I don't own Twilight, I've just really screwed Bella up in this one.

AmeryMarie and famouslyso pre-read and set me straight on things. Thank you, girls.

With the light around you
The darkness breaks
Whenever you walk in

When you touch me
Planets in sweet collision

When you touch me
Bullets in conversation
Quietly violent

"Louisiana" - Underworld

-Epilogue: 3 years later-





"Don't worry. I'll take wonderful care of us, you'll see," my mother said, her voice the same as always. Scratchy. Weak. Lifeless.

Her eyes bulged, the whites marred with the crimson stains of broken veins. Dark, mottled, obvious bruises ringed her neck, standing out against the stark chalk-white of her skin. She always looked the same in these dreams. She was the same, her voice was the same, but these dreams were different.

"I'll keep us safe. James can't get to us where I am," she rasped, shuffling forward with all the grace of a zombie, her arms outstretched.

In these dreams―nightmares―I always knew I was dreaming, but I was far from lucid. While these newer creations of my mind were not as detailed as the memories I'd been reliving at night for so long, they were just as terrifying. I had no control―no matter how hard I ran, how much I tried to defend myself and those I loved, no matter how hard I tried to wake myself, it was never enough.

I tried to back away, but my feet would only move millimeters at a time. She was getting so close that I could see the blue nailbeds that tipped her outstretched fingers, and for some reason, the sight of them was worse than the bruises on her neck. The sting of tears pricked my eyes, and the weight of dread filled my chest until I almost couldn't breathe.

My tongue stuck to the roof of my mouth, making it difficult to speak. "No...Renee!"

"You have to do this. You know you can't protect them."

Right. Because I couldn't protect her when she'd needed it.

"You're wrong. You don't know me now. All you know is then!" Summoning all my strength, I turned to run, clutching the bundle in my arms tight to my chest. It was like running through thigh-deep water.

Straight ahead, I could see Edward waiting for me, yelling for me to hurry. A quick look back told me I wasn't making much progress. My mother didn't seem to have the same difficulty I was having in the running department―she was rapidly catching up to me. Still I ran, knees high, lungs burning, trying to make it to safety. To Edward.

I never could, in any of these dreams. He was forever out of my reach. I never got any closer, and the harder I worked, the farther away he seemed. I ran and ran, in slow motion, screaming for him to come and get me.

But he never did. Oh, he tried, but he never made it. Tonight would be no different.




"Shhh, Bella..." I felt his hand on my shoulder first, gently shaking me awake. I no longer got scared when he woke me, my mind instinctively recognizing that I wasn't in danger with Edward. Sighing in relief, I rolled to my back to find him propped on his elbow, looking down at me.

"Thanks." I placed my hand over his on my left shoulder and squeezed, giving him a weak smile.

"Couldn't wake up again?" he questioned softly, picking up our hands so he could press his lips against my skin. I nodded, inching closer to his warmth. He wrapped his arms around me, holding me close. "Are you okay?"

I took a deep breath, letting his embrace chase away the cold, grasping fingers of the nightmare. "Yeah. It's just that it's been so long..." Biting my trembling lip to stave off the tears that wanted to surface, I groaned in frustration.

"I know, baby." His voice was quiet and smooth in the darkness, as calming as the slow stroke of his hand on my spine. "But that's a good thing, right? Maybe you'll go just as long without another one, and even if you don't, I'll be here anyway."

"I love you," I whispered into the warmth of his chest, pressing my lips to the space just above his heart. Those three words weren't enough in light of all this man had done for me, but I knew he'd take them gladly.

"I love you, too, Bella. You've given me everything," he returned on the heels of a yawn.

He was wrong, though I wouldn't tell him so. It was him who'd given me everything.

"You go back to sleep. I think I'll be up for a while. One of us should get some rest tonight." I ran a hand gently through his hair and sat up, dropping a kiss on his lips.

"Are you sure?" He was already halfway under, and I smiled as he snuggled deeper into the pillow.

"I'm sure. Besides, you'll know if I need you," I answered, but I doubted he heard me.

I settled myself into the love seat in the spare room as silently as I could, content to sit in the darkness. It had been four months since the last one. I'd been stupid enough to hope they were gone for good...but the part of me I hated knew better. It was the part that expected my life to disintegrate at any moment. The part that still sometimes had enough strength to whisper that this new life was wasted on me. The part that said I was marked, tainted; the part that insisted I would only destroy the ones I loved more than life itself.

It was hell when your nemesis lived inside of you. But I'd learned how to cope with it. I knew I was stronger than her. She was the one who needed the crutches, the substances, and the constant attention. I knew how to keep her on a tight leash when I was conscious, but sometimes, when I slept, it was a different story.




"Bella," Angela greeted warmly, holding open the door that separated the suite of offices from the waiting room. Once we were shut away in her corner office, we hugged like the friends we'd become over the past few years.

"How are you?" Something was different about her today, and it wasn't the obvious change in her hairstyle. "Love the hair, by the way."

She blushed, which only intrigued me more. "Oh, thank you!" Her hand fluttered up to touch it in a display of nerves I rarely ever saw from Angela.

"What is up with you?" I asked with a smile, one we'd taken our usual seats.

She took a moment to compose herself, gathering my case file and flipping through a few pages before returning with a wry grin, "We can talk about this after your session, Miss Avoidance."

"Hey! I really want to know! Come on, Angie. You can give me the short short version if you want, but I'm your friend, and you look really...I don't know, giddy or something."

"Okay, okay." She took a deep breath. "I met a guy. He's the one who cut my hair, actually." Leaning forward excitedly, she said, "I never thought there would be anything sexy about a guy washing my hair, but when Ben did it...holy cow. His hands are something else, let me tell you."

"Angie, that's great! Have you two gone out yet? Wait―does he even like girls?" I knew it was stereotypical, but really, weren't straight male hairdressers about as rare as moon rocks?

A memory of one of the times Edward had washed my hair (which was quite frequently―he was a big fan of joint showers) surfaced, and I knew how good it felt to have those long fingers gently massaging my scalp. I actually squirmed in my seat at the thought.

"Earth to Bella," Angela called, laughing. "I can see you've got quite a lot on your mind, so why don't we get started? And yes, for the record, he does like girls." Her smile was a mile wide, so I figured she'd found out that particular piece of knowledge firsthand already. However, I did let her divert my attention, since I did need to talk.

I couldn't help but marvel at how fast she could go from friend to professional, and I knew avoidance was useless with her now.

I began our session by recounting the AA meeting Jake had let me lead last week, and how elated I'd felt afterward. It was a far cry from my first night, when I'd sat in the back and ridiculed everyone around me. I'd even spotted a few people just like I'd been back then, and I'd made my attempt to reach out to one or two of them. I'd taken their rejection hard, but didn't let it show. It was all part of the process, and they'd either learn or leave. They had to realize they wanted help, just like I had. Angela praised me for my courage, which was great, but the faith I'd gained in myself was even better.

"The last time we met, you mentioned that your father had been calling," she prompted next, leaning back in her chair and setting my file on her desk.

"Oh, he's still calling." I frowned, bitter feelings only slightly dulled by time making my chest feel tight. Of late, Charlie had decided that he actually wanted to be my father, and I honestly wanted nothing to do with him. Nearly three years of silence, and he wanted to waltz back into my life...I could feel myself getting angry just thinking about it.

"Have you spoken with him?" Angela's calm, nonplussed tone grated on my nerves.

"A few times. I can't exactly cut him out now, because it's not just me, you know?" She nodded, gesturing for me to continue. "It's just...it's hard. I keep waiting for him to screw things up again."

"Trust is still very much an issue with you two."

"Yeah, it's an issue. We don't have any."

"What does Edward think of all this?"

"He's really supportive. I know he dislikes Charlie, but he's letting me take the lead on this," I said with a sigh, propping my chin up with one hand.

"So have you figured out a plan? How are you going to deal with your father's reappearance in your life?"

"Why do you make me answer these questions?" I asked in exasperation. She was picking and prodding, something she was very good at.

"Because you'll avoid the situation if I don't," she answered smugly, raising a brow and looking down her nose in my direction. I hated it when she did that. It made me want to trip her in the hallway or knock her cute little cat's eye glasses off her nose.

I thought for a moment. "I'm thinking I'll give him just enough rope to hang himself," I said sourly.

"Bella." Her tone was rife with disappointment.

"Okay, okay...he's coming up to Seattle with Sue for Parents' Weekend at U-Dub next week. Seth and Sam want us all to go out to dinner one night. I told him we'd be there."

"And how do you feel about that?" God, if I had a dollar for every damn time she'd asked me that question...

I fought hard to keep from rolling my eyes. "I don't know...afraid, I guess. I don't want to open up only to have him crush me again."

"And if he does disappoint you?"

I shrugged. "It's nothing I haven't been through before. I have my own life now; I have a family and friends that support me. I don't need him."

"But just think—if you give him a chance, maybe he can play a meaningful role in your life. It doesn't have to be huge, but it's something. Maybe he's truly sorry," Angela added softly, her expression softening into a more friendly and less shrink-like expression. "Like you said, it's not just you anymore. There may come a time when you want him in your life again. Think about Renee."

She was right, as much as I hated to admit. "I know, I know. We'll see," I said, eager to move on. Thankfully, Angela was pretty skilled at reading my moods and changed the subject.

"How are your med readjustments going? You're still seeing Dr. Alastair?"

"Well, you remember that I never started back on the Xanax, and Dr. Alastair and I have decided I'm doing well enough without it. We just increased my Prozac again last week, and I...I think I'm okay."

"Right. It's good that you feel you can manage your anxiety now without the benzodiazopine. You've made so much progress." She stopped to grab her legal pad off the desk and started scribbling away. "So why do I sense a 'but' in there?"

"The nightmares," I admitted. "They're not as bad or as frequent as they used to be, and I know how to deal with the usual dreams about what happened in Phoenix, but the new ones..." I sighed, leaning my chin on my hand. "I'm really just worried about disturbing Edward's sleep. He loves working on those rehabs, but the demos really tire him out. And neither of us get enough sleep as it is these days."

"Are you sure it's just Edward that you're worried about?"

"No...I was just hoping that someday, the dreams wouldn't be an issue."

"Do you feel the nightmares are increasing in frequency?" She scratched something else onto the page and, not for the first time, I really wanted to read what she wrote about me. Was it bad? Good?

"No, but I'm starting to feel like they'll never go away. I mean, I have everything I ever wanted...and it's so hard to not be afraid it's all going to get taken from me."

"Bella, who do you think is going to take it from you? You know the Bogeyman isn't real."

"But he is. I know it, and you can't tell me differently. We both know that." Unbidden, tears welled in my eyes. The Bogeyman did exist, and there were tons of them out there. James had been only one. If I ever encounter someone like that again, if something happens to my family...to Edward... Taking a deep breath, I reeled myself in.

"You can't live in fear like that, Bella. You have the tools to protect yourself and a great support system. You know all this."

"I do...I'm sorry...I'm all over the place lately," I finished lamely. "But these dreams...it's not the Bogey―I mean, they're not about James. They're about Renee."

"Bella, you do realize that's completely normal for someone in your situation, right?" she prodded gently, patting my hand. "You've got the tools and support system to deal with this, and I'm always available for you.

"Think back to the cognitive training we've worked on. Get out your thought records, and look for those hot thoughts. Reason them out. I know you've been doing this for years now, but sometimes it helps to start actually writing them down again.

"You're doing so well. Think of how far you've come. I know you're strong enough to handle this."

I had...I'd come so far. And I'd never give any of it up.




Kickboxing class was immediately after therapy, and I had to rush to get there on time. After my six months in Vancouver, which had automatically included six months of comfort food and another ten (this time unwanted) pounds, I'd started taking kickboxing classes. It was one of the best things I'd ever done for myself. I now carried knowledge that I could, theoretically, use to defend myself and disarm an opponent. Never again would I be helpless against a one-on-one attack, and it lifted an almost physical weight from my subconscious mind. It took a while, but once I became proficient, I gained a confidence in myself, a sense of strength, that I hadn't felt since before my mother died.

Three years later, it was still an essential part of my life, like breathing or eating. I could release any aggressions, combat stress, boost my confidence, and burn calories, all in one go―a win-win situation, in my mind.

When class broke up for the night, I wiped the sweat from my brow and greedily gulped what was left in my water bottle. Gathering my things, I headed for the doorway at the far side. To my surprise, Edward was leaning one shoulder against the door frame, his gaze fixed right on me, a proud grin on his face. Slowly, he straightened and began walking in my direction, ignoring the obvious stares of some of my female classmates.

He didn't usually work out at the same times as me, so this appearance was a surprise.

"Hey! Is something wrong? Where's―" He stopped my rapid-fire questions with his lips, and I forgot my own name for a moment.

"Alice and Jasper have everything taken care of," he said softly, letting his mouth caress mine with his words. He hugged me tightly, in spite of my sweaty, post-workout state. "No more worries for the rest of the night. No thinking, no planning, just enjoying."

Pulling back to look him in the eye suspiciously, I asked, "Why, Mr. Cullen, do you have plans for me?"

"Always," he murmured wickedly, copping a feel of my ass before letting me go, which drew a few giggles and covetous glances from the remaining trickle of classmates left. I blushed just as hard as ever, and it was only okay because I knew Edward loved it. He lived to make me blush and laugh, and that was just one reason to love him.

I wasn't sure if I could count them all if I had a hundred lifetimes with him.

He was more than I'd ever expected, and he'd definitely given me more than I thought I'd deserved. I was grabbing on with both hands and hanging on for dear life. I wouldn't let anyone or anything take this from me, this dream I thought I'd never have. Because now that I'd had a taste, I couldn't live without it. Without him.

"Are these plans secret, or are you going to tell me what's in store for us this evening?" I asked as he held open the foggy glass door so I could exit.

He pretended to consider for a moment. "I guess I can tell you...you're going to kick my ass tonight."

"What did you do?" Crap, this is going to involve some major cleaning or a broken window...oh, no! He better not have wrecked my truck! It was probably on purpose, too. He hated the thing. Always said it was a death trap.

"Nothing!" he protested, opening my door and ensuring I was seated safely before he went to the driver's side.

"Then why am I going to kick your ass?"

"Because I want you to teach me how to kickbox."

"What?" I looked at him incredulously, raising an eyebrow.

He pouted in my direction as he put the car in reverse and backed out of the parking spot. "I want to learn how to kickbox," he repeated, more slowly for effect.

"Ooookay," I drew out, wondering what had brought this on. "So why are we leaving? The gym's got all the equipment."

"I don't want you to humiliate me in public."

"You're so vain."

"Like you want anything to happen to this pretty face."

As we stopped at a traffic light, he grinned at me and raised an eyebrow, and I knew he was right. But I wasn't about to let him know that.

"So...can I aim for the face?" I asked with a sneaky grin, rubbing my hands together for effect.

"Like you could hit me," he shot back immediately, shooting me a smirky scowl as he gunned the engine for the green light. "And we're going to the new building―I had the manager let the tenants know the workout room was off-limits until tomorrow morning."

In the last few years, Edward had been purchasing old, vacant buildings downtown. The latest project was in the U-District, and the old warehouse had been renovated into stylish, affordable apartments with generous amenities. We'd claimed half of the top floor for ourselves. Our space had been ready only two weeks ago, but the building's basement gym was long finished―and state-of-the-art.

Edward refused to tell me any more about what he had planned for us, so we finished our drive in comfortable silence, after I pretended to pout at him. When we reached the floor devoted entirely to gym space, the fluorescent lights clicked on with a hum, revealing the pristine space filled with advanced weight machines, mats, and free-weights. Without a word, Edward took my hand and led me to the center of the mats before leaving me to go to the corner of the room, where he used a remote to turn on the stereo system.

"The Final Countdown" blared over the speakers as he came toward me, and I started laughing so hard I couldn't stop.

"I'm going to piss myself, Edward! Turn that shit off!" I doubled over, clutching my stomach and almost falling to the floor.

"Come on, Rocky! Show me what you've got!" he taunted, tugging on my ponytail playfully before backing away. I managed to stop cackling and straightened up to find him in a boxing stance, his guard up.

"Rocky was a boxer. Get it right." I gave him a dirty look and took up my own stance.

"Whatever. And you're a kickboxer. You throw punches, don't you? C'mon, hit me. Kick me." Then he winked. Fucker.

"You're really that eager for an ass-kicking?"

"I've got speed, leverage, and strength on my side. Like you could kick my ass." Oh, he was so confident. I wanted to knock that smile right off his face.

And then jump all over his naked body...

"You think so? I have skills, you know."

"Bring it." He inched closer, guard up, smirk firmly in place.

"Bring it, huh?" I taunted, faking left and throwing a right hook, following with a roundhouse kick aimed right at his head. He blocked both, sending a smile filled with cocky superiority my way.

It was exactly the opportunity I'd been waiting for. I threw a hard left, hitting him straight in the gut. When he doubled over, I hit him in the back with quick right elbow, and swept his feet out from under him with my right foot at the same time. He went down hard on his side, groaning and curling into the fetal position. He didn't move as I stood above him in triumph, but my celebration turned to worry when he didn't move to get up.

"Edward, are you okay?" I asked, worry making my voice a bit shaky. Kneeling next to him, I placed a hand on his arm and leaned down so I could see his face. The only clue that it was a trap was the hint of a smirk I caught as he flipped me over his shoulders. I landed flat on my back on the mat; his body covered mine a second later, his chest pressed so tightly to mine that there was no way he could miss the hard points of my nipples.

"Do you surrender?" The soft, slightly breathless rumble of his voice made heat curl low in my belly. "I'm ready to enjoy my spoils." He dropped his mouth to the curve of my neck, the tip of his tongue burning a hot trail across my skin.

But I wasn't ready to give in yet.

"I don't surrender," I challenged, lacing my voice with what I hoped was sensual promise.

His eyes heated, the gleaming green darkening with determination. "Well...I could always make you." A slow smile turned up one corner of his mouth as he insinuated a knee between my thighs, pressing his erection against my hip in the process.

"I'm not afraid of you." And I wasn't. It was unthinkable now. He was my best friend, my lover, the cornerstone of my life. I trusted him without thought.

"You really shouldn't have said that," he said lowly, dipping his head to touch his lips to mine. He nibbled softly at my lower lip, stroking the tingling flesh with his tongue. I opened to him, sighing as his tongue met mine. After a few blissful minutes, he pulled back, ending the kiss with one final, tender press of his lips.

"How about now?" he questioned, one hand coming up to brush a lock of hair away from my forehead. As soon as he asked, the music changed.

"Everybody was Kung-fu fighting..."

I couldn't help the laugh that fell from my lips.

He sighed in mock exasperation. "I just can't win with you, can I?"





"Better get used to it," she quipped smartly, lightly bumping my nose with hers.

Oh, I was used to it, all right. I'd do anything for her, including letting her win―which didn't happen very often. I didn't care. I won everything I'd ever wanted when I won her heart.

And didn't that make me sound like a pussy. I didn't give a shit about that, either. It was the truth.

"What music would you prefer?" I asked with a raised eyebrow. "Marvin Gaye?"

"Don't tell me that's what's next," she laughed. "You thought you'd have my pants off after only two songs?"

"What can I say? I work fast." I dropped a swift kiss on her cheek, almost touching the corner of her mouth. "And I know you can't resist me."

"You're an overconfident ass." Her words were softened by the sexy grin curving those soft, pink lips. I got a glimpse of her tongue as it came out to wet them, and I couldn't resist the urge to kiss her. Pressing my mouth to hers before she could finish, I drew her tongue between my lips, sighing at the taste of her. Slightly salty from the mist of sweat above her upper lip, and sweet as always. She moaned and opened immediately, and I lost myself in the heat of her and the wet slide of lips and tongues.

I cradled her head in my hands, bracing my weight on my elbows. Lower, I shifted my hips, wedging both my legs between hers until she cradled me with her thighs. She was so soft, hot, and damp―like I'd been working her body for hours already. The sweat she'd broken at the gym, and later, here with me, only intensified her scent and taste, and I wanted to be coated in it. I wanted to rub myself all over her, until we both smelled the same. A mix of both of us. The primal part of me wanted the room to fucking reek of it.

Just that quickly, I was ready to rip apart every article of clothing to get to her. To stroke my hands over that soft, smooth skin stretched over lithe muscle. She'd only grown more beautiful in the years we'd been together. I (not to mention my dick) certainly appreciated her kickboxing talents―when she wasn't mock-threatening to hurt me. I could barely tell what her body had just been through...and a stranger wouldn't have a clue. But those small changes were things I cherished, because I loved her. They told the story of us.

I grunted my pleasure as I felt her little fingers searching under my shirt. She dragged her nails lightly up my back, dragging the cotton until it was bunched up over my shoulders. Continuing her slow sweeps up and down, she lightly scratched over my skin, raising goosebumps wherever she went. Breaking our kiss, I dipped my head to graze my lips over the base of her neck, licking into the little hollow between her collarbones. Her answering moan vibrated against my tongue, and I swore I felt it in my dick.

Pulling away reluctantly, I sat up to rip the t-shirt over my head. Her eyes glinted with lust and appreciation, and when she took her lower lip between her teeth, it was all I could do not to palm my almost-painful hard-on in an attempt to relieve the ache only she could fix. As if she could sense my desires, she cupped her hand around my shaft and squeezed just like I liked it. Slowly, deliberately, she worked me while my eyes drifted down over her still-clothed body.

Her nipples stood out obviously against the restraint of her workout top, and I itched to feel them between my fingers. Taste them on my tongue. Reaching down, I covered her tits with my palms, pushing them together and squeezing gently. She increased her pace on my cock, rubbing a bit harder at the head.

"Take it out." I hoped she didn't bristle at the command, because the words came out gritty and low and without my permission.

Her eyes sparked with fire as she took her hand from me completely, raking her nails up and down my chest. She trailed one finger just above my waistband and let her hand drop to my thigh.

"You take it out for me," she demanded playfully. "Show me."

I gulped in surprise, and then I was lost in a surge of blazing lust. Giving her nipples one last gentle tug, I sat up straighter and moved to straddle her hips. Deciding to tease her, I pulled the already snug fabric even tighter over my erection, letting her admire the shape. The material was scratchy against my extremely sensitive skin, but it was worth it to see the way her eyes blackened with desire. Never taking my gaze from hers, I slowly reached beneath my shorts and gripped myself, using my other hand to tug the waistband beneath my balls.

"Come here," she whispered, her breathing increasing as I started to pump my hand over my shaft. I inched forward until I hovered over her waist. She shook her head, a small, secret smile curving her mouth. "Closer."

Holy fuck...does she...? The Neanderthal that ruled my cock grunted at me in frustration. Of course she does, moron! What the fuck are you waiting for?

Almost shaking with anticipation, I moved until my erection jutted out near her lips, still stroking the base of the shaft―the head was so fucking sensitive I wasn't sure I could keep from coming if I touched it. Pre-cum beaded at the tip and I wanted to watch her lick it off. Better yet, I wanted to rub the head over her lips and smooth that slick drop all over her hot little mouth until she glistened with it. Then I'd push into her, slowly, and her lips would slide over me so wetly...

She wasn't looking at my face; her eyes were fixed much lower. With her hands, she encouraged me to widen my stance, and then she slid them higher, little fingers finding my hips and digging in. She raised her head, nuzzling my hipbone, lips so fucking close to where I wanted them. My mouth literally watered as I looked down at her, my heart pounding with incredible force, in awe of her beauty.

I was completely fucking gone, out of my mind, head over heels in love with this woman. She might have conquered her co-dependence issues, but I was asaddicted to her as ever. I couldn't really find anything wrong with it. It just made me that much more devoted to her. I cherished her and everything she'd given me since we'd met. Everything we'd given each other.

Suddenly, scalding wet heat enveloped me, ripping the breath from my lungs. I brought a shaking hand up to cup her jaw, rubbing my thumb over her lower lip, feeling the way I stretched her. Her soft, husky moan vibrated down my shaft, making my balls tighten almost unbearably. We were close enough to the edge of the mat that I could brace my hand on one of the mirrors that lined the wall, my palm slipping a bit due to the sweat from exertion...and nerves, I was surprised to realize.

That was the thing with Bella and me...when we were together, it was always so intense, just like it was the first time.

My hand slipped a little more as I rested more weight against the mirror, unable to keep from thrusting my hips gently as she fluttered her tongue over the underside of my cock. I focused my gaze on the completely fucking erotic reflection so blatantly displayed in front of me. I was almost entranced, and seeing both of us like this was almost enough to make me explode in her mouth. But it felt too good...I wasn't ready for this to end. Squeezing my eyes shut, I tried to think of anything that would calm my raging erection.



The Golden Girls...

Though, there was something about Betty White...no! Gross!

Bella suddenly―thankfully―reclaimed my attention by releasing me with a pop I swore I could hear even above the awful music I'd picked to make her laugh. Some of the worst sports movie montage songs I could find made up the playlist. But at the moment, I didn't give a flying fuck what was playing, because she was licking me like a fucking ice cream cone―and I was her absolute favorite flavor. My eyelids lifted without my permission, but if I was honest, I didn't want to miss that sight anyway. She looked up at me through the thick fringe of her lashes, eyes hazy with want.

"Uhmmm...Bella...oh, holy shit," I groaned, jerking back from her grasp, unable to withstand another moment without coming. She smiled at me, deep brown irises full of feminine knowledge and satisfaction. I backed off so she could sit up, fisting my hands at my sides so I wouldn't haul her up against my chest...at least, for now. If she would come to me, the pleasure would be that much sweeter.

I didn't have to wait long. She came up on her knees and moved closer, pulling her top off over her head in one sinuous move. Bare-chested, she pressed against me, her nipples hard points that burned into my skin. Her arms came around my neck and she surged up, catching my lips with hers. I took control of the kiss, pushing my tongue into her mouth and swirling it alongside hers. Tunneling my fingers through her hair, I removed the elastic band that kept it restrained so I could feel the heavy silk slip through my fingers. The tang of salt was on her tongue, her lips; and the knowledge that it was my taste that lingered in her mouth had me even harder, aching.

I slid one hand down her back to cup her ass in my palm, diving right beneath her pants and underwear, digging my fingers into the crease between her cheeks.

"Touch me." It was barely a whisper against my lips.

"Where?" I could feel her short huff of embarrassment. Even after all this time...I loved it. Flexing my fingers, I slid them farther, barely grazing the seam of her pussy. "Right here?"

She felt almost boneless in my arms, and when I did it again, her head fell back, exposing the arch of her neck. "Yes..." It was a long, soft sigh, and I knew most of her attention was focused on my hand between her legs. Her body moved in a smooth glide, her hips rolling gently into mine. My dick felt hard as iron where it was pressed between us, and though I knew she was overheated, the soft skin of her belly felt cool against me. Unwilling to tease her much more, I spread her open and moaned aloud at the hot, slick wetness that coated her lips.

Fastening my mouth to her neck, I pushed two fingers inside her, pulling her hips closer to mine at the same time. I sank back to sit on my heels, bringing her to straddle me. My cock slid against the apex of her thighs, giving her clit some much-needed attention, even if it was through a thin layer of stretchy material.

"Do you like that?" I licked a thin line all the way up her neck, ending with a nip on her earlobe. Pushing deeper, I encouraged her to ride my fingers as I watched our reflection, one hand in her hair and the other shoved into her pants.

"Yes...I'm so close..."

"I know, baby. I know. Fuck, you should see yourself. You're so damn beautiful," I mumbled against her neck, my eyes still trained on the mesmerizing sight before me. "Do you want to watch yourself come? See what I see?"

Not waiting for a response, I shoved the pants off her hips, cursing because I had to remove my fingers from her to do the job, and it was really fucking difficult using only one hand. The tight yoga pants didn't help matters either, and I started to get frustrated when they got caught on her tennis shoes. She whimpered in complaint, and I finally guided her back down to the mat, removing all of our remaining clothing as quickly as possible.

I extended my hand to help her up and led her back to the mirror. Slowly, we sank down to our knees, and I turned her so my chest pressed tightly to her back. Never taking my gaze from hers in the glass, I cupped her tits in my palms, savoring the feel and weight of her flesh in my hands, loving the way her eyelids almost fluttered shut when I rolled her nipples between my fingers and thumbs.

"Edward, hurry." Her voice had a slight edge to it that made me grin almost evilly. I had her so wound up...it would be amazing once I finally got inside her.

"Lean forward and put your hands on the glass." I kept my voice soft and soothing, but we both knew it wasn't a request. She complied eagerly, sticking her ass out at me even before I thought to ask. I widened her knees with mine, fitting the head of my cock to her opening. Pressing one hand flat on the small of her back, I moved forward, gritting my teeth at the hot, wet, perfect feeling of her pussy stretching around me.

Every fucking time...I'll never get enough of her.

"Edward...move...please," she coaxed, canting her hips back at me, driving me even deeper within her.

Gripping her hips in both hands, I did as she asked, alternating between watching our reflection and fixing my eyes to the place where we joined. "Is this what you want?" I punctuated my question with a harder thrust, meeting her eyes in the mirror. The sight before me was fucking beautiful: Bella's flushed face practically glowed, her gaze sparking with fire as her tits bounced with every push of my hips.

"Yes! More..." Her breathing matched the rhythm of my thrusts, like I forced the air out of her every time I pushed inside to the hilt. As I watched, she took one hand from the mirror and brought it between her legs, and I could feel the tips of her fingers circling wet flesh. I wanted to see it―see her, touching herself while I fucked her. I wanted to see us, in one of our most explicit―most intimate―moments.

And I wanted her to see it too. She needed to see it. I took any chance I got to show her how much I loved her, wanted her, always. Our life together was the best thing I'd ever been a part of.

I let one hand wander up her back and swept the soft mass of hair back off her neck. Bending forward, I nipped the tender curve of her nape and brought my hand around to toy with her nipples. A soft cry fell from her lips as I wrapped both hands around her torso and sat up on my heels, legs spread for balance. Her head fell back against my shoulder, her fingers still rubbing in slick circles over her clit.

Turning my head to nip at her earlobe, I whispered, "Look. Look at us."

I knew the moment she saw. She tightened around me, arching her back and hooking her feet behind my thighs. Her gaze reflected back at me, filled with every ounce of what she felt for me, and I, in turn, felt for her. It was almost too much, the sight causing my spine to tingle with heat and my balls to tighten and ache. I closed my eyes, dropping my lips to her jaw, placing tiny, light kisses in a line down her neck.

Placing my hand at the apex of her legs, I ran my fingers over hers, admiring the flex of delicate tendon and bone. Unable to stop myself, I thrust harder in deep, short strokes that I knew would get her off in a matter of minutes, if that. I just hoped I could hold out that long.

"Is this good? Bella...God, tell me."

"Yes..." she breathed, and I took pride in the fact that I'd reduced her to one-word answers. I cupped her jaw, turning it so I could see her face. Her eyes were the color of black coffee, irises barely distinguishable from her pupils, and I knew she was. She was close. I closed my mouth over hers, tasting her tongue and lips in a blatant imitation of the way I moved inside her. She moaned into my mouth, her whole body stiffening and arching as she rippled around my cock in climax.

I stopped holding back as soon as I felt her, moaning my satisfaction as orgasm ripped through me. It took all my remaining strength just to keep us both upright as we leaned against one another weakly in the aftermath.

"I can't believe we just did that." Bella was still out of breath as she spoke; I found the bewilderment in her tone adorable. "God, I'm never going to be able to stop laughing when I see people working out here."

I laughed. "I'll have it cleaned, if you want." My legs were going numb, so I shifted until we were lying on the mat, my body curled around hers.

"That's probably a good idea...but it would be so much funnier for us if we didn't."

"True," I agreed, shaking my head. I dropped a kiss on her nose. "We're terrible landlords."

After a few more minutes, I sighed. "I guess we'd better get upstairs. Alice is going to be waiting, tapping her tiny little tyrant foot."

Bella grinned up at me and hopped up to fix her clothes, her energy instantly back. "Yes, let's go. I can't wait to see her."

"Alice? You see her all the time. We live in the same building," I joked.

She gave me a little scowl. "Shut up and get dressed. No one gets to see that naked ass but me."

Sluggishly, I dressed and tossed a couple towels down on the mat. I'd come back later and clean up before the gym opened tomorrow morning. I was too exhausted. I had no idea how Bella bounced back so quickly, because she'd completely worn me out.

Though, if she was up for round two later tonight, I certainly wouldn't turn her down.




Renee's crying woke me before Bella, so I eased out of the bed as gently as I could and hurried to the nursery across the hall. The soft glow of the nightlight was warm and welcoming, and I went immediately to gather up the small, squirming, surprisingly strong bundle from the crib. Cradling her to my chest, I soothed her with my own special tried-and-true methods: a soft hand on her back and the sound of my voice. She snuggled into the crook of my neck and made little fists against my chest, her crying diminishing to whimpers almost immediately.

"Are you hungry, sweet girl?" I murmured, making my way to the kitchen. As I fixed her bottle, I told her about my day with Bella―the non X-rated parts at least.

"You know what Mommy and I did today? I thought it would be a good idea for her to teach your Daddy how to do that kickboxing stuff she likes so much. Bad idea." But boy, did it work out in the end... I looked down at Renee seriously. "Your Mom is a badass. Don't you ever worry about anyone trying to hurt you. Even Daddy's a pussy compared to her." Shit. If I keep this up, the kid's vocabulary is going to be as crude as mine.

Renee sighed, squirming and lifting her still somewhat-wobbly head, and I swore she was squinting at me like she was following the one-sided conversation. Eyes that had started out a vivid, electric blue were mellowing into a version of my own green, the color inching out from a ring around her pupils. The rest of her, well, that was all her mother, and I couldn't be happier. I had the two most beautiful women in the world. Because I still felt like a fucking greenhorn parent and I was paranoid, I stopped what I was doing and used my other hand to support the back of her head. Now I was stuck with a half-prepared bottle, a hungry baby, and no hands to finish the job.

"Need some help?"

I jumped, startling a cry out of Renee, and turned to find Bella watching us, a sleepy smile on her face.

"The bottle," I replied with a sheepish smile, nodding in the direction of my abandoned task.

"You know, she can hold her head up on her own now." Her voice was full of suppressed amusement as she made quick work of preparing the bottle. "It's not going to fall off her neck."

"I can't help it. She's still so small...I don't want to break her," I defended. It was perfectly logical. I was like...twenty times bigger than her. I'd always be careful and gentle with my daughter. She and her mother were the lights of my life. Mine to protect and cherish.

Bella came to me, holding out the bottle. "Would you like to feed her, or should I?"

"I'd like to do it, if you don't mind." I pressed my lips to hers, lingering until Renee started squirming between us.

"I never mind. I love watching you with her," Bella admitted, a hint of color riding her cheeks that matched her shy smile.

"Let's go to our room. You need your rest." I started back down the hallway.

"So do you. You've been doing the night duty most of the time." But she followed me anyway, waiting until I was situated in our bed, Renee tucked against my arm and happily attacking her midnight snack.

"I like night duty. It gives me quality time with my daughter."

"Oh, right. Quality time where you teach her words like 'badass' and 'pussy'." Despite the censure in her tone, she curled up on my other side and reached out to stroke one finger down Renee's cheek.

"Shh. Don't say words like that in front of my daughter," I teased, grinning.

Bella snorted, snuggling even deeper into my side. "Sorry, Sir. Won't happen again."

"So...you heard all that, did you?"

She laughed quietly. "Did you forget about the monitor in the kitchen?"

I had, actually. Ooops.

"This place has ears, Cullen," she joked in a conspiratorial whisper. "And since now you know I can kick your ass...you'd better watch it."

I raised an eyebrow at her. "I let you win."

"Right. You keep telling yourself that."

We both grinned at one another and then fell quiet, caught up in our daughter's spell. She fell asleep even before the bottle was drained, and so did Bella. Once again, I maneuvered myself out of the bed like a ninja, which was quite a bit more difficult when holding a sleeping baby. After a cursory diaper check, I returned her to the crib and stood watch for a moment, unable to keep from smiling. When I was satisfied she was down for another good stretch, I made my way back to the bedroom and curled myself around a pensive-looking Bella.

"Something wrong?" I asked quietly, hugging her to my chest.

"I had to talk to Angela about Charlie today." Her voice was calm, but I could feel the tension radiating from her small frame.

Fucking Charlie. If only Bella would let me put that asshole out of his misery—and ours... Of course, I knew this had to be mostly up to her. I'd be behind her no matter what she chose; he was her father, but that didn't change how badly I wanted to separate his head from his body. And since it was my daughter he wanted to see, he'd better be on his best behavior, or no one would be able to talk me out of doing him harm.

"What did she have to say?" I asked, trying to keep my question neutral. "Did you tell her about next weekend?"

"Yeah...she said it's up to me...to us, actually." She sighed and leaned into me even more. "More than half of me wants to tell him to fuck off."

Fuck yes. "Then do it, baby. And if he doesn't listen, maybe you'll finally let me punch him in the face."

She chuckled, but it wasn't the happiest sound. "And what do we tell Renee when she eventually asks about her grandpa?"

"We tell her she's only got one grandpa, because she was lucky enough to get Carlisle and he's twice as cool as all the other grandpas."

"And he spoils her twice as much."

"How do you think Emmett and I got to be such spoiled brats?" I joked, kissing the top of her head. "Renee comes by it naturally."

"I'm just not sure, Edward. I'm afraid. What if he makes her love him and then he hurts her just like he hurt me? And yet, I don't want to take away anyone that would love her...I want her to have everything." I couldn't be sure in the darkness, but it sounded like she was fighting tears. The last thing I wanted was for her to cry—she'd done enough of that in her lifetime.

"We don't have to decide this second, baby. Just remember that no matter what happens, with Charlie or anyone else, Renee has us—and we couldn't love her more."

She turned in my arms and linked her hands around my neck, pressing her cheek to mine. "I love you, so much."

"I love you, too, Bella." More than she'd ever know. I'd loved her from the second I set eyes on her—my beautiful, broken Bella—that day in the bar.

Eventually, the rhythm of her breath deepened and slowed, and she went limp against me, her fingers twitching just a bit in sleep. My mind wandered as I started to drift off, and my last conscious thought was thankfulness. We'd come so far, been through so much, and we were still together. All of it was worth it, just so we could have this. It wasn't perfect, it wasn't storybook—and with Charlie sniffing around again, wanting to worm his way into our daughter's life, who knew when it would be—but it was us.

That's all that mattered in my world.




So here's the end, and I still have nothing profound to say except thank you, thank you, thank you for reading. You all are the best for sticking with me on this one.

Special thanks to AmeryMarie for her help in getting this last chapter just right. I owe you big time. If you all like the angst (and come on, you read this one), you should be reading her stories. She loves to kill me in the sweetest, most heart-clenching ways. She's listed as one of my favorite authors on my profile.

If you'd like to read more from me, add me to author alert if you already haven't. I'm currently working on an AU called Chain Reaction if you're into the vamps, and I'll be starting another AH based on my O/S "In Case of Emergency." I know you regular reviewers are already on board, but you can't have too much information, right?

Oh, yeah...you can. Especially if it involves your family. Or faceless people on the internet...

Anyway, thanks for reading, and I love you guys for hanging until the end. I hope you enjoyed it.