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Edward cracked his knuckles on the frame of the bike as he worked on the engine. Cursing under his breath, he threw the wrench across the garage, the clatter doing little to alleviate the tension in his shoulders.
He should call it a fucking day and go home. It was well past nine o'clock and past quitting time. The thought of going back to that house and being so close to Bella caused him to hesitate. All week long, he'd stared in that direction when he'd mounted the steps and went inside. Now, it was what? Thursday? That meant the weekend was coming up, and he'd have one hell of a long, lonely one.
See? This is why he didn't put himself out there. Going from having a blast last Sunday to nothing now—left a foul taste in his mouth. He'd been right on the verge of crossing the street and climbing the steps to Bella's. The only thing keeping him from doing just that was the memory of her expression when he'd suggested they 'hang out.'
Edward kicked the toolbox, and his eyes rolled as pain shot up through his toes, "Motherfucker."
His temper was right on edge. His fucking chest felt close to exploding as his big toe throbbed with pain. Edward's hands balled into a tight fist as he limped through the garage and slipped outside. Pulling the overhead door down, he wrestled with the padlock only to pinch his finger between the lock and the clasp.
When a thin line of blood trickled from his thumb, he cursed, sticking the digit in his mouth to suck the sting away. Was the universe suddenly conspiring against him? When Bella moved in across the street, he'd thought, just maybe, his luck was changing. Well, it turned out his luck was as shitty as ever.
Now, with a bleeding hand and a throbbing foot, he climbed onto his bike and turned it toward home, just as a big fat drop of rain splattered on the visor on his helmet. Shaking his head, he mumbled, "Just fucking perfect."
By the time Edward pulled out of the parking lot, the rain was cascading from the sky. When he went to turn the corner towards home, his tire slid on the wet pavement, the ass of his bike fishtailing. He breathed a sigh of relief when his house came into view. Temptation got the better of him, and he glanced toward Bella's as he turned in his driveway. The same gravitational pull began in his chest when he noted the glow of light coming from her porch.
Once he confirmed she was home, he refused to look in that direction again as he unlocked his front door and pushed it open. The second he was inside, he kicked his shoes off next to the door to find the tip of his sock soaked in blood. The burgundy liquid caused a queasy feeling in the pit of his stomach, and his blood pressure spiked in response. Briefly, he closed his eyes and swallowed before peeling the offending cotton from his foot. He barely managed to stifle the yelp on his lips as his toenail threatened to come with it.
Edward tossed the sock aside and was about to limp his way to the bathroom. Just as he turned for the hall light, a knock sounded on the door. Who the hell was coming to his place this time of night? Perplexed by the unexpected guest, he pulled the curtain aside to spy his neighbor in the shadows. The pain radiating up his foot was all but forgotten.
Yet when he pulled the door open, he miscalculated, and the structure hit him square in the forehead. "Holy shit …"
"Oh my god," Bella breathed when she heard the thud; slipping inside the opening he'd created. On reflex, she reached for his head, her fingers sliding into his hair as she assessed the damage. Immediately, she noticed the lump forming on his forehead, her fingertips lightly grazing the growing wound. "Are you okay?"
"Honestly," Edward started, his eyes rolling when she combed the strands of his hair away from his forehead. If it kept her hands on him, he'd pretend death. "Talk about an instant headache."
Immediately, her thumbs began massaging his temples as she whispered, "We should sit you down."
"Can't," he answered, lifting his foot for her inspection. She released his head and, with a gasp, reached for his foot, leaving him hopping in the foyer for balance. He nearly went over on his ass, and he reached for Bella's shoulders to remain upright. "I really need to sit, but I was trying to make it to the bathroom."
Still, she held onto his foot. "What the hell happened to your toe?"
"I kicked a toolbox," Edward mumbled, his fingers curling around her shoulders as he sought leverage. "As intriguing as your hold on my foot is, I kind of need it back. Unless you want us both to topple over."
"Oh, shit, sorry," Bella answered, immediately releasing his foot. Needing to offer him support, she tucked under his shoulder and turned them both toward his bathroom. When his arm fell across her shoulders, her gaze went to his thumb. "Why is your thumb bleeding?"
"Pinched it in a lock." Edward was a series of bumps and bruises, and technically, they were all her fault. If he didn't think about her non-stop, maybe he wouldn't have been injured repeatedly in the last twenty minutes.
Coming to the bathroom, Bella pushed the door wide open and pointed toward the tub. "Sit on the edge, and we'll clean out your toe. It looks like half of your toenail is peeling back. How hard did you kick the toolbox?"
Edward followed her instruction, straddling the tub; he sat with his injured foot inside. Shrugging, he glanced around at the bright walls then to Bella. "Hard enough to break the damn thing, apparently."
His brows puckered when she turned the cold water on, and the open wound stung. "Fuck …"
"I bet," she mumbled. Grabbing a washcloth from the shelf, she sat directly in front of him. Wetting the rag, she cleaned off the excess blood, grimacing as she examined his toe. "Do you have clippers somewhere?"
"In the medicine cabinet." Throwing a thumb over his shoulder in that direction, he winced. "Can you hand me the Aspirin while you are up?"
Bella pushed up from the tub, his forehead bumping into her belly as she went. While having him in that particular location was intriguing—at least that's what his body was screaming, she'd rather him be at a hundred percent for the endeavor. Her body, on the other hand, didn't seem to give a shit. Instantly, her lower abdomen burned with recognition. Swallowing an inward groan, she forced herself away and headed to the sink.
Finding the clippers and Aspirin, she turned back to Edward, only to find his razor-sharp gaze following her every move. Obviously, she wasn't the only one affected by their closeness. Hell, seconds ago, her vajj had been right in his face. Doing her best to ignore his heated look, she offered the bottle of painkillers to him. "We should clip the nail away, so it doesn't catch in your blankets or clothing."
He shook the haze from his brain, and his brow wrinkled as he looked toward the door. "Where's Luke?"
"He stayed over at Alice's tonight. I got off work late, so she took him to her place. I was going to go over and pick him up, but she messaged saying he was watching movies with Abby and he could just stay the night." Bella retraced her steps, ever cautious about touching Edward this time when she sat before him. "Give me your foot."
"This is going to fucking hurt," he grumbled, hesitantly offering Bella his foot. "I remember this shit from when I was a kid. Stubbing my toe was the fucking worst."
"Well, maybe next time you will think about that before you go kicking objects that don't move." The whole time she clipped away at his big nail, she blew a cold stream of air across his toe, hoping to take the sting out of it. "Luke likes it when I blow on it. Says it tickles."
Oh, Edward had something for her to blow on, and it wasn't his big fucking toe. Placing his forearm across his lap, he hid the effect of her cool breath. His jaw worked as he willed his erection to die away. The muscle in his cheek pulsed with the effort, yet his starving body was having none of that common sense. With a curt nod, he murmured, "Yep, it tickles."
Bella heard the sarcasm in his tone. Instead of addressing the elephant in the room, she chose to ignore their obvious attraction. Once she finally had his toe clean, she reached for the towel and dried it. "There is some Neosporin in the medicine cabinet. I'll just put a dab on it and a band-aid, and you will be as good as new."
"Yes, ma'am, doc." Edward would let her poke and prod him all day. If she was this attentive over a stubbed toe, how would she respond if he shut his fucking hand in the door? Why was he suddenly eager to inflict pain on himself to gain her attention? Maybe the lump on his head was affecting his thinking.
After she bandaged his toe, she turned her attention to his thumb, wiping the dried blood from the side. "Let's go sit you somewhere and get you some ice for the knot forming on your head."
Even though he was more than capable of walking, Bella's arm went around his waist to guide him toward the living room. Liking the feel of his muscles beneath her fingertips, she unconsciously rubbed along his ribcage before urging him to sit in his recliner. "Hang on, and I'll get you some ice."
Still curious about her sudden appearance, he watched her as she headed toward his kitchen. "So, what brought you by?"
"I've been meaning to stop by, ever since our last conversation in your parent's driveway," Bella answered honestly. Searching his drawers, she grabbed a sandwich bag from the box and wandered to the freezer. She put several ice cubes in the baggie before reaching for the kitchen towel hanging from the oven. Wrapping the ice in the towel, she came back into the living room and handed him the ice. "I've just been extra busy this week. When Alice offered to let Luke stay the night, I thought this was the best opportunity. We should talk about what happened."
"What? Nothing happened," Edward shrugged, not particularly interested in rehashing the last moments of their encounter. "I get it … you're not interested."
Dropping her gaze, he reached for the remote next to his chair and turned it on. Without hesitation, he turned the volume up, focusing on the game in progress.
"I thought we agreed to be friends?" Bella's eyebrow lifted, her hands coming up to rest on her hips.
"And we are," he nodded, never looking away from the TV. "We're great friends."
A glare entered Bella's gaze as she regarded him. Were men all the same? The second they didn't particularly like the direction of the discussion, they burrowed into the tube, never to be heard from again. She should turn around and leave. Really—right now, she should just go, yet she felt anchored to the spot beneath her feet. "You're being a baby."
Irritated by her choice of words, his eyes finally left the television, his lips thinning into a tight line. "I'm not being a baby, Bella. I don't see why we have to replay that particular instance. I'm fine with how we left things. Hell, your expression said it all."
"I'm not sure what my expression told you," Bella began, meeting his stare with a hard one of her own. "But I'm pretty sure you're reading it all wrong."
This was her chance. Right now, she could tell him the truth. She could explain why friendship was all there was for them. Honestly, after her disastrous relationship with James, she wasn't even sure she wanted to experience the debacle again.
Edward had no idea why he was being so difficult. This is what he'd wanted. He wanted to fix this with her, but his sour ass mood from the day was messing up the whole fucking situation. What the hell was his problem? Even as he consciously grew aware of this small fact, his next comment continued to widen the gap between them. "Bella, you aren't interested—it's no big fucking deal."
"Edward, I'm married," Bella blurted out at the same time he tried to justify her response to him. She fell silent, wondering if he'd heard her. When his eyes went round as he stared back at her, she had her answer.
He turned to her so fast; Edward was sure he was experiencing whiplash, his mouth falling open as he studied her. "You're—you're married?"
After spending so much time with her patient, Lester, over the last several days and understanding how much of his life he actually regretted, Bella felt compelled to face Edward. He deserved to know why she'd been so distant. The older man had encouraged her to reach out for something she wanted. While she may have her reservations on how far they could go, she wanted to develop a relationship with this man, no matter what it was.
As she watched his jaw drop, a feeling of loss gripped her so firmly, and she pulled her gaze away, staring at the floor. "Yeah, Edward, I'm married."
Edward was fucking speechless. Of all the things he envisioned her saying, this had not even made the fucking list. Scratching his head, he watched her closely as her head dangled on her shoulders as if she were fucking defeated. Then common sense won out, and he found logic pressing through him. "But you're here … Whe—where's your husband?"
Bella shifted uncomfortably as his gaze burned into her. The courage to actually face him was still nonexistent. "I hope, like hell, he's still in Washington."
Edward's fingers slid over the scruff on his chin as he contemplated her statement. "Okay … Um … ahhh—wh—why?"
"There is a long—long list of reasons," Bella started, her chin finally lifting an inch. Just the fact that he was willing to hear her out was supporting. "Long story short—the fucking bastard cheated on me. But to be fair, that was the straw that broke the camel's back."
Edward's head dipped as he took in her claim. What was he supposed to do with this information? So, essentially, she hadn't rejected him—she couldn't rightfully pursue anything with him. Shifting in his recliner, he tried to look in her eye, yet she wouldn't meet his gaze. "Well, the bastard is a cock for cheating on you. Do you still love him?"
"Hell, no," Bella shot back without hesitation. "I can't stand him. I think it's been a long time—a long time since I've loved him. I tried to make things work because I took vows to love and honor him. Then there was Luke. I psyched myself into believing I needed his sorry ass—that I couldn't do this—mothering Luke, working … on my own."
The pain Edward had been in for the last hour wholly forgotten, he pushed the recliner in and sat upright, his elbows resting on his knees. "None of that means we can't be friends. Are you planning on going back? Do you still want to try and make things work?"
"Absolutely not." Bella's hands jammed into her pockets as she rocked on her heels. "I cannot put Luke through an unhappy marriage. He is a smart boy, and the way James treats him—I cannot allow that to continue. Luke deserves to feel like he matters, and James isn't capable of loving anyone more than himself."
Listening to Bella speak of her husband, he shook his head. How did a marriage take such a wrong turn? How did love turn into this obvious distaste?
"Please tell me he never hurt Luke?"
Taken aback by Edward's question, she glanced up, her brow puckering. "Not physically, but verbally, and it broke my heart. Luke deserves so much more."
Bella chewed at the inside of her cheek, and her arms self-consciously encircled her waist. "James always made it seem like it was my fault that he cheated. He told me more than once how unattractive I am—that my—my body isn't exactly desirable anymore since getting pregnant with Luke."
Edward remembered the insecurities he'd seen coming off Bella when they first met. Had this James guy been responsible for her lack of confidence? With these questions plaguing him, Edward ran his fingers through his hair.
Instantly, Edward remembered his self-pleasuring in the shower only days ago. What the fuck was wrong with her husband? "He must be fucking blind."
A light chuckle of embarrassment slipped from Bella as a little dance of delight shivered through her.
Obviously, the desire that existed in her wasn't one-sided. A tingle zipped down her spine when she noticed the direction of Edward's gaze when she found him ogling her breasts and belly. Her words were a bit shaky as she said, "As for why we cannot be friends—we can … just—it can't go beyond that."
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