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EPOV

Bella.

That girl was at the forefront of my mind. I was always thinking of her, constantly checking my phone for something – a missed call, a text, whatever – from her. I wondered what she was doing. It wasn't a surprise, though. I'd come to terms with the fact that I needed Bella what seemed like ages ago.

Returning home to the gorgeous greens of the Pacific Northwest had been fucking awesome. I hadn't realized how much I'd missed it. The guy who had sublet my apartment while I was gone had fortunately been able to move out on time and have my apartment cleaned, so Jazz and I were literally able to walk in and throw ourselves on the couch for a night of mindless television when we'd returned. But I was spent after our trip, so I'd crawled into bed, picked up my phone from my nightstand where it was charging, and opened a new text message to send Bella a note:

Hello, beautiful. We're home. Phone was dead – sorry for the delayed message. I miss you. See you soon?

I wondered if I would hear back from her. Her delayed response to my initial text and the loss I thought I saw in her eyes the day the girls had left from Tahoe had worried me for the last two days. I'd been a bit of a fucking wreck, wondering if she'd decided that I wasn't worth a real relationship, post-vacation.

It didn't help that once we'd finally been able to get together after I returned, she seemed to be keeping me at arm's length for some reason. It was like she wanted to stay closed off and I didn't understand why, but by the end of the evening, she'd loosened up, and I'd gotten to see my beautiful, happy Bella again.

It was fucking fantastic.

She was perfect and sweet and innocent and sexy. New Year's Eve had been life altering for me; sleeping with Bella was amazing, and it had only cemented the fact that I loved her. It didn't matter that she was somewhat inexperienced. The girl was a vixen, and she had no fucking clue, which only made her sexier.

Of course, she also had issues she wasn't fucking telling me about and it was making me batshit crazy. That much was clear, but I didn't want to push her into talking about something she wasn't comfortable with, as badly as I wanted to know.

I thought about her long dark hair and the way her bangs fell across her forehead as she tucked them behind her ear. Her eyelashes were crazy long and naturally curly. Bella's lips were full and so damned sexy, and her eyes were gorgeous. She was thin, but she had curves in all the right places: a light flair to her hips, a narrow waist, and perfect breasts. I remembered the feel of her soft skin under my fingertips and the way she'd whispered what she'd wanted:

"I want you inside of me."

Fuck me. The mere memory made my body twitch.

But over all of her amazing physical attributes, she was smart and funny. She was sweet. She was caring. I could remember her smile and the surprise that had registered on her face after I'd kissed her in front of all my co-workers at the Inn. I also remembered whispering that I loved her in her ear after we'd made love. Every cell in my body wanted to know whether she'd heard me but I couldn't very well ask, "So, Bella, did you hear me when I whispered sweet nothings in your ear?"

I sighed and flopped into my recliner as I looked around. Jasper had been living on my couch a long-ass time and the quiet was relatively disconcerting, although the crazy storm outside was a constant presence in my auditory senses. It had been so long since I'd actually lived on my own – I didn't count the time at the Inn, because the only thing I really ever did in my room was sleep – and it was something I had to try pretty damned hard to get accustomed to again. But, he and Alice were like this picture of fucking domestic bliss. He was really enjoying living with her, and though it meant he definitely saw Bella more than I did, I was truly happy for him.

Rose and Emmett had stuck it out as well. I could see it in my brother's eyes that he had every intention of proposing one day, probably sooner rather than later, and I was happy for him, too. Our parents would love Rose and we both knew it. I wondered when he'd make the big introduction.

When I thought about my and Bella's relationship, I wondered where we were headed.

I really fucking couldn't picture my life without her in it anymore, but she'd remained distant except for a few incidences where it seemed she'd let her guard down for a while. A few days after we'd arrived home, we'd gone to dinner and I'd gotten to see that goddamned gorgeous smile she had – the one that made her eyes light up and spread from ear to ear. She'd laughed and laughed that evening and told me she had plans with Rose in a few days time.

That made me happy just because I wondered how Alice's newfound relationship would impact my Bella; it looked like she was dealing with it well, but it made me glad to see she would be able to spend some time with Rose.

Part of me also wondered if she was feeling any kind of pressure to take our relationship to the next level, whatever that was. Rose and Emmett, and Jasper and Alice moving in together had, at first, seemed fucking crazy and too fast, but when I took a step back and looked at my brother and best friend, I knew it was just how they worked. Jasper was an all-or-nothing kind of guy, and Emmett, once he'd set his mind to something, was unstoppable. All of his former trophy girlfriends had never challenged him mentally, and I knew that was the main draw for him to Rosalie. She could call him on his shit and make his heart stop with a smile. They were perfect for each other.

In spite of all of that, I didn't want to rush things with Bella and me. I mean, hell, I wasn't even sure what was going on between us. I knew she liked me, and her sweet response to my text that evening had been a sign that perhaps she was moving out of uncertainty and into comfort at the idea of us being together. She still hadn't told me about her past, but I felt certain that there was some douche-bag involved whose ass I would want to kick once she did.

As I sat there in my recliner, enjoying the light show the storm was putting on outside, I flipped open my phone and read her text from Sunday night when we'd returned home. She had responded quickly, and hers were the last words I thought of before I fell asleep that evening.

The smile on my lips as I pictured her beautiful face – her mouth a small grin and her eyes bright and wide – was not something I could have stopped if I wanted to.

I thought about this ridiculous journey she and I had been down. I shook my head as I remembered the first night we'd met, and I was so glad we'd moved beyond it.

For the first time in weeks, I thought of Angela and how fucking broken I was after her. When I told Bella about her, she'd looked at me in such understanding that in hindsight, it made me really sad. The look of recognition of the negative impact that break-up had had on me could only mean that she'd been that hurt. Again, thoughts of wanting to cause physical harm to the asshole that had done that to her crossed my mind, but they were quickly replaced with contentment over the fact that Bella was my new lease on relationships in general. I didn't care that we'd had a rough start; I would fucking be whatever she needed me to be, even if it meant standing at arm's length until she came to terms with whatever was going on internally.

I sighed loudly and stared into space thinking of my Bella.

"So damned beautiful," I muttered to myself as I stood to walk to my kitchen, tugging at the waist of my pajama pants as I moved. I hadn't bothered to get dressed that day – I wasn't working, and my only plans for the day had been to relax and play a little guitar. My hair was probably standing on end, but I couldn't have cared less. Once I arrived in the kitchen, I opened a Coke and sipped it as I considered turning on some music but decided against it.

After a few more sips, I walked back to my room and picked up my guitar, settling it on my knee as I took my seat in the recliner again. With my free hand, I took one more drink of my soda and placed it on the coffee table in front of me and finally began to strum the song I'd played the night that Bella and I had made love. I sang softly to myself, Harrison's words really fucking poignant as I thought about her.

"Something in the way she moves… attracts me like no other lover…"

The song was so fucking fitting; I idly wondered if Bella knew I thought of her every time I sang it. I'd listened to it – basically on repeat – for the entirety of our trip home, thoughts of Bella running rampant through my mind.

After I ran through George Harrison's masterpiece as I sat there in my apartment, I started playing random melodies as they came to mind. I had just grabbed a pen to make a few notes on what I'd played when there was a knock at my door. I placed my guitar on the floor, strings up, and stood, stretching my arms above my head as I walked across my living room and to the doorway. I assumed it was Jasper, stopping in to pick up something he'd forgotten, and I was ready to tease him for coming all that way in the crazy ass weather, but when I opened the door, I was proven wrong.

Bella stood there, looking absolutely fucking gorgeous.

And… flushed.

And soaking wet from the rain.

In response, I stood there, frozen like a goddamn idiot as she looked at me. Finally, I ran my hand through my hair, about to insist that she come inside, when she said words that made my jaw drop.

"I heard you that night," she said. "I heard you. I love you, too."

Instantly, without my even thinking about it, I reached for her, pulling her toward me and into my apartment. The rain was coming down in sheets. I wrapped my arms around her, not giving a shit about the fact that she was cold and wet, and leaving splotches on my chest and pants.

She loved me.

Nothing else mattered.

I pulled her a few steps inside the entryway, closing the door before whispering in her ear. "I've wanted to know whether you heard me or not all this time," I said, my voice fervent as I breathed her in.

"Well… I did," she said, and I couldn't help but laugh a little. It was everything I'd wanted to hear, and while I still couldn't make sense of the fact that she'd held me at a distance on and off since we'd met, I didn't care. I just wanted to be there, in that moment with her, both of our histories and whatever the fuck else be damned.

I leaned down and gently pressed my lips to hers, tasting her again. Our kiss when we'd gone out on Friday had been fantastic, but the feeling of her mouth on mine, of her body contoured against mine, all paired with the fact that she'd heard me that night was almost too much. I found my breathing becoming uneven quicker than I'd like to admit, and when we pulled away from each other, I kept my eyes closed for a moment, focusing on the precise way it felt to stand there with her like that.

Then, in typical Bella fashion, she remarked, "This place is nice."

This time, my laugh was louder, and I said, "Yeah. I like it a lot. Are you alright?" She was shivering, and although I knew the air conditioner wasn't running, I didn't want her to get sick.

She looked up into my eyes and I smiled at her. "I'm a little chilly," she admitted before pausing. A look of uncertainty flickered in her eyes, but was replaced with what could only be labeled as resolve when she said, "Can I sit down? I need to tell you something. A lot of things, actually."

"Of course, Bella. You don't even have to ask. Do you want a sweatshirt or something to change into?" I asked her, but I had ulterior motives. After all of this time, I knew Bella loved me, but I was suddenly worried about whatever it was she had to tell me. I wondered if it would overwhelm me. I wondered if she would want me to remain calm or freak the fuck out or what. As a result, taking a second away from her to take a breather before coming back to her story seemed like a good idea.

She answered me, cutting off my internal questioning. "Yeah, if you really don't mind…"

Her gaze fell to the floor as her voice trailed off, and I lifted my thumb and finger to her chin, making her look me in the eye again. "I don't," I replied, pausing for effect. "Go ahead and sit down. I'll bring you something; you can change in my bathroom."

She nodded, and as I watched her move toward my couch, I slipped away to my room. Once there, I pulled out my old UW sweatshirt and couldn't help the idiotic grin that was plastered on my face at the thought of her wearing my clothes.

And the fact that she loved me.

God, you're such a chick, Cullen, I thought to myself, but even my self-flagellation did nothing to lessen my smile as I returned to Bella, who was sitting on my couch with a look of absolute determination on her face.

I handed her the sweatshirt and pointed her in the direction of my bathroom. Once she had closed the door, I picked up my guitar and moved it out of the way so that she could stretch out if she wanted, and then took a seat on my chair. Anxiety was sitting in my stomach like a goddamn weight, making me uncomfortable, but when she returned from the bathroom wearing my old, gray sweatshirt, I shoved it all away, prepared to listen to anything she had to say.

She sat on my sofa and leaned forward so that her elbows were on her knees, and then she started to speak. "There was this guy, Mike. He was an asshole. He was the only guy I'd ever slept with before you, and he used me. I was his dirty little secret. He made me feel unworthy of a real relationship, and that's why I tried to leave the night… on New Year's Eve. I felt like I had to leave when he was done with me."

My jaw fell open and I could hardly control my thoughts. I didn't know the guy, but that hardly mattered. The resignation in her tone was proof that this asshole had twisted her self-worth until it had broken, and I was seething. That motherfucking bastard. If I ever see him I will personally shove my foot so far up his ass that…

But then she started talking again and I focused on her words. I moved to sit near her on the couch.

"And a couple days ago, I was on campus dealing with registration, and this creep Jake tried to put the moves on me. It was so damned disgusting. I thought about a conversation Rose and I had this week, where she told me that I had to let go and let you be what I needed you to be in my life. She said I needed to learn to trust, and I realized she was right. You could be my Emmett or my Jasper." She sighed and looked up at me, her eyes serious. "I know that I'm laying a lot on you right now, but what I really needed to say was that even though Mike fucked me over, I know it's not your fault. I want you to know that I want to be with you, and only you. I need you. I'm sorry for pushing you away like I have been. I see clearly now."

Bella took a breath and looked me in the eye. "You're not Mike or Jake. You never have been, and you never will be."

I let her words hang in the air for a moment before I said anything. "Bella, I'm really fucking sorry. Any guy that treats a girl the way Mike treated you is a bastard who deserves an ass kicking, and about that Jake guy... The thought of him even trying to touch you makes me want to punch him in the face, and I'm sorry for his actions, too." I paused and moved from my seat into a kneeling position before her. She sat up straight and I put my hands over her knees. "You're right, though. I'd never hide you away. I wanted the world to fucking know we were together in Tahoe. The same holds true here at home."

She stared at me, her brown eyes burning with an emotion I hadn't seen in them before. I took her in. She was so beautiful, and as I looked at her, her eyes fell to my chest and then slowly made their way back to my face.

"You leaned over and whispered that you loved me in my ear when you thought I was asleep," she said in a quiet voice. I nodded, and she continued. "That was so brave, Edward, whether you think so or not." Bella sighed and said, "I'm sorry it has taken me so long to tell you that I love you, too."

Before the words left her lips, I was shaking my head at her, my eyes wide and focused on her face. "No, Bella. Don't apologize. Just… don't fucking do that. You needed time to process things; I get that. I love you, Bella. So fucking much. Don't apologize for anything." I moved closer to her, walking forward on my knees. I felt my arms wrap around her upper body as I pulled her into my chest. Her inner thighs grazed my sides, and I felt her arms wrap around my waist. We held each other that way for a long time; long enough that my knees were hurting from staying in one position for too long, but I didn't give a fuck.

The air was thick with emotion and intention and healing. I felt the final scars I'd been left with in Angela's absence become smaller, almost invisible. Bella relaxed more and more as time went on, and I hoped that the injuries she'd been living with thanks to assholes like Mike and Jacob were being massaged away as well.

I loved her. She loved me.

Those simple words were on repeat in my mind as I let my arms fall slack from around her body. She slipped her hands up my stomach and chest until they were on either side of my face. "I love you," she said simply and then she kissed me again.

Her lips were soft and pliable as they moved against mine, and as we kissed, I moved to her side, lifting my body so that I was next to her on the couch. Gingerly, I pulled her to me, and slowly, she made her way into my lap. Bella straddled me, her hands never leaving my face or hair, and as our tongues and lips pressed back and forth between us, something released in me: Every ounce of paranoia, every bit of uncertainty, every tiny bit of pain that had ever impacted me over my past relationships. All of it flew far away from me, and all that fucking mattered was Bella, the moment we were in, and our future.

We would make it; I was absolutely certain. If we had made it this far, I knew we could handle anything: our histories, our idiosyncrasies, our goals for the future.

Everything.

And I would make sure she knew I loved her every goddamned day, forever.

AN: There we have it. They are home, happy, and finally understand one another fully. I sincerely hope you enjoyed this story, and the way that Bella and Edward found their happily ever after.

If you've read and reviewed at all along the way, it was and is truly appreciated. Thank you. - - ahizelm & HammondGirl