Author's Note: As usual, this wasn't beta'd so feel free to point out any grammatical/spelling errors I may have made. I'm a sucker for Bella/Edward and HEAs so I guess that my endings should be rather predictable. Oh well! Thank you for reading and reviewing.

i.

Bella swirled the wine around in her glass before taking a delicate sip. She glanced surreptitiously around the restaurant, her eyes moving from couple to couple. The room was dimly lit by the candle centerpieces on each table adding to the romantic décor of the restaurant. Bella tried to pay attention to what Mike had been talking about for the past twenty minutes but he was complaining about a particular client and Bella couldn't quite follow all of his accounting jargon. Other couples' conversations were a low hum in the background and she wondered if she was the only one sitting there staring dumbly at their date.

She had gone on a few dates with Mike – an accountant who grew up as an only child in a strict Catholic household. But nothing really clicked so far; he preferred talking about his job to listening to her and his barely disguised disappointment that she didn't put out on their first date had her slightly cautious of his intentions. It wasn't hard to tell what Mike wanted from her. He made that abundantly clear when he talked about his rebellious college days and how he spent most of the time in a haze of cheap women and even cheaper booze. But Bella held onto the hope that after a few dates, he could see that she wasn't that type of woman and maybe he'd still be attracted to her for her own moral beliefs. Yeah, that was a lie if she ever heard one.

She was jarred out of her feigned interest when Mike stopped talking and waved for the waiter to bring them the bill. She looked down at her half-eaten plate and frowned.

"You were done, right?" Mike asked, glancing at her briefly as he slipped his card and the bill back to the waiter.

"Sure," she agreed, pushing the plate away.

"Good, I want to get out of here," he replied.

He signed the receipt, put his credit card away and stood to leave. He waited impatiently for Bella to untangle herself from the napkin she had placed on her lap and chuckled when she tripped over the chair leg. She caught herself on the table and glared at Mike.

"Thanks for your help," she retorted before stalking out of the restaurant.

Mike caught up with her outside and wrapped a hand around her wrist. "C'mon, babe," he said with an easy laugh, "I didn't mean to laugh at you. Your clumsiness…it's endearing."

"Don't call me babe," she huffed, pulling herself from his grip and standing beside the passenger side door as she waited for him to unlock the car. She noticed him already in the car and went to pull the handle, but the door didn't open. She knocked on the window and Mike looked up in surprise before quickly unlocking it.

"I thought I unlocked it," he offered as his apology.

"Just take me home," she sighed.

Mike bit his lip as he started the car, his eyes raking her body. "I thought…we could go back to my house, finish our conversation from dinner. Maybe drink some more wine and see where the night leads us." He smiled at her, soft and encouraging, but Bella really didn't want to see where he thought the night might end.

"I'm really tired," she lied, faking a yawn. "I've got a busy day tomorrow."

"Oh, of course." He nodded as though trying to reassure himself that the rejection wasn't the end of the world and pulled out of the parking lot.

Twenty minutes later he was stopped outside her apartment complex. "I had a great time tonight, Bella," Mike said genuinely and Bella felt bad that she couldn't return the sentiment.

She exhaled sharply and then winced, looking at his eager expression. "Look, Mike…" she trailed off.

His face fell and he frowned. "You didn't enjoy the evening," he stated flatly.

"You're a nice guy," she tried to reassure him. "I just…I'm really not feeling anything between us…romantically."

"Right, well, good night then," he said stiffly, as he stared straight ahead through the windshield.

"I'm sorry," she offered and he grunted in response before she slipped out of the car and shut the door carefully behind her. The car took off the second the door clicked closed and Bella flinched at the sound of the squealing tires.

"That went well," she muttered, traipsing up the stairs and letting herself into the building.

She shuffled uncomfortably in the elevator as she shared the small space with a teenaged boy with an acne problem and the inability to look at anything else besides her breasts. She sighed in relief when the ding of the elevator signaled her floor and she stepped out, only to realize that the boy was probably staring at her ass. She hurried down the hall as fast as she could in heels and fumbled with her keys before opening the door, slamming it shut behind her.

She could hear Edward bustling about in the kitchen and smiled. Bella and Edward had been friends since she moved to Forks, Washington in her junior year of high school. By the time they got their acceptance letters to college, they were inseparable and both decided to stay close to home and go to the University of Washington in Seattle. It made sense, to only them apparently since their family and friends thought they were crazy, to get an apartment together after living in the dorms and they had been sharing the apartment since then.

Neither of them saw anything wrong with the arrangement; they got along well and were respectful of each other's privacy, especially when it came to taking dates home, though those were few and far between. They each paid half the bills, though Edward would try to argue otherwise, Bella cooked and did their laundry while Edward was the one to usually clean the apartment and take the trash out. They had a system and it worked well for them. No use fixing what wasn't broken.

"Home already?" Edward called from the kitchen.

Bella toed her shoes off, reminding herself to never wear heels again, and turned a corner only to bump into Edward.

"Hi Edward," Bella said. Edward towered over her small frame so she found herself looking up to see him smirking down at her.

"Bad night?" he questioned as Bella stole his glass and took a sip. She coughed and grimaced, handing it back to him.

"What's that?" she asked distastefully.

"Whiskey."

He took his glass with him into the living room and she followed. She collapsed on the couch, swinging her legs up to place her feet in Edward's lap. She felt the smooth silk of her black dress ride up her thighs a little and she squirmed to get more comfortable. Edward immediately began rubbing her feet and she groaned when he put pressure on a particularly aching part of her arch.

"You are the best friend anyone could ever ask for," Bella mumbled, sinking into the couch as she felt her body relax.

"So I've been told," he teased. "How was your date with Mike the accountant?"

"Awful," Bella moaned. "All he talked about was his work and then he wanted to take me home. Ow, Edward!" Bella tried to smack his hand away after he squeezed her foot too hard.

Edward looked contrite but Bella picked up on an underlying anger, hidden in the slouch of his shoulders and the slight downward pull of his lips. "Sorry," he muttered, patting her ankle.

"What's the matter?" she asked in concern.

"Nothing," he replied and then he offered her a crooked grin, a peace offering, a request to drop the subject.

Bella sighed but acquiesced. "I ended it, anyway. I don't understand why all guys want to do is get into my pants. What ever happened to old-fashioned romance?"

Edward looked thoughtful as he took another swig of his drink. "You'll have to look in your books for that sort of romance. And guys want to get into your pants," he cringed at the terminology, "because you're a beautiful young woman and men find you desirable."

"But they only want my body. They could never have my heart, my mind, or my soul!" She giggled and Edward shook his head in mock exasperation.

"You're paraphrasing Robin Hood: Men in Tights. Really?" he asked amused.

"Piss off," she quipped. "You love that movie."

"Wanna watch it?"

"After that miserable date? Of course I want to watch it. Nothing better than a spoof of Robin Hood to make a girl feel better about her lackluster date life. And Cary Elwes?" She fanned herself and blushed.

Edward snorted and pushed her feet of his lap, shooing her. "Go change out of that dress and I'll make some popcorn and pop the movie in."

Bella squealed and kissed Edward on the cheek. "You're the best. Be back in a minute!"

When she returned, she watched Edward shuffle around the living room, setting up a blanket for her on the couch and throwing the DVD in. She could hear the popcorn in the microwave and moved towards the kitchen but Edward intercepted her before she could get very far.

"I'll get it," he said, flashing a grin. "Go make yourself comfy on the couch."

"Yum," she exclaimed when he came back with an overflowing bowl of buttery, salty goodness. Then she sighed and snuggled into Edward's side. "I don't know what I'd do without you to keep me from going crazy after these awful dates."

"You'd go crazy," Edward laughed. He threw an arm around her shoulders and gave her a squeeze. "You know, Bells, you should've run the minute he said he was an accountant."

ii.

Eric seemed like a nice enough guy when Alice first set Bella up with him. He took her mini-golfing – she appreciated the casualness of the date, but trusting her with golf clubs hadn't been the best idea ever – and then out for ice cream. He was a computer game designer that sometimes spoke in codes Bella had no hope of understanding. When she looked at him blankly, he would laugh and snort before telling her how cute she looked. But he was nice enough and didn't pressure her into sex, so she went on a few more dates with him.

But Bella soon realized, as she sat on Eric's couch after their fourth date while he tried to shove his tongue down her throat, that the only thing these men Alice tried to set her up with really wanted was a physical relationship. They didn't care that she graduated with a 4.0 GPA from UW and was currently an editor at a publishing company or that she liked to eat ice cream out of the carton. None of them would be able to repeat what her favorite movies were or what kind of music she listened to. All they saw was a pretty face and what they thought to be a warm, willing body.

Yeah, think again, Bella scoffed as she tried to pull away. Eric pawed at her breasts in what she assumed was supposed to be a seductive manner but her body's only reaction was to cringe away. His other hand was slipping up beneath her shirt to fumble with her bra clasp.

"Eric," she mumbled against his lips. "Eric, stop."

He pulled away and struggled to regain control of his breathing. "Wow," he said in awe. He moved to try and kiss her again and Bella dodged his attempt. He frowned. "Don't you want to continue? You're such a good kisser."

Her barely minimal participation in the lip-lock and he was already looking to score by flattering her? Bella coughed to smother the laughter threatening to bubble up and out past her swollen lips. She straightened her face out. "Look, Eric, I just…I really think we're moving too fast."

"Too fast?" Eric exclaimed. "You barely let me get to second base!"

"I'm really not comfortable pursuing a physical relationship with you," she explained.

Eric scowled. "You couldn't have figured that out a couple of dates ago? It would've saved us both the wasted time."

Bella's face fell. Sure, she really didn't want to have sex with the guy but she had fun on their dates and she didn't think of them as a waste of time. "Well I guess I should stop wasting your time then," she grumbled.

"I didn't mean it that way," Eric said, trying to placate her. "Let me at least drive you home."

Bella snatched her purse from the side table in the hall and yanked the door open. "Don't worry about it." She waved him off. "I can get a friend to pick me up."

"That's ridiculous. Look, I'm sorry for pushing you. Just…let me bring you home, okay? There's no need for your friend to come all the way out here just to pick you up. It's late anyway."

Bella shrugged and waited in the doorway for Eric to grab his keys and shrug on a jacket. The car ride was filled with awkward silence and Bella sighed in relief when her apartment building came into view.

"I've had fun, Eric. Sorry it couldn't work out," she mumbled.

Eric ran a hand through his slicked back hair and fidgeted with his glasses. "Yeah," he muttered in reply. "If you ever need a fun date again, give me a call," he threw out as she closed the door behind her. She waved and he drove away.

She could hear all her friends laughing as she got closer to her apartment door. She let herself in and found them all circled around the kitchen drinking.

She stopped in front of the little pixie-like girl and growled, "You are never setting me up with a guy again!"

Alice had the decency to look a little put out but then she furrowed her brow. "Does that mean you want me to set you up with a girl?"

Everyone laughed and Bella crossed her arms across her chest while she glared at them all. She punched Emmett who was laughing the hardest; he barely flinched.

"I thought you were having a good time with Eric?" Alice pouted.

"I was! Until he started kissing me." Bella buried her face in her hands and shook her head.

"Was it that bad?" Rosalie snorted.

"It was like he was licking my face." This brought on another round of laughter. "Guys, this isn't funny. He thought I was enjoying myself."

"Aw, c'mon, Bells," Emmett drawled, slinging an arm around her shoulder, "you couldn't give the poor boy a chance? You're like every teenage boy's wet dream. He just got a little excited."

Bella opened her mouth to retort when she heard glass shatter. She blinked in surprise and saw Edward plucking the shards of glass from the counter.

"What happened?" she asked, brushing his hands aside to wipe up the smaller pieces with a paper towel.

Edward had his mouth in a hard, thin line. "These glasses are cheap. Just put it down a little too forcefully," he seethed before stalking out of the kitchen.

"Did I miss something?" Bella looked around in confusion.

Rosalie patted her shoulder sympathetically and looked at Alice with a face that clearly said I told you this would happen. "I think Edward was a little pissed off at Em's comment."

"Why?"

Rosalie glanced around for help. "My brother's just very protective of you, honey. He doesn't like when people say things like that about you, he finds it very demeaning," Alice interjected.

"Oh," she breathed. "I should go make sure he's okay."

"You know I was just kidding, Bells," Emmett said anxiously.

"I know," she replied as they all moved out of the kitchen.

"We should probably get going," Jasper voiced and the rest nodded in agreement.

"You guys are okay to drive?"

"I didn't drink anything alcoholic," Jasper assured her. "I'm taking Rose and Emmett home."

"Okay, good." She hugged them all. "Come visit soon. I'm sorry about Edward's temper."

Alice brushed her off. "He's my brother, I've seen worse. I'm sorry about how things turned out with Eric."

"Yeah, me too," she replied truthfully. "But, I'll find the right guy soon enough."

Rosalie gave Alice another pointed look before saying, "Okay, well, have a good night, Bella. Say bye to Edward."

Bella watched them walk out and down the hall and felt something akin to jealousy. The two couples had been together for years, longer than she had even known any of them, and they were all still so deeply in love with each other. She felt an ache in her chest at the loneliness that threatened to overwhelm her and blinked back the tears.

"Bells?" Edward's voice, soft and smooth like velvet, called to her from behind.

She threw him a small smile as she locked up. "Hey."

He stepped forward cautiously and enveloped her in a hug. "I'm sorry I'm being such a jackass."

"You're always a jackass," she mumbled, and he chuckled. She brushed her cheek against the fabric of his shirt and sighed in contentment. "Are you…are you okay with me going on all these dates?"

She never really stopped to think about how her dating could affect her best friend. It's not that living together had put a damper on either of their romantic lives, but she had never pursued men so enthusiastically before. She was just finally ready to settle down, desperately wanting to find 'the one,' and if she had to pick through all the bad apples until she came to the best one then so be it. She realized with a start that Edward hadn't been dating as much as he used to and felt bad about coming home and whining to him about how one-track minded the male species was.

"Yeah, yeah, of course. Who am I to stop you from seeking the man of your dreams?" he replied. Bella thought he sounded a little bitter but she didn't push him. He pressed a kiss into her hair.

"Well, apparently the man of my dreams wasn't Eric Yorkie," she grumbled.

Edward laughed, his dark mood disappearing for the most part. "I should hope not. He looked like such a geek."

Bella gave him a shove, extracting herself from his embrace. "He did not. You're just stereotyping because he works on computer games."

"I am not! Plus, he looked like he could use a shower…or four."

Bella grimaced. "Okay, so…he could've used with a little bit of personal hygiene. But he was fun and he didn't always talk about his work, which was a step up from Mike the accountant. And he didn't really pressure me into sex even though he was…a little too enthusiastic when it came to making out."

Edward rolled his eyes. "You're not going to let Alice set you up anymore, are you?"

"Absolutely not," she stated firmly.

iii.

Bella met Tyler through Emmett. She had hoped that since the previous two disasters were a product of Alice's meddling, Tyler would be the type of guy she was looking for. He worked out at the gym with Emmett three times a week and the two had become fast friends. Tyler was definitely easy on the eyes and Bella could ignore his overly enthusiastic manner as long as she could stare at him while doing so. He sometimes acted more like a twelve year old than a twenty-four year old drywaller but he rarely talked about his job and when he was being serious, Bella enjoyed their debates on music and movies.

His job often left him struggling through periods of unemployment and Bella had to pay for both of them on more than one occasion – something Edward frowned upon when she told him later. They took to staying in as much as they could to help both their wallets and Bella discovered through their debates that they had similar tastes in movies. Of course lately neither of them seemed very interested in watching said movies and they had taken to making out like teenagers on their couches.

Tyler, Bella was smug to admit, was very good at kissing. With some forgotten movie playing in the background, Bella tugged Tyler's shirt up and over his head, tossing it to the floor. She flopped back on the couch, pulling him down on top of her, very glad that Tyler worked out with Emmett. His fingers danced along ribcage and Bella bit back a moan.

"Tyler," she whispered against his mouth, her breath hitching as he brushed the underside of her breast, "maybe we should take this into the bedroom."

"Yeah, maybe you should," an angry voice snarled from the doorway.

Bella yanked away, startled, and found Edward, dressed in his EMT uniform, leaning against the doorframe, eyes dark with anger. She felt her body flush, this time from embarrassment, as she scrambled to her feet.

She licked her lips nervously. "I thought you were working the late shift tonight," she uttered, looking apologetically.

"Dude, what the hell…" Tyler said, then turned towards Bella and trailed off, his gaze greedily taking in her body.

"Put a shirt on," Edward growled and Bella looked down to realize that somehow her top had come off. She found it by the coffee table, slipping it on as Tyler groaned in disappointment.

"Cockblocker," Tyler griped.

Edward scowled. "Get out."

"Edward," Bella began to protest, but then the words got caught in her throat at the look on his face. She cleared her throat. "Maybe you should leave, Tyler…"

Tyler whipped his head to stare at her in disbelief. "Are you serious? You're just going to leave me like this?" He waved his hand towards the tightening of his jeans.

Bella looked at Edward, embarrassed. "You've got a hand," Edward snapped. "Go take care of it yourself."

"Edward," she hissed, grabbing his arm and digging her nails into him sharply. He winced. "What the hell is your problem?"

"Look, there's obviously something going on between the two of you that I don't know," Tyler explained as he pulled his shirt on and looked between Bella and Edward.

Bella opened her mouth to argue, to say that she was just friends with Edward. And why the hell would he think there was something going on between them two of them?

"So…it was fun while it lasted, Bella." Tyler swooped down and gave her a chaste kiss on the cheek. "See ya!"

Bella waited until she heard Tyler let himself out before she turned on Edward, anger coursing through her veins. "I really want to punch you right now," she said through gritted teeth, clenching her fists at her side.

Edward scoffed. "You were the one in the midst of a grope-fest on our couch."

"Damn it, Edward, I didn't realize you were going to be home so early or I would've taken it to the bedroom."

Edward's face paled. "Oh, that's rich. So this is my fault? You should've been in the bedroom in the first place. Rule number 4 – no sex in any common areas of the house."

"We weren't going to have sex, Edward. We were just fooling around." She pulled her hair in frustration, still glaring at him. "And even if we were going to have sex, it's none of your damn business."

"What did you even see in him? He can't hold a steady job, he has the maturity level of a five year old and he…"

"He what?"

"I don't know!" Edward yelled. "He wasn't good for you. Did you really think you were going to marry him? He can barely even support himself."

Bella burst out into laughter and Edward scowled. "I find my concerns to be perfectly valid, thank you very much."

"I only liked him because of his body." She shrugged. "This one wasn't even a contender for Mr. Right."

"Good," Edward sighed, and Bella could feel their anger and frustration start to ebb.

She hated fighting with Edward because it made everything feel wrong and out of place. She felt physically pained when they argued and she sometimes wished she had tougher skin to fend of the blows of his sharp words. Edward also looked relieved that the tense atmosphere was finally giving way to something more comfortable, more stable.

"I think you should apologize for being a cockblocker though," she said after a few minutes of awkward silence.

"I'm definitely not apologizing for that." Edward gave her a gentle shove down the hall. "Go take a cold shower."

Bella looked up at him innocently. "What, you're not going to tell me to take matters into my own hands?" She grinned triumphantly when she saw Edward's eyes widen as a slight blush tainted his cheeks.

"Jesus," Edward breathed, running a hand through his already mussed hair. "I need a drink."

iv.

Jacob was the closest Bella had gotten to that romantic, sweep you off of your feet, happily ever after. He worked in the garage that Rosalie and Emmett had started as a mechanic. He was a couple of years younger than Bella, but he rarely acted like there was much of an age difference. He had to help his wheelchair-bound father a lot when he was younger and he told Bella that he was forced to grow up a little faster than he would have wanted. He always paid for their dates and brought her flowers whenever he could. He would call her all the time, to wish her a good morning and to bid her goodnight, just to check up on her during the day. Bella thought she was in love.

Jacob was the first man she slept with since she started searching for Mr. Right. With rough hands but gentle kisses, he made her feel wanted and cherished. She didn't regret sleeping with Jacob, even when Edward made her cry, her cheeks red in anger and humiliation, because he called her easy.

Jacob let her crash at his place when she stormed out of her apartment in between a mess of angry tears and harsh words. Jacob didn't like Edward; he couldn't see the strength of their friendship or understand how they could live with one another. All he saw was competition – no matter how many times Bella tried to reassure him that there was nothing romantic between the two of them.

"It's not you I don't trust," Jacob had said. "It's him."

Edward didn't like Jacob either. He said that he was too possessive, that they were jumping into the relationship too fast. In the years that they had been friends, Bella and Edward had never fought as much as they did over Jacob Black. Bella thought maybe it was because Edward finally realized how close he was to losing her.

She threatened to move out permanently.

"I'm not ready for you to move in with me," Jacob said, when she broached the subject about moving out of her apartment with Edward.

"So you think I should stay in the apartment with Edward?" Every time she brought up Edward's name, her eyes watered and Jacob would grunt in irritation.

"I don't know," he snapped. "You can move out, find another apartment by yourself, if you want. I'm not ready for that level of commitment yet, Bells. We've only been dating for five months. Don't you think we're moving a little fast?"

Bella exhaled noisily; she hadn't realized that's where Jacob's thoughts had been lately. Jacob had been the longest she had dated anyone since she decided she was ready to settle down, the only one she got close enough to that she could call him her boyfriend. He had told her he loved her and she was foolish enough to believe him.

"I didn't realize you thought that way," she responded flatly.

"Geez, Bella. I told you that I grew up too fast and now that I'm on my own, I just want a chance to live and be free for a while. Do what I want when I want. I don't want to be tied down with a wife and kids at home. I'm surprised I've lasted this long."

Bella felt like all the air in her lungs had been kicked out her. "So…what?" she asked angrily. "I'm just something you're passing the time with so you can have a little fun and then move on when you're done?"

Jake looked at her in disbelief. "You didn't seriously expect me to get down on one knee and propose to you so soon, did you?"

"Of course I didn't, but I at least felt that this relationship was something serious. Did you think this was all a joke?" Her face burned in anger and she felt hot tears running down her cheeks.

"Aw, Bells, don't cry over me." Jake tried to wrap his arms around her but she shoved him away. "I didn't realize you thought we were getting that serious," he stated truthfully.

Bella spluttered. "You don't tell someone you love them if you don't expect things to get serious, Jake."

"Where are you going?" Jake demanded when she stumbled to her feet and started haphazardly tossing her belongings into her overnight bag.

"Home."

"Edward's not going to welcome you home with open arms, Bella. Not after what you put him through."

"And you think he hasn't hurt me just as much as I've hurt him?" she questioned through her tears.

"So then why are you going back?"

Bella sobbed but mustered a final glare at Jake. "Because he's the only one worth going home to." She slammed his door behind her.

Jake lived a half hour walk away from her apartment building and she used the time to contemplate her life. She knew that Edward may not forgive her easily for walking out on him, but their friendship was the solidest thing she knew. It was the one thing she knew would never let her down no matter how many fights they got into or how upset they got with one another. They may have said things they didn't mean but they always meant the things they never had to say. She trembled and her chest felt hollow when she thought about Edward rejecting her.

He would never do that, she thought. He loves you too much.

Bella stopped in her tracks and the weight of this realization was a welcomed distraction from the constant throbbing of her aching heart. He loved her and Bella wanted to smack herself silly for not seeing it sooner.

Edward knew everything there was to know about her. He could tell what her favorite color was just by looking at what she was wearing that day. He knew her favorite children's fairytales and the movies that made her cry. He could recite the lines of Romeo for her because she always asked him to read the play to her whenever she was sick. He put up with all her flaws like the fact that she forgets to cap the toothpaste and leaves her wet towels on the floor and he loved her despite it all.

Bella laughed because somewhere along the way on her quest for Mr. Right, she hadn't realized that he had been standing in front of her the entire time.

Her feet picked up the pace as she neared her building and her entire body tingled, every nerve ending sparked in anticipation at the thought of seeing Edward soon. There were no tears this time when she thought of him, only a gentle smile. She was so nervous she dropped her keys twice outside her apartment door before she finally got it in the lock.

"Edward?" she called, dropping her bag and keys on the floor by the door. The apartment was silent. She moved through each room and found that Edward wasn't even in here. She cursed under her breath and pulled her phone from her back pocket, speed dialing 1.

"What do you want, Bella?" His voice sounded tired, weary from all the shouting and the crying.

"Where are you?"

She heard him sigh. "Rose and Em's. I couldn't…" His voice cracked. "It was hard to be in the apartment without you," he admitted.

"I miss you," she whispered. "Will you please come home?" She wanted to cry because the Edward on the phone wasn't the Edward she was used to. He was broken and alone. Because of her.

He didn't respond and Bella sniffled. "I'm sorry," she pleaded. "There're some things that I realized and…I just, please, Edward. I need you."

He sighed again. "I'll be home in twenty minutes."

v.

Bella paced the apartment until she heard the familiar jingle of keys in the lock. She rushed to the front entrance just in time to see Edward as he walked through the door. There was no hesitation, no moment to think about what she was doing, and Bella flung herself at Edward, wrapping her arms tightly around his neck while her legs gripped his hips like a vice.

"Edward," she breathed into his neck, and her entire body relaxed, tension she didn't realize she was feeling eased from her muscles.

Edward hugged her back just as fiercely. Steady, constant. This was where she belonged. This was home. He kissed her forehead, a gentle pressure of his lips against her soft skin.

"I'm such an idiot," she mumbled as she inhaled his scent, a familiar fragrance of honey and lilac, like sunshine on a warm summer's day. She felt giddy in his arms, an unbearable lightness to the desperate rush to settle down and fall in love. She wanted to run back to Jacob's place and stick her tongue out like a child because Edward welcomed her home with more than open arms; he was here with an open heart.

"Bella?" He was confused, unsure of where exactly they were standing in this confusing mess of emotions.

She pulled back to look him in the eyes and brushed his hair from his forehead. He looked haggard, like he hadn't slept in days and that was probably her fault.

"It's always been you," she whispered, leaning her forehead against his and running her fingers through his hair. "You love me."

Edward's eyes still betrayed his hurt but there was something else burning dimly, getting brighter. "Truly I do."

"I'm sorry I'm so stupid. I just…god, I didn't even realize it until I stopped to think about why I couldn't stand to be around those other guys. I kept comparing them to you."

Edward had maneuvered them into the kitchen so Bella could sit on the counter and still be level with where he had held her. He placed his hands on either side of her body and skimmed his nose along her neck.

"I'm sorry that I called you easy – I didn't mean that at all. I was so angry that Jacob was the one to hold you and touch you."

"Why didn't you say anything earlier?"

"Really, Bella? If you were in my position, you can't possibly say that you wouldn't have been terrified of my reaction to a declaration like that."

"But you're the bravest man I know," she teased, an attempt to lighten the mood.

"Even the bravest men are brought to their knees by love." He kissed the juncture where her neck met her shoulder, dragging his lips up to her jaw.

"Kiss me already," she demanded.

"I am kissing you." She could feel Edward smirk against her skin. She whined and dug her heel into his ass, pulling him even closer.

"Please."

Edward leaned back to look her in the eyes. "I love you, Bella."

She smiled softly, lovingly. "I love you too, Edward."

His resulting smile was brilliant and blinding before it was cut off by Bella pulling his face down. There was no desperation in this kiss, nothing but the gentle pressure of lips against lips, a simple exploration of each other's mouths as they tested the waters of this newfound intimacy. When Jacob touched her, Bella thought that she felt like she was being cherished, but that was child's play compared to the feelings ignited by Edward's hands and lips and tongue tracing invisible boundary lines along the planes of her body.

When she was so encompassed in the idea of finding Mr. Right and disappointed in the lack of potential possibilities, she thought herself foolish for losing herself in between the words of her romantic novels and fairytale endings. But here, as Edward mouthed words of adoration against her skin, she believed that what she had was better than those happily ever afters because, as she clutched Edward's body closer to hers, she realized that what she had with Edward? That was real.