My entry for the May to December contest. Fourth place in the public vote - thank you so much!

Summary: A secret attraction, a forbidden love. Can their foundation stand the forces that could tear them apart?

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


There was a loud crunch of gravel as tires going too fast, spun on the loose rock, shooting dust and debris into the air. Brakes squealed as a vehicle shuddered to a halt.

Someone was obviously in a hurry.

"Shit," Jake muttered. "Heads up, Edward."

I glanced around and stifled a groan as the driver's side of the large, black pickup was flung open and a pair of shapely legs slid out; the small feet encased in shoes that had no business being close to a construction site. Those small feet marched my way, carrying the petite, dark-haired woman—the bane of my existence—Isabella Swan.

The boss's daughter.

"Edward," she greeted me, her tone caustic. "I was worried you'd perhaps fallen into a cement mixer, or off the scaffolding when you didn't return my calls. I'm so thrilled to see you alive and well."

I resisted the urge to laugh. I was pretty sure "thrilled" wasn't the word she wanted to use.

I feigned surprise. "You called?" I made a show of pulling my phone out of my back pocket. "The damn thing's been acting up lately. I must have missed your voice mails."

She glared at me, crossing her arms, which pushed her pert breasts together, the hint of cleavage peeking through the "V" of her deep blue shirt. I snapped my eyes away from the glimpse of the smooth skin and instead focused my attention on the tall man following Isabella at a leisurely pace.

"Edward," he said with a tilt of his head and a smirk playing on his lips partially hidden by his moustache. "Phone trouble again?"

I smirked back. "Damnedest thing, Charlie."

Isabella snorted—a distinctly unladylike sound—and held out her hand. "Give me your phone and I'll take it into the Apple Store and have them check it out."

"No, I'll take care of it."

"I insist," she smiled sweetly. "It is, after all, company property."

"No, really," I ground out between clenched teeth. "I'll take care of it."

She opened her mouth to protest, but Charlie interrupted her. "Leave it, Bells. If Edward says he'll take care of it, he will."

Her mouth snapped shut; those pouty, plump lips thinning out. Her eyes spoke volumes, though. They were shooting lasers at me, which I ignored.

"What's up, Charlie?"

"We need to go over the budget. I asked Bells to set up a meeting with you, but she was, ah, unable to get in contact. I decided to come see you and she tagged along."

"I understood you were out of town, Isabella."

"I got back early."

"Awesome." I nodded and turned back to Charlie. "You want me to come to the office or you want to do it here?"

"Come to the office after you're done."

"You want me to grab us dinner?"

"Angelo's?" he asked hopefully.

"No!" Isabella snapped. "No pizza for you, Charlie! You know what the doctor said."

He rolled his eyes. "He said to watch it, Bells, not that I couldn't have pizza on occasion."

"When's the last time you had it?"

"Weeks ago—maybe longer."

She pivoted my way, her hands on her hips. "Edward?"

I held up my hands. "I'm not your father's keeper. I have no idea what he eats."

She pursed her lips, her foot tapping on the gravel, glaring at both me and Charlie. It was a nice change not to be the only one with whom she was annoyed.

"No bacon or sausage," she snapped at me. "Light on the cheese."

"Sure."

Charlie caught my gaze and rolled his eyes, letting me know what he thought of her command. I could work something out and keep them both happy. She'd probably only stick around for a few minutes. Maybe I'd grab two pizzas—one to make Isabella happy and one for me and Charlie, and once she left I'd bring in the latter.

~o0o~

My plan would have worked—except she didn't leave. I spent the next couple hours being grilled by her over the budget and glared at by Charlie for handing him a pizza covered in vegetables and a dusting of cheese. The fact that half had pepperoni on it didn't help since Isabella watched which half he ate from, slapping his hand when he reached for the pepperoni. His mood darkened even more when she had the audacity to eat the pizza he felt should be his. He got even by leaning back and letting her pick apart every decision I had made.

When she got up to get a file, I growled at him. "Thanks for the back-up."

"Thanks for the lousy dinner."

"I have a full works in the truck."

"Oh, yeah?"

"Good luck getting it after you let 'The General' at me," I snarled at him, using the nickname the guys had for her.

He smirked as Isabella swept back in the room, her skirt hem flipping up as she sat down, giving me a glimpse of her knees. Her soft, rounded knees.

"Now, about the overtime," she started.

Charlie held up his hand. "The overtime was necessary, Bells. The client wanted the changes and knew it would cost them." He sat back in his chair. "In fact, I'm pretty sure I remember okaying most of these expenditures. The ones I didn't I know about, Edward wouldn't have spent if they weren't necessary."

We both gaped at him. He stood up, stretching. "You head home, Bells. You must be tired. I need to talk over a couple other things with Edward. I'll call you on the weekend."

She gathered up her files and left the office, muttering. I glanced at him, frowning. "Just like that? Suddenly everything is fine because you want to get your hands on that other pizza? You're such a jerk."

"That was only part of it. I do enjoy watching the two of you spar. I can't believe you let her tell you what to put on the pizza."

I groaned. "You're my boss, Charlie, but let's face it—she runs the show. I didn't dare bring in the other one."

He sighed. "Will you ever get along?"

I wasn't sure what to say, so I shrugged. "Maybe one day."

He shook his head. "The two of you drive me nuts. Go get the other pizza before she thinks of something else and comes back to keep arguing."

I laughed, because she would.

~o0o~

Pulling into the garage, I smiled in anticipation. My girl's car was parked on the other side of mine, which meant she was here—waiting for me.

I stopped in the mudroom, shedding my clothes and stepping in the shower, ridding myself of the dust and dirt of the day. The hot water pounding against my aching back felt great, but I kept it short; anxious to see her. Wrapping a towel around my waist, I grabbed another one and ran it through my hair as I made my way down the hall to my bedroom, pushing open the door. She was curled up on my bed; her dark hair spread out on the pillow, smiling that smile—the one only I ever saw. Filled with warmth, light and love. Love for me.

The towel dropped and I slid into bed, pulling her to me. "God, I missed you. I hate it when you go away."

"I hate it, too," she whispered.

"Tell him no next time," I murmured against her lips.

"I can't."

"I know."

Fisting my hands in her thick hair, I brought her sweet mouth to mine. Our breath mingled, lips ghosting together. Her velvet tongue touched mine, and I was lost. With a deep groan, I crushed her chest to me and kissed her deep. Hard. Our tongues met, stroking and delving, wet and wanting. She clutched my shoulders as I clasped her tight, my need for her overwhelming and strident. My body hummed with arousal, the feeling of her soft curves molding to my hard planes was perfection. She was made to fit beside me. She belonged right here. I hovered over her, staring into her dark eyes, caught in the emotions they reflected back at me.

"I need you," I rasped.

"Have me," she moaned, wrapping her legs around my hips, guiding me to her heat. I thrust forward, hissing at the sensation of being joined with her again. Every time was like the first time. Every time I was overcome with the feeling of coming home. I moved within her, groaning her name against her skin as I ran open-mouthed, wet kisses on her neck, burying my face into her hair and breathing her in.

The intense pleasure of her mouth against my skin, the press of her body on mine and the heat of her surrounding my cock was too much. I came forcefully as she gasped and shuddered around me, her muscles clamping down, milking my orgasm as I shouted and slammed into her as deep as I could.

Her arms wound around me, pulling me to her chest. Gentle, long strokes of her fingers in my hair caused a long, contented sigh to escape my mouth.

"You were a sight for sore eyes today."

"I missed you so much, I caught an earlier flight. When Dad said he was going to see you I almost ripped the keys out of his hand," she admitted. "I couldn't wait another minute—even if I had to act pissy."

I grinned against her neck, nipping the soft skin sharply. "You do it well, sweet girl. I almost bought your act."

"It was hard. All I wanted to do was fling myself into your arms."

"You're here now."

"Why didn't you answer my calls?"

I sighed. "I wanted to—but I was surrounded the whole day. I thought you were still gone and I missed you so fucking much I was sure anyone hearing me talk to you would know. I was going to call you back as soon as I was free."

"So you weren't ignoring me?"

"I could never ignore you, sweet girl. Ever."

"Good."

I chuckled as I kissed her head. "Nice try getting my phone away from me, though. After what you did to it last time, I am not falling for that again."

"I thought you liked the ringtones."

"Barry White? I don't think so. Never mind the pictures you put on it. Christ, I had a raging hard-on every time I looked at my screen." I paused. "The 'reminders' popping up didn't help either."

7pm—Lick my girl's pussy 'til she screams.

8pm—Take my girl hard.

She smirked. "It worked, though. You didn't forget."

"I could never forget needing to fuck you." I growled, knowing it would make her giggle.

She didn't disappoint, her breathy little sounds filling the room. Then a large exhale of air left her mouth.

"What was that sound for?"

"I hate acting angry at you all the time. I feel like I'm two different people."

"I know. It's the only way we can be together—at least for now." I nuzzled her head. "We'll figure this out."

Her voice was soft. "Promise?"

"Yes." I tightened my grip. "How was your mother?"

She groaned. "Worse than ever. This house needs to be done—and soon."

I chuckled. When Charlie's ex-wife decided to fully renovate her house, she insisted Charlie make the arrangements for her, even though she lived halfway across the country. Still unable to deny her anything, he did as requested, but she was a horrible client, constantly changing her mind, causing everyone grief. Renee's phone calls were endless, and being the coward Charlie was, he sent Bella to deal with the problems when they couldn't be fixed over the phone.

"You need to tell him to deal with this shit. He's the one who can't say no to the woman."

"I know. I'll talk to him and make him go next time." She snuggled closer. "I could hardly wait to get back to you."

"Welcome home, baby."

"I love you, Edward."

I sighed into her hair, content now she was back where she belonged, even if it had to be in secret. "More than I can say, Bella. Love just isn't a big enough word."

She relaxed, slipping into sleep. I held her tight—the two women in my life once again melded into one.

Isabella Swan—the bane of my existence by day.

Bella Swan—the love of my life and the one woman I was forbidden to have.

~o0o~

Charlie sighed and hung up the phone, passing a hand over his face. I glanced over from my desk with a frown. "Problem?"

"My daughter's coming home. She's decided to take me up on my job offer."

"This isn't good news?"

"It should be. With Shelly leaving, Bells is the perfect person to take over her job. She's got experience, she's organized and she won't take shit from anyone." He ran his finger over the picture of her he kept on his desk. I had seen the picture often—his daughter, Isabella, was a pretty girl; long, dark hair with brown eyes like Charlie's.

I had worked for Charlie for two years, but never met his daughter. He usually went to visit her, and the occasions she was in town she never came to the office. A couple months ago, Charlie had shared the news she was separating from her husband—news he wasn't exactly upset about. Mike, in Charlie's opinion, was lazy, always willing to take the easy road for everything and didn't look after his little girl the way he should. Isabella, it seemed, had been carrying the load for far too long. He'd been after her to come home and work for him so he could keep an eye on her. He worried about her constantly and talked about her so much, I felt I almost knew her.

"You don't think she can handle the job?"

He sat back in his chair, staring out the window. "It's not the job I'm worried about. Running this place and running the big fancy office she used to work at won't be the problem. It's…the crew. I don't want any of them around her. She's vulnerable and has a heart of gold. She's also beautiful and rather shy—I don't want her overwhelmed or bothered."

I nodded in understanding. Charlie had always been pretty protective of his daughter. "I'm sure the guys will be respectful. I can have a word if you want, Charlie. Tell them to stay away."

He turned in his chair, his expression serious. "She's off limits to everyone here, Edward. Everyone. She isn't just another employee. She's my daughter." His fingers drummed on the desk. "Maybe I should implement a new policy—no dating within the company."

I had to laugh. "Since Isabella will be the only woman here, Charlie; that might be a bit obvious. It would make her uncomfortable, and frankly, it might make it more tempting for a few of them." Then I smirked. "Besides, you'll break Jake's heart. He's been after Seth since he got here. You can't do that to him when he's so close."

Charlie laughed. We all knew how Jake felt about Seth. Except, it seemed, Seth.

"Maybe you're right. They're all the right age, but I want more for her." He sighed. "At least I don't have to worry about you."

I chuckled. "Oh? Not her type? Too rough around the edges?"

"She's twenty-six, Edward. That's twelve years younger than you. I don't think you're into cradle snatching." His eyes narrowed. "Are you?"

I shook my head, trying not to laugh at his fierce expression. "Nope—too young for me. I like them walking and talking on their own." Then I winked at him. "Relax, Charlie. Your daughter sounds as though she can hold her own. I'm sure if any of the yahoos step out of line, she'll put them in their place."

He nodded, but didn't look convinced.

"I'll talk to them."

"Will you watch out for her? I'd feel better if I knew you were looking out for her."

"Consider it done."

"Maybe you could be friends."

Friends. I wasn't used to being friends with a girl—but I would try for Charlie.

"I'm game if she is." Then I grinned wryly at him. "She isn't six, you know. You can't pick her friends for her—but I'll help her any way I can."

"Thanks, Edward. I knew I could depend on you."

I waved him off. "Not a problem. Happy to help. I look forward to getting to know her."

Charlie frowned and I hastened to assure him.

"Relax—as a friend, Charlie. It'll be like having another little sister around. It'll be great."

~o0o~

I was in trouble in about five seconds flat. Isabella stepped into the office; any and all thoughts of being her friend were out the window. And I certainly didn't feel this way about my little sister, Alice. The picture Charlie had on his desk didn't do her justice—and she was no little girl. She was small, curvy, with hair that hung down her back in deep waves of chocolate, and large, dark eyes that were bright and filled with intelligence. Then she smiled—full, pink lips curved into a warm, enticing smile that made my body tighten with want. She was dressed in a simple navy skirt and a cream-colored blouse and low heels—attire that was totally appropriate for the office, gave nothing away, yet on her, was completely sexy.

So sexy and alluring, I was hard instantly.

So hard I couldn't even stand up to greet her. There was no hiding my reaction.

Instead, I was back to being fifteen again and hiding behind a large piece of furniture. When Charlie introduced us, all I could do was remain seated, extend my hand and offer her a gruff hello. His eyebrows shot up at my seeming rudeness, and Isabella looked confused. Still, she placed her small hand in mine, greeting me politely. A small shock ran down my spine as my hand closed over hers and it took everything in me not to pull her onto my lap and kiss her—even with Charlie standing there. I wanted to feel those inviting lips moving underneath mine. Her eyes widened and she pulled her hand back, her tongue peeking out as she bit her full bottom lip.

I wanted that tongue in my mouth.

I wanted to bite that bottom lip, then run my own tongue over it and tease her until she begged me for more.

Instead, I grabbed a file, my laptop, muttered something about seeing a client and ran.

Like a coward.

Inside my car, I slammed my hands on the steering wheel. Desire was coursing through me; hot, pumping and needy.

I wanted her.

Isabella; the boss's daughter. The boss who wanted me to look out for her, be her friend and keep the other men away from her.

I felt a growl building in my chest.

That was the only thing Charlie and I would agree on at this exact moment.

No one was fucking getting close to her. They wouldn't touch her.

She was mine.

It didn't matter she was too young for me, just out of a bad marriage, or that she was Charlie's daughter and was strictly off limits.

I wasn't sure how I could stay away.

I ran a hand roughly over my face.

I had to.

~o0o~

My avoidance worked well for about six weeks. When we were forced to be together, I was polite but distant. At meetings, I sat as far away from her as possible—one inhale of her soft, feminine scent was enough to start my dick twitching, which invariably led to inappropriate thoughts of burying my face in her neck, fisting her thick hair in my hands as I fucked her. On my desk. Her desk. In my truck. In Charlie's truck. Anywhere I could.

I saw the flickers of hurt cross her face every time I was curt with her. Her shoulders curled in a little at my tone and I hated knowing I was the one causing her pain. But it was the only way I could stay away from her. Other times, she squared her shoulders and we went toe-to-toe over some minor infraction she felt I was perpetrating. Her eyes would flash, her voice rising, and she refused to back down. She was fucking magnificent.

My cock agreed and wanted her even more. I'd have to hide again, often taking matters into my own hands—literally—when I couldn't stand it anymore. I hid a bottle of lotion in the bathroom for occasions like that. The fact I was almost forty years old and having to rub one out in the bathroom to make it through the day without humping a woman I barely knew, was more than humiliating.

I started spending more time on the job site we were currently running. I told Charlie the guys were slacking off and needed me there, but it was the only way I could keep my sanity.

She was everywhere. I heard her laughter in the office and I wanted to be the one who made her smile. When she would bring in cookies she baked, I wanted to steal them all and keep them for myself since she made them. Instead, I would shake my head when she would shyly offer the container, ignoring the way her smile fell away, and sneak some later when she was busy. I covertly stole looks at her during meetings, wishing I could smile at her and see that wondrous smile of hers in return. But if our eyes happened to meet, I would quickly glance away, dismissing her. If she appeared on site, I would snap at her about wearing steel toe boots and a hard hat, without even greeting her. The truth was, I was terrified she would be hurt wandering around the site, but I couldn't tell her that.

A new emotion—one I had never experienced before—ran hot and free in my veins. Jealousy. Watching Quil stand beside her, joking and laughing with her, caused a slow burn in the pit of my stomach. Stalking toward them, I growled at him. "Are we on a coffee break?"

He frowned. "I don't drink coffee, Edward."

"Then I guess the break is over. Back to work."

Bella glared at me as he walked away, looking confused. "That was rude."

"I don't pay them to flirt with you."

"He wasn't flirting. He was talking about his mom! We were comparing the kinds of cookies she makes!"

"Whatever," I sputtered. "And for the last time—wear a fucking hardhat when you're on site!"

I stomped away, knowing she was watching me, no doubt cursing at me under her breath. She rarely swore, but when she did I found it rather sexy. I found everything about her sexy. It frustrated me to no end.

She was the opposite of everything in my life. In my world of dust, gravel and hard steel, she was fresh, sweet and delicate. Her voice was warm honey compared to the raspy tenors I dealt with all day; her mannerisms gentle and feminine compared to the roughness that surrounded me. There was a tenderness she hid from everyone that I could see when she thought she was being unobserved—usually when dealing with her father on a more personal level after hours. I wanted some of that tenderness in my own life.

I wanted her tenderness. I wanted her.

She took over the running of the office seamlessly; her actions always smart, direct and honest. She was brilliant and Charlie beamed with pride.

Charlie groused at me about not being friendly enough to her, and I scowled at him. "I told you, Charlie, you can't pick her friends. It's a personality thing. Leave it alone."

After a couple weeks, she started standing her ground more and arguing with me all the time. We'd trade barbs and thinly veiled insults, even during meetings. I began thinking maybe the best thing would be to find another job. With my qualifications, I could easily move along, except I liked and respected Charlie, and until Isabella showed up, I enjoyed my job. Now, I dreaded some days, knowing I'd have to deal with her at any given moment. Yet, the thought of not seeing her made me miserable. And on the occasion when we found common ground and worked as a team it was fucking magic. It was as if she knew exactly how I was thinking and would respond perfectly, our ideas meshing in complete sync. In those moments being in her company was effortless and made me want more.

I was so fucked.

I leaned back in my chair, running my hands through my hair in vexation and tugging on the ends. We'd had another sparring match this afternoon, and I stormed out of the office and spent the rest of the day onsite, snapping at everyone around me. I came back to the office to do some paperwork, knowing it would be deserted and I could get my work done in peace. I had heard Charlie and Isabella making plans for dinner earlier, so the area was clear.

Or so I thought. A throat clearing softly had me snap my head up in surprise. Isabella was standing in my doorway, holding a file and looking nervous. "Edward? Can I talk to you for a moment?"

"I thought you were going to dinner."

"Change of plans." She hesitated. "May I come in?"

"Sure." I indicated the chair in front of my desk. "What have I done now? Is my cell phone bill being audited?"

"Oh"—she squirmed a little in her chair—"no, nothing like that. Actually, I wanted to show you last month's figures."

"Is there a problem?"

"No." She handed me the file. "Your suggestion about the staggered shifts was a great cost and time saver. Charlie was very pleased. It was…it was a really great idea."

I glanced at the numbers, nodding and hiding my face. My chest warmed at her quiet praise. "Good," I said gruffly. "Glad I did something right." I handed her back the file. "Anything else?"

She bit her lip and drew in a deep breath. "Edward, I'm not sure how we got off on the wrong foot, but can we start again? My dad thinks the world of you, the crew respects you and the other staff think you're the cat's meow. I'm not sure why you dislike me so much, but I promise, if you let me try again, you'll see that I'm really a nice person." She offered me a shaky smile. "Maybe you could give me a chance?"

She looked so vulnerable; so sad. I wanted to take that sadness away and make her smile. "I don't dislike you, Isabella."

Her eyes were confused. "But…"

I held up my hand, interrupting her. "It's my problem, not yours. I'm very sorry I've upset you." I huffed out a sigh as I studied her. She looked tired and weary and suddenly I wondered if it was because of me. "I think maybe I need to move on. Look for another job."

She was on her feet in an instant. "No! You can't do that!"

I frowned at her. "Pardon?"

"Charlie needs you, Edward! He depends on you. I'll leave—you've been here for years; I've only just got here so I can be replaced. You can't go work elsewhere! You can't!"

I gaped at her. She was so upset, her hands clenched at her side, angry tears glistening in the corners of her wide eyes. "You're Charlie's family. He needs you more than me. He'll find another project manager."

"No. You're the best—he says so. He needs you," she insisted.

"I don't think I can stay here," I confessed.

"Because of me?"

I decided to be honest. "Yes."

"Why do you hate me so much?"

I regarded her for a moment, then spoke softly. "I don't hate you, Bella." My voice dropped further. "Quite the opposite."

"You called me Bella. You've never called me Bella before."

"It's how I think of you."

"But…you barely talk to me."

"It's…it's a survival thing." I beseeched her with my eyes to understand. "I'll talk to Charlie on Monday."

She shook her head, her expression one of shock. "I wish you wouldn't."

"I have to."

She turned and left. I heard the outside office door close and I knew I was alone. I looked out the window, knowing I had to do this. As much as I hated it, I had to go. My feelings for Bella were only growing stronger, not diminishing as I had hoped.

I sat staring for a while, then gave up even pretending I was going to work. I had to go home and figure out my next step. I grabbed my coat and stepped outside, taking in a deep inhale of air. I glanced around the parking lot noticing one of Charlie's trucks there. I hadn't noticed it before—I must have missed it with my preoccupation and my thoughts. But as I walked toward my own vehicle, I saw the truck wasn't empty.

Bella.

She was bent over the steering wheel, hands wrapped around the leather and her shoulders were shaking, the truck actually moving with the force of her sobs. My heart clenched at the sight of her.

There was no thought, only reaction. My feet had crossed the pavement and I was in the truck before I even realized what I was doing. Reaching over, I dragged Bella onto my lap, wrapping her in my arms and holding her to my chest.

"Shhh, Bella. Don't do this."

"You…can't…go…please, Edward." She lifted her head, her tear ravaged face breaking my heart. "I don't want you to go…please!"

Her pleas, the pain in her voice were too much. I cupped her face, wiping the tears with my thumbs. "Bella," I murmured.

She covered my hands with hers, gripping my wrists. "Please," she whispered.

And then my mouth was on hers.

Her lips, so soft, molded to mine. I could taste the salt of her tears, the sweet of her lip gloss and flavor of her—Bella. It was intoxicating, and I knew I wanted that taste for the rest of my life. As my tongue slid along hers we both groaned.

I needed more.

I pulled her tight to my chest, one arm holding her close while I used my other hand to pull her hair free of the clip it was caught up with. Her hair tumbled down in a wave of silk that I wrapped my hand in, tugging on the tresses to tilt her head back. I sought out the skin of her neck, kissing, licking and biting my way back to her mouth, needing her taste back on my tongue. Her hands tugged on my hair, twisting the short strands roughly, holding my face tight to hers. Dropping my hand to her hip, I tugged her shirt out of her skirt, running my hand up the bare skin of her back, trailing over the bumps and ridges of her spine, jerking her closer. She whimpered into my mouth as I ghosted the swells of her breasts, tracing the hardened nipples with my thumbs.

She started to flex and move on my lap, her skirt riding up as she shifted. I groaned as my sheathed cock pressed into her warmth—the heat of her blazing even through my pants.

"Please, Edward," she panted.

Weeks of forbidden desire, raging want, and unending frustration burst. With a growl, I tore away her scrap of lace, slipping my fingers into her wetness, claiming her mouth even deeper. Her head fell back with a groan as I stroked her, building her desire, praising her. "That's it, Bella. Feel me. Feel what you do to me. Come on my fingers and show me you want me."

"Edward!"

I brought her mouth roughly back to mine, my tongue stealing in and taking her breath. She rode my fingers, the muscles clamping down as she shattered; her scream muffled with my mouth.

I hissed with satisfaction as she fumbled and yanked at my belt and zipper. Lifting my hips, I felt the rush of cool air for only an instant before I was surrounded by her wet center. Cursing at the overwhelming feeling of being buried inside her, I grabbed her hips, stilling her motion. "Give me a minute, baby. I want to feel you."

Her head fell to my shoulder and she shuddered, letting me set the pace. I slid my hands up her hips and slowly started to thrust, pushing her down to meet my movements. Pushing—pulling—in—out—faster and faster, the blistering heat building between us. The truck was filled with the sounds of our love making: moans, whimpers, sigh, murmurs of endearments, the sounds of our skin meeting and separating. Nothing existed outside this cab—nothing mattered. All that mattered was the intense act happening between us. She pulled her face back with a gasp. I wrapped my hand around her neck, holding her gaze, still thrusting as she climaxed; her eyes huge and filled with ecstasy. My orgasm slithered up my spine, exploding with a force, and I gripped her tight, her name falling from my lips as I groaned, emptying myself inside her.

She fell forward, her head resting on my chest. I wrapped my arms around her, a feeling of intense affection filling me. Nuzzling her hair, I inhaled her intoxicating scent. Her fingers traced lazy circles on my neck.

"That was...unexpected," I murmured. "Fucking amazing, though." I kissed her brow. "I've wanted you for so long, Bella."

"Was it what you imagined?"

I chuckled. "Except for the location, yes. I hadn't planned on our first time in the front seat of your truck."

She giggled. "No?"

"Maybe our third or fourth."

That got me another giggle.

"I liked it." She shifted and grimaced, a small smile on her face. "We're a little messy, though."

"We are." Then I groaned. "Fuck, Bella. I didn't…I didn't even think… Fuck…baby, I'm clean, but I should have used protection—I wasn't expecting—I didn't plan…"

She pressed a finger to my mouth. "I'm clean and on birth control, Edward. We're fine."

"Tell me you don't regret what just happened," I beseeched.

"Tell me you won't leave."

"I can't leave you now." I sighed into her hair. "I don't have the strength to stay away from you anymore."

She lifted her head. "Then don't."

~o0o~

I smiled as I looked over at Bella. We were in bed—our usual Saturday morning ritual well underway. I made coffee; she made her infamous breakfast sandwiches. We carried both back to bed with the paper. I spent a lazy hour enjoying the tranquility of perusing the headlines, while Bella worked on the crossword puzzle, often interrupting me with a query.

"Flightless bird—three letters?"

"Emu."

"Storage area—six letters?"

"Hmm…locker?"

"Oh, that works!"

I smirked and kept reading.

"Thrusting implement?"

I looked up. "What?"

"Four letters—starts with C…or it might be a D—definitely ends in K though."

"Are you shitting me with this?"

"Yes."

Then she fell backward, laughing at her silly joke. Chuckling, I lifted her feet into my lap and stroked her ankles, the way I knew she liked. She sighed in pleasure and smiled at me, tucking an arm under her head. She was so relaxed, her dark hair spilled out around her, her eyes soft as they looked at me.

I loved seeing her like this.

In the office she was Isabella: cool, professional and a force to be reckoned with. She hadn't earned the nickname "The General" for nothing. She dealt with the crews, supplies and problems efficiently and without apologies. She dressed the part; her outfits businesslike and feminine yet never crossing the line. She wore her hair up, often tucking an errant strand back into place. Some days, it took everything in me not to be the one who reached out and soothed the curl behind her ear while I dropped a tender kiss to the skin for good measure. It was getting harder to resist.

When dealing with her father, she was still efficient and bossy, although her words were tempered with fondness—unless they were arguing over budgets or his terrible eating habits.

But alone with me, she became Bella. Her body language changed and she became fluid and supple; all soft curves and rounded edges—like liquid mercury. Her smiles were filled with light, her gaze warm and soft, and her words uttered in the gentlest tone; the tenderness I had longed for on full display. Her laughter was low and sultry and happened often. I loved making her laugh.

"You're such a nut."

She grinned at me. "But you love me."

I tightened my hands on her feet. "I do."

Her face turned serious. "Tell me."

Lifting her feet off my lap, I moved and hovered over her, holding her gaze. "I love you, Bella. More than anyone or anything. You're my entire world."

She became peaceful, her smile shy. "I love you."

Lowering my head, I traced her collarbone with my tongue, swirling it on her delicate skin. I dragged my mouth up her throat, tugging gently on her earlobe, smiling at her shiver. "Now about that crossword puzzle, maybe I need to help you with a…physical demonstration…of that thrusting implement?"

"Yes…Edward…God…yes…show me."

~o0o~

She was wrapped in my arms, snuggled close. The newspaper scattered all around us on the floor, one overturned cup of coffee dripping a dark stain onto the paper. I traced the skin of her arm with one finger, up and down, over and again.

"What are you thinking?"

"How good it feels when you're in my arms."

She snuggled tighter. "I know."

"I want you here all the time."

She leaned back, tilting her head up. "Edward?"

"I hate it when you go away and I can't talk to anyone—say anything about how much I miss you or worry about you. I hate hiding how much I love you."

"Then we need to make changes."

I yanked on my hair in frustration. I nodded. "I know. I just don't know how."

"We sit down with my father and tell him."

I snorted. "That's going to go over well. Pretty sure by the end of the conversation I'll have a busted lip and no job."

"Do you really think he'll be that upset? He thinks so highly of you."

"In addition to being opposed to the age thing, and me not being good enough for you, I think he's going to be angry over the fact we've kept it hidden all this time. He's gonna be mad on a lot of levels."

She shook her head. "You are good enough for me—and good for me. He'll see that. He may be mad at first, but my dad loves me and he wants me to be happy. You make me happy."

Cupping her cheek, I smiled. "I like making you happy. I'm not so sure about how fast he'll come around. He was pretty insistent on no one in the company getting close to you."

"Then we should face it now and it's done." Her voice became even quieter. "Are you worried about his anger personally or professionally?"

"Some of both," I admitted. "I like my job a lot. I'm good at it and I like working for your dad."

"More than you like me?"

I tugged on my hair in frustration. "Of course not."

"Are you embarrassed by our relationship? Are you ashamed of me?"

"No! It's nothing like that!"

"Yet we still hide."

"Bella…"

"You were going to leave when you thought we couldn't be together. What about now? Would you leave so we could be? Or didn't you mean it?"

"At the time I guess I did, yes. I didn't want to leave, but I thought it might be for the best."

"But not now? Even if it meant we could be together—out in the open?"

"What about you? You said basically the same thing," I challenged. "You thought it was important I stay working with your dad. Or doesn't that matter anymore?"

She stood up, suddenly very angry. "Is that what you want? For me to give up my job?"

I stood up as well, tense. "Don't put words in my mouth."

And then we were arguing. Angry words, accusations and denials flew between us. All over a situation neither of us had a solution to, brought up at the wrong moment when we were anxious, unsure of the future and weary of hiding our feelings. What I should have done was take her in my arms and told her we'd talk to her father. Face it together. If he was furious and completely against us, I would walk away from a job I liked, because I loved her and she trumped everything.

Instead, we continued to argue until she was angry enough to storm into the washroom with her clothes and leave. And I was angry enough to let her go.

The slam of the door behind her echoed in the house, and in my heart, for hours.

Sunday, I was miserable. I woke up alone and exhausted; having tossed and turned all night, our argument on repeat in my head, my bed too big and empty without her. I kept picking up my phone to call her, but I didn't want this conversation to happen via airwaves. I wanted to see her face to face, but going to her place was risky. She always came here, since I lived across town from Charlie. Her place was two blocks away from him, making the chance of him seeing my truck far too high. I paced the house, frustrated and angry, finally saying fuck it and getting in my truck, determined to make this right.

But when I slowed down by her driveway I saw not only her company truck parked there, but her father's truck behind it. Cursing, I drove away, and spent the afternoon doing errands and drive-byes, but Charlie's truck remained a silent sentinel. Giving up, I went home and sent her a simple text.

I'm an ass. Call me when the coast is clear so I can apologize properly. I love you.

I waited in vain—the phone never rung and the message remained unanswered.

Monday morning I was sullen, tired and desperate to see her. Glancing at my schedule, I bit back a curse, realizing we had a staff meeting, followed directly by a meeting with a new client. I had met him once and disliked him immediately. I thought he was a pompous ass, and hoped we wouldn't see him again, but as luck would have it, he scheduled another sit-down.

Isabella would be attending both meetings—and unless I managed to get to her before they started, we'd still be on unfriendly terms when they began, and I didn't want that.

At the office, her door was closed and her truck not in her spot. Charlie was there, on the phone and I waved as I went by. In my office, I sorted through some notes and listened attentively as the office became busier. When I finally heard Isabella's voice calling out greetings, I relaxed, and after a few minutes stood up, a file in hand, preparing to go and talk to her. At my doorway I paused as she came into view. My hand grasped the edge of the doorframe as I swallowed hard.

She didn't.

To everyone else she looked normal. To me she was fucking sin.

A soft wrap dress in a deep blue hugged her curves and ended just above her knees. The bow resting on her hip begged for my teeth to grasp it and pull it open. She was wearing heels for a change which made her legs seem long and endless—I wanted them wrapped around my hips, the heels digging into my ass as I pounded into her. There was nothing unusual about her outfit, except it was one of my favorites. I told her once how fucking sexy she was in it.

But it was her hair that caught my eye and made my breath catch in my throat. Her glorious fucking hair I couldn't resist, cascaded down her back and over her shoulders in waves of dark chocolate satin. She'd left it curly, which she hated, but knew I loved—the riotous mass swirling around her face as she moved. I wanted to lace my hands in the soft curls and pull her face to mine and kiss her. Bend her over the closest desk and bury my face into the sweet fragrance as I begged for her forgiveness. Fuck her until she moaned my name and showed me with her body we were okay.

Instead I was paralyzed as our eyes met. Her anger-filled gaze was challenging. My apologetic one ignored. She knew what seeing her hair down would do to me. How much I'd want—need—to touch her and not be able to. She was still angry at me, thinking I valued my job over her.

Taking in a deep breath and pushing off the door, I crossed the office, aware we were being watched. "Good morning, Isabella."

Her voice was clipped, and this time I knew it wasn't an act. Up close I could see how tired she looked, and hurt was evident in her eyes. "Edward."

"I have a couple thoughts on that file we were discussing. I wondered if you could spare me a moment before the staff meeting." I paused and cleared my throat. "I thought about what you said, and I really wanted to talk it over with you."

Her eyes flickered, and she blinked—a glimmer of moisture appeared. I inched forward, needing to be closer. I inhaled deeply, the scent of her washing over me. "Please," I added, fighting the incredible urge to say fuck it all and drag her into my arms, not caring about the consequences.

Before she could answer, Charlie strode out of his office, clapping his hands. "Great. I need to see both of you before Hunter comes in. My office—now."

Our bubble was broken. Bella closed her eyes and stepped back, her guard once again returning. "Of course, Charlie," she acknowledged and moved past me, her long tresses brushing my hands. Unable to resist, I pulled one curl with my finger, its texture soft and silky against my calloused skin. It took everything in me not to wrap the curls in my fist and yank her back to me like a caveman. Claim her in front of everyone. The curl unwound and escaped my finger as she walked away.

"We'll talk later, Edward."

I followed her silently, realizing I would follow her anywhere.

I just had to make sure she understood that.

~o0o~

Bella smiled at me from the corner of the sofa as I handed her a cup of coffee.

I'd finally removed her off my lap and slid over to the driver's side of the truck, she'd looked at me questioningly. "I live five minutes from here—I often leave my truck in the lot. If Charlie sees yours, he'll wonder where you are."

"Are we going somewhere?"

"Yes. You're coming home with me and we're going to talk."

"Okay."

Once we reached the house, I gave her a set of sweat pants and a shirt to change into, while I made the coffee, quickly changed myself and waited for her. When she emerged from the guest room, her hair brushed and back up, and dressed in my clothes, I couldn't suppress my smirk. She was beyond adorable; the sleeves of my shirt rolled up several times and the pants hanging off her hips. I drew her close, kissing her temple, finding the clip and letting her hair loose again.

"Leave it down. I love your hair."

She tilted her face up, biting her lip. I pulled on the soft flesh. "Keep doing that and we won't be talking," I warned.

Color stained her cheeks, and I chuckled as I drew her to the sofa. How she could blush after what we'd just done was beyond me. She was a mystery to me still—one I wanted to solve.

She sipped her coffee, gazing at me over the rim of her mug. She was too far away, so I slid closer and laced our fingers together.

"I thought you hated me," she confessed.

"Anything but."

"Then why…?"

I kissed her hand and released it. "Your father was very specific when you were moving back, Bella. You're off limits. To everyone." I shook my head as I chuckled without humor. "He asked me to be your friend. Look out for you—like I would my own sister. Except the way I feel about you isn't brotherly. The only way I could stop myself from acting on how I felt was to distance myself."

"But he really likes you—respects you. If we talked to him…"

"I'm twelve years older than you are, Bella. He'd fucking freak out."

Her chin lifted. "It's just a number."

"A big number."

She shrugged. "Your age doesn't bother me." She sighed, looking down into her mug; her voice soft when she finally spoke. "The way you treated me bothered me."

I slid closer, lifting her face and stroking her cheek. "I'm sorry," I murmured. "I hated doing it, but I didn't know what else to do. You…you affect me deeply, sweet girl."

"How?" she whispered, turning her face and pressing a kiss to my palm.

"You bring out feelings I've never experienced before," I confessed. "I've never felt this…need for another person. I want to protect you, keep you from harm. I want to touch you all the time." I trailed my fingers along her neck at the slight reddish skin from my scruff. "I want to mark you and let everyone know you're taken." I shut my eyes briefly, opening them to meet her intense gaze. "I want to know what makes you laugh and cry. All your hopes and dreams. I want to make your dreams come true. I want to be part of your life." I drew in a deep breath. "I want to make love to you…to fuck you and hear you cry out my name again. I want…I want to be everything to you."

"But?"

"We're at different stages in our life, Bella. Your father wouldn't approve of our relationship. Even if he didn't fire me over it, he'd be unhappy."

"I don't care about his feelings."

"Yes, you do," I stated gently. "You adore your father."

"I adore you."

My breath caught.

"How do you know we're at different stages, Edward? We're both healthy, happy with our jobs. I'm not a normal twenty-six-year-old. I don't enjoy clubbing or late nights. My dad has always said I had an old soul—I've never fit in with people my own age. I live a quiet life, and from all I've heard, so do you." She covered my hand with hers, pushing it into her skin. "I want to get to know you. Be your friend…and more. Is that such a bad thing?"

"You already are more."

"Then can't we…try?"

"I want to."

She placed her mug on the table and took mine from my hand, placing it beside hers. She slid onto my lap, wrapping her arms around her neck. "I want to, as well. Please stop fighting this, Edward."

Resting my hands on her hips, I studied her open expression. I slipped my fingers under the loose material of the shirt she was wearing, stroking the soft skin of her back. "I'm tired of fighting you, Bella. I want you. I want you with me. I just don't know how this will end. I don't want to hurt you even more than I have already."

"Then don't."

"You've already been hurt—your marriage…"

She shook her head. "Mike and I weren't right for each other. The divorce was a relief." She laughed ruefully. "He wanted a life of fun and glamor. He never wanted to grow up and be responsible. I thought he was what I needed to be less serious. I was serious enough for both of us."

"But?"

"I learned there was a difference between being serious and being responsible. His constant need to party and lack of ability to keep a job became very tiresome. I tried. I honestly did. I worked, he played. It just became too much, and when I told him to grow up, he told me to take a hike."

"He's an idiot. He should have taken better care of you."

"Charlie would agree with you."

"I want to take care of you."

"I want to care for you as well." She hesitated. "What about you, Edward? Dad mentioned you were divorced."

I nodded. "Much like you, I got married for the wrong reasons. We'd been dating a while and all our friends were getting married. It seemed…the right thing to do."

"What happened?"

I shrugged. "We were too young. We changed and what we wanted changed." I chuckled dryly. "Or what Lauren wanted changed. She hated everything I did. My job, my life—everything. She wanted a business man—someone who carried a smart attaché case and drove a BMW. Not someone who wore a hard hat, dragged dust in at the end of the day, or drove a truck. We parted ways after a couple years."

"I'm sorry."

"Don't be. She wasn't right for me."

"Since then?" she asked.

"I've dated—I'm certainly no monk. But I've never connected with anyone the way I connect with you. It's like…" My voice trailed off.

"Like?" she prompted.

My mouth hovered over hers. "Like I've been waiting for you."

"Edward," she breathed out.

As soon as my mouth touched hers I was lost. Minutes passed as we shared the same breath, our lips melded together, tongues dancing and stroking, learning the taste and scope of each other. Slowly pulling away, I rested my forehead against hers.

"What do we do now?" I asked. "Tell me what you want, Bella. I'll give it to you—I'll give you anything."

She tossed her head defiantly. "We're both adults, what we do in private is our business—no one else's."

"Your father?"

"Just us for now—we'll deal with him when we're ready…when we know how it's going to end."

"How do you want it to end, sweet girl?"

Her eyes were fathomless. "With forever."

With a groan I pulled her to my chest and covered her mouth with mine.

That was exactly what I wanted.

~o0o~

Charlie leaned over his desk, handing Bella something. "You left this in my truck."

Bella's hand closed around her cell phone. "Thanks Dad—I wondered where I put it."

"I didn't see it until this morning. I hope you didn't miss anything important."

"I'll plug it in and see."

I wasn't sure if I imagined the glance Charlie shot me, but I remembered my text, which Bella obviously hadn't seen. She had no idea I'd tried to contact her—but suddenly I wondered if he did.

"Couldn't break my password, Charlie?" she teased, and I relaxed when he shook his head.

"I would have tried, but the damn thing was already dead. If you refuse a house phone, Bells, you need to remember to keep the damn thing charged—and remember where it is."

She nodded, running her finger over the keys. "I usually do, I just forgot." Then she slipped her phone into her pocket. "What did you need me and Edward for?"

"Hunter has some more questions, but I think he's going with us. I want both of you to work closely with him. He's going to need a lot of handholding, I think. Put our best people on it Edward."

"All our people are the best, Charlie," I countered.

He laughed. "The best of the best then."

I gave a curt nod. "Will do."

His eyes narrowed. "You have a problem with Hunter?"

"Besides the fact he's arrogant, a know-it-all and I have a bad feeling about him? No, nothing."

I didn't add the fact I didn't like the way he looked at Bella when he was here last time—as if she was something to eat. I didn't have the right to say that, I reminded myself.

"Work with him. He has a lot of projects on the go. We do a good job with this; it could be the start of some new business. Lots of it."

I nodded, hating the idea.

"Bells, I want you in on all the meetings. He liked your ideas last time. Develop a rapport with him."

"Sure, Charlie."

I hated the idea even more now.

I stood up. "Anything else?"

Her brow furrowed. "No. I expect both of you to be on top of this."

We both nodded and walked out of his office. "Jess," Bella called over to her new assistant. "Tell everyone ten minutes in the boardroom. I just have to get my notes and go over them." She turned away, and before I could stop myself, I grabbed her arm.

"Tell them fifteen minutes," I instructed Jess, leading a startled Bella to my office. "I need to go over this file with you before the meeting, Isabella. It's important."

Ignoring Jess's surprised expression and Bella's glare, I pulled her into my office, shutting the door and flicking the lock. Seconds later, I had her pushed against the wall, trapping her between the hard surface and my chest.

"What are you doing?" she hissed.

"Talking to you."

She pushed on my chest. "It doesn't feel like talking. You're the one who said no touching in the office."

"I'm breaking all the rules anyway. If I'm going to hell, I might as well enjoy it," I growled, grasping her thighs and lifting her up, forcing her to wrap her legs around my hips—exactly the way I imagined them.

She gasped when she felt me hard and pressing into her softness. "Edward."

"You didn't get my message," I murmured into her ear, thrusting my hips slowly forward, making her quiver.

"You…you sent me a message?"

"Yes—I wanted to apologize. I came to your house—several times, but Charlie was there. I asked you to call me."

"I didn't see it. We went for lunch and I left my cell in the truck. I looked for it after he left—when I couldn't find it, I sent you an email saying I was sorry, but you didn't respond either."

I quirked my eyebrow at her. "I didn't check my computer."

"You need to embrace technology and add email to your phone, old man."

I grinned at her teasing, relieved to know she was no longer as angry with me. She knew I hated all that technology shit. She loved it.

"I like my private time, little girl." I pushed closer, my fingers stroking her upper thigh. "I especially like my private time with you."

She whimpered, and I covered her mouth with mine. I kept the kisses light and indulgent; gentle sweeps of my lips against hers, tiny nips of my teeth to her bottom lip and tender passes of my tongue over the plump flesh. Small, silent symbols of apologies.

"I'm sorry, sweet girl—I hate arguing with you. I hate not being able to talk to you."

Her eyes glimmered.

"Don't cry. Please, Bella, don't cry."

"I'm sorry, too."

"We'll talk tonight? You'll come over?"

"I have a business dinner with Charlie."

"Come after."

She smirked, arching back into me, making me groan at the contact. "It'll be late, Edward, and we both know if I show up late, coming will be all that will happen—there'll be no talking. You'll be all sleepy and sexy; your cock will be all smirky and winky—there won't be any talking—we'll end up making love instead."

"You think I'm sexy when I'm sleepy?"

"Definitely. You get all tousled and your voice gets all growly. I love it."

I filed that piece of information away for later use. I grinned at her. "My cock…winks?"

"Smirks too—flirty little bugger does it constantly."

I lowered my face to her ear, tugging on her lobe. "Obviously it's been too long since he winked at you, otherwise you wouldn't be referring to him as 'little bugger,' Bella. I think you should come…over later tonight so I can remind you how not little he is."

She sighed, her hands caressing the back of my neck. "I love you," she whispered fervently, her hands pulling me close and my cock closer. "Maybe he'd like to wink at me now."

"Baby, we have to go. Jess will knock any minute."

"We have seven minutes."

I fingered the bow on her hip, desperate to feel her wrapped around me. "We shouldn't."

"I want you," she breathed.

"You'd have to be quiet," I warned, yanking on the bow and slipping my hands under the fabric, groaning. "No underwear, Bella?" I bit her earlobe. "Naughty, naughty girl."

She moaned low as my fingers found her slick center, stroking her hard.

"We have to be fast."

"Six minutes," she panted, as my pants hit the floor with quiet thud.

"I only need three," I moaned, burying myself deep inside her. "I'm going to make you come so fast."

"Two," she moaned. "I only need two."

She was right.

It was the best two fucking minutes of my life; my orgasm hot and fast, my groan lost in the sweetness of her mouth.

It left me four minutes to pull up my pants, help her retie her pretty bow, and then simply hold her. The tension had drained from her frame, her stiffness easing even more as my hands stroked her head—long passes of my fingers through her thick, wonderful hair as I whispered my adoration for her into her ear. She became fluid in my arms, and I felt myself calm and center holding her. She always did that for me.

"Forgiven?" I murmured into her hair.

"Yes." A yawn escaped her mouth and she sighed.

"Good." I chuckled. "I can't believe we each tried to reach out and neither of us got the message. It would have saved some lost hours of sleep for both of us."

"What a pair," she agreed.

Regretfully, I tilted her chin up. "The best pair, Bella." I drew in a deep breath. "And it's time everyone knew exactly how great."

"Really?" she whispered.

"We'll figure it out. I'll talk to your dad later this week."

"We should talk to him together."

"United front?"

"Yes."

Affectionately I ran my nose up her cheek. "Okay. He might not kill me if you're there to witness the act."

Jess knocked on the door. "Everyone's in the boardroom!" she chirped.

I moved back, cupping Bella's face, her eyes once again calm and tender.

"Tomorrow," I promised.

"Tomorrow."

~o0o~

Two hours later her eyes were anything but calm or tender. They shot daggers at me as Charlie yelled; his face almost purple in rage.

"You better have a good fucking explanation, Edward. You cost me a huge amount of business!"

I stood up, slapping my hand on the desk. "He was out of line, Charlie! I couldn't sit there and listen to that shit! He was hitting on your daughter!"

Charlie turned to Bella. "Is this true?"

"I could have handled it. I was handling it until you went all caveman, Edward!"

I gaped at her, reminding myself she hadn't heard the disgusting remarks he muttered when she left the room to grab a report from her desk. He'd actually winked in my direction as he had the gall to ask me if anyone in the office was "tapping that hot ass." Then he went on to mutter some of the depraved things he'd do to her ass.

I had him pinned against the wall, my arm pressing on his throat when Bella walked back in, Charlie following her.

Chaos ensued; James Hunter insisted I had attacked him unprovoked. He threatened not only to pull his business, but also screamed about legal action and insisted I be fired.

I shook my head at her. "You didn't hear what he said when you left. You couldn't handle that shit. Trust me."

Bella's eyes widened and face blanched.

I met Charlie's gaze. "I couldn't allow him to disrespect her, or you like that." I straightened my shoulders. "Fire me if you want."

He ran a hand over his face and stood up. "I'm not going to fire you. You said you had a bad feeling about him. I had just hoped he'd be a pain about budgets. Not hit on my daughter. I don't want his business."

"You want me to call him?"

"No, I'll take care of it." To my surprise he reached out his hand. "Thanks for looking out for her."

I shook his hand. "You're welcome."

Charlie left the room and I sighed. "So I guess you're mad at me again?"

"What did he say?"

Quietly, I told her. "I couldn't sit here and listen to that, Bella. Even if you weren't…mine, I couldn't. But the fact you are…I couldn't risk him ever trying anything. I couldn't bear it if anything happened to you because I held back and played it safe for the sake of some business."

Her hand slipped into mine. "I've never seen you like that."

"I'll do whatever I need to do to protect you."

She bit her lip and grinned a little. "That's rather hot, Edward. No one has ever wanted to protect me, apart from my father. I hope you don't go to jail for it. Your face is too pretty for that to happen."

I chuckled and leaned forward, grateful she wasn't angry. "Let me get this straight, Bella." I lowered my voice. "You think I'm sexy, growly, and pretty? And my cock is smirky?"

"And winky."

"Right. Winky, too."

She nodded. "That about sums it up."

"Wow, a man finds out a lot of things on a Monday he never knew before."

She stood up, dropping a quick kiss on my mouth. "Wait 'til you see what I show you later."

"I can hardly wait."

~o0o~

A few days later, I sat at my desk, trying to concentrate on the file in front of me. It wasn't working. All I could think about was Bella. About us. Telling Charlie. Wondering if the past few days would make what I had to tell him easier or harder. He had finally calmed James Hunter down—no charges would be laid, but there would be no business happening between them either. When I told him what Hunter had said, Charlie paid him a visit and after that the matter was closed. An angry Charlie was a scary Charlie—I knew this from experience. I also knew Charlie was discreetly making some calls to other companies, warning them about Hunter.

The door opened, the loud noise of the site flooding the trailer, and Charlie stepped in. I leaned back in my chair, accepting the cup of coffee he offered me.

"Hey," I muttered. "I wasn't expecting you."

"Bells needed one of the new guys to sign some papers."

"So you brought them down?"

"Nah, she came with me. She said something about needing a conversation outside the office and wanting you involved." He sat down heavily, taking a deep swallow of his coffee. He looked out the window with a sigh. "I think she's fixing to leave, Edward."

I shook my head. "No, she isn't."

"If she does, it's your damn fault!" He slammed his hand on the hard wood in front of him. "Why can't the two of you get on?"

"Charlie…"

"She's my daughter, Edward! You're my right hand…and my goddamn friend! Why can't you get along? You came to her defense the other day, so you must like her a little?"

I took in a deep breath. "Are we friends, Charlie?"

"What kind of fucking question is that? Of course we are. I'm as close to you as anyone—you know that."

"Why?"

"Why what?"

Resting my arms on my things I studied Charlie's irate face, an idea forming. "Why are we friends?"

"Again I ask… What kind of question is that? What are you on about this morning?"

"A fair one. Aside from the fact you're my boss, you're fourteen years older than I am. What could we possibly have in common?"

He looked at me as if I was crazy. "What the fuck does age have to do with friendship? We have lots in common; we enjoy the same things, we get on well… I don't care if you're four years or fourteen years younger than I am."

"What about other relationships?" I asked quietly.

"What do you mean?"

"Does age have to play a role in any relationship as long as it's a good one for both parties? Despite what other people may think?"

He frowned and began to speak, just as all hell broke loose outside. Shouting, yelling and the sound of some catastrophe happening, had me leaping to my feet and racing to the door, flinging it open.

My eyes flew open in horror at what I saw, my blood freezing in my veins into icy shards of glass that prickled and stabbed at my flesh.

The large crane that was lifting equipment had clearly malfunctioned; the load now swinging freely, pieces of building supplies flying like debris in a wind storm. The crew was scrambling, yelling and trying to clear the area.

And standing, frozen, in the middle of the chaos, no hard hat, or other protective equipment, was Bella.

Behind me, Charlie cursed and yelled for Bella to move. The only words in my head though, echoing time and again: not her—dear God, not her.

There was no thought. In seconds I was off the steps, moving faster than I thought I was capable of, screaming her name.

"Bella! Baby—get back! Move, Bella—move!"

I reached her before she had even turned her head, wrapping her in my arms and propelling her back into the safety of the overhang, the force of my lunge knocking us both to the ground. I pivoted on my feet, rolling so I landed on my back, Bella on top of me. My breath left my chest with a large oomph, my embrace like a steel cage around her. Gasping for air, I stared at her. "Baby—are you okay?"

Before she could answer, I saw it. A piece of broken scaffolding flying in the air, aiming directly for Bella. With a loud curse, I rolled, ignoring her grunt of discomfort, as my body covered hers.

Heavy pain lanced across my foot, causing me to shout in distress. My eyes met Bella's fearful ones. Her gaze widened, her mouth opened in warning, my name a terrified gasp on her lips. "Edward!"

There was more pain—searing agony that buried into the back of my head exploding with a fiery, burning eruption.

Then the world went black.

~o0o~

There were voices, distant and muted. I tried to open my eyes, but the pain was too much. I attempted to turn my head to the sounds, but it was as if I was locked down, unable to move.

The voices droned on…

"Too early to tell—he needs time—swelling…"

A different voice, angry and low: "—you could have been killed—why didn't you tell me…"

A tender voice, one I knew, whispered: "…come back to me, Edward—please. I need you. I love you."

My own voice pleading. "Bella."

The darkness claimed me again.

~o0o~

The world was clearer the next time I came to—the pain barely having changed. I forced my eyes open, blinking in the dim light. The room around me was stark, machines beeping a low, steady rhythm. My gaze moved and fell on the figure beside me, meeting the stoic, dark gaze of Charlie. His eyes were sunken and glazed.

Panic fluttered as memories seeped into my addled brain. Despite the pain, I struggled to lift my head, rasping out the only word that mattered.

"Bella?"

He stood, looming over me, pushing me back into the pillow. "She's fine."

"Where?" I groaned, needing to know how close she was. I wanted to see her, make sure she was okay.

"She's sleeping."

"Please," I begged, fighting the darkness. "I need…I love…"

And I was gone again.

~o0o~

The next time I woke up, I wasn't alone in bed. Curled beside me was my girl, her hand clutching my gown, head on my chest. One arm was wrapped in tensor bandages and I could see bruises forming on her pale skin. My arm was around her, holding her close. The pain in my head was less, but still there. Grimacing, I nuzzled the top of her head.

"Bella," I whispered. "Sweet girl."

"She refused to leave again."

I looked up at Charlie, who was watching us with narrowed eyes.

"She's stubborn."

A small smirk appeared on his lips. "Like her mother."

"Like her father, as well."

I cleared my throat, and gratefully accepted the water Charlie offered me, taking several sips before handing him the glass.

He leaned back in his chair. "She may be thinking by staying there, she's protecting you."

"Do I need protection, Charlie?"

"You have something you want to tell me, Edward?"

"I'm in love with your daughter."

"And?"

"She loves me."

"How long?"

I hesitated, wondering how much to say.

"How long, Edward?"

"I've been in love with her since the first day she arrived."

"You've lied to me all this time?"

"I tried to fight it, Charlie. We tried. I stayed away from her as long as I was able to—I even tried to make her hate me. But…we love each other."

"Yet you hid it."

"We were worried about your reaction. You yourself told me no one was good enough for her—that she was off limits to everyone, remember? I tried to respect that—I tried to fight it." I brushed my hair off my forehead in an impatient gesture, ignoring the pain that simple action caused. "I didn't know what else to do. She's everything to me, Charlie. She completes me—it's as if I've been waiting all my life to find her.

"We had decided to tell you"—I indicated my prone form—"then this happened."

He didn't say anything for a minute, and I used the time to look down at Bella. Her long eyelashes rested on her cheek as she slumbered, a slight frown on her full lips. I traced her mouth with my finger, smiling when her lips formed into a pout and she kissed the tip. I sighed heavily, trying to find more strength to keep talking. I was exhausted.

I looked up to see Charlie watching us. "I know I'm not what you had in mind for her. I'm not rich; I can't provide her with all the luxuries she deserves. And I'm older than she is."

"I don't care if you're rich—it's how you treat her that's important. But you are older —a lot older," he grumbled.

"You said it yourself the other day. Age has nothing to do with how well a relationship works. Or does that only apply when you choose?" I challenged him.

He glared at me for a moment.

"You've said yourself she's an old soul. She's perfect for me. We mesh so well.

"I'll do anything I need to do in order to make her happy…in order to keep her." I sucked in a deep breath. "Including leaving the company, if that's what you want."

"You'd do that?"

"Yes."

"You saved her life. You risked your own life to save hers."

"I'd do it again—a hundred times over."

A glimmer of a smile appeared on his face. "I can't go through that a hundred times."

"Maybe we need to ban her from the work sites, then."

"I'll let you tell her," he chuckled.

"Do I still have a job?"

He leaned back, scrubbing his face. "Edward, when I tell you to give everyone the day off for doing a good job, do I include you in that statement?"

"Not usually."

"When I tell you to kick everyone's ass because we're behind schedule, are you part of that ass kicking?"

"No."

"When I said off limits to everyone…I wasn't necessarily including you, either."

"You weren't?"

He shook his head. "I have a confession to make. I can't tell you how often I thought the two of you would make a great team. How many times I wished she'd find someone just like you to be part of her life. Someone strong and caring."

"That's not what you said," I pointed out.

"I know. I thought the age difference was too much, and you working in the same company wasn't a good idea. I hated the thought that if things didn't work, I'd have to choose between you."

"No," I said quietly. "If that happened, I would leave. I wouldn't make you choose. But it's not going to happen, Charlie. She's it for me. I've been waiting so long for her, I'd almost given up."

"Guess all the hiding has been hard on you, eh?"

"You have no idea. You could have said something. Given me a clue."

He grinned, lifting one shoulder. "I didn't want to make it too easy for you. Challenge is good for a man."

"You're an ass."

"At first I thought you honestly didn't like each other, so I didn't bother trying to push it. But seeing how well you worked together gave me hope. Lately though…"

"We weren't fooling you anymore?"

He chuckled. "No—the two of you were far too in tune with each other. If Bells was upset, I knew you would be too. On the days she was glowing, I knew you'd be flying high as well." He held up his hand. "And I don't want to know why."

I grinned. I had no plans on telling him either.

"The bottom line was, I saw how you were with each other and I hoped it was because there was something there. And after the Hunter incident, I was sure of it. I've never seen you rage the way you did that day. I knew then she was in good hands—you'd look after her."

"So…we're okay?"

He ran his fingers over his moustache, staring at me. My fingers tightened on Bella's arm, pulling her closer to me. Charlie leaned forward.

"No more lies. You show the world how proud you are to be with my daughter. You protect her and love her the way she deserves."

"I want to."

"Then do it."

"I will."

He stood up, placing his hand on top of mine that was holding his daughter. "I'm glad she has you."

I smiled at him. "Thanks, Charlie."

"And I want grandkids—soon." He grinned. "Neither of us is getting any younger."

I blinked, then snickered. "I'll be sure to discuss that with your daughter."

"Okay. Enough of this emo shit. I'm going to go get coffee. I'll tell them you're awake." He paused at the doorway. "And Edward?"

"Yeah?"

"You hurt her—I have enough sites and concrete, they'll never find your body."

"I'm aware."

"Good. Keep that in mind." He chuckled darkly, pulling the door open and walking out.

Reaching for the glass, I took another sip, hoping when the doctor arrived he'd give me something for the pain. I smirked down at Bella.

"I know you're awake, sweet girl. You're a pretty bad actress. No wonder he didn't buy it."

"He does, you know," Bella mumbled into my chest. "He has access to a lot of concrete."

"I'll remember that." I grinned and kissed the top of her head. "How much did you hear?"

Her head tilted up. "Enough."

I gazed down at her. "You scared the fuck out of me."

She blinked, her eyes filling with tears. "It happened so fast. I knew I had to move, but my feet wouldn't go and then…you were there."

"I had to get to you."

"And you got hurt."

"My head can take it. Some Tylenol would be good though. "

"Edward," she admonished, half sitting up. "You have a concussion, stitches, your foot is broken, you have contusions all over your shoulders and back—it's way more serious than a headache!"

I glanced down, realizing for the first time, my leg was encased in plaster. I already knew my head had stitches and I could feel every ache in my back.

"How long was I out?"

"Most of the day. You're going to have to be off work for a while."

"Huh. Well, I guess it's a good thing I have you to look after me."

"I will."

"Then I'll be fine."

"I was so terrified. The piece of equipment hit you, and you were knocked out, people were yelling and Charlie was there, the ambulance came." She shook her head. "I was crying and I refused to leave you—I kept trying to tell my dad why, but he finally grabbed my face and stared me, saying he knew, and understood. He told me to calm down and go with you so I could be looked at. He followed the ambulance and he's been here with me—with us—until now."

"Sweet girl…"I breathed out.

"He's been so strong, Edward," she continued. "I told him how much I love you—how you look after me and he's been…great once he stopped being annoyed. He was worried sick about you as well."

"I'm fine."

She sniffed. "We're both fine."

"When can I get out of here?"

"You just woke up, Edward. I'd say not for a couple days."

"Ugh. I want to go home. I'd rest better there. Especially with you to look after me—at least once your arm heals."

"It's just a sprain. It got pinned when you rolled us."

"I'm sorry."

"Edward, you saved me. You have nothing to be sorry for."

I frowned at her. "I told you to wear protective equipment! I told you that over and again!"

"I will next time."

I snorted. "There won't be a next time. You're banned from all work sites in the future. Permanently banned."

She got that stubborn look on her face I knew only too well.

"No arguing. Your father agrees."

"Great. Now I have the two of you ordering me around."

"Get used to it."

Her eyes began to dance. "What if I wanted to drop by for…another reason, Edward?"

"Another reason?"

"Like the other day?"

I shifted slightly under the covers and chuckled. "I might bend the rules for that."

"Yeah?"

"You'd have to come directly to the trailer. No wandering about."

She slipped her hand under the covers, slowly trailing her fingers down and cupping me. "No wandering at all?"

I groaned. "Bella, a nurse or doctor could walk in any minute—never mind, God forbid, your father sees what you're doing. I'm not sure he will ever be ready for that. If you keep doing that, there is going to be smirking and winking…"

"I like smirking and winking," she whispered.

"I promise to show you lots of it when we get home and my head isn't about to explode."

She withdrew her hand right away. "Sorry."

"Don't ever be sorry." I nuzzled her head. "I love it when you touch me, but I think we need to wait until we get home."

"Home?"

"My house Bella—it becomes home when you're there. And I'd like it to be home all the time—for both of us."

"Edward…"

"We've wasted enough time. I want you with me. I want to make a home and a life with you."

"I want that, too."

"Marry me. Move in with me. Have babies with me."

"In that order?"

"In whatever order you want. Just do all of them with me. Please."

Her smile was as bright as the midday sun. "Yes."

I kissed her softly and leaned back into the pillows. "I want to celebrate, but I think the only thing I can manage is some pain killers and a nap."

She sighed. "Life with an old man—guess I'd better get used to it."

I chuckled. "I'll make it up to you."

She slipped out of my embrace. "I'll go get the doctor."

She paused at the door. "Edward?" she called in a soft lilt.

"Hmm?"

"Whenever you're ready, I'm happy to work on those grandkids."

"Kids, as in more than one, Bella?"

"Definitely."

"I look forward to the smirking and winking. Lots of it."

Her voice was tender. "I love you."

That was all I needed. She was all I needed.

"I love you, too."


Thank you for reading. Many who read this in the contest asked to see more of these two. I am not marking it complete just yet. Be sure to add it to your alerts!