Entry for the Straight thru the Heart Contest

Title: Steady On

Summary: The first day I saw her on the bus, was the day I lost my heart. Today, I planned on letting her know she was the one who had captured it.

Pairing: Edward/Bella

Rating: M

Word count: 6,906

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


It was a usual Monday. The bus was still fairly empty since I lived at the start of the line. I sat on one of the long benches, using the empty aisle to stretch out my awkwardly long legs. As the bus filled, I'd have to draw them up, but it was painful to try and sit in one of the cramped two-seaters the entire ride, so this was my favorite place.

She got on two stops after mine. I glanced up from my iPod as she went by, and that was that.

She was short—very short—with pleasingly full curves. She was a vision, and I enjoyed the view. Long, dark hair hung down her back, the curls bouncing as she walked past. She sat down on the seat right by the back door, sliding in and pressing herself flat to the wall. She glanced up once, a quick peek around, then her gaze fell to her lap.

I couldn't stop staring in her direction. Her skin was pale, her cheeks round, diffused a dusty rose color. Her mouth was full and pink, and I had the urge to kiss it. Hard. Yank her tight to me and see if her soft curves molded to me the way I thought they would.

She slipped a Kindle from her purse and opened it. Within seconds, she was absorbed by the words in front of her. She was a fast reader, judging from the speed her finger tapped the screen. Her teeth were embedded in her bottom lip in concentration, while her face changed expressions as she read. I wanted to get up and sit behind her, peer over her shoulder and see what she was reading.

The bus filled, and it became harder to see. As often as I could, I glanced in her direction, silently willing her to look up—but she never did. My stop approached and I crossed to her side, leaning over, reaching for the bell.

"Excuse me," I murmured. I was finally rewarded when her eyes lifted to mine, startled from the book world she was lost in. Deep, timid pools of brown met my green, widening at my frank stare. I was close enough I could see the flecks of gold, like sunshine around her pupils. I wanted to drown in those pools of warmth, and I leaned closer. Immediately, color flooded her pale cheeks, making her skin glow. The teeth in her lip bit down farther, so hard I was sure she was going to draw blood. Then, to my disappointment, she dropped her gaze.

"Sure," she whispered, so low I could barely hear her.

The door opened, and I had no choice except to exit. I stood, staring at the departing bus, my thoughts so full of her I didn't notice the rancid exhaust fumes swirling around me. Her warm eyes, rounded figure, and sweet face lingered. Her timid gaze intrigued me. She intrigued me.

As the bus pulled around the corner, I shook my head at my strange thoughts and went to work.

She was on my bus ride home, already in her seat reading, when I got on. I swung myself into my usual spot which was surprisingly still empty—there were a lot of nights I stood most of the way home. I ran a hand through my hair, no doubt making it even messier than normal, then adjusted the volume on my phone, studying my playlists, all while glancing up at her covertly. But her gaze never shifted from her lap the entire ride. She disembarked, and I had to force myself to stay in my seat. The urge to follow her was strong, but also foolish. I didn't know her, or anything about her.

There was no ring on her finger—in fact she wore no jewelry on her hands, so it could mean nothing. I glimpsed the glint of something on her wrist, but I couldn't see her ears with the heavy veil of hair. I wondered if she liked jewelry. I glanced down at the heavy Celtic ring on my finger and leather cuff on my wrist. They were my two standard pieces. My parents had also given me a nice watch a few years ago, but I was more of a check-my-phone-for-the-time kind of guy.

I had so many questions when it came to my mystery girl.

I didn't know her, but I wanted to.

It was the same all week. Every morning I would wait for her to board the bus. Every day she walked past, her eyes down, never seeing me. Twice, I changed seats, sitting on the bench behind her, hoping she would look up as she slid in and meet my gaze.

But she never did.

I did peek over her shoulder, yet I wasn't able to figure out what she was reading. The close proximity did allow me to breathe in her scent, though. It was intoxicating—warm, subtle, and slightly sweet, like a waft of summer blooms on a hot day as you strolled past a huge garden. I wanted to bury my face into her neck and lose myself in her fragrance.

Watching her, I figured out a few things. She liked skirts, and her scarf changed almost daily. She had three coats I had seen so far, and she wore whichever one suited the temperature that day. My favorite was her red coat. I liked how it swirled around her as she walked, and the color looked pretty on her. She used minimal make-up, and she had five sexy little freckles in a circle behind her left ear, which I wanted to kiss. I discovered she had pierced ears and always had on the same tear-dropped shaped earrings. She usually left her hair down, but a couple days it was swept up into a thick braid or a bun away from her face. I liked it every way she wore it.

The evenings when I didn't get my seat, I made sure to sit or stand where I could see her. More than once I saw her stand and give her seat to another person, always with a sweet smile and a murmured word. She was so petite, she couldn't reach the bar above her head, hugging the silver pole so tight, her knuckles were white. She also struggled to maintain her balance as the bus lurched and swayed.

On Thursday night, the bus was crammed, and I shoved and pushed my way through until I was behind her. Her only support was the small bar on the seat back, and every time the bus lurched, so did she. I kept my hand around the overhead pole, half leaning over her. Staring down at my phone screen, I was in the perfect position to gaze down at her lowered head. I could smell her floral scent and feel the warmth of her body in front of me. My cock stirred in my pants, both of us wanting her closer. At one point the driver took the corner too hard and she grappled to stay upright. Without a thought, I wrapped my arm around her waist, pulling her back into my body to keep her from falling.

"Steady on," I murmured. "I've got you."

For a moment, neither of us moved. She fit nice and tight to my chest, her head right under my chin. I could feel the softness of her pressed into my hard body, and my pants became more restricted. Her chest heaved, her whole body tensed. I wasn't sure if it was the scare of almost falling or being held by a stranger that was causing her reaction.

With regret, I gently released her, bending low to her ear. "All right, now?"

"Thank you," she breathed, but she didn't turn around. Her reflection in the glass showed me the color on her cheeks and our eyes met. A tiny smile played on her full mouth, and I grinned. She dropped her eyes and got off at the next stop.

My chest felt cold without her in front of me.

Friday night, the bus was emptier than usual, and I got my normal spot. A lot of the people who rode the bus stayed downtown for a night of socializing. She was in her seat, but her Kindle wasn't in her hand. Instead, she stared out the window, looking tired and the half-smile she often wore, absent. The dim light of the February twilight was the perfect backdrop—her face was reflected flawlessly in the glass, and I studied it openly.

She looked more than tired—she looked sad.

What, I wondered, had made her feel that way?

Something at work? Did she have a disagreement with a friend? With her boyfriend? Did he cancel their weekend plans?

As I was thinking, it happened. Her gaze moved, meeting mine in the glass. For the briefest moment, our eyes locked. Like a mirror, we both moved our heads and stared at one another across the aisle. Slowly, my lips curled at the corners, and the most beautiful smile I had ever seen was sent my way. Her full mouth teased, her eyes lit with a glow that warmed my chest. Pink tinged her cheeks, flowing right to her ears, which were exposed tonight. Her glance was shy and sweet.

I wanted to drown in it—and her.

Then, as quickly as it happened, she broke our connection, dropping her eyes down to her clasped hands.

I thought about her all weekend.

Monday, I found out her name. When she got on the bus, she was followed closely by another woman, who I assumed was a co-worker. She sat beside my beautiful stranger, talking constantly.

"I can't believe you live in the same building as my boyfriend! How great we get to ride to work, Bella!"

Bella. Beautiful. How perfect.

Her co-worker kept talking, her voice loud enough everyone on the bus heard about her wild weekend. Bella's face went from slightly shocked to totally embarrassed at the frankness of her companion's description. Her dark eyes were wide, her cheeks a dull red. She leaned over, and for the first time I heard her voice fully.

"Jessica, either lower your voice or change the subject. Both would be preferable!"

I had to bite back my laugh at her obvious displeasure hearing about Jessica's boyfriend's prowess in bed…and many other surfaces in his apartment.

Jessica frowned at her. "Really, Bella, don't be a prude. You need to get a boyfriend. Loosen up a little. I can hook you up with one of his friends."

I tensed, but Bella shook her head and dug in her purse for her beloved Kindle. "Not interested."

Catching her gaze, I subtly sent a wink her way. Her already flushed cheeks darkened further, but I caught the slight roll of her eyes and saw her lips twitch as she flipped open the reader's cover.

The thought of her annoyance kept me chuckling all day. The fact there was no boyfriend buoyed my spirits.

Tuesday, I was granted one of her shy smiles when I got off the bus. Her eyes lifted from her book, her full lips twitched, and our gazes met for that brief instance before hers fell to her book again. Seeing that smile made me long for the day it was directed at me all the time.

Wednesday, I crossed the aisle to the exit. Leaning over her, I pulled the bell, but instead of standing back up, I stayed stooped over. My gaze locked on her, ignoring the fact the door had opened and I was holding up the line. Her eyes lifted and widened at my closeness.

"Have a good day, Bella," I murmured, letting my hand drift over hers.

Stepping off the bus, I turned around. She was staring out the window, her expression shocked. I lifted my hand and held it to my lips.

Today, her smile eclipsed the sun.

Friday, I was determined to talk to her. The bus had been so crowded every night, the closest I could get to her was staring at her reflection in the dimness of twilight. I loved the way the setting sun highlighted the red of her hair. She never read on the way home, instead choosing to stare out the window, deep in thought.

I wondered what she thought about. If her thoughts ever drifted to the man hopelessly in love with her across the aisle; who was so close to her physically, yet still unknown, in any other way.

Until today. Today, I was going to make sure she knew my name.

I dressed carefully. My job as an IT specialist rarely called for a suit, but today I donned my favorite navy one, adding a red tie. It was Valentine's Day after all. If I got my way, the day would end with a pretty girl named Bella smiling at me, on a date. I didn't care where—if it was a coffee shop, a restaurant, or Chinese take-out on the street corner—as long as it was her and me.

I had a small box of chocolates in my pocket. Not one of those cheesy heart-shaped boxes filled with cheap, dried out chocolates. It was from my favorite shop, all hand-picked and in a gold box, wrapped with a red ribbon.

Before I got on the bus, I dashed into Rose's Petals; the flower shop in my building. Rose lived on my floor with her gargantuan husband Emmett, and last night I had knocked on her door, embarrassed, asking for her help. This morning she smiled when I came in the door, and she held out the world's tiniest bouquet. Three miniature roses, a sprig of baby's breath, and a glossy leaf were wrapped in a white ribbon. "You can put it in your overcoat pocket," she explained, slipping it into a small plastic bag. "I have the ends in a vial. It'll stay fresh all day."

"Perfect, thank you." I grinned, kissing her cheek.

"I want to meet her."

"Once I do, I promise you will."

I rushed to the bus, waiting anxiously, disappointment hitting me like a bucket of cold water when she never got on at her stop.

Was she late? Did she have the day off? Was she ill?

I slumped down in my seat, my excitement gone, my plans ruined. All day at work, I was distracted and moody, accomplishing nothing. By the time the end of the day rolled around, I was anxious to go home, grab a couple of beers, and escape the love fest around me. Everywhere I looked there were hearts, flowers, and love. I had all three, and the girl I wanted to give it all to was nowhere to be found.

I boarded my bus, not surprised to see it emptier than usual. I knew every bar, restaurant, and nightclub downtown would be packed tonight. I swung myself into my favorite spot, glanced up and froze.

She was there, sitting in her red coat, her hair spilling over her shoulders, looking beyond pretty and staring out the window.

She was there.

I could still do this.

The seats beside and behind her were both occupied, but we had a ways to go. The next stop the woman beside her stood up, and my body trembled in eagerness. I would slip in beside her and say hello. Simple. Start a conversation. Hopefully, by the time it was her stop, she would be happy for me to accompany her off the bus.

As the passengers exited, others came on, and a tall, overly muscled jock sauntered down the aisle, his jacket tied around his waist, shirt sleeves rolled up, exposing his bulging biceps. I wanted to roll my eyes and tell him to put on his coat. It was obvious he was showing off his steroid-enhanced body, wanting attention. He was pushy and rude, brushing past people before they could sit, almost disdainful in the way he looked down at them. Then he did the unthinkable.

He flung himself in the seat next to Bella, almost crushing her. Instantly, she shrank farther into the corner, tightly wedging herself to the wall. He squirmed and shoved, pushing against her. It took all my control not to stand up, walk over, and yank him out of the seat for being such an ass. He leaned back, tilting his head and studying her, an ugly look on his face.

She kept her head down and turned to the window, hiding her expression behind her hair. Her arm was across her chest in a defensive, almost protective manner, her body turned away from him.

I slid forward to the edge of my seat. I didn't like this at all, yet there was nothing I could do about it.

He wasn't doing anything aside from taking up most of the space and shifting a lot. He hadn't spoken or shouted, but he kept turning his head, glaring, looking contemptuous as he flexed his chest and arms. He was an egotistical ass—a buffed up jock with an attitude, and he was making her uncomfortable.

I couldn't tell him to back the fuck off and move—but I wanted to.

I kept my eye trained on him. Much to my relief, a few stops later he stood and rang the bell. He stepped onto the top step, then to my horror, leaned over the rail and spoke directly to Bella, his words too low for me to hear. Straightening up, he lifted his arrogant chin. "Think about it," he jeered and strode off, his head held high.

The door shut, and the bus pitched forward. I looked at Bella. She was frozen, staring into the space he'd been taking up; her face so white, I thought she was going to faint. The usual smile that played on her lips was gone, her mouth slack from shock. Her eyes lifted, finding mine. Pain, hurt, and shame filled her dark stare, then her cheeks reddened. Not in the way they did all the other times—there was no rosy stain blooming across her skin, no soft flow of blood tinting the contours of her face. This was deep-seated, painful embarrassment. Her defeated gaze fell, her shoulders hunched in as she turned to the wall of the bus, her hair falling forward.

What the fuck had he said to her?

A sudden shout from a woman at the back startled me and I dropped my phone, cursing as it hit the dirty floor of the bus.

"Oh, I missed my stop! Stop! Please Stop!"

The bus driver slammed on the brakes. Everyone jerked with the sudden movement, and my phone slid down the aisle. As soon as the bus was still, I chased after it, reaching under the seat three rows down to grab it before the bus started back up. I grabbed the rail just in time and turned.

Bella was gone.

~Bella~

I sat down on a cold, damp park bench, my shaking legs unable to take me any farther. From the moment that horrid man leaned over the rail and spewed his nasty words, the need to flee the confines of the bus was paramount. When the woman had jumped up begging to be let off, I followed her without thinking. I was embarrassed and shocked. Although he kept his voice down, I heard him plainly. A passenger behind me did too, judging from the gasp I heard. What I didn't know was if my green-eyed stranger across the aisle had also heard. When our eyes met, I was so upset, I couldn't discern his gaze. The thought of him hearing those words, seeing my shame, was too much, and I ran.

I felt overheated and shaky, so I pulled off my gloves, stuffing them into my pocket. My hand came into contact with the small bag deep inside, and I pulled it out, my eyes filling with tears as I looked at the cookies I had so foolishly made last night. Small hearts, carefully decorated, that I planned on giving the green-eyed stranger today.

My first day on my new job, he had been across the aisle from me on the bus. He ran a hand through his wild coppery hair, the motion capturing my attention. His gaze had startled me; so green and piercing as he stared. Yet, it wasn't frightening as some stares were to me. It was curious, warm, and kind. I saw him every day, getting brave enough to look back a couple times. Even when I wasn't looking, I was certain I could feel his gaze on me, though he always seemed to be looking down at his phone when I would peek up.

The day Jess followed me onto the bus, he winked at me. He was no doubt as amused by her oversharing as others were around me. Then one day he had murmured my name, actually touching my hand that was resting on the rail. His touch was gentle, and I felt the warmth it left behind the rest of the day.

The night he stopped me from falling would forever be etched in my memory. He was so solid and strong behind me. His voice was low and comforting in my ear when he whispered "steady on," and made sure I was okay. If I had been a braver person, I would have turned around and struck up a conversation, thanked him for being so kind. As usual, my extreme shyness kept me from doing anything except utter a small "thank you," and keep my gaze downward.

So last night, when I baked some Valentine's cookies for co-workers, I made a little bag up for him, though I wasn't sure I would have the nerve to give them to him.

The day had gone wrong from the get-go. My mother called with one of her emergencies, making me late and I missed my bus, arriving as it pulled around the corner. I snagged my tights on a nail sticking out of my desk, had to skip lunch because of a deadline, and watched all the single girls get flowers and candy delivered all day.

When my green-eyed stranger got on the bus, looking more handsome than usual, my heart flew then crashed, thinking he was dressed up for a date. Except his stare had been more intense, and he hadn't bothered trying to hide it this time. The way he was perched on the edge of his bench, I was certain he was going to come and sit beside me as soon as the spot cleared.

The jock beat him to it, however; pushing and shoving me into the wall of the bus, his body heat overwhelming, and his appraisal filled with dislike. Once he sneered his words, I was done. My green-eyed stranger wouldn't be getting cookies today, or any other day for that matter. My shift had changed today, so I'd be catching an earlier bus next week.

I doubted I would ever see him again.

More tears gathered, and I wiped at my cheeks in anger. It was stupid to cry. Nothing would have ever come of it anyway. I was sure it was just a way to pass the time on the bus. I doubted he ever thought of me otherwise.

I dropped my head into my hands, feeling weary and spent. I needed to go home and forget this day. Forget the fledging hope that had flickered every time I saw my stranger on the bus. He would remain forever just that.

Except, then I heard it.

Running feet and someone shouting my name.

"Bella!"

~Edward~

I stared at her empty seat, then raced to the front. "Open the door!"

"I already stopped once," the driver growled. "You can wait."

I was desperate. "Please!"

"You can wait. It's only two blocks. I ain't stopping again."

Cursing, I had no choice except to wait. When the doors opened, I rushed down the stairs, running back to the spot where she'd disappeared off the bus, desperate to find her.

I stood, panting, on the corner where she should be. I looked left, right, behind me, yet I couldn't spot her.

"Damn it," I roared. "How the fuck can someone so short move so fast?"

"Looking for someone, young man?"

I spun around, facing an older gentleman, ragged and hunched.

"Yes! A girl—dark hair, short, pretty, wearing a red coat? Did you see her?"

"If I did?"

I stepped closer. "I need to find her. She's upset, and I need to make her feel better. Please."

"Did you upset her?"

"No."

He studied me for a moment.

"Sometimes"—he pointed over my shoulder—"we have to look harder."

I pivoted in the direction he pointed—a small park entrance.

"She's in there?"

"Yes. She looked like she needed some cheering up."

Reaching into my pocket, I found some money and pressed it into his hand. "Have a hot meal and get a place to sleep tonight."

"Bless you."

I shook his hand. "No, sir. Thank you."

I took off, running. It was dark and the park was fairly deserted, but I didn't like the fact she was on her own and upset.

Rounding the corner, I spotted her, sitting by herself—her red coat bright under the small lamp beside the bench. Her head was in her hands, her stance defeated and sad.

"Bella!"

Startled, she stood up as I ran toward her. She stepped back in panic, slipping. Reaching out, I pulled her close. "Steady on."

She righted herself and stared at me. "What are you doing here?"

"Are you all right?"

"I'm…I'm fine."

"No, you aren't. Why are you sitting in a cold park, alone? What did he say to you that upset you so much?"

"What?" She gasped.

"Tell me what he said. What made you run?"

She shook her head. "Why does it matter to you? You don't even know me! I don't know you—I don't even know your name!"

"You're right. That changes—right now."

I sat down, tugging her down next to me. "Finally, I get to sit beside you." She returned my smile timidly, but she was still confused.

Reaching over for her hand, I squeezed her fingers. "My name is Edward Cullen. I'm single, twenty-eight, and work at Masen Technology. I do computer stuff. I live over on 53rd Street in the Tapley Towers with my cat, Charlie. He's a stray I found one night—I took him home until the shelter opened the next day, and he never left. My parents are Esme and Carlisle. They're going to love you. My sister, Alice, is a pain in the ass—she has an opinion about everything and loves to express it. The damn thing of it all is—she's usually right. I like to read, I watch far too many movies, and I'm very competitive when it comes to games of any sort. My family won't even play Monopoly with me." I stopped rambling and drew in a deep breath. "My favorite color is blue, and I think you're the most beautiful girl I've ever seen."

With that speech, I sat back. "Your turn."

She blinked at me, her brow furrowed. "Beautiful?" she whispered.

"Definitely."

"Ah…"

I slid a little closer to her on the bench. "Your name is Bella. You like to wear skirts and pretty scarfs. Your favorite coat is red and sways as you move."

"It's called a swing coat," she whispered.

"I like it." I smiled encouragingly, lifting a stray curl on her shoulder. "Your hair glows red in the sunlight. It's very pretty. You love to read, and you lose yourself in the words so fast it's like the world disappears around you. You're kind, timid, and you smell good. You think of other people first. You jump up every time you see a senior or a pregnant woman and make sure they get a seat on the bus. You're incredibly shy, intensely private, and very, very sweet. I love how you blush."

"How do you know all this?"

"I've been watching you. Trying to get you to notice me—or figure out a way of approaching you so I didn't scare you off."

She bit her lip. "I did notice you."

"Yeah?"

She nodded.

I inched closer. "In a good way?"

"Yes."

"Can you tell me a little about yourself I don't know?"

She swallowed. "My last name is Swan," she offered.

I held out my hand. "It's lovely to meet you Bella Swan."

She slid her hand into mine, letting me shake it. I didn't release my grip, though. I liked the way it felt in mine. "More please."

"I'm twenty-four. I have no siblings. My parents are divorced." A small smile touched her lips. "My dad is Charlie—like your cat."

I grinned. "See—so much in common already. What else do you like to do besides read?"

"I like movies too. And I like to walk and explore. I only moved here a few weeks ago to start this job, so I'm getting to know the area."

"I can help you," I offered eagerly. "I've lived here all my life."

"Oh."

"If you want," I added.

"Did, you, ah…want to?"

I lifted her hand, pressing it to my cheek. "Ah, Bella. More than I can say."

"Why?"

Her question was simple, yet saturated in doubt.

"Because I want to get to know more about you."

"Oh," she repeated, shivering.

I stood up, pulling off my coat. "You're cold. We need to go someplace warm. Put this on."

"No, really I'm okay."

"You're shivering. Just slip this on. I saw a coffee shop back there. We can get coffee and talk."

"It's fine," she whispered, not meeting my eyes again. She hunched her shoulders, her stance tense and upset. "It won't fit."

"Don't be ridiculous." I snapped my coat around her, the breeze swirling the fabric as it settled around her frame—it was far too long, almost hitting the ground, and the shoulders were massive on her. "See, it's fine. It'll warm you up until we get inside."

She hesitated, fingering the lapel of my coat. Her eyes swirled with emotions—sorrow and worry.

"What did he say to you?"

She shook her head.

"Tell me," I insisted.

"Why?"

"Because it upset you. Say it now, here, outside. Say into the dark and let the wind take it away. After, we can go somewhere warm together and it'll be gone from inside your head." I cupped her cheeks, forcing her to look at me. "Say it. Out loud. Let it go."

"He said…"She swallowed, the glimmer of tears already glowing in her eyes. "He said people like me disgust him."

"People like you?"

"Fat people. He told me to have some self-respect and do something about my weight. That maybe if I wasn't so heavy, I wouldn't be sitting alone on a bus on Valentine's Day." She let out a shuddering breath. "He pushed his business card into my hand and told me to think about it."

I shut my eyes, tamping down my anger. "Do you still have his card?"

"It's in my pocket."

"Give it to me, please."

Her hand was shaking as she retrieved it and held it out. I took it and memorized the information on the card—his name and that of the gym he worked at. I would be paying that asshole a visit. I tore it into pieces and threw it in the bin beside us. "That," I spat, "is what his words are worth."

"I've been trying… I lost twenty…"

I cut her off. I didn't care if she'd lost twenty pounds in the last year, month or week. "Listen to me, Bella Swan, and listen good. You do what is right for you. Not for what some steroid-hyped-attention-seeking jock thinks. He is a complete fucking asshole. What he said, what he did, is reprehensible."

Unable to help myself, I swept her into my arms, holding her tight. "I think you're perfect. Just the way you are. You're adorable. Every inch of you. You're so fucking sexy it makes my head spin."

Her head fell back, her eyes wide with disbelief. "You think I'm sexy?"

"So much so, I can't stop thinking about you." I reached over into the pocket of my coat and handed her the tiny flowers. "I got you these. I wanted to give them to you and ask you to spend Valentine's with me. Be my Valentine. I was so disappointed when you weren't on the bus this morning, my entire day was ruined."

She took the flowers, gazing on them in wonder. "They're beautiful."

"So are you."

"I've never gotten flowers before. Ever."

"I'll buy you some every week. More if you want them. Just please spend some time with me."

"Edward—"

"Bella. He was a jerk. A total jerk." I leaned down, staring into her eyes. "I didn't see anyone on the bus with him, either."

A small smile touched her lips.

"I highly doubt anyone was on the bus waiting with flowers, desperate to talk to him."

"You were desperate?"

"I was going to follow you off the bus and beg you to come with me."

"Where?"

"Anywhere. As long as I could sit and talk to you."

"That's the sweetest thing anyone has ever said to me."

"Can we do that now, Bella? Go somewhere and talk? Get to know each other? Spend Valentine's together?"

"On one condition."

"Anything."

"You take your coat back. I don't want you cold, either."

With a grin, I slipped it off her shoulders and slid my arms into it. In the few minutes she had it on, I could already smell her on the collar. I liked it.

"Everywhere will be busy tonight," she observed.

I drew in a deep breath—I could think of one place. "Do you trust me?"

"Yes."

I held out my hand. "Let's go."

Stepping out of the cab, I tugged Bella along behind me, hurrying her into the tiny pizza place by my building. Low key, but well-known by the locals, he was busy but flashed me his huge grin as he came forward. "Edward! The usual?" Then, spying Bella, his grin became wider, his look knowing. "Not tonight, I think."

I shook my head. "No, not tonight, Aro."

"You want my lovers' special?" He beamed. Beside me, Bella's cheeks bloomed with color that had nothing to do with the heat of the small space.

I looked at the special on the board, then at Bella. "You like pizza?"

"Yes—um, nothing spicy, though."

"Perfect. Me either. Yes, Aro, one lovers' special. I'll come back and get it?"

"Sure. Give me forty minutes."

I nodded, and we headed to the front doors. I could feel Bella's tension increasing, and I squeezed her hand. "You're perfectly safe, Bella. Promise."

To make my point, I stopped and introduced her to my doorman, Garrett. His kind eyes took her in, and he smiled. "This one gives you any trouble you come see me, Bella." He winked. "I'll make sure his mail is redirected or some other mysterious occurrence."

She giggled and shook his hand. "I'll keep that in mind."

In the elevator, I grinned down at her. "Two people, plus the cab driver know you're here. You're safe."

She shook her head. "I'm not worried about that. I trust you, Edward."

Lifting her hand, I kissed her knuckles. "Good. I won't do anything to abuse that trust. I just wanted a quiet place we could talk and get to know each other."

"Okay."

Inside, I took her coat, standing back with a low whistle. She was wearing a deep blue dress, tight across her breasts, flaring out to her knees. Her fists clutched the long sleeves as her gaze dropped. Slipping my fingers under her chin, I couldn't resist placing a kiss on her full lips. "Beautiful," I murmured. "My favorite girl in my favorite color."

She had something clutched in one hand.

"What's that?"

"I, ah, made you some cookies. I didn't know if I'd be brave enough to give them to you, but here—"

She thrust them at me, and I took the bag with a smile. "I love cookies."

I reached into my coat pocket and held out the tiny box of chocolates. "I know they aren't heart-shaped, but they're my favorite."

Her eyes were luminous. "Flowers and chocolate."

I grimaced. "Too cheesy?"

This time she leaned up. I bent low, and she kissed my cheek. "Perfect."

Twenty minutes later, Bella was on my sofa, a glass of wine in her hand, and Charlie draped across her knee, soaking up all the attention she was lavishing him.

I was jealous of my damn cat.

She looked so right on my sofa and in my home. Her soft laugh filled the room, and her scent swirled around me. Her tiny bouquet was beside her, and I had already eaten most of my cookies. Bella insisted we would share the chocolates for dessert.

Personally, I would rather have her, although I knew that was probably not going to happen—not tonight at least.

Dinner was easy and light. We sat on the sofa, the heart-shaped pizza between us and a second bottle of wine steadily disappearing. The more Bella relaxed, the more I saw her real personality. She was funny and droll, her laughter infectious. She was well-read, and we discovered many titles we liked in common. We both loved the fall, movies and animals—among many other things. I gazed at her as she told me another story about growing up. She was enchanting, and I was under her spell.

When dinner was over, we shared the chocolates. Reaching in the small box, I held up my favorite kind. "Sea salt caramel," I explained, offering her the chocolate with my fingers. "Open up."

She hesitated, obligingly parted her lips, allowing me to slip the chocolate onto her tongue. Her eyes fluttered shut and a small moan escaped. "Incredible," she breathed out.

My pants tightened a little.

"My turn." She reached in and plucked a chocolate out with a smile. "Open up."

I bent in, letting her place a chocolate on my tongue. I closed my lips, running my tongue over her fingers, and as she slipped them back, I kissed the tips. "This is my favorite now. Bella-added flavor."

The blush I loved appeared. I wanted more of her. Closer. Standing up, I went to my iPod, scrolling through my music, hitting play. I held out my hand. "Dance with me."

"I'm not much of a dancer."

I pulled her to her feet, drawing her close. "You'll be fine."

We began to move, Bella tense in my arms. I held her closer, dropping my mouth to her ear. "Steady on, Bella. I've got you." Slowly, she relaxed, and together we drifted to the music. Her head rested on my chest, and I slipped my hand up her back, caressing the silk of her hair. We stopped moving, our eyes locked.

My gaze dropped to her mouth, then back to her eyes. Her chin tilted in a silent yes, and I bent lower, capturing her lips. Time stopped. The world outside her, us, ceased to exist. I held her tight, exploring every inch of her sweet mouth, greedily tracing her generous curves with my hands. I grabbed her hips, pulling her flush to me, leaving her no doubt to the depth of my desire. She whimpered deep in her throat, her arms securely around my neck, and her hands buried in my hair, pulling the strands. Groaning, I dropped my face to her neck, breathing hard.

"Be my valentine, Bella. Every day."

"Yes, please."

~Bella~

The bus Monday was unusually crowded. The earlier bus had broken down, leaving those passengers stranded. I pushed my way onboard, trying to find a place to stand where I could grip the handrail. I knew a seat was out of the question and so was my Kindle. Instead, I could listen to the playlist Edward had put on my phone.

Edward.

Just his name made me shiver. He was so amazing—and I was only at the start of getting to know him. Not only had he made Valentine's Day special for me, the entire weekend had been wonderful. His drugging kisses Friday, the wonderful indoor picnic we had on Saturday, and the way he blew up my phone on Sunday with his texts and phone calls. I could hardly wait to see him tonight.

The bus lurched as it went around a corner too hard. I grappled, trying to reach for the handle, knowing I was about to either fall or take another passenger out.

Strong arms wrapped around me, pulling me to a hard chest. Edward's voice was low in my ear.

"Steady on, Bella."

I looked up, beaming. He wasn't supposed to be on this bus, but I was thrilled that he was.

He bent his head lower, his breath drifting over my cheek as he kissed it softly.

"I've got you."


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