SMeyer owns the characters. I own the story. No infringement intended.

\\\

1. Introductions

"Bella, can you extricate yourself from that puppy and watch the front desk while I go back to the office?" Mom scolded me. We ran a no-kill shelter, and the last little baby who'd been brought in was so adorable, I couldn't leave him alone. He was a six-week old beagle mix, and his loving nature made me want to take him home. Unfortunately, training puppies was annoying and time consuming. I wasn't ready to take on another so soon.

"Yes, Mother," I responded. I took Chance, as I'd named him, with me and situated him in the front of my apron where he curled up and went to sleep, bless him. I named him Chance because when we got him, there was a chance he wouldn't make it. He was malnourished and he had worms, but we were nursing him back to health, and I was optimistic about his chances…thus the name, Chance.

I was sitting at the front desk, sorting through the pick-up schedule for the day to make sure all the dogs had their check-ups and shots, along with being bathed and groomed before their new families came to pick them up. I loved giving the dogs to their new families. It made me very happy.

The bell over the door drew my eyes up, and I saw Sheba, an old Great Dane Mom had adopted years ago, amble in. She was ten, and she had a touch of arthritis, so she walked slowly and had free run of the place because she was a nurturer of the best sort. She'd nuzzle puppies taken too soon from their mothers, and she gave unconditional love to anyone who needed it.

The man who followed behind her was quite a surprise. He was wearing jeans and a t-shirt, and he had a hand on Sheba's head, which she seemed to appreciate. They both approached the desk, and Sheba hopped up on her back legs, placing her large paws on the counter with her tongue hanging out as if in a smile because she'd brought someone in to take a baby home.

I handed her a treat. "Sheba, whom have you brought in?" I asked as she gobbled it up and licked my hand in appreciation. The man laughed and continued to stroke her, even as she dropped her paws from the desk.

"Doesn't seem she wants to talk today, so I'm afraid I have to rely on you. I'm Bella. Welcome to 'Mates for Life'. Are you interested in adoption?" I asked.

"'Mates for Life'? How'd you arrive upon that name, if I may ask?" he inquired with a smile on his face. He was a gorgeously, odd man who didn't exactly meet my gaze, but I found him very attractive.

I laughed. "Our last name is Swan, and well, swans mate for life, or so my mother says. We hope when we match our dogs with their families, it's for life. So, are you looking to adopt?" I asked again.

"My brother tells me I should adopt a dog to keep me company and put me on a schedule. He said…" the man reached into his pocket and pulled out a piece of paper, reading it over carefully before he continued, not meeting my eyes at all.

"He said I should adopt an older, more sedate, house-trained dog to keep me company. He sent a note along with me if you'd like to read it." He reached into his front pocket again and handed me a note with a friendly smile, not meeting my gaze again. I opened it and read it.

To whom it may concern –

The man who presented this note is my younger brother, Edward Cullen. He has a mild form of Asperger's, but he's fully functional and exceptionally responsible. He lives on his own, and he needs a companion. He's perfectly capable of taking care of a dog, which is his choice of companion, and I hope you'll consider his application.

Should further discussion be necessary, please contact me at (360) 555-6673. I'll gladly offer any insight and assurances.

Sincerely,

Carlisle Cullen, MD

I folded the note and handed it back to the gorgeous man, not really understanding what Asperger's meant. I hadn't gone to college because after Dad died during my junior year of high school, Mom opened the shelter and she needed me to help her with it. I'd graduated high school, but I hadn't considered college. Maybe someday…

Asperger's? I guessed it was some sort of disorder, but I was hesitant to ask about it because I didn't want to be disrespectful. "Okay, Mr. Cullen. Can I get you to fill out some paperwork? I can help you if you'd like," I offered.

He smiled and finally looked briefly into my eyes. "I'm capable of filling out paperwork. You're pretty." He held out his hand and shook mine, and I was shocked at his comment. Nobody except my mother ever said anything of the sort.

I handed him the clipboard with the application and a pen, and he took it. He walked over to a plastic, aqua chair and sat down. Sheba followed him and sat down next to him, resting her head on his knee as he filled out the paperwork. He kept one hand on her head and quickly worked through our questionnaire, sometimes closing his eyes and then furiously scribbly down an answer as Sheba was relishing in his attention.

When he finished it, he leaned forward and kissed her on the head before he rose from his chair and approached the desk where I'd been pretending to work while taking him in. The smile on his face made my heart race.

"I believe I've answered your questions. Do I need to allow time for an investigation into my background for some sort of transgressions, or can I see the dogs?" His hand hadn't left Sheba's head, and she seemed content to stay with him.

I glanced through the paperwork and saw he had a single family home with a fenced backyard, which was a huge plus. He worked from home, which meant the dog wouldn't be left alone for extended periods of time, and his profession was "composer." I wasn't sure what that meant, but perhaps he was the next thing since sliced bread? How the hell did I know?

"You work from home, so you'd be there to take care of the dog?" I asked.

"Yes. I have my own recording studio in my home, so I rarely leave it. Is it necessary for you to pay a visit to inspect my home? I'm fine with it. Esme tells me I need to be more open to allow visitors into my home. If you're free this evening, you're welcome to come look over the place. I, uh, I can come back tomorrow afternoon to meet the dogs," he told me as he looked down at Sheba, continuing to pet her as she nuzzled into his thigh.

"Mr. Cullen, I don't…"

"Oh, no, please call me Edward. Esme tells me I need to make it clear I'm comfortable with being addressed by my Christian name. I'm Edward," he told me as he extended his hand. I stood up from the stool and shook it. He had a gentle, tender grip, but it was a strong hand. It was muscular, and it sent a shock down my arm.

"Well, Edward, I'm Bella. My Christian name is Isabella, but my friends call me Bella," I responded.

"Since we've only just met, I'll call you Isabella."

When it rolled off his tongue, it didn't grate on my nerves as it had as a child growing up. The only time my parents used my full name, I was usually in trouble, but when Edward said it, it was actually lyrical.

"So, you'll come over and investigate my residence before I'm allowed…I'm sorry, Isabella, but your stomach is moving." He pointed as a little head peaked out from my apron.

I laughed as Chance stuck his head out of the pocket with his tongue hanging out. I pulled him out and held him. "This is Chance. I think he needs a drink. Don't go anywhere. I'll be right back," I told him as I hurried to the back to put Chance into the room with the rest of the puppies his age. He scurried over to get a drink, and as I turned to walk back out front, I saw Bliss. She was a mutt of the first order, and my mother, the vet, had determined she was about eight. She, much like Sheba, had the run of the place, but she really needed a home of her own.

I placed my hand on her head as I kneeled down, petting her. "Hey, are you ready for a home? I think I've found the right man for you," I told her quietly.

She had some retriever in her, which made her a bit larger than the schnauzer Mom thought might be in the mix. She was an odd combination with her golden, curly hair, but she was a gem. I snapped my fingers as I rose from the floor, and she followed me out to the front.

I walked to where Edward Cullen was standing at the counter, swaying back and forth nervously. "I'm sorry I took so long, Edward. This is Bliss. She's a retriever/schnauzer mix as best my mother can figure out. She's trained to follow simple commands, and she's housebroken. She's been spayed, and she was a drop-off rescue, which means she wasn't abandoned. Her family couldn't take care of her any longer, so we took her in.

"I'd be willing to bring her to your home to see if the two of you hit it off. Your backyard would be right up her alley because she's not a wanderer, and she loves attention, though she's not a nervous dog. What do you think?" I asked as he sunk down on the floor and held her head to look into her eyes.

"What do you mean when you say she's trained," he asked as he rose from his knees and looked in my direction, not meeting my eyes.

I grabbed a couple of treats from the counter and walked over to the dog. "Bliss, sit," I ordered. She did, her tail scraping the floor the whole time as her tongue hung out in the semblance of a smile. I gave her a treat, and then I placed one on the floor in front of her, commanding, "Stay."

She sat there, just as she always did, watching the treat as if it would move. She, however, didn't.

"Come," I ordered. She walked over to me and sat next to my feet, still watching the treat. I snapped my fingers, and she dove for it, causing Edward to giggle, which I found completely intriguing.

"She's very well trained. I'd like the two of you to come to my home and see if she'd like it. I think she might be exactly what Carlisle had in mind. When would you be able to come?" he asked as he sunk to the floor again and nuzzled her face, scratching behind her ears which she loved more than anything.

I looked at my watch and saw it was nearly five. It was the end of my workday, and I was ready to leave. "Can you give me a couple of minutes? I need to go talk to Dr. Swan and check on a few things, and then Bliss and I can follow you home. If you want to take her outside, take a few treats. She'll sniff around and do her business, and you can get her to come back to you by snapping your fingers and calling her name, then you give her a treat," I instructed knowing she'd love him if he gave her a treat.

Edward looked elated, so I handed him a few biscuits and went to the back to find Jacob, the kid who helped us out with feeding, watering, and exercising all of the dogs. Jake laughed the whole time he was with them because they loved him and they generally attacked him with licks and nuzzles when he went into their cages.

He was sixteen, and he loved his work. Mom had talked to him about going to vet school, but his family didn't have it that way, though I knew he was interested. I hoped he found his calling because he was a good kid.

I found Mom in the clinic portion of our little operation. She was checking out a Chihuahua that wasn't the most friendly dog I'd ever come across. The damn thing snapped all the time and it had been dropped off by one of my father's fellow officers. He'd found it on the street outside an abandoned building, and he brought it to us.

Mom determined it was nearly feral, so it would be hanging around a while because it wasn't eligible for adoption with its aggressive behavior. It would take love and patience to nurse it back to health, and my mother, well she had the patience of a saint and a heart full of love.

"Mom, I think I found Bliss a home," I offered as I walked over to the table where she was examining the dog as it snarled the whole time.

She turned to me and smiled. "Really? I was almost ready to take her home with Sheba, but if someone fell in love with her, then I'm more than happy about it. Are they good people?"

I had to be careful because my mother was very persnickety regarding the adoption process, and I wasn't sure she'd agree with my judgment call.

"It's a single guy. He works from home. He's a musician, and he has a studio in his house. He's twenty-five, but he doesn't strike me as the kind of guy who'd go into this lightly. He has a single-family home with a fenced backyard, and they hit it off.

"He offered to allow me to come over to inspect his home and let Bliss look around as well. I think it's a good match, Mom. I really think they'll be good for each other. He's kind of quiet, and she's more docile. I'd like to take her over to his place and let her rut around a little," I hedged.

She pulled the snapping dog into her arms and held it tightly, which made it calm immediately, and then she leveled her eyes at me. "So, you're going to a stranger's house with a dog to allow them to feel it out? I want to meet him," she demanded.

She took the dog to a private kennel and returned a minute later, determined to meet the man. I was dreading it, but I knew she'd never agree unless she met him. I walked out front to find Edward Cullen on the floor with Bliss next to him in a submissive position on her back while he rubbed her belly. Her head was resting on his thigh as he leaned against the wall and quietly talked to her.

Mom took one look and inhaled. I turned to her and saw her smile. "I think you're right, but I still want a conversation with him before you leave here and follow a stranger home." I nodded. It was no use to argue with her because she'd get her way come hell or high water. She always did.

She walked over to the two of them and kneeled down, squeezing Bliss's thigh, which caused her to launch up. "Sit," Mom ordered as she turned to the man, who had a look of concern on his face.

"I'm Dr. Swan. You are?" she asked as she extended her right hand while her left rested on Bliss's head.

"It's an honor to meet you, Dr. Swan. I'm Edward Cullen, but you can call me Edward. You have a very nice place here," he told her, not meeting her gaze either.

Things were going well. I didn't want him to bring out that letter from his brother because my mother would have a shit fit if she read it. I wanted to take the dog to his house because in my heart, I knew he was a good guy, but Mom, well, she wasn't so trusting, and the fact I was young…well, she didn't always trust my judgment.

"Thank you, Edward. We try. So it seems our little Bliss has fallen in love with you. Bella told me you'd like her to bring the dog over to look around at your place to see if she'd be happy there. Where do you live?" Mom asked. Of course, my father had been a cop, so I knew she'd been trained in the art of interrogation over the years they'd been married.

I walked over and gave her the paperwork. "It's all right here. Edward lives over in Oakmont. We good here?" I asked impatiently.

Mom looked it over and smiled at him. "I think it's a great idea to allow Bliss to see if she likes your place, Edward. I just need to talk to Bella for a minute, and then she'll be back to follow you home."

She rose from the floor and walked over to me, grabbing my arm and leading me to the back. "God, you smell like dog. Go to my office and at least spritz yourself with some perfume. He's gorgeous, and it seems he's interested in you, Bella. Brush your hair, put on a little make-up, and get a blouse from my closet. He's definitely a keeper," she instructed, completely oblivious to the bigger picture.

I almost laughed at her eagerness to hook me up, but I didn't. She hadn't picked up on Edward's demeanor, and I didn't want her to. I wanted to get to know the man because there was just something about him. He wasn't something I saw coming when he walked in, but I was blown away by the gentleness about him. I'd never encountered another human who just seemed like such a gentle soul. It was like a breath of fresh air.

\\\

E/N: I didn't expect to put up another Bella/Edward story, but as I wrote this one, I decided I wanted to share it. It's not all pretty, but I love it. I hope you do as well.

Thank you for reading.

Till next time…xoxo

(P.S. I'm also posting stories on Fiction Press if you're interested. They're original fiction - slash - and they might not be your cup of tea, but I'm there!)