Disclaimer: It's been so long...Let me see if I remember how to do this... I'm not Stephenie Meyer. I wish I was.. yada yada...

Hi, everyone. I sincerely apologize from the bottom of my heart for being away for so long. Things are still bad on the job front...On a different note, I am re-reading the Twilight books, trying to regain my "Essence of Edward" (yummm!!) because I just couldn't channel him for the longest time...and I've missed him. But hopefully I am getting back on track, now...

Ch11 Excursions

EmPov

The line to get off the ship was ridiculously long. Apparently, although there were many different types of excurions, they were all booked at similar intervals. I guess I understood the necessity of it. It was supposed to hurry everything along. We would only be in Nassau for about eight hours. The time restraint meant people could only cram in two or three excursions at the most.

Rose leaned against me and craned her neck to see around the masses in front of us and down the long walkway that lead from the ship to the port. The fortunate people who'd been first in line and who'd made their way out before the crowds had formed, were already assembling in groups on the dock, according to little signs that tour guides held up. I tried to figure out which line we'd be joining, but Rose's attention strayed too much to settle on any one group.

Jasper and Alice spoke in hushed tones and laughed aloud every now and then. They looked genuinely thrilled to be standing in a line together. As if this was the most wonderful thing either of them had ever done in their lives. I snorted in their direction, drawing a nod from Rose.

Bella carried a small bag that no doubt held whatever essential beauty supply crap that women usually bring with them. Every few minutes she pulled out a tube of lip gloss and reapplied it like it was going out of style. It drove Edward crazy every time she puckered her lips. I tried hard not to laugh at his obvious weakness.

Five minutes stretched into ten and ten turned into twenty, but finally, there was a light at the end of the tunnel. Apparently the holdup was all due to the crazed photographer at the bottom of the steps. Why did they need a picture for every little thing? I scowled at him, but Rose looped her arm through mine and smiled. "Come on. Our first picture together. Let's make it good!"

Bella and Alice overheard this and scrambled even more frantically through their little bags, reapplying whatever makeup they thought they needed. The whole thing was a comical commotion.

Rosalie subtly checked her reflection in a small mirror and after realizing she needed no touch-ups, stuffed it back into her bag and muttered "All set". A smile, a click, and it was over and we were free at last.

After the rest of our little group was done with pictures, Bella led the way down the pier. Her brisk pace had Alice nearly running to keep up.

"Here it is!" Bella exclaimed, happily, and slighlty out of breath as we reached the very last group assembled on the pier. The tour guide held up a sign that simply said "Exploration Extravaganza" in bold letters. Even though the title was a little vague, it was a good sign. After all, the 'extravaganza' meant something amazing was going to happen. Bella handed our six tickets to the tour guide and he smiled, welcoming us.

"Ok. Sorry about the delay, but we are still waiting for one more person." The tour guide told us as he looked around. Alice grumbled something along the lines of how it was a good thing we had hurried to get here so we could wait some more.

While we waited for our last straggler to show up, the other groups on the pier started leaving. We watched as the crowd from "Excellent Expeditions" filed past us, waving as they headed to their destination. There were a lot of younger children in that group. I frowned and became suddenly very suspicious of the 'excellence' implied. I noticed that there were very few children standing in our line. Thank God!! It was mostly young couples like us. Adventurous couples, waiting to brave their exploration of... what?

On the pier, only a few feet away, two obnoxious younger guys made cat calls as various girls walked past. A few girls smiled, happy for the attention, but most just gave him dirty looks and kept going. I cringed as the guys made plans to meet up again in a few hours, then parted ways with annoyingly loud goodbyes, and the darker haired one sauntered over to join our group.

"Ok, everybody. Yes - your prayers have been answered! I'm here now, so we can get this excursion underway. And, by the way, I want all of you lovely ladies to know that I'm a lifeguard too, so if anyone's life needs saving today, you know who your go-to guy is!" he winked, clicked his tongue, and lowered his Christian Dior sunglasses over his eyes, all the while grinning as if he were master of the universe. Complete lack of subtlety. Who the hell did this guy think he was? The little prick had expensive tastes, I'll give him that much.

He wasted no time checking out the women in our line, looking them up and down trying to figure out which one he would honor with his presence. It would only be a matter of time before he spotted our girls. As irritated as I was by his pretentious behavior, Edward seemed even more on edge. He cracked his knuckles in a menacing way as he glared at our late arrival. Something about this guy really seemed to rub Edward and Bella the wrong way. Surprisingly, the new guy ignored their frowning faces. In fact, he ignored all of us and quickly pushed his way toward the front of the line.

"Jackass!" Alice muttered as he walked past her with that stupid smile still plastered on his face. It was then that 'Mr.Smooth' noticed the vivacious red-head near the front and stopped to lean over and whisper something in her ear. She giggled in a very girly fashion, played with a long lock of her mane, and seemed instantly taken with him.

"Can you believe that guy? And that red head's obviously asking for trouble. Yeah, well. Better her than me." Rose said without much sympathy for the girl. She seemed to be able to read my mind.

"So obnoxious!! Could he be any more irritating?" Alice groaned loudly as Mr. Smooth applied a generous amount of baby oil to his protruding pecs and flat abs.

"Yes, he can. Trust me." Bella sneered as we piled into a small boat waiting at the end of the pier. A quick call to order and everyone's attention was again focused on the upcoming fun of the excursion.

And they loaded the animals two by two...

"Look at the water! I can't believe how clear it is. You can practically see all the way down to the ocean floor. And that color...incredible...!!." I realized I was rambling. I marveled a while longer at the brilliant blue green color of the ocean water out here as we took turns filing in on the excursion boat.

"You like the color?" Rose asked as her face suddenly lit up, filled with elation. She looked as pleased as a bird that'd just eaten a canary. It was then that her eyes locked onto mine and I realized why the color had such a profound affect on me. The waters of the Carribbean are the same shade as Rosalie's eyes.

"It's beautiful. I love it." I smiled, staring straight ahead at her. When I told her that her eyes were beautiful, I didn't just throw that out there, casually. I've seen a lot of blue eyes in my time. I dated tons of barbie doll girls with blond hair and blue eyes and no depth in their eyes. But theirs were always just plain blue. Vaguely pretty girls had ice-blue eyes like Jasper. But none had the unique aquamarine color that Rose had. She just might be the most strikingly gorgeous female on the planet. Of course, I might be a little biased.

With everyone securely seated on board, we sped off to our destination. It didn't take very long. About fifteen minutes into sailing, we stopped at a secluded area, out in the middle of nowhere and began unloading, much in the same fashion that we had all boarded. We waded out into the water. It was only waist deep. Well, barely chest deep for Alice. I didn't see any jet skis, boats, scuba gear...nothing fun. What the hell...?!

The tour guide cleared his throat to get everyone's attention once again. "Ok everyone, I am chumming the water, now, and our visitors are starting to arrive. Don't be afraid. Gather around and take some of this food if you'd like to feed them. As you can see, you don't need to be in very deep water to explore certain marine life. They're very gentle creatures as long as you are non-threatening. They'll swim right up to you if you just put your hand in the water and hold the food out to them. Keep your palm flat. Yep, like that." He went on, distributing food and demonstrating to a young girl how to hold her hand steady and feed the stingrays that were now swarming around us. Apparently they knew the routine pretty well. A few girls squeeled as the stingrays brushed by them or took the food out of their hands. I stood there, numb. This couldn't be it...could it?

"This is our excursion? For real?!... It's not exactly death defying is it?... Can't we wrestle them or something?" I asked Rose, looking around, wondering when we got to feed sharks or something more exciting. She grinned, slid her free hand down my back, letting it rest seductively close to my ass, and whispered to me in a giggling voice. "No. You don't get to wrestle the sea creatures, my big strong brute. Try to keep an open mind and have fun, anyway. Who knows. Maybe, if you're good, I'll let you wrestle me later."

What was she doing? Trying to drive me crazy?! Thank God for the group of stingrays that decided to swim in front of me at that exact moment. Perfect timing. I reached out to touch one and tried to quickly calm myself down before my cover swam away to the next outstretched hand.

Jasper and Edward both had similar looks of sappy confusion on their faces as Bella and Alice whispered encouraging words to them. More than a couple times, Edward had to steady Bella when the waves and current picked up and nearly knocked her over. She was the clumsiest girl I'd ever seen. Or maybe the craftiest. Either way, she had found a great excuse for getting Edward's hands on her. No complaints from him, either.

Alice might've been carried away, if it wasn't for the fact that once the tides became strong, Jasper had dumped all of his fish food and opted for carrying her around like the little rag doll she was. She squeeled as Jasper occasionally lowered her down and sprays of water splashed her face.

When all of the stingrays left to swarm around Jasper's now abundant food deposit, I pulled Rose in and held her tightly in front of me. I softly kissed the back of her neck and breathed in the sweet scent of her french perfume. It wasn't until I felt the contact with her smooth skin again, her hair cascading down my chest, that the delicious memories came back in full force and I realized I had been going through some sort of Rose withdrawal. I wanted more than anything to leave with her, right then. Get her back to the ship. Back to my room and ... but that would have to wait. As far as I could tell, everyone else seemed to be enjoying this maddening water foreplay.

The jackass lifeguard who I'd come to hear was named James, stopped blatantly making out with the redhead girl, apparently deciding he was getting bored with her. She'd been too easy to command attention from. There was no challenge with her and he was definitely the type of ego-maniac that felt the need to conquer everything. His gaze eventually strayed, looking for tougher prey. When he noticed Bella in Edward's arms, a look of unsurpassed rage came across his face. It somewhat distorted his pretty-boy features. He tried to downplay his frustrataion, unsuccesfully.

Rosalie caught the sudden change in his demeanor and laughed at the disappointment on James' face. Surprisingly, that didn't set him off in another fit of anger. Instead, his eyes lowered and he gave Rose a smoldering look that I knew all too well. He was trying to turn on the charm, once again. Even though it was apparent that Bella was his intended target and first choice, he wasn't above trying to get a little side action in the meantime.

"If I remember you, I'm sure you remember me. So...See anything you like?" he asked, his voice thick with want as he flexed his muscles. That was it! Someone needed to teach this jackass about boundaries and I decided I was just the man for the job. I set my jaw and started off in his direction, intent on knocking that stupid grin off his face, when Rose stopped me. She turned to face me and threw her arms around my neck as she purred seductively.

"I do now..." she said in that velvety smooth voice that melted me. Then she whispered in my ear "Don't waste your energy on that asshole. I want you in good shape for me." I don't know how she does it, but I've come to realize that Rose has the uncanny ability to both comfort me and excite me at the same time. I stopped seething and focused my efforts on slowly kissing Rose's perfectly pink lips. Although it wasn't my usual means of fighting back, I understood that it didn't always take brute strength to defeat your enemy.

EPOV

The sky extended in all directions above me and filled the horizon. The varying shades of blue sky and aquamarine ocean had a pleasnatly tranquil effect on me despite the increasing currents. I held Bella securely, keeping her from getting knocked off her feet. At least, that was the original gentlemanly intent. She felt too wonderful in my arms and I eventually found myself emboldened enough to take extra liberties with her. I touched her face every now and then, slowly tracing her lips. My arms still holding her now were more than the initial need to keep her safe. Every brush against her heightened my sense of awareness. I thought I was going to go out of my mind when she laid her head against my chest and sighed.

She looked up at me and blushed often, but always smiled at me in that inviting way, letting me know I wasn't overstepping my bounds. She was the perfect balance of sweet and sultry and her smile sent me on a rush, the likes of which I'd never known. It was like throwing gasoline onto a burning fire. The flames all but consumed me and I suddenly found myself wanting more of this mysterious angel. I closed my eyes and let my mind drift back to the passionate kiss we'd shared. I could almost taste the butterscotch on her lips. Strange... She hadn't blushed at all during that kiss. At first I thought it was because the kiss hadn't meant anything to her, but now that I analyzed it more, I wondered if I'd misjudged her. Maybe the real reason she hadn't blushed during that kiss was because she felt safe under the guise of necessity. We'd convinced ourselves that the kiss was warranted, that it was an absolute necessity to ward off the unwanted advances of the idiot who was swimming just twenty feet away from us right now. The fact that I'd gone along with her plan so willingly cancelled out any awkwardness on her part. Hmm...

"Penny for your thoughts..." Bella sang, stirring me back from my daydream. The trusting look on her face cut through all of my defenses and I answered honestly.

"I was thinking about ice cream, actually." I smiled, knowing it would only take her about a half second to make the connection.

She smiled and tightened her hold on me, catching on quickly, but it wasn't her voice that answered.

"That sounds really good, actually. I could go for some ice cream." Alice's little voice chimed, innocently. I didn't mind that she and Jasper had overheard and now decided to swim closer and join in the conversation. I kept my arms wrapped around Bella. Jasper has always had a way of making everyone around him comfortable. Alice was no different. Something about her sweet demeanor and pixie like features automatically put everyone at ease and made her completely trustworthy.

"I think tonight is the midnight chocolate buffet. I'm sure they'll have ice cream there." Jasper answered, eager to please her. "If not, I'm sure we can request it."

"I like strawberry ice cream sundaes best. Sometimes caramel..." She faded off there, and a strange feeling came over me. Why was she still on this subject? Jasper nodded in his happy-go-lucky way.

"Caramel's good." he agreed, stroking Alice's wet hair and avoiding eye contact with me.

"How about you, Edward? Do you have a favorite topping? Whipped cream? Hot fudge?" Her eyes danced with laughter as her lips curled up into a slight smile. "No?? Maybe butterscotch is more your flavor, then?"

Crap! I tried to keep my poker face set as I thought about how to best answer her. My resolve was fading. There was no point trying to deny it. Obviously by now everyone knew about our first kiss. I couldn't help but laugh. I liked Alice. Her somewhat subtle craftiness balanced out Jasper's straight-forward nature.

"Yeah, butterscotch is a new favorite. But you know what I've been wondering about?..."

"Hmm?" She shook her head, waiting for the answer. The set up was too easy.

"If strawberry sundaes are as tasty as..." I paused for effect. "...chocolate-covered strawberries." I looked at her dead-on.

"Touche." She said, humbly.

Jasper grinned, kissed Alice, and let her in on a secret. "If you ever find yourself team captain, remember to pick Edward first to be on your team. As you can see, he's very competitive."

"How interesting. I like a good challenge when I can find it." The lifeguard, James, scoffed, his voice dark. His intrusion into our group drew frowns from my brothers and Bella's sisters.

"Brenda was it? Or Brittany?" he incorrectly guessed, addressing Bella. "Well, I can be competitive, too. And I usually get what I want." Bella's fists crushed against her sides. She was becoming more angry by the second, and she wasn't the only one. I needed to get rid of this guy before he ruined the excursion for everyone. The vein running through Emmett's neck pulsed and throbbed and I had a feeling that this pretty-boy lifeguard was only a few minutes away from a major ass-kicking.

"You obviously have no powers of retention. Did you think she'd be turned on by that whole 'I'm-too-important-to-remember-your-name" routine?! You know what it reveals about you? That you're sloppy. And chances are if you're that bad at a simple aspect of remembering her name, you're probably lacking in...other areas as well." I challenged.

He smiled a condescending smile, put his arm around the red-haired girl and led her off away from the rest of the group without another word. His gaze kept returning to Bella, though, which became very annoying. Why couldn't this guy take a hint?

I was so absorbed in my feelings of irritation, that I never even heard the girl join our group. "Oh, hi. Fancy meeting you guys here." came a soft, meak voice. I recognized the teenage girl. She sat at our dinner table and had been quite mousy with her family around. But they were nowhere in sight now and she was more talkative.

"This is Miranda." I said, thankful that I'd liked her name enough to remember it, as I introduced her to the girls. "Miranda, this is Bella, Alice, and Rosalie. Miranda is one of our fellow guests at the dinner table." I said, answering the upraised eyebrows of the girls.

"Oh...Nice to meet you. So, Are you on this excursion by yourself?" Alice asked, ever friendly.

"Yeah. My mom and Grandma are on this cruise with me, but they don't like leaving the ship to see any of the islands, so it pretty much gives me free reign. I book as many excursions as I can. I just happened to luck out when I booked this one." She giggled abruptly and kept turning to stare in the James' direction.

"Um, I'm sorry, but - do you know that guy or something?" Rosalie asked, after we couldn't ignore her blatant staring anymore.

"I wish!" her answering smile was brilliant. "No. I only know him by name. That's James McHouston the third. He's powerful, rich, gorgeous..." She trailed off and frowned at Emmett's extremely blank look. "Hello? Heir to the McHouston hotel fortune? ring any bells?!"

I shook my head. I hadn't heard of him or his supposedly well-to-do family, either. "Well, let's just say he is a-ma-zing... " She was clearly obsessed with him, which worried me. This sweet, young girl was looking for love in all the wrong places. Of course I largely blamed the media. It told everyone what to think. What to want. Everyone either wanted to be the bad boy or be with him.

"Great. He's some sort of wealthy aristocrat. Probably has unlimited access to whatever resources he wants... and now he's pissed off and has a personal vendetta. You're fascinating, but unfortunately, I think you may have just opened up a can of worms, Edward." Bella grimaced.

A/N: Oh yes.. Edward did indeed open a can of worms...but he's Edward.. and no one can upstage him. :)

BTW - Thanks to all of my readers and friends who have stuck by me and given me words of encouragement as I struggle through. I was drowning in a pool of despair and it took a special message from a dear friend to finally wake me up. I am still working part time, still looking for another job, and still going through several vet procedures with my cat... but it is getting better.

To all those new readers that I noticed popping up lately - Hi! Nice to meet you. Sorry it took me so long to get on the ball. I do answer my reviews, PM's and e-mails, so if I havent gotten to you yet, be patient- I will. I'm getting reaquainted and I look forward to talking to all of you. :)

Most importantly - Thank you to Twilight Laughter for waking me up ... this one's for you!