As always hugs and thanks to Mariahjile, Marly 582, SparklyMeg, Iklepixie, Everydaybella, and Cruiz Fanfiction.

Chapter 21

"Well, that was unexpected," he murmurs, finally breaking the silence.

"I'll say," I agree softly, enjoying the moans that continue to escape him as I run my fingers through his hair. After what's just happened between us, I can't quite find it in me to let him go.

Not just yet.

He pulls back, and I flinch at the wariness etched on his face, knowing it's my mixed signals that are the cause of it. This isn't exactly going slowly, and I'm sure he thinks I'm going to make a run for it or push him away.

"You don't regret this, do you?" He leans down, resting his forehead against mine.

I shake my head. "No." My voice is strong and clear, void of any doubt that I'm sure he's searching for. I trail my fingers up and down his back, adoring the way he giggles when I skim over a particularly ticklish spot.

With a soft kiss just below my hairline, he begins to get up. I let my hands fall to the side, but my fingers twitch with a need to reach out and keep him against me.

"I should…" He looks down to his crotch, avoiding my gaze as his cheeks flame. "Um, I need to use your bathroom."

I nod, unable to say anything, watching until the bathroom door closes behind him. Once I hear the door click into place — and I have no chance of getting caught — I pull the covers over my head, kick my feet, and squeal like a giddy schoolgirl. My heart pounds, and the grin on my face is so wide, my cheeks are starting to hurt.

But I don't care.

Finally, when the air under the covers becomes too hot, I pull them back. As I wait for my heart to return to its normal speed, I can feel the smile on my face widen as I listen to Edward humming in the bathroom.

Seems like I'm not the only one in a good mood.

After a few moments, Edward returns, and I — suddenly realizing how naked I am — bury myself deeper under the covers.

I pout and sit up when I see he's wearing his jeans. "You're not staying?"

He sits on the edge of the bed, up near me. "I don't have anything to sleep in." He chuckles. "I'd normally sleep in my boxers, but… uh… Well, you know. And I don't have the self-control to sleep naked next to you."

I nod. "Ah… Yeah, that makes sense." I point to the old t-shirt I usually sleep in, which has been thrown on the floor. "Pass me my shirt, please."

He does, turning his head to the side as I pull it on. Before, I would have been hurt that he didn't chance a peek when he could have, but now I understand it's the gentleman in him.

I walk him to the door, enjoying the comfortable silence between us. He links his fingers with mine, shooting me a nervous smile as he does. "I hate to sound cliche, but I had a really good time tonight."

"Me, too."

He pulls me toward him, settling his hands on my hips. I can feel the heat of his hands through my shirt, and I shiver when I feel him rubbing small circles with his thumbs.

"I'm glad you said yes, Bella."

I wrap my arms around him, enjoying how I just seem to fit against him. It's effortless, easy, and I can't think of anywhere I'd rather be. I don't know why I fought this for so long.

"I couldn't say no," I say simply.

xXx

The following week at work brings a craziness I've never known. In preparation for the trial run of the daycare center, my hours at the library increase. Everyone is on tenterhooks, with the stress evident in every member of the staff. Mrs. Cope is happy to let Edward and me stay in charge, but we're also relying on the assistance of the other members of the team.

Tuesday — tomorrow — is our launch day, allowing us to have today to finalize the last-minute details. I had class this morning, but as soon as the last one finishes, I head straight across the campus to start my shift.

"Hey," I say breathlessly while pulling my hair up with a hair tie. Edward is sitting in one of the back rooms, surrounded by paper. He's leaning forward, elbows resting on the table, and cradling his forehead in his hands. His bronze hair is messier than usual, and as he looks up at me with what can only be described as panic in his eyes, I have to stifle a giggle.

"You're here." He gestures to the table. "I don't think we have enough staff for tomorrow. We're only doing a trial period for a few hours, yet the list of names is endless."

I sit next to him, smiling as he kisses me hello. "Let me see." I pull the papers over and have a read-through.

He's correct. The amount of people who've put their names down is a lot more than we were expecting, but it's definitely not a bad thing.

"This is great." I look up and see Edward frowning. "Or not?"

He takes the papers back. "Bella, there are more here than we can cope with. We haven't scheduled enough staff. Ben's in early and due to finish before people even start arriving."

I shrug. "So we can ask if he can stay late, or we can ask if someone else can come in." I reach out and take his hand. "Edward, this isn't a big problem. We've just asked people to write down their names if they would be interested; some of them might not even come. We can ask Ben to stay late, and if it quiets down, then we can send him home."

He nods, still focusing on the papers. "I'm overreacting, right?"

I laugh and kiss his cheek. "Just a bit."

I stand, bringing him with me. "C'mon. A few more hours, and then I'll treat you to a hot chocolate with whipped cream and marshmallows."

xXx

I'm awake before my alarm the following morning, a mixture of nerves and excitement brewing in my stomach. Today is something Edward and I have worked hard on for the last few weeks, and it's finally time to see how well it's going to be received. If today goes well, it's something we'll be adding on a weekly and then — hopefully — more frequent basis. The thought of our hard work paying off makes me smile, and I mute the alarm before it starts and get ready for my day.

After my shower, I run into Alice in the kitchen area. She's seated at the breakfast bar with a cup of coffee.

"You're up early," I note, making myself some cereal.

"Yeah," she grumbles. "One of my class times got changed."

"Ouch."

She nods. "Yeah, at least it's my only one of the day. What are you doing up?"

"I have work in an hour. We're launching the help center today." I smile through the nerves. Suddenly, my cereal doesn't seem too appealing.

As always, she sees straight through me. "You'll be great, and the whole day will be a success."

"I wish I had your confidence," I mumble around some food.

"Well." she sighs dramatically. "We can't all be as fabulous as me. I do keep telling you this."

I chuckle. "I know." I rinse my bowl out in the sink. "I'm not sure Chicago is ready for two of you, though."

xXx

With another murmured good luck and a kiss on my cheek, Alice leaves me once we reach the library. The doors are already open, meaning Mrs. Cope or Edward is already here.

My guess is both.

I quickly sign in and leave my stuff in the staff room before looking for them. I don't have to look far, finding them both at the front desk.

"Morning," I say as I approach.

The both look up, smiling when they see me. Mrs. Cope quickly looks away, back at the papers in front of them, but Edward's gaze remains on mine until I'm standing next to him.

"Hi."

I smile, linking my fingers together, hoping Mrs Cope can't see. "Hi."

He squeezes my fingers before letting them go.

He passes me a copy of the spreadsheet they're looking at. "Here's a list of everyone we're expecting. Since the doors are open all day, they may all come at once or stagger throughout the day. Whatever they decide to do, we have to be ready for them." The tone of his voice makes me shiver; he's so authoritative and in control.

My mind goes straight to the gutter.

"Bella, are you still good to stay all day? I spoke to Ben last night, and he said he can stay later than his four hours if we need him. The rest of the staff will be coming in throughout the day and helping us at the expected peak times. But I need to know you have my back. I need to know you're here."

"I'm here."

xXx

The day passes more quickly than I ever thought possible. As soon as the doors opened to the students, we were busy.

We met a mix of single moms, single dads, and couples who were both still in school and just needed that little extra bit of help. Everyone we spoke to wanted to make it through school so they could offer the best future for their child.

We welcomed everyone with open arms and showed them to the area we had set up that would now be reserved for the kids. Most of the children we saw were young, either babies or toddlers. We didn't expect many older kids, given the age range of the students.

I spent the day in the kids' room, showing the parents the activities and games we had in store while they were studying. After spending an hour or so with one of the moms, Vicky, and her daughter, Leanne, I was asked if I could keep watch while she caught up with a term paper. Vicky's story was so heartbreakingly familiar, with her ex cheating on her and running off as soon as he found out she was pregnant, that I just couldn't say no. Today was only meant to be an introduction, but her answering smile when I said yes made it worthwhile.

It's close to the end of the day when Edward finds me still in the room, entertaining Leanne. We're sitting at one of the tables, Leanne balanced on my knee as she colors.

"Who's this little beauty, then?" Edward takes the seat next to us, smiling at me before offering Leanne a huge grin.

She giggles and pushes some of the crayons to him. He takes them without question and begins coloring, too.

"This is Leanne. Her mom is just in the library, catching up on some work."

He nods but doesn't say anything. I watch him as he continues coloring with Leanne, changing colors each time she passes him a new crayon. The little girl remains silent, but I can see her fascination with Edward. She's given up on her own drawing and has all her attention focused on him.

"You wanna go to Edward, honey?" She begins squirming in my lap, her arms outstretched for Edward to take her.

"C'mere, beautiful." He takes her easily while I excuse myself and go to the bathroom. He barely notices when I leave, his attention taken by the red-haired beauty in his arms. I smile at the sight, seeing why he wants to work with children; he's a natural.

Goodbye, ovaries.

One my way back to the room, the sound of Leanne's laughter fills the library, causing me to grin. I go back to the room where I left them and stand in the doorway, watching as they play together, Edward making funny faces and Leanne giggling as each one gets more ridiculous.

"Look at them together."

I jump as Vicky appears at my side. "Oh… Yeah, aren't they adorable?" I whisper.

"Very." She grins. "I've never seen her so comfortable with a man. I was worried she'd be missing out on a father figure, you know? But she seems to be coping okay."

"She is." I smile at her. "And she'll get lots of interaction here. We'll make sure of it."

Watching Edward as he rocks a sleepy Leanne in his arms, everything falls into place. Before I left Jacksonville, I was worried I'd never trust again. Two of the people closest to me had ruined everything I'd known, yet day by day, Edward is rebuilding my world.

And I'm falling for him quicker than I ever imagined.

xXx

Thank you for reading!

A little surprise for Chapter 22… It's EPOV…

Fic rec: The Other Side of the Fence by Edward's Eternal - He hides to protect those he loves, she hides because that is all she knows. Isolation is a way of life for both of them. Two neighbours. All that separates them is a fence. Who knows what waits on the other side? Can they be strong enough to find out?