Contest entry for the May to December Romance Contest

Title: Bar Boy

Rating
: M

Summary: Sometimes you find the thing you need most in the place you'd least expect. For Bella Swan that thing came wrapped in the packaging of a 23-year-old bartender named Edward—a man she can't ever say no to.

Disclaimer: The author does not own any publicly recognizable characters herein. No copyright infringement is intended.


The music in the bar is loud. Like, way too loud. Like my-ears-are-ringing-and-may-start-bleeding-at-any-second loud. Or maybe I'm just too old to be in a place like this. That's probably more likely. I wish Alice had included earplugs in the birthday party kits she gave all of us at the beginning of the evening. At least, most of the music's good, even if it is too loud. Or maybe it's the strobe lights that are giving me this headache.

"Bella! Let's dance!" drunk Alice slurs to me as she leans across the table and grabs my forearm. She's had more than her share of drinks tonight, but apparently, it's worth it since she only turns 30 once. I know she's pretty over the edge when it comes to crazy, but tonight's an eye opener for sure. It's no wonder her husband Jasper arranged for the limo to pick us up sharply at midnight.

"I don't even know this song," I tell her, trying to smile and act like I'm having a good time. Truth be told, I'd rather be getting waxed than sitting here with drunk college kids all around us. And of course, the thirty-somethings who are trying to be cool by the pool tables. If the dark-headed guy in the studded leather jacket winks at me one more time, I'm calling a cab and going home. I'm sure there's something decent to watch on Netflix.

Alice just laughs, throwing her hands up in the air before she grabs Jessica and pulls her onto the dance floor. At least, Jessica's only 25. She still fits in with this crowd.

It's been ages since our waitress has been by to see if we need anything. My second beer bottle's been sitting here empty for at least 15 minutes. Looking at my watch, I realize something—if I'm gonna make it another hour and a half, I'm gonna need more alcohol. And something stronger than a Bud Light.

It's like pushing through a really thick forest to get to the bar, except that trees don't "accidentally" grab your ass or graze your chest. Of course, each of the guys apologized, but when they asked for my number afterward, it kinda made it seem like they meant to do it. Whatever. It's not like I'm gonna hook up with anyone. That's Lauren's department, and she's already hooked her dick for the evening. She's been grinding all over some drunk college guy all night. I'd be willing to bet money she won't be riding home with us.

The wood bar top is thick and smooth, though in the shine from the overhead lights, I can see a few sticky patches where drinks have spilled since the bartenders last wiped it down. Once I see an open space, I lean up against it, avoiding the available bar stool to my right. There's a creeper sitting on the next stool over, and I won't be encouraging him. Not even I'm that desperate.

"Hey," the guy behind the bar says as he moves to stand in front of me. "What can I get for ya?" When I look up at him, I'm kinda struck dumb. He's gorgeous. Like, smokin' hot. His hair's all over the place, and his eyelashes are longer than most women's I know. His lips are pink and perfect, and his smile slowly grows as I stand there saying nothing, feeling like an idiot. Then I notice his shoulders, and his chest, and his arms, and his waist. Then he laughs.

"Um," I mumble, looking back up at his eyes. His green, sparkling eyes. Damn.

"Hi. Do you know what you want?"

Well, if that isn't a loaded question, I don't know what is. And by the way he's smiling at me, he knows it, too.

"Oh, um, a drink." Great, now I seem like a complete imbecile. Then it hits me—as if it matters what I seem like. There's no way he'd ever be interested in someone my age, especially not with all the cute blonde college girls with their giant boobs on full display. I let out a long breath then grab hold of the bar's edge. "Liquor. Something strong enough to get me through the rest of my friend's birthday celebration."

His smile grows, and I think my girlie parts just went up in flames. "Okay, so something strong, huh? But no preferences?"

I like his voice. It's smooth, and soft, and it's kinda deep, yet not. I don't know, but I'm pretty sure I'm getting more drunk off him than I am from the beers I've already had tonight.

"What do you like?" he asks.

"What do you mean?"

"What kind of liquor? Is there anything you love, or anything you hate?"

"Um, I don't think so."

He laughs a little as he lays his forearms down on the bar top and leans closer to me. I really like his laugh. Damn. Again.

"What flavors do you like? Peach? Raspberry? Mint?"

"Oh, I like cherry."

I can see all of his teeth as his smile gets the biggest I've seen so far. "Cherry, huh?" He nods. "Yeah, you're cherry for sure. You trust me?" I'm just about to nod when I see his hand reach forward and his index finger starts to rub over my fingertips. I'm pretty sure my heart stops because I can't feel anything.

"Uh huh," I manage to get out as I try my best to nod my agreement. He's way too handsome for his own good.. Way, way too handsome.

"Okay. I know exactly what you need."

With that, he moves away, grabbing a couple of bottles and a shaker. He scoops some ice into the metal cup, pours a little clear liquid in from one bottle and a little white liquid in from the other, and then he puts the lid on and starts shaking it. Once he's done, he gets a cocktail glass and drops one maraschino cherry into it before he slowly covers it with the liquor in the shaker. The drink is white, except for the red cherry at the bottom of the glass, which slowly turns the liquid that covers it to a light pink. It's kinda beautiful. When the glass is almost filled to the top, he stops pouring. He sets the shaker off to the side and grabs a square white napkin, placing it on the counter, then sets the glass on top of it before sliding it toward me.

"One Angel's Tit," he says with a smirk on his face.

"A what?" I ask, certain I must have misheard him.

"An Angel's Tit. Try it. I think you'll like it."

The way he's looking at me makes me feel brave, and since I know he's probably just gonna go home to some gorgeous girl with a huge rack and an ass he could bounce a quarter off of, I don't feel like I need to impress him. I grab the glass and take a drink. It's delicious.

"Wow, this is amazing. How much do I owe you?" I ask, grabbing for the cash in my jeans pocket.

"Nothing. It's on the house."

"Wait, what?" I ask. I'm confused.

"It's on me. You're my one free drink for the night. You like it, right?"

"Yeah, but I—"

"Good. I'm glad."

With that, he turns and moves to the guy next to me, asking what he'd like. I just stand there dumbfounded, noticing him glance over at me a couple times while he pops open half a dozen beer bottles. Once he's collected the money and made change, he turns back to me.

"What's your name?" he asks.

"Bella."

"I'm Edward. Take your drink and go back to your table, Bella. Unless you see something else you want behind this bar," he says, with a smile as he winks at me.

Incoherently, I nod then grab my glass and hurry back to the table. All my friends are out dancing, but I sit here on my chair, sipping the creamy cherry drink Edward made me. Over the next hour and a half, I can't keep my eyes off the bar, and I'm shocked when I realize how often he looks over at me. Maybe it's a bet or something. There are about five different guys working the bar tonight, and they're all young and good looking. I kinda wonder if maybe they try to see who can flirt with the oldest woman in the bar each night. Sounds like something hot bartenders would do to make their night more fun.

"Oh shit, it's almost midnight," Alice says as she stumbles back to the table and drops down onto her chair. "My birthday's almost over."

"The limo will be here soon," I tell her as I pick the cherry out of the bottom of my glass and plop it into my mouth. It's good, and automatically, my eyes wander back to the bar in search of Edward. But he's not there.

"Can I get you ladies anything else?" I hear from behind me as someone leans their chest against my shoulder, reaching around me to place a tray on the table before grabbing for the empty bottles we've been collecting. It's Edward. I already have his voice memorized, but now, I'm busy realizing just how good he smells.

"Hi!" Jessica calls from across the table with a smile, bouncing up and down in her seat.

"Hey," he says. I can feel his breath on my neck as his hand that isn't currently placing the empty bottles on the tray comes to rest on my waist. The weight of his skin isn't heavy, but his fingers rest in the sliver of space between my shirt and jeans, pressing into my flesh a little, and it feels like heaven. I lean back just a bit, pushing more of me against his chest.

"You're new here, huh?" Jessica asks. "I would remember you."

He laughs lowly as he tightens his grip on me. "Yeah, pretty new. You girls here for a birthday?"

"Me!" Alice yells from next to me. "It's my birthday for ... ten more minutes!" Then her face falls. "The car's coming soon. I don't wanna go home yet."

"You're leaving?" Edward asks, and I feel his posture stiffen just a bit.

"Um, yeah. We have a limo picking us up. Alice's husband set it up for us. So, yeah," I say, turning my head to the right so I can see him. His eyes are staring into mine.

"How'd you like that drink?" he asks.

"It was good."

"So you didn't see anything else you wanted while you were over there?" His eyes drop to look at my lips, then a little lower. Now I'm wondering just how much cleavage I might be flashing. And I'm wondering just how much liquor was in that drink and how drunk I am because he almost seems interested in me. There's just no way.

"Well, I mean ..."

He nods. "I get it. It's cool. You ladies have a nice night. And happy birthday."

With that, he takes his hand off my waist, picks up his tray, and heads back to the bar. I miss him as soon as he's gone.

He doesn't look back over at me the rest of the time I'm there, and when Alice's phone buzzes, telling us the limo's waiting, I sigh. The sense of rejection I feel is stupid. Edward would never want someone like me. Not that I'm old enough to be his mother, but I'm pretty sure there's probably at least five years between us. That might not be a lot when you're in your 30's or 40's, but when he's most likely in his 20's and I'm in my 30's, it's like a hundred light years in time. Still, I can't shake the missing him I already feel.

The girls stumble their way toward the door, and I grab Alice's arm. "I need to go pay for my last drink. I'll meet you outside," I tell her then turn toward the bar. Edward's down on the opposite end, so when some other guy asks what he can get me, I tell him I need to talk to Edward. After a few moments, he makes his way toward me, and his eyes get a little wider before narrowing as he slides up to the counter.

"Can I help you, Bella?"

"You asked if I saw anything behind the bar I might want."

He nods. "Yeah?"

I'm not even close to drunk, but I feel brave. "I did. I do."

He watches me for a few seconds before leaning toward me as he did earlier. "What do you see?" he asks. His voice is soft, but raw and hungry.

"You." I swallow down the laugh that's threatening to break through. The ridiculousness of this situation is finally making itself known to me. I feel like a fool. "But, I know you'd never be interested in someone like me. It's silly to even entertain that idea, and I'm sure it's some kind of old lady flirting bet you make with the other guys, so I'm just gonna go. But thank you for the drink earlier. It was wonderful. Goodnight."

I turn and hurry out the door, feeling the cool breeze on my face once I'm outside. It's late August so it's not really cold, but it is Forks after all, and it was really warm inside the bar. I let out a deep breath as I start toward the waiting limo. My cheeks warm from the humiliation that's starting to grow within me. What was I thinking? As if someone like me would ever stand a chance with a guy like Edward. Clearly, I'm losing my mind. And I can't even blame it on the alcohol because I'm not drunk. Not the slightest bit.

"Bella!" I hear from behind me. Suddenly there's a hand on my arm, turning me around. "Why do you think I wouldn't be interested in you?" Edward asks as he pulls my body toward his. I can smell him again. Everything about him is stunning.

I keep my eyes focused on his collarbones, which are just peeking out of his shirt. "I'm too old for you."

He laughs and brings his free hand up to my cheek. "You're what, like 25?"

"No," I say, shaking my head. My voice is quiet, shy. Almost ashamed. "I'm 31."

He tilts my head up until he can see my eyes. He stares into them for what feels like forever before finally leaning down and touching his forehead to mine. "You don't look it."

I'm frozen when his lips press against mine the first time, and the second time. By the third time, I press back then wrap my arms around his waist. Our lips are moving together, and this is crazy, but when I feel his tongue lick against my lip, I snap out of it and pull away. But not completely away. Just my lips from his, and I'm breathing hard and fast.

"I have to go."

"Come back. Next Friday night. Please?" he asks, his lips lightly kissing my cheek as he waits for my reply.

"Okay."

"Bella!" Alice yells from the car, and then I hear her and Jessica giggling as they make kissy sounds.

"I have to go."

"Friday," he says just before he kisses me once more, and then he lets me out of his arms.

I nod. "Friday." As I walk away, turning around several times to glance back at him, I smile. Holy fuck, he's hot. This is totally not my life.

-0-0-0-

The week has dragged on. Some days it's all I can do to get through a math lesson with my third grade class. How my friend Angela handles sixth graders and their smart little mouths, I'll never know. And my idol-slash-mentor Esme teaches high school. I'm pretty sure she carries a can of pepper spray in her purse, not that she would ever use it. I've been waiting for Friday since last Saturday night, and now that school is finally out and I'm home, I'm still not sure if I really want to go back to the bar. Alice and Jessica have teased me all week about the cute bar boy and how he totally wanted to jump me, but I just don't know. I mean, I'm not horrible to look at. I know that much. I have a decent body, but in comparison to Edward, I'm so far below him on a scale of one to ten that it's not even funny. I'm pretty sure he won't even remember me if I do show up, and then I'll have to live with that humiliation. Although, maybe I could get him to make me another one of those amazing drinks so I can figure out what he put in it.

By the time nine o'clock has come, I've decided there's nothing I need to watch on Netflix or Hulu, and I may as well go back to the bar. At least, I'll have a good woe-is-me story for the teachers' lounge on Monday morning. I don't want to look like I'm trying too hard, but I don't want to look like a slob either, so I grab my nicest jeans—the ones that Alice says make my ass look fantastic—and a halter top. My shoulders are nice, and the top's got a built-in bra so my aging girls will get the support they're beginning to need. Damn, I feel ancient.

After making an effort with my hair and putting on some makeup, I'm just about to walk out the door when the phone rings. No one ever calls me at ten at night unless it's an emergency.

"Bella! I need your help!" Alice yells in a somewhat hushed voice when I answer the call.

"What's up?" I can hear a slight panic in her words, but I don't think it's anything terrible.

"Jasper's car broke down in Port Angeles again. He needs me to come get him, but I just put the kids to bed, and I really don't want to wake them up. They'll cry the whole way there and back. Is there any way you can come over while I go get him?"

Looking at the clock, I realize this most likely means I'll miss Edward. Not like it will matter since I'm pretty sure he'll be flirting with lots of other women tonight.

"Yeah. I'll be right over."

She's waiting outside when I pull up. "I don't know why he insists on keeping that stupid car. It's older than he is. Ugh, classic piece of shit," she huffs. "Thank you so much."

"Of course."

She pauses for a moment and looks at me. "You're sure dressed up for ten o'clock on a Friday night. Oh no," she gasps. "Were you on a date? Did I interrupt something?"

I didn't tell her what Edward said last weekend so she has no clue I'm supposed to meet him. If she did know, she never would have called. Operation "Find Bella a boyfriend and get her laid" is her favorite after-work activity.

Smiling, I grab for her hand. "No, it's fine. I was playing around with makeup, that's all. You didn't interrupt anything."

"Are you sure?" she asks, glancing over at her car.

"Yep. Go. I'll be fine. Be careful."

She rushes off, and I go inside. Netflix is already on, and I start scanning, finally stopping on some old comedy movie from my high school days. I've seen it a million times. What's one more?

It's around twelve-thirty when they finally get back. Knowing they're both exhausted, I tell them goodnight and hurry out to my car. Looking at the clock, I know I have two choices. Either I can go home and forget all about Edward and those smoldering green eyes of his, or I can put my big girl panties on and go to the bar. If I go now, I can make it by twelve-forty-five, and since they don't close until one, maybe he'll still be there. What the hell, I whisper to myself.

The bar's not packed, but I don't see Edward anywhere inside. I find an empty bar stool and take a seat, waiting for someone to notice me.

"We're closing in about ten minutes," one of the bartenders says to me after I've sat down. I recognize him from last week.

"I know. Um, I'm here to see Edward. Is he working?"

The guy looks at me kinda strange before he starts to smile. "Yeah, he's working. Is he expecting you?"

I nod. "Yeah, I hope so. I'm Bella."

He starts to laugh. "No shit. Well, he's gonna be stoked. He's been talkin' about you all week. He was pretty bummed you didn't show tonight."

"Well, the night's not over."

"No, ma'am, it's not." He smiles even brighter at me. "I'm Emmett. Let me go find his little whiny ass."

He starts to leave then turns back to me. "Cherry, right?" he says, pointing his finger at me.

"Um, yeah?"

He moves quickly around the bar, grabbing and pouring things into a glass. "One cherry coke. On the house."

He slides over a glass that's got Coke and cherries in it then heads off through a doorway behind the bar. It's probably two or three minutes before I see Edward come walking through the same doorway Emmett left through. His eyes scan across the room before finally settling on me. The way his lips curve upward makes me pause mid-sip, and I nearly drop the glass.

He's even better looking than I remembered.

"Bella."

"Hi," I quietly say, hoping he can hear me over the music. It doesn't seem as loud as it was last week. I'm glad.

"I didn't think you were coming."

"Oh, um," I say, placing the glass back on the bar. "My friend needed me. It was kind of an emergency. I'm sorry."

He smiles as he leans his forearms on the bar top and gets closer to me. "It's okay. You're here now. I thought maybe I freaked you out last week."

"Nope. You didn't."

After a few moments of quiet and something I can't even describe that seems to be happening between us, his fingers fold over my hand.

"I need to finish one thing. I'll be right back. Please don't leave."

"I won't."

As if I could go anywhere with him looking at me like that. His eyes have me pinned to my seat, and I'm not leaving unless he's taking me.

I'm nervous and I chug the rest of my drink. The ice rattles around the glass as I fish out the cherries and eat them one by one. I'm a little surprised when someone sits down on the stool next to me until I look up and see that it's Edward.

"Will you dance with me?" he asks. There's a hopeful look on his face, and I almost feel bad about having to turn him down. Almost. My lack of coordination is nearly lethal. I really can't inflict that upon him.

"I don't really dance. Like, I'm not good at it. Sorry."

"I didn't ask if you do dance, or if you can dance. I asked if you would dance. With me. I'll lead, don't worry."

He stands up from his seat and holds his hand out, waiting for mine. I can't say no to him. I realize as he's pulling me out onto the floor that if he wants anything from me, I'm pretty much gonna give it to him. I'm not a one-night-stand kinda girl, but for him I could be. Just the thought of seeing and touching him when all his clothes are gone and having his lips on me again is almost enough to make me drag him out the door right now. And I don't even know his last name yet. I think I might just be a slut. A 31-year-old school-teaching cat-owning slut. Damn, he's already got me, and he doesn't even know it yet.

There aren't too many people left in the bar, and only a handful of couples are on the dance floor. The song changes as we get to the edge of the tables, and I feel Edward's hand tighten around mine as he pulls me along for a few more steps. Once we've reached the spot he wants to be in, he turns to face me and puts his hands on my hips, guiding me into his embrace.

I'm dazed for a moment by how smooth and assured he is. I don't even know how old he is, but he seems so steady and determined. I like it, and soon enough, my hands are creeping up his muscular arms and wrapping around his neck. As I feel his hands slide along my hips, resting at the small of my back, I feel his fingers dip lower and push into the tops of my back pockets. My girly parts are awake and aware of what's going on, and I'm feeling like I could fly. Or burst into flames. I'm not quite sure yet which one it will be.

He starts to sway, pulling me against him and pushing his thigh between mine. His legs are bent just a little, bringing his face closer to mine, and I tilt my head back and tuck in under his chin. Damn, he smells so good. Damn this man. Damn, damn, damn. He's rubbing against me, moving and swaying. Then I feel his lips at my ear, and he starts to hum along with the song. Just when I think his voice can't possibly get any sexier, he starts to sing the words to me.

I'm so fucking screwed.

"But I just can't wait no more,
Can't let you slip out that door,
Prettiest thing I ever seen before ..."

"You sing, too?" I whimper. Yeah, I'm melting fast.

"For you, I can do anything." His lips press into the skin under my ear, and I'm pretty sure he can feel my nipples hardening against his chest. He's so sexy. And he's dancing with me. Holy shit.

He pulls his lips and tongue away long enough to start singing again. I can feel air cooling the wet spot he left on my neck. His voice sounds so amazing. I think I'm drunk off it.

"Gotta get your number in my phone,
Gotta get me some of you alone,
We can worry 'bout it later on,
Right now just keep makin' this my favorite song."

His hands are grasping my ass, pressing me against his stomach, and he's hard. I can feel him, and he knows it. For a split second, I wonder how many other women there have been. How many other times has he done this? He doesn't seem nervous at all, and yet, I know I'm shaking, my breath is stuttering, and I can barely think straight. He must know what he's doing to me. There's no way he can't know.

As the song ends, he moves so his lips are brushing against mine, and he sings the last few lines all slow and easy and sexy.

"I bet your kiss is a soul saver ... my favorite flavor ... I want it now and later ..."

Then he kisses me, and I never want him to stop. The way his lips move over mine and his tongue slips out to lick at me has me nearly panting. His hand slides up my body, skimming across my breast before reaching up to cup my cheek, holding me still so his mouth can devour mine. I've never been kissed so good, so completely. It's as if every inch of his body is guiding the movements of his lips. I don't want it to end.

"You wanna get out of here?" he asks between kisses.

I nod.

"Can we go to your place?"

"Okay."

He pulls back and looks into my eyes for the longest time as if he's studying me or something. His eyes dart back and forth between mine, and his lips press together as he takes a deep breath in through his nose.

"This isn't a one-time thing for me. You need to know that before we do anything else. I want you for more than just one night."

My eyelids blink a few times as I process what he's saying. "How old are you?"

He smiles. "Why? Is it important?"

"You're not jail-bait, are you? I don't wanna get arrested."

His laugh rumbles through his chest. "Bella, I work as a bartender. I'd have to be at least 21 to do that."

"So how old are you?" I ask again. It's starting to make me a little nervous that he won't tell me.

He sighs. "I'm 23. That's eight years between us. I'm okay with that. Are you?"

Do I tell him now or later that my birthday is actually next week, and we're really nine years apart? What the hell, I think for the second time tonight as I once again throw caution to the wind.

"I'm fine with it. You wanna drive or should I?"

His hand that's still on my ass tightens even more as he pulls me against him. And he's still hard. Damn.

"I think we should take separate cars. That way if you change your mind, it won't be as awkward, you know?"

"Okay. But I won't change my mind."

"I sure as hell hope not."

The overhead lights begin to turn on, and I know it's after one. The bar's closed. We need to leave. I really hope my house is clean enough. I can't remember if I put away all the clothes I tried on earlier in the evening or if they're thrown all over my bed. Not like it matters. We can always have sex on the couch. Or on the floor. Or on the kitchen table.

He follows me through town. The streets are pretty quiet, so I don't have to worry about him getting lost. I tell him to park in my garage since I have the extra space, and I can see his eyes get a little hesitant. This might be the point where he freaks out about the fact that I'm 31, and I have my own house, and there's no reason someone his age should be here with me. I don't say anything. I just wait for him by the door that will lead us into my kitchen.

"What?" he asks.

"You still wanna do this, or ..."

His smile says everything I need to know. "Fuck, yes."

Before I even know what's happening, we're on my sofa, I'm straddling his lap, and his hands are everywhere. He kisses my lips, my neck, my shoulders, my chest, and I'm breathing so hard I think I might faint. It's dim in the room—the only light bleeding in from the kitchen.

"You're so gorgeous," he whispers in my ear as I weave my fingers through his hair and grind down against his crotch. "Can I?" he asks, his fingers tugging at the bottom hem of my shirt and pulling up ever so gently.

My mouth is on his neck, biting, tasting, and sucking as I murmur a "yes" to his request. I lean back and let him pull my top off then watch his eyes grow wider as my breasts bounce a little once they're freed.

"Holy shit. You're so hot," he says then buries his face between my tits. I'm rocking back and forth, wishing there wasn't any fabric between us. I can feel how hard he is, and I know he can tell how warm and wet I am. It's then that a stray thought enters my brain: I don't have any condoms. At all. I haven't needed them in about two years, so I don't buy them. Shit.

"Um, I don't have any ... um ..." I whisper, trying to pull his attention away from my nipples, one of which is being squeezed by his fingers while the other is sucked so deep into his mouth I can feel it in my toes. He pulls his mouth away, and the popping sound echoes through the room.

"I have one. It's in my wallet."

Pushing down the jealousy I feel for other girls who've benefited from him keeping a condom in his wallet, I force myself to remember he's young, this is what guys his age do, and at least, he's responsible.

"Okay." I press my chest against his face and hope he'll start sucking again.

His hands push me back ever so slightly, and he looks up. I can see the seriousness in his eyes as he stares at me. "I put it in there tonight. I was really hoping you'd show up."

"Yeah?" I ask, and I hope my voice isn't shaking too much.

"Yeah. Just you. Now stand up."

I do as he says, watching him lean forward, reach his hand back between his shoulders, and pull up his shirt. He's not the most defined as far as muscles go. There's not an outlined six or eight pack on his stomach, but he's smooth, he's slim, and I can see the bend and twist of muscles under his skin as he moves. I like it.

"Take off your jeans," he whispers just as his hands move to the belt he's wearing. I watch, almost mesmerized, as he unbuckles it and pulls the prong out of the hole in the leather then slides that out of the frame. "Off," he reminds me, and I pop the button on my waistband. Once the zipper's down, I push the waistband, sliding the fabric down my legs before bending over and stepping out.

"Come here," he says, and I step between his open legs. His hands run up and down my thighs, wrapping around the back where his fingers play along the edge of my underwear. He plants kisses on my stomach, rubbing his nose along my hipbone and under my breasts, making me whimper. He grabs onto the top of my lacy panties then looks up at me. "Can I?"

"Please."

With that, he's sliding them down my legs, and his lips are kissing the bare skin that's just been revealed to him. I know he can feel the goose bumps that are forming all over me, but I can't still my brain enough to care. The room's spinning, but he's holding me in place, and once my panties are on the floor, I feel his tongue softly licking the skin at the top of my thigh. As he moves closer to where I want him most, I can't help but take the smallest step to the side, giving him the space I can sense he wants. His hands wrap around my legs, moving up until his thumbs are together, rubbing circles over my pubic bone. My fingers scratch through his hair, and I can't take my eyes off of him. He looks up at me just before his tongue peeks out and licks me, almost touching my clit. I've never been so glad that I kept up with my waxing, even though I never thought I'd get laid again.

"You're so soft," he says then pushes his face deeper between my legs, and I can feel his hot, rough tongue on my most sensitive skin. Fuck, it feels good. I don't even care about the moans and grunts that are coming out of my mouth, I just want him to keep licking me and touching me. He can't ever, ever stop.

I feel the tingle in my toes, the knotting in my stomach, and it's as though he knows it because suddenly, he stops and leans back. He's got his open wallet in one hand and a foil square in the other, and soon, I'm watching him smooth the condom down over his erect cock. His eyes are planted firmly on me, racing between my tits, my pussy, and my eyes, like there's a pattern he's desperately trying to memorize. I haven't been this bare in front of a man in almost five years. Probably not since Edward was still in high school. Oh shit, how in the hell is this gonna work? He's gonna leave me a mess of want and need when he's done with me. But no matter what, at least, I'll have this night to keep in my memory. And if it's the last time I ever have sex, then at least, I went out with a bang.

"Come here," he says, reaching up to grab my hips and guide me over him. With a knee on either side of his thighs, I lean forward to kiss him then feel as he grabs his dick and positions me over him. I only need the slightest bit of encouragement, and soon, I'm sinking down, letting him fill me. Once he's inside, I stop and watch him—the way his eyes are closed, his head is laying back, his fingers are digging into the skin on my hips, and he's breathing almost as heavy and fast as I am. He feels so good, and he looks even better.

Then I start to move. At first, it's slow and steady, but once he starts to kiss me again and to touch me again, all my patience goes flying out the window. And it's also around that point I realized my living room window is covered only with a sheer curtain and the light from the kitchen is behind us. I'm pretty sure if any of my neighbors are awake at this hour, they're getting a good show. Maybe it's just shadows, but still, they're seeing it all.

I lean forward and put my hands on the back of the sofa, letting my tits hang in front of Edward's waiting mouth as I push myself up and down, going faster and harder with each stroke. He's sucking, cursing, and biting at me, and my head falls back as I take it all in. Up and down, up and down, I can feel him growing harder inside of me. I didn't think that was possible, but the way it feels is heavenly.

"You gonna come for me?" he asks, making my head spin and my heartbeat race.

"Ugh, yeah," I hear myself moaning as I go faster, and he starts to lift up, meeting me thrust for thrust.

"That's it, Bella. Fuck me. Come on. Ride my cock."

His voice is breathy and hungry, and I think I could come from just that alone. But I keep moving, keep moaning, and keep feeling. And then I'm exploding, and he's right there with me.

"Fuuuuck," he groans loudly, his head leaning back on the sofa as he watches me and wills me to look at him. The intensity in his eyes nearly cripples me, and I'm shaking around him as I fall forward, my chest on his and his arms around my waist. We're hot and sweaty and spent, and for several seconds, we both simply cling to each other, breathing heavy and letting the feelings we're having consume us. It's quiet and I wonder what's next. I hadn't really thought this far ahead.

"You okay?" he asks, his hand softly rubbing up and down my back.

"Yeah. Are you?"

A low, quiet laugh shakes his chest. "Baby, I'm amazing right now. Thank you. You're so incredible."

I lay my head on his shoulder, my face against his neck, and take in the closeness I feel with him. It's been so long, and I was really starting to think I'd never have this again. It's the one thing I miss from my life before.

"I should probably take care of this before too much longer," he says. "Sorry to kill the mood, but ... you know."

"I know," I whisper then lean away.

"Bella?" he says, stopping me when I start to pull off him.

"Yeah?"

His hands wrap around my neck, his thumbs sliding along my jawbone as he holds me, then leans forward. "Thank you," he whispers, and then he kisses me. It's intense. It's passionate. It's sweet. Most of all, it's sincere and honest, and I let myself get lost in it. I let myself—for just one moment—think of how life could be if I got kissed like this every day from the man underneath me. I let myself believe it can work, that he really does want more than just one night. I let myself have the fantasy because, in reality, I know it's not possible and that tomorrow I'll wake up alone. Because of that, I let myself live in tonight, and I kiss him back as I've never kissed anyone else before.

-0-0-0-

The sunlight is streaming through my bedroom window by the time I wake up. It's a little after nine, and for a few seconds, I wonder if I dreamed the night before. I wonder if Edward is real and if we really did what I think we did. Just as I'm starting to doubt it all, I move, and the ache in my body reminds me it really happened. My nipples are sore, and there's the good kind of dull pain between my legs. My lips are puffy, and my cheeks and neck feel like they were scrubbed with sandpaper. I smile as I remember the whole thing then laugh at how sweet Edward was before he left.

It's Saturday of Labor Day weekend, and I have student essays to grade. The kids were so excited to turn in their "What I did over the summer" essays, and it made me anxious to read them. Even though I'm pretty sure all the kids have already told me at least once about the adventures they had during their break.

I waste a few hours online then get dressed, washing the scent of Edward off my skin. I miss it already and bury my face in the shirt I was wearing last night, hoping to catch just a hint of his cologne. It's ridiculous how much I think about him, so I force myself to eat something. When I sit down on my sofa with a sandwich, visions from last night begin to play in my mind, and it's all I can do to keep myself from driving back to the bar just to see if maybe he's there.

I'm so screwed over this man. It's only been one night and already I can't stop thinking about him. I think I might be obsessed, but he's seriously so damn hot that I think it's unavoidable. As I take a bite of my sandwich, I see it under my coffee table—a small black credit card. I know it's not mine, so it must be Edward's. When I pick it up, I can see it's a gas card, and the name on the bottom is Edward Masen. Well, at least, I have his last name now. Although, after the way last night ended, I'm pretty sure I'm still high on the slut qualifications chart. He asked to see me again next week, but since I don't want him to miss his card, I decide to call the bar and see if maybe he's there, or if they'll give me his number.

"Thanks for calling Rowdy's. This is Emmett. How can I help you?" a deep voice says. I recognize it from the night before, and I really hope he remembers me.

"Hi, Emmett. Uh, this is Bella Swan. I was in the bar last night to meet Edward. Do you remember me?"

"Hey, Bella! Yeah, I remember. What's up?"

"Well, um, Edward dropped something on my living room floor last night, and I didn't want him to think he'd lost it. I was wondering if he's working today or if you maybe had his cell phone number or something. I wanted to call and let him know I have it."

He pauses for a moment, and I start to second-guess myself. Crap, maybe he really didn't want more with me than just one night. Maybe the whole "Can I see you again?" thing was just a way to get out of my house. Oh shit, this is bad.

"Well, he's not here yet, but let me see ... Yeah, okay. Sorry, I had to find it. I don't have any phone numbers memorized anymore now that I have them all in my phone. You know what I mean?" he asks with a laugh. His words make me feel a little bit better.

"Sure, I know. Um, you don't think Edward will be upset if you give me his number, do you?"

"Are you kidding me? I'm shocked you were even able to get rid of him last night." He's laughing, and I wonder just how well he knows Edward. I really hope it's well enough to make the things he's saying true. I like Edward. A lot.

After he gives me the number and tells me not to be a stranger around the bar, I hang up and call Edward. It rings a couple of times before I hear it pick up.

"Hello?" I'm caught off guard because I'm expecting to hear Edward's voice, but this isn't Edward. This is a girl, maybe a woman, with a distinctly feminine voice, and once again, I'm wondering if he's got a girlfriend at home. A girl who's gonna want to beat me up if she finds out what I did with him last night.

"Hello?" she asks again, and I'm on autopilot when I respond.

"Hi. Is Edward there?"

"Yep, hang on. EDWARD!" she yells after pulling the phone away. "Who's this?" she then asks me.

"This is Bella."

"Oh, are you a friend of Edward's?" I'm not sure what to say so I just mumble an "Uh huh" and leave it at that.

"I thought I told you to leave that alone," I hear Edward saying in the distance as his words grow louder.

"Well, it rang. I wasn't gonna just ignore it."

"Whatever. Give it to me," he says. He sounds grumpy, and it makes me wonder what's going on. "Hello?" he asks.

"Hi. Um, this is Bella."

He's quiet for a few seconds, but I can tell he's moving. "Hi. I wasn't expecting you to call. How'd you get my number?" He doesn't sound angry that I called, just surprised. Maybe happy surprised, but I'm not totally sure.

"I called the bar. Emmett gave it to me. I hope that's okay."

"Of course, it is. How are you today? Last night was fun," he says in a quieter voice.

I smile. He seems glad to hear from me. "I'm okay. Kinda sore, but the good kind, you know?"

"Yeah, I know," he laughs.

"Well, I wanted to let you know you dropped a credit card on my floor. I have it here. I didn't want you to worry."

"Oh shit, I didn't notice. Thanks. I would have freaked out, probably torn my car apart looking for it."

"Well, I have it. You can come get it, or I can bring it by, or whatever." I'm really hoping he'll want to come get it, but I'm not holding my breath.

"I'm just getting ready to go into work, but I'm off at midnight. I can come by then, if that's not too late."

"No, that's okay. I'll be up."

He laughs. "Yeah, I probably will be, too."

His comment and the tone of his voice make me giggle. I can't help it. He's sweet, and so, so cute.

"Well, you might wanna restock your wallet then."

"Yeah?" he asks.

"Yeah."

He clears his voice, and his next words are much deeper, more sure and determined. "You better be ready for me."

"I am."

And it's not a lie. I am. I'm ready for him in any way I can have him.

-0-0-0-

It's just after eleven when I hear a soft knock on my front door. Shit! He's early! I thought I had another hour to get changed and ready to see him. I check my hair in a mirror though there's nothing I can do about it now. I'm excited to see him, but a little nervous, too, so I force myself to take a deep breath on my way to the door. I can't stop wondering about the woman who answered his phone. I think before anything physical happens between us tonight, we need to talk. Especially if this relationship is going to be anything more than just sex. Even if it is the most fantastic sex I've ever had in my life.

"Hi," he says as he steps inside and closes the door behind him. "I thought about you all day."

"Yeah?" I ask, pushing a strand of hair behind my ear and trying my best to look sexy as I stand here in shorts and an old, over-sized sweatshirt. Damn, I should have changed my clothes earlier. Maybe put on some makeup. At least, I could have taken my hair out of the ponytail-knot it's in before I opened the door.

"Yep." He looks good enough to eat in his blue button-down shirt with the sleeves rolled up over his forearms and the top two buttons undone so just a little bit of chest hair can show through the V.

"You wanna sit down? Are you hungry or thirsty?"

He smiles as he stalks toward me, putting his hands on my hips and pulling me toward him. "Oh, I'm hungry all right," he whispers then leans down to kiss me, and I let him push his tongue into my mouth because I can't stop him. I don't want to, but I need to.

I lick my lips and look down at his chest after pulling away. "Can we talk? Do you wanna talk?"

I can feel his body freeze, and there's a little groan that comes from his throat.

"It's not bad, I swear." Looking up, I can see the worry in his eyes. I didn't want to do that to him.

"Usually, when girls say they wanna talk, it's not good." He looks like I stole his puppy, and it's breaking my heart. "Did I do something wrong? Are you upset with me for some reason?"

"No!" I practically shout at him. I need to calm down because I'm screwing this all up. "I want to know you. I mean, you said you wanted me for more than one night, so I thought if that's gonna happen, maybe we should talk. Find out some things about each other."

"That's all it is?"

"Yes. I promise. Come on." I kiss him lightly, hoping it makes him more comfortable. My hand wraps around his, and I pull him into my living room. I still have essays laid out across the coffee table, and when he sees them, he smiles.

"So, this is what you do for a living, huh? Write and sell essays to school kids? You know, I think that's frowned upon."

He makes me laugh. "No. I'm grading them."

"You're a teacher?" he asks, looking at me a little strange.

"Yeah. I teach third grade. This is my tenth year." Oh, shit; that was probably the wrong thing to say. "And now I feel really old again."

"Don't," he whispers, running his fingers along my cheek. "I love that you're a teacher. Do you like it? Your classes and the kids and stuff?"

"Yeah. It's all I ever wanted to do. Well, that and be a mother. But that hasn't happened for me, so if I can't have my own kids then at least I have a classroom full of them."

"Why hasn't it happened?"

I sigh as I pull him down next to me on the sofa. I know you're not supposed to bring up old relationship baggage early on in a new relationship, but he's asking, and it feels right that I tell him. I mean, if he's gonna run, I'd rather it be sooner than later. At least, that way my heart won't get completely annihilated by him.

"I was with someone for a long time. We met in college and moved in together when we graduated. We were living in Seattle, I started teaching, and he decided to go for his masters. So I supported us for the three years it took him to do that. And then when he was done, he decided to get his doctorate." I play with my fingers, remembering my life before. "I figured I'd go wherever he did, but his acceptance letter came kinda late, and I was already starting with a new class, so we thought we'd do the distance thing for a year, and then I'd move there to him."

He's listening to me, and I watch him to see his reactions. He seems okay with it so far, so I keep going.

"I went to visit one weekend. He'd been in California for almost two years. I wanted to move after that first year, but he was in an apartment with other guys, and we didn't have enough money saved up to get our own place, so I stayed. At the end of the second school year, I resigned and decided I was going, no matter what. He was supposed to come visit the next weekend; he said he needed to see me. We'd been together so long I just figured he was gonna propose, you know? I got anxious, and my dad paid for my airfare, so I went." I tuck a lock of hair behind my ear and take a deep breath. I hate this part of the story. "One of his roommates let me in, and I found him in bed with some other woman. Turns out, his big news was that she was pregnant, and he was dumping me. After we'd been together for six years, and I'd supported him for half that time."

Edward's face is sad, shocked, and I know he's pitying me. Just what I didn't want, but what I'm used to from men by now. "Wow. I'm so sorry, Bella."

"Yeah, well. I went home, finished packing up my apartment, and moved to Forks. My dad's here, and he knew the school principal. She hired me on the spot, and I was teaching a few weeks later. It's been great, other than the fact that the dating pool is pretty slim."

He smiles. "Nah, you were just waiting for me."

A laugh bubbles out of me. It's a mystery how he makes me so calm with just one look, a few words. "Yeah. Maybe."

"So you haven't dated much since then?" he asks.

"Not for the first year I was here. Then I got to know Alice, my birthday friend from the bar, and she started setting me up with anyone she could think of. I finally made her stop. I think she was a little devastated that I broke her matchmaker streak or something."

We talk about my job a little more, I tell him about buying my house, and he asks about my family and friends; it's easy between us. And not just physically.

"I'm in college. In the second year of my master's program," he tells me after I get us beers from the kitchen.

"What are you studying?" I ask.

"Forestry, land management. That kinda thing. I'm planning to work for the Forest Service."

"A forest ranger? Like Smokey the Bear?"

"Who?" he asks, and suddenly, I feel a hundred years old.

"You know, Smokey the Bear. 'Only YOU can prevent forest fires.' Please tell me you know those commercials?"

He laughs. "Um, is that an 80s' thing?"

"Oh, shit," I mumble, my face buried in my hands. He just laughs.

"I'm kidding. Of course, I know who he is. You're so easy."

"Yeah, I think you already knew that." Because, clearly, I am easy. At least, according to the slut qualifications chart.

We laugh for a few more minutes, and he tells me about his schooling and job prospects then about the crazy girl he'd dated who prompted his unplanned move to Forks.

"That's why I'm staying with family right now. I mean, she wasn't dangerous or anything, but she couldn't seem to understand that we were over. She'd show up at my apartment at all hours of the day and night. I couldn't take it anymore. Most of my classes are online, so there wasn't anything holding me there. I didn't want to leave my friends hanging, so I left most of my savings with them for rent and stuff. I'm saving up money now so I can get a place."

"That's good." I've wondered about all this, so I'm relieved that he's offering it up so freely.

"And the phone today, that was my sister. She's 12, and thinks she's 25. She's kinda driving me crazy. I really need to get out on my own."

I smile as I hold his hand, playing with his fingernails. "I'm sure she's excited to have you home, that's all."

"Maybe." He's quiet for a few moments, and even though it's silent and still between us, it's relaxed. Serene. "Bella, I don't have a house like most guys you've probably dated. And I don't have a career going yet. I don't have a retirement fund set up, and I don't have a new car. None of that stuff really matters to me, but I don't know if it does to you."

He's not looking at me, and I feel bad. Have I somehow made him feel like those are things I need and want? Because they're not, and I don't.

"Edward, I don't care about that. I mean, if you never had any desire to have a career, then maybe I'd worry, but I don't think that's you. I don't care where you live or what kind of car you have. And I don't need fancy dates or 401K statements. I like you because of you, not all that other stuff. There's plenty of time for those things."

"Are you sure?" His eyes show so many emotions. They really are like windows to his soul, no matter how cliché that sounds.

"Yes, I'm sure. Now," I say as I move to straddle his lap. "I don't think I gave you the grand tour of my house last night. There might be some other rooms you wanna see."

His smile is blinding as his eyes turn darker, predatory. "Show me."

And I do. Three times. I think his age just might be one of my favorite things about him. Youth equals stamina and quick recovery time.

-0-0-0-

Before I know it, nearly two months have flown by. I try to keep things quiet, but that blows up in my face when a huge bouquet of red roses is delivered to the school on my birthday. Everyone sees them and wants to know whom they're from. Most of the other teachers read the card before I can get to the office to pick them up. I blush when I read it for the first time, "Miss Swan, I think Van Halen got it right when they said 'I got it bad, got it bad, got it bad ... I'm hot for teacher.' Because I definitely am hot for you. And I got it bad. Happy Birthday, baby, Your Bar Boy." The gossip queens go crazy, but I don't tell them anything. I just smile and take my flowers to my classroom. And when Edward shows up at my house that night with take out and wine, I fuck him like he's never been fucked before. Or so he mumbles afterward when he's breathless and naked in my bed.

He ends up taking a picture of me wearing his shirt and saving it on his phone. Then he spends an hour calling his phone from mine just so he can see my naked thighs pop up on the screen. He pretty much spends all night making up for every birthday I've gone without sex. And I let him.

It's late-October, and I'm sitting in the teachers' lounge at school trying to eat lunch while Alice and Jessica pester me about meeting my new boyfriend. Edward and I agreed to keep it quiet for a while, so I just smile and refuse to give in.

"Hi, ladies," Esme Cullen says as she walks into the room. She practically floats, she's so elegant and graceful. Since all the schools are located in the same area, we share a teachers' lounge and administration offices. We all know each other, and she's one of my favorite people ever. She's almost like the mother I've never had, except that I do have a mother. She's just not very motherly, nor is she very involved in my life. I've always had my dad, so it's not as if I was lacking for anything. I've known Esme since a couple years after I started teaching here. She took me under her wing and taught me more than my actual mother ever could have. She's important to me, and even though she's only a few years older than I am, and most of our interaction takes place in this teachers' lounge, she's special. And the one person I want most to make proud.

"Hey, Esme," I say, followed by Alice and Jessica. A few other teachers stroll in, and soon, our table is full.

"So, book club this Friday, right?" Esme asks, sitting down next to me. "We're meeting at my house, so everyone bring a bottle of wine. I've got the food covered."

Esme has a gorgeous home, and though we try to have our girls' nights at different places, it's always a treat when we go to her house. Mainly because her husband Carlisle is there. And he's sex on legs. Before Edward came along, I could honestly say Carlisle was the most attractive man I'd ever seen. He always makes himself scarce when we're there, but once in a while, one of us will bump into him in the kitchen, or see him walking into the garage, and then we spend the rest of the night giggling and telling Esme that she's the luckiest woman in the world. Or as Jessica puts it, "She's one lucky bitch." Esme always agrees with us.

We talk a bit about our classes and the book we're supposedly going to discuss, and then Alice goes in for the kill.

"Maybe if we get Bella drunk, she'll tell us all about her new boyfriend."

The other women all stop and stare at me. "You're really seeing someone?" one of them says. "You have a boyfriend?" someone else asks.

"I'm not talking about this," I say then take another bite of my sandwich.

"So, who is he?" Esme asks. "Anyone we know?"

"He's a waiter at the bar we went to on my birthday," Alice says. "She won't tell us his name, but I think it was like Edgar or something."

"No, it was Elvis," Jessica says.

"Ugh, no. Was it Jack?" Alice ponders. "Either way, he's younger. Like, way younger. Bella's robbing the cradle."

The girls all laugh as I blush. But I'm still not saying anything.

"You know, younger men are really something else," Esme almost sings. She has a smile on her face that makes it clear she knows what she's talking about. And she does because Carlisle's younger than she is by about four years.

"So, would you agree with that, Bella?" Alice asks.

I just shake my head.

"Come on," she whines. "Let me live vicariously through you."

"Alice, you're married to your high school sweetheart. You have two amazing kids. Why would you need to live through me?" I ask.

"I got married at 19, Bella. I never sewed any wild oats. You gotta give me something."

The other girls are all egging her on, and finally, I break. "Okay, fine. One thing." They all lean closer to the table. Apparently, they're anxious to see what I'll say. "Stamina. He's got a lot of stamina, and he's very eager to please." I smile, remembering just how eager he always is. "That's all I'm saying!"

They all laugh, and I blush even more, but Esme just smiles. She knows what I mean.

"Oh, Bella, how I wish my son was a little older. You'd be perfect for each other," she tells me as she reaches over and grabs my hand. She has a son in college. I've never met him since he doesn't live in Forks, but she's always talking about how much she wishes I was younger, or that he was older. She's convinced we'd be great together. I think she's crazy, though I would never tell her that.

"I gotta get back to class. So, Friday night?" I ask, packing up my stuff.

"Yes, Friday night," Esme says with a smile. "Oh, and Bella?" she calls to me as I step away from the table.

"Yeah?"

"Honey, don't actually read the book. You know none of us are going to."

The girls all laugh, but it's true. No one ever reads the book we pick, except for me. I'm the only one with no life. But this time ... This time I'm too busy having sex with my boyfriend to read the book. I smile back at her, and I'm pretty sure she knows that's what I'm thinking. I think her grin means she approves.

-0-0-0-

I feel a little bad when Edward calls to tell me he's off work Friday night and wants to go out. He's sweet when I explain what's going on and says he can plan to meet me afterward, and maybe stay the night. He's stayed over several times, and I must admit I like having him here.

The line of cars parked along the sides of the road in front of the Cullen house don't surprise me. It's a big neighborhood full of beautiful homes, and there's always a party somewhere. What does surprise me is a car parked across the street that looks just like Edward's. I laugh at the thought of Edward living near Esme, and I wonder if I should call him quick, just to see where he is. I know he's going out tonight with Emmett from the bar, but as I pull my phone out of my pocket, Jessica drives up, and since I'm still trying to keep my boyfriend's identity a secret, I put an end to that plan.

"Bella! Jess!" Alice yells as she opens the door to let us in. There are about eight of us ladies from the school who usually meet, and it seems like we're the last two to arrive. Everyone's in the kitchen laughing and talking as we walk in. Food is laid out on every surface, and everyone is already eating. The wine is flowing, and I grab one of the glasses Esme has set out and open the bottle I brought.

Esme's daughters run in to get food, and all the other ladies ohh and ahh over how cute they are. Katie and Lizzie are twins and nearly teenagers, and we've watched them mature over the last few years. They're into fashion and shoes and spoiled with all the latest trends, which makes Jessica and Alice more than excited to gush over what they're wearing. They each say hi to me before darting back upstairs, though the way Katie looks back at me several times has me puzzled.

I'm sitting at a table talking to Angela, my back to the kitchen, when a woman I don't know walks in. Esme is quick to introduce her to all of us, and I turn around to wave and say hello.

"This is my niece Rosalie. She's going to join us tonight," Esme explains. Rosalie seems very friendly, and she blends into the group seamlessly. As we talk to her and get to know her a little more, we hear male voices in the foyer.

"That's my husband. He's going to a movie with my cousin tonight while I'm here with you girls," Rosalie says as she sips her wine.

"Is Carlisle out there, too?" Alice asks, looking toward the doorway. "He's so hot."

Rosalie laughs. "Ugh, that's so wrong," she says as the rest of us swoon a little over just the thought of him.

"Mom!" We hear a deep voice yell, and instantly, I'm frozen. Reeling. "Mom, we're gonna go."

I know that voice. No, it can't be. My heart begins to pound, my head is spinning, and I feel like I can't catch my breath. It can't be possible. It just can't. The conversation begins to fade away. I'm not sure if it's really stopping or if it's my inability to hear anything over the sound of blood rushing through my ears. It feels like everyone's 100 feet away from me, and I'm straining to catch just one word, one phrase.

"Oh, honey," I manage to hear Esme say. "Come say hi to my friends before you go." Her words are muffled in my head, and I can barely understand them over the constant screams of "No, this isn't happening, this isn't real!" that are echoing through my brain.

"Ladies, this is my son Edward. He's living with us for now," Esme says, and I feel like crawling under the table. I'm frozen and I can't turn around, and I hope with everything I have that I'm wrong. I pray I'm hearing her wrong, but I know in my heart I'm not. What the fuck is happening? How did I miss this?

"Hi, ladies," he says with the cheerful voice he reserves for others. It's not the one he uses with me. There's no want or desire in it. I know him well enough to recognize he saves that voice for me. And only me.

Me. His mother's friend. The older woman he's sleeping with and making love to. The lady in his mother's book club. The woman his mother thinks is too old for him. Me.

As if things aren't bad enough, Esme starts to make introductions. I down the rest of the wine in my glass and wonder if I can get out of the room without anyone noticing. When she gets to the table where I'm sitting, I know my time's up. "And this is Angela, Alice, Bella, and of course, Rose." The other girls all wave, yet I sit here frozen. I can't turn around. I can't speak. I just can't.

"Bella," Alice nudges me, but my eyes are glued to my glass on the table.

They don't have the same last name. He looks nothing like her. Well, other than his hair. Oh shit. I shake my head back and forth, barely enough for her to see. "No. No, please no," I whisper mostly to myself.

"Oh, no," Alice says as her hand goes to cover her mouth. And my eyes slide closed. Please don't let me cry here. "I know you," she whispers.

The room is silent for a few moments until Jessica gasps. "It's you. From the bar."

"What?" Esme asks. Confusion is clear in her voice. She hasn't pieced it together yet, and I'm not willing to help her. How did I not know? "What's going on?"

"You're the guy from the bar. The bar boy. You're Bella's bar boy, aren't you?" Jessica asks, and all eyes turn to me. I may not be looking, but I can feel them.

"Bella?" I hear him say from almost directly behind me.

I don't know what to do, and I take a deep breath before I open my eyes. My body seems to be glued to the chair, but I force myself to turn around and look up at him. And it is him. I knew it would be, but I still hoped I was wrong.

He doesn't seem nearly as confused as I am which makes me start to panic. It's in that moment Esme seems to catch on.

"Wait, you know each other?" Esme asks. Her eyes bounce back and forth between us, and I break when I see her start to tear up. "Edward, what's going on?"

"Mom, um ..." He's speechless. I've never seen him speechless. Or guilty. And right now, he's both.

"Esme, I'm sorry," I whisper. "I didn't know. I swear I didn't know."

"What?" she asks, wrapping her arms around her waist.

"Please, Esme. I'm so sorry. Please." I can't stop my tears from falling down my cheeks, and the room is so completely silent it makes me ache even more. The only sounds are the sounds of hurt, of confusion, of disbelieving. And they're all pounding through my head.

"Bella, you're Edward's girlfriend? He's your new boyfriend? I don't understand." Esme's confused, and I'm humiliated.

"Mom, I can explain. It's not a bad thing."

"Edward!" Esme yells. "What are you thinking? With Bella? Are you insane?"

My heart breaks completely as her words confirm every fear I had about our relationship. I can't help but hang my head and let out a sob. Edward's trying his best to calm her, but with the way she's yelling at him, I know he won't be successful. She's the one person I would never want to hurt, and that's what I've done. I've made her angry, made her cry. Taken her son away from her. I'm the horrible woman who stole her baby boy. The one she'll never forgive.

"I'm sorry. I'm so sorry," I whisper as I push away from the table, rushing to get out of the room and the house as quickly as I can.

"Bella, wait," Edward calls out, and I feel his hand on me, just like the first night we met when he followed me out of the bar.

"Don't touch me!" I yell, jerking away from him. "Did you know?" I ask, but I don't need to. I can see it in his eyes. He knew what he was doing. He knew who I was, and he pursued me anyway. He didn't care what it would do to his mother or me. And I thought I knew him.

"Bella? Edward? What's going on?" I hear Carlisle say as he comes walking in from the living room. Emmett is right behind him, and I hear him cursing under his breath when he sees me.

"I have to go. I'm so sorry," I tell him. Then I'm out the door, running to my car, as Edward's yelling from behind me. He's begging me to wait, pleading with me to stay. But I can't. I can't be near him. I can't be here. I've ruined everything. And he knew.

The drive home is a blur. I don't see anything through my tears. I don't hear anything through my cries. I don't feel anything through my brokenness. I know I shouldn't be driving, but I can't stop. I have a feeling Edward's not far behind me, and that fact pushes me out of my car and into my dark house. I barely get the door closed and locked before I lean against the wall and slide to the floor, my head resting on my knees as I sob. I love him, and Esme hates me. I respect her more than any other person in the world, and I never would have knowingly done anything to hurt her, but hearing what she said to Edward about us ... She'll never forgive me for what I've done with her son. She'll never accept us. It's over, and I've lost him. The realization has me crying harder than I've ever cried before.

I don't see the lights flash across my living room wall, and I don't hear the footsteps racing up my sidewalk. He's knocking on the door, his voice frantic as he calls my name, begging me to let him in. He just wants a chance to explain, to make me understand, but it won't work. He can't fix this.

"Please, baby. I'll stay out here all night if I have to. Damn it, please let me in," he says in the saddest voice I've ever heard. I can hear what I assume is his head as it thuds against the door. He's so close, only a few inches away, but it doesn't feel that way. He pleads and whimpers, asking over and over again for me to open the door, to give him a chance, but I just sit here on the floor, listening to him as I think about how I can't ever have the life I truly want. We won't work. I can't hurt Esme that way.

"Bella, please."

It feels like a lifetime has passed when I finally reach up and flip the lock on the handle. I give up. I can't keep him away anymore. I don't have the strength. My arm falls back to my side, I wait for Edward to open the door, and he does. Slowly and quietly, stepping inside and softly shutting it behind him. He kneels in front of me, his red puffy eyes looking into mine.

"I'm so fucking sorry, Bella. Please, baby. I'm sorry."

"Why?" I ask, my voice breathy and barely audible.

"I couldn't help it. You're everything I've ever wanted."

"Did you know?"

"Know what?"

I look at him, trying to summon the anger I should feel at his response, but all I can feel is sad. I'm too sad to be angry.

"I didn't know who you were when we met, if that's what you mean. I didn't know you were my mom's friend, I swear. It wasn't 'til the second night I came here when you told me you're a teacher. I wondered, but I didn't know." His hands wrap around mine, anchoring him to me. "I'd heard my mom talk about a Bella, but I didn't know it was you until I looked on the school website. It was too late by then. I was already falling in love with you."

"Don't say that," I almost growl at him. "Don't you dare say you love me."

"But I do. I love you, Bella."

"Don't say that!" I yell, pushing his hands away. "You don't know what the hell you're talking about. You're too young to—"

"To what? I'm too young to know what love is? Is that it?" he yells back at me. "Don't say that shit to me. I'm not too young, Bella. I know exactly what love is. I knew it from the minute I saw you. I knew that night, that instant, that I could love you. That I could fall so fucking hard and spend the rest of my life with you."

"You're wrong. You don't know what it is. You haven't lived enough yet."

"Damn, Bella, I'm 23, not 15. Don't treat me as if I'm some kid because I'm not. You know I'm not."

I shake my head. I don't know what to say, how to explain it to him. He can't know. He just can't.

"Carlisle was younger than me when he met my mother. I was nine years old, and he loved us both. He never looked back, Bella. He took on a ready-made family because he loved us."

"What?" I ask him, wondering what he's talking about.

"Carlisle's not my father, at least not biologically."

Now it dawns on me why I never made the connection between Edward and Esme. They have different last names, and Edward looks nothing like Esme or Carlisle. And Edward's so much older than I assumed Esme's son would be.

"My mom was 17 when she had me. My real dad didn't stick around past my first birthday. We were on our own until she met Carlisle. He's my dad; the only father I've ever known. He didn't run; he didn't cave under the pressure of a shitty, whiny nine-year-old boy. He stuck around. He taught me what it means to love someone, and because of that, I know what I feel for you. And holy shit, do I love you, Bella."

He stands up, towering over me, before offering his hand to pull me up. I don't know what to do, but I put my hand in his and let him lift me. His arm wraps around my waist, and he guides me to the sofa, sitting down next to me but leaving a little space between us. He's too far away, I know that, but I can't bring myself to ask him to come closer. Damn, how I still want him, even with the mess we're in. I want him.

"There's a lot you don't know about me, Bella. But I want you to know it. All of it. And I want to know everything about you, too. I want to be here, be a part of your life. My mom will get over it. She'll understand. She loves you, Bella. You know she does."

"But she'll hate me," I say, my voice shaking as my chin quivers.

He lifts my face until his eyes meet mine. "No, she won't. It's not possible to hate you," he whispers, and I want so much to believe him.

"But the things she said. I mean—"

"She was surprised, that's all," he says. "She'll come around. You'll see. But, Bella, more than anything, she wants me to be happy, and I'm happy with you. I know you think I'm young and that I don't know enough, but what I do know is this: I love you. I want to be with you. I want to make you happy and give you everything you need. I want to make a life with you."

"How can you say that?" I ask, my words soft and unbelieving. "It's only been a few months."

His smile is small, but it's like a ray of sunshine in a stormy night. "Like I said, I knew the first night."

I'm quiet as I lean my head against his shoulder, feeling his warmth and love. I'm selfish and greedy, and I soak it all in.

"Do you love me, Bella?" he whispers. His voice is a shadow of what it was before when he was declaring himself to me. I can tell now he's uncertain, worried. He thinks I don't feel the same.

He's insane, just like Esme said.

"Yes. I love you, too," I tell him, looking up into his troubled eyes. "I love you so damn much I think I might go crazy."

His smile is blinding, though I only see it for a second because his lips are on mine, and he's kissing me like it's the first time. Like I'm saving him, and maybe I am. I know he's saving me. As we touch and feel and soothe each other, his phone starts to ring. I ignore it at first, but it keeps ringing over and over again.

"Should you get that?" I ask as he peppers kisses on my neck.

"No, it's just my mom. She can wait."

"Edward," I say, stopping him. "Talk to her. For me."

He sighs, his forehead pressed against mine as he tries to catch his breath. "Are you sure? She'll get over it, Bella. I know she will."

"I just ... I need her to be okay with us. With me. She's my friend, Edward." My eyes are tearing up again. "I can't stand the thought of hurting her. Not her."

"Okay. For you," he whispers before digging the phone out of his pocket then letting out a long sigh before he accepts the call. "Hi, Mom."

He's quiet for a few seconds, and I can hear her speaking on the other end, telling him over and over again how sorry she is and how she didn't mean it.

"Mom, I love her. You need to know that. And I love you, too, but I can't be without her. I want you to be okay with it, Mom. Please."

They speak for another minute or two before he pulls the phone away and holds it in front of me. "She's wants to talk to you. Are you all right with that?"

I don't know what she'll say, but I nod and take the phone. "Hello?"

"Oh, Bella," she says, and I can tell she's crying. "Honey, I'm so sorry. I don't know what came over me. It was all so sudden, and I was so surprised by things. I'm so ashamed of the way I acted, Bella. Can you ever forgive me?"

Her words stun me, and I don't know what to say. "Esme, no. You have nothing to apologize for. I'm the one who's sorry."

She laughs a sad laugh. "My Edward's a stubborn boy. I'm sure you know that by now. I wish I'd found out differently, but that's not your fault. And, Bella, you know how fond I am of you. I suppose the years between you two aren't as great a gap as I'd imagined."

She reassures me a few more times that she's okay with it, that she can accept me being with Edward. That she's overjoyed we found each other, and that she's never seen Edward so happy in all his life.

"Will you come to dinner on Sunday?" she asks. "After all, I have all this food here, and no one to eat it."

I laugh a soft laugh and assure her I'll be there. "Thank you, Esme. You have no idea how devastated I was at the thought of hurting you."

"I know, Bella. Trust me. I know." And if there's one person who could understand my situation, it's her.

Edward and I sit alone in the dark, quiet room, not letting go of one another. "Bella, just so you know, I'm not like my father. I don't run when things get hard." His hand is on my cheek, and he's staring into my eyes. "I love you. I'll never love anyone else as much as I love you. Please believe me."

"I do. I love you, too." And I do love him. Even though it seems impossible, I love him. It's that fact that forces me to realize something I've known since the first night.

I can't say no to him. It's simply not possible.

Not tonight when he'll carry me to my bed and ask if he can make love to me, then lie beside me all night and whisper over and over again that he loves me.

Not at Thanksgiving when he'll ask if he can move in with me since he practically lives here anyway.

Not at Christmas when he'll drop to one knee in the middle of his parents' living room and ask me to marry him, giving me the most beautiful smile when I nod and cry and throw my arms around him.

Not on Valentine's Day when he'll ask if he can forget the condoms from then on, and he'll freak out about how good it feels.

Not the day after his graduation when I'll walk down the aisle to him, tying my life to his forever.

Not later that night when he'll ask if I want to make a baby with him, and I'll let him fuck me every way he knows how.

Not ten months later when he'll ask if he can lie beside me on my hospital bed with our baby daughter sleeping soundly between us as he watches me and thanks me for the perfect life he has.

Not when we're old and gray and he'll ask me to wait for him on the other side because my heart's too weak to let me stay with him much longer.

Not ever. Because he's all I want, all I need. He's my everything. Forever.

-0-0-0-

Song quoted - "Get Me Some of That" by Thomas Rhett


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