Forsaken In My Mind's Past
Chapter 53, Hold On

A/N: Dual POV chapter, hence the song "Duet." It's fabulous. Ray's voice makes me all tingly every time I hear it. To those of you sticking it out with me and reviewing, you give me a reason to write. Thank you. To those that joined my Facebook group, 'Stories with a WickedCurveBall,' mad love from me to you.

My betas are the cream in my Oreos. They make my craziness so much better to ingest.

I do not own the Twilight characters, nor do I own the songs used in this fic. But I hope you enjoy the twisted roller coaster ride I've created. Remember to keep your hands and feet inside the vehicle at all times until it comes to a full and complete stop. The crazy plot below, I do own. So please respect.

Songs: Duet ~ Rachel Yamagata and Ray LaMontagne
Best In Me~ Sent By Ravens

~*fOrSaKeN*~

"Oh lover, hold on. 'Til I come back again.
For these arms are growing tired and my tales are wearing thin,
If you're patient, I will surprise,
And when you wake up, I'll have come.
All the anger will settle dawn, and we'll go do all the things we should have done.

'Cause I remember what we said, as we lay down to bed,
I'll be here if you will only come back home

Oh lover, I'm lost. Because the road I've chosen beckons me away.
Oh lover, I've done you wrong.
And now I'm fighting words I never thought I'd say.

But I remember what we said as we lay down to bed,
I'll forgive you all if you'll just come back home.

Oh lover, I know. You'll be out there and be thinking just of me.
I will find you down the road.
And we'll return back home to where we're meant to be.

'Cause I remember what we said as we lay down to bed,
We'll be back as soon as we make history."

~*fOrSaKeN*~

~Bella~

I loved my mom.

I really did.

With every ounce of my soul. But the woman was driving me completely insane. Between her and the twins, her constant checking on me and the constant begging to open 'just one present, Mommy, please!' I was almost willing to call the men in white coats myself to come and take me away.

I should've kept my mouth shut. I mean, she would've found out about Jacob and me sooner or later, I was sure, but the whole thing with Edward, the baby – or lack thereof – the fight between Edward and Jake, and so on and so forth. All that, I should've kept to myself. But I didn't. There were, however, a couple of things I didn't tell my mother; one of which I kept from everyone.

I didn't tell her the extent of what Jake actually did to me. The way he put his hands on me. The fact that he almost raped me. I told her he'd gotten physical and that I wasn't going to put up with it. That was really all I needed to wanted to kick his ass based on just that. I also neglected to mention that Jacob had a psycho maniac stalking me and that Jake had plotted to bring the same whore back who Edward had cheated on me with in order to make history repeat itself. If I had, poor Renee's head would have probably popped like a needle piercing a balloon.

And the text, that was the thing I didn't tell anyone about. Not my sister...not even Angela. I wasn't really even sure what on earth I was thinking when I sent that text to Edward. But when I slipped away to use the restroom at Angela's house after the horrific display at the mall, and to blot the tear-streaks from my face, (only to cry some more before I left her house – story of my life), I was overcome. It was like my fingers had a mind of their own and took over even when my brain was screaming at them to stop.

Honestly, what the hell was wrong with me these days? I'd just given one overbearing, possessive son-of-a-bitch the boot, only to be sucked in against my will by another one. This shit had to stop. I was a full-grown, logical woman with children to take care of and a job that desperately needed my attention. I did not have time for this 'does he love me/does he love me not' bullshit. I had other things I needed to focus on.

Might I remind you that one of those aforementioned overbearing, possessive sons-of-bitches turned your body into a battering ram? And not in the good way, by the way. And might I also remind you that, deep down, you know the other over-bearing, possessive son-of-a-bitch would never do that? In conclusion, might now I remind you that you got yourself into this mess by omitting a pretty important little detail including a pregnancy and subsequent possible adoption?

Ah, the godforsaken little voice in my head. The one I'd have rather batted away like an annoying fly than listen to. Okay, fine. I had gotten myself into this mess. And okay, fine, Edward wasn't abusive...but how in the hell was I supposed to know he never would be? If I should've learned one thing between these two men in my life, it was never to trust anyone.

Alright, now you're reaching a little bit.

Damn it! Okay...fine! I could never picture Edward doing anything to physically hurt me. He'd rather die first, of this I was sure. But this whole 'abusive' thing was up for debate as far as I was concerned. After all, he did use his power over me, against me at the mall that day. And that was a fact, in my opinion.

Anyway, I didn't tell a soul about the text I sent him. Telling him I loved him...telling him I missed him. But that I also needed time. God, I wanted to slam my head against a brick wall. I didn't want time. I was desperate for his touch. To see his green eyes light up when they looked at me, not smolder with fury (although that could've been good in another way) and his mouth pull up in that crooked grin I loved so much. I wanted his arms around me seductively, lovingly...not angrily. Not jaded because of me.

So, of course, now that I announced how I needed so much time, I was terrified I was going to get just that. Actually, I was terrified that I was never going to hear from him again. And, after panicking for a while, alone, I decided to put on my big girl pants and toss it, along with the nightmares I had on a nightly basis starring James, Jacob, Edward and a little girl I never met, in a file in the back of my mind. All of this, no doubt, to be pulled out forfurther review once I effectively exploded and had plenty of time for self-reflection while in my padded cell at the nearest psych ward.

Yeah, I needed medication.

The whole 'burying of the feelings' fiasco would've worked just fine for me, at least until the holidays and twins' birthdays were distant memories and I could spare time for a melt-down, if it hadn't been for my overly-attentive mother. Like I said, loved her to death, but she was practically killing me with her constant, 'how are you doing today,' and playing nurse-maid to my broken heart. Oh, but my favorite was the Tarot Card-reading. Apparently she'd gotten back into that special hobby. The kids were fascinated with it. Alice found it amusing, and I just found it irritating as hell.

"Grammy, what's the scary one mean?" Krissy asked, her eyes big and inquisitive. "The one with the skeleton and the banana on a stick."

"It's a big knife, dummy!" Robby countered, studying the card. "To cut people's heads off! Like this...whoosh!" He swiped his arm toward his sister. She squealed, jumped back, and fell right on her little butt on the floor. As she began to whine and rub her tush, I decided I had about enough.

"Robert!" He looked at me all innocent. Sure. "That's enough. What have I told you about calling your sister names?"

"Oops," he muttered, glancing at me sheepishly.

"Yeah, oops," I retorted. "One more time, and all those presents under that tree go to poor little boys who deserve them...and are nice to their sisters." He gulped, looking over at said presents longingly. "Be a gentleman and help your sister up off the floor. Now!" He scrambled to help her up and muttered an apology just loud enough for me to hear. Huh.

'Tis the season.

Of course, then I bitched at my mother to put those damned things away. That they weren't for kids, and that my twins didn't need to be privy to all her voodoo and hocus pocus crap. She scowled at me while stacking them neatly and placing them back in their box.

"They're just a tool, Isabella," she scoffed. "It's not voodoo for goodness sake."

Sure it wasn't. But at least my attitude was getting shit done around here. Well, I thought it was anyway, until the next morning when I woke up to Kristen inadvertently 'reading' her brother using those same damned cards. My mother was whistling some weird tune while flipping over half-burnt pancakes, which were stinking up the house. I actually heard the 'reading' before I saw it as I stalked down the stairs, groggy from lack of sleep thanks to those fantastic nightmares that greeted me every time I slipped under.

"Oooooh, Robby, look! It's the scary skeleton guy with the banana knife." She gasped dramatically. "That means you're gonna die!" Then she cackled wickedly.

"Krissy...not nice...and that's not what it means," Renee chimed in from the stove.

"I'm not gonna die," Robby replied, ignoring his very nonchalant grandmother. "I'll just karate chop his head off!" Both the twins started laughing hysterically, and I slapped my palm to my forehead. Good God, my kids were like little terrorists...and my mother was an enabler. This shit was getting out of hand.

"I have told you both what that card means," Renee continued. "So you better stop saying stuff like that before your mom comes down here." She obviously hadn't noticed that I'd already entered the kitchen. The twins had, though, and quickly went wide-eyed with silence as I cleared my throat.

"So what does it mean, mother dear?" I asked as sarcastically as possible. Renee jumped, muttered "shit" under her breath, and spun around with the same 'deer in the headlights' looks my kids were sporting.

"Swear-jar, Grammy!" Krissy blurted, pointing to the top of the refrigerator. I followed her pointed finger, noticing a decent-sized mason jar with a piece of notebook paper taped to it. On that paper, the words Swear Jar were written in bold, black marker.

"The hell, Renee?" I cut my eyes to my chagrined mother.

"Swear-jar, Mommy!" my daughter yelled. "That'll be two dollars and fifty cents!"

I looked over at Krissy. "That's a little steep, don't ya think? Do you work for the government?" She just looked at me quizzically, and I chuckled under my breath, turning my attention back to Renee. "When did this happen?"

She shrugged. "I made it last night. All kids need a swear-jar, right?"

"Uh-huh. What's that card mean?" I narrowed my eyes at her in challenge.

She sighed. "It just means change, Bella. It means something significant is going to change in your life. So, I guess in a way, it means death to something…not someone."

"Seriously, do you ever sleep?" I changed the subject a little. "I mean, between making swear-jars and teaching my kids voodoo rituals, when do you find the time?"

She wrinkled her nose at me in disgust. "Oh please, Isabella Marie, it is not voodoo for the millionth time! Now sit down. I burned up some pancakes especially for you." Well, at least she knew she sucked at cooking. I plopped my ass down with a huff as she divvied out the blackened medallions. "And besides, I sleep just fine. You on the other hand..." she trailed off.

"I have no idea what you're talking about," I muttered, taking a sip of my coffee. Thank goodness I had set my coffee maker to brew the perfect blend of percolated heaven in advance. Lord knew what I would've been drinking had my mother attempted to make it, bless her. Renee threw a pointed look at me, but apparently something in my expression turned hers sympathetic.

"Baby..." She sat down in the chair next to me and gently squeezed my forearm. Glancing at the kids quickly, she leaned in to whisper. "I hear you up and down all night long. You can't be sleeping more than three hours a night. It's not good for you."

You don't say.

I tensed at her words and her touch. I knew she meant well, but I wasn't interested in discussing my nightmares at any time with anyone. Even her.

"I'm fine, Mom." It was nearly a whisper, strained, and she didn't buy it, of course.

"You know, I have a wonderful herbal remedy for that. Much better for you than that death-in-a-cup you're drinking," she said. Oh hell no. She'd have to pry my 'death-in-a-cup' from my cold, dead hands!

I snorted before sipping on my liquid heaven once again. "I'll pass, Renee. You stick to your witch's brew...I'll stick with my coffee."

She rolled her eyes, exhaling harshly. "Would you give it a rest? Seriously, Bella, your mother is no witch." She giggled a little, continuing with a mischievous glint in her bright, blue eyes. "Certain men should be very glad for that."

"Renee—" I started, trying to convey to her with my mind not to mention a certain ex-husband, and a certain ex-boyfriend.

"And my name is 'Mom,' not Renee, by the way."

"Okay, Mom." I raised my eyebrows at her. "Can we ix-nay the en-may please?" I said through my teeth, nodding my head in the direction of the twins. She looked from me to them and back at me before finally nodding.

"What's a em-nay?" my very perceptive daughter asked.

"Nothing," I added quickly. "It's a grown-up-person word, Krissy." My daughter simply shrugged and went back to her pancakes, bored with the adult banter.

"I know! I think we should go shopping!" Renee exclaimed with a little too much enthusiasm. "Get your mind off things."

Why was it that everyone thought I needed to get my mind off things? My mind was the reason for this entire mess I found myself in anyway. I needed to fix it. I just wasn't sure how right now.

"Mom, I don't need to go shopping," I groaned. "My Christmas money has reached its limit and these two little monsters," I pointed between said monsters, "don't need anything else." That earned me a pouty frown from Krissy.

"Well what about that thing that's coming up right after Christmas?" she hinted about the twins' birthday. "Are you all done with that also?" The half grin on her face told me she knew I wasn't, and I suddenly had a sneaking suspicion that Alice was involved with this 'wonderful' idea. I cursed my sister internally, thinking I'd have to find a way to pay her back properly. Perhaps I could tell Renee that Alice really wanted her feedback on my sister's spring line and that she should pop into her design studio unannounced...surprise her. Now that made me smile. Unfortunately my mother took my mysterious smile as my concession for a shopping trip.

"It's settled then! We'll go this afternoon!"

Somebody kill me, please.

"Can't," I replied quickly.

"Why not? Your dad already said he'd come over here and watch the kids. And Alice wants to go."

So Charlie and Alice were the culprits. Should've known. Inside my head I was stomping my feet and flailing my arms in a tantrum to rival those of my children. On the outside, however, my face was stone.

"Let's do it tomorrow." I gritted my teeth to keep my voice steady. "I need to work today. If I don't do something soon, Kate's gonna find someone much more capable of getting my column done in a timely manner."

Renee's face lit up at the fact that I was obviously giving in to her attempts at dragging me around town. Fun. Alice, on the other hand, was definitely going to be hearing from me.

"Work? Great! Go! Go...do some work. The kids and I have got this. Right guys?"

The twins looked up at that moment. Their syrup-smothered faces looked a bit confused, as they had obviously been more interested in their pancakes than even the conversation about shopping. "Mommy's going to work and Grammy's gonna stay here with you, okay?"

Robby nodded his head and smiled at me. His cheeks puffed out; his mouth obviously too full of pancakes to talk. Of course that made no difference to Krissy as she nearly squealed with a mouthful of food. "Okay, bye Mommy! Grammy, can we look at your carrot cards again?"

Renee giggled but shifted her eyes to me nervously when I cleared my throat. "No, baby. No more carrot cards. But hey, I know! We can look up our zodiac signs and read about them! It'll be so much fun!"

Oh dear God. My children were going to be crazy, babbling gypsies by the time my mom went home.

"Yay! Dobiack signs!" My daughter clapped her little hands and bounced in her seat. I fought the urge to roll my eyes.

"See, we're good here, darling. Now go on. Shoo." My mother waved her hands at me like I was a stray dog she wanted to go away. A bit shocking considering she'd probably never shoo away a 'poor defenseless creature' like that. If I hadn't known she was just trying to get me out of the house, to maybe make me feel better, I would've been offended by her excitement that I was leaving. I didn't want to go. Didn't want to leave the comfort of my home, the comfort of my miserable mind, the prison I had locked myself in. Never mind the fact that I had this oppressive feeling I was still being followed by a fucking maniac. I could never see him, but I knew he was there.

I had to go, though. I'd finally heard from Tanya, and it seemed she was super busy with...something she didn't want to talk about...and today was the one day she set aside some time to tell me her story. Although the truth was, after what she told me at Moonstruck that night, I wasn't sure I even wanted to learn the gory details. But I knew I had to do it. If I ever wanted to get this column done and get back in Kate's good graces, I had to. I received an email from my loveable editor, saying that I had until the end of January to - in so many words - get my shit together, or she was going to hunt me down. Awesome.

~*fOrSaKeN*~

Tanya and I met for coffee. I hadn't been there since I'd met Nicci that one day...the day I introduced her to Emmett. The day I was confronted by Jacob. The scents assaulted me as soon as I walked in, and my mind flashed back to that day. Jacob's angry face. Emmett's confrontation with him outside. My face must have shown the torment going on in my head because Tanya noticed it right away.

"Are you okay, Bella? You look like you've seen a ghost."

I nodded my head and tried on a smile that didn't feel right. "Yeah. Just...memories I guess."

She sighed and looked past me wistfully. "I know what you mean."

I listened with rapt attention as Tanya recounted her life story to me. I cringed a little when she talked about Edward. The way her eyes sparkled at the memory of what they once had. It made my heart ache for him, and I had to let out a sharp breath once I finally realized I'd been holding it.

"I'm sorry, I..." she said when she saw the pain in my eyes.

"No, it's okay," I replied shaking my head. "I just, I-I miss him." She smiled sadly and nodded knowingly before continuing. When she told me how she was raped - by someone she should've been able to trust - and had gotten pregnant as a result, after a horrific relationship post-Edward in high school, I wasn't sure I could hear any more. Tears clouded my vision and I gritted my teeth, trying to hold them back. My heart broke for her. But there was more, the worst of which was yet to come.

When she finished, she was visibly shaken, having relived that nightmare just to help me out, and I was dumbfounded. I couldn't even form a complete sentence; my mind was so jumbled and full of terrifying images. I was thankful, however that I'd opted to forego the traditional pen-and-paper note-taking; and had brought my digital recorder instead. Because by the time I'd heard everything, my hands were shaking so badly that I couldn't have held a pen to save my life.

"Tanya..." I began, at a loss for words. "I...I don't know what to say. I—"

"Bella, it's alright," she said. Her green eyes were kind, but sad.

"I'm sorry that happened to you." My voice was thick.

"Don't be." She shook her head. "My experiences have made me who I am today. Gave me a beautiful daughter - who I would give my life for - so I can't regret anything, Bella. Just as you shouldn't." Her eyes were piercing now, like she was looking straight into my innermost thoughts, my soul.

I shook my head slightly. "That's easier said than done."

"But it isn't really," she replied. "Look what you're doing with this article, Bella. I know it's hard to think this now. Believe me, I do, but the things you've gone through have prompted you to do something for others in 'our' situations. Because we're in this together, Bella. You and me, we're in a very special club now. One that breeds strong, incomparable women." She grasped onto my hands and squeezed when I looked away in doubt of myself. "And you're strong. I can see it."

Tears pooled in my eyes. I wanted desperately to agree with her, but I sure as hell didn't feel strong. And after hearing her story, I felt like nothing more than a spoiled, coddled, whining bitch.

"The things I've done..." I whispered, shaking my head again.

"Are the things you had to do," she interrupted. Her eyes stared into mine with conviction. "We do what we have to do."

I studied her. How could she look at me and see a person as strong as she was? I just couldn't grasp it.

"But, Edward—"

"Loves you. More than you could possibly imagine." Her voice shook a little, and I was hit with a wave of crushing guilt. "He's stubborn, and bullheaded, a little hard to deal with, as if you don't know that. But he's losing his mind right now...over you. And...other things," she said cryptically.

"What other things?" The question was out before I could stop it, and suddenly, she looked a little chagrined.

"You haven't talked to him lately, I take it. I...don't know if I should... He should be the one to tell you."

"What is it?" My heart began to pound. Something was wrong. I could tell by the look on her face.

"Um...it's about Kendyll."

"Kendyll?" I had to think for a second before it finally clicked, who she was referring to. "That's the little girl he saved, right? From the car accident?" Tanya nodded. I didn't even know this child, and suddenly, I was worried. "Oh God, what's happened to her? Is she okay?"

"Oh, no, nothing like that," she quickly replied. "She's fine. Well, as fine as a traumatized little girl can be, I suppose." She took a deep breath and blew it out slowly, seeing my quizzical expression. "Okay, I'll tell you. Edward will probably kill me, since I'm sure he wants to tell you himself, but he's trying to adopt her."

I was still stuck in my own thoughts of her saying Edward would want to tell me himself, yet I hadn't given him an opportunity to tell me anything, when her words hit me like the house falling on the wicked witch in The Wizard of Oz.

"He what?" My voice was a mere whisper. He was adopting her? I was completely dumbfounded. I didn't know how to feel about it. Obviously, I was elated for the little girl. I knew Edward could give her an amazing life. But I also felt a little bit angry and hurt that he didn't want me to be a part of it. Then again, that was my fault, wasn't it? I swallowed the thick lump in my throat and blinked away the tears trying to form.

"That's...wonderful...for her. Edward will be an incredible father to her. Her life will be..." I trailed off.

"Bella, I'm sure Edward wants you to know her," Tanya began. She stopped herself abruptly with a sharp intake of breath. It startled me into silence. "As a matter of fact, she's staying with me temporarily. You should come by and meet her. She's a pretty amazing kid. I think Journey kind of gets on her nerves," she giggled, "but Kendyll handles her like a champ. She adores Edward...even Carlisle. It's like she belongs with them, you know? That sounds terrible, given that she lost her parents so horrifically, but it's like she's already a part of the Cullen family."

I just stared at her as she continued talking about this new little lady in Edward's life. She talked about her recovery, and her difficulties. Nightmares. I could relate. My heart went out to the little girl. Though, I had to admit to myself, I was a little jealous of a child I didn't even know. It seemed she had all his attention and I longed for it, like a pathetic idiot. My fault. One thing stuck out in my mind as Tanya continued, and I just couldn't seem to get past it.

"Wait, she's staying with you? Why?" It came out a little harsher than I'd intended, but really, could the situation have gotten any more bizarre? Edward suddenly wanting to adopt a child he barely knew was strange enough. Although, I could understand why. But to have that child stay with his ex-girlfriend? Temporarily or not, I was having a hard time wrapping my head around it.

Tanya smiled, looking slightly amused. "Before you jump to some crazy conclusion, let me explain..."

After she did just that, I understood. It still freaked me out a little, I couldn't deny that to myself, but I understood that Edward turned to her for help knowing what her connections were...or hoping at least. Then she started in again on how she thought I should meet Kendyll. I really wanted to, and I told her that, but explained that in the end I felt it would just be awkward and weird to do it behind Edward's back. And Lord knew I didn't need him angry at me any more than he already was. We finished up our meeting with a tight hug, and I thanked her profusely for everything she shared with me when she really didn't have to. She reciprocated with a sad, watery smile, and whispered in my ear to keep the faith; that everything would work out. I hoped she was right. It was all I had to go on these days-hope.

On my way to the office, I called my assistant, Nicci, to meet me there. I needed to collect her research notes and transcribe Tanya's interview into text, but I planned in asking - well making was more like it - Nicci do it, because I was positive my heart couldn't handle listening to that again today. The stab of jealousy I felt when I overheard Emmett tell her to get her hot little ass back in bed almost ruined the humor in it. But I smiled in spite of myself. It seemed Emmett had waited far too long to for someone to adore him like Nicci did, and he deserved every second of it. In fact, I felt a little bad for tearing her away from him today, but I doubted Kate - whom I had a newfound respect for after hearing Tanya's story - would find it as endearing as I did.

~*fOrSaKeN*~

Three-quarters of the way through the recording, and Nicci pulled out her ear buds. She sighed heavily and looked up at me with tear-filled eyes. "Oh my God, Bella. This is just so...so sad! I mean, I feel like I've lived in a bubble my whole life or something. I didn't even know people went through stuff like this! This is like one of those Lifetime movies...you know, the ones where you're like, 'I don't know if I really wanna watch this,' but then you start...and then you can't stop because it's like a train wreck, but it's so freaking sad, so you have to grab the box of tissues, and before you know it, you've like, used up all your tissues. This is like that!"

"Nicci," I sighed. Sometimes I was afraid I'd actually lose brain cells listening to this girl. "Yes, it's sad, but it's not a damned movie. It's someone's life. A real person, in fact, so keep it down. You're talking so loud the whole office can hear you. And, if you remember, that person's sister is our boss." Her eyes widened and she looked around sheepishly at the surrounding cubicles before muttering a quiet apology and proceeding to finish the recording. When she finally finished, and I was still elbow-deep in her research notes, making notes for myself, I could feel her eyes on me, penetrating my face.

"What?" I asked, alarmed by her sobering expression.

She pointed at her laptop screen. "Did Jacob do that to you? That stuff?" She was whispering, and for that I was grateful. Shocked, but grateful nonetheless.

"No, Nicci, well not like that. He...hurt me, but, just, not as bad I guess. What she went through was...so much worse." I felt my heart break for Tanya once again. Knowing what she'd become, though, made me realize there was hope for anyone. I actually found myself wanting to tell my dim-witted assistant everything, including the way I'd felt eyes on me everywhere I went today. But I just couldn't bring myself to do it. Not here anyway. I was a bit surprised that Emmett hadn't already filled her in, but was relieved that he hadn't.

"I'm afraid for you, Bella," Nicci whispered, leaning toward me. Her brown eyes didn't lie. She really was.

"Don't be," I replied, sounding a bit less confident than I wanted to. "I can take care of myself."

"Ladies." Kate's voice ended our surprisingly adult conversation abruptly. "In my office," she said, turning on her heel and leaving us to wonder why she seemed annoyed. Then again, it was Kate. The woman always seemed annoyed.

Once inside her office, Kate's gaze seemed to fix directly on the recorder in my hand. "Is that Tanya's interview?" she asked, looking at it as if it was a loaded gun. I nodded. As I went to hand it to her, thinking she wanted to review it, she held her hand up to stop me. "No, I don't need to hear it. I lived it. No need to relive it today. I assume my name was mentioned?"

I glanced over at Nicci, who had her mouth open, ready to speak, undoubtedly to spew about what an amazing sister Kate had been. While it was true, and I felt the same way inside, I knew Kate better than Nicci did, so I narrowed my eyes at her and shook my head minutely so that Kate wouldn't catch it. Then I turned to look back at Kate and shrugged my shoulders, feigning nonchalance.

"A little."

Kate grinned at me in approval, and nodded. She turned, talking as she walked and waving her hand around. "Well, I want names changed, you know, to protect the innocent and all that shit. Besides, I have a reputation as a stone-cold bitch to protect, so... Anyway, March first is the date I want the completed story on my desk. We'll make it a quarterly thing, these special stories of yours." She air-quoted, and I was just thrilled (not) that she expected some sort of masterpiece out of me every quarter. Joy. "Until then, I expect the usual 'Happy New Year' and 'Valentine's Day' bullshit. Got it?"

"Yes ma'am," I muttered sarcastically, ushering a stunned-looking Nicci out of the office.

~*fOrSaKeN*~

My turbulent and restless night was filled with my mind's idea of new and exciting nightmares. Tanya's old demons turned into my current ones. James and Victoria's fists pounded my pregnant body while Edward stood in the distance, looking at me with what I could only discern as pity and disappointment. When I blinked my eyes, Jake wason top of me again, his face in a twisted snarl, his angry voice reminding me that he was 'doing this for my own good.' Finally I found myself searching for the disembodied voice of a little girl...screaming for her mother. I wasn't sure who I was dreaming of this time, my own lost child, or the poor little girl who Edward saved, seeking out her parents who would never answer. The last time I woke up with a gasp, I gave up on sleep altogether. That was at four a.m.

When my overly-excited mom woke me up - if you could call it that - I found myself praying to whatever deity would listen to help me not murder her, or my beloved sister, two days before Christmas. The twins practically dragged us out the door, bouncing off the walls with excitement to spend the day with their grandpa - who was currently a traitor in my book - and did nothing but exaggerate my pounding headache all the way.

They sang Rudolf the Red-nosed Reindeer.

Twenty-five times.

At least.

Ugh.

And I was pretty damned certain that Santa never had a reindeer named Princess or Ninja. At least not in the versions I ever heard. I gave up after trying to correct them about ten times, when they continued shouting, 'you know Dasher and Princess and Ninja and Blixen!' Oh, but Renee and Alice thought it was hilarious. (Cue my glares and ill-attempted Jedi mind tricks.)

Once we got there and the twins ran off, squealing up to the toy room, Charlie gave me a side-hug squeeze. He chuckled when he noticed my sour mood.

"Oh c'mon, Bells, it'll be good for ya." He had this gleam in his eye that didn't seem to be there before. I briefly wondered if he'd met a woman, but quickly put that thought aside. Nevertheless, he was amused about something, and the way he was looking at me said I was involved somehow. It couldn't have been that my own father was pleased with his stealthy role in my misery today, could it? Sure it couldn't. "Girls' day out. Go buy some stuff. Have fun."

I narrowed my eyes at my deceitful father. "Maybe I should buy you a new girlfriend. That would be fun, Dad."

He stopped smiling and narrowed his eyes right back at me. "That's not funny, Bells."

"Yeah, neither is shopping with those two maniacs," I retorted.

He held his hands up in surrender. The grinning was back. "Alright, truce? Just go get your mind off...things."

I groaned, rolled my eyes and went to give my hyperactive children a kiss before the fun began.

~*fOrSaKeN*~

"No, Jacob. We're not having this conversation. You know I don't want you at the kids' birthday party; you know it's against the order I filed. So, have one for them yourself!"

"Bells, that protection order is bullshit, and you know it! Really, what am I gonna do with your family there? The kids? Come on! I already told you I can't do anything for them the following weekend because I have court! It's not something I want to do; it's something I have to do, believe me!"

Of course, the paternity results of little Seth came as a shock to no one but Jake himself. He was so ridiculous. The asshole had called me several times while my mom, sister and I picked out various party decorations for the twins, and I had ignored each and every call. As always, nothing good ever came out of our phone conversations, and this particular chat was no exception. He knew the arrangements I'd made, and there was nothing he could do about it. Yet, here he was, trying to change things again to suit his own ridiculous needs. Was it my fault that he went out, screwed some naive girl and knocked her up while I was home taking care of three-month-old babies? Hell no! And I wasn't about to let him guilt-trip me into caving for him.

"Your fault, Jake. Not mine."

"Oh come on, Bells, you know I don't have a choice. The crazy bitch just wants my money! I don't care what the results said; that's what this is about. There's always a chance the results were wrong. All I'm asking you for is a goddamned favor. Just this once! I want to be there for my kids. Besides, it's still my house!"

I almost laughed at that, but I was a little too stunned by his blatant idiocy. I was laughing hysterically on the inside, though. "Until I sell it and you get half the proceeds, it's mine. And, crazy bitch, Jake? I think the only crazy person in this equation is you. I'm not allowing you to come over and cause problems because your children don't deserve that! You should've thought about this sooner and made arrangements for your own party. Again, not my fault."

He sigh, exasperated, like I was the one irritating the hell out of him. What a dick. "Bella, I'm trying to run a business. It's the holidays. I've been a little busy. I don't get to just sit around and twiddle my thumbs like some people." Oh here we go. "So, you're just okay with me missing my own kids' birthday party and looking like an asshole to them because we couldn't work together on this?"

I dug my fingers into the phone I was holding, but refrained from exploding on him because I knew exactly what he was trying to do. I actually tried really hard to find a single cell in my body that was sympathetic to his plight. But I couldn't. Gone were the days when his manipulation would move me. He'd made his bed, literally, and now he had to lie in it.

"Work together? Really, Jake? If that wasn't so pathetic, it'd be hilarious. I highly doubt that you'll never have a chance to give Robby and Krissy special time with you for their birthday. If you don't, though, you'll look like an asshole because of you, not me."

He sighed, defeated, and I felt...victorious.

"Fine," he grumbled. "Can I at least see my kids tonight?"

Oh for the love of... There really was no end to his manipulative prowess. I rolled my eyes, wishing he could see how unaffected I was by him.

"Like you're not going to see them in two days on Christmas," I said sardonically.

"Yes, I know that," he snapped. "But I'd kind of like to see them before all the judgment from your family begins. I know your mom's in town. Can't wait for her two cents."

I held back from calling him a whiny fucking baby. Instead I laughed softy. Besides doing it for the kids to have their whole family together on Christmas, part of the reason I agreed bend the rules and have Jake and Billy join us that day - as we had always done traditionally - was for my own twisted entertainment. Renee was going to tear into him, and I was looking forward to it.

"Fine," I sighed. "But you still have to deal with Charlie."

"Perfect," he groaned.

"And they're not spending the night."

"Bells?"

"What, Jake?"

"It's...going to be really nice to see you on Christmas. I miss you."

"Jake, I have to go. I'll call Charlie and tell him to bring the kids over. You two can work out the details. Bye." I pressed 'end' and scrubbed my face with the heels of my hands in frustration. I leaned up against the hallway outside of the restroom, where I told Renee and Alice I was going, just to gather my scrambled thoughts for a moment. We decided to stop for lunch in Logan Square, not far from the Party City store where we'd been for what seemed like eternity. By some miracle of the heavens, Panera wasn't all that busy at the time (the hipsters and salespersons must've been taking a break from their coffee/blogging benders and last minute deals - which meant I could eat my loaded baked potato soup in some semblance of peace, until the buzzing of my phone turned my stomach and I lost what little appetite I had) so I had taken advantage of the moment of privacy I found to call my asshole of an ex-husband back.

"Everything okay, sis?" I startled at the sound of Alice's voice in my ear and whirled around to see her worried expression. I suddenly lost the urge to strangle her, instead wanted to hug my meddling sister tightly.

"Yeah," I said, blowing out a heavy breath. "Just Jake being, well, Jake. He wants the kids tonight. He's whining about having my minions around on Christmas day, so I guess I'll be nice and call dad. See if he can take them over to Billy's for a while."

She rolled her eyes and snorted. "What a fucking baby."

"Oh, and get this. He wanted me to let him come to the birthday party because he has court to determine child suppose for that other kid the following weekend."

Alice's mouth fell open; her eyes widened. "What did you say?"

"I said hell no!"

She laughed. "Jesus, there's just no end to his fucking dickery - no pun intended - is there? I hope his sorry ass goes broke paying all the child support he's gonna have to dish out." She smirked. "'Course, we could always just shoot him...right in the balls—"

"Alice! Settle down, Capone." I shook my head, grinning.

She shrugged. "What? A girl can dream."

"Sure, Alice," I retorted. "We better get back before Renee comes looking for us."

Her face suddenly sobered, and she cleared her throat nervously. "Hey, I don't wanna freak you out or anything, but I noticed some creepy guy in a dark hoodie hanging around across the street." My stomach sank to my knees as she continued. "I could feel him staring, ya know? But every time I look up, he turns around, so I can't see his face. You should call that Sergeant friend of yours, Bella." Her tone was serious, and I found my hands trembling as I nodded my head and tried to dial my phone.

"Shit," I breathed. "Does mom know?"

"No, I didn't say anything to her about it."

"Good. Let's keep it that way." I was scared, no doubt about it, but really I was more pissed than anything. To think that Jake was still having that psychotic mongrel follow me around made my stomach turn. I should've known he wouldn't just leave me the fuck alone.

I called Sergeant Hawkins and she said she was sending a uniformed officer to patrol the area. She also said she'd send one to my neighborhood to patrol every half hour until further notice. She really was a great person to have around in a sticky situation. I thanked her profusely. Then I called Charlie. I told him about the phone call with Jake, and that the kids were not to leave his sight, no matter what that son-of-a-bitch said. He agreed, and I could hear the smile in his voice. I didn't, however, tell him about the creeper. He would've been here in seconds, and I didn't need to try and explain to my kids why grandpa was having a melt-down.

As we left, I checked my surroundings. Again and again, I looked all around for the psycho I knew was there, but couldn't see. I was sure I looked utterly ridiculous. If I'd been wearing a dark suit and sunglasses, I could've been in the CIA...or a member of the MIB, but whatever, Alice was doing the same thing and Renee was beginning to notice our paranoid behavior.

"What are you girls looking for?"

"Nothing!" we both blurted at the same time. Renee looked between the two of us like we'd lost or minds. Well, considering the circumstances...

"Okie dokie, I gotta run," Alice chirped, giving Renee a loose hug, and then me.

"Wait a minute. Where are you going?" I hissed, not sure whether to be worried about her safety, or annoyed that this shit was her idea - partly - and now she was running off.

"Well, I have to make a pit-stop at Best Buy," she curled her nose in disgust, "and then I have to work for a while. That spring line isn't going to design itself, ya know. A fashionista's job is never done," she sighed dramatically.

"By yourself?" I gave her my best pleading look. "And what's at Best Buy?"

She cupped my cheek and smiled. "Little sister, I'll be fine. Don't worry about me. And I'm looking for music...for...um, my next show. You two go...bond or...something." That earned her a glare. "Okay, toodles!" She hurriedly turned and hailed a cab.

"Music? But you have an iPod!" I called out. She waved behind her as she jumped in the waiting cab, and she was gone. I turned to my mother, who was staring blankly at the now empty spot where Alice had been, and shrugged. "That's your daughter, definitely."

~*fOrSaKeN*~

Christmas Eve arrived, and the twins where literally bouncing off the walls. Luckily, Renee was there to corral the monkeys, and Alice - sans Jasper, thank God - and Charlie showed up to keep me company. My parents chatted awkwardly about Phil and why he couldn't make it up with her this year (family and work obligations in Jacksonville, apparently), while Alice and I laughed our way through Ralphie's antics in my favorite holiday movie of all time, A Christmas Story. Really I was giggling at Alice repeatedly shouting, "You'll shoot your eye out, kid," in an octave that would make dogs cower, in between my own shouting, "Santa is watching!" at the kids every time they snuck sugar, and chocolate chip cookies out of the kitchen.

Right around their bedtime, we watched the news. The kids were blabbering about the Santa Tracker, so thankfully, they didn't hear the story that made my stomach tie up in knots.

There had been another rape. It happened in the Riverpoint Center shopping area...exactly where we had been, and the same night. This time, he nearly killed the girl - whose name they weren't releasing - and I knew. I knew it had to have been the man stalking, watching us that day. And I knew with every fiber of my being that it was James.

I felt sick.

I felt responsible.

Why couldn't they catch the sick bastard?

"Sweetie, this city is so dangerous," Renee whispered in my ear. "I worry about you being here alone." She really had no idea of the scope of it.

"Mom, I'm fine," I whispered my lie back to her. Luckily Charlie was too busy talking 'Santa Claus' with the twins to notice the depressing news story, but I felt Alice's hand squeeze mine and I squeezed back.

Finally, Santa Tracker came on, and the twins watched with rapt attention. When they found out he was on the east coast and heading our way, they squealed.

"Mommy, we have to hurry!" Krissy screeched. "Grandpa has to read 'T'is the Night Before Christmas!"

"'Twas, baby," I corrected her, "It's 'Twas the Night Before Christmas." She ignored me, naturally.

Charlie beamed at Krissy and Robby's excitement. There was no better tradition than my dad coming over every Christmas Eve and reading the classic poem-turned-book to my kids as he had done for Alice and me growing up. My dad never failed them, or me, and I loved him so much for it. Jake was always too busy making last minute business decisions in the past to be into that sort of thing. But he did occasionally man the video camera so I could sit with them and revel in the nostalgia. Guess I should've been thankful he did that much.

My eyes teared up a little as he read and I watched the twins' dreamy expressions. When he finished, everyone kissed the kids goodnight before I tucked them in - I was sure there'd be far more than visions of sugar plums dancing in their little heads as they slept - and I went back to say my goodbyes to my family. They all wanted to stay, but I assured them it would be nice to have our first Christmas morning without Jake be just the three of us. After hugs and kisses, Renee cupped my cheeks and held my gaze. She must've seen something there, and it was a little creepy the way she seemed to be reading my melancholy mind.

"Oh honey, don't you worry," she whispered. I looked at her in utter confusion until she continued. "He's a Gemini. They're extremely complicated individuals. He'll come around; he just needs a little time to get his head on straight." I laughed a little with watery eyes, especially after seeing that Charlie had heard her and was rolling his eyes. Alice gave me a squeeze and finally ushered Renee out the door to head back to her apartment, but Charlie lingered.

"You sure you're okay, kiddo? I don't like you being here without protection, Bells." His eyes reflected the seriousness and worry in his tone. "Dad, I'm fine," I tried to appease him. There's an officer patrolling the neighborhood every half hour. Besides, I'm not a bad shot, ya know."

He grimaced. "Yeah I don't know what scares me more. Someone trying to get in, or you as a gun-wielding maniac."

"Hey!" I smacked his arm, leaning up to kiss him on the cheek. "Thanks, Dad, for everything." He blushed. Always the sentiment-phobe. He looked at his watch, stared off into space for a second, then looked at his watch again and smirked. "What?" I asked.

"Oh, nothing. Just thinking of a hunting trip I might be taking soon."

I quirked an eyebrow at him. "I'm sure glad Alice inherited all your weirdness." He chuckled and gave me a quick squeeze.

"Bye, Bells. I love ya, kid."

I waved at him as his cruiser pulled away, and then went to work, setting out crumbles of cookies and a half-drunk glass of milk along with a note to the kids, thanking them, from the jolly old elf. After admiring my work, my thoughts took a morose turn, so I shuffled my way up to the bedroom and into my closet. With a heavy heart and a deep breath, I pulled out the gift I'd ordered for him. It had come a few days before, and I'd hidden it away after looking at it and letting it ruin my mood. I didn't have the strength to open the box this time, just ran my fingers over the small square and blinked away frustrated tears before wrapping it with shiny green tissue paper - that reminded me of his emerald eyes - and putting it back in its silver gift bag. I could only hope that someday I'd be able to give it to him. That he would know how much I loved him.

It wasn't long after I'd gotten out of the steaming bath I decided to take - to ease away my depression - that I heard something. I crept out into the hallway with my heart in my throat to listen. As I held my breath, I heard it again. A distinct knocking at the front door. My heart slammed against my chest in rapid succession. Eleven o'clock on Christmas Eve, and there was only one person I could think of that would show up here. Jake.

Unless it was that lunatic, James, and if it was him, I was going to put a bullet in his fucking head.

I ran back into my room, threw on a t-shirt and my velour track pants, and tossed my hair up in a messy bun. I pulled my gun safe out from under the bed and opened it quickly. It was loaded; there was no need to check it. It was always loaded. I took a deep breath, readying myself for whatever fight ensued and praying that my children wouldn't awaken to their mother having shot a psycho on the front porch.

When I got directly in front of the door, I paused, gripped the gun tightly and waited. The knock came again. A little louder this time, and I jumped, suppressing a scream. I could do this. I could totally do this. Where was that damned cop? I crept slowly to the peephole and squeezed my eyes shut in fear of what was out there. Once I opened them and peered out, I froze. What I saw - or who I saw, rather - had my breath leaving me in a rush, my stomach doing somersaults, and my heart speeding so much that I thought I might faint.

~*fOrSaKeN*~

~Part Two: Edward~

"So, how did he take it?" Carlisle asked as I made my way onto the expressway. I was cradling my phone with my shoulder while frantically rummaging through my glove box and keeping my left hand firmly planted on the steering wheel.

"Actually, he took it remarkably well, Dad." I smiled to myself thinking about Kel's reaction to opening our home, and our hearts, to Kendyll. To be honest, that kid never ceased to amaze his old man. At first, he was wary. He asked about a million questions, some I expected: When will this happen? Where will she sleep? Why? Does she want to live here? Some I did not: What if I teach her how to skate? Do you think she'll watch Rob and Big with me? What about Phineas and Ferb? Can I tell her not to mess with my stuff? But all in all, he seemed almost excited about the prospect of having a big 'sister.'

"Well, I have to say, I'm very surprised to hear that." Carlisle's voice reflected that surprise. "But I'm also happy to hear it."

"Thanks, Dad. Hey, I gotta go. The weather's getting bad and I'm driving."

"Wait, you've already left? Where are you going?"

Yeah, I wasn't ready to get into that just yet. My stomach was already in fucking knots. "Depending on the outcome, Dad, I'll talk to you about it later. By the way, I have to give you fair warning. Mom says if Santa Claus gets there before you do, you're being replaced." I chuckled.

"Oh boy," he said, half amused/half anxious. "I know she's not too pleased with me for having to run to the hospital for an emergency. Such is the life, though. It's too bad I didn't get to see you tonight, though, son. How was Kendyll? I take it Tanya dropped her off for the night already?"

"Well, you'll get to see me tomorrow." I smiled, pleased that the man actually missed me. "And Kendyll's great. She and Kellan were getting along really well, until I had to take him to the—to his mother's." Luckily, she hadn't ruined my good mood by opening her mouth. And there had been no sign of that fuck-stick, James. If there had been, I would've taken Kellan straight back to my parents' house, and she fucking knew it.

"That's great, son."

"Okay, Dad, look...I really gotta go. Wish me luck."

"For what?"

"Just say, 'good luck, Edward.'"

He laughed. I could just see him shaking his head in confusion. "Good luck, Edward."

I ended the call and dropped my phone on the passenger seat, picking up the CD and just holding it in my hand. I grinned. Leave it to Alice to kick me in the balls at just the right time. I had every intention of going to see Bella after my disturbing phone call with Chief Swan, but the anxiety had crept its way in and I was having serious second thoughts. That was until I got home from a false alarm at the hospital the night before, and found a CD, conspicuously lying in the hall, right in front of my door. There was a note taped to it saying:

Hey, Jackass- It's about time you pulled that giant head of yours out of your ass, don't ya think? It's not a hat, ya know? I heard this song and thought it might strike a chord with you. I know you have a heart in there somewhere! Besides, no matter what you do to my sister, no matter how much you hurt her and no matter how much I would REALLY like to kick you in the balls with my Manolo Blahnik's, she always sees the best in you. What you do with this will determine whether you deserve her or not. XOXO, Alice.

I laughed out loud when I read the note. I couldn't help myself. Alice, though she scared the living shit out of me, was truly the best big sister anyone could ask for. The first thing I did when I got inside was play the CD. I was blown away.

Instantly.

Alice was a fucking genius, and the frightening thing was, she obviously knew me better than I knew myself. I wanted to play this song and sing it to Bella immediately. I had to. There was no question about it. I listened to it over and over. Memorizing the chords and melody. It seemed simple enough, so I got out my guitar. After practicing what seemed like a million times, and cursing myself about as much, I finally got it to sound the way I wanted. There was only one problem.

If...when...I went to see her, what if she kicked me the hell out? There was no way I could take my guitar over there if she would not allow me to stay long enough to play it for her. And she had to hear it. I had to think of something else.

Fuck.

And then it hit me. Because, apparently I was fucking brain dead and hadn't thought of it before. I rummaged through some drawers until I found a blank CD, thank little baby Jesus, and proceeded to record myself. (And erase and re-record...and erase and re-record who knew how many times.)

All I could do was pray to whoever would listen that she would listen, and be as blown away as I was.

My hand shook slightly as I put the CD in to listen to it one more time on the way to her house. I could've gone the quick way, straight down the expressway to I-90. I would've been there in no time. But I was so fucking nervous, I was taking the longest route I could possibly find, just to psych myself up for this.

The music began to play and my heart fluttered like I was a pansy-ass little girl, but I didn't give a shit. It was exactly what I wanted to say to her. Like I said, Alice was a fucking genius.

This room is thick with words. A mess, a mess, of secrets and thieves. But can't you see that we're all the same? Just vessels and we're all afraid. Oh, well forgive me, I don't mean to intrude. You see, my hands are shaking too. Oh!

The goddamned fluttering in my stomach got worse, not better, as the song continued. As if on cue, my hands shook, and I fought the lump trying to form in my throat as the chorus began.

So, just settle down. This storm won't last forever; we're built for more than this world. I'm not that strong...honestly, I'm not. But you always see the best in me.

Now I'm open...oh, oh, so you can see me for who I am. So fragile, I wait with hope that the coming change won't blow us away. Well forgive me, I don't mean to intrude. You see, my hands are shaking too. Oh! So, just settle down. This storm won't last forever; we're built for more than this world. I'm not that strong...honestly, I'm not. But you always see the best in me. Am I something you can be proud of now?

So, just settle down. This storm won't last forever; we're built for more than this world. I'm not that strong...honestly, I'm not. But you always see the best in me. So, just settle down. This storm won't last forever; we're built for more than this world. I'm not that strong...honestly, I'm not. But you always see the best in me. Oh, oh! Honestly, I'm not. But you always see...the best in me.'

Before I knew it, and despite my best efforts to have made the trip last longer than necessary, I found myself pulling onto her street. As soon as I turned into her driveway, the flash of lights behind me stopped me dead in my tracks. The officer approached my car, asked what I was doing there - to which I replied I was a friend visiting - and he took my license. I thought about telling him it was a surprise, but then figured he'd arrest me on the spot for being a fucking creeper. Nevertheless, he waved me on, and I was left with a feeling of alarm, wondering just what the fuck that was all about and wanting to get to her even quicker now. I was glad, though, that she had security working her street. That was something, at least.

And then, suddenly, I was staring at her house, my hands gripping the steering wheel like it was my lifeline. I took a deep breath, blew it out...and prayed.

~*fOrSaKeN*~

The door opened slowly, and my revived heart thudded against my ribcage like a battering ram. I had to talk myself out of leaving, just taking off and forgetting I ever had such a ridiculous idea - promise to the chief or not - several times before I even opened my car door and stepped out. Lifting my hand to knock was a whole other goddamned story.

I stood there for fucking ever, flexing and clenching my hand repeatedly. I was freezing my balls off since the snow had started up again, and I'd broken into a nervous sweat, which only made the lick of the frigid wind worse. By the time I was actually able to knock, I felt like I'd already been knocking for hour – my hands were so frozen they were numb, though I barely noticed a sting here and there. The cold air that was whipping at my neck had found its way down my back making me feel like I was stuck in a medieval torture device. Little needles prickled at my skin all over the place. My face and ears were fucking frozen - the beanie wasn't doing much to help that - my teeth were chattering, I could barely see through the puff of steam that exited my mouth every time I exhaled, and my nose... well, I wasn't sure I still had one. At least I knew I was still breathing somehow.

When she came into sight, everything stopped. My teeth stopped chattering, my hands stopped trembling. I felt warm. Even time seemed to lull. Everything, that is, except my heart, which was still trying to beat its way out of my chest. The look on her face, however, caused a tidal wave of emotion to crash over me. Her eyes were as wide as half dollars; the emotion in them a tumultuous storm of blues. She looked shocked, confused, frightened, and even a little bit angry. Only, her mouth was a straight line, unreadable. The icy feeling crept back, and I suddenly found myself preparing my heart to break and bleed once again. I opened my mouth to say something, anything, but then my eyes shifted to her right hand...gripped tightly to the handle of a gun.

Fuck.

I held my hands up quickly as my eyes darted from hers to the gun, which was - thank fucking God - pointed at the ground. "I...I...I brought you music," I stuttered. Like a fucking moron. I brought you music? Really? I might as well have said I carried a goddamned watermelon! I would've shot me right on the spot if I was her.

She startled, blinked a couple times, and then looked down at her own hand and gasped. "I'm so sorry!" Her voice was like a warm summer day. It heated me from head to toe...until she slammed the door in my face. That was when reality set in, and I was fucking frozen again. Perfect. It appeared that only I could scare the shit out of the girl holding a gun.

Fuck. My. Life.

Just as I was about to give up all hope and go bury my head in a snow bank somewhere, the door flew open again. This time, I jumped wondering if she had in fact decided to shoot my sorry ass.

"Edward," she said breathily. "I'm sorry. Come...come in." I looked at her warily. Even as fucking freaked out as I was, God she was beautiful. Her hair was up and messy. Little tendrils fell down to frame her face, her cheeks were flushed and that damned pink tracksuit she had on hugged her in just the right places. "Please?" she spoke again, obviously noticing my hesitation, she held up her now empty right hand. "See, no gun." She sighed and smiled only slightly. My heart leapt. "That wasn't for you anyway."

"What happened?" I was immediately pissed off. My jaw clenched instinctively, wondering just what in the fuck that douchebag she was married to had done now.

"Nothing. Just come in. You're gonna turn into a Popsicle out there. And it's snowing. The kids will freak out in the morning. I can just see them wanting to check the roof for reindeer and sleigh tracks." There was that soft smile again, this time accompanied by a shy giggle, and I felt my heart stutter again. I stepped in cautiously and turned to her like a magnet as she shut and locked the door. When she turned back to me, her eyes were downcast, her hands wringing together against her stomach.

"Um, can you just give me a second?" She pointed to the stairs, where she'd apparently deposited the gun. The same stairs where I made love to her once. The memory had my dick twitching behind the fly of my jeans and I cursed it. Not the fucking time. "I'm just gonna go put that thing away. Lock it up."

"Sure," I muttered quietly and, as she bent over to pick it up, my eyes automatically shifted to her incredible ass, hugged tightly by the material of her pants. And damn it if the fly of my jeans didn't tighten even more. Instead of cursing my unruly dick this time, I silently prayed that this would be a very long night.

She disappeared up the stairs for a few minutes, but when she returned, her eyes were trained on mine the entire time she descended. I felt something shift between us as we both just stood there, staring at one another in silence. I couldn't stop looking at her. She amazed me. Every part of her, and I wanted her to be my girl again. So fucking much.

"So...hey," she said, wrapping her arms around her torso protectively. Goddamn it, I hated that. The fact that she felt she needed to protect herself from me. I wanted to rush to her, wrap my arms around her and kiss her senseless. Do all the things I'd been dreaming of doing to her for weeks. But I reminded my idiotic mind that I needed to pace myself if I was going to get through to her at all tonight.

"Hey," I replied lamely. The air between us was awkward, honestly, but there was something else. A crackling and fizzling charge that, had it been any stronger, would've been visible. That gave me a little bit of hope. Finally, I broke the silence. "So, uh, the kids are here?" I tried to make my voice sound light, happy because I was glad she had them. I really wanted to see them; it was crazy, but I missed them too. Though I didn't figure she'd want to wake them up this late.

Her gaze broke from mine briefly as she glanced up the stairs. "Of course they are. Where else would they b— Oh." Her expression hardened. Anger flashed in her blue eyes and it made me smirk on the inside. "He had them last night. He doesn't get them tonight."

"Well good," I tried to soothe her.

"But they're asleep," she continued. "So if you came over here to yell at me, I'm gonna have to ask you to keep it down." Her tone was teasing, but I could hear the seriousness behind it. She actually believed I was...

Fucking wonderful. I was such a dickhead. I shook my head and sighed, locking eyes with her.

"I didn't come here to yell at you, Bella," I said softly.

"You...didn't?"

Christ, what had I done to this girl?

"No, I didn't." I smiled at her, hoping she would see my sincerity. I fucking needed her to see it. "I...wanted to see you. Hoped you'd let me in. I, uh, I have something for you."

"You do?" She suddenly looked like a child. Excitement and trepidation both seemed to take her over. "Oh right. You said something about music?"

"Yes," I nodded, reaching in my coat pocket to feel the cool plastic of the cd case. I have so much more for you, though, I thought to myself, but not yet divulging that information, baby steps. I tentatively pulled the cd out and held it in my hand, just standing there like an idiot not sure what to do next. Hand it to her? Would she want me to leave? I fucking hoped not. I wanted to see her reaction as she listened; see if it affected her as it had me when I listened to it.

"Is that it?" She pointed to the case in my hand. I nodded. "Well, can I...can I see it?" I handed it to her silently. She looked it over, then her eyes met mine again, confused. "There's nothing written on it."

"I know." I smiled, trying to convey warmth, but if I was being honest, I was nervous as hell for what I was about to say. "That's because everything I need to say, well, is inside. The lyrics..." I trailed off. "Uh, anyway, Bella, I know...I know you said you needed time, but..." Her eyes widened slightly but she didn't say a word, and I was wishing I knew what was going through that beautiful head of hers. "Would you just listen to it? I mean, if you don't want to, I understand."

"No, I want to, I..." she said at my hesitation, but then paused herself.

"It's me," I cut in quickly, before she had a chance to put a 'but' at the end of that sentence. "Singing. I...I didn't write it, I just did a cover...because I kind of wanted to sing it to you, but...I...didn't bring my guitar." No shit, dumbass. Like she couldn't figure that out for herself. "So, if you don't like it, I...have the original song. You could listen to that. It's...good." God, I sounded like such a fucking moron. Broken sentences, stuttering all over myself. My confidence level was falling by the goddamned second. And when she merely nodded in response to my word vomit, I told her the other reason, the main reason I put my voice on a disc for her. "Also, I, uh, I figured you might not want me to stay, so... I can...I can go, if you want." She swallowed thickly, her eyes wide again. And then she said the one thing I was willing to give anything to hear.

"No, I don't want you to go." She said it almost inaudibly, but it put a stupid grin on my face just the same as if she would've shouted it from the rooftop. This was progress, and I was willing to take what I could get.

"Okay," I replied just as quietly, nodding. The stupid grin was still intact.

"Let's go in here." She pointed to the living room. "Let me take your coat, Edward."

The stupid fucking grin wasn't going anywhere. My coat was off in the blink of an eye, and I was staying.

As she put the cd into the stereo, I sat on the sofa and just watched her. My entire body was boiling over with so much emotion, I wasn't sure what to do with myself. I was ecstatic that she was willing to listen - at least to the song - and willing to let me stay, at least for a little while. But I was freaking the fuck out. Worried that she would hate it; that she wouldn't understand what I was trying to say to her, that she would ask me to leave when it was over. I tried to keep myself in check, though, tearing my eyes away from her long enough to have a look at the enormous Christmas tree, not filled with generic, store-bought ornaments, but with items from her past. Hand-made ornaments from when she was growing up, ones that had been given to her, I assumed, and things her kids had made at school. It made me feel an immense sadness that I'd been out of her life for so long and not a part of the memories adorning her tree. I hoped to rectify that tonight. There were so many memories to be made, and I planned on making them with her. Regardless of what had happened between us, the secrets and lies. None of that mattered as long as I could have her. I did wonder, briefly, if Captain Douche had helped her with decorating it, but I buried that thought as soon as it presented itself.

Fuck him.

I was here and he was not.

I noticed the plate of cookie crumbs and glass of milk. It made me chuckle; pride swelled inside me thinking of just what an amazing mother she was. But that feeling didn't come without the stab of pain in my chest, knowing she actually was the mother of one of my children. One I'd never known. I could've let that feeling consume me. It wanted to, but I didn't. Instead, I watched her as she turned toward me with another shy smile and curled up on the sofa a few feet from me. That hurt a little, but what did I expect, for her to just hop in my lap? Baby steps.

"That's a nice touch," I offered her a smile and pointed toward the plate. She giggled a little and shrugged. That sound was music to my ears.

"Gotta do what ya gotta do, right?"

I nodded and, as I heard the first few chords of my own guitar come through the speakers, I began to panic a little. I closed my eyes and leaned forward, placing my forehead against the heels of my hands. I couldn't look at her. I was terrified of what I'd see on her face, but I prayed like a lunatic that she wouldn't turn it off in the middle of the song and tell me to get the fuck out. I wasn't sure how long I stayed like that, hunched over like some scared little boy, but the song played on and I hadn't heard a peep from her. Had she fallen asleep? God, that would've killed me. But suddenly I felt something.

Fingers. Her fingers, touching my hair...caressing, moving down to my hands, which were blocking her view of my face. I snapped my head up in shock and there she was. Right in front of me. She was on her knees; her hands were grasping mine now and I grasped back, holding onto them for dear life. Her blue eyes were brilliant, but red-rimmed and watery. Tears were streaming down her cheeks and she was shaking her head.

"Bella?" I whispered, unable to make a sound for the giant lump that had formed in my throat. Goddamn it, I hated seeing her so upset. "What is it? What's the matter?"

"I don't," she said brokenly. I didn't understand.

"You don't what? Please don't cry. Talk to me." She took a shuddering breath and blew it out. It washed over me and I used every ounce of strength I had to not pull her to me and kiss her...hard.

"I don't...I don't need any time, Edward. I never needed time from you. I lied. I'm so sorry."

Jesus Christ. My heart felt like it was going to explode from my chest. My hands reached up, framing her beautiful face as I shushed her.

"Thank God," I whispered, not even sure why I said that out loud. I couldn't help but be thankful that, for once my prayers to whomever was up there listening were answered. I also could no longer keep myself from leaning my forehead against hers and letting out a relived sigh as she cried. "Shh, it's okay. Baby, it's okay," I repeated, kissing her nose and then her forehead, and tilting her head back to make her look at me. "Don't be sorry, don't be sorry."

"But I am, Edward. For everything I've done to you. The baby, I—" Before she could say anything else, I pressed my lips to hers. She seemed stunned at first, frozen. But just as quickly she melted into me, wrapping her arms around my neck and pulling me impossibly closer. I reveled in the feel of her soft lips on mine. The kiss was frantic at first. All the time wasted, not being together these past few weeks came to a head in this one moment. I wanted to consume her, right then and there, but I knew it was too soon. Still, I parted her lips with mine, licking her top one softly and sucking it between mine. Her answering moan turned my insides into liquid fire. My dick swelled and strained against my zipper to the point of pain, and I knew if this continued, I was going to fuck her right here in the middle of her living room, and that just wasn't going to work for me tonight. Not tonight.

Her tongue darted out, licking my lips, mingling with my own, and I groaned. She was killing me, literally. I was going to have a heart attack...a massive stroke...pulmonary embolism...okay, maybe be I was being a little over dramatic with that, but I digress. It was a damned good kiss, and I didn't want to stop.

Nevertheless, I pulled away slightly, leaning my forehead against hers again and trying to catch my breath. I couldn't resist her, though, as she pulled on my jaw with those delicate hands of hers, so I placed my lips on hers again. Softly this time, gently. She didn't try to rush it, only kissed me back with the same gentleness. I didn't have to tell her we needed to slow down, she just knew. So when I pulled back a second time and held just under her chin with the tips of my fingers, it was I who had to struggle with the tears that sprung up in my eyes suddenly. She was just so incredibly beautiful that it was overwhelming. The blue in her irises was so bright and full of fire, it stole my breath. I took in every inch of her face; brushed my lips over her eyelids as she closed them, and the tip of her nose, her chin. When I reached the pulse point of her neck, she did something I wasn't expecting. She crawled up into my lap, curling her legs to the side and folding herself into me as she nuzzled my neck...like a child would do. A child needing comfort and security, love and trust, and every single goddamned thing she deserved from me. Once again I was overwhelmed by her. She filled me up to the point of flowing over. Yeah, I'd gone from barren, empty, to 'my cup runneth over' in a matter of minutes. And that was what she did to me...every single time.

"Baby, I've missed you so much." I struggled to keep my voice steady. "When you said you needed time, it...devastated me."

"I'm sorry," she whispered into my neck.

I shook my head. "Stop saying you're sorry. I'm sorry. Bella, what I did at the mall...my behavior was deplorable, and I'm so sorry for that." She squeezed me tighter and kissed my neck. The message went straight to my aching dick, but stopped at my heart just long enough to make it palpitate some more.

"I'll stop saying sorry if you will," she said with a slight giggle.

I smiled. "Okay, truce," I replied, wrapping my arms around her delicate frame and giving her a squeeze back. I never wanted to let her go. I thought about just staying here, holding her like this for the rest of the night. I did have something special to give her, though; a couple of something's special actually, so I tucked my arm under her knees and stood, cradling her against me. When I stood her back on her feet, she looked up at me with alarm.

"You're not leaving, right?" And I hadn't thought I could fall in love with this woman any more...but there I was, falling further into this beautiful abyss.

"Not until you make me." I sideways grinned at her and she looked relieved. Amazing. "But I do need to run out to my car." She looked confused, so I continued. "I have more for you than just the music, baby." Her lips curled up into a brilliant smile.

"I have something for you too."

I smirked. "Not the loaded gun, I presume."

"That's not funny, Edward." Ah, the spunky Bella was coming back to me. This night was heading in the right direction after all. I kissed her nose, reveling in the soft sigh that escaped her lips.

"Be right back."

"You better," she chided with a quirked eyebrow and I decided even if the fat man himself showed up along with the Easter Bunny and Father fucking Time, I would not be deterred from giving my Bella everything she deserved.

~*fOrSaKeN*~

When I returned from the blistering grip of winter's icy hand, I was thanking my lucky stars that Bella hadn't kicked me out...yet. My car was already covered in a thick blanket of snow, and being so lost in my head preparing for this particular meeting - coupled with the above freezing weather we'd been having lately - I'd completely forgotten that I lent my ice scraper to one of the nurses at work. Of course, that wasn't the only thing I was thankful for.

I found her sitting on the sofa, her hands worrying the strings of her pants nervously, and a small, silver gift bag with tufts of green tissue paper jutting out of the top of it at her feet. I smiled in spite of my own nerves as I walked toward her holding two larger boxes and one gift bag in my left arm...and a small, square box inside my pocket. That was the one I was the most nervous about. Reaching my right hand inside my pocket, I touched it lightly, letting the love I had for her swell inside my chest. Someday, I thought; when all this shit was behind us, that little box would hold something even more precious, and I couldn't fucking wait for that day. I was at the point of bursting when I sat before her, a few feet away on the floor, cross-legged, and patted the area in front of me. She complied with my demand, mirroring me. An awkward silence fell over us as she gripped the gift bag tightly between her fingers. She looked so fucking adorable, it was all I could do not to reach over and kiss her soft, pouty lips again. The urge was too great. So I did it anyway.

"Can I go first?" I asked on a heavy breath as I tore my lips from hers. She nodded, biting down on that insanely sexy bottom lip of hers nervously. Hell, I was the one that should've been nervous, and I was. If she hated everything, well that was just going to be fucking awkward. I tentatively handed her the gift bag first. As she picked it up, her blue eyes widened.

"Edward, this is heavy. What..."

"Just open it, baby." I leaned toward her, smiling at her dumbfounded look. She ignored my request, instead pointed at the boxes.

"These aren't all for me...are they?" I chuckled. She was so fucking cute, like a kid at, well, Christmas.

"Actually, no," I said wryly. "Those are for the kids." She stared at the boxes wrapped in snowman paper - I wasn't the best at it, so they kind of looked like shit in my opinion - then at the gift bag in her lap. It was just a simple green bag with red tissue paper. I tried to be a little festive, but it wasn't nearly as pretty as the one she had for me.

For me.

My heart thudded inside my chest. She'd actually gotten me something. Shock wasn't even the word for what I felt. She must've been just as surprised as I was, though, because when her eyes finally drifted back to mine, they were swimming in unshed tears. My stomach did that goddamned twisty thing and I was worried, suddenly, that she was upset that I'd gotten her kids something. Although, I couldn't understand why. Maybe she was thinking about Kellan. Maybe she was upset because she hadn't gotten him anything, but I didn't give a shit about that. She didn't have to. I wanted to get the twins something, and there was no way I was going to let her feel guilty for that.

"I...can't believe you did that," she started. But before she could say another word, I interrupted.

"Stop." I pointed at her gift. "Open it. Please?" She gave me a watery smile and began pulling the tissue paper out. I'd taken special care to wrap the object inside even more, and when she pulled it out and began to unwrap it, I inadvertently held my breath.

"Oh my God!" She gasped audibly and I smiled. "This is...is this..."

"The twins," I answered. Because honestly, who else's little hands, clasped together in a plaster mold, would I have given her...on a marble plaque that said, 'Merry Christmas, Mommy. Love, Robby and Krissy,' no less? But she was excited, bewildered even, so I had to give her a pass on that one.

"But, how did you..." she stopped, her brows crinkling together as she shook her head, studying every inch of it. I had rendered her speechless, and I was a proud motherfucker for that.

"Alice," I answered with a sheepish smile. Her head snapped up; her eyes met mine, and then I was the one rendered speechless. The tears had spilled over. They streamed down her cheeks, following the contours of her beautiful face, but she was...smiling.

"Alice?" she asked, her voice shaking slightly. I leaned into her and cupped her cheeks, wiping at her tears with my thumbs.

"Yes," I whispered. "She brought them to meet me one day, and I bought the kit. We made the mold at her apartment. The kids were...hilarious." I chuckled at the memory.

"Edward, this is incredible." She blinked repeatedly, running her fingers over the inscription. "You don't understand how amazing this is. My babies' little hands, this size…I'll have them forever, just like this." She looked back at me. Fresh tears had returned. "Thank you so, so much, Edward. I can't tell you how much this means to me. I love it."

"You're welcome, Bella," I said proudly. Not really sure what to do, I sat there, staring at her as she gazed at the plaster hands longingly. I started to get up, to retrieve her second gift, but she stopped me.

"No wait! Where are you going?" She didn't give me a chance to respond, instead pulled me toward her and wound her arms around my neck. Our lips met, softly yet furiously as her fingers curled in my hair and her tongue darted out to sweep across mine. The shock of it sent sparks shooting through every blood vessel in my body. My dick came alive again, pulsing and straining, begging to be let free.

Fuck.

I could not take her right here in the middle of her living room. Not with a chance of the kids coming out to see if Santa Claus had shown up. Oh, but I fucking wanted to. Instead, I pulled away again, gasping.

"Bella," I groaned. "You're killing me here."

"Sorry," she said, amused. "But, you're not leaving, right?" I leaned my forehead against hers.

"Baby, I told you. I'm not going anywhere until you make me."

"Okay." She smiled. Her face lit up much like the Christmas tree standing close by. "Then you have to open yours next." She ran her hand down my arm, and even through my shirt, it made me shiver deliciously. She placed the bag right in front of me, sat back, and began to fiddle with a loose string on her t-shirt nervously. "I don't know if you're gonna like it, but..."

"Baby?"

"Yeah?"

"Shut it and let me open my present, okay?" She smiled, nodding shyly, and I didn't care what I had to do for the rest of my life; I'd do it, just to see her lips curl up that way. Without further ado, I tore into the little bag. Whatever. When it came to Christmas presents, I was like a little kid myself and this one was from my girl - yeah, I said my girl - and I wasn't wasting any time to see it. I pulled out a small, white, square box, and when I opened it, my heart skidded to a stop. Inside was a guitar pick, but not just any pick. It was a silver pendant, and there was an inscription. It was incredible. As I picked it up out of the box to get a closer look, I saw that it was attached to an equally brilliant silver chain. Right at that time, Bella cleared her throat.

"It-it's platinum," she said, her voice a little shaky. My eyes widened in shock, and I looked at her briefly before turning my attention back to the pendant. She must've spent a small fortune on it, not that it mattered to me, at all. No, what mattered to me was what I saw etched in the precious metal.

Edward & Bella was written in beautiful script, and I couldn't keep the gigantic, stupid grin from spreading across my face.

"Baby, this is...so beautiful." My voice was just above a whisper. "It takes my breath away, just like you do. Thank you."

"Turn it over," she said softly. I did just that, and if I thought the inscription on the front took my breath away, the one on the back nearly brought tears to my eyes. Thank God I was already on the floor; otherwise, I would've dropped to my knees before her and begged her to be with me until the day I died.

Two Hearts, One Song

All I could do was stare at it, and shake my head repeatedly. If Emmett had seen me, he would've calling me a pansy ass motherfucker for sure. But I honestly couldn't have cared less about that shit. He could call me whatever he wanted. I was going to cherish this moment for the rest of my fucking life.

"Do you hate it?" My head snapped up to meet her worried gaze. "I mean, if you think it's cheesy, I'll understand." I shook my head again. She was unbelievable.

"Do I hate it? Are you kidding me? Cheesy?" I lunged at her, pinning her to the floor beneath me and pressing myself into her. She gasped and giggled, squirming a little underneath me. I took a moment to appreciate her. God she was beautiful, and she felt so fucking good against me. "You're insane, ya know that?" She looked confused for a second, and I smiled. "Baby, it's fucking incredible. I love it. And, oh God, I fucking love you. So goddamned much, you have no idea." And then I couldn't help myself. I kissed her. Hard. Her fingers tangled in my hair and she arched into me, moaning and making me rock-fucking-hard again. "Fuck," I muttered as I pulled back, gasping. Yeah, she was going to be the death of me. Hopefully not too soon, though. I had things to do to her tonight.

I rested my forehead on hers and pressed into her again, to show her exactly what she did to me. She whimpered, and the sound went straight to my - once again - aching cock. "Will you put it on me?" I asked, all innocent and shit. She smacked at my chest.

"You're such a tease."

"Patience, baby." Although, I was really saying that more for myself than for her. Because I couldn't fucking wait.

Once she had the necklace clasped, she smiled in approval. "It looks great on you, Edward. I'm so glad you like it." I pulled her to me and kissed her soft lips.

"Not like, Bella, love. I love it. And I love you."

"So much," she whispered. There she went, taking my breath away again. I stood up, lifting her off the floor and wrapping my arms around her.

"I have something else for you," I whispered, squeezing her gently and kissing her forehead.

"I know," she purred as her hand traveled down between us and traced the outline of my hard length. My dick twitched and pulsed. It was agonizing, and I knew she knew it. Fucking Christ. She really was killing me. But I smiled wickedly, knowing she wanted me as much as I wanted her.

"You know I'd never deny you that, baby. But, I mean I really do have another gift for you. It's in my jacket."

"Oh, Edward, no." She shook her head. "What you gave me is more than enough. I don't have anything else for you and—"

"Bella," I interrupted. "Shut it. I'll be right back." She just glared at me, that cute, feisty side of her coming out to play, as I chuckled my way to the entry way. I returned to her as quickly as I could, clutching the small, gift-wrapped box in the palm of my hand, but the anxiety was back tenfold. I sat down on the sofa, patting the cushion next to me and swallowing thickly as she sat down with a perplexed expression. As I opened up my hand and reached for hers, placing the small box in her palm, I held my breath yet again. She unwrapped it carefully, not ripping a single piece of the paper, and revealed the square, white box underneath. When she opened the box, which enclosed an even smaller, black velvet one - something most rings came in from what I understood - her reaction was something I should've expected, but wasn't fully prepared for. She gasped, loudly; her hands began to shake so much so that she dropped the box. The little velvet one tumbled out, bouncing off her knee and landing with a soft thud on the carpet below. I was fairly fucking certain that my mouth was hanging open at this point.

"Edward, are you crazy? Are you crazy?" she whisper-yelled. I had to admit, I was a little confused. I was just about to ask her what the hell, when I noticed her eyes, filled with tears, and her expression somewhere between excitement - which I wasn't sure was good or bad - and hysteria. That was when I realized what she thought I was doing.

Fuck.

And what's more, if I was doing what she thought I was doing, based on her initial reaction, my ego was taking a fucking beating. Regardless, I smiled. Chuckling to myself a little, I picked up the velvet box, grabbed her hand, flipped it over palm up, and placed the unfounded source of her anxiety right in the middle. Her hand was still shaking.

"Edward, I'm...I-I don't—"

"Baby," I cupped her cheeks with both hands, leaned in and kissed her hard again, hoping like hell she kept a hold of the little box this time. "Just open it. It's not what you think, I promise." That confused look was back again, along with maybe a tiny bit of chagrin. Ego hit number fucking two. She blew out a slow, cleansing breath, and finally opened the damned box. When her watery eyes fell on the platinum band - made to look as if little waves peaked throughout it - with two violet-blue stones affixed on either side of one of the peaks, her free hand immediately flew to her mouth.

"Edward it's beautiful!" were her muffled words through her hand. I smiled. At least she didn't think I was proposing any more. She looked...relieved. Ego hit number fucking three. Her hand fell from her mouth as her fingers caressed the stones gingerly. "Is it...is it a promise ring?" Okay now I felt like an asshole. Perhaps she was hoping...nah.

"Uh, no actually," I started.

"Oh." And now her expression was unreadable. Goddamn. I was starting to get mental whiplash.

"Do you recognize the stone color?" I asked, throwing her a bone. She pulled the ring out gently between her thumb and forefinger and studied it.

"Um, it looks like the twins' birth stone color. Well, one of them anyway. Are these stones Tanzanite?" The grin on my face spread wide. I nodded.

"It's a mother's ring. One stone for each child."

She stared at me for a few seconds, just holding the ring and staring at me. And then I noticed her bottom lip trembling. Fresh tears sprang in her eyes, and when she blinked, they shot down her cheeks like little missiles. I sucked in a sharp breath, immediately to console her, to tell her not to cry, unsure - again - the reason for this severe reaction. But she spoke before I could.

"Y-you got me a mother's ring?" I nodded and looked away, still unsure of what this reaction meant. Suddenly she grabbed my chin, turning my head so that my eyes had nowhere to look but into hers. They were on fire, bright blue flames licking at her pupils. My heart skipped, stuttered, and nearly stopped again at the pure power that look alone had over me. "I've always...I've always wanted one, but..." she trailed off as I gently took the ring and placed it on the third finger of her right hand. I held it in mine. I couldn't seem to let go of her as she continued. "Well, I didn't want to buy one for myself, you know? So-so I waited, but-but I never got one." She sniffled.

"And now you don't have to buy one for yourself," I whispered, bringing her hand up to my lips and kissing softly right on the ring. Her sniffles turned into muffled sobs as she squeezed my hand and reached up with her other one to cup my face. My stomach fucking flipped again.

"Edward, you don't understand how much this... This means so much to me, you don't...you don't understand. Thank you. So much, I—" She gasped as I cut her off mid-sentence with a kiss.

"Baby," I whispered. "Please don't cry. And you don't have to thank me. You deserve this. You're an amazing mother." I felt my heart break a little as I said that, but I pushed it away.

"You-you think I am?" She hiccupped on her sob. I smiled. I was so full of fucking joy and pride that I'd been able to do this for her. Something she deserved so much but had never gotten from that son-of-a-bitch she married.

"Absolutely," I stated simply, leaning in to kiss her tear-drenched lips again. Her hand never left my face as I pulled away and looked down, a little embarrassed, thinking about her reaction to the faux proposal.

"What is it?" she asked.

I chuckled. "Nothing really. It's just that, I know what you were thinking..." I looked into her eyes. "Before you opened it. And, as happy as I am that you love it, I can't help but feel a little...rejected." Her eyes widened. "I gotta say, my ego took a pretty hard hit there." She didn't say anything for what seemed like a lifetime, and I immediately regretted even bringing that shit up. But then she pulled on my jaw.

"Edward, look at me, please." My eyes snapped to hers. "I'll admit it freaked me out, but only for a second." I nodded and tried to look away again, but she held my jaw firm. "But you're crazy if you think I would ever reject you."

"What?" My jaw fell slack. She smiled through her still present tears.

"I would've said yes."

"Yeah?" I felt a rush of energy. I felt all fucking giddy. Like I wanted to jump up and dance a fucking jig or something. What I really wanted to do was take her fine ass to bed, immediately.

She nodded. "Yeah, even with all this craziness around us. Even though I'm not technically divorced yet. You're my home, Edward. You're my shelter, remember? I would've said yes."

Dear God in heaven, I could've died right then. A happy. Fucking. Man.

I pulled her right hand up to my lips again and kissed it. "This looks so beautiful on you. But it doesn't even come close to being as beautiful as you are." She leaned in, touched her lips to mine, and breathed. "And I was thinking," I whispered against her mouth. "That maybe someday, we could, I dunno, we could add another stone or two. What do you think?" She smiled against my lips, took my bottom one between hers - sucking gently and making my dick strain against my fly - pushed me back against the cushions, and straddled me.

Jesus, her body felt so good against mine, wrapped around me like that. I wanted to fucking weep with joy. She deepened the kiss, grinding her pelvis against mine, killing me. Our tongues mingled and danced, sending shards of pleasure shooting through every inch of me, piercing my resolve like a scalpel to delicate skin. I moaned. I couldn't fucking help it. I was aching for her. Her lips broke free of mine and moved along my jaw delicately until they reached the crest of my ear, ghosting over it and making my flesh quiver with excitement.

"Bella," I whispered. My hands roamed her back, up to her neck, her hair - where I gently pulled the tie out, letting the thick strands fall over my arms - and down to her ass as I pressed her against me. She gasped.

"Say you'll stay," she whispered. Her breath washed over the side of my face, my ear. The feeling was fucking indescribable.

"I'll stay," I whispered back immediately.

"Promise me. Promise you'll stay all night."

"Baby, I promise." I brushed her hair out of the way and pressed my lips to her exquisite neck. "I'm not going anywhere."

She rocked her hips into me again and I groaned. "Fuck."

Her lips met mine again with incredible passion. I could feel everything, all of her emotions, all of her fears. It was overwhelming. She pulled away, gasping, but our foreheads seemed to be fused together.

"I love you, Edward. I need you," she cooed breathily.

"Oh, Bella, I love you too, so much." I hugged her to me, tucking her head in the crook of my neck. "But we can't do this here, baby."

"I know," she replied. She kissed my neck, ground herself into my hardness again, making me gasp. She then stood up gingerly.

I followed, not wanting any distance between us, and lifted her against me. She wrapped her legs around my waist; my fingers dug into her hips as she took my jaw between her lips. I turned my head, capturing them with my own and tracing them with my tongue. She whimpered.

"Please, Edward."

I looked into her fiery eyes. "Are you sure about this?"

"More than you can imagine," she whispered in response. Nothing else needed to be said.

As she led me to her bedroom, her hand never breaking contact with mine, she stopping along the way to peek quietly into the kids' rooms. When we reached hers, she shut the door and locked it, turning to me with a look that said she knew exactly what she wanted. No more questioning.

We came together slowly. Hands caressing, lips exploring skin. There would be no rushing this. I lifted her shirt off gently, skimming my fingers across her heaving chest, cupping and ghosting my thumbs over her beaded nipples. She arched her back and sighed, stretching up to kiss me fervently. I groaned into her mouth as her hand roamed downward, cupping me between us.

"I've missed you," she said.

I reached around her, unclasping the white lace that hugged her and slid the straps off of her shoulders, watching hungrily as she let the material fall to the floor. I palmed her soft mounds gently and dipped down to take a taut peak into my mouth. She gasped, curling her fingers into the back of my hair. The sensation had me reeling. I let go and took the other one, letting my tongue caress and swirl around it.

"Edward," she gasped again, digging her fingers into my scalp. It felt fucking incredible. I popped my mouth off of her sensitive flesh, kissing my way up to her lips.

"Baby, I've missed you too. So much," I whispered against them.

She smiled and began to unbutton my shirt, slowly, methodically, and pushed it off my arms. She dipped her fingers under my t-shirt and pushed it up, scraping her nails along the ridges of my chest and torso.

Fuck.

I pulled it over my head quickly, wanting to see her hands on me. Watching her fingers slide lower, tickling, fucking teasing, and dipping behind my waistband. I was dying for her. Aching, pulsing, and twitching with the carnal need to be inside her. Her fingers nimbly opened the button and unzipped my jeans as my breaths came quicker and sharper. As if she harbored some murderous plot to unravel me tonight, she tucked her hand inside my boxer briefs and wrapped her fingers around my hard-as-steel shaft.

I hissed through my clenched teeth. Oh, fuck...fuck, it was too much.

I dropped to my knees in front of her, disconnecting her hand from my aching cock. It was bittersweet, but I couldn't let her continue that. Not yet. I was wound so fucking tight, it was a guarantee that I would come right then and there, merely from her touch.

I hooked my thumbs inside the waist of her pants and panties, ripping then down swiftly. She grabbed hold of my bare shoulders, lifting each leg for me obediently as I removed the offending fabric from her body completely. My eyes absorbed every inch of her as I knelt before her. She was fucking exquisite, and I knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that this, on my knees in front of her, was exactly where I belonged.

Without hesitation, I palmed her sexy, round ass and pulled her toward me, placing open-mouth kisses on each hip bone, her abdomen, and below. She moaned, digging her fingernails into my shoulders as my lips caressed the top of her sex. Her scent was intoxicating. It brought me to the brink of explosion, but I couldn't stop myself from tasting.

"Ohhhhh, God," she cried softly. And as my tongue reached her sensitive, hidden bud, her legs gave out, a curse whispered on her breath. I wrapped my arms around her and stood, pulling her naked body against me and lifting her as her legs automatically wrapped around my waist. Her wet heat emanated through me, and set my skin on fucking fire.

I walked us to the bed, laying her down gently in the middle and hovering over her. Her feet inched up to my waist, pushing the material down as I shimmied out of them and kicked them, along with my shoes, off onto the floor. I crawled back over her, lowering myself and moaning softly, reveling in the feel of her skin against mine, fully and completely.

My dick was rejoicing, pulsing and weeping, but I mentally told it to shut the fuck up. Because this shit was going to last. If it killed me, I was going to make this last and I would die a happy man, knowing I made love to her the way she deserved...all night. I kissed her, gently at first, and then deeper, exploring her mouth with my tongue, and she reciprocated. Every lick, every suck, every groan and gasp of mine, she met equally. I broke the kiss, but her flesh was too enticing, so I moved on to her nose, her forehead, eyelids, her jaw. She giggled as I nibbled on her ear lobes and scratched lightly along my back. Little sparks of pleasure enveloped me with every pass of her nails across my skin.

She moaned and arched into me as I suckled on her neck and collarbone. My dick twitched and I growled, taking the skin of her neck gently between my teeth. She arched again.

"Jesus, baby, please," I begged her. "I have to do this slowly, or I won't last."

"I'm sorry," she breathed heavily. "I just need you."

I kissed her entire body. Arms, chest, stomach...the palms of her hands, each delicate finger. I kissed the ring again. I kissed the soles of her feet, her ankles and calves. I lifted each of her legs to kiss behind her knees and lingered on her inner thighs. Her fingers twisted and curled in my hair the whole time. I kissed her pelvis again and back up her torso, taking extra time with each of her incredible fucking breasts, making her whimper with need, and up to her chin.

The heat was fucking palpable. I was more than ready for her, and she was more than ready for me. She opened her knees wide for me and I entered her. Painstakingly slowly, I filled her completely and I stilled. Our chests were heaving as my lips met hers softly, mouths opened and tongues touching only briefly. I tried to swallow around the huge lump in my throat as I rested my forehead on hers and lost myself in feeling every bit of her from the inside out.

"I love you," I whispered as I began to thrust. Shards of pleasure ricocheted through every space within my body.

"Oh, Edward," she gasped. "I love you too. So much." And I decided at that moment, that I would live to make love to her slowly for the rest of my goddamned life.

My hands framed her face, my thumbs brushing lovingly across her brow as her fingers danced across my jaw, my cheeks, buried in my hair and scratched along my shoulder blades. With every thrust, our lips met, our tongues licked and explored. Deeply and passionately at times, softly and gently at others.

I could hardly take it anymore. Her sounds, her moans and whimpers were sending me spiraling out of control. I felt the tightening in my balls, felt the blood rushing in my groin, and heard the pounding of my pulse in my ears. My tempo increased; her hips met mine with equal fervor, and I snaked my arms behind her, pulling her up with me as I sat back on my haunches, stretching her impossibly more. She cursed breathily and bit down on my shoulder.

"Are you okay?" I breathed. She nodded against my neck.

"More than," she whispered.

I licked the salty, sweet sweat from the dip in her throat, and kissed there, thrusting again and again, capturing her mouth with mine and licking her supple lips. She moaned. Her blunt nails nearly pierced the skin on my back as she dug her fingers in, riding me. I felt her body begin to tense. Her back arched, and I knew she was so close. My muscles were straining. I was about to fucking explode, but I needed to feel her come around me first. Her unadulterated pleasure was my top priority. I kissed across her jaw, up to her ear.

"Let go, baby," I whispered. "Come for me...please...let go."

She bucked against me, trying to throw her head back, but I caught it and held it there to make her look at me. Her body tensed one last time as her thighs tightened around my hips. She began to cry out as her orgasm ripped through her, but I pulled her to me and captured her mouth, muffling her cries and thrusting once, twice, a third and final time as my own pleasure exploded through my body.

"Bella...Bella, Bella," I chanted through clenched teeth, trying not to scream her name like I wanted, so fucking much, to do. I gripped her ass tightly against me as I emptied every last drop into her. It was so intense; I could barely catch my breath. Tears sprang to my eyes without warning, and I found myself curling my arms around her small frame, holding tighter than I probably should have. I buried my head in the crook of her neck.

"I fucking love you so much. I'm sorry for hurting you," I choked on my words, praying that I wasn't leaving bruises on her flawless skin.

"Shh, baby, it's okay," she whispered, pulling my head up to look at her. Her blue eyes were shining, watery, but she was smiling. "It's okay. I love you too, Edward. So much. Don't ever let me go."

"I promise," I said, leaning in to kiss her, and kiss some more, and over and over. "Never again, baby."

~*fOrSAKeN*~

Chapter end notes: Thanks so much for reading. If you haven't read Tanya's story, you really should. Go check it out on my profile page: "Standing At the Crossroads" and you'll have a better understanding of her background, and Kate's.

If you're interested in seeing teasers, pictures, discussing, venting (Lol), etc. etc. Please go find me on Facebook, link's on my profile…tell me who you are (that you're a reader) and I will enthusiastically add you to my group.

More fluff and lovin' ahead…for a while. ;-) Until next time! XOXOXO