Story Title: Freddie

Summary: 1. Be professional at work. 2. Keep the secret. 3. Don't get attached. 4. Meet only at the loft. 5. Absolutely no sleepovers. Those are the rules I must follow if I want to continue my affair with Dr. Masen, but it's becoming impossible to handle rules three and five. Edward Masen is my heroin. Do I even want a cure? Nursella/Doctorward Angst/Romance

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


Chapter One

Edward's fingers trail across the heated skin of my navel as his mouth works me expertly. I claw fistfuls of silk and writhe against his face without shame. Throwing my head back, I give in to the sparks flaming through every nerve ending as his lips and tongue draw me so high, all coherent thought is lost.

My cries mingle in the air with his soft moans. Edward seems to derive the greatest pleasure when bringing me to the brink of ecstasy and beyond.

I shiver, my sweat-damp body craving the heat and weight of him on top of me. Scrabbling at his shoulders, I encourage him to leave the cradle of my thighs. "Want you . . . inside me."

Edward slides up the bed, holding himself above me. The crisp fabric of his untucked dress shirt tickles my skin.

I slide my hands between us and start undoing the buttons. "You're overdressed."

He grabs my wrists and pins them above my head, leaning in to kiss me.

When Edward kisses, it's an all-consuming experience. He nips at my bottom lip, teasing and playing before licking across it slowly. The burning emeralds of his eyes watch me with an intensity that used to make me uncomfortable, but I crave it now.

With a muffled groan, he flexes his hips, the edges of his shirt rasping across my tender skin in tantalizing contrast to the soft caress of his gabardine slacks. I latch my legs around him and dig my bare heels into his ass, lifting my pelvis to meet the downward grind of his. At the same time, I twist my upper body in an attempt to escape his hold; I want my hands free to undress, to touch, to slide yearning fingers into the chaotic softness of his hair.

"Slow down, Freddie," he whispers against my mouth just before his tongue slides inside to join with mine.

I'm lost the moment his tongue fills my mouth; all thoughts of escape or rushing slip from my desire-hazed mind. His lips go from barely there to commanding and everything in between. On some level, I feel his body grazing mine, his hand caressing my face, but it's distant compared to the sensations originating from our kiss. I almost come again, just from the tang of myself mingling between us. I give myself over, like always, allowing Edward to set our pace, to decide how far we go.

He turns us, landing on his back with me straddling his clothed body. He guides me over the bulge of his erection, my sensitive flesh awakening instantly.

"Oh . . ." My head tilts back involuntarily, long hair swishing against my ass, sending delicious shivers up my spine.

Edward's hands leave my hips to span my ribs. His thumbs circle the tightening buds of my nipples, causing a shower of sparks to ignite every place we touch.

I lean back and try to undo his pants, but he grabs my wrists with a shake of his head, tugging me back in place.

I gasp at the renewed sensation. "Won't last long . . . ."

Edward curls his upper body toward me and cups the back of my neck. "All over my tongue. I'll taste you all night." He kisses me hard, exploring my mouth. When he pulls away, we're both breathless. He brings our foreheads together, looking deeply into my eyes. "Ride me . . . Freddie."

And I do. Our gazes remain connected, one of his hands supporting my back, the fingers of the other tweaking a nipple or slipping between us to tease at my sensitive nub.

"Eyes open," he whispers when my lids flutter.

Edward has this compulsion to look into my eyes, especially at the moment of climax. It's difficult to override natural instincts, but I always fight for him. I rock against him, long and slow, releasing an incoherent moan as I gradually increase the pace. Our foreheads and gazes remain in contact, unspoken messages passing between our souls as we breathe harder, drawing ever closer to the edge.

I fall first. I always do.

Edward knows when I'm about to come. I see it in his eyes.

A blaze of rising ecstasy explodes in a starburst within me, outside me, around me. Everything disappears except Edward's gleaming eyes, greedy for the sight of me falling apart.

And when I can no longer maintain eye contact, he slants his mouth over mine and swallows all my sounds.

I jolt awake in the darkness, confined by the tangle of sheets. Alone. Taking a deep breath, I slip out of bed and pad from the room, using the soft glow emanating from the living area as a guide.

The loft doesn't have the empty feel it usually does after Edward leaves, and my heart speeds at the thought he might still be here.

Edward never spends the night. When this began, he was clear about the rules.

1- Be professional at work.

2- Keep the secret.

3- Don't get attached.

4- Meet only at the loft.

5- Absolutely no sleepovers.

It was easy at first, but I seem to be having trouble with numbers three and five.

I round the corner of the bedroom, the only walled-off area of the loft, continuing past my "office" to enter the living room. Empty. A heavy stone of disappointment sits in my chest.

Then I spot the lone figure standing by the floor-to-ceiling windows, naked from the waist up, forehead resting on one bent arm. The coppery glow of the sodium lights from outside paints his torso a rich bronze, contrasted by deep shadow, but his hair—which is a bronzy tangle of reds and browns—appears black.

I wonder what he sees as he stares out the window, so still and silent. He could be a statue. I often wonder what resides behind Edward's carefully constructed façade, what thoughts live behind his eyes.

I move slowly toward the windows. Part of me is afraid he'll disappear in a puff of smoke. It's not a frivolous thought. He might not vanish into thin air, but Edward is great at disappearing acts and keeping me at arm's length. There are moments he doesn't think I'm watching where I get a glimpse of the unnamed guilt and pain he carries.

He senses my presence. "What are you doing up?" The softly asked question holds concern, not censure.

Instead of telling him I often wake and can't go back to sleep on the nights he slips from my bed, I rest my palms against his bare back and inch them up to his powerful shoulders, placing a kiss on the small tattoo decorating his left scapula: a caduceus topped by angel wings, inscribed with the words Do no harm.

Edward groans softly and faces me, catching my hands in his and bringing them up around his neck. The light from outside tips his tousled hair with a fiery halo, but the shadows claim his face, leaving me unable to discern his expression.

Once my arms lock around Edward's neck, he slides his hands along them until his fingers tangle in the back of my hair. Soft lips press to mine, his tongue flicking my bottom one. Desire effervesces through my system. I'm addicted to his kisses and the complete attention Edward pays when touching me, as if I were a goddess he's worshiping.

"I love you in my shirt," he whispers against my lips before delving his tongue inside my mouth. He slips one hand inside the unbuttoned shirt to cup a breast.

I'm not even sure how I ended up wearing the shirt since I don't remember Edward undressing tonight. He always wants me naked, but sometimes he remains fully clothed. It's almost as if he feels undeserving of pleasure.

Edward's hand leaves my breast, traveling over the flat plain of my stomach and lower, lower until he sinks two fingers inside me. My nails claw at his shoulders, and he groans into my mouth, pushing in and out of me slowly.

I weave my fingers into his hair and tilt my head back. He sucks on the tender flesh of my neck, swirling his tongue and nipping with his teeth. The rhythm of his hand never falters; the man knows how to multitask.

"I want your cock . . . so deep."

He removes his magic fingers, and we fumble our way across the room. Edward spins me away from him and bends me over the back of my leather couch. "Leave the shirt on." The command comes husky and breathless.

My mouth waters with anticipation when I hear the clink of his belt buckle. He guides himself inside me, his hands grabbing my hips, pulling back as he pushes forward. I wish I could see his firm, tight ass as he drives into me, watch his face as he loses control. Edward's harsh breathing and involuntary moans indicate how much he's enjoying this. It's the best I'm going to get because he rarely lets go face-to-face.

It doesn't matter that I've already had two orgasms tonight; my body craves his like a drug and clenches around him. I dig my nails into the buttery leather and cry out to him. Edward slams into me over and over, sending me tumbling into an intense climax that seems to go on forever. Even after he cries out his own release and collapses against me, delicious aftershocks continue to radiate.

"Oh my God." I breathe out, loving the weight of his chest against my back. The warmed leather feels sensual against my nipples. I could lie here just like this forever.

A shuddering vibration comes from the coffee table. Edward's phone. Shit timing.

"Fuck." He groans, pulling out of me.

The lit screen is in the perfect position for me to see.

Incoming Call: Sunnyvale

Edward walks around the couch, his pants hanging low on his hips—hips that were just thrusting into me so hard. I bite back a moan.

He snatches up the phone. "Dr. Masen . . . Yes . . . When? . . . How bad was it?" He traps the phone between ear and shoulder, buckling his pants and hurrying over to the kitchen table to grab his wallet and keys. "Okay . . . Thank you. Yes, you were right to call me."

I wriggle off the back of the couch, following him slowly, my legs like jelly. "Sunnyvale?"

"Late stage Alzheimer's patient." His tone is brusque. He stuffs the wallet and keys in his pants and grabs his jacket off the hook by the door.

"I'm sure the nurses at Sunnyvale would love to get a look at your sculpted muscles, but it might be considered unprofessional to show up shirtless."

Edward's eyes widen, and he looks down at himself, muttering a low oath.

I step in close and let his shirt slip off my shoulders, catching it before it hits the floor, leaving me naked. I help him into the shirt, button it for him, and go up on tiptoe, pressing a soft kiss on his mouth. "My scent is all over your pants . . ." I cup his crotch, squeezing lightly. " . . . and your shirt smells of us. Every time the fabric brushes your skin, I want you to remember tonight."

Edward hovers in the doorway and cups my cheek. "I won't be able to forget." He slides the door closed, and I press my forehead to the cool metal.

His words should make me feel good, but they come across sounding more curse, less blessing.

There's no chance of sleep after being bent over my couch and then dealt the one-two punch of being interrupted by Edward's job and his potential displeasure over the fact he has to work in clothes that smell like sex.

I brew a cup of tea and pour a dollop of brandy in it. I'm too restless to sit, so I toss a robe on and stand by the living room windows, looking out over the river.

I met Dr. Edward Masen at Braden University Medical Center during my nursing program. I've never been attracted to older men, but something about the way his green eyes crinkled in the corners when he smiled caught my attention. The man is gorgeous and has the groupies to prove it, but traditional good looks have never meant much to me. There has to be something more, a soul-level connection, and Dr. Masen met all the required elements.

We'd just finished with orthopedics and were starting neurology. Angela had convinced me to go out drinking the previous evening, and we both hovered at the back, trying to hide our bloodshot eyes and compromised intellect.

A ripple of excited whispers did the wave through the room. "We're following Dr. Hot today!"

"Who the hell is Dr. Hot?" I responded automatically.

Apparently, the ability to use my inside voice was also compromised. Muffled giggles erupted. But that wasn't the worst part. No, that was when a guy in a crisp white lab coat with a fancy looking stethoscope hanging around his neck, emerald eyes, and a shock of wild, bronze hair leaned over and looked directly into my bloodshot eyes.

"I guess that would be me." He grinned, tapping his name tag: Edward Masen, M.D.

My mouth rounded into an O, and I nodded in an attempt to play it cool. Something transferred from his soul to mine, and then his eyes crinkled with amusement, removing the remnants of my filter. "Totally get the reference now."

Angela made a choking sound, and the rest of the nursing students laughed or rolled their eyes.

Dr. Hot didn't laugh—he blushed a deep crimson that crept up his neck to color his cheeks and ended at the tips of both ears.

I tried to avoid him; really, I did. He just kept looking hot and smiling shyly whenever his eyes met mine.

Angela tried to dissuade me. "He's ten years older and sporting a shackle on his ring finger!"

Indeed he was. The age thing I could overlook, but a married man? That was a line I'd never considered crossing before.

Neurology became an area of great interest. Every time Dr. Hot asked a question, I knew the answer. When he needed an errand run, I volunteered. I was smitten but pretending it was in the name of my career—and kept reminding myself (with waning enthusiasm) that he was married, not mine.

My antics were obvious enough that the other girls started whispering, "Fetch it, Freddie" whenever I helped Dr. Hot—er, Masen. Apparently, the nickname came from an old child's toy. Once an older nurse explained—and made comparisons to my behavior—it became the favorite new catchphrase.

Dr. Masen was choosing a small group of top candidates to observe rounds. "The following nursing students will begin making rounds with me and my residents. Cary, Angela, Joan, Freddie, and Lynn. Ladies, please come up for badges and instructions."

I was disappointed he didn't call my name, but I was thrilled for Angela. The girls huddled around Dr. Masen.

"We're missing someone." Dr. Masen emerged from the group, his green eyes scanning the room. He looked directly at me. "There you are, Freddie! Join us," he said with a wave of his hand.

Laughter broke out. Dr. Masen looked down at his lab coat. "Am I wearing part of my lunch?"

I flipped the bird at my fellow students and strolled over to Dr. Hot. "It's me they're laughing at."

He tilted his head. "You? Why in the world would anyone laugh at you?" He said this with such seriousness.

That made me smile. "My name is Bella, not Freddie. They call me Fetch it Freddie, after—"

His eyes lit up. "The toy! I had one of those!"

Of course he did.

Something essential changed between us that day. Edward chose me often—to answer questions, go on rounds, and participate in special projects. He's never called me Bella, not once. In fact, everyone at the hospital calls me Freddie now; it's even on my name tag.

My brandy-laced tea is gone. Pale yellow light from the rising sun glints off the ripples in the river outside the loft. An entire night gone. I wonder how I'm going to make it through work today. I usually catch a few hours of sleep after Edward leaves, but things are getting complicated for me.

I don't want to be Edward's girl on the side, mistress, or fuck buddy.

Edward's life is apparently complicated. He's married but hasn't had a sexual relationship with his wife for several years. He loves her, but they don't live together. He claims to be in love with me, but Edward dies a little and guilt pours off him every time he utters the words. Many nights, he doesn't undress when we make love. Sometimes, such as earlier tonight, we dry hump. Those are the times the guilt radiating from his eyes is the worst. I can gauge the level of guilt by how much he takes off, if there's penetration, and how long he stays.

Edward refuses to explain other than to say he never intended to have feelings for me, can't seem to stop himself even though it hurts, and our arrangement must remain secret. If I can't accept the terms, we can't see each other.

I'm in too deep to say no.

Chapter Two

I go to work because tired as I am, the alternative is to moon around in the loft all day, feeling pathetic.

The fourth floor is hopping; two nurses and a unit secretary called out sick. Busy is what I need.

Angela strides up the hall, peeling off a pair of gloves and tossing them. She sighs deeply and slings an arm around my shoulders. "Girrrl, am I glad to see you! This day is a clusterfuck, and it's only nine."

"You just want me for my mad nursing skills."

"And to take some of the heat. Dr. Masen isn't answering his pages, and he was supposed to start rounds an hour ago."

"Maybe he got hung up at Sunnyvale."

"Sunnyvale? Not his jurisdiction, honey."

"I could swear he said he had a patient there."

Angela shakes her head. "Docs from Braden only go to Westford, and he's not there—I checked." She blows damp bangs out of her eyes. "You look like shit. Late night?"

"Something like that," I mutter, looking past Angela.

The elevator dings, and Edward steps off looking rested and put together. The only sign of his late night is bloodshot eyes. He has on fresh clothes, a neatly pressed lab coat, and is clean-shaven.

"Good morning, ladies." Edward leans on the desk and pulls out a bottle of Visine, placing a few drops in each eye.

"Late night, Dr. Masen?" Angela smirks.

"Something like that." He clears his throat, avoiding my eyes.

Angela's gaze snaps to mine, one brow arching. "Must be going around." She picks up a stack of charts and fans them across the counter. "Let me fill you in, Doctor . . ."

Even though we're shorthanded, and I haven't done a damn thing yet, I mumble an excuse and rush down the hall to the back of our unit where it's quieter. I pass the kitchen, break room, linens, storage, and duck into the alcove of the transport elevator. The elevator.

"Shit." My eyes blur with tears as I slide down the wall and curl into a ball.

Though we worked together closely leading up to and following my graduation from nursing school, and though it was clear we shared a special connection, Edward and I had an unspoken agreement to keep it professional. It worked for six torturous months and collapsed one fateful day on the very elevator in front of which I sit.

That day started off quiet enough. I spent a lot of time at my cubicle, catching up on paperwork. Edward stood at the back counter, working on charts, his intense green gaze coming to rest on me every so often. Since he was to my right, I could tell when he was staring at me by simply shifting my eyes to the left and catching his reflection in the glass of a framed print on the wall. After a while, I turned and looked directly at him.

Usually, if I caught him watching me, he'd come up with a question to ask or would wink and go back to what he was doing. This time, the most profound sadness filled his eyes.

"Is everything all right, Dr. Masen?"

He tilted his head, regarding me thoughtfully. "I don't know."

Before I could respond, he was paged for an emergency, and the perplexing moment dissolved when he hurried away.

Angela's head popped over the top of my cubicle, a stern look on her face. "Bella, you two aren't . . ." She made a crude gesture with her hands.

"What are you, in high school?" I burst out laughing. "No, we're not."

She pointed a finger at me. "But you want to!"

"Maybe." My cheeks flamed.

"Steer clear if you don't want your heart broken."

"Thanks, Mom." I snapped off a salute.

"Screw you, Swan. Let's do lunch later, okay?"

"Deal."

We never did make it to lunch.

Cary rushed by and asked me to grab some blankets from the back but never said how many or where she wanted them—typical of her. I shrugged and stood up, stretching my legs. I needed the exercise and the distraction.

I speed-walked up the hall and scooped an armful of blankets off the shelf in linens. A muffled shout rang from the other end of the unit, and I rolled my eyes. I knew things were too quiet.

As I rounded the corner of the hall, I heard more shouting and a sharp crack. A man in a navy jumpsuit, complete with a ski mask over his face and a shotgun in his arms, strode along the hall, shouting orders I couldn't quite make out.

I jumped back before he spotted me. The shouts grew closer.

"All hospital employees, come out, right the fuck now! Don't make me hunt you down!"

The blankets slipped from my grasp, scattering across the linoleum. Sirens wailed in the distance, joined by the blare of fire trucks.

Help is on the way, but can I remain hidden? What does the gunman want?

Footfalls squeaked against the floor nearby. Heart hammering, I gathered up the blankets and scuttled into the laundry room as quietly as possible, climbing carefully into a canvas laundry hamper and pulling the blankets over me. I huddled there, barely able to breathe and frightened the gunman would find me.

"Freddie?" Edward whispered.

I raised my arm out of the pile of laundry and waved.

"Oh, thank God!" Edward grasped my hand and pushed the fabric aside, leaning over to gather me in his arms. He poked his head out the door and then rushed to the elevator, hitting the call button.

The doors opened almost immediately, and he stumbled inside just as shouts sounded behind us. Edward set me on my feet in one corner and pressed a button, fumbling in his lab coat and pulling out a set of keys. The elevator hummed and lurched to life. Edward inserted a key into the panel and turned it, slapping the emergency stop button. No alarm sounded, maybe because he had it set to maintenance mode.

"What are you doing?"

Edward faced me, a hint of relief flooding his worry-clouded eyes. "We don't know how many floors have been breached. The police are on the way, so we just need to wait it out."

"Wait it out where?"

"Right here. I stopped us between floors."

I gripped the sleeves of his lab coat, my nails digging hard against his forearms. "What's happening? What do they want?" My voice rose with hysteria.

Edward cupped my face, the pads of his thumbs stroking my cheeks gently. "Freddie, breathe for me."

I gazed into Edward's concerned eyes, felt the warmth of his touch for the first time, and forgot our lives were in peril. He was worried about me. He searched for me. "You . . . found me." The words came on a strangled hiccup.

He released a long sigh and pressed our foreheads together. "I was so afraid you'd be hurt. Finding you, protecting you, seemed to be the only thing that mattered."

"But . . . why?"

"Because you're beautiful and funny and sexy as hell. Because I've been fighting my feelings for you from the moment you asked who the hell Dr. Hot was." He laughed softly, the warmth of his breath fanning over my face. "When faced with a shotgun, all my objections went out the window."

My chest tightened even as my heart swelled and took off racing. "Objections . . .?"

Instead of answering, Edward pressed his perfect lips over mine. There was nothing tentative or invasive about the kiss; he simply poured everything he'd been feeling into his lips and tongue and hands, whisking me along on a wave of want.

The pressure of Edward's mouth ignited the liquid desire I'd been trying to deny the past several months. The pads of his fingers worshiped my face and smoothed my hair, holding me in place with firm gentleness as his tongue swept into my mouth to tangle with mine. The low sounds he made in his throat set off a strong pulse of need, and I wound my arms around his waist beneath the lab coat and ran my hands over the lean muscles of his back.

Edward slipped a hand under my scrub top and splayed it against my back, crushing me to him. We remained there, making out and becoming addicted to one another until an announcement came over the PA system, stating the crisis was over.

It was our first touch, first kiss, and the irrevocable moment I fell.

Edward released the elevator and sent it to the basement level. "Follow my lead." He strode with purpose across the parking garage.

Two FBI agents stopped us and asked for ID.

Edward tugged out the lanyard and flashed his hospital ID. "Dr. Edward Masen. I have an emergency at another hospital. This is my nurse. You can check with Dr. Fein on the fourth floor. We've been cleared to leave."

I panicked when a stone-faced agent with piercing blue eyes spoke into his radio. "Crawford, I have a Dr. Masen and his nurse attempting to leave the scene for another facility. He said he was cleared. Check with Dr. Fein on the fourth floor."

"Dr. Fein has left the premises. The entire fourth floor was cleared. Let them go."

Edward escorted me to a sleek, black SUV. He backed smoothly from his parking spot and approached security. The only outward sign of stress was the slow pulse of a muscle in his jaw. He flashed his ID, and the guard waved us through.

He pulled to the curb so he could call administration. While he was talking, I saw several progressively frantic missed texts from Angela and called her.

"Bella? Are you okay? Where are you?"

"I'm fine. I went down the elevator. The FBI cleared me to leave. Are you okay? Did anyone—" My words ended on a sob.

"It was Julia Simpson's son—you know, the terminal patient? He d-didn't shoot anyone as far as I know. He was . . . yelling and s-screaming for everyone to come out, but he just shot into the ceiling. I'm waiting to be questioned as a witness."

"I'm so glad you're okay! Love you!"

"Love you too. I'll call you after they let me out of here."

Edward finished his phone call. "Thank God only one person was shot— a ricochet. They didn't disclose who, but it's a flesh wound. And the shooter gave himself up. He's in custody."

"Angela said it was Mrs. Simpson's son."

Edward nodded, his eyes filled with sympathy. He caressed my face, using his thumb to wipe away a tear. "Let's get you home."

As University Boulevard played out like black ribbon behind us, and the hospital grew smaller in the rearview, Edward let out a breath and clicked on the radio. I finally sank into the soft leather seat, relaxing further when classical music filled the car. The sound system was incredible, giving the feel of being at the symphony, especially when I closed my eyes.

Edward asked for my address, and I gave it to him. He reached over to entwine his fingers with mine, setting off a pleasant tingle that raced up my arm and blossomed in my chest. I didn't ask any of the questions that came to mind. Edward had finally touched me, declared feelings for me, and I was hopelessly smitten—afraid to burst the delicate bubble surrounding us.

When Edward stepped through the door into the loft, he looked around with admiration. "This space suits you. Do you live here alone?"

"Yes."

"Good." He pushed me against the door, one hand gripping the hair at my nape, the other sliding down my ribcage to rest on one hip, and kissed me senseless.

I held fast to his muscular biceps helplessly, allowing him to feed himself to me like a drug.

Edward's perfect lips slanted over mine, tongue exploring my mouth, hands all over me, and I fell deeper. He grasped the edge of my scrub top and lifted, only breaking our kiss in order to push the crumpled cotton up and over my head. My bra followed, and he shucked off his lab coat, the head of his stethoscope clacking against the hardwood floor.

Breathing heavily, I attacked the tiny pearled buttons on his dress shirt, my fingers fumbling.

"Fuck it." Edward ripped his shirt open, buttons plinking as they shot off in different directions, and let it flutter to the floor to join the growing pile of our clothing. He lifted me, encouraging me to wrap my legs around his waist, hands supporting and caressing my ass through my scrub pants. I looped my arms around his neck, digging curious fingers into his tousled hair—something I'd always wanted to do. It was softer than expected.

Our chests pressed together, and he closed his eyes with a soft groan. "Where's your bedroom?" His voice was rough.

"Through there." I nodded toward the half-open door that led to my room.

Edward carried me, using his foot to push the door open, and sat on the edge of the bed with me still wrapped around him. Hot hands seared the skin of my back on their way into my hair. He bent his head and took a nipple between his lips, swirling his tongue around and around.

A pleasurably painful jolt connected my nipple to my center. I cried out, head tipped back, and tugged harder at Edward's hair. He kissed a path up the middle of my chest to skim his lips across my clavicle and along the side of my neck, brushing them back and forth ever so lightly.

"More . . . please."

Edward allowed his back to hit the mattress, and I rocked up on my knees, hovering over him. He cupped my breasts, kneading them firmly, and gazed up at me with a searing look, catching his bottom lip between his teeth.

I shimmied back so I could reach his belt and undid his pants. Underneath were black boxer briefs, straining with his desire. I stroked my palm over the thick ridge of his manhood, and he growled, quickly flipping our positions.

Edward's lips, teeth, and tongue played over my skin—silky, stinging, and velvet. He worked his way down my body, pulling my scrubs and panties down my legs slowly as he sucked, bit, and licked everywhere except where I desperately wanted him. I squirmed, lifting my pelvis, but he laughed softly and continued on until my scrubs got tangled in my shoes. He pulled my pants, socks, and shoes off in a clump, throwing them aside. Then his soft lips found the arch of my foot.

Before making his way back up my legs, Edward removed his pants, leaving his boxers on. The return trip up my body was slow and excruciating, but this time, he spread my legs and tasted me, using his magic mouth to bring me to the heights of pleasure. I dug my fingers into his hair and screamed out, sweat beading on my skin.

When I finally came down, Edward slid up my body and looked at me with heated lust. "You're exquisite. Taste." And then he plunged his tongue into my mouth, his unique essence blending with the tang of my body. I almost came again just from the thought of us as one flavor.

"Edward . . . want you inside me."

"Shit—I don't have any protection."

"I'm on the pill."

Edward shoved his boxers down, kicking them off, and then he poised above me, breathing heavily. "Are you sure?"

"You just had your tongue in my most intimate place." I grasped him in my hand and guided him inside me, lifting my pelvis to take him in deep and wrapping my legs around him.

It was fascinating to watch Edward's face as he moved inside me. His green eyes saw me, capturing every moment we were together with an intensity I'd never experienced before. His lids fluttered closed during moments of profound pleasure, then opened again, his gaze roaming my face, taking everything in as if memorizing each detail. The only way to describe it is being fully present. I was swept away with him into a maelstrom of passion, the strength of which I don't expect anyone else will be able to duplicate . . . ever.

I lay wrapped in his arms, breathless. Something vital inside me had shattered, and the pieces would never come back together. When Edward fell asleep, his breaths deep and even, and turned away from me, the loss of his touch hurt. I shifted my body and pressed myself against his back, wrapping my arms around him. That's when I noticed the tattoo on his shoulder for the first time. I traced it with my finger, and Edward jolted awake, grabbing for my wrist.

"I was just looking at your tattoo."

He relaxed slightly but remained facing away. The passionate man who had been so in the moment now seemed lost inside his head.

"When did you get this?" I asked, surprised he had a tattoo. It wasn't a typical, doctorly thing to do though it included a caduceus.

Edward didn't answer for a moment. When he did, he sounded distant. "Ten years ago."

"Do no harm." I repeated the words from his tattoo, an integral part of the Hippocratic oath.

"This way, it's always with me when I need a reminder." There was a bitterness in his voice that tore at my heart.

I pressed a kiss over the words. "You're a fantastic doctor, one of the most compassionate I know."

Edward didn't answer. Even though his back was to me, I felt the distance between us growing into a dark, yawning chasm.

I stroked his shoulder. "Talk to me."

Edward rolled to a seated position on the side of the bed, resting his head in his hands. "This was a mistake. My fault. I couldn't stay away from you. Jesus Christ—what was I thinking?"

Whatever had shattered inside me rippled beneath my skin like shards of ground glass, creating stinging slices.

He was sitting on my bed, we'd just made love, and I'd already lost him.

Chapter Three

I jam a knuckle in my mouth and bite down hard in an attempt to hold in my grief. I pray nobody comes looking for me or decides to use the elevator while I'm curled in a ball, losing my shit.

The day Edward drove me back to the loft and made love to me for the first time may have happened over a year ago, but I relive the experience often. Sometimes I can stop the memory just before he becomes distant and pretend everything is all right.

Lately, Edward has been extra moody. He can't stop himself from coming to me, but the guilt eats him alive afterward. He swears over and over it has nothing to do with me—I'm beautiful, deserve to be cherished, and so on—though none of that dampens the hurt raging inside me. Sometimes I swear I'm going to end the affair, but then Edward shows up at the loft and makes me forget.

Edward Masen is my heroin. Do I even want a cure?

Shoes squeak on the linoleum in the hall outside the alcove. My heart stutters, but then I recognize Angela's light tread. She walks on her toes, like a little kid. "Bell? You back here?"

I consider keeping quiet, but Angela is a forever friend, the kind who will call me on my shit and still support me.

"Over here." My voice is a shaky croak.

She rushes over and kneels in front of me, her hands on my shoulders. "Are you all right?"

"Nothing a platter of nachos and a pitcher of margaritas won't help." I try on a smile, and it feels awkward and rubbery.

Angela pulls me into a hug and loses her balance. The two of us roll, landing on our sides in the hallway. One of the janitors pops his head around the corner and gives us the stink eye. We help each other up, weak with laughter. The tears streaking my face are now a mixture of sadness and amusement.

Once we're upright, Angela brushes us both off and points a finger at me. "I'm holding you to the nacho thing. Well, mostly the Margaritas, but we need something to sop up all that heavenly alcohol! I'll be waiting when you get off work, and then you're going to tell me what the fuck is going on between you and Dr. Hot."

I manage to get through the rest of the day without having any direct contact with Edward, just seeing him in passing as we navigate our busy shifts.

Angela smacks her palms on the counter when it's almost time to leave. "I hope you're not planning to ditch me. I won't take it lying down, girlfriend!"

I smile. Angela's probably the only one who could coax a genuine smile out of me right now. "Wouldn't dream of it. I need this."

"Yes!" She does a fist-pump. "Leave your car. I'll have Benny drive us home."

Angela's boyfriend picks us up by the emergency room. Frigid, gusty wind whips our hair as we rush across the concrete to jump into Ben's car. Angela gets in the back with me, leaning over the seat to plant a long, lusty kiss on her boyfriend's mouth.

I look away, embarrassed.

Once their lip-lock is broken, Ben waves at me. "Hey, Bella." Then he looks to Angela. "Why are you sitting back there, hon?"

"It's girls' night, and Bella needs me. She has a personal medical problem." She snickers and pokes me in the side.

"Well, you two are star nurses. You should be able to figure it out, right?" Ben asks with an adorably innocent expression.

"Right, babe." She pokes me again.

Ben pulls up in front of Mojitos to drop us off. "I'm going over Jason's. Text me when you guys are ready."

Angela lays another tongue-tangler on him before flouncing across the sidewalk to the entrance with me rushing to keep up. "Isn't he awesome?"

"He is." I smile, happy for Angela. The truth is I'm a bit envious, too. Edward satisfies my craving for his body often, and we even have fantastic conversations, but we've never gone out in public. It's against the rules.

The hostess leads us to a high-top against the wall and takes our drink order.

Everywhere around us, people are laughing, having animated discussions, and blowing off steam. Mojitos is a frequent destination of the stressed and overworked. Maybe it's the colorful, cozy interior, partnered with fun-themed alcoholic drinks served in giant glasses. Whatever it is seeps into my bones, and I relax in my chair, happily accepting the frozen margarita placed in front of me.

We sip our drinks and order the Nacho Explosion platter to share.

Angela makes small talk until I'm halfway through the margarita. Then she goes in for the kill. "So . . . how long have you been doing the funky tango with Dr. Hot?"

My throat spasms mid-swallow and the frosty berry concoction ends up going down the wrong way. I cough, slapping myself on the chest, and wince from the intense burn. It takes a minute for me to recover. "Jesus, Ang!" I cough again.

Angela lifts a brow and leans in, taking a long sip from her drink. "I'll take your protracted reaction as a confirmation."

I glare at her. "I choked on my drink."

"Yeah, because you are in fact knocking boots with Dr. Hot. Go on—deny it."

I cover my face and groan. "I can't."

Angela cups a hand around one ear. "What? I didn't quite catch that."

"Stop! Okay. It's been going on for about a year."

"A year!" She flings her arms in the air. "Why am I just hearing about this now?"

"It's . . . complicated."

The atmosphere that was so enjoyable a short while ago makes me want to scream and tear at my hair. We're surrounded by laughing, joking people. There's a couple sitting in a booth nearby, heads bent together, fingers entwined, and a spike of jealousy lances my chest. I know Edward's mind and body intimately, yet if things go on as they are, I'll continue to lose the opportunities a healthy relationship offers.

Angela lays a hand over mine. "I can't imagine it being any other way, Bell. He's older—and married."

The tears sneak up on me and spill over before I can stop them. I grab for my napkin and dab at my watering eyes. "I feel trapped. I hate what we're doing, but the thought of stopping . . ." I turn toward the wall and cry harder.

"Oh fuck . . . you love him."

I nod, incapable of speech.

"You should have come to me instead of going through this alone. Even though I razz you sometimes, you have to know I've got your back." Angela squeezes my hand. "You want me to dump a cherry slushy over his head and kick him in the nads?" Her foot nudges mine under the table.

The visual of Angela attacking Edward with a slushy causes a small laugh to bubble out of me. I still feel like shit but to a lesser degree, and the smile on my face doesn't feel as foreign. I hop off my chair and rush over to hug Angela. "Thank you. I'm sorry I didn't confide in you before."

She grabs my arms and looks into my tear-stained face. "He didn't threaten your job or anything, right?"

"No! He said the affair needs to remain between us, but he'd never purposely try to hurt me. Even though I don't know the details of his personal life, I do know that much."

"Okay, 'cause I'll totally stop at Seven-Eleven if I have to."

We both laugh, and I return to my seat just as a platter piled high with nachos arrives. Seeing the food makes me realize how hungry I am, and we eat in silence for a while. I finish my drink and another is slipped in front of me.

When several layers of the delicious nachos and half of my second drink are gone, Angela folds her hands on the table. "Ready to talk about it?"

"Yeah."

I spill everything. I tell Angela how Edward and I fought our feelings valiantly until the day of the attack, and how once we tasted one another, there was no turning back. Every time we discussed ending our affair, it cut too deeply. It's become increasingly difficult to follow the rules, but they are the delicate threads binding us together. Without them, Edward would be lost to me, the only source of pain that could eclipse the hell I'm living with now. I lower my flushed face into my hands and fight back more tears. I'm in an impossible situation. Whether I decide to stay with him or end this, I'm dying inside.

"Oh, honey . . . so sorry. I thought it was just a roll in the hay, the allure of an older man, not this. I'm at a loss here."

"Me, too."

"What I don't understand is why he refuses to fill you in about his wife. If they don't live together and haven't had sex for years, what's the big secret, then? I know you don't want to hear this, but I have a feeling he's hiding something."

"Maybe. But, Ang, you haven't seen him. The guilt . . . it eats him alive. Some nights, he can't even bear to undress. He always makes it his goal to pleasure me but so often doesn't take any for himself. It's bizarre!"

"Wow. And here I thought we'd resolve your problems over drinks and nachos. This is so much more complicated than I imagined."

I roll my eyes. "Tell me about it."

"Well, you've got me now. If you need to talk, call any time, day or night. We can have a girly slumber party some night! Popcorn, movies, and pillow fight included."

I offer a sad smile. "Thank you so much. You have no idea what this means to me."

"I just wish I could do more."

The memory of Edward rushing to Sunnyvale in the middle of the night nags at me. "Ang, are you certain Edward isn't on staff at Sunnyvale?"

"Yeah!"

"He definitely received a call from there—I saw it on his phone—and left my place to go see a patient."

Angela stares back at me thoughtfully. "Maybe it's time to do some digging into Dr. Hot's life. I understand you can't bear to end this, but you owe it to yourself to find out what's really going on."

Perhaps she's right.

We eat more. We drink more. We dance together by the jukebox and get hit on by a couple of cuties. Edward is always on the periphery of my mind, but for a little while, I manage to forget how tightly wrapped I've been. To breathe and feel desired in public.

The guy I end up dancing with is good looking and respectful and asks for my number. Mark takes my hesitation as a concern about stalking and grabs my phone, programming his number in. "You're in control, Bella." He touches my cheek with the back of his hand. "I really hope you call me."

And I wish with all my heart I was free to. Edward owns the best parts of me even though he can't share the corresponding parts of himself in return.

The night ends on a bittersweet note.

Ben picks us up and Angela insists on seeing me to the door of the loft. We're quiet on the elevator ride, but when we step off, Angela hugs me tight.

"I love you, girl. Okay, I'm partly hugging on you because the world is all spinning and shit, but love is definitely part of it."

"Same here." I cling to her just as tightly. The elevator did nothing good for my rollicking stomach. I dig around in my jacket for keys. "Be lucky if I can get the key in that tiny, little hole . . ." A laugh erupts because I see two locks now, shimmering and vibrating.

I finally manage it and yank on the handle, sliding the heavy door partway open. "Thanks for tonight. I really needed this."

"Any time. Hoping to show my patient man a wild time before I pass out or throw up—no idea which will happen first." Angela dissolves into giggles, one arm clutching her middle. She stops and points a finger at me. "You should call Mark. He's adorable, couldn't take his baby blues off you, and that body! Dear God. If I didn't have Ben, I'd fight you for him." She fans herself.

Bitterness and alcohol swirl sickeningly in my belly. I've already explained my position to Angela and would rather not rehash my dilemma again. "You never know . . . I just might."

"That's the spirit!" She raises her fist high and loses her balance.

"Okay, it's time to put you in the elevator and send you down to Ben before you pass out." I grasp her by the shoulders and guide her to the silver doors, pressing the call button. We hug and coo drunkenly about how much love we have for each other until the doors slide open like the mouth of a big metal monster and swallow her up.

The hall seems to slant oddly, so I rest my forehead against the cool metal, take deep breaths, and wait for the world to right itself. When I feel steady, I turn toward the loft and stop short.

Edward leans in my doorway—hair disheveled, eyes red-rimmed, clothing rumpled. The buttons on his shirt are misaligned. I've never seen him this way. My heart thuds, raising my blood pressure and letting loose a chaser of adrenaline.

I blink my eyes, wondering if I'm imagining him. "Edward? What are you doing here?"

"Who's Mark?" His voice is soft. There's no detectable censure in his words, but his eyes are dark and intense.

The conflict within him sears into me, triggering conflicts of my own. The fact Edward is jealous sends my hopes soaring; they crash a moment later when I realize he doesn't have the right to covet me and probably never will. He's made it abundantly clear he has no intention of changing his marital status or breaking the rules he insisted upon and I desperately went along with.

I move toward him slowly because I'm drunk and because I don't know how to react to his unexpected appearance. The nachos, margaritas, and shots swirl to a critical mass, and I lose everything at Edward's feet.

Edward hurries to my side, leading me around the puddle of puke, and ushers me inside to the bathroom. He holds my hair back as I empty my stomach and props me up in front of the sink so I can rinse my mouth out. My legs are like jelly at this point, so he picks me up gently and brings me to my room. Not the way I've dreamed of being carried off to bed.

Edward strips me to my bra and underwear and slips a loose T-shirt over my head. I can't even speak to say sorry or thanks; I simply curl in a ball under the comforter and pass out.

~*oOo*~

Jackhammers pounding away behind my eyes force me to consciousness, and with consciousness comes remembrance. I puked on Dr. Hot's shoes. And he had to carry me inside, clean me up, and put me to bed. Mortification swiftly follows, bringing heat to my cheeks. I'd cower under the blanket, but my head is already submerged.

Soft clicks nearby have me throwing the covers off and turning. "Ow." My head pounds harder, and my stomach lurches unpleasantly. The minimal light in the room pierces my retinas.

Edward is sitting on top of the comforter, legs stretched out, with his laptop resting on his thighs. He stops typing and glances at me. "Hey. How do you feel?"

No judgment though it's clearly deserved.

I groan, pulling the sheet back over me. "Like a mini construction crew is working overtime in my head, and a cat pissed in my mouth."

"Descriptive."

I'm pretty sure he's smiling, but I'm not chancing a look. "You asked." Another part of me awakens and realizes Edward stayed. "You didn't leave."

He pauses for a few beats, then says, "You were so sick."

He rubs my back through the sheet, lulling me to the cusp of sleep. I've always had a knack for riding the edge of consciousness. Sometimes it's an insomniac's curse. Today, it's providence.

Edward sighs, his hand still moving lazily. "Oh, Freddie . . . I never intended for things to go this far, but I don't think I can bear to let you go."

A smile tugs at my lips, and I allow sleep to take me.

Chapter Four

The ping of my cell phone wakes me. I fight against the sheet to get an arm free and snatch my phone off the nightstand. No calls, but I have a bunch of Facebook notifications. I peek to the left to confirm, but I already sense the absence of Edward. He did leave a glass of water, two pills, and a note behind.

I pick up the sliver of paper.

Freddie,

I hope you're feeling better. Get some rest.

We both have the day off tomorrow. Do you like boats?

E

I hold the note for a long time and keep rereading it. Edward has never taken me on a date. We always meet at my place, and he usually leaves soon after the sex. It's in the rules.

A smile spreads across my face, and a bud of hope blooms in my heart; I can't stop it any more than I can keep the sun from rising each morning.

I check my messages. Angela posted a picture of us at Mojitos on Facebook. We're wearing sombreros and holding up our Margaritas.

Dinner and drinks with my bestie!

There are a bunch of likes and comments, one of them from Mark Giuliano.

Mark Giuliano: Had a great time, ladies! Bella, you have my number . . . would love to take you out on the town.

Mark also sent me a friend request, which I decide to ignore for the moment. It seems unfair to lead him on when I'm so entangled with Edward in whatever it is we're doing. I just know my heart isn't free.

I read the note again. Before I can change my mind, I text Edward. I love boats! What do you have in mind, Dr. Hot?

Edward: I'll pick you up at 11 tomorrow. Bring a heavy sweatshirt with a hood—it gets cold and windy out on the water.

The next morning, I'm waiting in front of my building by a quarter of eleven. Part of me fears Edward might get up to the loft and decide taking me out in public is a bad idea, so I decided to preempt the possibility.

My heart speeds when the familiar black SUV turns the corner. Edward spots me and pulls to the curb. Dr. Manners rushes from the car, comes around to my side, and holds the door for me.

Once we're both buckled in, he leans over and kisses my cheek. "Hi, Freddie."

Based on the flushing of my skin and the heat unfurling inside me, you'd think he plunged his tongue into my mouth and shoved a hand between my legs.

I draw a shaky breath. "Hi."

Edward looks at me oddly but doesn't say anything, putting the car in gear and taking off. His driving is fast but controlled. I feel physically safe sitting beside him—wish I could say the same for my heart.

We don't speak during the drive, falling into a comfortable silence. Classical music plays softly in the background, and I sink into the sumptuous leather seat, taking the opportunity to glimpse Edward from the corner of my eye. He drives one-handed, posture relaxed, wearing a navy windbreaker over a pair of faded jeans. He doesn't have doctor hair, all neat and tidy. His hair is a touch too long, the chaotic strands artfully mussed, more like a rock star or model. I smile, running my fingers through it.

He glances at me, his eyes quickly returning to the road. "What?"

"Nothing, really. Just thinking you don't have doctor hair. Yours is sexy and rockstar-ish."

He grins but doesn't say anything. I love the way his eyes crinkle in the corners.

We pull into the marina, and he parks in the back corner where the exclusive slips are. Edward's boat is understated compared to many of them, but it's gorgeous. I laugh when I see the name of it—Hot Doc.

Edward hops on board first, bringing the picnic basket and cooler with him. Then he comes back and offers me his hand, helping me aboard. While he readies the boat, I take a quick tour. There's a gorgeous deck with seating along the edges, stairs up to the bridge with a captain's chair and additional seating, and a luxurious cabin below deck with a kitchen, living room, bedroom, and bathroom.

There's a soft thrumming beneath my feet, and I sense we're ready to set sail. I go above deck and pull on my hoodie. The wind whips my hair around, and I tug my hood up, then climb the steps to the bridge.

Edward grins like a kid. "Are you ready?"

I salute him. "Ready, captain!"

I don't know why, but seeing him at this moment causes a painful twist in my gut. I want Edward to be mine. No guilt or subterfuge. This should be our boat, and we would invite friends to sail with us, hosting dinner parties on the deck. I want to wake up beside him every day. I want the guilt he carries around with him to dissolve.

And I realize it's not likely any of this will happen. Edward is harboring a secret. I resolve to enjoy the day and put off any decisions until I know the truth.

Edward pilots the boat, and I perch on his thigh, sometimes resting my head on his shoulder and sometimes watching the water rush by. There's too much noise to speak, but I enjoy the intimacy of just being here together.

After about an hour, Edward cuts our speed down and guides the boat into a cove. Huge, jagged rocks lead to a high peak. A twisty trail winds its way through the rocks, leading up.

I shield my eyes and try to follow the path to see if it reaches the top. "Wow. That's high. Does the path go all the way to the top?"

"It does."

"Have you ever been up there?"

"Not yet."

I turn to look at him. "Sounds like you intend to."

His gaze is intense, and he nods. "I do."

Before I can pose any more questions, Edward asks me to get some plates, napkins, and silverware from the galley while he drops anchor. I can take a hint; this is one of the things I'm not supposed to ask about.

When I get back to the deck, Edward has the picnic all spread out. He's laid out a large blanket. The open picnic basket and an ice bucket with a bottle of wine sit on opposite corners. There are a few pillows piled at each of the other corners.

"I thought we could have a real picnic instead of setting up a table." Edward looks uncertain. "Unless you would rather not."

"No, this is perfect. So thoughtful." I place the items I brought from the galley next to the basket.

Edward takes my hand and helps me onto the blanket. I toe off my shoes and lower myself; the softness feels like heaven to my bare feet. Thank God my pedicure still looks good.

Edward takes his shoes off and joins me. He starts removing things from the basket. "Nothing fancy, I'm afraid. We have wine, fruit, cheeses, and sandwiches. And it wouldn't be a picnic without butterscotch pudding." He blushes. "Family favorite."

"This is great! And I love butterscotch."

We set everything out between us, then lean on the pillows facing one another. Edward feeds me grapes and pieces of cheese. He takes a sip of wine, then leans over and slips his hand behind my neck, bringing our lips together. He kisses me deeply, allowing the tang of the wine to mingle on our tongues.

The conversation is light and easy. We talk about hospital politics, how inaccurate most medical television shows are, and books we've read recently. I'm surprised to find out that Dr. Hot doesn't limit himself to reading medical journals but is a closet fan of romantic thrillers. He's surprised to find out I can change my own oil and fix a flat tire.

He feeds me pudding. I smear some on his lips and help him lick it off, which leads to making out. Afterward, I lie on my back and stare up at the hazy, blue-gray sky and pretend Edward is mine, and this is our boat. My hand finds his, and our fingers link together.

"Penny for your thoughts," he says softly.

The truth almost pours out of me, but I paste on a smile and tell him how perfect the day is. It is as perfect as it can be under the circumstances.

Edward teases me about my nickname, asking me to fetch something, and I throw a grape at him.

"Oh, you want to play that way, huh?"

"What are you going to do about it, Dr. Hot?"

A food fight ensues. We each grab a bunch of grapes, and define territories on the deck. Ducking flying fruit, we each try to get more hits in. I'm a great shot. At one point, I hit him smack in the middle of his forehead.

Edward is so shocked, it's comical, and I laugh so hard, the grapes slip from my grasp. With a war cry, Edward drops his grapes and invades my territory, tossing me over his shoulder. "I've captured a wench! What shall I do with her?"

I laugh breathlessly, screaming and slapping at his ass.

He runs down the stairs, past the galley, to the bedroom and tosses me on the bed. He crawls over me, holding my hands overhead, his green eyes intense. "Does the wench want to please the captain?"

"As a matter of fact, she does."

Edward kneels so I can sit up and strip my hoodie off. "This too." He grips the hem of my shirt and pulls it over my head, tossing it to the floor.

I unzip his windbreaker, and he wriggles out of it, then surprises me by yanking his tight gray t-shirt over his head. I can't resist exploring his sculpted chest with my fingers, but I touch him lightly because I'm afraid he'll change his mind.

All of our clothes end up on the floor until we're gloriously naked together. Edward is hungry for me, sliding his fingers over every dip and curve of my body, following with lips and tongue. His mouth hovers at the apex of my thighs, his warm breath sending a wave of desire shooting through me. I anchor my fingers in his hair, pulling at the long strands. He parts me with his tongue and laves my clit until I'm about to come, then he stops.

"Why did you stop?" I ask breathlessly.

My fingers slip from his hair as he lifts up on his arms and covers my body with his, gazing down at me with a searing look. "Because I want to fuck you slowly and watch you come apart under me."

My only answer is a moan. Edward nudges my legs apart and sinks into me so deep, filling me. He's more vocal than usual, groaning and whispering as we make love. I love tasting myself on his tongue.

When I try to increase the pace, he shakes his head. "Slow down, Freddie. Let it build."

He pumps and circles his hips, grinding, pulling back, and pressing forward with amazing control. His heated green eyes never leave mine, and I fight to keep mine open because I know it's what he wants.

The slow, delicious friction against my already sensitive sex builds layer by layer until I suddenly reach the peak and cry out in surprise, my mouth opening wordlessly. This is what he's been waiting for; I see it in his eyes just before he plunges his tongue into my mouth, matching the rhythm of his hips. The peak seems endless, and I go higher and higher than I ever have before.

"I love you." Edward's words are timed perfectly because that's the moment I'm sent into free fall. Hovering over oblivion as the layers of orgasm wash over me, I'm carried along on the most intense river of sensation I've ever experienced. It renders me speechless, and I can only hold onto Edward and ride the wave back to shore.

Edward holds me for a long time, our legs tangled, chests pressed together. We don't talk, content to cuddle. A while later, I feel his hardness pressing against my stomach, and we make love again. This time the pace is faster and harder, more unfettered and wild. Afterward, I fall asleep in his arms.

~*oOo*~

I open my eyes, disoriented. I'm covered with a blanket in the dimly lit room. The thrum of the engine brings back my memories of the afternoon of intense lovemaking. Sliding my hands under the blanket, I lightly skim my fingers along my naked skin, remembering. I can't stop the satisfied smile when I realize how deliciously sore I am in all the right places.

"You're awake." Edward enters the bedroom, fully clothed, his hair windblown.

"Mm-hm. You tired out your wench in the best ways."

Edward smiles and sits on the edge of the bed. He strokes my cheek and gazes at me with adoration. "I love you, Freddie. I hope you believe that."

"Why wouldn't I? You've been honest with me about our relationship from the beginning."

His smile turns sad. "I've given you what I can of me. It's not fair. You should be with a man who can take you to nice places, put a ring on your finger . . . give you children."

I grasp his wrist, trapping his hand against my cheek. "Please don't."

"What?"

"Not today. Let me have this."

"Whatever I have to give is yours." Tears stand in his eyes, and when he bends to kiss me, I'm not sure whose tears slip down my face—mine, his, or ours.

Chapter 5

Life continues on, but our relationship remains the same. Edward goes back to following the rules—well, we've both spectacularly blown number three. I mention the boat a few times. He doesn't say no, but it doesn't happen either.

Angela keeps encouraging me to give Mark a chance. She's friends with him on Facebook now, and he keeps asking about me. He's my age, has a stable career in IT, blah-blah-blah. I'm about as available as Edward, and I won't do to Mark what Edward is doing to me.

In the meantime, I've been trying to gather the courage to find out Edward's secret. I follow him a few times when he leaves my place, but he either goes to the hospital or home.

Tonight feels like the night. Edward listens to a voicemail on his phone and rushes out the door with a half-assed explanation. I grab the nearest thing—which happens to be my scrubs—and pull them on, rushing down the stairs to see what direction he goes in.

I follow in my car from a distance, praying he won't notice. He's driving a bit fast, and I don't think he's worried about what's behind him. Twenty minutes later, he pulls into Sunnyvale.

I watch him hurry inside and force myself to wait five minutes. The night is cold and blustery. The wind cuts through my cotton scrubs, and I realize I left my jacket home. I power walk up to the entrance. It's well after visiting hours, and I'm not sure what kind of reception I'll get.

A young woman behind the desk looks up and smiles. "Can I help you?"

"Yes, I'm looking for Dr. Masen."

"And you are?"

"We work together."

She smiles. "Oh, sure. He's in Katherine Masen's room. That's 29B. I'll buzz you in."

I smile, hoping I don't look crazy. Katherine Masen. He must come here for his mother or grandmother. I almost leave, but if I don't go in, the receptionist will almost certainly tell him I was here. Also, I hear Angela's outraged voice in my head, "You went all the way there and didn't check it out?"

The double doors open slowly, and I walk down the long hall, my footsteps hushed by the thick carpeting. Most of the doors are closed. I pass an empty nurses' station and turn the corner, following the arrows toward room 29B. It's at the very end of the hall. Faint strains of music come from behind the door, but I can't make out the song.

The window is covered, so I have no choice but to ease the door open. Do I dare do this? Edward will know how depraved and desperate I am. He might tell me it's over. But I'm here, and maybe he'll introduce me to his grandma.

As slowly as I can, I open the door a crack. Thank goodness the hinges are well oiled. The bed comes into view first, and it's empty. The main lights are off, the bar attached to the wall above the bed set on low. I crack the door a little more, my heart in my throat.

The song playing is Eric Clapton's "You Look Wonderful Tonight." Edward holds a woman in his arms, swaying to the music. His back is to me, so I can't see her clearly. As they turn, I see a flash of long, poker straight, cornsilk hair. Her cheek is pressed to his chest. And then she speaks.

"Oh Edward, I'm so excited about the wedding! It's supposed to be balmy out tomorrow."

"I'm sure it will be perfect." Sadness permeates his voice.

"I can't wait to hit the beach in Cancun. Three glorious weeks!"

I'm rooted to the spot, unable to move. Edward is coming around, and he's going to see me! I don't know if I can't move or I just don't want to—either way, my feet are stuck to the floor.

Edward's eyes are the first thing I see. They're tortured. He's so absorbed in his pain that he almost misses me hovering in the doorway. But he does see me, and his eyes widen.

A soft giggle comes from the woman in his arms, and she most definitely is not his grandma. I only see her profile as she tilts her head up to look at him, but she's young and beautiful. She's dressed up in an evening gown complete with high heels.

His wife. Who he hasn't lived with or had a sexual relationship with for years.

"Kate, I really should be going. Big day tomorrow," he murmurs against her hair, but his eyes are fully on me. A tear slides down his cheek, and it's too much for me.

My paralysis dissolves, and I'm running, running, running. I run down the halls and slam my hand against the button by the doors, but they don't open.

"Yes, can I help you?" A voice comes from a speaker on the wall.

"I'm trying to get out. I-I was just here for Dr. Masen."

"Stand back, please."

All the pieces click together. This is a locked memory care ward. Katherine Masen is Edward's wife. She thinks tomorrow is their wedding.

I fight not to run, but I can't stop myself from walking fast as I leave the ward. The receptionist gives me a sympathetic look. "Awful, isn't it? So heartbreaking."

I nod my head, unable to form words, and push my way through the doors into the windy night. This time, I welcome the howling wind that freezes the tracks of my tears and stings my skin. I get into the car and bang my hands on the steering wheel, crying and screaming.

A lone figure exits Sunnyvale. Edward. He's running. I start the car, my fingers shaking. Slamming the car into gear, I peel away without looking back.

Chapter 6

I call out sick with the flu and stay home for days. I don't eat or shower or change my clothes. Edward keeps calling and texting. I haven't listened to or read any of the messages. He came here, banging on the door, but I jammed a fist in my mouth and huddled in the corner by the living room windows until he finally gave up and left.

I beg Angela to give me time, and she agrees as long as I submit to wellness texts. I have to text her twice a day so she knows I'm alive.

On day eight, she shows up at my door. "Bella, you know I have a key. I'm trying to allow you the dignity of opening up on your own."

She means it, so I open the door. Angela gasps when she gets a look at me. "Jesus Christ! You look like hell. I think you might have fleas. In the tub you go, girlfriend."

I don't fight her; I stink, and my hair is a greasy snarl on my head.

Angela runs the hot water, tossing in a few bath bombs. She gathers clean clothes, towels, and lights a few candles, flipping the bathroom switch off. When the bath is ready, Angela leads me in like a child and strips my clothes off, tossing them in the far corner. She holds my hand as I step into the fragrant water, then she washes my body and shampoos my hair. She pats me dry. Dresses me. Blow-dries my hair.

Angela sits me down at the table and puts chicken soup and tea in front of me. When the hot soup hits my stomach, I leap up from the table and rush to the bathroom. My stomach rumbles, but calms, and I'm able to hold down the food.

I sit down again, watching the steam curl from the bowl.

"Go slow, honey." Angela sits across from me, her big brown eyes full of empathy.

"Thank you."

She smiles. "Well, who else was going to come over here and tame your stinky ass?"

I smile back. "Aren't you going to ask me what happened?"

She lays her hand over mine and squeezes. "I already know what happened, honey. Edward is out of his mind with worry."

"He is?" I thought he'd be so angry with me for ferreting out his secret, for being a temptation to him.

Angela slams her hands on the table. "Girl, haven't you read and listened to all the messages he left? That man is the walking dead. He's come to work unshaven—he's starting to grow a fucking beard, and it's not a good look for him."

I shake my head. "I c-couldn't face his anger. I never should have butted into his business."

"Well, you should listen to them. He's not angry at you, but he is really worried."

"He told you that?"

"Yeah, he did. He told me what happened." Angela gets a text. "Benny is downstairs, so I have to go. Listen . . . I ordered some groceries for you, so make sure you answer the door. They should be here soon. I was hoping to put them away for you, but I have to go."

I wave a hand. "Don't worry about it." Fresh tears streak my face, and I go around to Angela's side of the table and hug her tight. "Thank you. You're the best friend ever."

"You smell a lot better, baby! I've got you, always—you know that, right?"

"Yes. I love you."

"Love you, too. Get your ass back to work on Monday. And listen to Edward's messages!"

"I will."

After Angela leaves, I sit on the couch and tuck my legs under me. Edward is worried about me. That's promising, but I've also broken his rules, inserting myself into painful areas of his life where I wasn't invited. He doesn't belong to me. He belongs to a woman with corn silk hair and dreams of Cancun.

Fresh tears wet my face, and an aching void opens inside my heart. How will I survive life after Edward?

A knock sounds on the door. Groceries. The thought of food turns my stomach now, but Angela went to a lot of trouble for me.

"Just a minute!" I yell out. I stand up, working the pins and needles from my feet. "Coming!"

I pull the door open. There are several bags of groceries and a bouquet of flowers sitting in the hall. Guess the delivery guy had other jobs to do.

I grab several bags, bringing them into the kitchen. When I turn to get more, Edward is standing in my doorway, holding bags and the flowers.

His eyes are bloodshot, but his face is clean-shaven. No more beard.

My mouth moves, but no sound comes out. My tear ducts work fine though. And for the second time in a week, my feet are stuck to the fucking floor.

"Freddie . . ."

I shake my head, my hands palm out. "Don't. Please. My heart can't take any more pain."

"I'm so sorry."

I close my eyes tight, but the tears keep falling. "You don't have to be sorry, Edward. I fucked this up. I didn't follow the rules, and I intruded and . . . Jesus."

"I'm glad you came there. The secret was eating me alive."

I open my eyes. "You are?"

"May I put these down, please?"

"Yes, of course."

Edward puts the bags on the counter and opens a cabinet, pulling out a vase. He fills it with water and puts the flowers in. He turns to me, and I dare to look into his eyes. He doesn't hate me. He doesn't look angry at all. And I know better than anyone how the secret was eating him alive.

"Please, can I talk to you? Angela told me you deleted my messages without listening or reading, so I have a lot to say. After I'm done, I'll go if you want me to."

"Okay."

Tentatively, Edward takes my hand. His touch is like a match strike, and I remember how those hands touched me, held me, brought me to the heights of pleasure. He leads me into the living room, and we sit on the couch, turned to the side so we're facing each other. He keeps possession of my hand.

"As I think you probably figured out . . . Kate is my wife. I didn't lie when I said we haven't lived together or had a sexual relationship for years. Kate and I met in college. She was going to law school, and I was in med school, but we made it work. We got married fresh out of college while I was completing my fellowship. Kate got pregnant on our honeymoon. She was so afraid to tell me, but I was ecstatic. We had the world by the balls."

If Edward had a child, they would be with him; he would never abandon them. What happened to this young family with the rest of their lives ahead of them?

Edward hesitates, and I squeeze his hand, encouraging him to go on. "You're doing fine. I'm here for you, no matter what."

He squeezes back. "You promise?"

"Promise." How could I not? I love him. Even if we never touch again. Even if my dreams have died on the vine.

"Kate was six months pregnant, and there was a birthday party for her older sister. I was on call, so I told her to go ahead, and I would try to stop by. It was a really busy night, and a page went out—all hands on deck in the ER. I texted Kate to let her know I wouldn't be able to make it." Edward pauses, and I can see haunting pain in his eyes. "I reported to the ER with the others, and I remember the head doctor telling someone to get me out of there. But . . . then I heard them. Pregnant female, extraction from a car, and I just knew it was her. It took three security guards to drag me from the ER."

"Oh my God, Edward! I'm so sorry."

"Kate had a head injury, broken bones, and sh-she lost our baby. They put her in a medically induced coma for several weeks. When she woke up, it was obvious something was terribly wrong with her. Kate's body healed but not her mind. She was diagnosed with anterograde amnesia. At first the doctors thought she couldn't face the loss of the baby, but MRIs showed multiplying plaques in her brain, similar to what you'd see in an advancing Alzheimer's patient. For the past several years, Kate is either in la-la land and doesn't know who anyone is, or she thinks it's the night before our wedding. And so they call me when she starts talking about the wedding, and I go there to soothe her, to fulfill that fantasy for her."

I can't help myself as a sob bubbles up. It's not for me this time. My tears are for Edward and Kate and their baby.

"Don't cry, Freddie. Please, I'm so sorry." Edward falls to his knees and lays his head on my lap.

My fingers find their way into his hair, and I comfort him. "I'm not crying for me. I'm crying for you."

He winds his arms around me and lets me run my fingers through his hair. We don't speak for a long time. I start to think he's fallen asleep when he lifts his head and looks up at me.

"She's dying, Freddie. She's in the end stages of what appears to be Alzheimer's, but it can go on indefinitely. There's no case studies on someone this young. And I can't abandon her."

"Of course not!"

"Do you understand now? Until you, I hadn't touched another woman. I tried to fight my feelings for you, but I couldn't. I can't ask you to continue . . . this half-life. You should move on, maybe consider—"

I press my hand against Edward's mouth. "Don't. I love you."

"And I love you . . . so much. I have nothing to offer you, nothing more than what we had."

"I can accept seeing you in secret, settle for a ride on your boat in lieu of a date, but maybe you can work on the guilt? Edward, you aren't being disloyal to Kate. You aren't doing anything wrong. Are you seeing a therapist?"

"I have, a few times, but I stopped going."

"This is a lot for me, too. Maybe we could both go?"

"You'd do that?"

"I'd do anything for you. Haven't you noticed?"

Edward sits next to me and cups my face in his warm hands. "How do you feel about a sleepover tonight?"

Epilogue

A year has passed. There's been a lot of therapy, a lot of tears, and a lot of love. There were days I was sure I'd never make it, nights when Edward's body surrounded my own, and he was awakened by a call from Sunnyvale.

We tore up the rules. Edward started spending the night and gradually stopped making love with his clothes on. The haunted look faded, and he swears it's because he knows he can be completely truthful with me.

Six months ago, Edward returned from one of Kate's night-before-the-wedding episodes. A few hours later, Sunnyvale called to let him know Kate passed away peacefully in her sleep. Edward cried in my arms. He was grief-stricken but also relieved he was there with her that night.

We still keep our relationship a secret. Angela and Ben are the only ones who know. Sometimes they come out on the boat with us, or we do dinner at my loft.

Now that word has spread that Dr. Masen is a widower, he has even more groupies trying to hit on him. Sometimes I get really annoyed, but then I remember it's my bed he comes to at night.

Edward and I are off on the same day, and he tells me he wants to take me somewhere instead of taking the boat out.

"Where are we going?"

Edward rolls his eyes. "You'll see when we get there."

"What should I wear?"

"Dress like we're going on the boat."

I laugh. Then I remind myself I need to roll with change. Hasn't that been my life lesson the past two years?

Edward drives us down the coast, and we come to a deserted parking lot near the beach. I glance around at the scrubby terrain, but I keep my mouth shut.

Edward comes around and opens my door, taking my hand in his and holding it as we walk. He's starting to worry me because his jaw is tight, and he's not looking me in the eyes. It reminds me of the way things were. I remind myself how far we've come and try to keep an open mind.

We follow a winding path that leads to a flat outcropping.

Edward pulls back on my hand, slowing us to a stop. "Do you trust me?"

"I'm here, right? I trust you."

"Okay, let's go."

We walk out onto the outcropping, and I can see the water in the distance. "Is this the cove where we take the boat sometimes?"

"It is."

"Awesome! The view is going to be spectacular!"

We come around the edge of a tall boulder and walk toward the edge of the clifftop. The sky is a mottled blue-gray, and I blink against the stinging wind. The water stretches out as far as the eye can see, dark and mysterious. In the distance, boats bob in the current.

"You missed the most interesting part." Our eyes meet, and Edward points behind me.

I turn. On the backside of the boulder we just came around, someone painted a beautiful sunset over the water. In the lower corner is a replica of the cove with a boat anchored in the choppy water.

"Oh, wow! That is some serious talent." I move forward to get a closer look at the exquisite painting. Something bright at my feet catches my eye. Someone painted Forever on the ground in front of the painting. I turn to tell Edward and gasp.

Edward is on one knee, tears standing in his eyes. "From the first day—when you yelled out 'Who the hell is Doctor Hot?'—my life changed irrevocably. I tried to fight my feelings, but it was a losing battle, one I only fought because of guilt. Freddie, will you be my forever?" A black velvet box appears in his palm, and he opens it. "Marry me."

I sink to my knees on the hard stone, tears streaming down my face. A flash of gold and diamonds glints from the ring nestled in the box. I gaze up at Edward, into his green eyes so full of promise and hope.

"Of course I will! Are you absolutely sure you're ready?"

Edward puts the box down and cups my face, pressing his lips against mine. He deepens the kiss, his tongue playing against mine, and a roar of desire surges through me.

"Do you feel that?" he whispers.

I nod.

"Let me show you something else." He rises to his feet, pulling me up with him, and leads me closer to the cliff's edge. In the cove below, sits Edward's boat. The name has been changed to Freddie and Doctor Hot.

Angela and Ben are standing on the deck. They raise glasses filled with golden liquid.

Angela cups her free hand around her mouth. "Girl, you better say yes! Get your asses down here so we can party!"

Edward's arms slide around my waist, the warmth of his lips at my ear. "I hope I didn't change her name too soon."

I turn in his arms, the lump in my throat making it difficult to answer. I shake my head and press my face into his jacket. He lifts my left hand and slides the ring on my finger. It's a perfect fit. "I want you to be my forever."

I nod my head, the tears flowing like twin rivers. "Yes." I leap into his arms, winding my legs around him. He kisses me until I'm breathless, and liquid heat pools in my abdomen. "How long do we have to party with Ben and Ang? I want you inside me, Dr. Hot."

Edward groans, his hands squeezing my ass. "Not sure I can make it that long, Mrs. Doctor Hot-to-be."

"Quickie in the car on the way to the cove?" I suck his earlobe into my mouth and swirl my tongue around.

"Mm-hm. Now you're talking."

Edward lets me down. I turn and raise my left hand, the diamonds shining bright.

Angela whoops and hollers, elbowing Ben until he does it too. "Get down here, you two!"

Edward and I look at each other with secretive smiles. We can ask for forgiveness later. Like we have with everything else, we're taking the long way.