Disclaimer: I own nothing. It's SM's world, I just play in it.
A/N: So sorry it took so long to get this out. There really is no excuse just an explanation. But the point is that I am back and I am back for good. I hope this chapter makes up for the long absence.
P.S - This chapter is dedicated to Savage_Woman, my wonderful beta and right hand woman, and Javamomma0921, who gave me the final shove needed to get this chapter done.
The plane ride had been a freaking nightmare. Our entire trip had been plagued by ruthless turbulence that shook the plane to no end, but Emmett's protective embrace had made the trip, not only bearable, but also somewhat enjoyable. Still, after that flight, all I wanted was to curl up in his arms and doze off.
"We're here." Emmett's voice broke through my mental fog, "Welcome to the Holiday Inn, Princess."
I absentmindedly rubbed at my eyes, focusing on the image in front of me. We pulled into the well-lit parking lot of the four-story hotel. The starkness of the white and cream stucco set against the night sky was imposing, but the warm brick of the first level eased the harshness. The windows and shutters of each of the rooms were flat against the exterior walls, lending to the minimalistic style of the structure.
Emmett parked the rental and gave my hand a squeeze before he got out. He quickly made his way over to my side, and a blast of warm humid air hit me in the face when the door opened. As soon as I stepped out of the car, Emmett retrieved our bags and led me to the double sliding door at the entrance of the hotel. When the doors opened, a blast of cool air blew my hair back from my face, a refreshing change from the mugginess of the outside world.
Decorated in warm neutral tones, the lobby was sophisticated yet relaxing. Emmett piled our bags onto a trolley cart before gently leading us to the reception desk. A pretty redhead smiled at us as we approached but the way she raked her eyes over Emmett's body immediately put me on the alert.
"Good evening and welcome to the Holiday Inn. How may I help you?" Her saccharine voice cut through the deafening silence of the lobby as her eyes practically undressed him right where he stood. Emmett eyed her warily before pulling me into his side. Hah! Take that!
"Hello, I have a reservation under Cullen." I nuzzled myself into his embrace as he spoke, his deep voice lulling me.
"Oh, Yes. One non-smoking suite with twin beds for a week long stay." A smug look spread across the receptionist's face as she continued to devour him with her eyes, "If there is anything you or your sister need, please don't hesitate to let me know."
Bella, you can't let her get away with that. She's hitting on your boyfriend right in front of you. Come on now; show some of that newfound assertiveness. Jealousy prickled at me for the first time in my adult life, and an overwhelming need to put this woman in her place took over. So, I gave in and just let her have it.
"Oh, he's not my brother. He's my boyfriend. "I snuggled closer to Emmett as I spoke and, thank God he caught on, he placed his hand securely around my waist, "And we won't need twin beds. That must have been a mistake. Trust me; one bed is all we need."
My heart hammered in my chest. It was the first time I'd ever done something like that, and it felt surprisingly good. I could never have done something like that with Mike. Any sort of display and he would make a snide comment about how unlady-like I was acting. I ventured a look into Emmett's face and almost burst out laughing at the glazed look on his face. Clearly, his mind was going to his happy place.
By the time I came down from my assertive Bella high, I noticed the receptionist slip the sleeve containing our room keys to Emmett. Emmett took it before mumbling a short thank you and gently led us away.
"No problem. We hope you enjoy you stay here at the Holiday Inn," she said before giving Emmett a wink with her smile.
When Emmett opened the door to the room, I sighed at the simplistic beauty of the accommodations. The room was decorated similarly to the lobby. The walls were a warm beige but the dark green signature accent wall really made the room pop. . The front room of the suite held a small living room and kitchenette. But what really caught my eye were the en suite room accommodations. The receptionist had apparently upgraded us to a room with one large plushy bed. Nice going Bella, guess that display paid off, huh. The queen-sized bed had a Dark, rich wooden headboard and was covered in a signature white comforter. The crowning jewel, however, was the large whirlpool sized tub complete with jets and mirror next to the bed.
Almost as if he could sense where my mind was going, Emmett stepped in to the room. "If you want, I can sleep on the pull out sofa." He rubbed circles on my shoulders as he spoke, hoping to break the tension in the room. He knew I hadn't shared a bed with a man before, and he was just trying to make me comfortable. Still, I had never wanted a man the way I wanted Emmett Cullen, and the fact that I loved him, just made the thought even more appealing.
"No, it's fine. I have no problem sharing a bed with you, Em Bear. I trust you." I leaned into him, my body tingling with the anticipation of sleeping next to him for the night.
"Ok, then. Let's get some rest. We've got a big day ahead of us tomorrow. And you need your rest," he whispered into my ear as he stroked my hair, the sensation sending shivers through my body.
"Ok, just let me get changed. I think my pajamas are in my carry-on. Would you mind getting them for me?" I asked, hoping to clear my head. It amazed me how his mere presence intoxicated me.
Calm yourself, Bella. You're letting your hormones take control. You've only been back together for a da,y and you're already falling all over yourself.
"Sure." He released his hold on me before turning and walking out into the adjoining living room.
I was officially the luckiest SOB on the planet. Damn straight. Bella's face was the first thing I saw this morning, and the first feeling I registered was the feel of her warm body against mine. I could die a very happy man, indeed. I had watched her sleep, smiling at her quirky little nuances like the fact that she talked in her sleep and the way she hogged the bed covers. It was amazing.
As she laid here, her body curled into mine with her hand splayed across my chest, the world faded away. It was as if we were in our own private love bubble. I tentatively ran my finger down her cheek, my eyes memorizing her features. She was beyond beautiful, and I drank in her features, committing them to memory to tide myself over when she would no longer be beside me.
We had a lot of shit to get through today, and emotions were not my strongest suit, but she made me want to get everything out. She made me want to make myself vulnerable, if only for just a few moments. Shit, I needed to shoot something.
"Mmhmm, Em. That feels so good." Her sleepy whisper brought me and my anatomy back to reality. A smirk crept up my face as I thought of all the possible scenarios in which those words would fall from her plump lips.
I brought my hand from her waist to trace the outline of her face as she shifted so she was face up on the bed. I watched as her eyes fluttered open and couldn't help but feel like a pussy. Relationships and I were usually exactly like light beer – generic, flavorless, and unsatisfying. But Bella made everything different. She was the exception to my every rule. The woman I never even knew I was looking for.
"How long have you been staring ,Em bear?" she asked, her eyes still closed but a smile gracing her delectable lips.
"Long enough to know you talk in your sleep." I smiled as I flipped through everything she had said.
"Shit." her eyes flew open before she raised herself off the bed and turned to look at me, her eyes sparkling with embarrassment.
"No need to be embarrassed, buttercup. It was extremely informative to know what you really think."
"What did I say?" she asked, her cheeks aflame with that hot as hell blush that seemed to spread across her entire body.
"Not a lot. You kept saying my name, though. Guess that means I'm pretty special, huh?"
"I'm not answering that. No need to inflate your ego. But seriously, I didn't say anything too bad, did I?"
"I don't think so. Now come on. We have a lot to get through today." I slid my legs off the bed and moved toward the bathroom. We had a long talk ahead of us, and I need some chow before I was anywhere near the mental capacity to talk about the inner workings of my emotions.
I wrapped an arm around Bella's waist as we walked through the park. We needed to find somewhere quiet to talk. How I wished that our previous conversation had been enough for us to just forget this whole mess; but I knew better. I could do better. My free hand tightened on the blanket I was holding as I regained control over my breathing.
I gently led Bella to a nearby tree that would provide both shade and privacy as I got a hold of myself. I laid out the blanket as I concentrated on my heartbeat and forced my breaths to match it. I steadied myself: my breathing controlled, my hands steady, and my heartbeat slow and even. Perfection. Time to move in for the kill.
"Come here." I sat on the blanket before pulling her down and against me. I snaked my arms around her waist, pulling her closer to me before I pulled the trigger. She leaned her head against me and let out a contented sigh as the rays of the sun washed over her.
"I know you still have doubts about coming here with me but haven't really had time to deal with them. So, I thought, now that we were here, I could alleviate them for you. I want to tell you everything, my entire reasoning behind the epic shit storm that was my stupidity."
"This should be interesting," Bella quipped, but still, she settled further into me and reclined, making herself more comfortable.
"I've been in ten years. In those ten years, I've watched more marriages fall apart than I care to count. Guys get hurt, it's a fact we live with every day. We're gone a lot, another fact. We miss a lot of things. I've missed birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, and every pretty much every damn special occasion in the book. And I can't change that," I huffed, my arms tightening around Bella's waist, willing her to understand.
"I know that, Em. I know that you might not always be there. I knew that before this whole thing between us started. What hurt most was that you wouldn't let me decide if it was something I wanted. Something that I was willing to accept as a condition of us being together." Bella placed her hands over mine and squeezed, her actions letting me know that, despite her anger, she still cared.
"I understand your anger, and I know I screwed up. But in my experience, when it comes down to it, most women just don't want to deal with absentee husbands, or even worse, a husband who willingly risks his life on a daily basis. They don't want the constant worry and the long separations. And part of me thinks they shouldn't have to."
"I understand that, Em bear. I do; but I would like to think that I am not most women, especially to you. At the same time, doesn't everyone deserve a chance to have the kind of love that completes a soul? Every man and woman who chooses to do what you do, who chooses public service, sacrifices so much. They shouldn't have to sacrifice that too." Her voice was wavering and slightly pleading, the melody of her inflections washing over me.
"I wish it was as easy as saying that they shouldn't sacrifice love too, Bells. But, there is only so much a person can take. Everyone has a breaking point, and it isn't just spouses who suffer. Everyone we care suffers because of our decision," I trailed of, willing myself to share. To share the moment when I realized the true extent of what my choice cost my family.
"What happened?" Almost as if she could read my mind, she tightened her hold on me, turned her head, and placed a kiss on my chest.
"When I first left, Alice and my mom were devastated. Mom couldn't understand why I wanted to do it. It wasn't like I needed the money for college or the money in general," I said, shaking my head. "But, they let me go." I paused to gather my thoughts.
I released the air in my lungs before plunging ahead. "The night before I shipped off to basic, Alice was devastated beyond anything I had ever seen. She wouldn't let go. So I knelt down in front of her, and I made her a promise. I promised that if she ever needed me, I'd be there for her." An image of Alice's stricken face passed through my mind. As always, the memory carried it's fair share of guilt.
"I broke my promise exactly three weeks later when she broke her hand falling out of a tree." I hugged Bella tighter to me and buried my nose in her hair, inhaling.
Pulling back, I cupped her cheek and turned to her face to look at me. She needed to understand this next part. "See I'd made that same promise to the United States Government, and I was forced to learn you can't make that promise twice, and mine had already been made."
"Still, you wouldn't change it for the world, would you?" Her tone wasn't accusatory, just resigned. And fleetingly, I wondered if those words would ever fall from her mouth with venom or in spite.
"Not a chance in hell. I tell you this, not because I want a pity party, because believe me, few things make me happier than what I do on a daily basis. I'm telling you because I want you to understand the reality to what it means to love me and having me love you in return. I know it won't be easy."
"I know that. I accept that. I always have. But, what happened with Alice in your story?" The and with the rest of your family? went unspoken but still heard.
"As time went on, Alice forgave me; and after Seth, she even began to understand why I chose to live this life. Hell, even my parents have come to understand. But, understanding or not, it doesn't change the fact that my life can be a burden to Alice and my family."
"My mother worries constantly, but I can't be there to ease her suffering; it's my dad that has to pick up the pieces. Alice loves me, but she's had to live her life without me there. My mom almost never sees me and has to deal with the fact that both her sons risk their lives on a daily basis especially when Seth chose to become a combat engineer. My dad loves us too but still wonders how we ended up so different from him."
"And Seth, he and I? We get it; we get each other. And we're probably closest to each other despite the huge age gap." I couldn't help the smile on my face as I thought about my brother. Not everything was bad.
"Wow. That was surprisingly insightful. I understand, somewhat, why you did what you did. You didn't want that for me, that half relationship." I leaned forward, my head resting against her. She smelled wonderful, like fresh rain with just a hint of citrus. And underneath, that distinct, captivating scent that was all Bella.
"In a nutshell. Thank you, Bells. For everything. I know it wasn't easy for you to take this leap, and I just wanted to you to know that I appreciate you coming with me. I appreciate you loving me. I appreciate you willing to put up with who I am."
"It wasn't much of a choice, Em. Your mind was pretty much made up when you came to my door. And my heart had decided the moment you asked." She turned her head slightly and looked up at me. "It was my head that just couldn't reconcile everything fast enough. And by the time everything finally clicked, all I was thinking about was the road we were on."
"The road we were on?" I asked, a little freaking confused by her wacked out metaphor and the way her body was wiggling against mine.
"You know, sometimes we just start on a path that we can't ever turn back from. Sometimes we make a decision that we just can't undone. That's you for me, Em. Once we made the decision to start this thing, there was no turning back."
"You know that kind of makes sense, and you're right. There is no way I can go back to my life without knowing you'll be there too. But enough of this heavy stuff, let's have some fun." I wagged my eyebrows suggestively hoping I could make her laugh.
She giggled before asking, "What did you have in mind?" Her eyes wide with curiosity and the echo of her giggles still lingered in the air.
"Easy. Let's take a walk by the stream and maybe find a secluded tree."
"You're incorrigible. You know that, right?" And when she smiled and her entire face lit up with excitement, I couldn't help but remind myself that I was the luckiest SOB on the planet.
Bella pulled away from me, and my body immediately responded to the loss. She stood up, dusted herself off, and graciously extended her hand out to me. I grabbed her hand before pulling myself up and lacing our fingers together.
"Come on, big boy, my legs could use a stretch, and my butt could use the rest," she said before standing on her tiptoes and brushing her lips against mine, a gentle peck that lit my body on fire. Who knows, maybe I could convince her to find a secluded tree.
And that was that. I pulled her along, our hand entwined and our bodies just inches apart. I wanted us to get to know each other better. From the beginning, we'd been drawn to each other like moths to a flame. I knew, without a doubt, that I loved her, but I was leaving soon. That would be our time to build a foundation. I wanted to know what made her tick and what made her the woman that dominated my very first and last thought of each day.
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