Surprise! Early update because I'm not sure I've got time tomorrow.

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CHAPTER SIX—BELLA

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I meet Edward at Red Mill. We have to wait in line for a bit, but it's definitely worth it. Even outside, the scent of fried beef, french fries, and grilled onions hangs in the air. Edward's stomach growls so loudly I can hear it over the other conversations in the crowd.

"It smells so good," he all but moans.

"Did you eat anything at work?"

"Not much. No time."

I pat his stomach. "Poor baby." God, there are some abs under there. I wonder if he'd mind if I take a peek…

Edward clears his throat and laughs, but he looks slightly uncomfortable. I pretend not to notice and snatch my hand back.

After we place our orders at the window, we search for a place to sit, finally finding a couple cramped spaces at the counter. He gestures for me to sit first, placing a steadying hand at my back. I stifle a sigh at the touch. While I make sure my skirt hasn't ridden up, he slides onto the stool next to me, sitting sideways to make room for his long legs.

When I notice how close we really are, a flock of giant butterflies takes flight in my stomach. His chest is a few inches from my shoulder, practically calling me to lean into him. His strong thighs are spread in a V, one knee cocked behind me. It's a feat of tremendous strength for me to not look at his crotch.

If I slide off the stool, I'll land right between his legs. I have a brief daydream in which I do just that, and then he pulls me right into his chest, lowers his head, and kisses the daylights out of me.

"They called our number," Edward says, breaking me out of the reverie. "I'll be right back."

I watch him leave, unabashedly staring at his ass in those perfectly worn jeans. If you looked up phenomenal in the dictionary, his ass would be pictured right alongside the definition. He's just as pretty leaving as he is when he heads back—a gorgeous male specimen, arms laden with delicious, artery-clogging goodness.

"Before we eat, I've got the bail money," I say, digging in my purse while he distributes the food.

"I don't need your money," he returns, giving me a stern look when I glance up at him.

With what I hope is a determined expression, I hand him a white envelope. "Well, you're gonna take it."

Instead of taking it, he picks up his burger and takes a huge bite, groaning at the taste. "God, that's good," he says when his mouth isn't full.

I picture his lips saying those words in other situations that don't involve food. However, I can't let myself get distracted from the objective at hand.

"Edward, you're taking this."

"No, I'm not." More burger, more of me watching his gorgeous lips.

"You have to. Please. I got myself into this mess; now let me be an adult and take care of it. It's bad enough I had to call someone to help me in the first place." The last part might be a little white lie, because there's nothing bad about getting to spend extra time with him.

He puts down his burger, sighs, and says, "You know I don't need the money. I wish you'd keep it—it was my pleasure to help you out. But if it's that important to you, then I'll take it." He wipes his hands off and finally takes the envelope when I slide it across the countertop. "I hope you know, I'm paying for this meal with bailout money."

I laugh and pick up my own burger. "You've got a deal."

We spend the rest of lunch talking about the upcoming trip to Vegas, scheming to help one another out of any undesirable activities Alice might force on us. We even come up with a code word—pound. If either one of us gets trapped, the word "pound" is our bat signal. For the rest of the afternoon, my dirty mind can't stop thinking about how much I'd like him to pound me.

As if we haven't had enough guilty pleasure worthy food, we go for ice cream afterward. I'd almost call it a date, if it didn't consist of daddy-daughter special time activities.

Ugh. Why did I go there?

Edward orders a giant banana split, and I mistakenly think he's going to share it.

"Oh, no," he says, like I'm nuts. "This is all mine."

And all my Lady and the Tramp banana split dreams disappear like a puff of smoke.

"You need to start packing a lunch for work if you're that hungry, Edward."

"It's not that."

"Then what is it?"

"Have you ever seen a grown man eat ice cream in public? Alone?"

I have to think about it. "I'm sure plenty of men do it every day. Why? What's wrong with that?"

His face is incredulous—well, as much as one can be with a mouthful of banana split. "Only women and children eat ice cream alone in public. I never get the chance to go out and get ice cream, so I'm taking full advantage of this banana split while I can."

"That has to be the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard," I laugh. "Ice cream is an equal opportunity food." I eat a spoonful of my own salted caramel brownie sundae. It's heaven. That banana split can suck it.

He shakes his head and laughs. "Okay, okay. I just really don't want to share."

"I thought so. Emmett eats ice cream all the time. In public. In private. Probably on the toilet, too."

We crack up laughing, because it's most likely true.

After we finish our dessert, he walks me to my truck, his large, warm hand a pleasant weight at the small of my back as we exit the ice cream shop. Again, this seems an awful lot like a date, but I'm not going to ruin my illusion by asking for a kiss before he leaves. Not that I'll turn one down. I'll climb him like a tree if he puts his mouth on mine.

As we reach my truck, he says, "Hello, old monster." He pats the hood.

"Stop talking about me like that," I laugh, though I know he means the truck. He and Emmett have called it that since Emmett first drove it in high school.

"Not you, the truck. She's the biggest, loudest, rustiest Energizer Bunny."

"Well, not all of us can have a sexy sports car."

"You know, they say that after so long, vehicles and their owners start to resemble one another."

"Are you saying I'm blocky and dented?" I ask in mock offense. "And I believe that's spouses. Maybe pets, too." Great. The last thing I need is for him to think I'm gonna look like Jake one day.

"I was thinking more like stubborn and temperamental."

I smack his chest and he grabs my hand, laughing. "So, I guess you're loud and pretentious?" He hasn't let go of my hand. My heart almost beats out of my chest, all over a little hand-holding. My fingers tingle when he lets go.

"How about sleek and sexy? You said so yourself."

"I said your car was sexy. Not you." Oh, but I lie, Edward. I lie. I'd have a nose like a broomstick if I was Pinocchio.

During the whole exchange, we're leaning against my truck, less than a foot from one another, as he looks down at me with a ready smile and an affectionate gaze. We've always enjoyed verbally sparring with each other, but something in me thinks this is different. It's something in his eyes, and the way they stray from mine occasionally. Am I imagining things, or is he looking at my lips?

Putting a hand to his heart, he groans. "Ouch. That hurt, Bella. That hurt."

"I'll show you hurt," I threaten, and ball up my fist, ready to throw a pretend punch.

He leans forward to catch my hand in his, and we're inches apart as he looks down at me. There's no way I'm imagining it this time—he's definitely looking at my lips.

Sebastian and Flounder sing Kiss the Girl in my brain.

Kiss me. Kiss me, I chant in my head, as if I've got some sort of mind control abilities. My own eyes dart back and forth from his lowered lashes to his mouth, and I need to feel his lips on mine more than I need to breathe.

His head lowers a fraction and I start to lift onto the tips of my toes, and then a horn sounds somewhere in the distance. It snaps the spell we're in, and he releases my hand, stepping back. Disappointment is a living thing inside my chest, swelling until it crushes my heart.

"I've gotta get back. Still haven't slept yet," he explains, not meeting my eyes.

"Sure," I say quickly, "Go get some rest."

Backing away, he waves. "See you later. Thanks for the bail money." This time he does look at me, smirking, before turning on his heel to head back to his car.

"Thank you," I return weakly, watching him go. And though I might be a tiny bit heartbroken, I still take immense satisfaction in staring at his ass.

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—x—

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On the way home, I replay every single second of what I've dubbed The Almost Kiss in my head. There's no doubt in my mind—if it wasn't for that random asshole's horn, he would've kissed me. I'd like to find that jerk and … and … I don't know, literally kick him in the ass or something.

Though the afternoon has been great, I find myself a little depressed. Nothing like getting denied by Edward Cullen to put a girl down in the dumps. By the time I park my truck on the street in front of my apartment, I'm full-on feeling sorry for myself. I throw myself out of the truck and head for the porch, ready for a cuddle session with Jake. I have low expectations, but it's not Jake's fault. Not much can compare to an Almost Kiss.

My house is tucked away in Queen Anne, in the upper floor of a rambling Craftsman. I absolutely adore the space. It's painted a smart slate blue and trimmed with bright white eaves and trim. The lush, green grass absolutely glows against the fresh paint, and I love nothing more than to sit out on the front porch during a quiet rain.

I rent from a nice, older gentleman and his mother, who converted the upstairs into an income unit when they realized the original home was too large for just the two of them. The place often comes complete with baked treats and homemade lasagna. They don't even mind letting Jake run free in their small backyard. If only their fence was more heavy-duty containment and less white picket ornamental, the place would be absolutely perfect.

It makes Dad happy that I don't technically live alone, even though my place is completely separate from the rest of the house. I have my own front door that opens to stairs that lead directly up to my apartment. Despite the fact I've been out of the house for five years now, I'm not sure Charlie will ever consider me "adult" enough to take care of myself. The belief comes from a lovable place, but that doesn't make it less annoying. As the baby of the family, I've always struggled to assert my independence. Having a huge, intimidating brother and stern father, both of whom carry a gun for a living, makes for a very sheltered life.

Dad's having trouble letting go, I know that. He's been acting this way ever since I decided to stay in Seattle after I graduate. He wants me to come back home to Forks and teach there. Not happening, but he'll get over it. It's not fair, really. He had no problem with Emmett joining the Seattle P.D.

As if he knows I'm thinking of him, my phone rings, just as I'm unlocking the door. Jake hops around me, barking in greeting. I answer the phone as I take the dog back down the steps and around back. He can hang out in the yard while I talk.

"Hey, Dad. And yes, I had the locksmith install that new deadbolt you got me," I say in greeting. I wish he would embrace technology, so we can use FaceTime and he could see my epic eye roll.

There are now two very shiny, silver, official-looking deadbolts (wannabe chastity belts in Dad's eyes) fixed above the doorknob. If I let him have his way, he'd post a sign on the front door that says Warning: Trespassers will be shot by Charlie Swan.

"Good, good," comes my father's gruff voice. "You do know those things won't do any good if you don't lock 'em, right?"

I sigh, smiling. He'll never change. "Yes, Dad. I lock them before I go to bed every night." I bite my lip so I won't laugh as I wait for what's coming. I love winding him up.

"Bella! What have I told you? Bad people come out in the daytime too."

I'd better let him off the hook before he really goes berserk. "Dad, I'm kidding."

"Not funny, Isabella Marie."

"Ooh, you're serious! The full and middle names!"

"You bet I'm serious. Your safety is serious. Are you using that security system I set up for you?"

I forgot—there is one kind of tech my father wholeheartedly embraces—the video doorbell. He got me a Ring when I moved in, and I have to admit, it's neat. I'll never let him know, though.

"Yes, Dad. I don't even go down the steps unless it's someone I know." This is true—I'm no dummy.

"That's my girl. How is school? Do you need any money?"

I freeze at the last question, my paranoid self wondering if he somehow knows about my stint in jail.

"School is great. I'm doing well in my classes, and I like my TA assignments."

"I'm glad, Bella. You know your mother and I will help you out if you need it."

"I'm doing okay money-wise. Thanks for offering, though."

"Listen, kiddo, I gotta go. Your mother's yapping at me from upstairs. She's probably up in that studio covered in paint," he says, and I can picture his grumpy face. He pretends to be put-upon, but I know how much he loves Mom. When she declared her new calling in life was to be an artist, he's the one who remodeled Emmett's old room into an art studio and bought all her supplies.

I smile, glad I had the chance to talk with him—he's managed to cheer me up. "Sure, Dad. Give Mom my love."

"Will do. Love you, Bells."

"You, too, Dad."

The rest of the day is low-key. I finish up some homework from today's class and do a little research on my thesis. Jake gets stir-crazy, so I take him to the dog park. I bring him home at twilight, and then I make spaghetti from a jar for dinner. Fun times.

The next couple days are more of the same. School, homework, Jake. The only contact I have with Edward is through Facebook, but I figured that would happen. I know he's working a lot, and he's got a tendency to ghost when things make him uncomfortable. But one thing I've learned in the past month or so; he always comes back around. I keep hoping he'll pull his head out of his ass and give in.

Friday night, Jasper calls to cancel our Bachelor party planning session. Depressed since I won't get to see Edward, I order a pizza, ready to call it a night. I feed Jake, then take him out back to do his business.

The pizza comes quicker than I expected, and I dig in. Belly full of pizza? Check. Beer in the fridge? Check. Nothing to do? Check. Pj's it is. I pick my favorite ancient t-shirt I stole from Emmett long ago, and forego the pants. If I can't be pants-less on a boring Friday night alone, then something's wrong with this world.

When the doorbell rings, I check the monitor like the dutiful daughter I am.

My heart flips and my stomach drops when I see Edward on the screen. I didn't expect to see him tonight, after Jasper cancelled the meeting. And seeing him all alone is a helluva lot better than sitting around with the others while trying not to let my feelings show.

Grinning a mile wide, I press the intercom button and chirp, "Be right down!"

I "forget" my pants on purpose.

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Oh, man. So close. Sooo close. Edward is up next.

Sebastian, Flounder, and Kiss The Girl are from The Little Mermaid. I'm sure you knew that. I hope you knew that.

Thank you so much for reading!

See you Thursday.