a magic potion or something? The guy's normally a normal guy, but he's become like an unglued Kenickie or something." "Bella just doesn't see any other way around this situation, and to be honest, I see her point. Teaching is the girl's career, you know? It's not like Edward's quitting acting - not that he should, but I'm just saying, his career is important to him too. I don't know, I can't explain it, but I just feel something brewing. Something good." "But really, can't she just call him?" "She needs space Emmett. You know that." "Yeah, I knowthat's why fucking Mother Emmett took the guy's phone away - otherwise he'd be drunk dialing her constantly and we both know that would not be pretty. I'm trying to save the guy the little bit of dignity he keeps trying to toss aside." "He let you take his phone away?" "No, I had to wrestle the fucking thing from him and I have to watch him constantly to make sure he doesn't go near a fucking phone." "Emmett, I don't really think that's the way to go, honey," I said when suddenly I heard in the background:

"Who the fuck are you talking to?" "Baby, I'd better go," Emmett whispered into the phone. Again, yelled in the background I heard, "Give me that fucking phone! Right now!" And then the phone dropped and I heard wrestling and grunting and a 'no' and a 'fuck' here and there. "Hello? Who is this?" someone on the other end said harshly. "Edward? It's Rose." "Oh fuck. Hi Rose," Edward said, his voice softening immediately. "How's Bella? I fucking miss her. Is she okay?" "Hi Edward. She's ok. She's hanging in there. How are you? Emmett says your having a hard time. You ok?" "No, things suck and Emmett's not helping at all. He won't let me near a fucking phone and if I have to see Grease on my telly one more time, I'm gonna kick his arse. I hate that I find myself singing the fucking songs in the shower!" "Would karaoke help?" I heard Emmett ask in the background. Then I heard a thud. "Ow!" I heard Emmett grunt. Edward continued, "I can't believe I let this happen, Rose. I knew better. The whole time I knew I had to keep our relationship quiet and I justgot lost in the moment. She must hate me." "What? No, Edward, she doesn't hate you." "No?" Edward sighed. "But I want to hear her tell me she doesn't hate me for ruining her life and I want to tell herfuckso many things and I can't. I'm losing my mind. I should never have agreed to this space thing." "Look, I know it's hard to be away from her, to give her that space, but she's got some things to figure out and she's on the way to doing that, Edward. I really believe she is."

"Yeah?" he asked, so hopefully. "Yes, Edward. She's started playing the piano again, which is very good news." "How's that good news?" "Well, she hasn't played in so many years. She was different back when she used to play. She had this fire in her and even though right now her fingers aren't working quite as well as they used to, the last time I talked to her, I heard that spark again, Edward. I heard it. It's happening. You just have to be patient." There was silence on the other line for too long. "Edward? You still there?" "Uh, yeah, sorry, I was just thinking. That's bloody amazing that she's playing again." "It really is, so just hang in there, okay? Don't do anything foolish." "I'll do my best. Would you remind her that I miss her?" "Of course Edward, even though she already knows. She misses you too." Edward breathed out, "Thank you, Rose. Can you promise me one thing - if she gets a teaching job, can you phone me to let me know?" "Sure." "Thanks and take good care of her for me, alright? I'll put you back on to Emmett." "Will do Edward." After another set of thumps and thuds and ows, Emmett got back on. "Fuck, I think I need ice." I laughed. "Emmett, give Edward back his phone. He's a big boy." "Rose, I'm just trying to be helpful, but fine, if he calls and makes more of a mess of things then I'm putting the blame on you!

"Yes, Emmett, on me. Baby, you are so sweet, but seriously, if you talk Edward into fucking another girl, you will become a girl, do you understand?" "Fuck, Rose! That's not cool. Jesus, everyone's blaming everything on me." I giggled again. "Listen you and I will do a little karaoke next time, okay? Would that make you feel better?" He chuckled. "Yeah, I suppose sowill you dress up as Sandy?" I laughed. "Only if you dress up like Danny." "Deal."

Chapter 25
The next two weeks were a blur. I was Lame-Semi-Librarian-Girl by day and My-FingersDon't-Play-Like-They-Used-To-Girl at night. The library offered me a hefty dose of mind-numbing monotony. I shelved the books faster and faster each day. The only downside was the magazines I had to change out. Newsweek was never the problem, but Gossip Guru was wretched. I tossed those bad boys on the shelf like they were on fire. On a few occasions, I saw Edward's name, a glimpse of his spectacular face, but to look at him, to read about him, would unhinge me. It didn't matter how much I tried not to think about him because each night I dreamt of him his smile, his laugh, his touch. Then I'd shoot up awake in my bed, realizing my life was the nightmare, not the dream. It didn't help that I hadn't heard from any principals. I needed a job. A real one. Will I be working here past the summer? I dreaded the thought mostly because it would give Renee all she needed to rationalize 'helping' me. The only thing that kept me together was my sheer determination to regain my piano abilities, so every time my parents were out, I practiced until my hands and fingers throbbed. Such was my life week after week. Then one Thursday evening, six weeks after I arrived, I sat down with my parents at dinner like I did every night they were around, more or less out of respect. "So how was work today, Bella?" my dad asked over steak and mashed potatoes. "It was fine," I said, shoving some food in so I couldn't talk. "What did you do?" I shrugged. "Just put the books back on the shelves," I muttered.

I knew I wasn't offering them anything to work with, but I learned long ago that it was better that way. When I was younger, I relied on my parents for advice and guidance like most young people do. They seemed to have all the answers and when I trusted their advice, things worked out. I'm not sure when, but somewhere along the way, all that changed. As a sophomore in high school, I liked a boy named Eric. I hadn't told anyone, not even my friends I was too shy and afraid news of my crush would get out. So I silently drooled over Eric during science and English. Then one day Eric and I walked down the hallway towards our lockers chatting after English class. I'm sure I was a million shades of red and I couldn't wipe the beaming smile from my face all day. Even once I got home, the smile remained, drawing the attention of Renee. "What are you so happy about?" Renee asked, smiling at me. I figured my mom was a safe bet, she didn't know Eric at all. "There's this boy I like and we talked today," I swooned, all dreamy-eyed, leaning against the kitchen counter. "Oh? What's he like?" Renee said, stopping her cleaning. "He's smart and sweet and has the cutest dimples," I gushed. My mom stood quiet for a few minutes, but still grinned at me. "What's his family like?" she asked gently. "His family? I have no idea. I just spoke with him for the first time today," I said, my mind focused on his sweet smile. "Well, you can tell a lot about a boy by his familyis he Italian?" "I don't know. I mean his last name is Boswell." "Doesn't sound Italian." "Does that matter?" I asked, not seeing a connection.

"Yes, because it makes life easier if you both have the same heritage." Huh? "We only talked for like ten minutes about class and the paper that's due next week." "Yes, I understand, Bella, sweetheart," my mom said tilting her head to the side and smiling kindly. "All I'm saying is that it's important to know someone before you get involved with them. Heartbreak is a tough thing, honey. Before you get too wrapped up, make sure you find out about things like his family and his goals. Plus, I'm not sure your father will approve of you going out on a date." "He didn't ask me on a date." "Oh," my mom said, sounding surprised. She fell quiet for a moment then continued, "Well, it sounds like he just wants to be friends. If he wanted a date I'm sure he would have asked." At the time, I couldn't understand why I suddenly felt so hurt, but I knew I needed to be by myself. "I'm going up to do my homework now." In my room, I tried to make sense of what my mom told me. I decided that my mom was probably right Eric wasn't interested - he didn't ask me out after all, and it would be arrogant of me to think that he wanted to go out on a date. I didn't know him and didn't want to get my hopes up. I knew I'd feel hurt if it turned out that he was simply being polite. I decided it would be best to forget about Eric; it seemed a much more complicated thing than I realized and I wasn't up for the obvious distraction it would cause; my life was already full with school and music. "Are you enjoying working at the library?" my dad asked, bringing me back to the here-andnow. "Yes, it's nice. Quiet, relaxed." I grinned and nodded. "So, what are your plans for this weekend?" Renee asked. I froze. Like prey that's realized it's within reach of its predator, I strategized how to leave the table. "I don't know," I answered.

My mom continued, "You remember the Palumbos' son, Michael, right? He's the one who recently got divorced that I told you about? Anyway, he's in town and I'm sure he'd love to catch a movie with you." Oh no. "No, that's okay." I shoved a big bite in my mouth. "Why not? You have nothing to lose, honey. I mean, he's a very nice guy: Italian, Catholic, he's a lawyer -" I cut her off. "No. I'm not going on a date, mom." Renee put down her fork. "Are you still hung up on that boy?" Yes, mom, I'm totally still hung up on that boy. I said nothing, so she continued. "Bella, really, you have to let that go. It's been weeks since you've been here and the truth is honey, he's probably moved on by now. You need to face the facts, Bella. He's too young for you. Young boys like him have only one thing on their minds. They flit from girl to girl and, frankly, I'd hate for you to go through the same thing that you did with Jake. Plus, he's an actor, Bella. An actor. A glorified liar if you ask me. Certainly not someone-" I tossed my fork onto my plate. "Stop! Just stop it! You don't know the first thing about Edward! And I am not going on any dates!" I pushed back my chair and fled to my bedroom while my heart thumped and thudded and angry tears fell from my eyes. With hard breaths I paced in my bedroom, devastated at hearing my fears of his moving on validated out loud. What if he has moved on? Oh God! Fuck! He probably should move on, but God I don't want him to. And she doesn't know anything about him! Nothing! She has no idea how much he meant to me, how much he still means to me. Why can't she just leave me be? I have no problem being single and would rather stay that way than settle for someone I don't want to be with. The only time she was ever happy for me was when I was with Jake. Why? Why? What was so great about him? Furious and ready to scream, I needed a familiar voice. I needed my friends. I picked up my phone and dialed. "Hello hot, sexy librarian chick," Rose said.

Still pacing, I gathered myself and wiped away my tears. "Hi. I have a question for you. Do you have a second?" I said in one breath. "Yeah, sure. For you, I have two seconds shoot." "Why did I date Jake, Rose? I mean, he was good looking and successful and all, but why was I with him?" "Wow, well, that's one hell of a question." "I just don't know why. Back in L.A., Edward asked me what I saw in Jake that made me want to marry him and, you know, I had the lamest list ever. So why the hell was I so ready to marry him and for that matter, why was I hung up for so long on a guy who treated me like crap at the end? What is wrong with me?" "First off, nothing is wrong with you and you need to calm down. What's brought all this on?" Back and forth I paced across my bedroom, watching my feet make marks in the fluffy rug as my anger overtook any sadness. "I was sitting at dinner with my parents and my mom starts going off on Edward and how as an actor he's a glorified liar, how he's a horrible choice for me and then she starts her matchmaking again and when I told her to stop because she doesn't know Edward -" "Wait, you actually told her to stop?" Rose said, shocked. "Yes. I told her to stop talking about Edward like that and that I didn't want to date anyone. Then I left the table. Why?" "Holy crow, Bella. You've never walked away from her and you've certainly never told her to stop her jaw must be on the floor right now." "What? Well, whatever. The point is, why was I with Jake - because after about two years in, he was kind of a dick and yet I stayed." Rose sighed. "Honestly Bella, I don't know. Alice and I used to talk about it. We couldn't understand what made you stay with him for so long." I seethed, so angry at myself. "Why didn't you ever say anything to me?"

"We tried but you always brushed it off avoided the topic like you avoid every uncomfortable topic. We didn't know what happened behind closed doors. We thought he made you happy. You seemed happy enough." "Did I? Because I don't remember feeling overly ecstatic about him." "You seemed happy to marry him. Weren't you?" I thought about it for a moment. "I don't know, that's the thing was I? Was I happy to marry him or just to get married?" "I don't know, Bella. I remember you wondering if Jake was ever going to pop the question-" "That's because every holiday and birthday I'd get hounded about the 'is this going to finally be the moment?' and I think Edward was right." I plopped on my bed with my head resting in my free hand. "What did he say?" "He asked if I stayed with Jake for my family's sake and you know what, Rose? Oh GodI think I did."

Chapter 26
I spent the following week avoiding my mother while thinking over all the years I wasted with Jake. The sickest feeling settled in my hollow stomach. I was so angry with myself for allowing my relationship with him to progress further and far longer than it should have. God, I've been so foolish and blind. Thankfully, a distraction came along: seven weeks after I arrived in hell, I landed a teaching interview at the town's middle school. I headed to the school on Friday morning for the interview. It was a temporary assignment until the end of the current school year, but if all went well it would turn into a permanent assignment starting in August. I nailed the interview. The principal, Mr. O'Brien, seemed impressed with my answers. I knew all the jargon, the latest methods and my portfolio was exemplary. I knew if a job offer came in on Monday, it would mean the end of living at the Microscope... and of any chance at having Edward in my life. After the interview, I completed my shift at the library and arrived home to the overwhelmingly fantastic scent of garlic and onions sauting. I floated toward the scent in the kitchen. Renee was in the midst of laying out homemade pasta on the long table while homemade sauce bubbled on the stove. There was even homemade bread inside the oven baking its final golden moments. The house smelled good enough to eat. "What's all this?" I asked, wiping the drool off my chin. Did I forget my dad's birthday? My mom looked up and smiled at me. "Oh, I just felt like cooking something extra special tonight. You know, you had your big interview today and I thought it'd be nice to celebrate things looking up for you." My jaw dropped. "For me?" "Of course, honey. I'm so happy good things seem to be heading your way." "That's really nice of you, mom. Can I help?"

Renee beamed and, oddly enough, so did I. "No, that's okay, honey," she smiled wider, "Why don't you go relax and get changed?" "Alright," I said, happily baffled, as I headed to my room. We sat down to dinner, and for the first time in a long time there was no tension. "Mom, this is so good," I said, as I devoured a forkful of the thick, homemade al-dente fettuccini. "Really fantastic honey," my dad chimed in between bites. "So when do you think you might hear about the job, Bella?" my dad asked. "Um," I stopped to chew, "Mr. O'Brien said he'd call on Monday." "They'd be fools not to hire you," my mom said, grinning proudly. I almost choked on my food. Later that night, my parents had gone out and, as usual, I set myself up at the piano to practice. I don't know if it was the euphoria of the successful interview, but that night when I tried playing the warm-up pieces that had eluded me for the last seven weeks, my fingers finally worked again! Over the keyboard my agile fingers flew, nailing the chords and tempo of Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata. My heart soared and I laughed as I played the piece just like I could envision in my head. Finally! I decided to up the ante by trying a slightly harder piece, Claire de Lune by Debussy. Once again my fingers were in total synchronization with my head! I tried another, Rachmaninoff's Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini, and played it with a precision that left me breathless! Giddy and ecstatic, I laughed loudly and cried happy tears for once. I stood up and jumped about, doing a little jig and clapping. It's happening! I'm doing it! After calming myself down, I got serious. I decided to go for broke and attempt to play one of my own pieces the composition that I held closest to my heart. It was easy to remember writing this piece it represented such a pivotal moment in my life.

For a long time in college I composed music in secret. No one ever knew about the compositions that would form nearly complete in my head. But writing this particular composition was different than writing the others; this one seemed to come from somewhere, almost other-worldly. The melody and harmony, the chords, the tempo, all of it was vastly different and more complex than my other scores, but more than that, I'd been moved to tears. I remember watching my fingers and listening to the notes somewhat out-of-body while a fantastical muse seemed to sing her song to me through my fingers. It was hands-down the most euphoric moment of my life. Once I played it for my professor, he urged me to take the next step to change my major from education to music. Months of his constant encouragement gave me enough confidence to finally discuss it with my parents. I decided it would be best to bring up the delicate topic after a recital when I'd just performed this song that was so precious to me. They would undoubtedly see what my professor saw. That night, my hands trembled as I waited in the wings of the stage while my professor introduced me and my composition. I beamed at his, 'She's an accomplished artist, a composer and one of the most talented students I've ever taught,' line. I stepped out on stage to polite applause. Dressed in a simple black dress with my hair pinned loosely up, I steadied myself. The entire world seemed to hush as I began to caress the keys, and within moments I was lost in my own musical world. When I was done playing, I reentered the here-and-now to surprisingly loud applause. I caught up with my parents afterwards. "Honey, you did a fabulous job tonight!" Renee gushed, smiling wide and giving me a quick squeeze and peck on my cheek. "Thanks mom." I smiled, swelling with pride. "Honey! When did you start writing music? That was wonderful!" my dad said, grabbing me into a bear hug and smiling. I glowed and finally had the confidence to say, "You know, I felt more inspired writing this particular piece of music than I ever have before. Composing this was beyond amazing. It changed me."

"That's wonderful, honey." Renee smiled at me and rubbed my back. I took that as a good sign and went for it. "I was thinking, instead of majoring in education, maybe I could flip my focus; you know, major in music and minor in education. Professor White thinks I could have a real career composing and performing music." Renee straightened up as her smile faded some. "You did a fantastic job tonight, honey. You are a very talented girl, but a career in music? Professor White is a lovely man, but really, that's not the smartest idea. You can't rely on that. You know that." My father nodded. "But I love this so much, you know? I feel so alive when I'm creating and playing." "That's wonderful and that's what makes it a wonderful hobby, Bella. You can make money and have a steady career in education and you can relax by playing, maybe make some extra money on the side by teaching lessons." Crushed and speechless, I let it go. I knew that to push the matter would mostly likely lead to severing ties my family a separation I couldn't fathom then. I simply accepted that education was a good career and was glad I liked kids. As I sat alone in the living room, lost in thoughts of my past, I played my piece dead-on. This time, however, the tears that streamed down my face weren't from joythey were from the sudden realization that the choice I made back then led mewhere? Here - back home, alone and empty inside. Although I should be shouting from the rooftops that my most treasured composition flowed smoothly from my fingers, I didn't. Instead, I shut the cover and headed to my room with my mind and heart numb and overflowing with regret. What did I do? I spent Friday night, Saturday and Sunday entrenched in my mind, contemplating the decisions I'd made along the way in my life.

When my parents left for the evening on Saturday, I could hardly face the piano, knowing that in some way what I could have had long ago was lost forever I'd missed that train. I'd missed so many trains. Monday morning rolled around and I got the call: I got the teaching job. I was pleased, but sadness permeated through it. I felt half in the past, half in the future, but still rudderless. My parents were thrilled over the news. Hugging me, congratulating me and telling me they loved me and how proud they felt. It was all I ever wanted from them, but now I realized it just wasn't enough. That night Rose called. "Hey Bella! How are you? What's new?" "I'm okay I got a teaching job," I said, flatly, lying on my bed. "Well, that's good, right? Why don't you seem happy? Everything okay?" I shook my head. "I should be happy, right? I should be feeling like it's all falling into place finally, shouldn't I? But I don't. Something's missing." "Is it Edward that you're missing?" she said softly. I sighed. "What aren't I missing, Rose? I've let one thing after another slip through my fingers music, years wasted on Jake, and EdwardGod, I miss him. It never felt more right than when I was with him, but now that I've accepted the teaching position, it kills that one percent chance of it working between us." My breathing grew rapid. There were no tears, just a terrible sense of dread that invaded every thought, every fiber of my being. "I moved home because I had no chance of a career in New York and now I do have that chance here but" "It doesn't feel right?" "No, it doesn't. It feels completely wrong. Everything feels very wrong." "So what are you going to do?"

"What can I do? The only thing I have is this teaching job like I wanted. I can move out of here if I take it. I guess I'll just go do it, you know? I'll just get on with things." We were both silent. "When do you start teaching?" Rose asked quietly. "Next Monday. I have to meet with the current teacher tomorrow." We were both quiet again. "Well, maybe you can come into the city this weekend. We can celebrate or something," Rose offered, the sadness in her voice mirroring mine. I nodded. "Maybe. I have to get lesson plans ready, so I'll let you know, okay?" "Okay, Bella. Um, congratulations." "Thanks." I spent the days of that week pushing the cart at the library, trying to make sense of everything I felt the pride of recapturing the magic and skills to play the piano, the satisfaction of securing a job, the joy of my parents being proud of me and the sheer, maddening confusion and unease that overwhelmed all of it. On Friday morning, I headed over to the library for my last day there on Monday I'd be a teacher again. The warm, spring sun beamed at me like a congratulatory hug as I walked through the parking lot. Maybe it'll be alright. Maybe I'll like teaching again once I get started. I reached for the library door when my cell beeped. I missed a call? Weird. When I dialed my voicemail and heard the message, I nearly passed out.

Chapter 27
Nearly hyperventilating, I gripped onto the brick of the library's exterior to replay the message. Did I hear it right? "Hello, this message is for Bella Swan. My name is Beverly Williams. I am the music coordinator for the film 'A Long Walk Through Night'. I'd like to speak with you regarding a piece of music you've written. We'd like to get your permission to use it in our movie, as well as for you to come to L.A. on Monday, if possible, to record it. We'll need to know by Saturday morning if this is something you're interested in. Please call me back as soon as possible to discuss Ms. Swan." Oh my God. Oh my God. With a thundering heart I bolted into the library, grabbed the cart and pushed it to the most secluded section. I stood between the racks of books, processing thisthisopportunity. Oh my God. Edward gave someone my tape. Holy fuck. I breathed hard. Edward Edward Why would he have given out my music? We haven't spoken in seven weeks. I felt woozy, so I sat down and stuck my head between my knees and breathed. In. Out. This is a train, Bella. Get on the train. Get on it...

In. Out. My head spun round and round, shocked and overwhelmed by this turn of events. Maybe I don't need to be a teacher. Maybe I can do something else. I briefly thought back to the other night when I nailed each and every note; when my muse sang, sending me soaring high above with the eagles, filling me with the most perfect joy. But it's only one song, Bella. You cannot make a living off of one song. This is a fluke. Breathe Okay, one step at a time Maybe you can do both. Call the woman to find out the details. Call her. There's no harm in that. Figure the rest out as it comes, Bella. Breathe... I snuck out of the library and called the woman. "Hello, Beverly Williams." "Hello, this is Bella Swan. You left a message for me about a musical composition I wrote?" I said, trying to keep my voice steady and professional. "Oh, yes, of course, Bella. I wanted to speak with you about using your composition in a movie I'm working on and having you come to L.A. to record it. We got your music from the director who gave us your name and number. If you'd rather, I can contact your agent, but no one seemed to know who that might be, and I only had this number, so that's why I contacted you directly." "That's not a problem. I was wondering you said you needed me to come out on Monday could I come next weekend instead?" "Unfortunately, we're already behind schedule with the score and we've only just gotten your music, so that's why were so late in contacting you. Your music is the perfect backdrop for one particular scene in the movie. We'd really like you to record it, Bella, but we need it done

before Wednesday. I know this is such short notice and we're inconveniencing you, so we'll set everything up transportation, hotel, etc," Beverly explained. Get on the trainGet on the train... With all I'd been through and after all I learned, I wasn't going to let this train leave the station without me. Not again. With a deep inhale I closed my eyes tight like I was about to jump off a cliff. "Okay. I'll do it." "Oh, that's wonderful," Beverly said. "I'll FedEx the tickets, so you'll get them tomorrow. You can come in on Sunday, record Monday and leave Tuesday. Does that sound agreeable?" "Yes." Oh my God. Oh my God. I can't believe I'm doing this. My hands shook and I started to sweat. "Great. We'll have someone pick you up at L.A.X. and drive you to over to us, okay? Here's my number in case you have questions." Beverly gave me her phone number and we hung up. In shock and feeling slightly out-of-body, I stared at my phone. Bella, call Mr. O'Brien. As my fingers dialed the school of their own accord, I waited on hold and prayed this would all work out. What if he says no? "Hi Mr. O'Brien, this is Bella Swan." "Oh yes, hello, Bella. All set for Monday?" "Actually, there's a problem with Monday and Tuesday." "What is it?" he said harshly. I exhaled. "I won't be able to start until Wednesday." "Bella, I thought I was very clear. I need you here on Monday. We've already put out notices of your arrival, introduced you, said you'd be there for our science fair, which I've already

explained to you was our biggest school event. You need to be here on Monday. Figure it out." Get on the train I breathed in again. "I'm sorry, Mr. O'Brien, I have a conflict and it can't be worked out. I can't be there on Monday or Tuesday." "Are you're telling me you don't want the job?" he fumed. My pulse thumped in my ears. Get on the train With a confidence that seemed to come from somewhere other than me, I said, "If I can't start Wednesday, then I have no choice but to rescind your offer." "Well, Ms. Swan, best of luck to you then. I'll be sure to pass your name along to all my educational contacts about your lack of professionalism." "I don't plan on returning to education, Mr. O'Brien," I said confidently, yet absolutely shocked at myself. "Goodbye, Ms. Swan," he snipped and hung up. Holy crap! Slightly giddy, yet more afraid than I'd ever been, I breathed hard knowing what I faced next would be the most difficult and frightening encounter by far: my parents. I needed a plan, but before that I needed to call Edward. I need to thank him. Maybe he'll be willing to see me if I beg. Will he hang up on me before I get the words out? I took my cell phone from my pocket and saw his number safe and secure in my list. Please God, don't let him have changed it. On my way out the door to call him, the librarian stopped me. "Bella, dear, can you put these on the shelves now? There are some folks here looking for the new editions." Damn the periodicals!

"Sure," I said. I'll do it quickly then make the call. What should I say? Oh my God, the English velvetI'll finally hear it again! The moments ticked by excruciatingly slow. I want to hear the velvet. I need to hear the velvet. I need Edward. It just might work! Done with the newspapers and moving onto the weekly magazines, I flung them on the shelves when my eyes caught sight of Edward's face and lingered a little too long. Mr. Spectacular graced the cover of Gossip Guru looking as handsome as ever. It was a stock photo of course, but in the corner, circled for emphasis, was a grainy paparazzi photo with the caption: "Edward Cullen's Love for Co-star Tanya Denali Exposed!" I lost my breath like I'd just been punched in the gut. I couldn't help but stare at the photo of the two of them lip-locked and embracing. This has to be a real shot, not from the film My legs nearly gave out from under me, as one of my greatest fears became a reality. Oh God, I'm too late. My mother was right, he moved on. He really did. I can't call him now. Oh God! Holding myself together with what felt like chicken wire and bubble gum, I somehow kept the tears and the rage inside. The devastating photo only made me realize that I had to hold on tight to the things I wanted. At that moment, I decided to pursue music with all I had. Damn the consequences! I knew with every fiber of my being that I had to do this. I was going to fully reclaim music in my life. It was all I truly had left. Somehow I managed to get through the afternoon at the library by focusing on what to say to my parents. I knew I had until the tickets showed up the next day. I even spent the evening playing sick so I could sequester myself in my bedroom that night to work out the details. What words do I use? What tone? What's the right way to explain to them the need I have for music in my life? The moment my head hit the pillow, I fell asleep, my mind exhausted and overwrought with the monumental decisions I already made and the battle that I was about to face.

"Edward? Is that you?" I asked, seeing the back of his head and the coppery highlights in his hair glinting in the lights very bright lights. I shielded my eyes. He didn't turn. "Edward?" I called again, louder and stepping closer. Suddenly a delicate, creamy skinned hand slid across his plaid back. Blood red nail polish shined in the lights. I heard a high-pitched cackle and then a beautiful, female face turned to look at me. Tanya! She eyed me from head to toe, her lip curling up into an amused sneer. She spoke. "He can't hear you, silly. He's forgotten all about messed-up you. I made sure of that. He's miiiine," she hissed and laughed again, so loudly it hurt my ears. The lights suddenly shot directly in my eyes and I had to turn away. Oh God, Edward! No! I shot up in bed, sweating with tears streaming down my face. It took a long while for me to calm down, only to fall into a horribly restless sleep. By morning, I wasn't awake more than a minute before the onslaught of thoughts began. Edwardmy parents.my musicmy life I breathed deep and reminded myself that this was my life. My life to pursue what I wantedbut a gnawing sickness remained in my heart. Edward I cautiously headed downstairs for breakfast, bracing myself. Renee was busy cleaning bathrooms and only shouted a quick 'good morning' as I went past. I shoveled the food in, not really knowing why I was rushing. I needed to calm down. I figured a run would help. I changed my clothes and stepped out into the cloudy, yet warm morning. As I ran, I rehearsed all I would say to my parents and how the conversation would go - like a runner envisions crossing the finish line first.

I can do this. Yes. It'll be fine. I arrived home to find Renee circling around a package that had arrived while I was on my run. Oh God, they work fast. "You got a package," Renee said the moment she saw me. I could tell she was dying to know what was inside. "Oh, okay," I said, scooping up the package and began heading out of the kitchen. Maybe I can just avoid it. "What's in there?" Renee asked sweetly before I'd gotten too far. No, I can't avoid it. Not this time. Do it, Bella. Finally board the train. Get on it. I took a deep breath, "Plane tickets, I believe." "Plane tickets? Are you going somewhere?" Renee asked, sounding very confused. My heart was pounding and it wasn't from the run. I straightened up and cleared my throat. "Yes. I'm headed out to L.A. tomorrow." "What?" Renee asked, trying to understand. "L.A.? Aren't you starting your teaching job on Monday?" I could feel it all shifting her eyes, her stance and the atmosphere in the room as the gears clicked in her head. Standing across the granite-topped kitchen island from her, I thought carefully of the words I practiced and mustered all the confidence I had within me. "I'm going to L.A. to record a song," I said, giving only the facts. "A song? What are you talking about, Bella?" Renee furrowed her brow with concern. She probably thought I cracked. I let out a silent whoosh of air. "I got a call from a film's music coordinator and they want to use a composition of mine for a scene in a movie. They want me to fly out to record it."

Renee's face fell. Her chest began to rise and fall with breaths that grew shorter and louder as the moments ticked by. She remained silent a long time; too long. Finally, Renee spat out in one long, angry breath, "What happened to the teaching job? You're ready to start in two days and now you're not? Have you called the principal?" "Yes, yesterday." "Yesterday?" "Yes." Just the facts, Bella. Her eyes widened as her nostrils flared. "So you're not going to teach? Instead you're going to L.A. to record a song?" Renee gripped the countertop with white knuckles. "Yes," I responded. "Yes. Yes. Yes," she imitated my answers in disgust. "What is this all about, Bella? What are you doing to your life?" Renee roared, leaning in and slamming a fist on the countertop in frustration. "You have the start of a good life right in the palm of your hand and you just brush it away? Did you ever think this 'music coordinator' thing wasn't some sort of scam? And, if it's not, what happens when they don't like what you play? What will you do then? Those kind of people are a fickle bunch! Does this have anything to do with that boy who I thought you had finally put behind you?" she said through gritted teeth. Oh God. This was far scarier and intimidating than I anticipated, but I wasn't going to let it derail my plan. No. Nothing is getting in-between my dreams and me again. Nothing. I took a deep breath and continued to answer factually, "They're asking for my permission to use my song, so, no, I don't think this is a scam. It just feels right." "'Feels right'?" Renee quoted derisively, her face twisted in repulsion. "What kind of baloney is that? Does living hand-to-mouth 'feel right'? Why are you doing this? Are you trying to anger me? What have I done to make you want to screw up your life left and right?" I shook my head. "What? You didn't do anything, mom. This isn't about you, it's about me." "What about you?" she spat.

I furrowed my brow. Does she not see it? "I've practically lived my life for you don't you know that? And where has it gotten me, mom? Where?" "It got you a job, Bella a very good job and a stable career." "A job doesn't make someone happy mom. And I don't want just a job. I want a life a full one. I want love and-" "You had your chance at love with a perfect man and you took it for granted threw it away, just like you're throwing this teaching opportunity away!" "Are you talking about Jake? You think he was a perfect for me? He may have been Italian and Catholic, but he cheated on me, mom, did you forget that? Or forget that he left me on our wedding day? Did you forget that too?" My mom's eyes narrowed as her face grew crimson. My heart knocked about so hard in my chest and the tears began falling, but my voice, my voice was strong with conviction. "Where have you been? Where is the unconditional love, mom? Where is the supportive mother who's supposed to help her child find happiness, not just a successful career that leaves her empty inside?" My mother's mouth opened as her eyes grew wide. "Unconditional love?" she shouted. "Every single thing I've ever done for you was out of love, Bella! Every single thing. You're my daughter for God's sake! I tried to guide you to a life that would give you security and stability, because without that, how can you be happy, Bella? How can you be happy if you can't pay your bills or don't know where your next job is or where you're going to live? How? Love doesn't pay for those things! All I've ever wanted was for you to be happy! You don't think I love you? You've broken my heart, Bella! And, God damn it, if you are so determined to waste your life on unreliable jobs and foolish men who will only eat you up and spit you out, then fine! But don't think for one second, that when this whole 'music' thing fails, you can come back here to live. This door is closed. Done. Good luck to you and your liar of a boyfriend." Renee grabbed her car keys and stormed out, slamming the back door. I stood in the kitchen with my mind, heart and body frozen, wondering if all that just happened really happened.

I sunk to the floor. Oh God. What have I done?

Chapter 28
With a heavy heart, I left the next day with not a word spoken between my parents and I. Even though it was liberating to finally speak my mind, I hadn't meant to hurt my mother I just wanted her to understand me for once. She was still my mother after all and I still wanted a relationship with her - but a Carol/Marcia one, not a Joan/Christina one. And since I wasn't going to have a relationship with her on her terms any longer, it seemed I would have to wait for her acceptance - if that were to ever come. I spent the entire flight fighting to keep my mind from any number of thoughts that would send me tumbling over the edge. Of course, it was just my luck they showed Ever After as the in-flight movie. I couldn't help but laugh at the irony: an evil mother and a broken heart Once I got off the plane in L.A. and made it outside the gates, the warm sun reminded me of Edward, which reminded me of the photos, which reminded me that he moved on. I'm an ass for letting him slip through my fingers Immediately, the tears threatened. Stop, Bella. You can't be crying in public. You have to be professional for a little while. That's when I spotted a hefty, balding man holding a sign with my name on it. "Bella Swan?" the man asked as I approached. "Yes, I'm Bella." "Nice to meet you. I'm Jack. I'll be taking you over to meet with Beverly." We shook hands. "Nice to meet you too." He took my small suitcase and plopped it into the trunk of the black Lincoln Town car. I'd been so preoccupied with all that had transpired in my life, that I hadn't thought about the actual experience that was about to take place I was literally about to make a dream come true. On the ride over to Beverly's office, my mind raced. Will I be able to play my piece well?

Was last time a fluke? Will I fail? I breathed in and out in steady counts of three just so I didn't pass out in the back seat. "Okay, this is it," Jack said as we pulled up in front of a two-story brick building on a relatively quiet street. My heart nosedived into my belly. Oh GodI'm here. "I'll be here when you're done." Jack smiled kindly. I scooted out of the car and stared at the building in sheer terror. Move feet! I breathed and entered the building. I spoke to the receptionist. "Hi, I'm Bella Swan here to see Beverly Williams." I could hear the shakiness in my voice. "Let me call up." She dialed, spoke to someone briefly and hung up. "You can head over to the stairs on the right and go to office 223. Ms. Williams is waiting." When my feet didn't move she grinned at me and said, "You'll be fine." It was odd how one encouraging comment from a stranger could set me at ease. Or at ease enough not to vomit in the foyer. I found my way to the correct office and froze, staring at the nameplate on the door: 'Beverly Williams, 223'. You can do this. They asked you here because they like your music. You can do this, Bella. This is your chance. Your time. Your train. I breathed in and whooshed the air through my lips one final time, visualizing all my fears leaving my body. With a momentary burst of confidence, I knocked on the door.

"Come in," said a female's voice. I turned the door handle and entered. A tall, slightly heavy-set woman with short reddish-brown hair rose from behind a desk as I came through. "Hi. Bella? I'm Beverly Williams." She smiled warmly, shaking my hand. "Hi. Yes, it's nice to meet you, Beverly." Oh God, I'm going to puke. Don't let me puke. Please don't let me puke. "How was your flight? Everything okay? You look a littlepale." "Yes, I'm fine. Thank you." I took another calming breath as quietly as I could. "Please, have a seat," Beverly said, making her way around her desk and indicating the chair on the opposite side. "So, this afternoon we'll go over some paperwork and then I'll take you down the hall to the studio and have you practice a bit we'd like to get a feel for the song live. Tomorrow we'll do the actual recording, so you can take your time warming up today," Beverly said, smiling kindly. "Okay," I nodded, swallowing hard. I can't believe how much is riding on this. I gave up a steady profession and job, I alienated my parents, and if this doesn't work, which is a definite possibility, I no longer have a safety net. Oh God! No! Breathe, Bella Moments later, a lawyer joined us who spent a long while explaining the ins and outs of the legalities and the paperwork I needed to sign. I nearly fell out of my seat when they told me how much I'd get paid. Once we were done, Beverly led me down the hall to the studio. We entered into what Beverly called the 'control booth' where a large panel of buttons and dials sat like a desk that looked into a second area through a glass window the 'studio'. The studio was like a blank slate with nothing but a shiny, black grand piano waiting for me in the center - just slightly intimidating. Ha!

Beverly introduced me to the two male sound engineers sitting at the control panels. "Bella, why don't you warm up a bit? Then we'll have you play the piece to get a sense of any changes we need to make between now and tomorrow when we record it, alright?" Beverly asked. I nodded, entirely too tense and uptight; it was all so new and unfamiliar, plus I knew these people were at the top of their musical game what if I don't measure up? I walked into the studio, whose acoustics reminded me of the air after a newly fallen snow no echo and deafening silence. I sat at the intimidating piano and stared at the keys for a moment. I practiced a few scales, the piano's sound so clear and crisp in the sound-proofed room. After playing some Beethoven to loosen my fingers, Beverly asked me to give my composition a try. Another wave of nerves wash over me as my mind sprinted from one fear to the next. I forced both my eyes and heart to focus on the keys laid out before me. Feel it, Bella. You can do this. As I began to gently stroke the keys, I felt her rumble my muse of inspiration awakening and breathing through me. As always, she came first as a tiny whisper, gaining strength until she sang loudly through my fingers. Utterly captivated by the blending notes and chords, my heart raced and soared, hearing her blissful song resonate through my body. When the song was complete, I re-entered Earth and fear flooded me again. If I look up and they hate it, what will I do? I stared at the keys a few moments until I was startled by a voice speaking through the intercom. "Bella?" I looked up through the window into the control booth to see Beverly smiling. "Wow, that was moving - so much more so than the tape." She held up the same cassette I lent Edward so long ago. Edward my heart sank.

"Thanks," was all I could manage. I cannot fall apart now! I didn't have much time to dwell on Edward though, because Beverly had me playing for the remainder of the time, working out the kinks and customizing the song for the scene of the movie it would be used in. By early evening, I was exhausted and Beverly sent me off to the hotel for the night. I took a long, hot shower as my mind drifted to all the life-altering events of the past several days. Dried off and dressed in my old, reliable sweats, I turned on the TV. I laid down to look over the room service menu when I passed out into a sleep so deep, I don't think I moved the entire night. The next day, I awoke well before dawn. Ugh, jet lag. After showering, I sat for a long time on the bed, staring out of the window, watching the West Coast dawn become day. How beautiful Beauty... Oh! Rose and Alice Oh my God! I haven't told them anything! With the time difference I knew they'd probably be up and maybe at work. I called Rose's cell phone. "Hey Bella! What are you doing calling me so early? Shouldn't you be at your new job?" "Rose, I'm so sorry I haven't called you, but you are never going to guess where I am right now." "Um, in the backyard digging a hole for your mother's dead body?" I giggled. "No. I got this call from a music producer about my music they wanted to use a song of mine in a movie andI'm in LA to record it!" "What? You're in LA? To record a song? Holy shit!" she yelled. "I know! It all happened so fast, it feels like a dream, but I flew in yesterday and I spent the afternoon playing and revising my piece to fit the movie score and today I'm going to record it! Can you believe it?" "Holy shit! Holy fucking shit! Oh my God tell me everything! Wait, wait, wait - so you're blowing off work to be there? You go, you bad girl."

I giggled. "I'm not exactly blowing off workI rescinded the offer." "What? Are you serious? Oh my God, hang on, I have to sit down." "I know, it's insane. The principal wouldn't let me start later in the week, so I had to choose." "So you chose music" I could almost hear her smiling. "I did. Remember the last time we talked I told you how everything felt so wrong?" "Yeah?" "Well this this insanity, it feels so right. I just trust it, you know? I mean, I know logically, it's crazy to ditch a perfectly steady career opportunity, but God, Rose, it just feels right. Does that make sense?" She giggled. "Yeah, it makes a lot of sense, Bella. I'm so happy for you! Wow. I knew something good was coming. I just knew it! So how did you escape Renee's evil clutches?" I sighed deeply. "Ugh, Rose it's such a mess. We had a huge argument and she stormed out and honestly, I'm not sure we'll ever be able to get past this." My phone beeped indicating a low battery. "Hang on. My phone's going to die, let me get my charger." I fumbled through my bag. "Damn, I didn't pack it. Shit. Listen, if my phone dies I'll try to call you later, okay? I have to leave soon." "Yeah, sure. Bella, I'm speechless and shocked! Totally shocked! Here I was ready to kidnap you and you're in L.A.! Hey, what did Edward say when you called him?" My heart somersaulted at his name then sank and sank and sank. "You called him, didn't you?" "No," I answered quietly. "I was going to before I flew out, but then I saw this photo of him in Gossip Guru making out with TanyaI don't think it was from the movie, Rose. I think he'smoved on." I swallowed hard as the thought stabbed me square in the chest.

"Are you sure it's a real photo, Bella?" "I'm almost positive. The angle, the background, the way his arms were holding her, nothing about it looked like a set I lost him, Rose. In all this, I gave him up and it's too late to get him back. It's all my fault." "I still think you should call him, Bella. I spoke with him the other day to tell him you got a teaching job and he-" Click. My phone died. Damn it! He what? I looked at the clock. I only have a couple of minutes before I have to go. Maybe I should call him. Maybe the photos weren't real. Maybe we can meet up and talk. Talk about everything. Just maybe I stared out the window again as the sun blazed across the early morning sky. I've already come so farhell, I should just take a chance. I looked over at the hotel phone sitting on the nightstand. That's enough avoiding, Bella. I'm calling him. I have to thank him at least. It's still early but he'll probably be up by now. With breaths that didn't seem to give me an ounce of oxygen, I dialed his cell number that I had memorized and waited with shaky hands for the velvet to answer. "Hello?" My heart leapt It's him! The Velvet! "Hi, Edward." A massive smile broke out on my face. "Bella? Bella, is that you? Christ, how are you?" I was about to answer when I heard in the background, "Here's your jacket, Edward. Ready?" Oh God! No! It's her. That bitch! Oh God, she's there. She must have stayed the night. I gasped and tossed the phone onto the receiver as if it were on fire. I could hardly breathe. I paced around my room shedding hard, frustrated tears as I roughly shoved the things I needed for the day into my small satchel. Fuck! I'm such an ass! I should have called him long ago I should have called him, but no, I had to avoid shit as usual and I screwed things up again! I wasted time on Jake why? Because I was too much of a wuss to face facts; I became a teacher why? Because I was too

wimpy to stand up for what I wanted. And my parents? I let them have their way with my life. What have I been doing? I've been a bystander in my own life! And now, Edward one more thing I fucked up - why? Because I was too afraid to confront my emotions for a man who made me come aliveWhat was I thinking? Did I really expect him to wait for me? Why would he? He's beautiful, sweet, funny and God damn it, I just left him hanging! I am the biggest idiot alive! I quickly washed my face, trying to erase the rage that poured out of my eyes. I'm not going to screw today up! No way. Not going to happen. I dug through my suitcase and pulled out Edward's shirt. I held to my face and breathed in the scent that had nearly faded away. I still have his shirt and the last of the soap and shaving cream. Fuck it, I'm wearing this. I slid the shirt on over my tank top and jeans and rolled up the sleeves, catching a faint whiff of the remaining scent. I needed to switch gears. My ride was waiting. I made my way to the Lincoln Town car and used the ride over to focus all my energies on what I needed to do at the studio. Once I arrived, Beverly explained the entire recording process while the two sound engineers got things ready. I spent sometime warming up, feeling far more comfortable than the day before. I could already feel my muse stirring. Of course, nothing ran smoothly. There was one technical glitch after another, however, by mid-afternoon, with all systems finally 'go', we began recording. "Okay Bella, whenever you're ready," Beverly said through the intercom, smiling at me from the control room. I nodded and breathed deeply. I focused on the keys. You can do it, Bella. Knock it out of the park. And just like yesterday, the muse began to whisper, followed by her joyous singing as my hands flew over the keys. I couldn't help the tears nor the smile that rose up - elation mixed with sadness mixed with determination. I was a melting pot of emotion.

God damn it, at least this is right. When I was done, I looked up at the control booth to see their reaction and noticed a fourth person standing there: Edward.

Chapter 29
I froze. Edward? I blinked a few times wondering if he was real or if I'd finally crossed the mental threshold to insanity. Edward grinned cautiously and nodded at me. My face flamed as I grinned back. Oh my God! Why is he here? He's hereHe's really hereWhy is he here? Calm downbreathe Bella Beverly spoke over the intercom, "Sorry Bella, the panel is glitching again - we need to make a few adjustments. Let's take a five minute break." I nodded and watched Edward walk through the door into the recording section of the studio I was in. My heart pounded in anticipation. Oh Godhe's coming this wayhe's coming this way My entire body tensed. I thought I might just faint. "Hi," he said with his hands shoved in his jeans pockets as he stood before me. "Hi," I squeaked out, noticing how the green of his t-shirt amplified his magnificent eyes. My God, he's beautiful. We stared at each other for a few beats until we both started speaking at the same time. "Edward, I-" "Bella, that-"

We both blushed and grinned, releasing some of the tension. He shook his head, glancing at his feet. "It seems we both have something to say," Edward said, peeking up at me. I nodded. "Yeah, I guess so," I answered, figuring he could probably see my heart beating furiously in my chest. He gazed at me for a long moment. "You played that beautifully." "Thank you," I said as another layer of magenta covered my face. "Maybe we can talk once you're done?" I nodded. "Yes, I'd like that." Talk. Oh boy. He grinned. "I'll wait for you out in the corridor." "Okay, but it might take a while," I said, nervously. "It's alright. I'm not going anywhere." Completely tongue-tied, I gaped at him as if not another person existed, as if we were totally alone, which we weren't because Beverly startled us, speaking over the intercom. "Bella, we're all set. We'd like to do another take now." I nodded at her and looked back to Edward. "I'll let you get back to it." "Okay," I said. I watched him turn to walk out the door when he stopped and faced me. "Nice shirt," he said with a crooked grin. Oh God, his shirt. My face flamed yet again. I stared at the keys while a major battle for attention warred in my head.

Music, Edward, music, Edward, music, Edward Focus Bella! You cannot mess this up! After wrestling my mind for musical focus, we continued the recording session and finished up about an hour later. I gathered my things and turned to Beverly. "Thank you so much. I truly appreciate this opportunity." "You have been such a pleasure to work with. I wish you all the best - with everything," Beverly said, touching my arm and nodding her head in the direction of the door. With a deep breath and butterflies fluttering madly in my belly, I opened the office door and peered down the hallway. There stood Edward leaning against the wall with one leg cocked up behind him smoking a cigarette. He smokes? He stared out of the window, blowing the smoke out of his perfect mouth as the sun streamed in. He turned my way and quickly took the cigarette out of his mouth like he was trying to hide it, but had nowhere to dispose of it. "Hi," I said with a massive lump lodged in my throat as I walked over to him. "Would you like to get a cup of coffee or something?" he asked, his breathtaking crooked smile making my legs almost give out from under me. I nodded and grinned. "I'd really just like to go somewhere to talk if that's okay." "Yeah, alright." He nodded again and put the cigarette back in his mouth as we walked down the hall. Ever the gentleman, he held open the stairway door for me. I walked past him, smiling at him like the idiot I was. I didn't know what to do, how to act, what to think. I was a bundle of nerves. Once we were outside, he flicked his cigarette into a cigarette disposal. "I didn't know you smoked." "Yeah, uh," he said, flushing. "Only when I'm nervous." "Then I guess I should be smoking too," I said mostly under my breath.

He chuckled. After all that time, space and distance between us, I was finally next to him; the sides of our arms mere inches from each other as I followed him to his car. I was at once relieved and thrilled, yet completely devastated that he was no longer mine, which made me wonder again, why is he here? He opened the car door for me and once he closed it, I inhaled as deep a breath of the fresh soap and shaving cream scent as I could. I watched him walk around the front of the car. My God, he is utterly spectacular. Mr. Spectacular He slid into his seat and as we pulled away from the curb, all I wanted to do was reach over and hug him hard. Kiss him hard. Tell him everything I learned, that I was beyond sorry and that I was incredibly thankful, but my mass of nerves kept me frozen and silent. Breathe "How are you?" he asked glancing from me to the road. "I'm okaynow," I said, glancing up from my trembling hands in my lap. He was even more beautiful than I remembered. He raised an eyebrow at me. "How are you?" I asked, my voice shaky from my heart pounding it's way out of my chest. He nodded. "I'm betternow." My mind ran wild. He's here. I'm here. We're going to talk. Oh Godwhat's he going to tell me? The silence in the car stretched on and on, and then I realized where we were headed the desolate area, the winding road, my ears popping. In no time, we pulled over on the side of 'the middle of nowhere' the cliff. "Ready?" he asked rhetorically, getting out of the car and lighting another cigarette. Not really

I got out and followed behind him, down and around the boulders. The late afternoon sun was blinding, but the view was astonishing. Finally, at the opening of the ledge, he blew out a pluming cloud of smoke and spun around to face me. "Sodo you hate me?" he asked, standing stiff with a tightened jaw. "What?" "Do you hate me? You didn't call me and then when you did, you hung up on me so I'm right, aren't I? You hate me." "What? You've been nothing but amazing to me why in the world would I hate you?" He began pacing in front of me. "Because I fucked up your life, Bella. I was so fucking selfish and careless kissing you in public like that and it ruined your life. I should have known better. I knew shit like that could happen, but it didn't stop me. I just went ahead and did whatever the fuck I wanted. And then I listened to you and I didn't call you every single day like I should have done to see how you were. I just let you drift, alone, for seven fucking weeks. I did nothing to help you out of the situation that I put you in. I don't blame you for hating me." He stopped in front of me, just as rigid, taking a long, hard drag on his cigarette. Horrified, I asked, "Have you thought this the whole time?" He blew the smoke out in a hard jet stream through his nose. "Well, why the fuck else wouldn't you call me not even once? Why else?" He flicked his cigarette to the ground, stepped on it and lit a new one. Gasping for air, since his words had just punched me in the gut, I slapped my hands over my eyes. Everything in me wanted to curl up and cry, but I was far too angry with myself to allow that release. I uncovered my face and shook my head. "Oh my God, I am such an incredible asshole, Edward. I didn't call you because I was the selfish one, not you. The whole time all I could focus my pea-brain on was teaching, teaching, teaching a career that I came to realize was

never for me anyway! I ruined everything between us because not once did I even think outside of the stupid box. I didn't call because it would have hurt too much to talk to you thinking that I couldn't have you. I hadn't even thought about how you felt. And that, Edward, is the very definition of self-centered. I'm surprised you're even speaking to me. No wonder you're with someone else." "What? With who?" he asked, widening his eyes at me, his cigarette nearly falling out of his mouth. "Tanya. I saw the photos in Gossip Guru," I said quietly. "You know those rags are crap, Bella." "Not always they got us right." He stepped back a smidge liked I'd just pushed him. "Are you going out with her?" I asked, anxiously. "No. You were the one on my mind, Bella. Not her." Confused, I asked softly, "But she was there this morning and I hung up because I thought I was interrupting something" He blew out the longest plume of smoke then flicked this cigarette to the ground as well, quickly mashing it. "I was on-set this morning, Bella, and she brought me the jacket I forgot from wardrobe. We were about to shoot our last scene, which ended up getting delayed since Rose called me a moment later to tell me you were in town, that you were recording your song. It took me phone call after phone call to find out where you were." I shut my eyes in disgust at my own actions. "Oh God, what a fucking mess I made!" I looked him square in the eye. "You think I hated you, I hung up on you and I assumed so many things. GodI know it's not enough, but I am so sorry Edward. It kills me that for even one second you thought that I hated you. How could I ever hate you? You saved me, Edward twice." "What? Saved you? I put you in this fucking mess."

"No, Edward. When we first met, I was a shell of a human being. I did nothing, saw no one, I literally went to work and that was it. I was hiding - existing at best. But then I met you and you made me want to live again." He shook his head in confusion. I continued, "And the second time, after everything fell apart-" "Thanks to me." "Stop that. I learned so much about myself, Edward things I probably should have realized eons ago, but only figured it out by having all of this happen to me. But even still, I thought it was too late to try something else and I was ready to live someone else's life again becoming that shell all over again until you showed me another way. So, you see, I could never, ever hate you. You saved me twice. Thank you." I waited on pins and needles for him to speak; yet he only shook his head at me, continuing to furrow his brow. My heart dropped. It's over now. It's really over. His jaw tightened and I couldn't tell what he was thinking. His eyes searched mine in the orange glow of the setting sun for so long too long. "Bloody, fucking bollocking hell," he finally said, grabbing the sides of my face and firmly pressing his perfect, soft lips against mine. My entire body melted into his kiss. We stood on the cliff in the setting sun kissing and embracing and pouring seven weeks of pent up emotion into each and every kiss. Against his lips I whispered, "I'm so sorry, Edward. I'm so sorry. I should have called you. I was just so afraid." "Afraid of what?" he said, his gentle lips brushing against mine. Leaning back to gaze into his mesmerizing eyes, I held on to his strong, firm arms as his hands encircled my waist. "Afraid of how I felt, of getting hurt, but mostly afraid of trusting myself to pursue my own path. Even though it was difficult to face all the things I've always

avoided, I've grown to finally trust myself and my decisions. And I feel like" I stopped to breathe. My fears tried knocking me to my knees, to shut me up - but I pushed through anyway. "I feel like I'm no longer a shell, Edward. I'm finally a whole person and able to offer all I have. I'm done with avoiding things and walking on eggshells, and I'm ready to be a partner in a relationship, not just an accessory." I paused, overwhelmed that this amazing man's eyes were entirely focused on my lips and words, that we were finally in the same spot again with our bodies curved into each other, warmed by the setting sun. I gazed at his incredible face as the corner of his lip rose into that smirk I missed so desperately. I breathed deep, steadying myself, and continued to say exactly what was on my mind because I was all done holding back. "I know I don't deserve it, but would you consider giving me another chance? Maybe be my boyfriend again?" He swept me up into his arms and lifted me up off the ground. I giggled. Putting me down, yet still holding me tight against his body, he said, "I never wanted it any other way," as he kissed me, our tongues and lips saying hello and hello and hello. I pulled back. "And we'll always talk things through." "Absolutely," he said, beaming bright. "No more assuming, because you know what happens when we assume," I said, grinning from ear-to-ear. He smirked. "Make an ass out of you and me?" "Yes, and God knows I've been the biggest ass, Edward." "No, I am definitely the bigger arse." "No, I am Edward, by far." "Do we need to arm wrestle this one out?" I laughed. "Arm wrestle? Hmm, I can think of another kind of wrestling."

He cocked an eyebrow at me. "Oh really?" "Mmhmm," I murmured, standing on tiptoe and burying my fingers into his luscious hair as I kissed him with all I had. With my walls shattered into bits, my barriers cleared away, I was more vulnerable than I'd ever been and yet, I felt more alive and freer than everand hungrier too - my stomach growled louder than the churning ocean below. He pulled away, chuckling. "Well, I guess you need something to eat before we can properly wrestle. Would you like to get some dinner?" I laughed. "I would love to. I haven't really eaten in seven weeks." He smiled. "Me neither. Come on, let's find somewhere to eat." He took my hand and began to lead me back to the car when we both stopped at the same time. "Edward, could we-" "Bella, would you mind if-" We laughed. "Go on," he said, giving a quick kiss to the back of my hand. I beamed. "Could we just order something in and hang out at your house or something? Would that be okay?" He smiled. "You read my mindyeah, it's as okay as seeing you in my shirt. Let's go."

Chapter 30
As we got in the car and drove off he asked, "So what do you think about Chinese food? I haven't had that in a few days." I glanced over at my spectacular boyfriend and grinned. "I see you're still eating well." He laughed. "Well, I still have Lucky Charms in the cupboard, so yeah, I'd say I'm eating well." I giggled. "Chinese is perfect." He leaned over and snatched my hand in his, resting our intertwined fingers on the gearshift. "That's better," he said, smiling. I was so happy I wouldn't have been surprised if fireworks burst forth from me. We drove some more, sneaking a peek at one another and blushing when we got caught. It was all so very sappy and dorky, but yet so real and so right. "So where are you staying?" he asked. "At the Hyatt." "The one on Sunset?" "Yeah." We were quiet a moment as I looked out of my window, not seeing one tree, but entirely focused on the feel of his thumb stroking the back of my hand. He cleared his throat and when I looked over he was swallowing hard, suddenly nervous. "Um, would you like tostay at my house instead? You don't have to, there's no pressure or anything, but I thought maybe it would be more comfortable or something, but you don't have to if you don't want to, I was only suggesting it because we haven't seen each other, but then,

of course, because we haven't seen each other I don't want you to feel funny, or if it makes you uncomfortable, or if you just don't want to it's-" "Edward?" "Yeah?" he asked, glancing at me from the road. "I'd love to stay with you," I said, squeezing his hand and beaming. He breathed out and smiled wide. "Oh, okayokay, good." "They don't have Lucky Charms at the hotel." He laughed and said, "I see you're still a smartarse." "No, I'm just happy, Edward. It's only when I'm happy that I come up with obnoxious things to say." We laughed. "So, we'll swing by and get your stuff now?" "That would be great. Thank you." "Alright," he said, resuming his mind-numbing, thumb-stroking on my hand, which made my heart thump about which made me all gooey inside - fresh baked chocolate chip cookie gooey. Deciding it would be best if I ran into the hotel alone, I went in, grabbed my things, checked out and got back in the car. "Okay, all set." Ten minutes later we were standing on the stoop of his house. He fumbled for the correct key and said, "Now listen, the last time you were here, I knew you were coming and this time, well, I obviously didn't and so I didn't have time to tidy up, and I've been especially careless with housework for the last" he cleared his throat as he blushed, "seven weeks, so-" "I don't care about how neat your house is, Edward."

He smiled. "Alright, if you say so." He turned the key and opened the door. It was nothing short of a disaster. Clothes were everywhere on furniture, over furniture, and dare I say, even under furniture. Books were stacked high and papers were scattered all over the table; dishes were piled in the sink, and pizza boxes and wrappers of all sorts covered the counters. "How much cleaning did you do last time?" I said, gaping at the mess. "A lot," he snickered. I looked over at his bashful face and tugged on his hand. "You are so sweet, among other things." "Other things, eh?" I grinned. "I'll help you clean up a little so we can eat and um, sit." "Let's order first," he said, placing my small suitcase down. I followed him into the kitchen. He reached into a drawer, pushed piles of papers around and somehow pulled out a Chinese food menu. "Voila!" he said, holding it up proudly. "How did you find that in there?" "Oh, that's my takeaway drawer." "Takeaway, huh?" I raised an eyebrow. "I can't believe you have a take out drawer." "Well, I like to stay organized." He snorted. I laughed hard. "Right. Of course." I stood next to him as he unfolded it, his body heat radiating that intoxicating soap and shaving cream scent. I looked down the menu, not reading a word, but just staring at his fingertips that held the menu. A huge grin broke out on my face. He was right next to me and

even though things had happened and we still needed to talk more, I was here. He was here. We were right here, together, in his completely trashed house. "Why are you so smiley? Do you like Chinese food that much?" he asked, grinning at me suspiciously. "Yep, that's it." I chuckled. Edward called in the order as I went to use the bathroom. When I got to the bathroom door and flicked on the light, I made a shocking discovery. The bathroom was spotless. Not one thing was out of place. The towels were folded, the floor sparkled, the potty seat was down the works! After I freshened up, I went out into the living room to find Edward sniffing the clothing that buried the sofa. "Edward?" I said, now with two questions to ask. "Yeah?" he said, holding a shirt up to his nose and breathing in. "First, why is your bathroom completely clean when the rest of your house is a disaster and, second, what are you doing?" He stopped sniffing the shirt and snorted. "Yeah, the bathroom is the only thing the cleaning lady can still do. I stopped picking stuff up off the floor and whatnot before she'd come, so the bathroom was the only thing she could really clean. Told her not to worry about anything else." He tossed the shirt in his hand onto one of two piles that had grown into mini-hills in the few moments I was in the bathroom. "And I'm trying to sort the clean from the dirty so we can sit." He picked up another shirt and sniffed it, tossing it onto a pile. I chuckled. "Is that the clean pile or the dirty one?" "That one is clean, that one is dirty," he said, pointing to the two piles. "Would you like me to fold the clean ones?" I asked, grinning. He stopped and smiled at me. "If you want to."

"Sure." I folded as I watched him continue sniffing and piling. "So you're all done with filming then?" I asked, folding a shirt. "Yeah, today was our last day, barring any reshoots. I think it turned out well enough though." Sniff. Toss. "That's good. Do you start the next one soon? You have a next one, right?" I asked folding a sweatshirt. "Yes, I do have another one, thankfully. The next one films in Mexico, but I have about three weeks off till I have to be there," he said, sniffing one shirt again and again, trying to decide its fate. "Three weeks? Nice. Are you going home to London?" I asked, folding yet another shirt as he tossed the shirt onto the dirty pile. He smiled. "I don't have any plans actually. When are you supposed to leave?" "Tomorrow afternoon," I muttered, sadly. "Oh," he said, just as sadly. We were quiet a moment when we both started talking at the same time again. "I don't have to-" "You don't have to-" We laughed. "You go," I said, smiling and holding the next shirt to be folded. "You don't have to leave tomorrow if you don't want to. I have three weeks off and I would love to spend more time with you." "Well, considering I just got paid a king's ransom for one song and I don't have any sort of job to rush back to, I think I can manage to stay longer."

He nodded and beamed - and I mean beamed. He knew it too and tried to hide it by biting his lip and sniffing a shirt extra hard. For a few quiet moments, I stood there watching my sweet boyfriend, the one who accepted me back after I hurt him, sniffing and tossing clothes. It was the moment I realized that my heart had already fallen and fallen, had tumbled over and under, up and around, deeper and deeper and deeper into I'm not holding back anymore. "Edward?" His eyes met mine after he grabbed another shirt. "I love you." He dropped the shirt, then caught it against his legs as his face turned beet red. "What?" he muttered, his mouth hanging open in shock. "I've fallen in love you." He was about to speak when the buzzer for the outside gate sounded at the door. He remained speechless and frozen. I smiled. "I'll get that." I turned and walked over to press the button for the Chinese food delivery. When I spun back to face him, he was right there. I almost knocked into his chest. He said nothing; he simply cupped my head with one hand and held me against his body with the other, pressing his mouth harder to mine as the minutes ticked past. The door opened and startled us both. Edward and I quickly stepped apart. "Bella?" "Oh, hi Emmett," I said, smiling and blushing. "Bloody brilliant! Edward can stop getting pissed and punching me now!" Emmett grabbed me and hugged me, swinging me around. I laughed.

"Would you put her down, you arsehole? You're going to hurt her," Edward scolded, grabbing Emmett's arm. Emmett put me down. "I'm not going to hurt her, you plonker. I'm just happy to see her. Now you can stop being a prick. You are back, right, Bella? Tell me you're back." I grinned. "Yes, I'm back, Emmett. What's this about Edward punching you?" Emmett slung his arm around my shoulders and led me over to the spot on the sofa that Edward and I had cleared off. We sat while Edward stood watching us, annoyed. "Oh, Bella. If you only knew the hell I endured while you were gone. He wouldn't even let me watch Grease." Holding back my laughter, I glanced up at Edward and his crossed arms and sour face then I turned my attention back to Emmett. "Why wouldn't he let you watch Grease?" "I don't know. He knows it's my favorite movie, but I guess when you spend half of your day pissed, it's easy to get irritable." "You were drunk a lot?" I said, aghast. Edward didn't answer, but just tightened his jaw. The door buzzer sounded again. "You guys having a party you didn't invite me to?" Emmett asked. "Yeah, a party for two," Edward said, as he went to get the door. "We just ordered some dinner," I said. "Do you want to stay?" "No, he does not want to stay," Edward shouted from the door. "I'd love to stay, thanks," Emmett said with a huge, smug smile. He leaned back on the sofa, stretching his arms out. Edward came back into the living room with the bag of Chinese food. "You are not staying." "Why not? Bella said I could," Emmett said, as he went into the kitchen.

Edward looked at me and huffed. "Fine. But no eating all the spring rolls like you did last time and you are not sleeping here tonight." Edward began unloading the food from the bag onto the coffee table we cleaned off. Emmett returned from the kitchen with some paper plates and plastic utensils. "Where am I going to sleep?" "Sleep at Jasper's house." "I barely know Jasper. He just joined the band and you want me to crash at his house?" "Yeah. You two can bond," Edward said, handing me a plate and a fork. "Fine," Emmett agreed, grabbing a plate and loading it up. "How is your band, Emmett?" I said, curling up with my plate on my lap, sitting next to Edward. Emmett sat on the recliner and pulled the coffee table up to his knees. He leaned forward and began shoveling. "It's good. We've just been signed and we'll record some stuff soon and maybe open for The Footfalls this summer. "Oh wow, that's great! Congratulations! You have a new band member too?" "Yeah," Emmett said, between bites. "Kyle left so Jasper came on board to play drums." "Very cool." "How about you? Rose said you were a librarian?" Emmett asked. Edward started coughing and choking. I slapped his back a few times. He turned to me with his red face and said, "You were a librarian?" then shot Emmett a death glare. "And you knew?" Emmett burst out laughing. "What?" I said, smiling and very confused.

Emmett turned to Edward. "Mate, if I told you that she was a librarian, you would have exploded." Emmett turned to me and said, "He has a thing for librariansand Wonder Woman." I giggled, glancing at Edward. "Really?" Edward huffed and shifted his food around his plate. "Good to know," I said, taking a bite of the lo mein. "So are you going back to work at the library when you get home?" Emmett asked. "No, my last day was Friday. I don't have a job actually," I said, snorting at the scariness of that. "What about the teaching thing?" Emmett asked, eating half of a spring roll in one bite. "It's not for me anymore. Actually, it was never my thing, per se. It was a good job, but honestly, my heart is in music, so I'm hoping to do something with that. We'll see." "Well, I guess the music plan worked, eh, Edward?" Emmett said, winking at Edward and grinning. "You make it sound like it was some sort of scheme. It wasn't, Bella. It all sort of happened accidentally." "That's because you had her songs playing on a loop," Emmett snickered, chomping on the other half of the spring roll. "Well, thank God you arse, that's why the director wanted to know what I was listening to." "So you didn't pass out my tape on purpose?" I asked. "No. The director visited my trailer to talk with me and I had your song playing. He asked about it, but I never told him you were-" "The one that I want," Emmett sang, Grease style.

"Sod off with the Grease, Emmett, but no, I didn't say you were my girlfriend. I gave him your name and number, but that was it." Emmett cut in, saying, "Edward didn't think you'd go for it. He knew they were going to call you, but then Rose called saying you got the teaching job and Edward gave up hope. I have to admit, that was a pretty rough night." All the air rushed out of my lungs as I sat there, stunned and speechless. A rough night? Oh God, what does that mean? What did I do to Edward? "I'm sosorry, Edward," I said quietly, with tears rising up. I hurt the sweetest man... I couldn't eat another thing. I pushed the food around my plate and stared down, hoping the tears would retreat. "You okay?" Edward asked quietly. I nodded, still looking down. "Why don't you put Grease on, Emmett?" Edward said. "Fucking serious? Yeah!" Emmett said, as I saw him nearly sprint to the DVD player from the corner of my eye. "Get the lights too?" Edward asked Emmett. Emmett shut down the lights as the movie began. I continued to stare at my plate because if I looked up at Edward for one second, I'd lose it. Waves and waves of guilt crashed over me I hurt Edward so much. Although I knew that my time alone afforded me insights into my life that I otherwise wouldn't have made and that I was a more complete person because of it, the fact that I inflicted pain on Edward killed me. I breathed out, trying to gain control over my emotions when Edward's hand slid across my back, rubbing soothing, light circles. A few moments later, he reached over and took my plate from me, placing it next to his on the coffee table. Edward scooted closer and put his arm around me, cradling me to his chest. I looked up at the television, allowing Grease to distract me. Edward's hand slowly stroked up and down my arm as he pressed kisses to the top of my head, whispering, "It's okay."

I stayed in the nook of his arm, the spot I missed so very much, resting my tense body against his side. Eventually, between Emmett quietly singing along to the songs and Edward's gentle touches, my body relaxed - from my neck to my shoulders to my waist to my toes. "Edward," I said, calling out his name as covertly as I could, spotting the glamourous, creepy woman nearby. "Edward?" I called again, but he didn't hear me. I walked closer to him and that's when I heard him turn to the magnificent beast and say, "I love you, Tanya," as he wrapped his arms around her waist, grinding his hips into hers as they prolonged the kiss. Her eyes shifted to mine as she kissed him. "What about her, Edward?" she asked, breaking their kiss and nodding at me as a smug, evil smile graced her flawless face. Edward turned my way, looking right past me. "Who?" She cackled. "Never mind, Edward," she hissed as she began unbuttoning his shirt. "No!" I shot up, rubbing my eyes and blinking furiously. It was so dark. My heart pounded and my hands shook. "Where am I?" I blinked more. "Where is she? Why can't Edward see me?" Something touched my arm. "Bella?" "Ahh!" I jumped back, totally startled. "Bella, it's okay, it's meI can see you. Where is who? You were having a bad dream." I heard a click and then the bedside lamp turned on. I shielded my eyes. "Bella, you're crying... it was only a nightmare," Edward said gently, sitting up and squinting. I breathed hard, realization slowly seeping into my sleepy mind. "I'm in your bedhow did I get here?"

"You fell asleep on the sofa. You were sleeping so soundly I carried you in here. Was that okay?" he asked, using his thumb to wipe the tears from my cheeks. My heart began to slow. "You carried me?" He nodded. "And you're here with me?" "Of course," he said, stroking my head. I inhaled a strong, cleansing breath. "Idreamt that you were withher." I wiped my eyes again, realizing that I still wore the clothes from earlier in the day his shirt and my jeans. "With who?" "Tanya." Just saying her name crushed my heart and filled me with the aching loneliness from my dream. "I'm not with her, Bella. I'm with you. It was just a bad dream," he said, continuing to stroke my head, calming me. "But it was so real. You couldn't see me and she was all over you, kissing you, and she began undressing you God, it felt so real. You said you loved her." My body tensed. "No" He shook his head vehemently, tracing my cheek. He paused, looking into my eyes. Finally, he said, "Bellathere's been so much I've wanted to sayso much I've wanted to tell you" he paused again, taking in every inch of my face. "I love you, Bella. I've loved you for a long while now" I gasped as he softly pressed his lips oncetwice to mine, cupping my face in his hands. "I fell in love with sweaty, claustrophobic you in that lift all those months ago" he smiled sweetly, stroking my cheek. Tears welled in my eyes as I watched his lips say, "Totally and completely and while we were apart, I realized that that's what I'd been feeling it's love, Bella. I've always loved you," the velvet whispered against my mouth. His fingertips traced along the exposed skin of my neck as tears slid down my cheeks.

"I love you," he whispered again, kissing away the tears the lingered on my face. Thisis so right We continued our kiss when he leaned away a little, glancing down at the buttons of his shirt that I wore. With both hands he began to unbutton while I watched his full lips come forward against mine, hearing him murmur, "I love you." With each declaration, my euphoric heart leapt and danced and twirled about in my chest. "I want to show you" he whispered, kissing the corner of my mouth. "Trust me?" My eyes flashed to his burning gaze. "Yescompletely," I breathed, my blood heating and surging faster to every right spot. Unable to break away from his spellbinding eyes, I felt for the edge of his t-shirt and lifted it as he raised his arms. I threw the shirt to the floor. I could help but ogle the sculpted muscles of his torso, taking particular note of his rippled abs expanding and contracting with shallow breaths. The fire that smoldered low inside of me ignited. His perfect fingers reached for my buttons again, slowly popping the last of them through their openings. Finally, once the shirt hung open, he slid his hands from the center of my collarbones outward, easing the shirt down off my shoulders and arms. He gathered it and dropped it on the floor. Edward leaned in and brushed his lips against mine while his fingers ghosted across the neckline of my tank top. He grazed his lips down my neck and over to the top of my left shoulder, showering it with tiny kisses. Kiss after slow kiss he traveled across my chest over to my right shoulder, lavishing that one with an equal amount of affection. Finished with my shoulder, he kissed inward up along my neck, gifting my skin with warm, suckling kisses that caused chills to erupt down my arms and legs. My heart thumped furiously. I no longer breathed through my nose only through my mouth, my chest rising and falling in time with each of his suckles. Against my neck, he whispered, "I wanted to tell you I loved yousuckle, kiss I was afraid I'd never be able to tell you"

"I'm sorry, Edward," I whispered. "I'm so sorry." He angled my head to meet his eyes. "Shhit doesn't matter anymore, my love. You're here, I'm here," he paused, his gaze intensifying as he quietly asked, "Let me love all of you?" My breath escaped my body. I sprung forward and pressed my lips hard against his, wrapping my arms around his neck. He grabbed the hem of my tank top as I raised my arms, breaking our kiss only long enough to let the tank top pass by. He quickly unhooked and discarded my bra. Topless and on fire, he hugged my naked chest against his, kissing me deeply. He sat back, taking in my bare torso. Biting his lip, he traced my silhouette from the tips of my shoulders, to the sides of my breasts down to my waist. His eyes worked their way up to meet mine. It seemed like he had something to say, but he didn't speak he just shook his head and breathed hard as his fingers slid their way up my belly coming to a stop at my breasts. "II" he tried, breathlessly, as his wide eyes and soft hands rested on my breasts. Kneading gently, swirling his thumbs over my nipples, he whispered, "I've thought about this the whole timeyou your body all of you. I need" he bent forward, closing his mouth around one breast as he continued loving the other one with his hand. I was lost to the moment, to the night, to this most perfect man. High on his love, I couldn't get his body close enough. Every inch of me ached for him my body, my heart and the depths of my soul. Everything in me spoke his name in unison. Edward Yet, at that moment, when he was lighting me on fire by kissing my breasts with such gentle, sensuous touches, it was at that moment that the place between my legs called out to him the loudest. As if he could read my mind, he carefully laid me back on the bed. Planting one sweet kiss on my lips, he left me with a smirk before he scooted down an inch to press a kiss under my chin then he scooted another inch lower to kiss my collarbone, scoot two kisses to my sternum. I watched as he nipped his way over to my breasts. Taking one breast into the heat of

his mouth, he sucked gently then blew cool air against my nipple that stood at his full attention. Rolling and tugging on the peak, he attacked it again and again and again. "I need" he murmured against my heaving chest. I neared my climax as he lavished my breasts with his tender, loving care. He slid lower, kissing down my belly and dragging his hands along for the ride. When he reached the waistband of my pants, he sat up on his elbows and gazed at me while he popped open the button on my pants. "I love you, Bella..." He kissed and nibbled at my belly. "And I need all of you." He kissed my belly again, flashing his blazing eyes up at me as he tugged on my pants. "May I?" he asked, his voice deep and husky. Hard, laborious breaths came from my mouth. I could hardly speak I was so completely under his spell. "Yes," I sighed. He grinned and ziiip, my pants were unfastened and slipped off my legs. Tossing them to the floor, he laid back down with his head between my legs. He pressed purposeful kisses up the inside of my right thigh, sending all my blood rushing to my center. I could feel the slickness between my legs and he hadn't even touched me there yet. In awe, I watched him as he switched sides, lightly kissing up the inner thigh of my left leg in a straight line. His fingers slowly slid their way up too, hooking into my panties and tracing their edges. Not soon enough, his face was mere inches from the most intimate part of me. "Bella?" he whispered. Hypnotized by his full, wet lips and mussed hair, I panted, "Yeah?" "Right here?" he edged his nose up the center of the lace of my panties. I whimpered. "Right here is where I want to be, my love. Right here no one elseremember?" His lazy green gaze overflowed with equal parts love and lust. "No one else, Edward. I love only you."

"I only love you too" he whispered as he dragged my panties off me, settling his face between my thighs again, "which is why for the past seven weeks I hoped I'd be able to tell you, to show you just how much" he leaned forward and licked straight up my center. "Oh God!" I cried out, unable to control my hips lifting right up off the bed. "I love you," he said, leaning in again as his lips kissed and sucked on my wet and ready flesh. "Oh God!" I called out again, drawing in a sharp breath and gripping handfuls of his hair as his tongue explored its way around my core. Rooted to the spot, he loved me with his mouth for the longest, most delicious time. My limbs grew weak and my legs shook as an intensifying need grew fast in that very intimate spot he so expertly attended to. As if he could sense how close I was, he stopped and lifted himself up to my face. "I need you closer, my love." I sat up and kissed the crap out of him. I slid his pants off as fast as I could and tried to climb on top of him, but he stopped me. "No, my love," he said quietly, pulling away. "Tonight I want to give you my love - give you all I've wanted to give you these last seven, infuckingcredibly, long weeks." With a devilish grin and a cocked eyebrow, he added, "Please?" I almost swooned myself unconscious. How could one 'please' make me delirious? But, my God, I was. I was out of my mind with love and devotion and desireI needed him. "Anything for you," I whispered, lying down and opening my legs for him. He positioned his beautiful, naked body on top of mine. Gripping his back and crossing my legs around his waist, his hardness teased my wet entrance. His loving, earnest eyes melted me. "No more bad dreams I love you, Bella." And with that, he gently fed my hungry body with all I wanted, all I needed

Hovering above me, his elbows rested at the sides of my head. No kisses and no words could express all the emotions his gaze conveyed. In and out, slow and steady, his thrusts caused my eyes to roll back into my head. "Oh God," I muttered, feeling his every incredible inch move inside of me. "Open your eyes, Bella." When I did, he was watching me as beads of sweat formed along his hairline and his breath fell hard from his parted lips. "This feels" he whispered. Forward Back Forward harder "So good. You feel so good." He pulled back then pushed forward again. "So perfect," he groaned deeply. "No one else?" he whispered, his voice gravelly. I whimpered. "No one else." I arched up to kiss him, but he pulled back. "No, I need to see you, your beautiful face. I need to see you become mine again." Harder and harder we collided, my desire ratcheting up to explosive levels. His eyebrows scrunched up and his mouth fell open, but his eyes remained glued to mine. Pushing Pulling Pushing Pulling

My insides tightened and zeroed in on the sensation to end all sensations. I breathed hard and gripped tighter onto his sweaty back as I moaned out in ecstasy. Against my ear, he whispered, "I love watching your incredible body react to minewatching you get closer I love that I can do that to you" Fasterharder "I want to see you come undone, my love." And with that I reached the ultimate peak, loudly calling out, "OhmyGod!" as hard, pounding pulses echoed from my center. Not a moment later, his face screwed up in anticipation just like I remembered and loved. "Let me hear you, baby," I whispered. He moaned out a garbling of my name and a 'fuck'. He collapsed on top of me, catching his breath while his body weight took mine away. "Edward?" I squeaked out, tapping his back. "Oh, sorry," he said, taking his weight off me and flopping onto his side. He snuggled close and leaned up on an elbow then threw a leg over mine. Stroking my face, he shot me the sweetest, hottest, most satisfied smile and his hair stood up in every direction. "I love you," he said, kissing me gently. Every cell in my body partied like it was 1999. I smiled, I blushed, I giggled, overwhelmed by the love pouring out from his every word and movement. "I love you too and it feels so good to say that," I said, beaming. He smiled then kissed me again. "It feels so good to hear it too."

He continued to stroke the side of my face, my cheek tingling at his touch. We were quiet for a few minutes, catching our breaths and drinking up the euphoria of the night. I ran my thumb along his bottom lip and leaned up, kissing him gently. I rested my head back on the pillow. "This day sure turned out differently than I expected," I said, smiling. "Yeah, I'd have to agree with that. I certainly didn't expect to have you here let alone naked in my bed." I giggled. "What do you mean? I've always been here. I just got lost under the mounds of laundry and pizza boxes." He laughed. "It is a sty in here. Honestly, even I'm sickened by the mess." "Why didn't Emmett help you clean it up? Seems like might have been a good alternative to the punching." I grinned. "Fucking Emmett," Edward said, chuckling and shaking his head. "He meant well, but he drove me mad." "Why?" "First of all, he hid my phone from me because he was afraid I'd drunkenly call you - which I probably would have done, then he was over every night eating whatever I had in the house. Normally that doesn't bother me, but sometimes I just wanted to be alone, you know?" "Yeah, I do. Was he worried to leave you alone?" "I don't know. I was still working and the hours at the end of filming got longer, so I didn't have much free time. But when I did, I just wanted to be quiet and alone. Anyway, he meant well. I was a prick too." "You didn't let him watch Grease." I grinned. "Ugh, that fucking movie. Emmett has loved that movie since the first time he saw it I have no idea why. I mean, it's okay, but Christ, to watch the thing ten times a day, then want to do

karaoke at night with the songs fucking hell, enough is enough, you know? But that's Emmett." He laughed. "He is pretty funny." "Yeah he is, he's a good guy and a great friend." Edward paused and smiled at me. "I have to tell you that I loved watching you play today. It was incredible." I beamed. "Thank you. I was so nervous, but it was the most defining moment in my life, Edward. I'd always dreamed of doing something like that andI did it. I really did it." He squeezed me. "Yes, you did. I'm so proud of you and I feel so lucky to have witnessed it." "I was pretty shocked to see you there." "And I was pretty shocked to see you wearing my shirt. It rivaled watching you play." He grinned. "Really?" "Let's just say that you should wear my shirts more often." "You have to wear them first though. Actually, I'll just go grab one from the dirty pile in the living room." I pretended to get up. Edward laughed. "Don't you dare move," he said, pushing me back down and covering me with his limbs. I laughed. "So, no more teaching for you?" he asked, playing with my hair. "No, like I said earlier, teaching was never for me anyway. That was one of my many discoveries." Edward nodded. "So what other things did you 'discover'?"

I sighed, content. "A lot, but mostly that I let others dictate my life because I didn't trust myself. I suppose I should have realized that long ago, but when you grow up with specific ideas drilled into your head, it takes a lot to dispel them, know what I mean?" He nodded. "You trust yourself now though?" "Yes and even though I'm jobless and homeless, it feels so good to not have any parameters. I can finally try to pursue what I love." "Music." "And you," I said, smirking. He laughed and kissed me. "You don't need to pursue me. I'm yours, my love." "My God, when you say thatgah!" I slapped my hands to my eyes and giggled. "Say what?" he asked, grinning. I uncovered my eyes. "When you call me 'my love' oh my God, it makes me want to pounce." "Really?" "Yes, between that and your accent andwell, all of you, yeah, the 'my love' just makes me want to do things to you." "So if I call you 'my love' I'm guaranteed sex? Is that what you're saying?" he asked with a wicked, playful grin. I laughed. "No, I don't think I'm that easy." "I think maybe I should test that outjust for future reference." He nestled in and began nibbling at my ear, whispering, "So, if I get close like this" suck and nibble "and say, 'I love you, my love', you might want to do things to me?" nibble nibble... suck He stopped to glance at me.

My engines fired back up. "I'm not sure," I whispered, my already heavy breath giving me away. Nibble, suck "Well, if I said, 'I need you, my love' does that make you want to touch me?" "Oh Geez! You'd better watch it. You're playing with fire here. I have seven weeks of pent up horniness." "Well, my love, I think I'm hornier." He began kissing down my neck. "Are you challenging the level of my horniness?" I said, smiling and melting. "Yes, my love, I am," he muttered against my neck. "You're going to use this against me, aren't you?" I panted, hot and heavy. "Mmhmm, yes, my love," he murmured as his hand slid to my breast and started toying with my nipple. My heart began pounding the beat of the mating dance. "That's it." I rolled on top of him and held his wrists above his head. I rolled my eyes and huffed in mock annoyance. "Now I'm going to have to do things to you." He laughed. "Well, if that's what you need to do, my love." And with that, I pounced.

Chapter 31
Opening my eyes the next morning, I realized I was smiling. Yes, smiling. Who smiles when they sleep? Well, evidently I did and my cheeks hurt. I rubbed them carefully so as not to wake my boyfriend. Yes my boyfriend, Mr. Spectacular. I couldn't help but smile again. Ouch. I looked over at Edward. Lying face down, he was turned my way, his cheek smushed up a little and his pouty, sleepy mouth open as he breathed with a soft, easy tempo. I smiled again. Ow. I sighed in quiet contentment, staring at his slumbering, peaceful face. He's so beautiful, sweet and warm. No one else I didn't want to move not ever, but God, I have to use the bathroom. Since there was a wall on the other side of me, the only way out was over him. I slowly edged myself out from under the sheets, naked, and brr, it was chilly without his warmth against my skin. I carefully climbed over him and grabbed his shirt from the floor. Buttoning it up, I made my way to the bathroom down the hall. After using the facilities, I decided that since I was up, I would shower. The hot water felt so good washing over me. I'm really here. He's really here, albeit sleeping sweetly, and we're together again. It's all falling into place. I washed my hair briefly wondering what I'd do next what my next move in life would be. Oddly enough, I wasn't worried like the old me would have been; I knew that I'd come so far and that finally trusting myself had led me to a place where I felt satisfied - deep in my soul satisfied. I'd never felt like that before.

Clean and refreshed, I toweled off and buttoned Edward's shirt back up. I combed through my hair with his comb. I wanted to brush my teeth, so I went back out into the living room where I remembered Edward putting my suitcase, but it wasn't there. Damn. I peeked into his bedroom again he was still sleeping and my suitcase was on the other side of the room. I knew if I started unzipping it, it would wake him. I went back into his spotless bathroom and searched for another toothbrush, which I found. Ahhhnow all of me was clean. I really wanted my clothes, but since I couldn't get to them yet, I would have to deal with wearing only his shirt, which wasn't so bad it smelled like the perfect man - Edward. Far too awake to climb back in bed, I figured I'd make some coffee for us. Yesus I beamed. Last time I was there, he had a coffee pot. I looked around, spotting it behind some pizza boxes. Stacking those on the floor, I filled the pot with water and poured it into the machine. I searched the cabinets and found a filter and coffee. After scooping in the right amount, I pressed 'on', but before I could turn around, my hips were pressed against the counter and I couldn't move. "Ahh!" I yelped, then realizing, giggled. "What are you doing?" "No, what are you doing? You aren't supposed to be out of bed," Edward said, wrapping his arms around me and nuzzling his face into my hair. "I was making coffee. Sorry, I didn't mean to wake you." "You know, my love," he said, sniffing my freshly washed hair and kissing my head. "There are house rules." "House rules?" I chuckled, still pinned against the counter facing away from him, but holding onto his strong arms wrapped around my chest. "Mmhmm. House rule number one: you may not leave the bed without discussing it with me first," he said, kissing his way to my neck and warming me from the inside out.

I laughed. "Discuss it with you? I had to go to the bathroom." "Doesn't matter. You still have to run it by me. That's why it's a house rule." "So if I have to use the bathroom I need to let you know?" "Right." He ran the tip of his nose up my neck, sending shivery tingles down my legs. "Did we somehow get transported back to 1950 overnight?" I could feel him smile against my skin. "No, the bed got cold and I've had enough of a cold bed." I melted. I reached behind my head to scratch his neck a little. "Me too. I'm sorry." He gathered my damp hair and brushed it over one shoulder, exposing my neck completely. "House rule number two," he whispered between kisses to my neck. "Oh boy," I chuckled. "House rule number two is that you are not allowed to shower without me." "What?" "You heard me. I must supervise all showering and perhaps participate in it too." "Perhaps participate?" "That's right." He nuzzled me more, his face scratchy. "So you just want to watch me wash my body? What kind of house rule is that?" He stopped nuzzling. "You're right. House rule number two is that I assist you with the washing and the rinsing." "Ooh, rinsing too? Okay." His body leaned harder against mine, causing me to bend over a little further and hold onto the counter with extended arms. As he nibbled my neck, both of his hands traced down my

silhouette to the hem of the shirt, then back up under the shirt, sliding it up. He stopped dead when he got to my waist. "You don't have anything on under this?" he said, deep and rough. I shook my head. He breathed out a stream of hot air against my neck. I suddenly noticed something hard pressing against my ass. He reached under my stiffened arms to the buttons of his shirt. He popped the top one open. "House rule number three" "Another one?" I asked, giggling and trying not to be so obvious about my heavy breathing. "How many are there?" "I don't know. Go with the flow," he chuckled, my neck grateful for each of his kisses, as he unbuttoned another button and pulled the shirt down to expose one of my shoulders. He spun me around to face him, but kept me against the counter. He leaned in, capturing my mouth with his. All that passion first thing in the morning was exhilarating I'd never experienced such a thing before. Edward popped open two more buttons, my breasts easily accessed now, but remained covered. He slid his hands around to my ass over the shirt. He scooted one side of the fabric up to expose a cheek and slapped it once. "Ow!" I yelped. "You have such a nice arse." He grabbed both cheeks and hoisted me up to sit on the counter, his shirtless body perfectly situated between my open legs. As his hot and ready lips brushed against my mouth, he said, "House rule number three, you must always dress like this. No exceptions." He kissed me harder this time, his tongue taking no prisoners. I pulled back. "What if Emmett stops by?" I asked, raising an eyebrow and smirking. "Emmett won't be coming by. I made a deal with him last night," Edward said then kissed me more.

I stopped again. "A deal? What kind of deal?" Edward stared at my nearly unbuttoned shirt that still covered my assets. He ran his fingers over my lips, down the center of my chest. I could see and hear him breathing heavy, just like I was. Staring at the column of my exposed skin, he said, "That if he left us alone, I'd do the karaoke version of Grease with him." "You're joking." "No," he said and sucked on my bottom lip. "That's how badly I need to have you to myself." With both hands, Edward slipped the fabric off my shoulders, exposing my breasts. Cupping them gently and thumbing my nipples, he said, "I don't want any interruptions. Seven weeks was long enough of an interruption, my love. Now, shh." He leaned forward and took one breast into his mouth, kissing and sucking and sending me racing for the mountaintop at eight a.m. My head fell back and I moaned out as he staked claim to my breasts. I reached for the rest of my buttons and undid them in record time. The shirt fell completely open and slipped down my arms. He straightened up and stared at me a moment as I used my feet to push his pajama bottoms down to his knees, freeing his morning glory. "House rule number four, Edward," I panted, staring at his mouth. He looked at me, confused. "House rule four if I'm naked on the countertop then you have to have your way with me." "Holy fucking hell!" And boom! He was in, and off we went. In and out, like a good ol' morning rush of a far better, much hotter kind. Blood sprinted through my veins as my body chanted Edward! Edward! Edward! I climbed that peak so darn fast, and as we stared into each other's eyes, grinning like fools, we came together explosively and passionately.

Still sitting on the countertop, I rested against him as we caught our breaths. After a few moments, I held his face and kissed him sweetly. "I love you, Bella," he said with earnest green eyes. My heart soared. "I love you too." Edward smiled wide then glanced at the coffee pot that had stopped percolating a few moments before. "Coffee?" he asked with the most playful grin. I giggled. "Yes, please." Edward helped me off the counter. He pulled up his pants and grabbed two mugs from the cupboard while I buttoned my shirt. "So, would you like me to make you some eggs?" I asked. He smiled. "That would be fantastic - if I had eggs." "Oh," I said. "Do you have any oatmeal?" He shook his head. "Cereal with milk?" "No milk." "Bread?" He shook his head again, pouring the coffee. "Crumbs? Jesus, Edward, what do you eat?" I asked, pushing him aside to open the cabinets, noticing how bare they all were. I turned back to him and he handed me a mug of steaming coffee with a grin. "I eat out a lot, hence the pizza boxes and wrappers, smartypants." He raised his mug to mine and clanked it smugly.

I narrowed my eyes at him. "Nice. And I was willing to cook for you naked - and now you ruined it." "Naked?" He froze and his face fell. I shrugged. "Or dressed as a librarian or Wonder Woman. I was going to let you choose, but nowforget it." I sipped my coffee, keeping an eye on him. "Aww, come on, my love," he said, purposely throwing 'my love' in there as he put his mug on the counter and attempted to hug me. I kept my mug between us. "Don't you use those words against me," I joked, placing my coffee mug onto the counter and hugging him back. "Sorry, my love. It just rolls off my tongue." I smirked. "I like your tongue." He nodded, all proud. "I know. Especially after last night." I stretched up and kissed him. He broke away. "So, you're going to stay for the whole three weeks, right? You aren't going to leave sooner, are you?" I smiled. "Well, if I have to subsist on coffee, I might make a run for it." He laughed. "So I guess we should get some shopping then." "Yes, I think that's a great idea." He grew serious and breathed out in a heavy sigh. "What's the matter?" I asked. He shook his head and glanced down, his hands around my waist. "It's just thatI've only just got you back, I mean just, and I don't want it all over the papers yet. I just want to be here with you alone for a while."

I brushed a stray bit of hair off his forehead. "I feel the same way, Edward, but it's different this time. Being out with you won't ruin my job since I don't have one unless you're worried about yours." "No, I wasn't thinking about my job at all," he paused, seemingly nervous to say what he was thinking. "Talk to me Edward." He breathed out. "I know that once the media gets a hold of us as a couple your life will change. They will follow you and you may hate it and end up hating me for it." "Edward, I've already had a taste of what it's like and I know that it won't always be easy, but I would never blame you for that, ever. I'm ridiculously in love with you. I mean, we just had a quickie on the kitchen counter after we had sex three times last night. That's four times in the span of like ten hours! How are we still standing by the way?" He laughed. With my fingers clasped behind his neck, I continued, "We'll take it as it comes, alright? I trust you, you trust me and we promised to always talk, so we'll figure it out. Please don't worry that I'll hate you. I love you too much." He grinned, better, but he still seemed worried. I said, "Maybe publicly you don't have to say we're dating. Maybe you can say we're just friends. It's a time honored Hollywood tradition you know." He laughed. "Okay, my friend." "No, no. You can't call me that to my face," I teased. "You know what I want to hear you say." I smiled wide. "Okay, my love," he amended, tracing my cheek with his finger. "Appear as friends from the outside, but really be so much more on the inside." "Yes."

We leaned in and sealed the deal with a kiss. I swatted his ass. "Ow!" he jumped back and laughed. "Just wanted to repay your compliment from earlier. You have a spectacular ass too." "It's arse." I narrowed my eyes at him. "House rule number five is, don't correct your girlfriend's use of American if you are British, and if your girlfriend is hungry, you need to feed her." "That's two rules and I did just feed you," he joked, waggling his eyebrows. I smacked his ass again. "Feed me with something substantial like a meal, not a snack." His mouth dropped open in shock for a moment until he reached down and slung me up and over his shoulder. He began walking us to his bedroom. "I'll show you a meal. House rule number six: you need to eat whenever I feed you." I laughed, hanging upside down. "As long as I feel satisfied for once." He laughed darkly. "You are so going to get it." "Yeah, I've heard that before," I snorted, swatting his ass once again before he threw me down on the bed and satisfied me again and again and again.

Chapter 32
It had been a week since we reunited and we left the house only once for groceries and a new charger for my phone. Other than that, we had no contact with the outside world. Well, except for the squealing conference call I had with Rose and Alice where they forced every last detail out of giggling, blushing me. God, how I missed them. I hadn't seen them since I left New York, and although I didn't want one second of my time with Edward to pass, I knew that once he left for Mexico, I could at least look forward to seeing them. Thankfully, my Fairy Slutmothers were ready and willing to help me move my stuff from my parents' house back to the city. Lord knows I needed a buffer for that confrontation. Other than that, Edward and I simply enjoyed one another in every sense of the word. We made dinner and made love. We talked and teased. I helped quiz him on his lines and he helped me get undressed. It was bliss. Pure, unadulterated bliss. Wednesday afternoon found us lying on the sofa on opposite ends with our legs tangled together. I watched TV while Edward, looking scrumptious in his fitted navy tee and jeans, read over his script again. "I heard that was a good movie," I said, watching a commercial for The End of Time, an action film. Edward looked up from his script to the TV, then to me. "You like action films?" he asked, sounding surprised. "Yeah, sure." "Huh," he said, puzzled, and looking back to his script. "Is there something wrong with me liking action movies?" I asked, grinning. "No, but I thought you only liked those girly chick flicks," he teased, rolling his eyes. "I like all kinds of movies, thank you very much, including action, fantasy, sci-fi and romantic comedies... I even like your movies."

He glanced up at me and narrowed his eyes. He tossed his script onto the floor and leapt at me, landing full-body on top of me. I squealed. Tickling me and nuzzling his scruffy face against my neck, he made me squirm like crazy. Then he kissed me till I was breathless. He stopped and leaned up on his elbows, staring down at me with a smirk. "I want to take you out on a date." I smiled wide. "You do? I thought you wanted to hold me prisoner here for two more weeks." "Well, I do, but I also want to be normal and go out on dates." "Can you be normal?" "I can try," he snickered. I stroked his face and leaned up to kiss him. "I'd love to go on a date with you. What do you want to do?" "I don't knowwant to go and see that film?" "Yeah? I'd love that." We got ready and drove to the theater. Edward bought us a giant tub of popcorn, Junior Mints and a vat of soda from the girl behind the counter who almost passed out when she realized Edward Cullen was her customer. Her poor hands shook so obviously and she couldn't talk. With wide eyes, she clumsily gathered our treats. I totally knew that feeling. The manager came up to Edward. "Hello, I'm Gary Winter, the manager. Pleasure to have you in our theater, Mr. Cullen. Is there anything we can get for you, or can we accommodate you in any way?" I saw Edward tense and grow uncomfortable. "Thank you, Mr. Winter. Umif you and your employees could just keep this quiet, I'd appreciate that." "Absolutely, sir."

"Thank you." Edward walked quickly toward the theater after we grabbed the snacks. The theater was empty, which wasn't surprising considering it was mid-afternoon on a Wednesday and the movie had been out for several weeks. We settled the giant drink between us, while I held the popcorn. We munched as the trailers rolled on. I looked over at him in his baseball hat as he took the box of Junior Mints straight to his mouth and poured. "Whuh?" he said, catching me staring with his cheek full of candy. "You are so cute. You have your baseball hat on, and you're dumping candy in your mouth," I said, smiling wide, overwhelmed by how attractive he was and how lucky I was to be with him. "You don't like the hat?" "I love the hat reminds me of the first time we met. Plus, I love how your hair sticks out on the sides and the back. Very dashing," I said, toying with the spiky bits that stuck out. "It's hard for people not to notice you." He shook his head and grinned. "Stop it, before I get us both arrested for indecent exposure." I giggled and noticed he still seemed uptight. "What's the matter?" I asked quietly, leaning closer. He shook his head. "I just don't want to walk out of the cinema in two hours and find a mob. I just want to be on a normal date with my girlfriend." I glanced around the theater no one else was around. I balanced the popcorn bucket in the seat next to me before I attacked him. Locking my arms around his neck, I kissed him hard. He was startled at first but then went with the kiss, his breath sweet and minty from the candy.

I pulled away and sat back in my seat like I hadn't just accosted him. "What are you doing?" he asked, smiling and surprised. "Kissing my boyfriend." He snorted. "I think I like taking you out on dates." I laughed and the movie started. We sat, munching for a while before putting the snacks to the side as we held hands. Eventually, we cuddled closer and I rested my head on his shoulder. I'm not even sure how much of the movie I watched. I was just completely wrapped up in my date with Mr. Spectacular. It was perfect. "So, did you like it?" he asked at the end of the movie when the house lights went on. "Yeah. It was really good. I got so nervous during that car chase when they were on that burning bridge and the lava was coming toward them!" "I know you cut off the blood to my fingers." "Oh, sorry about that," I laughed. "Did you like it?" "Yeah, it was really cool. I thought the way the hurricane came in and blew blobs of lava everywhere, setting things on fire that was excellent." "You think you'll ever do an action movie again?" He shrugged. "Maybe. If something catches my eye." We got up and gathered our trash, throwing it away. I saw him stiffen as we got close to the main lobby. "Moment of truth time, huh?" I said, smiling and hip-checking him, hoping he'd relax. He grinned uncomfortably. We walked out toquiet. No mobs, no rush of people. Just a few patrons and staff as it should be. I noticed Edward's body relax.

We walked toward the main door and spotted the manager before we left. "Hope you enjoyed your movie, Mr. Cullen. I hope you come back again." Edward smiled wide. "Yes, I will, thank you." He opened the door for me and we left with no distractions. "So, would you like to go for some dinner?" he asked, as we got in the car. "Sure. I was thinking I could make-" "No, no. I want to take you out." "Oh" I looked down at my jeans, tank top with a zip-up hoodie over it. "I'm not really dressed for a restaurant, Edward. When I packed to come out here I thought I was going to stay for two days, and I didn't expect to go on any dates." "Well, thank God for that. Listen, I don't care what you have on. You look amazing in whatever you wear, although I must admit I am partial to your birthday suit. That is definitely my favorite outfit." He snickered. "You are such a guy," I laughed. "I'm taking you out anyway," he said, smiling. "How about cheeseburgers? I know this place that has the most amazing cheeseburgers and you don't need to dress up to eat those." "Sounds great." We arrived at Langley's Pub and all was quiet. With only a few patrons around and no one at the pool tables, we sat at the bar and looked over the menu. Ordering cheeseburgers and fries, we sipped on beers and chatted. "I have to say I really like going on dates in the middle of the afternoon," Edward said, looking around the mostly empty room. "Me too. So how long are you going to be in Mexico?" "Six weeks then a month or thereabouts back here in LA."

I nodded and sipped. How would I handle being away from him after spending every day for three weeks with him? My heart sank at the thought. He said, "I guess this is as good a time as any to ask you to come visit me on set. It's in a tropical area, so you could relax and so on while I'm filming go snorkeling or whatever." He sipped again, watching me carefully. "Yeah?" He nodded. "I'm not sure I can handle too much time away from you to be honest, and I want to look forward to seeing you again, you know?" I smiled, feeling the exact same way inside. "We'll have to see, Edward. It just depends," I teased. "Depends? On what?" He grinned. "On if you win our tie-breaker game of pool. Last I remember we were tied." He sat back on the bar stool, examining me with the sexiest smirk I'd ever seen on him. "Yeah, I remember kicking your arse last time. So you'll only come to visit me if I win the game?" He knew I'd come visit him, but of course was playing along. "If," I reiterated. In no time, we finished our food and went over to the pool area that was tucked away around a corner. We could only be seen if someone came around the corner to watch us play. It was the ideal location for a pool rematch with Mr. Spectacular. Edward racked the balls smiling the entire time. "Alright. Go on. Show me your crappy break again." "It is not crappy." I hit the white ball as hard as I could and only a few balls came away from the pack. "Really?" he commented with a cocked eyebrow. "Oh shut up, you."

He laughed and took his turn. "You may or may not be aware, but when you travel outside the country, you should really only bring one suitcase a really small one." Clunk went the yellow solid ball. "Huh?" He leaned forward to aim at a second ball. "Yeah, so you probably shouldn't bring much clothing." I grinned seeing where he was headed with this. "Oh really?" "Yeah. It costs extra to check another bag, so you want to keep it in a carry-on." Plop went the red ball. "Right. Yeahand so what would you suggest I bring?" He shrugged, examining the table. "Maybe a shirt or two, but mostly undies and maybe a bikini." He leaned over to take a shot. "Maybe a bikini? I thought I was going snorkeling." "You don't need a bikini to do that," he said as the purple ball fell in. "No? You said I'd be snorkeling while you were filming so unless you want me naked without you-" "You're right. Save the naked for me," he said, missing the fourth ball. "Of course, you have to win here in order for me to visit you," I said, eying the table for my turn. "It's really not a question. I will win." "You're that confident, huh?" He nodded. "Yes." I shook my head. "We'll see." I said, unzipping my hoodie and removing it.

"What the fuck?" he said, with a quick gasp as his mouth fell open. His eyes planted themselves on my chest. "What?" I said, glancing down at the clinging white tank top that was see-through enough to see my pert nipples saluting and maybe even my rosy bullseyes if I was lucky. "You don't have on a fucking bra," he said, deep and dark. "They're all being washed at your house. It's what happens when you pack for two days and stay for three weeks." I shrugged and leaned over to aim. From across the table I saw him watching my chest and licking his lips. I hit one ball in and looked up at him, purposely sticking my chest out a little. "You know, your lip licking is a little distracting. Let's keep this fair please," I said. His eyes widened as he stalked around the table and snatched me by the waist. "Fair? This-" he nodded down, "-is not fair. Not at all. Do you want me to lose? Do you not want to visit me?" "Of course I want to visit you. I just want to see how badly you want me tocome," I said suggestively, smirking and slinking out of his grasp to aim. From the corner of my eye, I saw him run his hand along the back of his reddened neck, completely uncomfortable and entirely turned on. I was amazed at the power of boobs. I continued to aim and hit the balls while his eyes focused on nothing but my chest. I hit the blue stripe ball into the pocket then the green striped one. Now we were tied. "I cannot fucking believe you are cheating like this," he said quietly, sitting on a nearby barstool and still staring. I straightened up and looked at him. "Cheating? How do you figure?" "What do you mean how do I figure? You've gotyou'reI mean, look atthey're rightugh! How am I supposed to concentrate? It's entirely unfair." I shook my head at him, arching my back a smidge. "You're just upset that I am going to win."

He narrowed his eyes. "All this proves," he waved a hand at my breasts, "is that there is no way you're winning. No chance, because I will be having my way with them in Mexico. So, you should put on your sweatshirt because this," he waved his hand at my breasts again, "is pointless." I tucked the tank top in nice and snug, making it cling even further to my breasts. I looked down at my lovely two friends then back up to his gaping mouth. "Nah, I think I'll stay like this." I turned back to the table and aimed again getting a fourth ball in. "I'm up, 4-3, my love," I said, teasing with the 'my love' bit. "Don't you 'my love' me. You are cruel andugh fucking hot, okay?" He huffed as I tried getting another ball in but missed. He stood to take his turn across the table from me. When he bent over to aim, I leaned over too, the shirt dipping away from my chest, exposing much more cleavage. He froze and stared down my shirt. "Thank you for the compliment, Edward," I said seductively and straightened up. He shook his head and continued aiming, muttering, "So fucking unfair. So unfair" Sadly, the magic of my breasts lasted only so long. Before I knew it he was way ahead and totally gloating. "Well, my love, looks like your little plan didn't work. Looks like I'll be the ultimate winner," he said, lining up his shot for the eight ball. I rolled my eyes, annoyed that my near toplessness did nothing to derail his victory. "I am so good at pool," he gloated. "And here you thought your two distractions would make me lose HA!" he said, pulling back on his cue. At the same moment that Edward pushed forward on the cue, my cell phone rang, startling me, causing me to yelp, causing Edward to hit the ball too hard, and causing the white ball to slip in.

I laughed watching him hang his head in defeat as I dug the phone out of my back pocket and answered. "Hello?" "Hello. May I speak with Bella Swan please?" "This is she." "Hello, Ms. Swan. Please hold for Aro Volturi from The Image Group." "Okay," I said, confused. Edward furrowed his brow as if asking if everything was ok. I nodded then heard a male voice. "Hello, Ms. Swan?" "Yes." "My name is Aro Volturi. I am a talent agent with The Image Group. I specialize in musical talent within the film industry and represent many composers and musicians. A good friend of mine, Beverly Williams, passed along your phone number and thought I might be of use to you in your musical career." I was speechless. "Ms. Swan?" "I'm sorry, I'm just caught off guard here." He continued, "Ms. Williams has an excellent ear for musical talent. Only twice before has she recommended someone to me and they've gone on to achieve great success. She spoke very highly of your abilities, but also of your work ethic which is a quality not easily found. So, what I would like to do is set up a meeting between us to see if working together is something that would interest you." With my mind racing and my mouth barely able to form words, I somehow managed to say, "When would you like to meet?"

"Is tomorrow at eleven in the morning good for you?" "Tomorrow at eleven. Yes. Great." "I look forward to meeting you, Ms. Swan." "Me too. Thank you." I hung up the phone and stared at Edward. "You alright? Who was that?" "That was a talent agent from The Image Group an Aro Volturi? He wants to meet me tomorrow at eleven." The two of us stood staring at the other for a long moment until we both squeaked and threw our arms around each other. Edward spun me around, laughing along with me. "That's bloody brilliant! I'm so happy for you!" he said, putting me down and kissing me - an exhilarating, all-out kiss - right in the middle of the deserted pub. Just as our hands began to think on their own, Edward pulled away. "We'd better stop." He breathed out and smiled proudly. "You probably don't know this, but Aro Volturi is one of the top agents in LA. God, Bella, I am so fucking happy for you." "Really? Oh my God, I can't believe this. This isinsane." "No, it's how it should be, my love. You deserve it." I shook my head at him, in awe. Would he ever know just how much his presence in my life had changed me? The tears rose as I filled to the brim with emotion. So much had happened to my life in the matter of two weeks. "Are you crying?" he asked, shoving his face in mine. "I'm just so happy. I've never been so happy ever. It's a little overwhelming, you know?" "Yeah, I know exactly how you feel, my love," he said, grazing his fingers across my cheek to cup my head. He kissed me again - our kiss quickly growing urgent.

"Okay, that's enough," he said, stopping suddenly. He ran his hand along the back of his neck again and exhaled in a deep sigh. "Between all this happening for you and you wearing that fucking tank top that made me lose-" "My tank top didn't make you lose. You did that on your own," I giggled. "On my own?" he asked, raising his eyebrows at me and grinning. He leaned in closer. "You've got next to nothing separating your breasts and me, and they are just begging I mean, begging me to touch them and kiss them and taste them," he said, his voice growing deeper while his eyes stared at my chest. "Fuck!" he said, stepping back to give our bodies distance. I smirked and glanced at the evidence of my win on the pool table. "Well, looks like I won. I guess you really aren't that interested in having me visit you in Mexico." I began to turn away when he caught my arm. "Put this on," he said, handing me my hoodie. "We're leaving." "Leaving? Our date is over?" I asked, slipping the sweatshirt on. "Not by a long shot. We're going back to my house so I can show what the end of a proper date should be like." "Cleaning up pizza boxes? Tossing containers of old, leftover Chinese? Sorting dirty laundry?" I asked with mock excitement. He laughed. "How'd you guess?" He grabbed my hand and led us quickly to his car as the evening sun had nearly set. As we drove to his house I said, "I loved our date, Edward. I hope we can do them more often." "Wednesday afternoon datesI like them an awful lot too." "It was perfectespecially since I was crowned the ultimate champion of pool." "Uh, I think not, my love. Your phone was a clear case of interference, not to mention your shirt, so you did not win fair and square."

"I most certainly did. I can't help your need to ogle my chest, nor my phone startling you. You should have more concentration than that I am the winner." "You are so not the winner." I leaned over the console and began nibbling at his ear. "I am the winner, Edwardadmit it," I whispered. He leaned away from me. "Not admitting it and stop using your womanly wiles to take advantage of me." "Advantage of you? Oh Edward," I said, leaning over farther and sucking on his ear lobe. "I would never do that. If I was taking advantage of you, I would, I don't know, rub my hand up your thigh?" which I was doing, "and slide my hands up and over youhere," he gasped as I traveled over his bulging package. I nibbled at his ear some more, continuing to take advantage for several minutes. I noticed him grip the steering wheel harder as his body tensed. Then I sat back. "That would be taking advantage of you." He shook his head, his hard breathing obvious. "So mean so cruel" I giggled. He screeched to a halt in his driveway. Before I could get out of my open door, he was standing in my way as he stared down at me. With one hand on the door and the other on the roof, he teased, "You aren't being nice, Bella. Now, get inside. We need to finish what you started." "I'm sorry, Edward," I said innocently, reaching for his waistband and yanking him closer to me as I still sat in the seat with my legs out of the car. "What are you doing?" he asked, his eyes widening and shifting around. I held onto his belt as he tried pulling away. "You're right. I should be nicer," I said, glancing up at him as I threaded his belt apart and unbuttoned his pants. His mouth fell open as the interior car light switched off. "No, Bella. We can't," he whispered, looking around anxiously.

I tugged him closer and unzipped his pants. "We can't?" I asked with a smirk as I wiggled my fingers into the waistband of his underwear to let him loose. "Nobecause" he muttered, watching my hand grasp him. "Because?" I said, raising an eyebrow and stroking him slowly. "I don't know, Edward," I said, feeling him further expand and harden in my hand, "I think you were right beforeif I start something, I should finish it. I don't want to be a quitter." I glanced up to see him staring with desperate eyes and parted lips at every single move I made. He braced himself, gripping onto the door and the top of the car. I leaned in and with my mouth, finished what I started. "Oh fuck," he groaned, drawing in a sharp breath. I'd never been so bold in my life, but with Edward there were no restrictions, no boundaries. My desire to please him overran any thoughts that might have interfered. Pleasure. That was all I wanted to bring to this magnificent man. And pleasure I did. Gripping onto his hips, I moved forward and back, swirling and sucking, eager to hear his gratification. I peeked up at him as I threw in a little humming noise which elicited a, "Holy bollocking fuck," out of gasping, weak-kneed him in the moonlit night. "FuckBellaI-" he moaned out eventually, the veins of his neck bulging and his arms flexing as he held onto the door and roof. "Shh" I murmured taking him in even deeper, keeping an eye on him. It was beyond erotic to see him losing control. Several minutes and groans later, he breathed out, "BellastopI'm," he panted and grunted, "goingto" "Mmm," I replied sucking in more forcefully.

He groaned even louder. "Fuuuuck," he moaned, his arms tightening their grip on the door as he exploded in my mouth. When all was said and done, he shook his head at me, still breathing heavy but smiling very, very wide. "You" he said, putting himself back together. I grinned. "What about me?" I asked, as he offered his hand, helping me to my feet. He shut the car door and trapped me against the side of the car with his hands on either side of my head. "What are you doing?" I asked, amused. Nose to nose, he stared at my mouth as he snaked a hand under my shirt, kneading my breast. "Finishing what you started." "Oh no," I said, swallowing hard, feeling the cooler night air race up my shirt. He grinned and nodded. "Oh yes," he said, unbuttoning and unzipping my pants. "Edward," I scolded him with a smile. "Don't you 'Edward' me." He slid his hand into my pants and touched me just right. Oh so very right. I breathed out. With hooded, seductive eyes, he asked, "Are you coming to Mexico?" Round and round his fingers slid, watching me. My mind drawing blanks, I panted, "Um" How was he able to do that to me? Get me so heated in the matter of seconds? It was as if I walked around sexually-idling, just waiting for his spark to ignite me. I could feel my legs grow weak as all my energies focused on the spot his fingers circled. "Are you?" he asked again, moving faster and harder. Panting hard now, I couldn't answer.

"Tell me, Bellaare you? Are you going to come to Mexico, so I can touch you like this?" he pressed on the perfect spot with the perfect amount of pressure. "Oh God," I moaned out. "See? I know you want toyou can't last weeks without this" He pressed that spot again. I whimpered. "Can you?" I shook my head. "Tell me," he whispered, brushing his mouth on mine. "No," I muttered. He picked up the pace, pushing me closer and closer. "No, what? No you're not coming to visit? Or no, you can't last." "Oh God," I murmured. So very near the edge, his talking kept me from falling over it. I shook my head again. "Say it, Bella. Say you want my fingers on you and in you." He slipped two fingers inside. I gasped. The only thing that kept me from collapsing was his body propping me upright against the car. I nodded, holding onto his shoulders. "Yes?...No? Mixed signals heretell me." "Iwant youto" I couldn't finish. The intense tightening possessed all of my thoughts. "Is that a yes? Yes, you'll come to Mexico? Is that it, my love?" And that was it, over the edge I fell so hard and fast I moaned out a "Yes!" as I came. Slumping a little, I held onto his shoulders as I caught my breath. He removed his hands from my pants and finally kissed me. Still coming down from Cloud Holy-Crap-That-Was-Unexpected-And-Amazing, he grinned at me. "I'm glad you're coming to visit," he said matter-of-factly.

"Yeahme too," I said, catching my breath. I stumbled to the stairs even while holding his hand. He looked back at me, "You going to be okay over there?" "Not sure. You are meanand cruel." "Me? Ha!" he mocked and unlocked the door. After watching some TV and discussing our Mexico rendezvous, we washed up, climbed into bed and snuggled in his arms encasing me, my legs claiming his, his scent intoxicating me and quickly lulling me into deep sleep. "Bella," I heard in a sweet voice calling me. "Bella, wake up. It's time for breakfast." Reluctantly waking and blinking, a blurry Edward came into focus. Sitting on the side of the bed without a shirt and his hair a mess, he smiled at me. So pretty "You are very sleepy this morning." "Yeah," I croaked, rubbing my eyes. "Umwhy are you up so early?" "Early? It's 9:30. Your meeting's at eleven, right? I thought you'd rather not have to rush." "Shit. It's 9:30?" I said, sitting up and tucking the sheets under my arms as Edward handed me a bowl. I looked inside: Lucky Charms. I smiled at him. "I thought you'd better start your day off properly. You got lucky last night and I figured we'd continue the lucky theme this morning." He laughed. I giggled. "You are too sweet. Thank you," I said as he poured the milk in. I ate quietly as a rush of nerves about the upcoming meeting flooded me. "You're awfully quiet. You okay?"

I shrugged and breathed. "I've never done this before, you know? I don't know what it's like to have an agent how it all works. What if he doesn't want to deal with me once he meets me?" Edward furrowed his brow. "I don't think you have to worry about that. He's gotten your name from a high-powered music producer-" "Beverly is high-powered?" "Yeah," Edward snorted like I should have known that. "This town is incestuous, Bella. If you mind your Ps and Qs, do a solid job and have talent which you have in spades - then your name gets passed around. The opposite is true as well piss people off and you're quickly on their shit list. I'd say you're a pretty hot commodity if an A-list agent is calling you." "Oh God," I said, feeling sick to my stomach. "What?" "A hot commodity? God, Edward, I could so screw this up and then where will I be? What if I get lost going there and show up late or what if-" "Bella, relax. I figure I'd drive you unless you don't want me to. I know where they're based. One less thing for you to worry about." I breathed out. "Thank you, I really appreciate that. I'm so glad you'll be there." He smiled. "You'll do fine now eat up, you need your Lucky Charms." I laughed and continued eating. "So, you think you might phone your parents? Tell them the good news?" I raised an eyebrow. "No. I'd rather not ruin my good fortune." "Maybe they'd surprise you and be happy for you." I shook my head. "You don't know them, Edward. I am not following their plan. This goes against everything to them. It's going to be hard enough getting my stuff out of their house. I'm not looking forward to that."

He nodded and remained quiet for a moment. "Do you want me to come with you there? Maybe if they meet me-" "No, not yet, Edward. I think if you met them now with everything so raw they'd just blame you instead of see you for who you really are." "And who would that be?" he joked smugly. "A takeout loving guy who corrupts their daughter's healthy eating habits by feeding her Lucky Charms first thing in the morning." He snorted. "Such a smartarse." I smiled and put my bowl on the nightstand then leaned forward and pressed a kiss to his lips. "Thank you Edward." "For what? I did noth-" "Shh, Edward thank you for everything for not only being my boyfriend, but for being my friend, for supporting me, but most of all, for loving me even when I was an arse." He beamed. "It's ass," he said in an American accent. We began to kiss and kiss and kiss and then I pulled back. "Okay, that's enoughI have to get ready. House rule number seven is that you can't get your girlfriend all riled up before a big meeting." He smiled and glanced at the clock. "Well, it's quarter to ten now, and it takes about twenty minutes to get there, so I'd say we have enough time for only one shower." I smiled. "One shower?" "House rule number two, remember?" He smirked his smirk, melting me once again. "If you can beat me to the shower, then one shower it is." "Alright," Edward agreed, standing up. "But wait before we go, could you hand me my shirt from the chair over there?"

As Edward turned to get it, I slid out of bed and yelled, "Race ya!" and bolted to the bathroom. "Cheat!" I heard him yell behind me. After our shower that complied house rule number two, we got in the car. Although I was exhausted in so many wonderful ways, I still found myself wired and jittery. My knee bounced, I bit my lip, and I couldn't stop from picking at my nails. Suddenly Edward's hand stopped my knee. "Bella, relax, you're going to be just fine. I promise." I nodded and breathed. In Out As nervous as I was for this meeting, I was even more excited and hopeful for what my future held. I was sure that no matter what happened, I'd be okay. After all I'd been through, after all I learned I was still standing and in far better shape than I could have imagined. We pulled into the building's lot and parked. "Ready?" Edward asked, smiling, pulling his baseball hat down as far over his eyes as it would go. I nodded. We walked into the building without holding hands like friends as we discussed. He held the door open for me. "Hi. Bella Swan to see Aro Volturi?" I said to the receptionist while Edward hung back. She called someone then said to me, "Mr. Volturi is ready to see you on the eleventh floor. The elevator is over there on the right." I nodded. Edward and I walked to the elevators in silence, since my heart was lodged in my throat.

The doors opened and we stepped aboard alone. As the elevator began to ascend, Edward grabbed my hand and kissed it. "I'm having a bit of dj vu, my love." I laughed, letting some of the nerves go. "Thank you for being here today, Edward. I love you," I said, beaming at him. "I love you too," he said, winking. The doors opened. I took a deep breath, and as Edward smiled proudly at me, he whispered, "You're on your way, my love. Good luck." I smiled back, knowing that it wasn't a matter of luck; it was a matter of trust.