I own nothing…this fabulous world and everything in it belongs to the very talented Stephenie Meyer…I do however, own this particular story…whatever that means!

Also Bryan Adams and the fabulous Beatles own their songs...they're just graciously allowing me to borrow them for the evening! Anything to get these two together!

Author's Note: Thanks to heartbroken1, who beta'ed this for me while under the weather! Thanks to grumpy grizzly, who helped me extensively with both chapters that are coming tonight...and finally, to Mandi1, who helped me research the details in tonight's chapters, as well as letting me borrow the idea of Esme being a seamstress in both last week's and this week's chapters! Please check out these fabulous ladies and their work! They are stupendous!

I will be posting Edward's Cocktails with Claire tonight - but I still have a bit of "tweaking" to do. So stay tuned.

Chapter 41: Bella's Cocktails with Claire

Bella's POV:

The day of the party dawned bright and sunny, which was unfortunate, given that I had work to do and was trapped in the Cullen house. Thank goodness for my cell phone -- and Alice.

She called vendors, confirmed delivery times, and even phoned the University House to check on the progress of set up and deliveries just to assure the both of us that things were going as planned and that everything was in place for the party this evening.

Alice thought of everything. Goody bags for the students. Taxi service for those that got a bit too carried away and needed a sober driver to get them home. She even convinced the bartending company to invent a special cocktail to commemorate the event. We both faked our way through drinking it hoping that it was appealing.

The smell was nauseating, to me at least. I needed added reassurance so I mentioned the ingredients to Mandy in passing one day and she commented on how tasty it sounded -- I was praying that she was right.

The response for the party had been overwhelming. Last year, I had done just a standard event that was tame and rather boring and people had commented on what a good time they had, but based on what Alice had planned for this year, the buzz circulating the campus was deafening.

Those invited were excited, and those that weren't were itching for a spot. Those "guest plus one" RSVP's were coming in fast and furiously, in addition to those that had forgotten to send in their paperwork early. My email inbox was overflowing with hearty confirmations that they wouldn't miss this for the world.

My cell phone rang incessantly and I finally gave up with working in the Cullen's living room, interrupting everyone's day. I finally asked Jasper if I could use his study as a base of operations until the sunshine let up.

Until I could head over to the venue myself to check on the progress, I had to rely on my complete trust in Nikki, the university's culinary director, who had called to let me know that the tables and linens Alice had so lovingly selected were being set up and that Chris, the florist, had already delivered the beautiful French anemone centerpieces. Everything was finally falling into place.

I had apparently been in the basement for hours, completely unaware of the passage of so much time, when I heard a soft knock on the doorjamb of Jasper's study. I looked up, surprised to see Edward statuesquely standing there with his hands behind his back.

I put down the pen that I had been using to check off every detail on my never-ending list of items, vendors, and phone calls. "Hi, Edward. What's up?"

Even in a simple pair of jeans and a dark blue sweater, he looked utterly handsome. "May I come in?" he asked timidly.

"Of course."

"I just wanted to let you know that the sun has decided to hide behind the clouds and the weather forecast is predicting that this trend will hold the rest of the day, so you're free to leave. Would you like me or Alice to drive you over to the University House?"

Let me see…would I like to get alone in a car with you? Just the two of us? Simple question and even simpler answer… Instead, the rational side of my head and heart took over. "Thanks for the weather update," my forced smile appeared bright and chipper though my heart was anything but, "and if you could ask Alice if she can meet me in ten minutes upstairs, that would help me out tremendously. I'll be right up."

"I'll take care of it." He turned from me more quickly than I expected, making a hasty retreat toward the stairs, before I called out after him.

"Edward?" I hoped my voice didn't betray the emotion I felt every time he was near.

He stopped before his foot made contact with the bottom step and turned on a dime, heading back toward me. "Yes, Bella?"

The sight of him, his scent, his thick, bronze hair had my whole body trembling to touch him, and I took an enormous breath before trying to look occupied with folders and endless lists for the party. "Were you still planning on driving tonight? What I mean is, if you'd rather not come, I would completely understand. I could just ride over with Alice and Jasper and…"

He took a few steps inside the office and placed both of his palms on top of the desk, leaning forward toward me, causing his scent to flair even stronger inside the small haven. He looked at me with an intensity that was hard to miss while his hair flopped sexily into his eyes, making my fingers yearn to reach out and brush it away.

As of late, I had taken to sitting on my hands when he was around, as my arms seemingly had a mind of their own.

"Bella, are you trying to renege on our little wager? Don't tell me that you're trying to back out of our dance. Don't misunderstand me; I know you detest being the center of attention, but a deal is a deal. And in this house, if you don't keep up with your side of the bargain, I can find something much worse to take its place," he threatened, though his smile assured me he was teasing. He'd leaned in even closer with this comment and I found myself inadvertently holding my breath.

I felt dazzled, and I fought to clear out those pesky cobwebs from my brain. "No, I have no intention of not keeping up my side of the bargain, though I'm no better a dancer than I was, well, ten years ago." I wouldn't let him see how much I was looking forward to dancing with him tonight, or how my whole body was physically aching to be held in his strong arms. I couldn't wait to find out if the memory of his arms was as good as the reality. "I just wanted to make sure that you were okay with driving the four of us over to the campus. Still up for that?" I tried to tease casually…like a friend would, I thought as I sighed internally.

"I wouldn't miss it. Now, unless you need something else, I'll run upstairs and tell Alice to meet you."

"Thank you, Edward. I just need to collect my things here and then she and I can head over and check on the progress of things." I looked up at him, smiling as brightly as my cheeks would allow.

"You're welcome." He sounded like he was purring. " I'll see you when Alice brings you back to get ready. Rosalie should be in her element by then." He smiled that beautiful grin of his, rolling his eyes in the process. Even though it didn't always appear so, Edward loved every member of his family – including his beautiful sister, Rosalie.

He turned and left, his light footsteps barely making a sound as he sprinted up the stairs. I gathered my things, organizing them as I went, finally placing them into my large bag. My head was swimming with details that needed to be addressed or that needed to be checked on, but the one thought that kept overriding the details was Edward.

As much as I was looking forward to having one dance with him, I kept asking myself how I would ever get through it. It would be like Christmas morning only I hoped that my body wouldn't betray how excited I felt by it.

To feel his strong arms around my waist, to be that close to him, to be able to breathe in his scent and have it encapsulate me would be bliss. I worried, although briefly, about the shoes that Alice had chosen for me. The ridiculous spike heels looked lovely, but were a death trap for me, vampire or not.

But not wanting to disappoint her or see her pouting, I agreed to let her purchase them. I was eagerly anticipating the evening, even the part of getting ready. I still wasn't thrilled that my dress had been delivered in midnight blue, but I was willing to overlook it.

Edward seemed genuine when he told me that I looked lovely in my dress when Esme was in the process of altering it last weekend, and again my heart ached with that hole that refused to close. Why couldn't I be enough for him?

I shook my head, refusing to allow myself to wallow again and sprinted up the stairs, noticing that Edward was waiting at the front door, locked in a staring match with his favorite sister.

Instantly, I knew that they were talking, or at least Alice was chatting wordlessly with Edward. They saw me approach and both smiled in my direction. Those tiny hairs on the back of my neck stood up and I knew something was being kept from me, but I didn't have the time to dwell on it right now.

"Ready to go?" Alice asked, her smile almost too wide.

"Yep. I've got everything. Can you drive, so I can go over these lists again?"

She hugged Edward goodbye and gave him one more significant parting look before heading for the front door of their home, holding it open for me.

We hopped into her Escalade, Alice smiling as she revved the engine and made a wide turn out of the drive, and headed straight for the highway.

"You excited about tonight?" Alice asked, with her usual enthusiasm.

"I'm just hoping that things go off without a hitch. And that I don't fall in those heels," I laughed, looking at her.

She seemed rather preoccupied. She was unconsciously tapping out the beat to the song from the radio on the steering wheel, one eye watching the road, but her forehead was thick with lines of worry.

"Alice."

Nothing.

"Alice, what's going on?" I laughed at her, nudging her a bit in the arm to get her attention.

"What?" She forced a laugh, which made me uneasy instantly. "What did you say?"

"I was just saying that I was hoping things went well and that I wouldn't fall in my heels. What's got you so unfocused? It's not like you. Did you see something?" I asked calmly, hoping that she would confide in me.

Her face betrayed nothing, though she made no attempt to look at me. "Oh, I'm fine. I was just thinking basically the same thing. And don't you worry about those heels. You're a vampire now, Bella, and being graceful is part of the package deal. Besides, Edward will catch you if you fall. You should know that by now," she finished, her trademark grin back in its proper place.

I wasn't convinced by what she was telling me, but I let it go. We continued to drive without speaking, the only sound around us was the radio in the background. Alice would occasionally hum or sing with the music, her graceful voice so high, I thought she must be breaking some type of world record for the number of keys she could hit.

We arrived at campus, quickly making our way to the University House. Trucks and delivery vans of every variety were already there, bodies hurrying in every direction as tables and chairs, linens and all types of things were being delivered.

We both jumped out of the car to the distraction of every deliveryman who seemed to stop in his tracks upon seeing Alice. Even though she wasn't Rosalie beautiful, her exotic looks had the tendency to make anyone stand up and take notice.

With her graceful step, inky black hair and pale skin, she had the look of an exquisite china doll. More Ava Gardner than Grace Kelly, but it was obvious that she captivated humans in her own special way. She had been more than a friend to me in Forks – she had been the sister that I'd never had.

We walked past all the workers that were gawking at Alice, who were oblivious to the entire thing, and made our way inside the house, which had been time warped into a different era.

The University House was gorgeous with its beautiful open floor plan and period architecture. For years, it had housed the president of the university along with his family, but now the building was used for things like social gatherings and weddings, including the annual event taking place tonight. Its large ballroom on the first floor was outfitted with everything that Alice had lovingly selected and ordered from local vendors.

The dance floor was banked with rented ferns and the lighting crew was testing out the carefully orchestrated patterns that Alice had chosen on it, creating a look of elegance and fun. I could already picture the students having fun, dancing and enjoying a well-deserved night of freedom.

The tall tables without chairs, were being set up with different colored tablecloths. Shades of dusky violet, midnight blue, and deep emerald created a warm feeling that was so reminiscent of the 1950's. The beautiful centerpieces of French anemones looked perfect on every table, creating just enough height so that conversation wouldn't be a problem.

Dark chocolate brown leather loveseats were placed at different areas in the room, creating cozy corners of conversation, along with long buffet tables, where the menu would include all types of finger foods from that fabulous decade. Everything from elegant canapés and kabobs to fruit cups and deviled eggs would await each guest. Alice had also planned for two huge dessert tables that would include pies of every variety and several baked Alaskas; mile-high cakes of different flavors would be waiting to polish off everyone's sweet tooth. To bring just a bit of modern flair to the occasion, there was a coffee bar, with all types of mixes and teas to finish off the night. We might not be eating anything, but the guests of this party would be well fed.

Alice and I scoured the room, looking over every detail, before heading over to the first of two bars that had been set up. The bartender stopped what he was doing and offered us each a drink, which we declined, citing the early time in the day as an excuse. Leave it to Alice to always think quickly on her feet!

He assured us both that he and his staff had plenty of supplies for the evening and that he thought the special drink they had created would be a welcome change for many. He also showed us the special 1950's drink menu he had printed up and put in small silver frames across the granite countertop, offering the most popular drinks from the decade like champagne cocktails and Singapore slings, as well as Shirley Temples for our underage patrons who would have a different color plastic bracelet to let the bartenders know whom not to serve.

Nikki, the director of the culinary arts school on campus, and in charge of the catering for the evening approached us, "Hello, Elizabeth. How does everything look?"

"It looks lovely. Exactly what we had in our minds, right Alice?" I grinned at my little pixie friend, willing her to be agreeable and put this poor human woman at ease.

"It's exactly how I imagined it. That and the pictures we used from the internet to make our plans, right Elizabeth?" Alice said, though her eyes twinkled with a hidden meaning. Alice had lived through that decade, so her attention to detail was something else entirely.

Nikki smiled. "Well, you two definitely outdid yourselves. I've catered this event for several years now and this is the first time I've seen such attention to detail. Even the menu was something we had to plan with precision and care. The staff had a ball researching recipes and taste testing."

Taste testing? Thank goodness for that. Alice and I used the excuses of being "vegetarian" or having allergies to get out of testing the cuisine. I had expressed that we had complete and total faith in Nikki and her staff, which in all honesty, I did.

When we exited the kitchen and the smells of human food, we saw that the string quartet, pianist and DJ had arrived. They were setting up in opposite corners of the room, giving each other the once over as they readied themselves for the evening. I acknowledged them each with a wave, knowing they had been in constant correspondence with Edward over the past few weeks.

Edward had taken over this aspect of the planning completely and I was grateful to have one less thing to worry about. When I had thanked him, he simply smiled sweetly at me, and assured me that it was his pleasure. He and I were doing fairly well with the whole "friends" thing and when we spoke, I tried to make it as brief as possible, doing my best to not wear out my welcome.

"You ready?" Alice asked.

"Everything looks good here. It's mid-afternoon. We should head back and start getting ready. I want to get back here a little earlier than I originally planned to ensure that everything is ready before guests start to arrive. Can you be ready about 30 minutes early?"

"Sure. We'll head home now and start on hair and makeup." I grimaced at her. "Bella, you aren't really just going to wear that beautiful dress and shoes and then not do something special with your hair and makeup, are you? I promise not to torture you," too much, I heard her mutter under her breath, "and Rose wants to do your hair. Come on – don't be a spoil sport!" she spat at me.

I rolled my eyes and gave in. "Fine, but nothing over the top. I'm still working tonight – please keep that in mind," I said firmly, though it sounded more like a whimper.

Alice laughed at my feeble attempts to give her boundaries and nodded, as she drove back to the Cullen house. We got there in record time thanks to Alice's "defensive" driving skills and hurried inside where Esme and Rosalie were waiting for us upstairs in Alice and Jasper's suite.

The array of curling irons, straighteners, hairpins and makeup was dizzying and before I knew what was happening, it was like prom all over again. My hair was pulled, prodded and rolled into a tight chignon on my head, with Alice and Rosalie arguing whether or not to do a "smoky" eye or something more natural. I really had no idea what they were talking about, so I just sat back and visited with Esme.

"Are you excited for tonight?" Esme asked, her ubiquitous smile in place.

"I am, a little. But more importantly, I'll be relieved when it's a success and even more relaxed when it's over. I couldn't have done all this without Alice. She's really the mastermind behind it all. Are you and Carlisle looking forward to coming?"

Esme laughed quietly. "Carlisle and I haven't had a night out like this for some time. I know that he's excited to spending quality time with the family and me. And he's a wonderful dancer, so it should be a fun evening. Thank you for including the both of us."

"Of course. I wouldn't have it any other way. I think it should be an interesting night, all things considered."

Esme gave me a fleeting look of concern, her usual bright eyes clouding with anxiety. "Yes, dear. I'm sure it will be an interesting evening." She paused as if she were debating her next comment. "I know that Edward is looking forward to claiming that dance from you. How are you feeling about it?"

I bit my bottom lip, unsure of what to say. I hated lying to Esme. She was like a surrogate mother to me. I was slowly starting to lose my memories of Renee, all the things that she and I did together so many years ago. Images of her were getting scarcer, and it was wonderful to have someone who could take her place, in a matter of speaking.

Instead of blatantly lying about it, I chose to be vague. "I'm sure that it'll be fine. I can't imagine that Edward would want to embarrass me or make it too difficult…" I faded off hopefully. "Besides, it's my fault for taking the gamble to begin with." I hid my eyes from hers, sure that she would see what I was really feeling, or worse…hoping.

"I'm sure that my Edward will be gentle. He knows he would have to answer to me if anything happened to you." She looked at me, drawing a bit closer to my side, as Rosalie and Alice continued to fight for control of my makeup. "Bella, you know you can tell me anything, right? You're just like a daughter to me. You can confide in me and it would be kept confidential. You do know that, don't you?" Her eyes searched mine for understanding as she spoke.

I looked up at her, seeing only concern and love shining in her eyes. For just a split second, I ached to tell her everything – how much I was still in love with Edward, how grateful I was to have them all back in my life, how I would give almost everything to have his love again, but I took the coward's approach. I forced a smile that I certainly didn't feel. "Of course I do, Esme. But it's still nice to hear."

She sat back in her chair, her graceful hands once more folding and returning to her lap. "Well, the offer stands. Whenever you need me, I'll be here. Alright?" I couldn't help but notice a slight look of disappointment flicker across her face.

I nodded and refocused my attention on Alice and Rosalie, who had finally come to some agreement about how to proceed and were getting ready to attack again. I smiled to myself, realizing how blessed I was to have this family back in my life.

I dressed with care and went to put on my shoes, but after opening the box, I reconsidered. I would have enough problems walking in them all night, much less navigating the Cullen's magnificent staircase. After Alice zipped me up and I collected my things, I started to make my way out the door and down the stairs.

"Alice, do you need help?" I asked casually.

"No. Jazz will be here in a minute and we'll be down in about five. Do you have everything?" She looked down at my stocking feet, shaking her head and letting out a small laugh.

"I have everything, Alice. I'll put my shoes on once I'm safely down the stairs. I'll see you in a few minutes."

I made my way out, heading directly for the staircase. Waiting at the bottom for me was Edward looking incredibly dashing in his fancy all black suit with a slim tie. His crisp white shirt made my breath hitch in my throat. He smiled that perfect crooked grin, making me go weak in the knees. I gripped the banister tighter, careful to not leave indentations in the solid oak railing and gingerly made my way downstairs. "Hi, Edward. All ready to go?"

He looked me up and down, his smile shocking me as one of a man who liked what he saw. I knew, had I still been able, I would be blushing furiously at this point. His eyes lingered on my face and he extended his hand to me when I reached the bottom of the stairs. I carefully accepted his offer, careful to watch my step, until I reached the landing of the foyer.

Edward smiled at me. "You look incredible, Bella. I was right about that color looking lovely with your skin. You really should wear it more often."

I couldn't help but smile back at him. "Thank you. You look nice, too. Ready to go?" I was grateful that my voice didn't betray my feelings.

He cocked one beautiful eyebrow at me. "Ready as I'll ever be and looking forward to collecting on our little bet." His eyes twinkled mischievously.

"Bella!" I heard Alice's voice bellow to me from above.

Edward and I both glanced up toward the landing to see Alice limping toward the railing, a shoe in her hand. "Alice, what's wrong?" I asked.

"Believe it or not, I just tore my dress. Esme," she called almost too calmly.

Esme came flying out of her room. "Alice, let me see it." Esme inspected the torn train of her daughter's new gown. "How on earth did you do this?" she questioned.

Alice waved her own dangerous looking spike heel in the air. "I put my shoes on and was about to come down the stairs when I caught the train with my heel, which tore this hole in it. Can you repair it?" Alice looked distraught now.

Esme picked up the hem and fingered it carefully. "I can, but it will take a while – at least thirty minutes. Get into the sewing room and I'll be right there. I was helping your father with his tie."

Alice looked over the railing at me. "Bella, I can't leave right now. You won't make it in time. I'm so sorry," she apologized.

My mind raced, trying to think of a solution to the problem. "Alice, maybe I can just borrow one of the cars and drive myself over. Do you think Jasper would lend me his Mustang?" I asked.

Edward's light touch grazed my shoulder, drawing my attention to him. "Bella, I'm ready. Why don't I drive you and that way you can look over your notes one last time before we release you on an unsuspecting public," he teased.

I looked at him hesitantly excited to be alone with him for once and anxiously dreading it at the same time. But his smile was so sincere, so very tender that I felt myself unconsciously nod in agreement. "That would be really helpful, Edward. But, are you sure?" I searched his eyes for any misgivings.

"Bella, I wouldn't have made the offer if I wasn't. Let's head out to the car and get you there." He happened to glance down at my feet. "However, I think you'll need some shoes. May I?" He reached toward the box I was holding in my hands.

Without knowing what else to say, I nodded blindly. Edward quickly took the box from my hand and flipped the lid off, before extracting the first shoe. They were lovely. Open toed with tall heels and a simple strap with a rhinestone buckle – simple and very elegant. He had already knelt down at my feet before I felt his light touch softly behind my knee, his gentle touch drifting down my calf, before lifting my foot from the floor, and easing it into the shoe, making quick work of the closure.

I automatically grabbed his shoulder for balance, while he looked up at me, his smile so impossibly charming that my heart literally ached. He shifted to my other side, repeating the same movements, never breaking his eye contact with me.

I couldn't tear my eyes from him until I heard movement from up above. Alice came to the banister, still carrying her shoes, her once floor length dress now pinned to a respectable tea length. "Bella, be sure to check on the goodie bags and make sure that the welcoming committee knows that the red bracelets are for the underage guests, so they don't get served any alcohol. Oh, and make sure that Nikki knows that..." she continued to go through her mental list, before Esme came up from behind her.

"Alice, get back in the room. Bella has her lists and will check on everything. I need to get this skirt hemmed or none of us will get there," she ordered, her arm extended, while her finger pointed her daughter back in the direction of the sewing room.

"Bella, just one more thing. Make sure..." Alice said.

I smiled up at her before answering. "Alice, I'll take care of everything. Just go get your dress fixed and I'll see you at the University House…soon."

Alice smiled back before running back to the end of the hall, where Esme was waiting for her.

Edward took my coat from the banister and opened it toward me, motioning for me to put it on. He took my bag and extended his free arm chivalrously to me, which I took nervously. "I was wondering if you would mind if we drove in the Aston Martin rather than the Volvo since it's only the two of us. I haven't driven her in a while and it's important to take her out from time to time to keep her in tiptop condition. Would that be acceptable?"

The Aston Martin.

Instantly, I was transported back ten years, to the night of the prom. I forced my body to calm itself, remembering that night – the dress, the cast on my broken leg, seeing Edward for the very first time in black, dancing with him, Jacob warning me on behalf of Billy – and Edward and I arguing about my mortality.

For a moment, I was caught back in time. Here I was again, being escorted to a formal event by Edward, though in a very different way. The dress, the car, the night...the only difference was back then I thought I had Edward's love. Now I know that I'd never had it.

I fought to stay calm. "Sure, we can take that car. Makes no difference to me," I replied, trying to sound nonchalant.

For a moment, I saw a look of pain cross his beautiful features, but it was gone just as quickly as it had come. "Come on. Let's go," he said flatly, belying his calm exterior.

Edward and I left the house, heading for one of the several buildings on the property that housed the massive car collection that the Cullens indulged in. Edward stepped away from me, before punching a code into the keypad adjacent to the garage door.

When the door had fully lifted, there she stood. That beautiful car that had whisked us away for the prom sat there proudly, almost taunting me. It looked as if it had been recently washed and the smell of wax hung heavy in the air.

For a moment, I felt my legs start to buckle, my knees no longer able to hold any weight, as my mind was once again whisked away to the past.

Before I knew what was happening, Edward was there, holding me. "Bella, what's wrong? What's the matter?" His face held nothing but concern.

I gently pushed against his chest, reluctantly putting space between us, and trying to take some unnecessary air into my empty lungs. "I'm fine. It's just these heels. I never should have agreed to wear them. I just didn't want to disappoint Alice." I said lamely since it was the first lie that came into my mind.

He released me slowly to make sure I had my balance before gently taking my hand and leading me toward the passenger's side of the vehicle. With a flourish, he opened the door and helped me inside, reaching across me and securing my seatbelt. In a flash, he was in the driver's seat, putting the keys into the engine and turning it over. A soft purr replaced the silence in the car and within seconds we were off, the garage door shutting softly behind us.

We drove in silence, the only sound interrupting the dim being the custom engine and Edward's feet as he applied pressure on the clutch and gas as the car continued to increase in speed. We never spoke a word -- never looked at each other.

I had no idea where his mind was, but mine was trapped in the past. I looked at the car and it was like the last ten years had never happened. That he had never left, that I hadn't fallen in love with Jacob – that Grace had never come along.

Suddenly, I was seventeen years old again and that feeling of love and safety, of complete and utter adoration of the man sitting next to me filled my being completely.

But then I saw Grace's face in my mind – her dimples, her perfect little heart-shaped face, her big, somber brown eyes and that image of her ricocheted me back into the present.

Edward had left, I had loved and lost Jacob and my little girl was safe, but I would forever be without her. My resentment reared its ugly head and to try and focus myself, I reached into my large bag, hastily grabbing and pulling out the many lists that I didn't necessarily need as every detail was permanently forged inside my head – but, I desperately needed to keep my hands busy. The soft sounds of the papers rustling as I went back through the details of the party brought me roughly back to the cruel reality that my life was now.

Edward reached toward the interior light, but I waved him off. "I don't need it. We're almost there anyway. Just going over a few things," I told him not wanting to illuminate my despair.

He continued to drive until we reached the campus and then he parked the car and raced around quickly to help me from my seat. He seemed determined not to let me beat him to the punch again. We headed toward the back entrance and walked straight into the kitchen. I winced at the smell of the human food being prepared and as if he could read my mind, Edward rushed the both of us out of there and into the main ballroom.

My breath caught in my throat as my eyes took in the vision that had once been a plain old ballroom. The place was exactly how Alice had drawn it, as if the picture had come to life. The dance floor was empty yet begging for couples to spin and sway, looking to be used and enjoyed.

"I'll be right back. I'll just drop off your coat and then check on the DJ and quartet. Do you need anything else?" Edward asked quietly in my ear so as not to disturb my perusal.

I looked around and found that there wasn't much for me to do, so I nodded. "Thank you, Edward." He helped me off with my coat and I watched him as he walked away. I shook my head and got ready for the night ahead. I just wished that the butterflies in my stomach would settle.

What could possibly go wrong tonight?


The party was in full swing. Thankfully, President Grimm had kept her speech on the short side and wished us all a good evening. Waiters in short white jackets worked the room offering canapés and those custom cocktails, both loaded and virgin, that Alice had insisted on. Everyone seemed to be having a great time and the dance floor was filled to capacity as students and staff twirled and enjoyed both sets of entertainment that Edward had graciously put together for the evening. Staff and students alike commented on how unique this event was and how much they were looking forward to how next year's event might top it. Sure…like I'm ever doing this again!

Alice and Jasper were dancing again, his hand tight around her waist, a rare grin on his face, as he pulled her closer. Edward was dancing with Terri Hatch from our Wednesday night class, a slow number that had them standing together -- rather closely.

She had on a red swing dress, very reminiscent of our theme, with a surplice, criss-crossed bodice, the halter tie on her gown fashioned into a large bow behind her slim neck. She looked rather beautiful with her dark hair piled high on her head, while her tiny body was hugged in all the right places by the fitted bodice.

I could tell that Edward wasn't breathing as he danced with her. My jealousy went into overdrive again, just as it had that night when they worked together on poetry. But I had no rights to Edward and he could be with anyone he wanted.

If he continued with Terri, I wasn't sure I could take being around them. Actually, I knew I couldn't. Maybe he's only attracted to humans. Maybe this is what he did to distract himself as the Cullens moved from place to place, to break up the monotony. But that didn't seem like the Edward I had fallen in love with. He had never seemed that cruel.

Pushing it from my mind I walked toward Mandy when I saw her in the corner looking around with nothing to do."Hey, Mandy. Having fun?" I asked.

She looked exquisite in her peach cocktail length gown. With ruched detailing and a tiered skirt, she looked a bit like a Greek goddess. The braided, beaded straps looking lovely against her pale skin, especially with her long blonde hair twisted up in an elaborate manner near the nap of her neck. But her face held apprehension, and I realized that she was a bit gloomy, regardless of how beautiful she looked.

"Hi, Elizabeth. It's quite a party. Thanks for inviting me," she replied a bit sadly.

"Not having a good time?" The song ended and a new one quickly took its place.

"It's not that. I just don't know anyone and my date had to cancel at the last minute. Maybe I should just go on home," she said dejectedly, as her head turned in the direction of the coatroom.

My mind quickly formulated a plan, but I needed some time. I motioned toward Jasper and Alice, who came quickly. "You remember my teaching assistant, Mandy?" They nodded their heads, not saying a word. Under my breath, I spoke quietly and quickly. "Jasper, please help me out with this – please, please ask Mandy to dance. Please? Just once…"

I saw Alice give Jasper a tiny nudge in Mandy's direction. "Mandy, you look lovely," he said, his lingering southern accent barely noticeable. I caught Jasper subtlety lick his bottom lip, before he cut off the oxygen to his lungs. "Would you care to dance? I'm sure that my sister can spare me for a moment, right Alice?" He looked at his beautiful wife, his eyes holding both love and resignation.

Mandy's back was to me, and I mouthed a "thank you" to the both of them and they smiled back at me.

"I would love to," Mandy shyly replied, offering her hand to Jasper.

I knew that it was five minutes tops and that I would owe Jasper forever, but I was grateful that Mandy was sticking around, temporarily distracted by a dance with a tall, blonde leonine vampire. I turned my attention to my plan to ensure that she had a good time tonight, though the thought of executing it made me nervous.

I hugged Alice, who went to find Carlisle and Esme, before she could reclaim her husband for the rest of the night. I glanced around the crowded room and found exactly what I was looking for. Or rather who I was looking for…

I saw him leaning casually against a wall and approached him quietly. Edward's gaze rose to meet mine, his beautiful crooked smile nearly took my breath away yet again and made me nearly forget what I meant to ask him.

"Bella," he whispered low enough for my ears only, "you really look beautiful. Don't forget you owe me a dance later," he teased.

I couldn't help the shy smile that tugged at the corners of my mouth, and my gaze shifted to the floor, looking at his highly polished dress shoes. "I have a favor to ask, and I hope that you're not offended."

"Ask away," he responded.

"Well, Mandy is here alone and I was wondering if there's anyone…" I paused, not wanting to insult him and not quite sure as to how to proceed, "that's thinking about her…you know what I mean."

Edward looked at me quizzically, but his eyes betrayed that he knew exactly what I was talking about. "I'm not sure I understand what you're asking me, Elizabeth."

I rolled my eyes, but was able to suppress the small sigh that was threatening to make itself known. "You know…is there anyone thinking about her in a romantic way."

He smiled a bit wickedly, but leaned back against the wall and closed his eyes, the look of concentration on his face shifting between amused and angry, until finally a triumphant smile appeared on his beautiful full lips. He opened his eyes, searching for the source of the thoughts.

Edward looked at me, and gently nodded in the direction of Jack Thornton, my colleague in the English department at the university. "He's thinking of her….that she's exquisite and he would love to ask her to dance, but he's afraid she would turn him down," he offered.

I smiled appreciatively in his direction. "Thank you so much. Come and find me when you're ready to collect," I said to him, lightly touching his upper arm through his jacket, momentarily wishing that I never had to let go.

"Don't you worry. I'll be along before it gets too late," he answered, his eyes twinkling with anticipation. He boldly winked at me so I rolled my eyes at him again before walking away.

I walked in the direction of Jack, calling out to him, "Hey, Jack, come on over here. There's someone I want you to meet," I summoned.

He sauntered over, his eyes twinkling. "Hey, Elizabeth. The party is great! You really outdid yourself this year."

I smiled and shrugged at the same time. "I had the help of an excellent party planner. Come with me – like I said, I have someone who I think would be perfect for you."

Jack looked at me with a bit of apprehension in his face, but followed along good naturedly. "What are you up to, Elizabeth?" He asked me in an almost sing-song voice.

I forced my way through the crowd with Jack in tow until I found Mandy again. I lightly tapped her shoulder, careful to make the contact brief due to my cold, hard skin.

Mandy turned, her beautiful smile in place, which widened when she saw Jack for the first time.

I tried, in vain, to hide my smirk, "Mandy, this is my colleague, Jack Thornton."

"Hi," Jack bashfully offered.

Mandy's eyes lit up, her enthusiasm evident as a radiant smile illuminated her features. "Hi yourself," she responded warmly, offering her hand in greeting.

"Well, I'll be over there checking on the bar if you guys need anything. Have a great time," I suggested, winking at Mandy.

I made my way back to one of the stationary bars, checking with the manager to ensure that we had everything that we needed for the remainder of the evening and even asked if everyone was enjoying the signature cocktail they had designed for the event. I heard an old Beatles song, and my foot, which had been resting on a stool, started to rhythmically tap out the contagious beat.

I felt strong hands on my waist, though they were a bit unfamiliar. I was spun so quickly, I almost lost my balance and came face to face with…John Riley.

The smile on his handsome face was tender, his eyes soft and the excitement coming off him was palpable. "Elizabeth, you look so beautiful tonight. Ready for that dance?" he asked. But before I could answer, he gracefully brought me to the middle of the dance floor, right smack dab in the middle of the large group of revelers.

I gasped, unsure of how to extricate myself from the situation without drawing undo attention to myself or embarrassing John.

I went with it and found that John was an excellent dancer. He spun me to and fro, and would bring me tight up against his chest, which was starting to make me rather uncomfortable. I was dangerously close to falling in my deathtraps that Alice lovingly referred to as shoes, but his hand was always there to catch me, continuing to keep both of us in time to the music. His hand would slide from my waist to my fingertips, as he would spin me back in forth in time to the music, his smile growing wider by the moment. If it weren't for the fact that I was dangerously close to falling, I would have called this fun.

"Elizabeth?" he breathed into my ear. He was slowly working us toward the outermost edge of the dance floor, away from the hoards of students and faculty.

I looked at him, not knowing what to say, but instead nodded to indicate that I had heard him. My gut reaction was this was not heading somewhere comfortable.

"I need to tell you something." He pulled me closer to his chest, and I could feel his warm breath on my neck and ear.

I tried to keep my face bright, not wanting to insult him, but knowing that whatever was coming couldn't be good. The music was ending and I tried to extricate myself from his embrace. "Thank you for the dance," I offered as formally as I could trapped in his intimate embrace.

I started to move away from him, before he clasped onto my hand. "Elizabeth," he breathed quietly, his eyes full of something that I didn't dare recognize.

I turned back to look at him, glancing down at his hand holding mine in place. "What are you doing?"

"Holding onto a moment, Elizabeth. I'm trying to hold onto you." And with that, he leaned in, closing his eyes and as if in slow motion, I could see him leaning in to kiss me. I turned my head just in time and instead of contact with my lips, John's lips caught only my cheek. He jumped back slightly, no doubt due to the temperature of my skin.

"John." My voice was more of a stern warning than I intended, and I looked over to see that he was embarrassed. But what really caught my eye was over his shoulder. Edward was barreling toward us, the look on his face one of blatant hostility. "Thank you for the dance, but I'm your instructor. I'm flattered, really I am, but this can't work. You're such a kind and wonderful man and that perfect person is out there waiting for you, but I'm not her. I'm so sorry."

He nodded at me, looking crushed, before his good manners kicked in. "Thank you for the dance, Elizabeth. I'm sorry if I overstepped my bounds." He was still smiling brightly, doing his best to keep whatever dignity he still had intact. His face blushed a light pink, and my heart went out to him.

Edward reached us, and possessively took my arm, jerking me toward him almost roughly. "Elizabeth, I'll claim that dance now." His voice was angry and matched the look on his face.

Why was he so upset?

John stepped in front of him, his face fiercely protective. "Just what do you think you're doing?"

"Excuse me? What do you think I'm doing?" Edward almost growled back at him.

John didn't back down, and Edward pegged him with a hard stare, before I interceded. "John, you remember Edward from class? He's an old family friend. Thanks again for the dance and enjoy the rest of your night. I'll see you Wednesday evening."

Before John could say another word, Edward wrapped his arm around my shoulders firmly, his left hand holding mine, as he moved me to the middle of the dance floor. I couldn't catch my breath as Edward's strong hands slid down my arm, taking my elbow and spinning me forcefully toward him.

My hand naturally found its way to his broad shoulder; the other he snatched up in his hand, him adjusting it from a customary, polite hold to one much more intimate. A slow song, one I wasn't all that familiar with started to play when Edward's hand found its way to my waist.

I remembered how we danced that night of the prom, how his hold on me helped me maintain my balance despite my clumsiness and broken leg. How he held me tightly and his smiles and kisses made the night memorable. I knew I had never stopped loving him. Even after I fell in love with Jacob, Edward held a place in my heart. I may have locked it away and did everything in my power to keep it from surfacing, but it was something I could no longer deny. One thing was absolutely clear. I was completely and irrevocably in love with Edward Cullen– always had been, always would be.

Edward's hand slid to the small of my back, pulling me closer to him and my body instinctively heeded the call. As much as I knew how much it would hurt later, I could no longer resist the lure his body offered me and I molded my body against his, unwilling to even allow enough space needed for a slip of paper between us. If this ended up being the only opportunity I would ever have again to hold him like this and to have him hold me in return, I would take full advantage of it.

He had taken my hand and placed it over where his heart used to beat, covering it with his own when I my ears pick up his lovely tenor voice, singing quietly in my ear.

"You're still the one…"

I knew that Edward was only singing along with the song, but my heart yearned for those words falling from his lips to be real, to tell me that he still loved me and that he had never stopped loving me. My heart begged for him to tell me that the past decade of being apart was just a misunderstanding, something that he never intended to do.

"So if you're feeling lonely…don't"

His singing was a soft whisper in my ear, his beautiful tenor voice so perfect and soft. My body melted into his, unwilling to break contact, while my heart prayed for this song to never end. I knew that if I could stay in his arms, I would never feel lonely again.

"I remember the smell of your skin…"

My mind raced back to that first day in the biology lab, his eyes black with hunger, and how uneasy I was of him, until he told me later how my blood called to him like no other. How he fought his instincts every single time we were together, him torn between wanting to kill me and keeping me safe.

Didn't that mean that he had loved me at least a little? Didn't that count for anything?

"You're the only one I ever want…"

Why couldn't it be real? Why couldn't he just love me as much as I loved him? Why couldn't I be enough for him? His cheek touched mine and I could feel his soft hair as he pulled me closer to him, his velvet voice continuing to sing quietly in my ear. I knew that I was the only one who could hear it, and I laid my cheek on the lapel of his jacket, my eyes half-closed as I faced outward toward the crowd.

I saw Alice and the look on her face was one of shock and excitement, all mingled together. She smiled at me, waving, until Jasper pulled her tighter against him and laid a tender kiss on her lips.

My jealousy came back ten-fold and I forced myself to relax, to just enjoy the moment in Edward's arms, knowing that it would end in a matter of minutes – possibly seconds. I pulled myself even closer to him, my hand clamping down on his thumb, his hand gripping mine like a vice grip.

"Please forgive me – I know not what I do…"

Those words called to my broken heart, hope and heartache all mingled together in a crushing blow. I felt the air in my lungs rush out, and I fought to refill them, my mind in a constant battle with my heart, as I struggled to maintain a calm appearance. The last thing I needed was to misinterpret Edward's actions and make an even bigger fool of myself.

I had barely lifted my head and turned it toward his when I noticed that he had done the same. His golden eyes were molten, pulling me closer to his beautiful mouth, which lay gently open, the scent of his breath hitting my system like a freight train. He leaned in closer, his eyes locked on mine, our foreheads making contact, before he sang again.

"Please believe me – every word I say is true…Please forgive me -- I can't stop loving you…"

He leaned in and my body echoed his movements, until there was only one place left to go. I started to pull away from him, wanting to end things before I embarrassed myself.

"Bella, please," he pleaded, as he tightened his grip on me. He inclined his head toward mine, his beautiful mouth making contact with my lower lip, and then the unimaginable happened.

His kiss deepened.

This was nothing like the kisses we'd shared when I was human. His lips were slightly parted, his sweet breath and scent filling my every cell and making me forget everything else. Before, when I would pull away, so would he. But as I started to draw back, realizing this was just a terrible mistake, he gripped my hair and kissed me even more urgently, his grip on the small of my back pulling me flush against his strong, hard body.

This was it. What I had wished for since that day that changed everything. Running into the Cullens in September… No, I had wished for this since that day when he told me he was leaving all the years ago in Forks.

I pushed those thoughts from my mind, determined to enjoy this moment, knowing that all too soon, he would back off and apologize, explaining that he was caught up in…what?

How could he possibly explain this?

And more importantly, how would I explain kissing him back?

I didn't care. I pushed my lips against him tighter, the rough edge of the kiss invading my mind, knowing that for once, everything in the world seemed right. That my prince had come back for me and still loved me, even if the real story was far from that. I no longer cared what was reality and what wasn't.

For the very first time in more than a decade, I felt…whole.

We had stopped swaying to the music, as our kiss grew more frantic and my hands found their way to his beautiful, soft hair. I pulled him closer to me, until I heard it. Something familiar and yet so unwelcome. A song…an overture that slipped in like an invasion, burrowing its way between Edward and I and snapping me back to reality…just like that.

The pianist that Edward had hired began the familiar introduction to a song that was both bitter and sweet…Debussy's Claire de Lune began to play, it's calm and rhythmic melody bringing a hush to the crowded ballroom and everything fell back into place.

He had left me.

I tried again, only to lose…everything.

And I knew I couldn't go through it again – that the pain wouldn't just cripple me. That it would in essence, kill me.

I broke our kiss, my hand reluctantly finding its way to his chest and pushing him back. He reached for me again, his eyes full of shock and confusion before I pivoted on my heel away from him.

And then I did what he'd done to me all those years ago.

I ran…