A/N: I am so happy to have another chapter as an offering to you, Dear Readers. Over the past month, I have been beset with real life issues that robbed me of my creativity. I have learned to never force a chapter when I am not in the right frame of mind. With that said, I want to thank you for being patient and sticking by me during my times of trials.

My betas were behind me 100% and I want to thank them personally for always supporting me: Charmie77, acireamos, SSHG316 and SavageWoman. I also want to thank Irritable Grizzzly for ridding my writing of fandom clichés and romance novel cheesiness all in one fell swoop with her twitchy red pen.

This chapter is dedicated to my fandom friend, my reader extraordinaire, Edwardbabymomma. Nic has been chomping at the bit for some intimacy between these two beyond second base. Luckily for her, my mojo's muse was smut this chapter. hehehe

CLOSER

by Corinne Bailey Rae

Your love is so good that I want to show you
Don't make me responsible,

for something that you can't find
Ohhh
Your loving is so good, so good, the closer
I want it, I want it
Intimate...

I want it, I want it,
Leave it right here...
I want to get close to you, baby
Experience...
I want it, I want it
Generous...
Lay down what's impeding you
Cause I want to get close to you

For your love is ever before me, and I walk continually in your truth.—Psalm 26:3

Chapter 26 – TLC - Closer

Edward eyed the foul words and threats drawn on his mother's Cadillac as he flipped open his cellphone and dialed dispatch. Since he and all his colleagues inside the reception were technically off-duty, he needed to call someone in to work the crime scene and interface with the FSU campus police.

He made his way back to where his mother was and helped her gingerly to her feet. She was trembling and near tears, so he held her until she was calm. They were inspecting her car in disbelief, but maintaining a perimeter so the crime scene wouldn't be disturbed when a couple of cruisers and the FSU campus police pulled into the parking lot.

The responding officers gave Edward some latitude once he identified himself as one of their own. They made relatively short work of what could have dragged on for hours, and he was thankful that the reception was in such full-swing that none of the guests were alerted by what had transpired in the parking lot. Only a few departing guests and pedestrians who happened to be nearby were aware that anything was going on.

"You can file your report and see the police psychologist Monday. We know how to get you if we need anything else, Cullen," Officer Donovan said. "Go on back in and finish up your best man duties, and give McCarty our congrats."

Edward took his mother's arm, and they headed back into the reception. "Mother, you should probably stay at my place with Bella tonight."

"With Bella?" Elizabeth's brow furrowed.

Edward got a little nervous in spite of himself. "Um, yeah, Bella's staying at the condo while I've been staying at her place. The security is better there."

"I'm not sure if Bella would like to have your mother as a roommate, son."

"Really, Mom, she won't mind."

They met Carlisle and Esme on the way out.

"Elizabeth, we thought you'd be home by now," Esme began. Then a look of concern creased her brow when she saw how shaken Elizabeth was. "What happened, Edward?"

"Mother's car was vandalized. And from the looks of it, by the same person or persons who've been stalking Bella," Edward explained.

Esme steered her sister-in-law to some chairs against the wall, and they sat down as she talked softly with her. Carlisle moved a distance away from the women, a frown marring his usually pleasant features.

"They seem to be getting braver. Any theories about what's happening here, Edward?"

"The perp wrote things on the car like 'you can't protect them all,' 'death to the cop's mom,' and 'kill your girlfriend' among other vile things." Edward's eyes flashed dark green with anger. "The bastard is after me, but is trying to hurt me through people I care about."

"Still no positive ID, then?"

"No." Edward ran his hand through his hair agitatedly. "Whoever's doing this is smart and always manages to be just a step ahead of me. Uncle Carlisle, you and Aunt Esme need to be careful—they might try coming after you, too."

"Our neighborhood is very secure, as is the house. I'll make sure Esme is aware, so she can take precautions while I'm at work."

"Mom's home is vulnerable, so I'm going to take her to the condo until we can make some arrangements for her safety in Crawfordville."

"Elizabeth can come home with us. She'll be safe there, and she and Esme can travel together during the day if they need to go out. Hell, I'll hire a bodyguard if you feel it's necessary."

"I was thinking of doing the same for Mother since the perp took a shot at me, although it was a poorly aimed one. I know Mother won't want to stay away from home for long, so I'll have no choice but to hire someone."

Getting Bella back to the condo alone was something he'd been looking forward to all day, and to have their evening disrupted by a shifting of living arrangements wasn't something he'd bargained for. "If Mother is amenable to staying with you tonight, I won't object."

They moved back toward the women, and Carlisle addressed his wife. "Honey, I've invited Elizabeth home with us until Edward can sort out some things." Esme smiled and nodded.

Elizabeth looked relieved. "Thanks, Carlisle, Esme." She smiled ruefully. "My son offered me shelter at his place with Bella, but I'm sure they'll both be glad not to have me in the way."

"Are you sure, Mother?" Edward asked anxiously. "You wouldn't be—"

"Son, as much as I like Bella and I'm sure she likes me, I think she would rather not have her evening with you cut short by my imposition." Elizabeth stood and dusted his tux with her hands. "Esme and Carlisle are more my speed, anyway."

Although reluctant, he decided it was best to give in before he made them all uneasy with his tension. The stalkers were armed and not afraid to use weapons, and although he knew he couldn't be everywhere at one time to protect all of his family, he was damn sure going to try.

~888~

Edward briefed Seth and some of his other colleagues about the incident, and they promised to be on high alert until the reception ended. He didn't want any surprises when Emmett and Rosalie left to begin their honeymoon. About an hour after they'd cut the cake, thrown the bouquet—which was caught by Angela—and thrown the garter belt—which landed in Edward's hair—the remaining guests sent Emmett and Rosalie off through a hail of bubbles. Edward, Seth, and four other officers in attendance formed a perimeter around the crowd and scoured the parking lot for suspicious people and vehicles.

He also told Bella about what happened, because he wanted her to stay alert and be careful even when he couldn't be with her. Performing her Maid of Honor duties and helping Rosalie had kept Bella so preoccupied, she hadn't had time to wonder where Edward was, let alone gone looking for him; and for that he was grateful.

Edward realized that through the wedding planning, preparation, and this special weekend for Emmett and Rosalie, Bella and Rosalie had become true friends. It made him happy that Bella was blending so seamlessly into his life, and as he watched her hugging Rosalie one last time before Emmett helped his bride into the back of the limousine, he knew he had never seen her look more beautiful. Her brown eyes were sparkling as she looked up and found him gazing at her.

As the limousine pulled away and the guests raucously bid the bride and groom adieu, he and Bella were drawn together like magnets. When she melted into his arms, he held her close, inhaling her familiar scent. He didn't open his eyes until he heard a definitively male throat being cleared.

Charlie had a rather impassive look on his face, and Renee, as usual, was beaming.

"Hey kids, we're heading home," Renee said as she opened her arms to her daughter. As Bella moved from his arms to her mother's, Edward kept his eyes on Charlie.

Charlie extended a hand to Edward, and he shook it. "Goodnight, Reverend Swan."

"I heard about what happened here earlier," Charlie said without preamble. He didn't smile, but he didn't scowl either. However, his voice had a menacing almost threatening tone. "Take care of my baby girl, Edward."

Bella pulled out of her mother's arms and looked at her father. "Dad!"

Edward's eyes held Charlie's, letting him know he understood. "You can count on it, sir."

Renee's hazel eyes shot daggers at her husband. She turned away from him, moved to give Edward a firm hug and a smile. Then she looked from him to Bella. "See you two at church tomorrow?"

"Absolutely," Edward affirmed.

"Goodnight," Renee said as she took Charlie's hand and shook it, as if to chastise him.

"Goodnight," Charlie muttered, grinning good-naturedly at his wife.

"Goodnight," Edward and Bella said almost in unison, and her parents turned and walked to their car. Edward took Bella's hand, and they joined their friends and remaining members of the wedding party and re-entered the FSU Alumni Center.

They quickly retrieved their belongings. Jasper, Ben, and Seth helped Edward load the car while Alice and Bella collected the cake top and the other personal items Rosalie had left in their care, including the gifts.

Before they knew it, they were in the car and pulling into the garage at the Tennyson building on Monroe Street. Although not really tired, they decided to leave the unpacking of the car for morning, with exception of the cake top. Bella brought it up and stored it in the freezer.

Edward loved how she'd grown so comfortable in his condo in just a few weeks. He could see her there with him on a permanent basis, making it the kind of home that he had longed for but had only fleetingly as a child.

They entered the master suite and promptly began shucking clothes. She disappeared into the massive walk-in closet, while he found a pair of comfortable sweats in a drawer and tugged them on, not bothering with a shirt. He laid his tux neatly on the wing chair in the corner. When Bella emerged from the closet in a Spelman tank and shorts, sans bra, he felt a stirring down below that betrayed his constant hunger for her.

She smiled broadly and hurled herself into his arms. He stumbled backward as they fell on the huge king-sized bed, and he rolled them so they were lying on their sides facing one another.

"Ugh," Bella said, "I love Rosalie and Emmett, but I'm so glad that's over."

"You can say that again," he mumbled as his lips got busy tasting the sweet flesh of her exposed neck.

"Mmmm," Bella moaned. "I've missed these lips..."

He quickly stifled her words with his own lips, the urgency of the kiss heating them both to near boiling in seconds flat.

Damn, he wanted her so badly that his balls were almost tender to the touch. The irony of it all was that he knew Bella wanted him, too. She had said as much, so he knew that she could very easily break her promise if they weren't careful. Recently, every time they were together, there was a struggle to stay within the agreed-upon boundaries of physical intimacy. It was never machinated or calculated, but things just quickly escalated out of control whenever they were together.

He refused to go there tonight. He wanted to with every fiber of his being, but the incident with the stalker and accomplice had literally drained him, and he was too vulnerable to his need for her to play with fire tonight. Taking one final taste of her mouth, he broke the kiss, rolled away, and sat up.

Bella sat up, too, eyeing him quizzically. She rested her head on his shoulder and whispered, "Are you all right?"

"Yeah, I think I'm going to take a shower," he said abruptly. When he stood up and headed for the bathroom, the panic in her voice stopped him in his tracks.

"Edward!"

He turned, and she was right there, her hands touching him like she was trying to ascertain if he was in pain. "You have an angry-looking bruise on your left shoulder. Does it hurt?"

"No," he said truthfully. "My muscles are a little achy from rolling around on the parking lot pavement, but I'm good."

Her hands traveled from his shoulder to his hand. She took his hand in hers and pulled him back toward the bed. "I have an idea," she said. "Why don't I give you a massage?"

"A massage? Bella, I'm not sure—"

"I'm really good at it. Our gymnastics coach taught us how. It'll loosen up your muscles, and then a warm bath will complete the job."

He really shouldn't have, but he capitulated. While she disappeared in the bathroom to get some massage oil and other necessary items, he stripped to his boxers as she'd demanded, pulled the comforter off the bed, and lay flat on his stomach. She was gone so long, he was sure he'd taken a brief nap. Her warm hands sliding firmly over the planes and muscles of his back awakened him. She'd put her iPod in the iHome, and soft mood music was playing in the background—Corinne Bailey Rae's new album, "The Sea," her current obsession. The lights were dimmed and candles were lit in various places around the bedroom, and he was certain he heard water running in the bathroom. Bella was not exaggerating; she really was good, and despite the therapeutic nature of this activity, he couldn't help but get aroused by what she was doing.

Using both hands, she applied gentle pressure with the tips of her fingers in slow circular motions, moving up and down his back. She spent a lot of time warming up the large group of muscles on either side of his spine, identifying the knots in his muscles that needed to be worked out.

After getting his muscles warm and loose, she splayed her fingers out along his back, and with the pads of her thumbs, gently but more firmly began rubbing circles up and down the sides of his spine. As the massage progressed, she became more confident as she coaxed from him which pressures felt good and which did not. Her gentle murmurs were like foreplay, and as she worked the kinks out of his muscles and he became more and more relaxed, he became more and more horny.

Once Bella was done massaging the muscles along his spine, she worked up towards his shoulder. Every time she hit an area that felt especially tight, she very gently rubbed circles around and on top of the muscle, using the pads of her thumbs. He was surprised at how strong her hands were and at the magic they were creating.

She switched to using all four fingers to massage the muscles on either side of his back in a kneading motion. Then she steadily decreased the pressure she was exerting until she was only rubbing his back, soothing his thoroughly kneaded muscles.

"Aww, baby, that felt so good," he mumbled.

"I know, right?" she whispered. "Just relax. I'll be right back and finish taking care of you." He heard the jets engage in the jacuzzi, and she immediately returned to complete the massage.

Having given his upper body, shoulders, and arms a thorough work-over, she moved down to his lower body, beginning with his legs. As her hands traveled over the long muscles of his thighs, leaving him loose and relaxed there, as well, he felt like it couldn't get any better than this. But then she slathered more massage oil on her hands, slid them into his boxers, and began working over his glutes.

Fuck!

He got immediately stiff as a board; blood pounded in his loins with a throbbing so fierce, he felt like his balls might fall off completely.

"Bel-la!" he groaned. Edward didn't dare turn over, afraid she might be traumatized by how engorged he was.

She leaned her torso over until her chest was touching his back. He could feel her nipples through the thin fabric of her tank. "Shh," she soothed, "I'm almost done." Her hands worked their magic on his glutes, and toward the end, he felt like he was going to melt and seep through the mattress. He willed himself not to think of anything other than what was happening, or he would most certainly have jizzed in his boxers.

When she finished, she didn't immediately remove her hands, and he didn't move, either. He hummed a few bars of Taps so he could calm himself and she wouldn't see him standing at attention. Bella laid her torso over him lightly, once again, and whispered in his ear, "Time for your bath, sweetie."

He was so relaxed, yet he wanted her to stay close to him. "Do I have to move right now?" he murmured.

Bella lay down next to him, her hand running up and down his back languorously. "No, but your bath will get cold if we don't get you in there soon." She kissed him on the cheek and slid off the bed. He didn't raise his head, but his eyes followed her as she stood up. With her back to him, she crossed her arms in front of herself, caught the bottom of her tank with her fingers, and pulled it over her head. She threw the tank on the floor and moved slowly toward the bathroom door. When she was halfway there, she cupped her breasts in her hands and turned to him.

"Are you coming?" she taunted.

I certainly hope I am!

Her invitation gave him a burst of energy he didn't know he had. He jumped up off the bed and hurried into the bathroom behind her. Was she drunk? How much champagne did she have at the wedding? She was wriggling out of her shorts when he made it to the bathroom door, her back still to him.

"Bella?" He couldn't help it. He was drawn to her as she revealed the black thong she was wearing underneath. It framed her cheeks like a work of art, and even while he was tentative about what she was doing, his hands involuntarily cupped them. The throbbing in his groin grew even more intense.

"Hmmm?" She turned into his arms and pressed her breasts against him. When she felt the rest of him, hard and erect, come in contact with her lower body, her eyes grew wide fleetingly.

"Holy God," she murmured.

Holy God, indeed, he thought. Her hands got busy plying him with soft caresses. She was frantic, almost feverish in her need to touch him. He felt the same way.

He grunted as if she had struck him, so shocked he stuttered, "B-baby, you sure you want to do this?" An image of dragging her to the floor and hammering into her flashed in his mind, and it scared the shit out of him.

"Take a bath with you?" she quickly answered, "Yes."

"This is dangerous," he said.

"Only if we allow it to be." Her arms went around his neck, and her fingers dove into his hair. She slammed her tight gymnast's body against his and kissed him, trembling as the kiss intensified. He dipped his knees and molded her body to his and holding her so tightly, her feet left the floor when he stood tall again. His hands greedily explored her deliciously bare, round backside. Her hands were impatiently tugging his boxers down, and she cupped his ass making him moan helplessly into her mouth. In response, he hooked his thumbs into the lacy elastic of the thong on either side of her hips and dragged it down. They stepped back briefly and allowed their underwear to slip to the floor as they wriggled out of them, not breaking their kiss.

His breath shuddered in his lungs as he finally broke away to step back and look at her. Her lips were swollen, and her blush was everywhere. He closed his hands over her firm breasts and watched with rapt fascination as her eyes glazed over. Then he couldn't resist. He dipped his head, took one of her perfect breasts into his mouth, and sucked gently. She reacted as if it were sweet torture and urged him on as she writhed against him. Edward sucked harder until he knew that she could barely contain herself, and she let loose a guttural moan.

"Oh, baby!"

Her hands were greedily skimming over his musculature, kindling delicious fires of need deep within his loins. His erection lay heavy and swollen against her belly, perilously close to shooting a load without her having touched him there. She tried to get a hand between them to take him into her hands, but he encircled her wrists and raised her hands over her head while he took her lips again and devoured her mouth with his own.

"Don't," he said. "Not yet." Then he got a good look at the bathroom and realized she had planned the whole thing. There were candles everywhere, bubbles in the bath, the jets were on and the water looked warm and inviting. Somehow, she always knew when he was nearing his breaking point and responded to his needs, but he didn't want this to be another Deanie and Bud situation.

He narrowed his eyes. "How much champagne did you have at the wedding?" He tried to keep the suspicion out of his voice.

"Baby, believe me, I am not impaired in any way," she panted, her breathing ragged. "Ooh, I take that back. I might be sexually intoxicated, but I promise I'm not hyped up on any foreign substances." With that, her hands dove into his hair again, and she attacked his mouth, laying a kiss on him that went straight to his groin.

He didn't know which part of his anatomy he was thinking with, but he believed her. With a cocky smirk, he picked her up and carried her to the edge of the tub.

"Edward!" she squealed as she wound her arms tightly around his neck.

"I've got you. Don't worry." He carefully stepped into the tub, settled them in, and reached for her again. The fragrant water made her slippery, but his hands found purchase on her soft sexy hips and he pulled her to straddle him onto his lap as he began to kiss her mouth again.

His need for release was overwhelming, but he had his beautiful girlfriend naked in the bathtub, and he wanted this to last. Who knew when this would happen again? However, his conscience wouldn't let him continue without asking the questions. He released her mouth and gazed into her eyes that looked almost drunk with desire.

"Are you really sure about this?" he asked softly, running a hand from her shoulder to her thigh, his fingers gliding effortlessly over her soft skin in the water.

"Yes, I am," she said evenly, her chest rising and falling as if from physical exertion. "I want us to enjoy one another, as much as we can, without guilt or fear that we'll go too far." She caressed his face with her hand. "You need this, and I do, too."

That was all the convincing he needed. He decided he would slow down and they would enjoy these shared moments of intimacy. He kissed her softly and thoroughly, and then took the sponge and began to bathe her. He had the odd sense that this must have been how King David felt, but he wasn't just watching Bathsheba bathe, he was the one doing the bathing. Damn, he'd been really paying very close attention in Rev. Swan's Bible studies.

A combination of thoughts of Bible studies and Rev. Swan had him deflating quickly, but he wasn't worried. Her touch would have him responding again in no time. After he'd cleaned every possible part of her that he could see, his hands moved lower to the areas under the swirling sudsy water.

~888~

Bella's breath caught when his fingers touched her there for the first time. She shivered as if she were cold, but she felt warmth radiating all over her body through each nerve ending. He expertly found her most sensitive spot, and she jerked slightly. But the gentle pressure from his fingers and the water soothed her, and she threw her head back, careful that her hair was hanging over the edge of the tub. Edward continued to caress her with his right hand and then moved his left from where it was lightly squeezing her hip to cup her breasts that were methodically submerging and re-emerging in the water as she writhed against his touch.

Never missing a beat as his hands danced and tortured her, he got onto his knees, leaned his torso over her, and found her mouth, swallowing the moans that were drowning out the strains of her favorite song, "Closer." His kiss made everything he was doing to her so much more intense, and she found herself quickly winding up for an extreme release. Edward was a virtuoso, and he played her like an instrument, her moans of desire the music. The circular motions of his hands below and on her fully aroused nipples, while his tongue kept time with hers, were all building to a crescendo as she spiralled out of control. Then he slipped a finger a fraction of an inch into her and curled it, touching a place that made her explode.

"Oh God… Oh Ed—ward! Ahhhh! Oh, baaaaby!"

Edward chuckled and held her above the water as she lost the use of her limbs while her orgasm wracked her body. When she'd somewhat recovered, she threw her arms around him and held him so tight, they both almost went underwater.

He grabbed the side of the tub with one hand and pulled them up while he held her behind her back to keep her from sinking underneath the water. "I take it that was good?" he inquired with a smug smile.

She blushed but answered anyway. "That... was beyond good."

Bella took the sponge and began to wash him as he had done her, taking care to perform a complete and thorough cleansing, even washing his hair. She looked up and saw his hooded eyes watching her with a heated gaze. She promptly dropped the sponge, attacked his neck, while her hands found his nipples and aroused them with lazy little circles.

Her hand slipped under the water and encircled him. The slight jerk of his body told her he wasn't expecting that, but as she began a smooth pumping motion, his groan of both pleasure and surprise made her smile.

His hand slid over the smooth skin of her backside as she continued to kiss his neck and caress him with her hand. Edward was afraid he might drown right there in the bathtub if he allowed her to continue torturing him, the palm of her hand slipping smoothly from base to tip in the warm, soapy water.

"Let's get out of here," he whispered in a voice raspy with lust. He stood, grabbed a couple of towels, and enveloped her with one of them, as she rose to join him. Almost racing to complete the task of drying themselves, they finished in record time and dropped the towels. As they came out of the bathroom, kissing and touching, they stumbled across the room until they fell, a mass of tangled arms and legs, onto the bed. Somehow, Bella landed on top. She straddled him and peppered his torso with kisses, nibbles, and bites that drove him wild. He tried to control the wildness of his need, but it had been too long. He gave her complete control of his system, because he had most certainly lost it.

Bella kissed a trail on his torso, where she scraped her teeth over his muscles until he trembled uncontrollably. As she nibbled down his happy trail, his breathing automatically hitched, and to his sheer and utter surprise, she took him into her mouth. Edward saw double when her lips closed over him, and she began to work him with her lips, teeth, and tongue. Fighting every instinct he had to thrust into her mouth and explode like an inexperienced teenager, he held on for as long as he could.

Watching her was one of the most erotic sights he'd ever seen, but the thought of coming in her mouth reminded him of all the others he'd done this with. Not wanting to relegate her to the same level as those women, he took her face firmly yet gently between his hands and pulled her back. He slid her up his torso, but before she could protest, he clamped his mouth to hers and she sucked his tongue into her mouth.

She placed her hand where her mouth had been and continued her motions, watching as his eyes clouded over and a powerful orgasm ripped through him, laying waste to every ounce of control he had left. His arms, which had been wrapped possessively around her, fell limp and useless at his sides, while Bella kissed his face and murmured endearments to him. The release left him replete physically, but he was always surprised by the emotion she evoked in him. This woman owned him heart and soul. He felt as if she had made a sacrifice that was only possible because of her selfless and unconditional love for him, and he was humbled by it.

Finally, he was able to bring his arms around her again as she lay on top of him, and he kissed her deeply. With one brow cocked in question, green eyes found brown as he held her aloft to look into her eyes.

"I don't know whether to thank you or ask where the hell you learned to do that."

Bella giggled. "Bachelorette parties are veritable hotbeds of information."

Then she commenced nibbling on his jaw. He was surprised that his ravaged system was struggling to respond to fresh signals that his body wasn't quite ready to accommodate. Bella didn't need to tell him that she had never been like this with anyone else, just as he knew that he found more with her than anyone else.

His hands moved to touch her again, his fingers playing over her breasts, teasing her nipples until they were rigid and elongated. He rolled her onto her back, taking his opportunity to worship her body again.

She arched her back as he moved to where her ache was greatest and covered her with his mouth. She cupped his head with her hands and surrendered to the excruciating pleasures he was eliciting in her with his tongue. His lips swept over her, and then his teeth lightly grazed her sensitized flesh, his movements starting tender and becoming urgent to the point it became brutal. She couldn't contain herself any longer. Explosions burst behind her eyes, and the ache in her was sated as Edward brought her to a climax that robbed her of all feeling save the waves of pleasure that bombarded her.

Watching her writhe in ecstasy, Edward smiled as he rode out her orgasm before releasing her. He then gathered her in his arms and kissed her passionately. Sighing, he leaned back and brushed the hair from her flushed face.

Speechless, Bella looked at his beautiful face, which was totally relaxed. There was no tension around his eyes or his mouth, and his shoulders were relaxed and slack. His eyes held so much love in them it almost brought tears to her eyes.

"I love you, Bella," he whispered before drifting off to sleep.

She had no words to describe the heights of pleasure he'd brought her to, nor did she have words to describe the depth of her feelings for him.

As she watched him sleep, she knew that for all intents and purposes, she had moved into a huge gray area that was considered totally inappropriate by many in her church including her father, and she had done so with her eyes wide open.

And oh, God, forgive me, but for the life of me, I can't muster the courage to regret it. I love him too much to care right now.

If there were consequences for her actions, she would gladly pay them, with interest. Edward had been suffering, and she knew it. He hadn't said so, but she had come to know him so well, she could tell. It manifested in his eyes, the tightness around his mouth, and the stress in his shoulders that made his whole countenance change.

She had been struggling, too, but nowhere near what he was going through. Having never experienced the act of consummation as he had, she had no frame of reference. She knew he would have borne it as long as he needed to for her. But she had an acute and innate sense of knowing when the man she loved was in pain, and she would do anything within her power to alleviate it.

She smiled and touched his lips with her fingers.

"I love you, Edward." She kissed his sleeping face before snuggling into his side and closing her eyes.

~888~

As much as he needed the rest, his subconscious littered his dreams with the events of the wedding and his worries about the stalker. He awoke with a start to find Bella asleep next to him, her arm draped across his chest. A glance at the clock told him he'd been asleep for a few hours.

He gently moved Bella's arm and slipped out of bed, careful not to disturb her. He rubbed his hands over his face before grabbing a clean pair of boxers from his dresser and putting them on.

He wandered into the living room and sat down at the piano to play and think about the people who were taking whatever vendetta they had against him out on the people he loved.

James Hall was probably not the aggressive stalker. The guy he'd seen was stockier, but he had not gotten a good look at his face. It had been obscured by grease paint camouflage, but he was definitely Caucasian. That fact may or may not rule out Laurent Beauvoir. Truth be told, either Hall or Beauvoir could have been the driver of the vehicle because he didn't get a visual of the driver at all. As fatigue overtook him, he closed the piano and headed back to bed. He had not come to any satisfactory conclusions.

He found Bella much in the same position he'd left her. She was sleeping the sound sleep of sexual exhaustion brought about by multiple orgasms: face down, her arms sprawled out and her hair wild on the pillow. He smoothed her hair and drew a finger down her back to just where her derriere disappeared under the sheet, but she did not stir. He smiled as he watched her sleep.

He'd been truly surprised that she had allowed him to take her far beyond what she had experienced before and was particularly overwhelmed by what she had willingly done to satisfy him. Rev. Swan would probably pop an aneurism if he knew, but Bella was a grown woman who made her own decisions, and she had been eager to take the next step in their relationship. How much farther could they go that would still allow her to keep that ring on her finger? Not very far, he decided, because he was determined that he would not be the cause of her breaking her vow, and he would make sure that didn't happen, even if he had to take cold showers for another year.

Edward had never felt the vulnerability he felt with Bella for anyone, not since he was ten years old. If something happened to her, it would hurt him more deeply than anything. And he could hurt her if he didn't complete all the stages of his therapy with Dr. Levy. All that was left was the confrontation with his father, but the ongoing stalker case was hindering his ability to travel and take care of that final hurdle. This was something he would have to maneuver very carefully.

But the burning question of the moment was who was after him, and why? That question was still nagging at him when he slipped in bed beside Bella and curved himself around her body as she sighed contentedly in her sleep. And again, it followed him hauntingly into his dreams.

E/N: Didn't write this conversation in the story, but please be assured that reformed man-whore Edward Cullen did have a physical and take all his requisite tests. He is clean as a whistle. Bella is also, because she's never been sexually active. She found the test results in a stack of mail he kind of left lying around the condo and they totally had the conversation, probably two and a half chapters ago. :)

Readers, for some of you, I know Bella has crossed a line here, but please be assured that I am not advocating that Christian girls should do any of this, although it is a fact that some do in RL. This Bella has always been meant to be a faith-based version of Deanie in Splendor in the Grass. While sexual repression for Deanie made her descend into madness, Bella will descend into the bitterness of heartbreak and regret. From the Prologue, I have warned that this story would go there. Bella is completely out of her element, but so in love she's got blinders on and doing things she never had any intention of doing. There is angst ahead, but you will not be buried in it, promise.

This Scripture was the subject of Edward's Bible Study with Charlie:

2 One evening David got up from his bed and walked around on the roof of the palace. From the roof he saw a woman bathing. The woman was very beautiful, 3 and David sent someone to find out about her. The man said, "Isn't this Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah the Hittite?" 4 Then David sent messengers to get her. She came to him, and he slept with her. Then she went back home.—2 Samuel 11:2-4