TwiFic Doctorward Contest
Title: As Long As You Want Me
Prompt #: 38, 21
Pairing: Edward and Bella
Genre: Romance, Drama
Summary: He's handsome, he's charming, he's compassionate and he seems very interested. But Bella, a jaded social worker who's recently moved back to her hometown with her son, can't bring herself to trust that surgeon Edward Cullen sees her as anything other than a challenge to be conquered.
Word count: 12,518
Disclaimer: The author does not own any publicly recognizable entities herein. No copyright infringement is intended.
AN: Newcastle upon Tyne: An industrial city and metropolitan district in North-East England, a port on the River Tyne, part of a larger conurbation called Tyneside. Residents are often called Geordies and speak with a distinctive accent/dialect. Newcastle boasts a Premier League football (soccer) team, Newcastle United, whose devout fans are often known as The Toon Army. Famous Geordies include the actor Charlie Hunnam (Sons of Anarchy) and the singer Cheryl Cole.
Despite intently studying the map of Freeman Hospital, I could not, for the life of me, figure out how to get to my new office. It was late March and bitter cold; the stinging wind whipping my face was typical for Newcastle upon Tyne, and yet, I didn't mind it at all.
I looked up at the sound of a deep, smooth male voice, tinged with a warm, local accent.
It's good to be home.
A gorgeous, chestnut-haired guy, maybe thirty-five, with a perfectly square jaw and twinkling grass-green eyes stood in front of me, wearing a friendly smile. He was dressed in light blue scrubs with a navy t-shirt underneath. He smelled delicious, of honey, coffee, pencils ... And if I wasn't already smitten enough, the sight of a light tuft of reddish-brown chest hair peeking out of the V-neck of his scrub top made my insides flutter.
"Are you lost, pet? Can I help?"
"Aye, thank you. I'm trying to find the Social Care department, but I canny make head nor tail of this map."
He took a look, and then turned the map over.
"Wrong map," he murmured, grinning. "You were looking at the map for the research buildings."
I felt my cheeks burn at my obvious idiocy.
He laughed aloud, which showed the adorable dimples in his cheeks.
"Don't worry, pet. I've done many things in my time more daft than that," he said, walking me into the lobby. "Now, Social Care ... all you have to do is to take those lifts to the fourth floor, turn left, and follow the signs."
"No problem. Mind how you go, now."
"Aye, will do."
I started walking towards the lifts, but couldn't resist one last glance back at him. He winked at me before shoving his hands in his back pockets and walking in the opposite direction. He was hot, but generally, I didn't date, especially guys like that who could get anyone they wanted. It was like asking to be hurt.
Department of Social Care
Visitors please sign in
This was it.
New job, new start.
I had returned to my hometown after nearly ten years away in London. My dad, Charlie, knew I was unhappy there, so when he spotted an advert in the local paper for a social worker at Freeman, he all but begged me to apply.
I walked in and knocked on the office of my new boss, Angela Weber.
I opened the door to a cramped office, where she was typing furiously at an ancient computer. Like me, she was a brunette, but unlike me, she was tall and thin, not short and curvy, and she most likely was a few years older, perhaps, in her mid-thirties.
"Isabella, good to see you again," Angela stood up and sent a pile of papers flying. "Shite. Sorry, there's no space in here."
"So I can see. Call me Bella, by the way." I took a step forward and helped her tidy up.
"Well, Bella, we're delighted to finally have you here. I won't lie to you; you're going to be starting with a full caseload, like. Did Austin email you with a handover?"
"Yes, I'm up to speed."
"Good. Now, let's go grab a coffee, and I'll give you a rundown of the wards you'll be covering. Then I'll show you round, and get you your ID badge and access cards."
Over cappuccinos, I decided Angela was a top girl. She was enthusiastic and sweet, and determined to do right by all our clients. I had a feeling we were going to be great friends in time.
We headed back to the office and the rest of the day progressed smoothly, meeting some of my new clients and getting used to the paperwork. I left work just after five o'clock, and hopped onto a Metro train. A short, fifteen-minute commute later, I was just one hundred yards from home, and ready to collect my son from his new childminder on the way back.
"Hi Gianna," I greeted the childminder. She had Seth the entire day, as it was the school Easter holiday. "How's my ..." I stopped talking mid-sentence because I could hear Seth wailing from inside the house. "What the hell?"
I pushed past her and rushed into the living room. Seth was rolling on the floor, his knees up to his chest, sobbing. Normally my seven-year-old was pure sunshine.
"Mammy, it hurts! My tummy hurts!"
"Gianna, how long has he been like this?" I demanded, getting down onto the floor and cradling his head on my lap. "He has a fever!" His cheeks were bright red, and his dark brown curls were matted against his damp forehead.
"He was complaining of a sore tummy all morning," she retorted indignantly. "The rolling started an hour ago. It's nothing. He's just acting out because it's his first day in a new place."
"Seth's never acted out in his life," I told her through gritted teeth.
I slid my hand onto Seth's tummy and barely pressed it when he screamed out in pain. Hardly able to bear the sight of my son in such discomfort, I phoned 999 for an ambulance immediately.
Then I fired Gianna.
The doctor in Paediatric Emergency, Dr Lewis, told me he suspected appendicitis, and that he would need to call the surgical team. About half an hour later, a petite blonde wearing a full face of make-up, a tight, black dress and a scowl, turned up.
"I'm Dr Mallory, the surgical doctor on-call," she began in a slightly bored tone. "What's been happening?"
I went through the story again, and she looked at Seth's chart before prodding his tummy. Seth tolerated it, but was in agony, and after a minute or so, begged her to stop.
"Well, it's most likely cramps. We'll give him a prescription for some ibuprofen, and he should be fine. You can see your GP in the morning ..."
"What, no. Less than an hour ago, he was rolling around in pain, crying his eyes out."
"Well, Miss Swan, that's my professional opinion. Look, you can bring him back if he doesn't get better."
"No. I want a second opinion. That other doctor said it could be appendicitis."
"I'm the surgical opinion, and I disagree."
"Well, I know my son, and I'm telling you that something is seriously wrong!"
My shouting drew the attention of Dr Lewis, who came back in. I explained my concerns, and he asked Dr Mallory to step outside. Naturally, I tried to eavesdrop, but with all the noise from the other cubicles, I could only catch some of the conversation.
"... It's a classic history ..."
"He's only mildly pyrexial ..."
"... If he perfs at home, it'll be your licence on the line ... call the registrar ..."
"I don't think ..."
"Call him, Lauren. Don't make me go over your head ..."
"Mam," Seth called weakly.
"It's okay, baby, I'm here." I dropped a kiss on his clammy forehead.
"When will it go away?"
"Hopefully soon, Seth."
"I don't like that lady. She's mean."
Dr Mallory walked back in at that moment, looking as if she'd swallowed a lemon.
"I'm going to call my colleague to review Seth, and then we'll see about home," she announced curtly.
"Your senior colleague," I insisted.
She nodded and backed out of the cubicle.
Ten minutes later, she returned with a tall, and rather familiar, chestnut-haired man in light blue scrubs.
"You," he said, grinning at me with that gorgeous, crooked smile. "Get there okay?"
"No problem. Your directions were stellar."
"I aim to please. I'm Edward Cullen, by the way, the senior surgical registrar on call." He looked over at Seth and smiled softly. "And this must be Seth." He walked past me to Seth's right side and crouched down by the bed. "All right, lad. My name's Edward. Before we begin, I have a very important question to ask you ... Toon Army?"
"Til I die," Seth replied, smiling back a little.
Mr Hottie Surgeon pulled out a black and white striped watch from the pocket of his scrubs, a bigger version of the one Seth had worn every day since he was four. Thanks to his Grandpa Charlie, Seth had been obsessed with Newcastle United Football Club since he was a toddler.
"Me too." They high-fived and he then took Seth's little hand and pressed his fingers to his wrist. "So, your tummy's been hurting, has it?"
"Aye, it's well bad, and I felt sick too. It hurts, right here." Seth ghosted over a spot on the right side of his tummy.
"Can I feel it? I'll stop if it's bad again."
He began pressing gently, while softly murmuring encouragement as he went. Then, he placed his hand where Seth had indicated and then tapped his finger with the middle finger of his other hand, looking at Seth's face the whole time. Seth flinched and lifted his knees.
"Sorry, man. I just had to check." He gave me an apologetic smile before looking over me to Dr Mallory. "Lauren, what was Seth's heart rate on admission?"
She picked up a chart.
"Feel his heart rate now."
She stood next to Edward and brushed his side as she held my son's wrist.
"About one hundred and twenty," she answered after a few seconds, suddenly looking pale.
"What's going on here, Dr Mallory?" he asked her, no longer smiling. "Nausea, pyrexia, migrating tenderness, percussion tenderness, and now a rising heart rate."
"Perforation of the appendix," she murmured.
"That's right." He turned to me. "Mrs Swan ..."
"Miss Swan," I corrected. "Bella."
"Sorry," he replied, glancing at my hands momentarily before looking at me gravely. "Seth has appendicitis, but I think that the appendix has become so infected and swollen that it's about to burst. It may have already done so. We'd like to get Seth into the operating theatre quickly, to prevent the infection from spreading."
"I'm really sick?" Seth's bottom lip wobbled.
"Aye, lad, I'm sorry. But we have to get your tummy right. You're going to have to be really brave for a while."
"What are you going to do?"
"First, we need to take some blood and give you a drip fullof medicine, and then we need to put you to sleep so we can cut out your evil appendix, here." He pointed to the painful spot on Seth's tummy. "But we'll get you right as rain, and soon you'll be playing footie better than Newcastle themselves."
Within two hours, I was watching the anaesthetist put Seth to sleep as I held my boy's hand. After they had wheeled him in, they let me wait in a parents' room on the ward. I tried to stay awake, but I dozed off, and found myself being gently shaken a while later.
"Miss Swan ... Bella ..." I opened my eyes to see Mr Hottie Surgeon next to me, still wearing a green surgical cap, still making my heart flutter.
"He did really well. He's in recovery right now, and they'll be bringing him back to the ward in an hour or so, but he'll probably sleep through the night, until morning."
"Was it his appendix?"
"Aye, right ready to pop, it were. I'm glad we operated when we did, or he could have become seriously unwell."
I promptly burst into tears. My maternal instinct had been spot on, but what if I hadn't insisted on a second opinion? Would Seth's life have been in danger? Without him, my life was pointless and empty. He was my reason for living.
"S-sorry ..." I murmured, whilst sobbing helplessly.
"Ach, it's okay, pet." He sat next to me on the sofa and slipped an arm around my shoulders. I was sure he meant nothing by it other than comfort, but my skin tingled and I felt instantly soothed. "I'd feel the same if it were my lass."
"You have children?" I asked through my tears.
"Just one, like. She's almost the same age as your boy."
"It's just me and Seth, and we've only just moved back up to Tyneside from London. Seth's supposed to start his new school in two weeks. I started my new job today, and what are they going to think when I have to take a day off so soon ...?"
"Is that what you were doing here this morning? You're Angie's new girl in Social Work?" I nodded. "Then don't you fret. Angie's the most laid-back lass you'll ever meet."
"Thank you ..."
"Edward. Call me Edward." The pager attached to his scrub pocket started vibrating. "I'm afraid I have to go back to theatre."
"Of course. Thanks for letting me know about Seth's operation."
He squeezed my shoulder before getting up.
"It's a pleasure, pet. Get some rest now."
The next morning, having spent the whole night asleep on a camp bed next to Seth, I woke to see my baby grinning back at me.
"Mam, you were snoring so loud!" he chuckled. He looked pale and tired, but the sparkle was back in his big, brown eyes.
I stood up and brushed his thick, dark curls away before kissing his forehead. Seth was the spitting image of me except for his light, milky-tea complexion, inherited from his half-English, half-Senegalese father, Laurent.
"How are you feeling?"
"Better." He lifted up his pyjama top. "Look, I'm gonna have a wicked scar." He prodded his bandage, winced, but then started to fiddle with the edge.
"Hey now, you have to let it alone to heal, baby," I told him firmly. I noticed that he had an empty cup in front of him. "Have you had something to drink yet?"
"Uh-huh. Nurse Cora came in and gave me some juice. She says that if I'm not sick, I can have some toast and jam after the doctors have been round."
"Good. Why don't we read some of the BFG while we wait for them?" Seth nodded, and I pulled out my Kindle. Roald Dahl's BFG was favourite story.
About half an hour later, we were at a particularly good bit.
"... 'Oh no!' he cried. 'Oh mince my maggots! Oh swipe my swoggles!' What's the matter?' Sophie asked. 'It's a ...' What is it?"
"That's right ..." A knock on the door interrupted, and the handsome face of Edward Cullen popped around. "Oh, hello. Seth, look who's come to see you, baby."
"Hi Edward. My tummy's better," Seth said, grinning and wiggling.
Edward opened the door fully, and I noticed that there was an entire entourage of people hovering behind him, including that bitch, Dr Mallory.
"That's good to hear, lad. Have you had something to eat?"
"I had some juice, and I'm getting me toast and jam later."
"Good stuff. Any pain at all?"
"Only when I press my bandage and my mammy says I'm not 'posed to do that."
"She's right, Seth. Can we have a look at your tummy? I need to make sure it's okay."
Seth looked at the people in the doorway, and his eyes honed in on Dr Mallory.
His smile faltered.
"You can, but not everyone else."
"Me and Nurse Cora, how's that?"
He gestured for the rest of the team to leave, and then he quickly checked Seth over.
"Well, lad, you're doing right good. In a couple of days, when you're eating plenty and going to the loo by yourself, then you can go home." He turned to me and smiled softly. "Do you have any concerns?"
"No, I don't think so. You've been amazing, thank you." Something made me add, "I don't suppose you know a good childminder?" It was a daft thing to ask. He probably never needed to use one, and even if he did, he probably didn't live anywhere near me.
"Err ... I'll get back to you on that one," he replied politely, but, I was sure that in reality, he wouldn't. "Catch you soon?"
"Sure. More BFG, Seth?"
After a while, Seth had managed toast with strawberry jam and felt well enough to watch TV with the other kids in the day room. I nipped out to meet Charlie, to collect some clothes for both Seth and me. My father absolutely doted on my son, and I knew he missed my mother a little less now that Seth and I were near; he would never admit it, but I knew. She had died when I was nineteen, ten years ago, after a brief, but intensely painful battle with pancreatic cancer.
Unfortunately, Charlie had a streaming cold, and didn't want to risk infecting Seth or the other kids, so didn't come back with me to visit. I promised that we would call him later.
I took the lift back up to the fifth floor where the Paediatric wards were located. Just as I stepped out of the lift, my eye was drawn to the sight of a couple in the corner, talking intently. It was Edward Cullen and Dr Mallory, and they were standing particularly close. She then put her hand on his chest, and I felt sick.
Were they together?
Disappointed to my bones, I stalked past them.
A moment later, Edward was following me onto the ward.
"Hey," he murmured.
"Hi," I replied, before striding towards Seth's room. As I got to the doorway, Edward put his hand on my arm and handed me a piece of paper.
"I have the details of a childminder who's top notch. She's registered, of course, and has thirty years' experience. One of her regular kids just moved away, so she has an open spot."
"Where's she based?"
"That's really close to me."
"Aye, very convenient," he replied, grinning at me again. I resisted the urge to smile back, and kept my expression neutral, which seemed to flummox him.
"Maybe see you around?"
I shrugged. I was fairly sure we didn't run in the same circles.
"Hey, have I done something to upset you?"
I couldn't meet his eyes before delivering my lie.
"No, of course not, I'm just tired. Thanks for everything."
Six weeks went by, and Seth was back to being my happy-go-lucky little boy, playing football and settling into his new school. He'd already lost all trace of a London accent. He adored his childminder, the one Edward Cullen had recommended. She was slightly loony, but Shelly Cope was capable and gentle.
I was settling into my new job and getting used to being home in Tyneside again. People definitely were friendlier up North. The weather had been terrible, and I was looking forward to enjoying what was promising to be the first, warm weekend of the year, by taking Seth to the seaside at South Shields.
"Bella, lovely to see you," cried Shelly when she opened the door to me, as if she'd not seen me for ages. "Come on through. The tots are in the garden, making the most of the sunshine. I put them in their play-clothes so they could run around without mucking up their school uniforms, like."
Seth, wearing black shorts and a blue t-shirt, was playing in a sandpit with another child, a beautiful, auburn-haired girl around his age, who was wearing a purple, floral smock dress and leggings. Together, they were building an intricate sandcastle.
"Hi Seth," I began. "Having fun?"
"Mam, are you early?"
"No, baby, it's nearly half past five."
He looked disappointed.
"But Annie and me have spent ages building our castle!"
"Please, Seth's Mam, can we finish?" asked the girl, who blinked up at me with large, bright green eyes that made me look twice at her pretty, slightly freckled face.
"A few minutes," I replied.
I watched my son play happily with his new friend for a while, whilst Shelly and I chatted over cuppas. She told me that Annie and Seth got on like a house on fire from the moment they met, and that she looked after Annie a couple of times a week as a favour to her divorced father, who had fixed her husband's hernia a few years earlier.
The doorbell rang, interrupting our conversation.
"That'll be Annie's dad," she said, checking her watch and getting up.
I looked over at Annie, who was intently piling sand into a cone, and smiled. She certainly was a cutie. Suddenly the scent of honey, pencils and coffee wafted over me.
I looked up to see Edward Cullen, looking smart in a grey suit.I had seen him around the hospital a few times since Seth's operation, but hadn't spoken to him. He was usually surrounded by people, often pretty blondes, with stethoscopes around their necks.
"Hi. So, Annie's your lass?"
"Aye," he said, "that's my little princess."
"You never said that Shelly was your childminder."
"You never asked, pet," he replied softly, edging closer to me.
"Daddy!" Annie cried. "We're building a sandcastle. Look how big it is!"
"Aye, you're doing champion, princess."
"Hi Edward!" Seth hollered, patting his tummy. "I'm all better now!"
"So I can see, lad. Glad you're all right." Seth gave Edward a thumbs-up before turning his attention back to the sandcastle. Edward then looked at me. "And how are you?"
"Fine," I replied.
I tried not to swoon as he gave me a dimpled grin.
Taken, Bella, taken. By a sour-faced harpy.
"That would be lovely, Shelly," he replied with a wink. She laughed and fake-fanned herself before disappearing into the house.
"Well, you certainly know how to charm a lady," I observed wryly.
"I don't know about that. Seems I'm having no luck with you, pet. Not a giggle, nor a wink, nor even a flutter of those long eyelashes—I'm losing my touch."
"Isn't there some rule about doctors flirting with the mother of a patient?"
"Probably, but your Seth stopped being my patient when he was discharged from hospital."
"Mam, we're finished!" Seth yelled, all of a sudden. "Look!"
"Daddy, come see!" added Annie.
It was a pretty impressive sandcastle, for two seven year olds.
"Wow, this is amazing, baby."
"Daddy, Seth's going to the seaside tomorrow with his Mam. Can we go too?"
"Oh, Mam, please can Annie and Edward come with us? It'll be fun."
"Seth, Edward might already have plans. And what about Annie's mam ...?"
"Oh, my daddy and my mammy aren't married anymore. I live with Mammy and Michael most of the time, and I stay with Daddy on Wednesdays and every other weekend, and when Mammy and Michael go on conifers," Annie explained.
"Conferences, princess, not conifers," Edward corrected, kissing the top of his child's head with soft-looking lips. "Annie's mother Jessica and I split when she was two."
"But won't you have plans with your girlfriend?"
He looked confused.
"No. No girlfriend."
What about that bitch-face?
"Please, Mam!" Seth whined. "Me and Anniewant to build an even bigger castle on the beach. And see the lighthouse and ride the donkey, and ..."
"We're free, but if you'd rather not, I'll understand. I'll just take Annie by myself."
He looked at me with a puppy-dog, wistful expression, as did the kids.
"Okay," I relented. Annie and Seth clapped with delight. "South Shields? We were going to go to the lighthouse first, around ten. We're taking the Metro."
"Great, we'll meet you at the station, at around half past nine." He pulled out his phone. "We should swap numbers, just in case there's a problem."
"Sure." I told him my number, and he gave me a missed call.
"Excellent. See you tomorrow."
That night, just as I was trying to get to sleep, my phone beeped with a text.
Bella, I can't wait to see you at the seaside, pet. Sweet Dreams, Edward x
I ignored it.
But my subconscious didn't.
The rest of my night was filled with dreams of chestnut hair, blue scrubs, green eyes, lean body and long surgeon's fingers. I couldn't deny that I wanted the man physically, and I wanted to believe that his interest in me was genuine, but I kept recalling the encounter I'd seen between him and Dr Mallory.
Suddenly, apprehension filled my gut over my hasty agreement to spend the day with Edward and his daughter.
"Mam!" Seth burst into my room, already dressed in his Toon Army football shirt and black jeans. "Seaside!"
"I know, baby."
"It's gonna be so much fun! Thanks for letting Annie come, it's gonna be mega wicked cool."
He ran out again, so bloody happy. The apprehension in my gut melted a little.
It's just a play-date, not a real date.
And worth it to see my Seth full of joy.
Edward and Annie were waiting for us outside the Metro station when we arrived, dressed casually in jeans, t-shirts, and hoodies, but still somehow managing to look like catalogue models. .
"Seth!" Annie ran up to my son and high-fived him. "Hi, Seth's Mam."
"Hiya, Annie. You can call me Bella, sweetie."
"Bella," she repeated. "Okay."
I looked up at Edward, freshly shaved and looking ... nervous.
"Hey, Edward, how are you?"
"Good, thanks. Shall we?"
We went through to the platform and only had to wait a couple of minutes before the train arrived. We managed to get seats together, and Annie asked Edward for his iPad and earphones; she and Seth became engrossed in watching an episode of a kids' travel show, which kept them entertained for most of the journey.
"How was the rest of your night?" asked Edward.
"Fine, we just had dinner, played a bit of football in the garden with the neighbour's kid and watched a movie. You?"
"Much the same, except the footie. Annie likes it, but doesn't play it anymore."
"Her mother convinced her it wasn't 'ladylike.'"
"Why should she be worrying about that at the age of seven?"
"It's an ongoing disagreement between her mother and me. I think Annie, as well as having a robust education, should have a proper childhood. Disney, trips to the seaside, running around, playing sports and getting mucky. Jessica and her husband Michael believe she should be in training for adulthood, and make a big point of being prim and proper, like."
"Sorry, I didn't mean to suddenly come out with all of that. Something about you makes me want to disclose my deepest, darkest secrets." He flashed me a brief, warm smile, which nearly disarmed me.
"How do you and Seth's dad get on?"
"We don't," I responded, unable to keep the venom out of my voice. Edward raised an eyebrow. "Seth's father has never seen him, and never will, given he's in jail."
An uncomfortable silence descended between us.
"Did he hurt you?" Edward eventually whispered. "The way you spoke about him ... he caused you pain, right?"
"Yeah. I was in a terrible place when we got together, and he took advantage ... it's a long story."
"If ever you trust me enough to share, I'll listen, pet," he replied, covering my hand with his subtly. I looked into his eyes and felt a pull, drawing me in. My skin tingled with the contact, and in that moment, I could feel myself begin to fall for him. I desperately tried to claw myself back, but it was like climbing up a slippery pole.
"I like you, Bella, a lot," he murmured, looking over at the kids briefly, checking that they were still occupied. "I just want to get to know you."
"I'm not an easy conquest," I murmured back. "I'm sure there are plenty of women out there who could give you what you want."
I moved my hand, determined to resist, but he immediately covered it again.
"I don't use girls like that," he stated, his green eyes suddenly ablaze. "Is that why you didn't text me back last night?" I nodded. "Bella, you are the only woman who's intrigued me in years. I could count the number of girls I've been with on one hand."
"Look, it's been a long time since I let anyone new into my life. I can't offer any more than friendship."
"That's all I'm asking for." A 'for now' hung in the air, however, implied by his demeanour. I pushed it to the back of my mind. Resist, Bella. Resist.
Not long after, we arrived at South Shields, and first strolled along the beachfront to the lighthouse, which the kids loved exploring. We spent the afternoon on the beach, where Annie and Seth rode a donkey and built their enormous sandcastle. Edward and I talked, keeping to safe topics like work, movies, sport and friends. We had a lot more in common than I expected, from football to old, British black and white movies.
I found out Edward was thirty-five and a local boy, born and raised in a pretty commuter village not far from Newcastle upon Tyne. His mother Esme was a nurse, and his father Carlisle was a paediatrician; both had retired last year.
My boss Angela was his oldest friend from childhood and Annie's godmother. I had known they were friends but not the depths of their friendship. Edward had even introduced Angela to her fiancé, Ben, a neurologist who was a close friend of his from medical school. He spoke of them and his other best friends, Emmett, a ward manager, and Emmett's fiancée Rosalie, a breast surgeon who had just made the top grade of consultant, with immense reverence and respect.
After spending the afternoon on the beach, and early evening in the arcades playing pinball and eating popcorn, we stopped for fish and chips in a cafe, and by the time we were boarding the Metro again, the kids were shattered.
"I haven't had such a fun day for ages, Bella, and neither has she," said Edward as Annie dozed against him. "Thank you so much for letting us tag along."
"We had a brilliant day, too," I agreed, wrapping my arm around my sleepy son.
"Spaghetti Night," mumbled Seth … "Come over."
"I think Seth has just invited you and Annie for Spaghetti Night, when I make spaghetti with meatballs and garlic bread, and we watch a movie, usually Italian-themed. We're planning one for this Wednesday."
"What about you, Bella? Do you want us to come over for Spaghetti Night?" he asked, gently pushing his foot forward, so it grazed mine. I jumped, but couldn't bring myself to move away. Spending the day with him had made me doubt the playboy image I held of him.
"Yes. But ..."
"I know," he replied sadly. "Just friends."
Over the course of the next couple of months, we saw Edward and Annie several times. Seth and Annie were thick as thieves; they liked all the same things, including football, although she tried to pretend she didn't care about it. After seeing the little girl's hesitancy when invited to play with Edward and Seth in the park one evening, I made a point of joining in to show her that girls could like footie, too.
When I saw Edward in the hospital, we'd stop to chat, and if he was with his entourage, he'd send them on without him. I always looked forward to seeing him, even though I was nervous about the fact that he sometimes looked at me as if I was something to devour. However, despite us spending so much time together I still hadn't been able to bring myself to ask Edward about his ex-wife or Dr Mallory.
On this particular Friday, I was heading out to visit a client who was secretly my favourite. Alice Brandon was twenty-one, and suffered from Crohn's Disease. She was in and out of the hospital all the time with flare-ups. Even though she was always ill, and currently homeless and jobless, she was a sweet, bubbly little thing, and I had warmed to her immensely, visiting at least a couple of times a week, even though I often had no updates for her.
Her flare-ups had been made worse by poor living conditions. She had been living in a shared house with five other people and only one bathroom, and her housemates hadn't paid much attention to cleanliness. As a result, the landlordhad evicted them all whilst she was in hospital, and her friends had dispersed. She didn't have any family, having grown up in a series of foster homes. She had also lost her last job in a clothing shop because she was always off sick.
Despite all the medical treatments she'd had so far, Alice's current flare-up didn't improve, and she had to have surgery. It was the first time I had come to visit her since.
"Hey Bella," said Emmett, who was the manager of the ward Alice was on. He was dressed in his uniform of navy tunic and trousers, which meant that he was doing clinical work rather than sitting in his office. I had been a little intimidated by him the first time we met as he was a whopping hulk of a man with close-cropped dark hair. However, I found out quickly that he was a terrific guy, funny and gentle.
"Hey, how's Alice?"
"Alice is doing all right, Bella," he replied. "She was weak at first, but she's picking up."
"Emmett!" A crisp, female voice interrupted.
We turned around to the sight of an absolutely stunning, tall blonde woman with ice-blue eyes, leaning over the counter, with her hair tied in a high, severe ponytail. She was dressed in a smart, scarlet and black shift dress and matching jacket. I decided, by her air of authority, that she was someone high up the food chain. "I've got five minutes before my next patient turns up in clinic. Your office. Now."
"Sorry, Bella, looks as if I'm needed."
Emmett and the blonde both disappeared into an office, and I turned my attention to the nursing notes, skim-reading them before heading out to see Alice.
Alice was a tiny creature, who looked fifteen rather than twenty-one. She had short, spiky, black hair and had on big, chunky, headphones, attached to a matching, pink, MP3 player. She had a drip going into her arm, and there was a tube poking out of the leg of her Hello Kitty pyjamas. She also had two tubes in her nose; one was pumping in light brown liquid, and another was draining green stuff. Despite this, she gave me a bright smile as I approached.
"Hey, how are you?"
We chatted about her surgery, and what it meant for her future, including places for her to live. I talked through some of the options I had found so far, and she tried to be positive about them, even though most of them were in great areas of the city. Towards the end of my time with her, she finally told me how she honestly felt.
"I just want to be normal, you know?" she said, sighing. "I want a nice little job, and a nice place to call home. I would love to have somewhere I feel safe, and maybe even a decent bloke. Perhaps there's one out there who won't hit me or steal my money."
My heart went out to her.
"Alice, this is only the start. Now you've had the surgery, hopefully you won't be in and out of here all the time, and you can have those things."
"Thank you. It truly means a lot to me that you keep visiting, even though you don't have to come so often. It's stopped the loneliness from bugging me. I hope one day I'll be able to do something nice for you, too."
"Oh, Alice, you getting better and back on your feet is the only thanks I need."
I leaned over and squeezed her hand. I then got up to leave, but when I turned, I suddenly tripped over the chair leg, straight into the arms of Edward, dressed in scrubs.
"Oh, God, Edward, I'm so sorry!"
"It's all right, pet. No harm was done. What brings you to see Alice?"
"She's gonna find me a new home," Alice piped up. "She's been a real sweetheart, looking out for me."
"Well, you're in capable hands," he replied, not taking his eyes—or his hands—off me. It felt incredible, but suddenly I was conscious of where we were. Embarrassed, I pulled myself away.
"I, uh, ought to go."
I wanted to tell him to call me later, but the words stuck in my throat as a flashback of him and Dr Mallory looking cosy assaulted my mind.
"Bye," was all I managed. He sighed and turned to Alice. I walked away, but found myself looking back at them.
"Now, missy, shall we have a look at this aspirate?" he said, tapping the bag of green stuff. "With any luck, we can have it out this weekend."
She gave him a giant grin, much like the one she gave me. Edward's bedside manner was so gentle and fluid.
"Oh, please, man, get the thing out. I want to eat again!"
"Well that's a positive, but all in good time, okay?"
I left at that point, so muddled. My heart wanted to get to know him, intimately, but my head kept crying 'Danger! Danger!' And showing me that image of him and Bitch-face Dr Mallory.
That evening, after Seth went to bed, I changed into my pyjamas, dug out a bottle of wine, and settled in front of the TV. Not ten minutes later, my phone beeped with a text from Edward.
Alice thinks you're The Bomb & that you + me have 'chemistry.' Did I mention she's my fave patient? LOL, you okay pet? Edward x
I loved that he took the time to chat with her, even if it was about me.
LOL. Meddling little pixie. I'm good, what are you up to at weekend? B
Annie + I are visiting my folks. Back Sun. You + Seth free then? E x
Could be. Why? B
Having BBQ with a few friends Sun afternoon, inc Angie. Please come. Edward x
I hesitated, but then decided to go with my gut instinct, which really wanted to see him, all the damn time. Something just didn't add up. He was a wonderful, warm, caring doctor who adored his daughter more than his own life. Annie had never mentioned her daddy having a girlfriend or a friend called Lauren. No, the voice inside me warning me off Edward was clearly getting quieter.
Okay. Should I bring something, dessert?
Just yourselves, but wouldn't turn away a plate of those banoffee bar things you made the other week.
No problem. See you on Sunday. Sweet dreams, B xx
Can't wait. Sweet dreams to you too, pet. E x
By the time Sunday lunchtime rolled around, I was bouncing off the walls with anticipation, and completely failing to rein myself in.
"Mam, what's up with you?" asked Seth. "You're all giddy, like."
"I'm fine, baby." I forced myself to focus on something else. "Now, have you tidied up your room and made your bed?"
"Mam, do I have to?" he whined. "It'll just get messy again."
I stood with my hands on my hips and gave him my best 'boss' look.
"All right, all right, I'm going ..."
Not long after, once Seth's room was in order and I had packed up the banoffee cake bars into a box, we walked the half-mile to Edward's unpretentious, semi-detached house, not much bigger than mine. His car was similarly modest, a silver Volvo which was a few years old.
When we got to the house, Edward opened the door wearing a black and white striped Toon Army apron, over jeans and a black t-shirt. He looked absolutely edible.
"Hey!" He stepped forward and brushed my cheek with a light kiss, his hand resting on my shoulder. "So pleased you could make it."
"Thanks for inviting us."
"Thanks, Edward," echoed Seth. "Mam made these." He held out the box of cake bars.
"Oh, champion, they look delicious," he replied. "Come on through."
Edward showed us to the back garden, where Angela, her fiancé Ben, who I recognised from her photos in the office, and Emmett were sitting around an outdoor dining table, next to a large gas barbecue. Annie was on a swing set, chatting animatedly to a tall blonde woman, who I recognised as the aloof blonde I had seen demanding Emmett's attention on the ward. She looked far more relaxed, wearing a seventies-style, denim jumpsuit and plimsolls, her hair loose and soft around her shoulders.
Annie looked over, spotted me and Seth, and came running over.
"Seth, Bella, you came! Rosie, look, they came!"
She hugged me tightly around my waist before doing a complicated handshake with Seth. She then grabbed his hand and led him to the swings.
The blonde sauntered over.
"Hi, I'm Rosalie Hale, Emmett's fiancée. And you're the famous Bella." She surprised me by giving me a warm hug. Evidently, the iciness was a work persona.
"You and your son are all Edward and Annie have talked about for weeks."
"Oh." My cheeks coloured up; I was sure I looked like a tomato. "I didn't realise we were so interesting."
"When Edward's into someone, he's all-in. When you texted him back on Friday, he was ecstatic. Don't tell him I told you that. He wants to seem chilled out, but you've got him tied up in knots."
"He's lovely," I mumbled back. "Have you known him long?"
"Seventeen years, since the start of medical school."
Edward whistled then, causing us to look again.
"Come along now ladies. Watch me be all rugged and manly, like, and cook you up some meat."
"Or scorch off your eyebrows," retorted Angela.
"Hey now, that was only one time!"
Everyone else burst into fits of laughter.
The afternoon meandered into the evening as we shared delicious food and conversation, and I couldn't remember the last time I'd felt so relaxed around people. I learnedthat Rosalie and Emmett were getting married in the autumn, but had decided not to delay trying for a baby. Rosalie was thirty-six; she had wanted to wait until she became a consultant before starting a family, and had got the top job six months earlier.
Edward was still at least a year away from getting a consultant post; he had spent some time doing research so that he could be around more when Annie was little, and that had delayed his ascent up the career ladder.
"I don't mind taking the scenic route though. I'll never regret a moment spent with my princess."
"It's right good you see her regular, man," put in Emmett. "There are plenty of single dads who don't."
"I know. I'm grateful Jessica and I get on well enough to be civil, even if we do disagree on parenting styles."
"If you don't mind me asking, who left who?" I finally mustered up the courage to enquire.
"She left me, pet. She took up with Michael Newton. He's a cosmetic surgeon. She went to see him to get liposuction after Annie was born. Soon after, she started pestering me to switch from abdominal to cosmetic surgery. When I refused, she left me for him."
"What, why … Because you'd earn more money as a cosmetic surgeon?"
"Aye. That was exactly it. I was devastated. I begged her to come back at first, but I couldn't bring myself to give up my dream of being a general and abdominal surgeon, and she wouldn't give up hers."
"What was hers?"
"To be a millionaire surgeon's wife," stated Angela, angrily. "She's such ..."
"Angie and I could bitch all day and night about Jessicow, so I'm changing the subject," interrupted Rosalie, and Edward looked at her gratefully. "I just found out today that I'm getting Moaning Mallory on my team come August." She crinkled her nose in disdain.
"Ach, I feel for you, Rosie," replied Edward, "although I'm glad to be getting shot of her."
Every cell in my body perked up.
"You, uh, and Dr Mallory ... You don't like her?"
"Bella, every day for the past five months, I have cursed the professors who gave that girl a medical degree. She's lazy, rude and far more interested in acquiring a husband than a surgical career. I mean, the way she was with Seth when he was poorly ..."
"I wanted to strangle her," I admitted.
"The day after Seth's operation, I had words with her, telling her to sort out her attitude."
"I heard about that in the ladies' changing room. She was whinging that you wouldn't put in a good word for her at her review or something."
"Too right, Rosie. What kind of doctor would I be if I gave my support to a trainee who couldn't find some compassion for a sick little boy?" Edward glanced at Seth and Annie, who were playing on the lawn, and his face softened. "She even tried to come onto me to get me to change my mind. Yuck." He shuddered with revulsion.
"Yuck, what a ho!" cried Angela. "Will she get fired?"
"Probably not, unless Edward files a harassment complaint," muttered Rosalie.
"She's not worth the hassle," Edward interjected. "And I can't be sure that she didn't genuinely think I was interested. She has an ego the size of Britain."
"I expect she'll get a reprimand and be advised to change career paths," continued Rosalie. "She hasn't gotten her surgical membership exams yet and keeps shirking her operating time. Those two facts alone are grounds."
I sat back in my chair, thinking back to what I had seen that morning, and realised that I had made a terrible mistake.
Dr Mallory was propositioning him.
He's not into her, not at all.
I'm officially a prize idiot.
"Hey, are you okay, pet?" Edward asked. His expression was gentle and concerned.
I inched closer to him and kissed him on the cheek.
The look of surprise on his face and his full-beam smile melted my heart.
I nodded, biting my lip.
"I'm glad," he murmured, squeezing my hand lightly under the table. I turned my palm upwards and linked my fingers with his. He stroked his thumb back and forth across my knuckles as he held my gaze intently. My body shivered and fluttered at his touch.
The chorus of 'Ooh' and kissy noises broke our silent moment, and Edward ducked his head shyly, but hardly let go of my hand for the rest of the evening.
The next day, I was in a fantasticmood, and it was made even better by two emails about Alice Brandon. One was from a local housing project in a lovely area of the city. They had accepted Alice for a place in a shared house with just one other girl, who also had chronic health problems. It was just the stepping-stone she needed towards a healthier life. The other was from the Crohn's Disease Society. They had responded to my request for support for Alice, stating that they were sending over a local volunteer mentor in the next few days. His name was Jasper. He was twenty-five and was doing well after years of struggling with his own illness.
Later that afternoon, I found myself with a free half hour and decided that I couldn't wait to share the news with Alice. However,when I walked onto the ward I could feel in my bones that something wasn't right. Alarms were sounding, and the nurses' station was deserted. I walked towards Alice's bed, and suddenly people in scrubs were running past me.
They were running to Alice.
"... Kate, establish large-bore venous access. Sarah, do a septic screen. Fred, I need an arterial blood gas, stat. Nurse, be ready with that bag of O-neg when Kate gets the IV line in. Emmett, call up to theatres and tell them to prep ..."
It was Edward's voice frantically barking orders. I couldn't help but look through the melee of people, to see Alice, who was lying prone on the bed, unconscious, white as a sheet and utterly still, and to see Edward, dressed in scrubs, his brow sweaty as he tried to manage the situation.
"Bella ... I'm sorry, pet, you need to let us work on her," he told me firmly. He was clearly in charge, but his eyes belied his worry and despair. "I'll be in touch."
I nodded, and backed away, praying that Alice would make it through to live her simple dreams.
I didn't hear anything from Edward all day, and the two texts I sent, were unanswered. I got home, made dinner, helped Seth with his homework and got him into bed. At ten o'clock, just as I was getting ready to go to bed, too, there was a gentle knocking on the front door. I opened it cautiously.
It was Edward, still wearing scrubs, with an utterly defeated look on his face.
"May I come in, Bella?"
I took him by the hand, shut the door behind him and led him to the sofa where we sat down, side by side.
"Is she ... has she ... gone?" I asked in a shaky voice, my heart pounding.
"No. It was close, though." He started to tremble. "So fucking close."
I opened my arms, and he fell into them, burying his head into my shoulder and curling his arms around my waist. I tucked my knees up and cradled his torso with them as he sobbed softly, spilling tears onto my top as I tried to soothe him by stroking the back of his head.
"Shh, shh ... I've got you, love, I've got you."
Eventually, he calmed down enough to explain what happened.
"She started bleeding internally, and her bowel froze up," he told me, sitting up to face me as his legs surrounded my body. "Because she was on blood thinners, her blood didn't clot together, and all the blood collected in her abdomen. She also picked up a serious, intra-abdominal infection, because digested food got through a near-microscopic gap."
"Edward, it sounds as if you blame yourself."
"I did her surgery, Bella. I prescribed the blood thinners. It's my fault."
"It isn't. If you hadn't done those things, she could have died from her Crohn's, or died of a blood clot travelling to her lungs."
"Maybe ... How did you know that was why she was on blood thinners?"
"My mam. They gave her blood thinners when they were trying to treat her for her pancreatic cancer. They couldn't though. She died a couple of months later."
"Oh, pet, I'm sorry. When was that?" He gripped my waist more tightly.
"Nearly ten years ago, when I was nineteen. The day after her funeral, I ran away to London."
"That was why you were 'in a bad place' when you met Seth's father?"
"Oh Bella ..."
"Sorry, you came over to offload, and we don't need to go into my past right now."
"I want to know," he insisted. "I told you before that I want to know all about you."
"Why? Why do you bother?"
"Because you're a beautiful person, inside and out. I've never met a woman who loves someone as ferociously as you love Seth. I can't believe how hard you're working on Alice's behalf. She said you make her day, each time you visit."
He pressed his forehead to mine, so he was looking right into my eyes, so close his eyelashes tickled my brows. "You make my day, too. I wish I knew how to get you to feel the same way I do. I think you're incredible."
"Be the man you are right now, because I'm getting there."
"And you don't think I'm a sap for crying?"
"Never. The empathy you have for your patients astounds me. And you talk about me loving my son ferociously, but what about the way you love Annie and defend her right to be a child?"
We were both silent except for our breathing, which grew deeper and slower. Edward then curled his fingers into the ends of my long, brown hair before kissing my temple. Our limbs were comfortably entangled, and I felt shivers of desire ripple down my spine. I found myself leaning forward, and becoming intoxicated by his manly, yet sweet, scent.
The minute gap between us disappeared as our lips met, and my head felt as if it weregoing to burst with the feeling of pure joy as his mouth moved softly against mine. He gently sucked my bottom lip between his and ran the tip of his tongue along it, as his hand swept up my back and caressed my neck.
I responded by running my hands down his hard chest and lean abs, and then ducking under his scrub top to feel his warm skin, dappled with wiry hair. Within seconds, he was topless, and my lips were moving down his throat and over his sexy Adam's apple.
"Mam!" Seth's sudden cry and the sound of little feet getting out of bed halted us. "Please may I have a glass of water? I'm thirsty!"
"Okay, baby, I'll bring one up in a minute. Get back into bed," I called back.
"I should go," whispered Edward, putting his scrub top back on. "Bella, I didn't come over intending for that to happen, you know? I just needed to see you, like."
"I know." He pulled me into his arms and kissed me quickly.
"I'm very glad it did, though. When can I take you out, pet?"
"Saturday? My dad's taking Seth to Newcastle's charity match against Sunderland, and keeping him for the night."
"Perfect. I'll text you."
With one final kiss and hug, he disappeared into the night.
Alice remained on the Critical Care Unit all week, and on Friday afternoon I was finally allowed to visit.
"Bella," she croaked, "I was hoping you'd come."
"I came as soon as they let me."
"I'm such an idiot. If I'd only listened ..."
"What do you mean?"
"They told me when they took out my nasal tube, to try clear liquids, then light soups and soft stuff. But I got over-excited and went straight from soup to eating crisps and cookies. I damaged my insides. All that time Edward spent fixing me, and I went and broke myself with an Oreo."
"I don't think it's that simple, sweetheart. I read up on the surgery you had. Leaking and infection are common problems. They just affected you severely."
A tear trickled down her pale, drawn face.
"I nearly died."
I took her hand.
"But you didn't. It was a setback, and it's going to take a little longer, but you're going to get through this," I replied firmly. "Now, I have some good news for you."
I told her about the housing project and the mentor, and it seemed to boost her spirits a little. She asked me if I'd get in contact with the mentor guy, Jasper, to ask him to visit as soon as possible. She wanted to talk to someone who understood what she was going through.
The next evening, I went through my entire wardrobe in preparation for my date with Edward. I finally decided to keep things simple, with a layered cream skirt that hugged my torso and flared at the hips, a black and cream floral blouse and my beloved, old, black leather biker jacket. Not keen on high heels, I decided to wear a pair of low-heeled black wedges.
"Wow," Edward murmured when I opened the door to him. He was wearing jeans with a grey check shirt and a charcoal jacket, smelling particularly delicious. "Bella, you look even more beautiful than usual." He stepped forward. "Come here, pet."
I walked into his arms, and he slid his hands around me, and then gently pecked me on the lips.
"Hmm ... have I ever told you that I love the way you smell?" I blurted after inhaling his scent.
"No ..." he beamed at me. "I'm sure I'd have remembered that."
I nuzzled my nose against his chest, and he kissed the top of my head.
"If you keep doing that, we won't be leaving the house, and the taxi's waiting."
"Where are we going?"
"I thought we'd cross the Tyne and go to Gateshead Quays."
"Oh, the other side of the river? An adventure!" I joked as I locked up the house. He chuckled.
"Aye, I hope you like what I've planned."
It took less than ten minutes in the taxi to get to the Quays, and it pulled up outside BALTIC, an art gallery with a stunning rooftop restaurant. It had amazing views of the River Tyne, the old arches of the Tyne Bridge and the contemporary Millennium Bridge.
To my surprise, however, when we got into the lift, we stopped on the second floor.
"Are we not going to dinner?"
"Aye, but our table's not for a couple of hours. I have something else planned first."
We stepped out into a bright, large gallery space, which was hosting an event.
Cinematography in Black and White: The Best of British, 1895-1970
"They're showing a movie tonight as part of the exhibition," he whispered into my ear, his large hand grasping my waist.
I gasped. I couldn't believe Edward had remembered that it was one of my favourite films.
"Good, because it starts in ten minutes."
Curled against Edward in the back of a dark viewing room, I was grateful he had picked a movie I knew, line for line, because I wasn't paying it much attention. Instead, my thoughts drifted to the heat his large hand created, resting onthe small of my back, and daydreams of his lips, which were mostly pressed against my temple, teasing me in other places. His long, elegant fingers drumming against my knee, taunted me, making me wonder how they would feel caressing my deepest, most private spots.
I could feel my body responding to my increasing arousal, further awakening cravings inside me that had been buried for a long time—until I met him. He had been unbelievably patient with me, mostly unaware of the reasons why I was so careful, and yet, he was still here for me.
Edward had managed to score us the best table in the restaurant, with a view of the Tyne, but without too many other tables around. Over a bottle of Riesling and a seafood platter starter, I found the courage to tell him the missing details.
I told him about my childhood, and how unusually close I was to my parents. I told him about the day we found out my mother, Renee had cancer, and how, when she died, my grief had been overwhelming. I lost myself in drugs, and the day after my mother's funeral, Charlie tried to intervene by calling our family doctor, and I packed my bags and left for London, leaving everyone and everything behind. I had a waitressing job in London at first, but soon lost it when I got into using cocaine on a daily basis.
Edward brought the conversation to Seth's father, Laurent. He had been my dealer, and a charming, attractive man who was extremely persuasive. When I no longer could pay, he gave the stuff to mefree as long as I stayed with him as his girlfriend. At the time, in my coke-addled state, it felt like a good thing. He made it seem as though he cared about me, loved me even. However, as my addiction grew, hetreated me more and more like a possession. When I became pregnant, it was the reality check I needed. I came away from the medical centre determined to come off drugs and to be treated better in my relationship.
"Laurent didn't see it that way. He beat me up good and proper, and told me if I was still pregnant afterwards, I should get an abortion."
"Bella, tell me you didn't go back to him."
"No. When I was in the hospital, they called a social worker for me, to help me get away and back on my feet. His name was Seth Clearwater."
"Your Seth's named after him?"
"Yeah. Big Seth got me to see an addictions psychiatrist, and with the help of a special midwife, he got me somewhere to live and helped me rekindle my relationship with my dad. He and his sister Leah soon became my best friends. With their help and support, I managed to go to university to get my degree in Social Work."
"Did you and he ever ...?"
"No, Big Seth was gay. But he and Leah were my London family."
"Unfortunately, in September, he got knocked off his cycle by a bus. He died instantly. Just like that, he was gone."
"Oh, pet." Edward leaned across and linked his fingers through mine. "How devastating."
"Aye. It tore Leah and me into shreds. She worked for the Foreign Office and took a job in Washington DC a few months later. Then it was just Seth and me in London, with nobody close."
"No wonder you're careful, Bella. You've been through so much loss."
"It's part of life. I mean, you've had losses of your own; what about your marriage?"
"Aye, although when Jessica left me, it wasn't her I was devastated about losing as much as Annie and our family life. We'd been together since we were twenty, and I just assumed that the loss of spark was what happened to marriages with time."
"And there wasn't anyone after her?"
"Ach, no. I went on a few dates, and had a couple of one-nighters, which I'm not right proud of, but that were it. Between work, clinical research and running around after Annie, I had no time to go out to meet women. And I definitely didn't want to go out with any of my work colleagues."
"Too messy if it had gone wrong." He took a long sip of his wine. "What about you, pet?"
"Not much to report. I never went looking for a serious relationship because being a single working motherwas tough enough while Seth was small. I got asked out a few times by work colleagues, but never went there."
"So you know what I mean?"
"Yeah ... you know, I thought you were with Dr Mallory for a long time. It wasn't until the barbecue that I realised I'd made a mistake."
"Ach, no way!"
"Aye." I told him what I had seen the morning after Seth's appendix operation. "When I got to know you it left me right confused. Why would such a lovelyman go out with such a bitch? It didn't make sense."
Edward sat back in his chair and sighed.
"I understand now. We get on so well, pet, but you always held back, until the barbecue."
"Don't you be sorry, it was an honest mistake. You didn't know me then, and I can imagine how it looked."
We finished our main course in relative silence, trading bites of saffron risotto and monkfish as we smiled and played footsie under the table. The tension between us was palpable.
"Do you want to stay for dessert?" I asked as I put my cutlery together.
"Only if you want to, Bella." I shook my head. "I'll get the bill then."
After settling up, Edward and I strolled towards the lifts hand in hand, when I spotted an unattended little nook. Impulsively, I pulled him into it.
"Thank you, love. Thank you for the movie and for dinner."
I stood up on my tiptoes, curled my hand into his thick hair and kissed him hard. He moaned into my mouth and gathered me up, his strong arms pressing me against him. He braced his back against a wall and slipped his tongue past my lips, caressing mine softly. I kept my hands at the back of his neck, just stroking the velvet skin there while his hands wandered up and down my back, before resting them just above my ass.
"Come on now, folks, break it up." A light was shined into the nook, and I couldn't help the growl of frustration that escaped from my lips. "You canny do that here."
We turned towards a security guard, and mumbled apologies before Edward led me back to the lifts.
"Who knew that my quiet, little Bella could be a proper minx, like?"
"You think I'm a minx now? Just wait until we get home."
He enclosed his arms around me from behind and kissed me behind my ear.
"Bella, I just want to make sure I heard you right. By 'home,' you mean your house?"
"Aye." I felt him smile against my skin.
"Am I staying over?"
He flashed me one of his signature, dimply, crooked grins.
It had been a long time since a man had touched me, and even longer since I had been absolutely desperate for it, but desperation didn't even begin to describe the raw need I had for Edward. We were restrained during the taxi ride home, but the moment we were through my front door and standing in my living room, his hands were all over me, and I wasn't much better.
I gripped the lapels of his jacket and pushed it off his broad shoulders. He cupped my face and his long fingers anchored in my hair. His lips descended upon mine, and he wasn't gentle as his tongue demanded entrance to my mouth. He combed his fingers through my hair and slipped his hands down my back before squeezing my ass. I was so surprised by the feel of his hands there that I let go of his lips.
"I've been dreaming of this ass since the day I met you," he mumbled, before placing hot, wet, kisses down my neck and across my chest, unbuttoning my blouse as he went. "And these tits ... so fucking sexy."
I thrust my tits against his mouth, and he pushed my cream lace bra down, suddenly exposing my tight, swollen nipple to the air. Immediately, it was captured between his teeth and I screamed in shock and delight as he nibbled and sucked.
"Ah, Edward ..."
"Here," I insisted. "Need you."
"There's no rush, Bella."
"We can do slow later. Fuck me here and now."
"Whatever you want, it's yours."
His hands dipped under my skirt, and he yanked my lace thong down my legs. While I kicked them off entirely, he sat down on the sofa, groaning slightly before rubbing his groin. Even in the faint light from the streetlamps outside, I could see that he was hard.
"Is this what you want, my pet? You want me and my cock?"
He held his arms open, and I straddled his lap, the rough of his jeans tantalising my thighs. He pushed his hand between us, and I threw my head back in ecstasy as he probed my throbbing, wet slit.
"More," I croaked, fumbling with his shirt buttons, frantically trying to get to his skin.
His long fingers glided through my wetness, and suddenly I was full of them, stroking delicious, sensitive spots within me that had lain dormant for way too long. I felt dizzy, my head, my heart and my loins so full of pleasure I barely could recall my name. I rocked back and forth, and Edward grunted lowly.
"Ach, Bella, you're so fucking sexy ... I need to see you come."
He thrust his fingers deeper, faster, passing his thumb across my needy clit. I tipped forward and buried my face into his neck as my ecstasy peaked, screaming as I rode out the most spectacular orgasm I'd had in my entire life.
Edward's lips against my cheekbone brought me back to reality. I turned my face and gently flicked my tongue against his lips. He parted his mouth, unable to stop smiling as I attacked the fly of his jeans to get at his cock. I couldn't resist a glance at it when I finally freed it from the denim.
Unsurprisingly, it was as handsome as its master was. Long, straight and proud, with decent girth and a pearlescent, purple head that was leaking, just for me. Edward pulled his fingers from me, and I pushed his hand towards his mouth. He didn't need the hint; he sucked his digits clean of my juices eagerly while I slowly pumped his beautiful member.
"I want this inside me," I told him, rubbing his tip. "Please, love, fuck me?"
"Then you'd better get up here, hadn't you, pet?"
I scrambled to position myself, bracing myself by gripping Edward's shoulders, and then slid down onto his dick.
"Aye, I second that," he groaned. "You're so tight, Bella."
"Uh-huh," I agreed, wriggling a little to adjust to the burn I was feeling from being stretched. Once I was perfectly situated, I began to move.
Edward shuffled down so my breasts dangled in his face. Whilst his mouth took care of my tits, his hands swept all over me, divesting me of my shirt and bra before finally settling on my bare ass.
"You feel so perfect, pet," he whispered. He squeezed my ass, and I moved faster, spurred on by a desire to see and feel him come. "Oh, fuck."
I leaned forward and braced myself on his shoulder, pressing my boobs further into his face. One of his hands left my bum and found my clit; he pulled it, flicked it, and rolled it relentlessly, until I was the one crying, 'Oh fuck,' and riding out a second, epic, climax.
"Bella, pet, I need to ..." Suddenly heat and throbbing filled me as he yelled my name over and over again.
I collapsed against his pounding chest, listening to his erratic, uneven breathing settle. The heat from his body was intoxicating, and when his arms came around me, I felt safe and protected. The last person to make me feel so was my mother.
"Thank you," I eventually murmured.
"Thank you, Bella." He rubbed a thumb across my swollen lips and I sucked it into my mouth. His lips shuffled along my jaw to my ear, and he nibbled my lobe.
"You're still inside me," I observed.
"I don't want to be anywhere else, pet. Since the moment I met you, I've wanted to be connected to you. I can't quite believe you're finally letting me."
"You make it sound as though you think you'll lose me if you come out of me."
He looked up and turned my face towards him.
"Aye, that's exactly how I feel. You were distant for so long, and now I understand why, but I'm still afraid that when you realise how much you mean to me, you'll get scared and run away."
A lone tear sprung up and thenescaped from my eye.
"I can see why you feel that way. You've had to be patient and chase me, not knowing why I've been so skittish, like, and I'm sorry."
"Ach, it's all right."
"It's not. Edward, you are the man of my dreams, and my dreams don't normally come true. If you stay with me, I'll probably freak out from time to time and try to push you away."
"I'm not going anywhere, Bella. Bottom line, do you want to be with me, long term, like?"
"And Annie, too?"
"Of course, she's amazing. And Seth?"
"The happiest kid in Tyneside who's a Toon Army fan 'til he dies?' I adore him, pet."
I curled my arms around his neck, and Edward curled his around my waist before manoeuvring us so that we were lying down, with me on top of him. Then, he slipped out of me, leaving me cold and empty. Instantly, I understood what he meant about our connection. Edward tangled his fingers in my hair, fingers heavy with my scent, and kissed the top of my head. I snuggled against him, and before I knew it, we both fell asleep.
The sound of a phone ringing roused me from slumber. It was the ringtone for my dad's house. I opened my eyes to bright sunlight streaming into the house. A glance at the clock on the TV showed that we had slept through the night; it was nearly eight o'clock.
"Too early," Edward mumbled.
During the night, we had turned, so we were on our sides, facing each other. My head throbbed slightly, I was sore, and we had made an almighty mess of each other's clothes and my sofa, but otherwise, I felt bloody wonderful.
"It'll be Seth, love." I extracted myself from his arms and went to retrieve my phone from my handbag. "Morning baby, how was the match?"
"Mam, Mam, I met some of the players! Gosling and Taylor said hello and Cissé waved at me!" My son barely drew breath as he talked. "And afterwards, Grandpa Charlie took me to Pizza Hut and I had a whole pepperoni pizza all to myself. Next time we go to St James's Park, Grandpa says Annie can come too if Edward agrees. Do you think Edward will let her come?"
I glanced over at Edward who had sat up and was rubbing his face, his chestnut hair sticking up on one side, matted on the other. When he caught me looking, he gave me his crooked, dimply grin and strode over. My heart fluttered and my tummy clenched when he took me in his arms.
"I'm pretty sure he will, but you can ask for yourself later when Grandpa Charlie brings you home for lunch."
"Edward's coming for lunch?
Even though Annie's at her Mam's house this weekend?"
"Aye, that's right, baby. Edward's going to be here."
"For a long time," Edward whispered into my other ear. "As long as you want me, pet."
As his lips caressed the side of my neck, I realised that there was never going to be a limit to wanting Edward Cullen.
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