My entry for the May to December Romance Contest. Thanks to NicficWhisperer and CarrieZM for an amazingly fun and successful contest. It was an honor to be part of it. Thank you so much for the nod from NicficWhisperer and MrsSpaceCowboy. They blew me away when they chose my entry.

Many thanks to my wonderful girls who help me scrutinize my words - AudiR8, Edwards Beachlover and VampyreGirl86 - also thanks to those who left reviews and made me so happy.

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


Edward

I could have declined the invitation to Garrett's second wedding, but his friendship is important to me. As my agent, he's worked for years to help me carve out a niche in the very ruthless business of piano performance.

His first wife, my cousin, Rose, told me she would never speak to me again if I attended. She's our diva, a mezzo-soprano, true-soprano-wannabe, whose stage career has been built more on her formidable personality than on her ability to sustain the highest notes. She's tall and built, "strong as an ox," is how I describe her.

I warned Garrett that Rose was a handful but he ignored me, charging ahead and marrying without really knowing her. Their divorce came as no surprise, only the length of time they kept trying to make it work.

She is so volatile that I know she will forgive me quickly, seeking details and dirt on how awful the wedding was, but their day has been elegant and relaxed. His new wife, Kate, is a much better match for him, I hope.

Garrett knows my feelings on the sanctimonious institution that our society relies on. We've spent many nights arguing if all such unions are doomed to failure.

He romantically believes that marriage is a holy sacrament, a covenant between two like-minded people, an agreement, a commitment to a stable life for children.

My argument is that marriage forces two people to give up the individuality that first attracted them to each other, becoming an amalgamation that eventually suits neither. Little parts of them will break out of the confines eventually.

I see it with couples, when one takes the limelight and the other sighs like they've heard it all before, or worse, they wonder how they ever became the other half of a duo.

Today, Garrett marries in front of me again, and all I can do is watch.

They seat me with a mixture of business acquaintances who all know of me when I've never heard Garrett speak of any of them, and the conversation is quite stimulating until they start comparing their private lives, children and general stresses.

With nothing to contribute, I excuse myself after the main course and head to the bar for an appropriate end to the meal. They have a good selection of whiskey and, from here, I can observe like a predator, watching for a beautiful stray woman to become my dessert.

Garrett and Kate are mingling as other people get up from their seats to visit nearby tables, greeting each other with hugs and smiles. His family has grown immensely since the last time, when I was his groomsman, and I try to remember who is who without any luck. There are tables of older teenagers and young adults now, probably his grown up nieces and nephews.

Garrett is the youngest son, one of two from a marriage that brought with it three older siblings from his father, a widower. They waited years to settle down as a family before deciding to have more of their own, so there is quite a gap in ages.

I find the concept of his large family interesting because it is so foreign to me. Rose is my only cousin and sometimes I wonder if either of us would have achieved much success if we had to share our parents and income with brothers and sisters. Would a fraction of my mother's time have been enough to get me through my rebellious years? Would Edward Senior have paid for my tuition to Juilliard? Just thinking about those two makes me sigh, so I finish the drink and turn around to peruse the females on offer.

That's when I see her.

Hidden by a few people standing and chatting, she suddenly appears in my field of vision, reacting to a small child who lets out a cry. She dashes over and picks him up, kissing his cheek and settling him down by talking with her lips to his ear. I cannot stop staring and a wonderful feeling of relaxation courses through me when the tiny boy closes his eyes, twisting his finger in a tendril of her hair. It's hypnotic.

Aware of the smile creeping onto my face, I watch her gently rock the child as she sways her hips. An older male approaches and takes the boy, thanking her. She looks around, lost for a moment, and then smooths her dress down her thighs before returning to her table.

I don't think the child is hers but she has assumed some responsibility for him, so maybe he is the son of a friend or even her nephew. It is possible that the children here are a new layer in Garrett's tribe.

The same people are still standing in front of her and, with some annoyance, I move to another stool where I can better see. Her seat is now empty so I scan the room and find her partly obscured within a small group of what looks like family.

Frustrated, I order another whiskey, taking a few sips and swirling the liquid in the glass.

"Are you okay?" The smoothest of sultry voices rouses me from my focus on the drink. I glance up and see it is the same girl, accepting two glasses of champagne from the bartender as she tilts her head in question.

"I'm fine," I answer, trying to avert my eyes from the dress advertising her curves. She is younger up close and, regrettably, much too young for me. I still admire her beautiful neck and the tiny pieces of hair that escape from the soft updo of curls at the back of her head. The slight blush of pink on her cheeks complements the color of her lips and her thick black eyelashes.

Her perfection is blinding.

"You're sitting over here on your own in the middle of a wedding. Do you want to come and sit at our table?"

My heart contracts. It might be because her vivid blue eyes search mine compassionately for an answer, or the incredibly kind offer when she has no idea who I am or why I am sitting here.

The truth – that I'm looking for a potential someone to fuck later – would send her away, disgusted probably.

"No, I'm good… really." Her frown, combined with a little pout, makes me protest my answer further. "Really."

"I'll be right back. I just have to deliver this drink," she offers enthusiastically as she walks into the crowd on her very high heels. I have to turn away from the sight of her ankles and shapely calves.

Who is this baby whisperer with a voice full of sex and a heart filled with kindness?

I play with my glass again, toying with the idea of her coming back to tempt me. This is a line I have never crossed, and it isn't going to happen at Garrett's wedding. She has to have a boyfriend around here somewhere.

Trying to ignore her return when the champagne flute appears back on the bar, I run my fingers around the edge of my glass.

"You have such long fingers."

The enchanting voice makes me look up into her beautiful face and I catch a suggestive flicker of an eyebrow.

"Yes, I play the piano… for a living."

Her smile lights up those eyes. "I'm going to be a teacher. I'm studying early childhood education and exceptional needs."

Still in college. I should get out of here and run for my life.

"So what are you doing on your own, Mister Lonesome?" she asks, taking the stool next to me.

"It's a little awkward for me tonight. I'm Edward, Garrett's first wife's cousin."

"Quite a mouthful. You should be taking notes if you're spying for Rose. I thought you must be sitting here for a reason."

I start to laugh because she's joking, but her observation is right on the mark. Rose will be on the phone no later than Monday, wringing every piece of gossip out of me.

She smirks and traces the stem of her glass. Her nails are French polished, classically beautiful like the rest of her.

"There, that's better. You should smile more often, Edward. It suits you."

Smiling at this girl is easy. The more I look at her and listen to her voice, the more delightful she becomes.

"So, where do you fit in?"

She motions to the bartender with her finger from her glass to me. "Sorry, I'm Bella, Garrett's niece. My mom's his sister."

Of course she's his niece and still in college. This gets worse by the minute.

Another glass of champagne appears and she says, "Take this back to your seat. The toasts are about to start. We should have a dance later, Edward."

"Sure," I reply, regretting the word as it comes out of my mouth, and with that, she is gone to the tinkling sound of silver on glass.

During the lengthy speeches, I look her way often and each time she senses my eyes on her, she returns a smile. The draw I feel seems to grow with every bit of eye contact and I decide that I will ask her to dance, just to feel what it's like to have her in my arms for a few songs.

The idea of finding another woman at this wedding has lost its appeal, but nothing will happen with this girl. Garrett's friendship is too important to risk even the tiniest kiss.

The music starting interrupts my daydreaming and we watch the bride and groom dance. Couples stand to join them and soon there are empty seats everywhere. When I see Bella dancing with a man I assume to be her father or uncle, I'm just about to get another drink when a woman I haven't laid eyes on all evening asks me to dance.

Respectfully, I agree and accompany her onto the dance floor, moving us closer to Bella, waiting to see if a boyfriend claims her, but she continues to dance with people who act like family. A couple of times, I catch her partner look over and then shake his head, as if she asked a question about me. This makes me more impatient to get a dance with her.

My current partner, obviously bored and tired of my lack of attention and insufficient small talk, decides to sit down at the end of the next song and, as I escort her back to her table, Bella grabs my hand and says in a bubbly voice, "Hey, my turn," yanking me back out to dance.

She follows well with her hand on my shoulder, allowing it to gradually creep around the back of my neck. With my arm wrapped around her, I hold her other hand close to my chest, looking into her eyes, pointlessly fantasizing that she's older. When she sighs and rests her cheek on my chest, I ask if she's tired and she just shakes her head, holding me tighter.

No other men try to cut in and we dance like this until I spot Garrett, furiously glaring at me. We are one of only a dozen couples left on the floor and he's made an incorrect assumption.

"That's enough," I say, straightening up.

"Why?" she asks dreamily.

"Garrett's giving me the eye, warning me I'm too old for you."

"Hey." She touches her finger to my jaw. "If I want to dance with a good looking man, I'll do it. I'm no child."

I smile at her compliment, almost forgetting Garrett's accusing stare, until reality sobers me again.

"Nevertheless, he's right. I don't know what I was thinking. How old are you, Bella?"

"Twenty-one, but we're only dancing."

"Jesus, I'm thirty-six." I sigh, just thinking about it.

"And totally hot."

This girl…

"And you are so very dangerous," I reply, chuckling, and continue to dance.

"Hmm, much better," she whispers, nestling back into my chest, as I catch sight of Garrett, shaking his head and sitting down with his wife. I know I haven't heard the last of this but we are doing nothing wrong and it isn't as if I'm forcing her to keep dancing with me.

Someone calls to her to say goodbye to her relatives and I return to my table, feeling awkward and alone. Knowing there can be nothing between us doesn't stop me from wanting to say goodnight and tell her I enjoyed her company.

After five minutes of feeling ridiculous, I decide it's best to just go, avoiding the people surrounding Garrett and Kate. Then I feel a tug on my pocket and look up to see Bella speeding away without looking back, calling out to someone that she is coming.

On inspection, I find a tiny note with a phone number and wonder what she is trying to tell me. Should I call her one day in the future or soon, like later tonight? I decide to text her and then she'll have my number. It takes me several attempts to get the wording correct, concentrating on not sounding too final or obviously encouraging.

"I very much enjoyed your company tonight, baby whisperer. If you need me just call."

As soon as I send it, I realize how strange it must sound and that I haven't included my name. I have to resist the itch to send a follow up, knowing I should never have sent the first one, frustrated at losing control of the situation and wondering what is wrong with me.

The sound of an incoming text makes my fingers twitch when I see it's from her.

"Edward?"

"Yes, Bella."

"Baby whisperer?"

"I watched you soothe that little boy."

"Ah. He was my nephew."

It isn't a question so I wait, wondering if there is any more, before I walk out on the street, ready to call a cab, jealously watching other people leave with their partners. This isn't like me and I know it's not about sex. I should be saying goodbye to her in person.

Another text pops up. "Where are you?"

"Out front. I'm calling a cab."

"WHAAAAAAT! NOOOOOOOOOO! DON'T LEAVE! CAN I COME WITH YOU?"

The intensity of the response startles me, reinforcing the fact that I must stifle this now.

"No."

"Can I see you before you go? I want to say goodnight."

"No."

"This is stupid. I'm coming out there."

"Don't you dare."

"Too late. On my way."

I actually look around for somewhere to hide and then start to laugh because this is stupid. We should be allowed to say goodbye as friends who have just enjoyed an evening together.

We're doing nothing wrong.

It's just that I like her. Seeing her walk out that front gate and smile when she spots me makes my heart leap in my chest.

"You're incorrigible," I say with a grin.

"I'll drive you. I have a car."

"Definitely not," I reply quickly. I can't admit that I would love to spend some more time with her.

"People won't see us leave together. You could walk around the corner and then get in."

There seems to be no stopping this girl. She quashes every argument before I have a chance to offer it up and the hopeful smile is affecting my resolve. Knowing this is madness, I feel like she will hunt me down if I don't capitulate. It isn't an entirely bad feeling either.

"Please."

The sound of her voice, along with the puppy dog expression breaks me.

"All right," I agree with a shrug.

She beams at me victoriously and her tongue pokes out between her teeth. "Go up to the corner and turn left. Everyone else will be going right." When there are no more instructions forthcoming, I nod and she calls out loudly, "Goodnight," working the charade, before turning and heading in the opposite direction.

I take off up the street and, once I turn left, I keep going, looking back for any sign of headlights, not knowing how far away her car is, and suddenly anxious about her safety on the street. More minutes pass before I turn to jog back, only to be met by an unexpectedly stylish car approaching.

When she stops and lets the window down, I ask, "You drive a Lexus?"

"No, this is Mom's. I don't own a car."

Right, of course. She's a college student. Just get in and stop anticipating her.

"I'm sorry I took so long but… my cousin wanted to say goodbye and…" She doesn't finish the sentence when her eyes lock on my lips.

"It's okay." I am so out of my comfort zone in the front passenger seat.

"So, which way, Edward?"

"Take the next right. It's just north of downtown."

"Are you at a hotel?" she asks, as if this displeases her.

"No, I live in the city. This is my only permanent residence."

She looks a little confused and then asks, "Why do you call it that?"

"I travel a lot."

"Got it."

Her reaction or lack of it almost wounds me. There are no more questions and she turns on the radio, fiddling with the buttons until I take over.

"What kinds of music do you like, Bella?"

"I like everything, but no head banging stuff this late. Maybe something calming if I'm driving into the city."

"Are you nervous?" I ask, finding a classical station.

"I don't know where I'm going. Mom will kill me if I damage her car."

Eugen Doga's "Gramophone" is playing and I turn it up slightly, enjoying its cheekiness. One of the highlights of my earliest career was playing this with a major orchestra and I've never forgotten it. I requested that Garrett play it at the wedding.

"Would you like me to drive?"

"No, you wouldn't be covered by her insurance."

I chuckle at the way her mind works. Ready to drive half way across town to drop off a man she barely knows; her worry is the possibility of denting the car in the process.

"What are you laughing about?" she asks, glancing over briefly and frowning.

"You," I answer, shaking my head but grinning at her. The frown takes a while to disappear, but eventually she begins to move to the rhythm of the waltz.

"I'm sure they played this at the wedding. It sounds like something from a music box."

"It does," I agree, pleased she noticed.

She is a good driver and I spend time admiring how she twists her body as she checks carefully before switching lanes. It amazes me how women can use the pedals in such high heels, but it doesn't seem to bother her.

As we reach the downtown area, she slows her speed and carefully navigates from my instructions. The street is deserted when I point out the entry to the parking lot and she turns in, puts the car in park, pulls on the hand brake, and faces me.

"So goodnight, Edward," she says, staring at my lips.

Undoing the seat belt, I feel her hand on my thigh and her eyes hold an apology.

"I just wanted… just to see what it would be like to… you know… kiss you goodnight."

This has happened because I have allowed it, so I will kiss her but it will be over quickly.

She turns her head, opens her mouth slightly and meets my lips, but our tongues get involved. Before I know it, my hands are moving from her jaw to her neck and she's there with me for every heavy breath and hungry taste of her tongue.

She kisses with a passion born from need, as if it has been a while, and I react like a man cherishing an almost virginal quality. I pull back, believing I can end this now, and I look at her, smoothing her hair and smiling when she hums in satisfaction and her eyes remain closed. I have to kiss her lids and then her cheeks, but when her eyes open, she feeds her fingers into my hair and licks her lips with a new intent.

"More," she purrs, scratching the back of my head.

Without thinking, I start kissing her with a powerful desire, devouring every delicious moan, licking the taste of her neck.

"Edward," she cries out, panting. "We can't do this."

In my head, I'm already buried deep inside her, holding her still while her hot pussy encases me. Releasing her, I fall back against my seat, struggling with a throbbing erection. Her fingers squeeze my leg softly, close to my balls, and she leans over, touching her lips to my ear, just like she did with her nephew.

"I mean we can't do this here."

The vibrations of the words in my ear make it hard to deal with a fuzzy set of alternatives. Should I say no outright and get out now, or offer her the security code? Should I run around and enter it myself? Am I even able to in this state? Will she think me rude if I don't give her the code, as if I am trying to hide it from her? More importantly, should we discuss her expectations about what's going to happen, because my dick is making a pretty compelling statement about what it wants.

It's either the feel of her tongue or her teeth as she grazes my earlobe that makes the decision for me. I gush out a breath and say, "Three six two one," and she quickly punches in the number as if she's been waiting for it, kissing me again when the door starts to rise.

"God you are hot," she says, smiling at another victory.

This girl… She has the most incredible effect on me.

Once her car is in my spare parking spot, there's a charge in the air all around us and she takes my hand to follow me to my elevator.

As soon as I press the button, the doors open and I enter my code. She doesn't take any notice, interested only in her hands roaming inside my jacket. By the time the doors part on the top floor, she's tugging my hair and her thigh is between mine, rubbing against my epic erection as she kisses the hell out of me.

If she really wants to, I will happily fuck her in this elevator, but my preference is to get her inside and savor the experience. Garrett will never believe that she came on to me and, since I am probably going to hell for this indiscretion, I will damn well enjoy her.

Without breaking the kiss, I lift her and walk us into the living room, setting her down in the huge space. This room impresses everyone who comes in here, but her attention is all on me. The purse hits the floor as both hands squeeze my ass.

Normally, if I get this kind of reaction from a woman, I'm finding the quickest way to fuck her, maybe ripping underwear in the process, but I want to commit every detail of this encounter to memory. Removing her hands, I leave them at her side, take a step back and then walk around her, imagining what is under the dress.

Suddenly nervous, she asks, "What are you doing?"

"Admiring you." I stay back, ignoring the pain still pulsing in my dick.

When I hold my hand out, she looks at it and gulps, so I invite her gently. "Follow me."

Walking backwards, I watch her eyes dart around the hallway, as if she senses danger, but as soon as we reach the bedroom, she lets out a long slow breath and then launches at me, grabbing for my belt buckle.

I hold her wrist and ask her to slow down, lavishing attention on her glorious neck. When I hear her whimper, I tell her she has nothing to fear. She seems to relax, allowing me to proceed without any resistance.

We laugh at the number of pins we pull from her hair as the curls fall down her back. Helping her take her dress off, I gasp when I see she's been braless all evening and I get to squeeze her incredible tits.

The shoes have to go. They are like weapons. The tiny panties and thigh high stockings stay. As she lies on the bed, her arousal increases as I touch her, and I start to lose myself in the feel of her young flesh. My tongue and teeth battle for dominance over nipples and I leave pink marks, chewing on her when she pulls my hair.

I know I am going to hell for this, but it's going to be worth it.

Finding her wet and ready is both a relief and a compliment. Watching her reaction as I explore her pussy is so erotic that every tiny breath goes straight to my dick. I tease, rather than assault the rough spot inside her. Breathlessly, she tells me wants me naked and, when I finish taking my clothes off, her eyes light up with a new fear.

"Does it get bigger as you get older?" she asks, staring at my dick.

I look down, seeing nothing unusual, and have to work hard not to laugh, shaking my head as I get a condom from my nightstand.

"Jesus," she mutters, watching me roll it down.

As I slide her panties off, her eyes glow with anticipation. Sitting back on my heels, I lift her over me, placing her tits right in front of my greedy mouth.

When I push into her, she lets out a breath from deep in her chest and leans her head back, making me moan at the sight of her curls hanging down in the air. She is so light in my arms that I can easily maneuver her, leaning her further back to find the angle that stimulates her.

Placing her elbows on the bed, she smiles and starts to move with me. I feel the moment when I've hit the right spot because the soft gasp and the closed eyes are unmistakable.

She's silent, apart from her breathing, and I watch in rapture as her body communicates with me. The flush on her neck and chest appears at the same time as her breathing increases. When she holds her breath and her pussy squeezes me, I'm grunting as the ripple turns into spasms, and she gushes more liquid before she breathes again.

When a dreamy smile appears on her face, I pull her up to kiss me but she rolls me on my back and takes over. She's a grinder, tilting her pelvis to fuck me, and I lay there losing my mind with her hot breath in my ear, her tits at my collarbone and my hands on her ass.

Once she starts kissing me and kneading my chest, I lose the ability to hold off and the orgasm rocks me as I try to keep her still.

She raises her arms in a delicious stretch and then gets off me, laying down like a rag doll and closing her eyes. When I call her name softly, I find that she's already fallen asleep.

Dismayed, I deal with the condom, put on my old jeans and go to the piano. The instrument always serves to clear my head and I need to make sense of my lack of conscience over what I've just done.

Starting to play, I know whatever I choose will be the piece I revisit whenever I want to remember this night and the beautiful young girl who seduced me so easily. After a while, I realize I am playing something new and I start writing the notation, smiling at the simplicity forming in front of me.

I look up and she's standing beside me, naked in my unbuttoned shirt, looking more desirable than anything I've ever seen, and I slide my hands around her waist, watching them move over her curves.

"More," she whispers, showing me the condoms in her pocket before popping them back in and smirking. When she threads her fingers through my hair, I don't remove the shirt, enjoying the feel of her almost wearing it. We fuck on the piano stool and then outside on my rooftop terrace with the buildings of Chicago overlooking us. The sight of her climax in the moonlight is breathtaking but the chill of the night makes us retreat to the warmth of my bed.

Turning on her side to lean on her elbow, she asks, "You don't remember me at all do you?"

I shake my head, wondering where this is going.

"I was fourteen when Garrett got married the first time and Rose's cousin, Edward, was the hot guy in the wedding party. You were my first big crush." She suddenly looks down. "I overheard Garrett and Kate talking about you and saying you were coming to the wedding on your own. When they started speculating on which woman you would take home, I wanted it to be me."

Running a finger into her cleavage, I reply, "You acted on your desires. There's nothing wrong with that."

"You have had a lot of experience, right?"

"Some." The one word answer is enough.

"Well I haven't, and neither of my ex-boyfriends could get me off. I thought there was something wrong with me, but that was better than every fantasy I've had about you."

"I'm flattered." I really am genuinely touched.

"Do you think it's because we won't see each other again?"

Sadly, one of us has to say something like this at some point, but hearing her ask it so easily makes my chest feel hollow.

"I don't know."

Running her hand down from my abs, she strokes my balls, then climbs on top of me and says, "More."

Soon I'm fumbling to get another condom – the fourth one tonight.

Sometime later in the dark, a dream takes me to an incredible place of contentment where her lips whisper in my ear and her soft cheek caresses mine.

I awake to the sound of the security intercom. Dragging myself out of sleep, I ask, "What is it, Seth?"

"Sir, you have company. Charles and Bella Swan. Can I send them up?"

Instantly, I know this is trouble. I didn't even know that she'd left.

"Yes, Seth, it's fine."

Dressing quickly, I barely make it out of the bedroom before they're at the entry to the apartment. I recognize the man from the wedding who was dancing with Bella, the big guy with the moustache, obviously her father. Bella's eyes are red as if she'd been crying. He stands back, taking everything in without saying a word, and she walks in further, looking panic-stricken.

"Do you know if my phone's here? I've been trying to call it all morning but I think it's on vibrate."

"I… I'm not sure," I answer, helping her search, and find it peeking out from under the couch, right where she dropped her purse. "Here." When I hand it to her, she squeezes my hand as she takes it, looking relieved.

"Thank you, Edward. I'm sorry, but we have to go. We're driving back home." She is trying to sound casually friendly but I can tell her voice is constricted.

"Come on," her father calls to her gruffly, with one last glance around before his eyes fix on me, full of contempt.

"Bye." With her eyes welling with tears, she holds up a hand to wave as they leave, and mouths the word, "sorry."

Like a statue, I stand and stare at the back of my door, puzzled over what just took place. Bella's emotional state and her father accompanying her says that this was about more than a lost phone. If she told them what we did last night, I'd already have a bruise in the shape of her father's fist, and she said it herself, that we wouldn't see each other again, so what happened?

I can't concentrate on anything else. Two coffees and a failed attempt to practice later, I get my answer when my agent calls. There is no round up of how he thinks the wedding went, not even a greeting, and he takes a couple of breaths before he speaks.

"Tell me you didn't fuck my niece, Edward."

"Hi, Garrett, nice wedding," I respond, trying to sound calm and avoid the question.

"You did, didn't you?"

"Bella was here Garrett, but nothing happened."

"Don't lie to me. She came in at four and I know how you work. We're done, man. I'll wind up any current contracts but, after that, I no longer work for you."

Jesus. "You're overreacting. Who told you this?"

"The whole family knows! Did it have to be an innocent like Bella? She's twenty-one and going to be a pre-school teacher. Have you fucking lost it?"

I can't say anything but… innocent? Is he talking about the same girl? She doesn't kiss or fuck like one. In fact, she was open about the fact that she wanted to draw on my experience.

"Edward?"

"What?"

"She's in a shit-storm of trouble with Charlie and Renee. Why is she trying to protect you?"

"I don't know what you're talking about. As I said, nothing happened."

"Forget it," he grumbles, ending the call.

Feeling certain she will call me to explain, an hour later, I'm still going over scenarios of what may have occurred. Replaying every detail of the previous evening, I'm not sure I was ever in control. She manipulated me so easily. Twenty-one, beautiful and curious is a perilous mix. Without me even knowing, she was moving us step by step toward something she'd wanted since she was fourteen.

I recognize the tenacity because that was me in my twenties.

In the world of classical piano, few ever make it on talent alone, and it can be demoralizing when rigorous memorizing and perfecting of the most complicated pieces won't even get you noticed. It requires some hook or unusual flamboyance to attract audiences and sell records. In my case, Garrett recommended I use sex, or sex appeal.

Along with piano practice, my agent insists that I keep in shape and have my suits tailored to emphasize the fact. There are only three salons in the U.S. that are permitted to cut my hair. He has set up modelling jobs, even underwear ads, all in the name of "raising my profile."

Part of my PA's job is to proliferate a persona where I date beautiful women and she monitors rumors that usually play out in social media.

Sex isn't something that happens with any sort of regularity and I rarely go looking for it, but there is never a shortage of piano concert groupies, just as brazen as those that follow the rock and roll crowd. Maybe they dress a little better and aren't as high on drugs.

The truth is that I do spend time fucking beautiful women, but dating is for business. Real dating leads to relationships.

At thirty-six, the idea of the long-term relationship makes no sense to me. I watched my parents divorce and unapologetically re-marry, leaving them with a marriage that is still shaky.

Rose's parents were no better example, spending ten tumultuous years together before they split, making Rose bitter, guilty, spoilt and opinionated. She, like me, uses disastrous family lives to excuse our issues with commitment. With a failed marriage behind her, she is now just like me.

I make love like I play the piano. It's easy to become a character, like performing, meeting the specific audience's expectations before moving on to a different gig. Each woman has her own melody and it takes skill to find the right tempo and texture of elements from my repertoire to get her singing in my bed, and I really do like to perform well.

I have fallen in love with some of these women in the briefest sense and I draw from the experiences when composing and performing. A particularly powerful orgasm is a wonderful thing to immerse oneself in when approaching a crescendo and it amuses me greatly when the audience only sees me as the consummate professional.

People often tell me that my playing seems effortless. Little do they know, my mother had to coerce me through phases where I reached my limit with the constant practice and focus, desperate to end what had become a chore, and do something normal like playing ball or getting wasted.

Thank God, she showed me the value of persistence because I have no idea what else I would have done with my life. This career has given me everything I could ever want: money, travel, women, accolades and minions who are expert at producing out of thin air any number of things from a whim of mine. Doing something I love is a gift I'm enormously grateful for.

I still have dreams and a lot of work ahead to achieve them, but it takes time. While the recording studio is finished, it still sits unused as a point of contention. This is an important time in my career, so I'll grovel and do whatever it takes to make sure I don't lose my agent and his friendship right now.

It's time to face the music and call my PA.

"Alee?" I ask, using my most insincere voice.

"Oh God, you people, it's Sunday. First Garrett, and now you. Did you do it?"

Shit, he got to her before me.

"Do what, Alice?"

"Sleep with his niece?"

"Of course not. She remembered me from the first wedding and came up to see the apartment, that's all."

"I live to bullshit for you, Edward, and you're lying through your teeth. Without the phone, you might have gotten away with it."

Bitch speaks the truth. She knows me too well.

"She was nice."

There is silence on the other end of the phone, probably while she practices her next jab at me.

"Nice. Edward, you've never called a girl nice before. Shit, what did you do to her?"

"Oh Jesus, Alice, stop it. I need to fix this with Garrett."

"Uh, uh, not my problem."

"Just set up a meeting and tell him I'll do anything he says."

I hear the phone hit some surface while she claps her hands and laughs.

"Text me!" I yell into the phone and end the call.


The next week drags while Garrett and Kate spend their honeymoon in New York. Rose calls, as expected, frustrated with my complimentary report on the wedding and lack of photos to share with her. I don't have the will to stir her up.

Without a peep out of Bella, I'm surprised that my mind is still fixated on her. I even contemplate doing something I've never done before – calling after a one-night-stand. Realizing I know nothing about the girl, I try combing the internet, but come up with very little.

That's where Seth comes in. He worked in security for thirty years before he took over my building and he's helped a couple of times before when I needed information. It takes three days and five hundred dollars for the envelope to slide under my door.

Isabella Marie Swan has no police record and her address is the same as her parents. She has $315 in a bank account and a zero balance on her credit card.

At least half of her big family lives within a ten-mile radius, but that doesn't say much since Lafayette isn't a big town. Her father is a cop. I find this piece of information intimidating and it explains why he scrutinized my apartment as if it was the scene of a crime.

There are photos, mostly family pictures and school shots, but a few show the two boyfriends she mentioned, Michael Newton and Jacob Black, both residents of Lafayette. I look at their fresh faces and only see their lack of skills in bed - after all, they are the reason she came to mine. Just thinking about those tits, my dick still wakes up.

Trying to get my head out of the gutter, I read further and find she worked part-time at a hardware store, coincidentally named "Newton's," but she's done charity work, something we have in common. Garrett has arranged quite a few events where I played for a good cause and I encourage it, having plenty to give back.

Bella is attending Purdue University in Lafayette and her grades have been excellent every year. Her final exams for the degree are coming up in about eight weeks.

That's it. I guess at twenty-one there wouldn't be a great deal, but the lack of detail only whets my appetite for more.

"More." That word she used... It always asked for something I wanted to give.

The only thing that stops me losing my mind this week is adding to the piece I started the night she was here. It keeps evolving until I reach the point where I put it away with the fifty or so others I've written.


Driving to my agent's office is done with a great deal of agitation. On the one hand, Garrett has agreed to see me, so it's a promising start. On the other, the grim look on his face doesn't give me much confidence. The slight shake of his head tells me he suspects he's face to face with an asshole, and when both hands come up to stop me from saying anything, he speaks very seriously. "I've spoken to Bella at length."

I watch closely for body language, ready to move quickly if he goes for my throat.

"I'm still worried about why you had her in your apartment, Edward, but I guess you're off the hook."

Oh God, this is much more than I could have expected. The relief I feel, and must show, is overwhelming.

"But…" he adds with a sickly smile. "There are conditions."

"Okay." I sit down and get comfortable.

"You never go near her again."

"Of course," I agree convincingly, still thinking about this lengthy conversation he had with Bella.

"And along with your normal performances, you get your songs out there and test them properly."

Eyeing Alice, I know what is coming. He's been at me for years to try small venues and play my own stuff. Just the thought of it is still terrifying.

"Thirty-six, Edward. Thirty-six. You haven't even have tried."

Leaning on my elbows with my fingers rubbing my chin, I look at the ceiling and then at Alice for a lifeline. She is stoic. They've been talking during the week and ganging up on me.

"This is your friend speaking, not your agent."

"What if they hate them? It could ruin my career."

"That will not happen and, if you won't try it, I'm out for good."

I swivel back and forth on the chair, facing my biggest fear and thinking of the many reasons I've already given him for putting this off.

"Can I think about it?"

He lets out a breath and stands. "I'm going. I can't bear to see this happen. You have talent you're wasting."

Well I can't bear to see him walk out. "Okay, okay, sit down. I'll do it."

"Good," he says, finally smiling. "Hire some musicians. You've got two months to rehearse. I've booked you a spot at the 'Green Mill' and I want some original content."

"Two months?" Damn him. He must know he has me by the balls if he's already made the booking. "Does it have to be the 'Green Mill?' Are you nuts?"

"The fact that I can get you a spot there says something, doesn't it, Edward? I have faith in you."

"Jesus Christ."

The "Green Mill" is a cocktail lounge and jazz club, a Chicago icon since the early 1900's. It was once massive, taking up a whole block of Uptown, named after the "Moulin Rouge" or "Red Mill" of Paris.

One of Al Capone's men was once a part owner and the "Chicago Outfit" often frequented the place. Capone had his own favorite booth that gave him a clear view of the exits.

Filled with memorabilia from some of the great jazz musicians, it still looks like a speakeasy with its rounded booths and green candles that glow in glass containers on the tables. The whole idea of performing there is daunting.

When I arrive home, I'm still a mess and I do anything I can to avoid the studio and having to sift through my compositions, checking Alice's latest updates on the website, Twitter, Instagram and then Facebook to see any comments on my behalf.

That's when I see a PM from Baby Whisperer Girl.

It's just an emoticon, a little face blowing me a kiss, already two days old, but I remember what it felt like to kiss her for real. I know I have to ignore her and come to terms with the fact that I'll never find out what really happened or what she told Garrett.

Going into the studio, I start the process of selecting the music the public is going to hear. A couple of hours later, I've made some progress and I pour a coffee, but seeing the laptop reminds me that Bella may already know I've seen her message, and it's killing me. I set down the coffee and check.

There's another one waiting.

"You were so deeply asleep when I left. I kissed you goodbye and told you I loved everything we did, but I don't know if you heard."

I take in a breath and hold it. I like this. It continues us without going into the drama and retains the feeling of intimacy. I'm not allowed to go near her again but this… this is completely anonymous… except for Alice who has access to everything in here. I create an account called Mister Lonesome Man, and PM her back, pasting her message in before typing my response.

"I thought I dreamed you whispering in my ear." Then I delete her messages from my Edward Masen profile and we are now totally private.

Wondering if she will respond, I feel the tingle of thrill before closing the laptop and heading back to the studio. The pieces I have will work with a small ensemble. Band, I have to get used to calling them a band, and these are possible tracks. If the response is good, we will record them and Garrett will do his stuff. If not, at least I tried.

When I emerge, starving and one step closer to my goal, there's a new message. "I did whisper in your ear."

The feeling of relaxation is real. Somehow, she can calm me from a computer, two hours away.


It all happens quickly and thankfully without any discord. I'd worked with Emmett McCarty before, a genius with any kind of percussive instrument. He recommends Jasper Whitlock, who plays both lead and bass guitar, ice cool. We find Carlisle Cullen, another session musician, who makes love to his saxophone.

We spend a night at the "Green Mill," understanding how everything works and how we will set up. The other three don't share any of my anxiety. For them, it's just another job.

They come to the apartment, drink beer, and improvise. We start most of the pieces with me on piano and them entering one by one. I fight when I don't agree and make changes when I like them. This isn't a high school band where four people have an equal say. I am the one paying and it is my vision driving everything. Luckily, they get it, and we all get along well.

Alice suddenly decides she needs to work from my place. At first, I think Garrett has her spying on me, and then I catch a look of lust between her and Jasper. I don't think they know I'm on to them but I enjoy the shift in her personality, this new friendly Alice who is alien to me. I've always kept her around because she's good at her job, not because I particularly like her.

Bella and I continue to send private messages and the conversation assumes its own rules without us ever mentioning them. We never ask questions or send back opinions, allowing us the freedom to say as much or as little as we want about ourselves.

More like status updates or diary entries, mine are sometimes long and full of the frustration of delayed planes and late sound checks. Other times, she might send a single word, often an emotion, just to convey how she is feeling.

A long message arrives where she's angry. She wants an explanation as to why they teach the importance of affection for young children and then prevent childcare professionals from showing any because of absurd litigation, saying someone should castrate the people who caused the world to have to flip upside down.

She's only venting, not asking for my humble opinion, and she's very young and idealistic, so I send a sad face and she sends one back.

One day, I'm frantically busy and send the word, "Lonesome," because that's how I feel in the midst of everything.

Each time I find a new message waiting, it buoys my spirits, knowing she hasn't forgotten me.

We keep each other company and gradually get used to the other's schedule, posting about upcoming dates and regular commitments. Bella has a lot of contact with her family while mine is mainly with business acquaintances.

She often has babysitting jobs, and this must account for the tiny bank balance. Since I have the details, it's tempting to drop money in there to make her more comfortable, but I know she might interpret that gesture badly.

I am busy rehearsing, travelling and performing. She is attending college and studying. We both have nerves about big events coming up in our lives in the next few weeks. Mine is our debut at the "Green Mill," and hers is passing her final exams.

Then late one night, I'm just about to send her a message when I notice she's online and she sends me a single word, "Horny."

The more I stare at the word, the more interesting it becomes. Is this an invitation to talk sex? At some point, the conversation is bound to fizzle out because I can't type with just my left hand.

In front of my eyes, more words appear. "Free weekend coming up."

She knows I am back on Wednesday and that I'm looking forward to having some down time.

Come on Masen, think. Send something back.

Before I have a chance, there's another one, "I'm ready for more..."

Dot, dot, dot. Well that just cleared up any confusion.

She cannot come here, and Lafayette is too small to hide us, but there is any number of possibilities for us to have a private weekend together.

I re-read our little conversation and send, "Check here tomorrow," adding a row of smiley icons. They match perfectly with the expression on my face.

Now I have some research to do.

An hour later, I give up trying to find a hassle-free way for her to fly to Chicago. There is a fantastic house available at Porter Beach on the southern shore of Lake Michigan, roughly an hour from Chicago and an hour and a half from Lafayette, so I book a limo to bring her to me. The house is overkill for what we need, but the view and the home theater are sensational, and the bedroom looks like it belongs in a Tuscan villa. The best part is its privacy.

No one will know and no one will interrupt.

I attach the confirmation for the limo booking to my PM, asking her for an address for pick up.

The next morning, there is a response, a picture of a girl sitting cross-legged in front of her laptop with her arms in the air. She looks a little like Bella, with long dark hair. The caption is, "YIPPEE" and her message says, "This is me right now. I can't wait. Thank you so much."

Feeling energized and pleased with myself, I float on air all day and the performance is one of my best, receiving several standing ovations.

Back at the hotel, she has sent me another image. It's a black and white close up of a pair of female lips, using her teeth on a male's ear. The lips are red, the only colored part of the picture. Her text accompanying the image is, "Hungry."

Fuck me. I know exactly how that would sound.

We spend Thursday and Friday rehearsing with the band and they agree on using the name "Mister Lonesome" instead of "The Edward Masen Quartet," which sends shivers down my spine.

"What's BW?" Jasper asks, holding the sheet music for the piece I started the night Bella was here. He's looking at the lyrics I've written.

Uneasily, I answer, "Don't worry about that one. It's new."

He starts playing it, repeating the melody until he has its feel, handing the sheet to Carlisle, and then Emmett joins in, improvising an accompaniment.

Carlisle reads the lyrics aloud.

"You were so deeply asleep,
When I kissed you goodbye,
I don't know if you heard,
I whispered in your ear.

You thought you dreamed,
But I did, I did whisper,
I wasn't sure if you knew,
That I loved us together."

"Who wrote this Edward?" Carlisle asks, very curious.

"I wanna fall asleep with that girl," Jasper adds.

Snatching it will only make this into a big deal when they have no control of what songs we use.

"Forget it." I stick my hand out to take it back. "It's still a mess."

"You don't want to do some more work on it? Are there any more lyrics?" Carlisle asks as he hands it over.

"No, forget it," I reply, placing it in a folder and putting it away.

"Who's the girl, Edward," Carlisle continues, not ready to give up.

I sigh, annoyed now. "She's no one, just a dream I had, a whisper."

"That's the start of a chorus." He smiles and the other two nod, agreeing with him.

Stretching, I say, "Let's leave it at that for now. I'm tired. I think I'll disappear for a few days. See you back here on Monday."

It makes it sound like a spur of the moment decision, giving no one an inkling that I have plans.


Sticking to her arrangements almost kills me. She was supposed to send a text as soon as she spotted McDonald's, get out of the limo and into my car. Instead, I see her walking into the restaurant and wonder if she mistakenly thinks I'm waiting inside, but I anxiously hold onto the plan that is supposed to prevent us being seen together in public.

Suddenly the car door opens and she leans in and asks, "Mister Lonesome?"

I blow out a relieved breath, not realizing how tightly wound I am. She gets in, jamming her backpack between her feet and staring at me.

"Are you all right, Edward?"

"Yeah, I just… Is this a bad idea?"

"This is a great idea," she answers, running her hand up my thigh. "Let's go."

I look her over in her jeans and t-shirt, more gorgeous than I remembered, and I now agree. When she makes no comment about the Porsche, we take off and I realize we have no restrictions. We can talk and ask questions and do anything we want, and I have to ask, "So, what actually happened?"

She was obviously expecting this. "Oh, they were all awake, waiting for me when I got back, thinking something terrible had happened because I wasn't answering my phone. It was awful."

"Did you say you were with me?"

"I didn't have a choice when the phone had to be at your place and we were leaving the next day, but I told them we just talked. I don't think Dad believed me."

The news that neither of us had admitted anything makes me calm down. "I told Garrett the same thing."

"Oh he knows I pursued you and admitted I had a crush on you, but I told him you were a gentleman."

"As opposed to the reality where I wasn't a gentleman."

"Yeah." The smile, cheeky and full of innuendo, is the one I've missed all these weeks. I take her hand and kiss it.

It's a short drive to the beach and she fills me in on the interrogation and guilt she went through, saying she was too upset to contact me until after she fixed the Garrett situation. She tells me the story travelled along the family grapevine and, while she understands everyone's concern, she's pissed because it's none of anyone's business what she does in private.

I hold back a laugh, and thank her for smoothing things over so quickly.

She says it was all her fault anyway. I say I'm a big boy and I should know better. She smirks and runs her hand over the fly of my jeans. I tell her to stop it or I'll crash the car, and then we're both laughing, leaving the fallout from our last meeting behind us.

The next question is where her parents think she is right now, and her answer surprises me.

"Indianapolis."

"Oh… with a friend?"

"No, just looking around."

"And they're good with that?"

"Sure."

Again, I have to tell myself not to anticipate this girl and how she works.

Once we're inside the house, I see her shoulders drop as she stands in the living room, staring at the view of the water. I walk up behind her and lightly hold her hips. She turns in my arms and kisses me softly, sliding her hands around my waist without pulling me closer. I hardly move, held in the spell of the kiss, hyper aware of my nose brushing her soft cheek, my chin moving along her jaw and her lashes dusting over my face.

"Where's the bedroom," she finally asks, licking her lips. When I take her up the hall with her bag, she stands in the doorway with her hand over her mouth. "Oh, Edward."

She's finally impressed, just as I was when I saw the picture on the internet.

"I need the bathroom," she says, taking the bag in with her, so I relax on the bed and look out at Lake Michigan. After a while, I'm starting to wonder what she is doing in there, when the door opens and she appears. "See what I bought for you?"

Automatically, I sit up to get a better view. My baby whisperer is a standout in a black see-through babydoll and nothing else, a fantasy coming toward me. It's loosely tied at the cleavage, and I wonder if she's put some thought into my specific preferences. Her lips are crimson and the color plays up her eyes.

This kind of thing doesn't happen to me. I'm spellbound and getting harder by the second.

"I found this great lingerie place." Turning, she offers me the back view as well.

As she comes closer, I adjust myself in front of her, wanting her to know the effect she's having on me.

She climbs on and asks, "You like?"

Touching the outfit, I find it's softer than it looks. "This is very very nice." Loving the feel of her tits through the sheer fabric, I play with the little tie. Then I run my hands over her naked ass and warn her, "You know you're my captive now. I'm not letting you out of here for the next two days."

"That's why I'm here." She smiles, and clutches my hair as I pull her closer.

"Horny and hungry, wasn't it?"

I dip my fingers in her pussy and she gasps in my ear. "Horny," she says in a breathy voice. "Hungry for you."

Jesus, this girl

By Saturday afternoon, we've had sex so many ways, we need a break and she's thrilled when she sees the home theater. I like Tom Hanks and she likes Emma Thompson, so we watch "Saving Mister Banks," the true story of Walt Disney and his long quest to bring Mary Poppins to the screen. It's interesting to find out its background and I enjoy seeing them playing piano and working on the movie's songs.

When the credits roll, Bella is crying and I don't understand why. For me it had an uplifting ending. I pick her up and sit her in my lap, worried about why she's upset, asking her if the story struck some chord with her.

She puts her arm around my shoulders and frowns. "Don't worry about it, Edward. It doesn't mean anything. Didn't your mother ever cry in movies?"

It's kind of sad really when I have to think about my answer.

"I don't think I ever watched a full movie with my mother."

She kisses my cheek, and holds me.

While we cook dinner together, she asks me why I've never mentioned my parents before. When I admit that I hardly ever see them, she has trouble with my answer. I can only offer that my father didn't exactly approve of my becoming a professional musician.

I tell her my mother, Elizabeth, was often absent, physically or emotionally, except for when we were working on my piano lessons, and Bella hugs me again, saying she's sorry. She says it sounds like my mother was disconnected, probably depressed.

When I ask if she knows about depression, she says only a little, but that small children can become depressed and it's something they train them to watch out for.

She's astounded when she hears that my parents divorced and remarried a couple of years later, optimistically proposing that their love must have been stronger than their problems. It's something I've never considered, but I have to let her in on the truth, that they are both still unhappy.

"They should never have married in the first place." I've always firmly believed it.

"You're wrong," she says with her hand on my cheek. "Then we wouldn't have you."

I don't know what I feel when I look into those sincere blue eyes. Acceptance? Approval? I know it's a good feeling, and one I may have underestimated. I hope she feels it too when I kiss her.

After dinner, we walk on the beach as the sun is setting and I feel like I want to hold her hand. Then she does something annoying by splashing me with water and, when I tell her to stop, she does it again.

"Bella, it's fucking Lake Michigan, not the Caribbean!"

"Calm down." She starts to walk in and pouts, looking terribly cute. Then she splashes me once more, and I come after her, growling, ready to dump her right in if she keeps it up. Moving out of my way, she giggles and runs off up the beach, so I chase her, laughing when I can't catch up. By the time I reach our deck, I collapse into one of the sun lounges but I'm not exhausted, feeling invigorated in every way. She comes out with two glasses of red wine, asking if I'm still angry with her.

I shake my head and answer, "Perfect. You're perfect."

She smiles and touches my hair before she takes a sip and looks out at the horizon, as if she's deep in thought. I'd like to ask but I don't want to interfere, and the last time I questioned her emotions, she coaxed a lot of personal information out of me that didn't paint a very favorable picture of who I am. I don't want her to see me like that when she's so damn wonderful.

We go to bed together, but neither of us is horny tonight, so we talk. She fills me in on the Rose she knows, surprising me when she remembers that Rose and Garrett were always the first to arrive on Christmas Day, laden with well thought out presents for everyone. I can honestly say that they never mentioned this to me. From the sound of things, it would have taken months just to choose all the gifts.

Bella says she likes Kate a lot but she misses Rose and her big personality. She's seen Rose on stage several times and is in awe of her voice. Then she smirks and admits that she's seen me too, and will do so again if she gets the opportunity. I offer to get her tickets for the Chicago concerts in September, hoping I'll be able to see her again. She looks sad when she asks if I ever play in Indianapolis.

"Why Indianapolis?"

"I have a job there, starting in August."

"Are you excited? Were you going to tell me about this?"

"I don't know."

I look into her eyes and see a change there, the usual spark suddenly gone. Those three words are telling. We don't know what will happen and now she's moving another hour away. We may never see each other until our paths cross again, maybe at Garrett's third wedding, when she's in love with someone else and I can't dance with her. It doesn't matter because I can't dance with her anyway, not in public. I can't even go near her.

"Can I hold you?" she asks, and I open my arms.

She snuggles in with her face in my neck and her thigh over me, whispering, "I wish this never had to end."

All I can say is, "I know." Wishing I had her honesty, I would say I don't understand how I can feel like this when I hardly know her. She creeps into my soul whether I fight it or not, giving me things to think about, altering me without realizing. It's happening to me. I'm already amalgamating and it's nothing like I expected.

Her breathing changes and she sleeps while I lie there with the scent of her hair all around me.

The next morning, someone is teasing my ear with her teeth and using her sultriest voice. "We have one more day and you're wasting it being Mister Lonesome in here, so how about getting up? I've made breakfast."

Except for the last day comment, it's probably the nicest way I've ever been woken and I'm not about to give it up yet when her lips keep hovering around my ear. She smells heavenly too, like she's been in the shower. Mumbling as if I'm still half-asleep, I ask, "Is that my baby whisperer?"

"Yes, and your eggs are ready."

"Eggs? I love eggs!" I turn and surprise her with a quick kiss to her cheek. Then I jump up and pull on a pair of shorts, throwing my arms out sideways. "Ready."

When she laughs, I grab a t-shirt and charge past her toward the kitchen. I really do feel refreshed today and I don't want to waste it either. As I pull the shirt on, I can't see any breakfast on the table, so I put on an extravagant show of disappointment just for entertainment. I can smell the food.

"Sit down and I'll get it." She giggles, using oven mitts to bring the plate to me. "Careful, it's hot… like you." She kisses me before going back for her own, but I hold her wrist, and pull her back to have my own kiss.

"Thank you," I say as much for the breakfast as for making me feel so alive. I adore this girl and I'm going to enjoy the feeling while I can. With the future so uncertain, today may be all we ever have.

She breathes out with a little hum as if she's aroused again and I know what we're doing after breakfast. All of a sudden, I'm hungry and horny.

The eggs are excellent, accompanied by sautéed mushrooms, shallots and thyme. I don't even need pepper because she's seasoned them perfectly.

When I come out of the shower, she's lying naked on the bed with her knee moving out and then in, focusing my eyes on her pussy. I drop the towel and join her. Maybe it's because it's our last day, but she's more passionate. Kissing her is incredible and the way we move and breathe is highly erotic.

I need every inch of her and, although I don't go down on women usually, my dick is throbbing at the sight of her finally becoming vocal when I draw it out. I just hope my hair grows back.

She drags me up and kisses me, moaning over the smell of her pussy on my face, and wraps her legs tightly around my hips. When I'm inside her before I realize I've forgotten a condom, I almost don't care and, as soon as I rectify the situation, it's like I can't stop. No matter how hard she clenches me or how many times I feel it, I won't let go and, when I do, I have to start over. How can I keep fucking her like this and want more?

Eventually, she's like a rag doll again and I let her sleep, drinking in the way she looks and how she breathes. Wishing it was yesterday again, I stare at her until 2:00. The limo is arriving at McDonald's at 3:30 and she will want to have a shower before she goes.

With a heavy heart, I wake her and tell her it's time.

As she packs her bag, we don't say a word and, until the moment we have to leave, we haven't said a full sentence. We can't make any promises so we say it all with a final kiss. Even the trip to McDonald's is subdued, until I see a tear on her cheek.

"Bella."

"Please don't speak to me. I'm just hanging on. I'll message you."

I know what she means. I'm terrified to open the floodgates and of what will come pouring out of my mouth. When I pull into the parking lot, the limo is already waiting. She squeezes my hand and then does what we said we wouldn't do. Leaning over, she presses her cheek to mine and whispers, "Thank you," before getting out and closing the door.

After watching the driver help her in, I stay until I can't tell which car they are in the distance, desperate because I should have driven her home, never imagining that I could feel this empty when she'd gone.

Packing up and leaving the beach house is mind numbing, the drive back into Chicago bleak. Even though nothing else seems to matter, I know I have to stop obsessing over her tonight because it's back to business in the morning.

As soon as I drop my bag, I find the folder with the song and start to write, to record the weekend in verse. Before I know it, I've added a chorus and another two verses.

"You were so deeply asleep,
When I kissed you goodbye,
I don't know if you heard,
I whispered in your ear.

You thought you dreamed,
But I did, I did whisper,
I wasn't sure if you knew,
That I loved us together.

She's no one, just a dream I had, a whisper,
There may never be another day to hold her,
Enough words to show her,
She's my secret, my guilt, my gift.

I want to challenge you,
Make you think,
Maybe it's not enough,
Cause you're disconnected.

Just hanging on by a tear,
So please don't speak to me,
I'll whisper what you need,
After I'm gone."

I read it a few times and decide there's nothing there about the girl I know, the one who did challenge me and change me forever, the one I should give up now.


There are a lot of messages between Bella and I that first week back. The first one says she could hardly walk on Monday and I apologize, not exactly surprised.

She tells me she is sorry for appearing so secretive over the weekend and she expands on the new job at a day care center. She's going back to the place she spent a full semester at earlier this year as part of her degree. It's only a contract, filling in for someone's maternity leave, and she doesn't know where she'll be after Christmas.

I don't tell Bella the effect she had on me, or how I wanted to chase the limo down the highway just to have her with me for a few more hours. With Alice and Jasper now openly displaying affection, it's emotional torture to keep thinking about it. This is easier.

With only one more series of concerts in Boston to go, we start spending long days in the studio, tightening up the songs for the gig. Garrett drops in and he's so impressed that he's ready to start booking more dates.

I ask him to slow down.

Most nights I check my laptop before going to bed and I always feel a gasp of excitement when there's a message from her, but she's cramming and exhausted like me. Our messages are less frequent, repetitive and boring, because we're both focused elsewhere. It starts to become small talk for the sake of it because I won't tell her what's really in my heart, but I can't make the break away from her either.

This is probably what marriage to me would be like.

As the date approaches, I ask her if she has time to come up for the gig, but she has an exam the following day. I knew that Garrett had offered the whole family tickets, the only reason I even mentioned it. At least Rose is coming.

Once we have the name, "Mister Lonesome" printed on the face of the drum; it's official and I feel like we've grown into it.

Our slot at the "Green Mill" is 9:00 pm until 1:00 am on Friday night. We get there at 7:00 and have a couple of drinks, watching the previous act. Carlisle has brought Esme, his wife of ten years, and they are very affectionate to each other. Her mother is minding their two kids for the whole weekend.

I'm so nervous, I feel like everyone is staring at me. I've played some big venues on my own and I've been comfortable, playful even, but tonight it's not me playing Chopin or Bach. This is my own creative talent on the line and I feel like I want to throw up.

Alice tells me if we're even half as good as our rehearsals, then we're already a success. I think that might be the nicest thing she's ever said to me.

Not long after 8:00, we set up and I find that the piano is tuned beautifully, but somewhat old. I request the lights to go up some more because the neon "Green Mill" sign is making me anxious. When I get back, performing in jeans doesn't feel right. Some of the patrons are laughing too loudly at someone's joke and the general noise of the crowd is off-putting.

Another whiskey would be good right now.

Garrett and Kate arrive and chat to us before taking their seats with Alice and Esme, and he orders champagne. Rose comes in, lighting up the place like she does everywhere she goes, wearing a stunning maxi dress that shows off the rack. I wonder if she's gone to some trouble to show Garrett she's still got it, but what happens is she takes one look at Emmett and gives him a dirty smile. I see him check her out as well, tilting his head, and it's more than an instant attraction thing.

Garrett's brother and one of the older nephews arrive. After speaking to him, they hang back at the bar to watch. I sigh, wishing Bella had come with them. She actually called me this afternoon to wish me good luck and, for a while after, I was calm. Now that I notice just how many people are in here, I'm nervous again.

Standing to face the Roman goddess sculpture that occupies the corner behind the band, I cross my arms over my back to stretch and someone wolf whistles loudly from the crowd. When my mouth drops, I look at Emmett who is laughing and twirling his drumsticks.

It's just what I need to take my mind off my nerves and I start to laugh as well, sitting down when I get our signal from the stage manager. A couple of rolls of my neck and some finger flicks, and I'm ready.

Breathe. You know these pieces back to front.

Carlisle nods at me, and we start. We've chosen Clifford Brown's "Baby" because it was the first piece we ever played where we felt like a band. It's a sax classic and very lively. We just have to prove to the audience that we can play with this one. It's Jasper who has to step up, playing both bass and electric, and it gets good applause at the end.

The next is an original and I take a deep breath. Playing the introduction, my fingers settle into the keys and, once Emmett joins me; his sweet touch with the cymbals makes me call out to applaud his skill. Jasper and Carlisle enter perfectly and now I know why Garrett said I had to do this. There's just nothing like it being your own.

If there's chatter going on in the audience, I'm not aware of it and, when we finish, there's a lot of clapping and whistling. Certainly, our table of friends are on their feet.

Emmett counts us immediately into our next original number and people even start dancing. This is so good that I'm relaxing and enjoying myself now, improvising as I use the energy from the crowd.

Our next piece is "Darn That Dream" by Stan Getz and it's heavy on piano. I'm glad I had a few numbers to ease me in before I had to perform it, but we all love its classic jazz sound.

Another cover, called "This Night" from the Benny Golson Quintet, is circa 1958. It's fun and will showcase the other three more than me. The sax is strong and the crowd, being jazz devotees, should know it.

I've taken a few liberties with our next original number. Based on the kind of smooth swish, base, sax and trumpet pieces we all grew into jazz with, I am playing the trumpet section on piano and expanding it as an accompaniment. It comes out very sexy and gets our loudest applause so far.

Then we play a piece that Jasper encouraged me to finish for tonight, and I'm glad he did because people are slow dancing to it. It's something that is melancholy for me but full of soul for everyone else.

For our last number of the set, we choose Les McCann's "Jubilation" because Carlisle can sit this one out, have a longer break, and give us some feedback. It's a great choice because it's fast and the audience will want more when it's over. We can't help dancing in our seats as we play. It's so cool.

The audience erupts and Carlisle comes on stage to congratulate us. It's the moment I feel the most complete I've ever felt as a performer. When I reach their table, I look at my friend, Garrett, who gave me the impetus and confidence to do this. He's grinning from ear to ear and he rubs my back.

They all tell us we were wonderful as a tray of drinks arrives.

Emmett sits down next to Rose, puts his arm across the back of her chair, and stares up at me as if he has something on his mind.

He takes a long pull on his beer and asks me, "You know that Billy Holliday number we rehearsed?"

"I Must Have That Man?"

He nods and says, "Rose said she'd sing it with us tonight if you want to add it to the set."

I look at my cousin in amazement. "Do you know it?"

"Yes." She's moving her arm under the table near Emmett, looking smug.

"The more the merrier, I guess." I know I've been railroaded, but what the hell. Nothing can annoy me right now.

"That was so good." Christ, I'd know that voice anywhere. I turn to see Bella, beaming and taking a glass of champagne, and I hold my breath while I work out how to react in front of the others.

"Enjoy the show so far?" It seems like an impersonal question, although she's already answered it.

"She's your biggest fan, aren't you Bella?" Garrett puts his arm around his niece.

"Uncle Garrett!" She worms her way out of his embrace.

"I'm sure he already knows, don't you Edward?" Is he testing me? How many drinks has he had?

Shaking my head is the only thing I'm capable of. Having Bella and Garrett together in front of me is overwhelming.

"You two had an evening together, didn't you?"

He is drunk, and he's being an asshole, fishing for an answer he's already received, but Bella gets in first.

"I thought his apartment was amazing. Up on the roof and seeing the skyscrapers was… inspirational. No wonder his music is so incredible." It's unnerving how she's so good at this. Her eye contact with me doesn't match her words.

"Well thank you Bella." She makes it so easy to respond casually, even though I'm remembering vivid details of her on my rooftop terrace.

"Gentlemen, you're on," The stage manager reminds us.

Bella disappears into the crowd and I don't see her at all during the set but the evening is going so well that I wonder if these three talented musicians would consider making this a more permanent thing.

We agreed that the Billy Holiday number would be the last of the set, so I feed Rose's ego by introducing her, only needing to say her name as she comes on stage with a hand-held mike, standing almost in front of Emmett.

God, can she sing. She occupies the song as if it was written for her, moving back and forth slowly as if we've rehearsed her stage presence. When Carlisle's sax begins to dominate, she closes her eyes and sways.

Just watching her and feeling what she brings, I look at the audience and everyone is captivated, except for a certain brunette who's looking at me. When I smile at her, she smiles back as if she's proud of me. I don't know what happened with the exam, but I'm glad she's here.

As the song finishes, I'm still looking at Bella when the intense applause rouses me.

"Just one more," Rose says to me as I start to stretch. What the hell? She better not think she's taking over, because this is a lousy spot to start arguing when everyone is still clapping.

Then Jasper starts to play a melody I know too well and I glance at Bella who's still staring at me. She's not reacting, so I don't think she's in on this and, when the sax joins in, I barely have time to flick my eyes around the others before I have to start.

"You were so deeply asleep, when I kissed you goodbye…"

The song does need a female voice since most of the lyrics are based on Bella's words, but the chorus should be mine. I can't look at Bella because she is the only one who will know and, when the chorus starts, I join Rose, singing a harmony. She looks over and we connect as we sing together, something we haven't done for many years.

When I do look at Bella, she's wiping her eyes and I wonder how she feels about this. Rose and I sing the final chorus and smile at each other as the audience erupts. As we leave the stage, Rose puts her arm around me and kisses my cheek, saying we have to record the song.

"Settle down," I tell her, still reeling.

"So, good surprise?" Carlisle asks as he hands me a whiskey. Esme joins him and hugs him tight. I nod my head, struggling with an answer. The others all seem to have something to contribute to the explanation. At Garrett's suggestion, they practiced while I was away performing and, when Rose dropped in one day, she and Emmett hit it off. It was Carlisle's idea to perform the song, saying he liked it right from the start.

Bella is quiet, listening to everything intently, just as I am.

"Is she a real girl?" Esme enquires, not knowing she's putting me on the spot.

"Yeah," I answer, without even glancing at Bella.

"A girlfriend? I don't think so," Alice adds, cracking up. She's had a little too much champagne as well. "Who'd have him?"

"I'd have him." We all turn to Bella who's looking directly at me.

"Bella?" Garrett chastises her, trying to rein her in.

"I think he's amazing." There's no doubt in her eyes that she means it.

"Stop it Bella."

Just as this is getting interesting, we get the call to go back on stage.

She runs her hand from my shoulder to my neck. "Maybe it would good for his career to have a young girlfriend," and then she leaves, heading for the back of the room.

"I'm sorry, Edward. She's very headstrong," Garrett apologizes, charging off after her.

Yeah, and she's good at manipulating, so watch out.

During the set, Bella and Garrett are arguing at the bar. I want to scream at him to leave her alone, or at least take their fight elsewhere, because it's effecting my concentration. Kate fetches him back to his seat but he starts up with her again as we're finishing.

Jasper gets in before me, leaving the stage and storming up to them. "Did you have to do that while we were playing?" I follow, never having seen his angry side before.

"Bella has a little crush on Edward," I hear Garrett offer, as if it somehow excuses his behavior, and she is fuming. "He's too old for you," he adds, and starts to walk away as if he's had the final say.

"Hey, your father is more than ten years older than your mother."

He swings around, defiantly. "That's different. His first wife died."

"Well my dad is seven years older than Mom, and do we want to discuss how come she had me when she was twenty-one? Kate is five years younger than you, or is it six? So what is the correct number? Which is the one that adds up for you?"

Rose steps in between them, holding her hands up in a cease-fire gesture, but they both glare at her, ready to continue.

"Brad and Angelina are eleven years apart. JFK and Jackie were twelve years. Elvis and Priscilla ten. Humphrey Bogart was twenty-five years older than Lauren Bacall. JayZ and Beyoncé have a twelve-year difference. Who else? George Clooney just got married finally and his wife is 17 years younger. It means nothing. They're all just more numbers."

"You've been researching this little speech, Isabella." He looks at her smugly, foolishly believing he is about to win the argument.

"Maybe I have," she seethes. "But you knew I had a teenage crush on him when you gave me all those tickets to his shows. How many times did you come to our house and talk about nothing else but Edward's standing ovations and sellout concerts. You showed me photos of him in nothing but boxers!"

When I look at Rose, she shrugs in confirmation. I shake my head, but I can't miss a second of this.

"Why wouldn't I show him off? I'm his agent and I'm proud of him."

"So let me get this straight, Uncle Garrett. The man you've represented for the last ten years, the one you're so proud of, the one you always encourage all the family to come and see perform, is not… actually good enough for your family."

Her eyes narrow as if she's ready for him, diabolically brilliant. God help me if I ever cross her.

"I'm not saying that at all, and you know it. He's just too old for you."

She looks down and nods, letting out a big sigh of defeat, but no one notices the way her eyes flash at me before she speaks again.

"Well would it be okay if I ask Edward to take me on one date, just to get him out of my system?" She looks at me sweetly, and then back at Garrett. "You know I've nearly finished my exams and I'm moving away in a couple of weeks, so it's not like we'd ever meet again."

Garrett wavers with his response and his brother intervenes. "Come on Bella, we have to leave."

I can't stand it any longer. "For Christ sake, Garrett! Of course I'll take you on a date, Bella. It would be my pleasure."

When Garrett shrugs, she squeals, throwing her arms around my neck, and whispers in my ear, "Mmm, definitely."

Oh my God, this girl