Full disclaimer at start of Chapter 1: No copyright infringement is intended.

EPOV

I watch Bella as she crawls up the huge bed towards the dream me, lying on the bed propped up on his elbows and panting slightly in anticipation of her approach. I see dream me sit up to pull Bella onto his lap and then dream me turns his head to stare back at voyeur me with heavy, lust filled eyes. I realize I am watching me and Bella in a mirror when Bella turns her head and meets my eyes and smiles with wicked delight at catching me enjoying the show before she turns back to mirror me and laughs into his sinful grin.

I tear my eyes away from the mirror to look at the stunning naked woman straddling my lap but she won't lift her face to meet my gaze. She presses a hot, open mouth kiss against my throat and I roll back my head and catch sight of Bella and mirror me kissing passionately. Bella has her arms tightly wrapped around his neck and mirror me is palming and squeezing Bella's delectable breasts between their closely pressed bodies.

I flash my eyes back to the naked goddess on my lap and gasp as she raises herself slightly and eases the delicious ache of my swollen, straining cock as she slicks down my hard length and envelopes me in her wet, tight heat. I grabbed her hip with one hand and raise her chin gently with my other hand but she keeps her eyes lowered and I groan my frustration that I cannot lose myself in her warm, chocolate eyes. I buck my hips upwards and bury myself deeper in her tight wetness and I moan my satisfaction that I can lose myself in her gripping heat.

I turn my head to look at mirror me and see he has collapsed back onto the bed and is guiding Bella's sliding, circling, grinding hips with both hands as she arches her back and smiles down into his awed eyes. Mirror me sits up and wraps one arm around Bella's hips and balances himself on his other hand on the mattress as he starts to urgently meet Bella's thrusting hips. Bella drops her head back and closes her eyes momentarily before she snaps her eyes open to meet mirror me's adoring gaze as they buck and ride closer to their mutual orgasms.

I hiss in a breath and tear my eyes back to my naked angel as she drags her wet heat up my cock before I gasp out a grunt when she slams down on my straining hardness. I helplessly let her catch my hands and hold them to the mattress beside my head as she repeats her slow, gripping rise and rough dive on my cock. I futilely test the strength of her binding pressure on my wrists.

"Let me touch you." I plead. "I need to touch you."

My naked goddess drops her head and answers my plea by grinding and circling on my cock and forcing me to clench my fists in the sheet above my head to bear the insane pleasure wracking my body. I uselessly try to penetrate the curtain of her long, brown hair that hides her face from me.

"Let me see you." I plead. "I need to see you."

My naked, mute angel answers my plea by pulsing her slick heat up and down my cock and forcing me to clamp shut my eyes against the building, anticipatory pressure tightening my balls. I hopelessly try to break her withdrawn silence by driving my cock up to meet her fast plunges down my length.

"Let me hear you." I plead. "I need to hear you."

My distant, naked goddess answers my plea by increasing the urgency of her sliding, gliding, riding dance and forces me to gasp and pant for air, jammin my ears with the harsh hitching and heaving of my breaths. I desperately try to reach her through her suffocating defenses by writhing and pumping and thrusting and straining to match her wild lead.

"Let me love you." I beg. "I need to love you."

My disheveled, sweaty angel answers my entreaty by slowing and gentling her movements to a torturous pace that cannot satisfy the coiling vice pressing at my balls and swelling my cock. I twist one wrist out from her binding hand and grab her hip so I can follow my primal urge to keep thrusting until I pump her to overflowing with my seed.

"Baby doll, you don't need that." My devious, deceitful naked angel sneers.

"Chelsea?" I gasp brokenly even as I ram my exploding cock into her depths.

I jolted awake, panting and sweating, with my hand gripping my aching, throbbing cock. I pulled my hand roughly up to my swollen head and jerked my wrist to smear the leaking pre-cum in my palm before I snapped my hips up to fuck my clenched fist and shot my load across my stomach and chest with jagged thrusts. I gritted my teeth and swallowed my groan as I came hard because I wasn't sure whose name I would grunt in my just awake stupor. I collapsed back onto my mattress and covered my eyes with my elbow and then lay holding my softening cock until my alarm blared that it was time to get up and start my Thursday.

I stood naked in my kitchen and stupidly blinked at my coffee pot as I watched it fill and thought about Bella. I was becoming an expert in analyzing my sex dreams slash night terrors and I knew what I had been subconsciously processing overnight. I wanted to be mirror me and share with Bella that playful, raw, intense love that had mesmerized me but I was letting myself be weakened and made helpless by holding on to my ingrained feelings of fear and betrayal. I frowned as I realized that my dream had revisited and reinforced my revelation from yesterday that I would never win Bella back from the withdrawn, brittle woman I'd stalked to work unless I broke free from my suffocating grip on the past.

I had realized while I ran beside Bella on our speeding treadmills yesterday morning that Bella wasn't running away but was running through her pain and obviously hurt feelings. I had watched her almost embrace and welcome the physical pain and exertion of our taxing workout and use the pounding of our feet and the driving force of the music as a form of meditation. I had seen her become stronger and surer and more resolute as we ran and I had sickly realized that saying sorry wouldn't be enough this time. I had known I still had to explain what had happened on Tuesday night but had also known that I couldn't expect a trite apology to fix the pain I had caused Bella.

So I had let Bella set the conditions of allowing me to still spend time with her by asking careful questions that, l hoped, let her know how I felt but enabled her to dictate what she could tolerate. I'd known when she'd told me that she wouldn't wait for me to get showered and changed after our workout that she was really telling me that she wouldn't wait for me to be ready to work through my shit and stop hurting her. I'd not been able to hide my emotions as easily as I had framed my questions and my composure had broken when I'd almost begged her to accept me as more than a friend.

She had left me shattered on the pavement and only just clinging to my hold on my shredded emotions. I'd numbly turned towards the office and started walking but abruptly decided I needed to pull myself together more before I faced anyone. I had turned into the first café I passed and ordered coffee, juice and a bagel while I had tried to work through my rioting thoughts.

The caffeine and carbohydrate hit had brought me my first revelation; I needed to do something about my workload. I was rapidly losing all of my joy and my pride in my company and spent a lot of my time just juggling my schedule and competing demands. I'd regained some of my composure as I had clinically analyzed what I needed to do to reduce some of the overwhelming pressure on my time and energy. I'd emailed Jasper using my Blackberry to let him know I needed some of his time during the day to discuss my new plan to hire him and me personal assistants. I'd also outlined a proposal to hire at least two account managers to take over the client liaisons that sapped so much of my energy.

I had ordered more juice and a muffin as I'd turned my, by then, detached analysis on what I needed to do to finally get past the baggage that I'd unconsciously been carrying with me for the last ten years. Ten years ago, I'd vowed that I'd never let another woman hurt me like Chelsea had but I now saw that it hadn't been a decision made to be strong and take control, like I had thought in all of my teenage wisdom. It had been a decision made to avoid feeling the same fear and pain and betrayal that had nearly destroyed me as a heartbroken, seventeen year old kid. Instead of acknowledging and facing those feelings, like I had seen Bella do that morning, I had buried and avoided them and they had festered and strengthened in their power to bring me undone. Now, when I most needed to be strong and in control and able to follow my heart to win my girl, I was weak and off balance and causing her pain.

My second revelation had come when I'd been staring broodingly at the crumbs of my muffin and had hit me like a garbage truck going downhill at forty miles per hour. I had known that I couldn't change only for Bella but had to also change for myself and that's when it had hit me… I wanted to be as happy and as assured as the man I pretended to be most of the time. I wanted to replace the façade I painted on with the real me but not the moody, erratic, emotionally stunted man I had to grow past. I wanted to replace my fake surface with the happy, relaxed, trusting and confident man I'd been at the zoo. I wanted to be the man that Bella seemed to want at her side.

I'd left the café in a hurry and then walked around downtown Seattle while I'd processed my confession to myself that I was rarely truly happy. I'd been filled with a need to do something practical and proactive to start my change. I didn't want to sit in a stranger's office and talk about my feelings, I already had Emmett and Rosalie acting like my own personal therapists, but I needed tools that would help me exorcise my poisonous doubts and paralyzing fears. I had brooded on Bella's seeming meditative state as we'd worked out and run faster than I'd ever run on a treadmill before and had realized it was similar to the breathing and visualization techniques I had been given in college to help me sleep.

I had turned towards my office then, needing to google the new-age, hippy fairy centre where Jasper had dragged me our junior year when he'd come over and found me shakily drinking coffee after not sleeping for ninety-six hours. I had remembered Claire, with her soulful eyes and clichéd cheesecloth shirt, and how she had asked simple, direct questions and then led me through the exercises that I still used if I couldn't sleep and wasn't in the midst of a panic attack.

Back in the office, I'd quickly found the details for the healing centre and phoned immediately. I'd been surprised but almost relieved when I'd found that my favorite hippy, Claire, was still working there and I had been shocked that she had not only remembered me but had called me her burnished angel. I'd made an appointment for Friday morning and entered it in my schedule so I had no chance of forgetting it no matter what happened at work or with Bella before then. I'd felt lighter and more in control when I'd hung up the phone to Claire and had finally felt a true confidence in my ability to adapt and stay strong so I could win back Bella's trust and keep her at my side.

My phone rang as I was still standing naked in my kitchen and I strode to the hall stand to see who was calling so early. I saw Jasper's grinning mug lighting up the display and decided to call out his skiving ass if he was going to call in suspiciously sick on the same day Bella and the girls had plans to run amok. I answered the call but smirked as I didn't say anything to greet Jasper.

"Edward?" Jasper's drawl sounded uncertain.

"Jasper?" I mocked him lightly.

"You are so grade school, you prick." He muttered.

"Great, how are you this morning?" I immaturely continued my fun.

"I was calling to see if we're actually going to practice tonight or if we're going to end up heading straight to a bar." Jasper ignored my smart ass. "I don't want to lug around my squash kit all day if we're not playing." He drawled.

"Hey, Jasper, ask me what I'm wearing?" I laughed, still bubbling with the freedom I felt after my revelations from yesterday.

"You are a sick, nudist fuck, Edward Cullen." Jasper muttered. "Are we playing squash tonight, or what?" He bit out.

"Um… what." I hesitated.

Jasper ended the call without saying anything more and I laughed to myself and then quickly made way back to the kitchen and poured a coffee that I took back into my bedroom so I could get ready for my day. I showered, shaved and dressed, deliberately selecting a black collarless shirt so I only had to shed my black suit jacket to be dressed to party, before I grabbed my laptop and headed out the door. I stopped at the same café where I'd had my blinding revelations and bought breakfast plus a muffin for Alice and then hurried to the office so I could power through my work and hopefully leave early at the end of the day.

On an impulse, I sent Bella a text message to wish her a happy birthday before I shut myself behind my closed door for the morning.

Happy bday, Az.

I tried not to wait anxiously for a reply because I knew it was a miracle that she'd even agreed that we could be friends and powered up my laptop and busied myself with checking my unread emails. After an interminable ten minutes my phone sounded its text message alert and I snatched up my phone.

Cheers, its
gonna b gr8

I was conflicted by Bella's reply because, on one hand, I read it to be a very casual, almost offhand return of my text that firmly reinforced that we were just friends but, on the other hand, I was ecstatic that she'd replied at all. I hesitated before I decided to not push my luck by sending a reply and set my phone back down on my desk and then froze when I saw the bag holding the digital photo frame I'd bought yesterday for Alice's upcoming birthday. I sickly realized I hadn't bought Bella a gift and raked a hand through my hair as I tried to desperately think of a gift good enough for the woman I was hopelessly infatuated with that was still appropriate for our just friends status.

I grabbed up my jacket and hurried back out of my office when I abruptly realized I already knew the perfect gift. On Tuesday night, I'd finally settled on couriering Bella two matching t-shirts from the Seattle Space Needle, one in her size and one in my size, with my apology and an open-ended invitation for dinner. I'd never sent the gift because I had run into her on her way to the gym and won as much of her forgiveness that I could possibly ask for and hadn't wanted to push her any more.

I caught a cab to the Space Needle and asked the driver to wait and then ran into the just opened gift shop and bought my t-shirts. I decided to just leave them in their bag but to add a handwritten note to my gift back at the office. The cabbie double-parked to let me out and I rushed back into the building to finally start work.

The rest of my day flew past and by five o'clock I decided I'd completed enough work that I could happily leave and worry about my early finish or my late start after my hippy consultation the next morning. I sent Ben and Jasper an email asking if they would be ready to leave soon and got two almost simultaneous replies that basically said 'fuck yeah'. I laughed and shut down my laptop and then grabbed up my gift bag and strode quickly out of my office over to the elevator where Jasper and Ben were both already waiting.

Ben punched the call button as soon as he saw me and then flinched when his phone chirped that he'd received a new text message. I looked at him questioningly when he groaned softly and flashed a quick look at me and Jasper.

"Angie is drunk texting me." He mumbled and seemed embarrassed.

"At a quarter past five?" Jasper asked uncertainly.

"Yeah, well she's a bit of a light weight." He mumbled as he quickly replied to his text. "Are we going to the bar around from Pump first?... Or should we just meet straight up with the girls?" He asked too casually.

I looked at Jasper and gestured that it was his call while I tried to disguise my eagerness to see Bella immediately. Jasper smirked at me but I ignored his smartass attitude as I stepped into the just arrived lift and turned to face the doors.

"Maybe we should go and meet the girls sooner rather than later." Jasper drawled. "We can confiscate Angela's phone."

I shrugged noncommittally but smiled at the doors at Jasper's disbelieving snort of laughter. Ben nodded down at his phone and started tapping out a new text message that he quickly sent and then led us out of the elevator on the ground floor. I sent Emmett a quick text to tell him the change in plans after asking Jasper where we were meeting the girls. We'd pushed out onto the street and turned in the opposite direction to Pump when Ben's phone chimed again and he quickly opened his new message before he started laughing. Jasper finally cleared his throat to let Ben know we were still waiting for an explanation when he didn't share what had made him laugh.

"The mythical unicorn tattoo." He snickered.

"Who's got a tattoo of a unicorn?" Jasper asked quickly.

"Not of a unicorn… Bella has a tattoo… I tease her that it's like a unicorn and only shows itself to virgins." Ben mumbled as he replied to the picture text.

"Show!" Jasper demanded and tried to snatch Ben's phone away.

"Wait!" Ben protested as he ducked away from Jasper's hands.

I crowded behind Ben and tried to see his phone over his shoulder and he laughed and spun away from both me and Jasper as he tried to send off his reply. He glared at both of us as he handed Jasper his phone.

"No one says a word!" He warned. "Not one word!" He repeated.

Jasper snatched the phone as he and I both laughed and then blocked Ben with our bodies to stop him taking back his phone.

"Guys!" Ben protested. "Angie and Bella will kill me." He muttered.

"Ben, if Bella is showing her unicorn tattoo and Angela is taking photos of it then neither of them will care." Jasper laughed.

He stopped dead in the street and lifted the phone closer to his face and then shrugged me away when I pressed closer to see the photo.

"Fuck." Jasper mumbled.

I grabbed the phone and quickly looked at the photo of creamy, porcelain skin inked with a vertical line of small kanji characters next to a cherry blossom. My eyes widened as I looked closer and realized I was looking at one side of Bella's ass and that Bella Swan was wearing a sheer white thong.

"Fuck!" I exhaled.

Ben snatched his phone back from my frozen fingers and looked carefully at the photo before looking questioningly between me and Jasper. Jasper shrugged unconcernedly and I shook my head to try and clear the fog of lust that had stopped any other thought penetrating my brain other than how to get a private, up close viewing of Bella's tattoo.

"What?" Ben asked in confusion.

"Nothing." Jasper and I mumbled in unison.

Ben frowned at us and then shrugged and started walking again. Jasper laughed at me as I raked a hand through my hair and blinked twice to clear the image of Bella's pretty ass from my retinas. I huffed a laugh and then jogged to catch up with Ben just as he passed a Japanese restaurant.

"Hey, Ben, can I borrow your phone?" I asked quickly.

"Why?" He asked suspiciously.

I jerked my thumb at the restaurant and then impatiently motioned for his phone.

"So, we can find out what the tattoo says." Jasper answered for me with a wicked grin.

"Okay." Ben agreed uncertainly.

I smiled as reassuringly as I could manage as I took his phone that he hesitantly offered and then quickly pushed in through door and left Jasper and Ben waiting for me on the street. I turned on my most charming, crooked smile at the woman dressed in a kimono at the hostess station and showed her the phone while covering the glimpse of Bella's wicked panties with my thumb.

"Could you please tell me what this says?" I murmured.

"Sorry, it's in Chinese." She smiled after a quick glance at Bella's tattoo.

I smiled sheepishly and she giggled and then handed me a takeout version of their menu. I murmured a soft thank you and then quickly rejoined Ben and Jasper outside and started to scan the street for a Chinese restaurant while I tucked the menu into my pocket.

"It's Chinese kanji." I muttered distractedly to their questioningly looks.

I started walking with them and kept one ear tuned to their conversation while I kept looking for my opportunity to find out what Bella's tattoo meant. I finally spotted a Chinese restaurant across the street and bumped Jasper's arm to get his attention and then pointed to where I was going with Ben's phone that I was still holding.

"Cool, we're just three doors up." Jasper said and pointed out the bar where we were meeting the girls.

I nodded and waved to let them know I'd meet them in the bar and then stepped to the curb to wait for a gap in the traffic. I jogged across the road and then stepped into the quiet restaurant. I smiled easily at the young guy who approached me as I hesitated near the front desk.

"Could you please tell me what this says?" I asked politely as I again held out the partly obscured phone.

The young guy frowned at the phone and then called to the back of the restaurant in Cantonese. An older woman, who could have been his grandmother, walked towards us through the empty tables and chairs. The young guy spoke to her rapidly and she stepped to my side and looked closely at the image of Bella's ass cheek before she spoke quietly and paused.

"Um… She says it says Hard, Fast, Loud." The guy said with a shrug.

The older lady pushed my thumb away from the corner of the photo and then spoke quickly again and laughed. The guy flashed a startled, embarrassed look at her and then quickly looked down at the floor which made the old woman laugh again.

"She says, that with the flower, it is probably meant to say 'Harder, Faster, Louder'." He mumbled to the ground.

I felt my ears start to burn red and cleared my throat lightly while I tried not to think about Bella having those three words inked on her ass. I willed myself not to think about her naked in front of me on her hands and knees with those three words inked on her ass and tried to distract myself by asking the question that I now needed answered.

"What does the cherry blossom mean?" I asked as smoothly as I could.

The young guy glared at me before he turned slightly to the older woman who was smiling between us and asked my question. She smiled slyly at me and then spoke rapidly and waved the young guy to tell me what she had said.

"The cherry blossom is a special symbol for power… and feminine beauty and sexuality." He muttered miserably. "It often is used to show feminine power and dominance." He added uncomfortably.

The old lady waited to make sure he was finished translating her words and then spoke briefly before she patted my arm and started to walk towards the back of the restaurant.

"She says that in herbal lore the cherry blossom is the symbol for love." The guy said with relief.

I nodded thoughtfully and quickly decided to change our usual Friday night dinner reservations to their restaurant to thank them for their translation services. The young guy quickly forgave me for embarrassing him in front of his wife's grandmother, who I learnt was the older lady, as we chatted while he wrote down our reservation and I entered it into my blackberry. I thanked him profusely before I stepped back out on to the street and quickly dodged between the evening rush hour traffic across to the bar where I would see Bella. I paused at the door and deleted the photo of Bella's ass cheek from Ben's phone before I pushed into the crowded bar.

I went straight to the bar and bought a neat double scotch that I drained before I ordered another to take to the table. I knew that Jasper and Ben would have bought the next round of drinks for the girls and themselves but would have left me to decide what I was drinking. I desperately tried to forget the old lady's translation of Bella's tattoo and the Chinese symbolism behind the cherry blossom so I didn't have to walk around with a hard-on all night. I scanned the room and finally spotted Jasper and Ben with the girls in a booth near the pool tables and was astonished to find Emmett already sitting in the booth between Rosalie and Bella.

I quickly made my way over to the table and avoided Jasper's and Ben's curious expressions. I smiled around the table as a greeting and passed Ben his phone but then focused on Bella and thought that I had never seen her look so beautiful. Her hair was loose around her face and flowed down her back in gentle waves. Her eyes were shining and her cheeks were slightly flushed and I wondered briefly if she was tipsy. She was wearing an almost opaque white blouse that skimmed her curves and promised to be see-through in the right light. She met my intense gaze briefly before she flicked her eyes away and I remembered unhappily that we were just friends.

"Happy birthday, Arizona." I smiled.

I set my drink down on the table and held up the bag with her gift but didn't offer to pass it across the table with the plan that she would have to stand up so I would get the opportunity to kiss her on the cheek. Bella caught her bottom lip in her teeth and frowned slightly before she nudged Emmett to let her out of the booth. Emmett passed the nudge on to Rosalie who stood up from the end of the curved bench seat and let Emmett and then Bella out of the booth. Alice and Angela quickly followed Bella out of the booth and made their way giggling with Rosalie towards the sign to the ladies restroom.

I smiled crookedly down into Bella's eyes as she stepped in front of me and then offered her the gift shop bag. She flashed me a small smile and hesitantly reached for the bag. I grabbed my opportunity and pressed a quick, chaste kiss on her cheek before I stepped back slightly so I didn't crowd her or make her feel claustrophobic. I smiled into her startled gaze and wanted to kiss her on her beautiful lips.

"Happy birthday." I repeated to explain my peck on her cheek.

"Thanks, you really shouldn't have." Bella mumbled.

She peeked into the bag and then smiled up at me with a soft laugh and I knew she was a little tipsy when I saw that her pupils were slightly dilated.

"Cheesy matching t-shirts?" She asked me teasingly.

"Cool matching t-shirts, Arizona." I corrected her mock sternly. "We can wear them for coffee, sightseeing, dinner, anything." I quickly assured her.

She nodded happily and then leaned up to kiss me back on the cheek. I clasped her waist lightly with one hand to steady her and then quickly turned my head at the last second so that her kiss landed on the corner of my mouth. I laughed lightly at her obviously feigned gasp of outrage and squeezed her waist before I shifted back again to give her space. Bella turned around to the booth to show off her birthday t-shirts to Ben and Alice chose that moment to fall heavily against my back and bump me into Bella. I instinctively grabbed Bella's hips to stop her falling forward and then glared over my shoulder at Alice. She giggled at me and then pointed down at her treacherously high heels. I shook my head exasperatedly at her and then turned back to Bella.

"Arizona, did you get my little sister drunk?" I murmured close to Bella's ear without releasing my hold on her hips.

"And your big brother, bro." Emmett laughed at my side.

I looked at him in surprise and saw all the signs of my big brother being smashed, one, he was standing too close, two, he had a high flush over his cheekbones and, three, his blue eyes looked darker with his dilated pupils. I huffed a laugh and opened and closed my fingers on her hips when Bella smiled innocently at me over her shoulder.

"Would I do that, Edward?" She purred.

I raised one eyebrow challengingly and her smile turned into a smirk and I realized that Bella was a lot tipsy when she rocked her ass back against my groin. I tightened my grip on her hips to hold her still and flicked my startled eyes across to Jasper when I heard him muffle a cough over his laugh. He flashed me a sideways, amused look and then returned his attention to Alice who had just started to try to climb over his lap to get back into the booth.

"Edward, more drinks for you, me and Ben, stat!" Jasper laughed. "We have a lot of catching up to do."

I released one hand from Bella's hip and quickly untucked my shirt so that the whole bar couldn't see the huge wood I was now sporting thanks to Bella's provocative action and my continuing obsession with the meaning of her tattoo. I decided that if Bella wanted to play tonight then I'd be her willing partner and give back as good as I got. I caught Emmett's eye and jerked my head towards the bar so he could help me carry back my round of drinks for the whole table and then frowned when he grinned and shook his head.

"Just hold up your glass, bro. They'll bring another round over." He assured me.

"Huh?" I asked cleverly as I tried not to think about my tenting trousers just a fraction of an inch away from Bella's inked ass.

"The girls were getting hassled when they went up to the bar." Emmett explained. "Bella asked if the bartender could look out for us tonight while I encouraged the sleazes to leave." He shrugged.

"Um, okay…" I muttered and returned my hand to Bella's hip because she hadn't moved away.

Ben, Jasper and Alice promptly turned and held up their glasses until they had caught the bartender's notice and Alice flashed him a flirty smile and cheeky wave across the room. I laughed softly and winked at Jasper when he looked away from smiling affectionately at Alice.

"So, what did you learn, Edward?" Jasper asked meaningfully.

"Oh, before I forget, I made reservations for tomorrow night's dinner at the Chinese restaurant across the road from here." I told everyone quickly to try and distract Jasper from asking about Bella's tattoo.

"Why?" Alice asked curiously.

"Just for a change." I shrugged lightly.

"So, what did you learn, Edward?" Jasper repeated doggedly.

I narrowed my eyes at him and shook my head minutely to tell him to drop the conversation and I groaned quietly when I saw his eyes light up and immediately focus on Bella who was looking back at me quizzically over her shoulder.

"Learn about what?" Alice asked and beat Bella to the question by a fraction of a second.

I got lost staring at Bella's lips that she'd parted slightly to start her question before I wrenched my eyes away to stop myself doing something foolish like kissing her in front of everyone.

"Edward was researching the meaning of some kanji characters." Ben mumbled uncomfortably.

I felt Bella stiffen in front of me and met her eyes quickly while I ran my hands up to her waist and squeezed her reassuringly. I smiled gently into her worried eyes and felt her soft sigh even as I heard Jasper's disgusted snort. I shot my eyes up to meet his and again shook my head minutely to tell him to let the topic go.

"Bella, what does your tattoo mean?" Jasper asked while he stared back challengingly at me.

"Oh, that! Live long and prosper." Alice said airily. "Bella told me when I asked one night when we were getting changed."

Emmett had finally sat back down in the booth and so Bella was the only one who heard my soft snort of laughter. She flashed a warning glance at me over her shoulder and I grinned cheekily into her narrowed eyes.

"Is that right, Bella?" Jasper asked unconcernedly and I knew he'd caught the shared moment between me and Bella.

"Yep." Bella said without looking away from my eyes. "For, like, when I have to turn the other cheek…" She joked lightly.

"Edward?" Jasper asked suspiciously.

I dragged my gaze away from Bella's mesmerizing eyes and shrugged lightly as I met his own narrowed eyes.

"Yep." I copied Bella's affirmation. "The old, very wise lady said it meant longevity and prosperity… that works." I lied smoothly.

I cleared my throat over my laugh when I met Bella's assessing look over her shoulder and knew she'd picked up on my slight emphasis on the wise part of my lie. I gently brushed my hand over where I knew her tattoo was under her jeans as I released her waist and stepped around her to get my drink and then smiled as innocently as she had earlier when I heard her shocked gasp.

I slugged back my scotch as I saw one of the bartenders approaching with a fully loaded tray and then pulled up an empty chair from a nearby table so I didn't have to squash into the already crowded booth. I sat down after the bartender had unloaded our drinks and then patted my knee invitingly when I noticed Bella was still standing with her hip propped against the side of the booth next to Emmett. Bella smiled briefly and shook her head slightly before she turned back to listen to Angela telling Ben and Jasper about their visit to the Science Fiction Museum. I dragged my eyes down from Bella's profile and met Emmett's happy, drunken smile.

"Em, how did you get here and get smashed in the fifteen minutes after I texted you?" I asked lightly.

"I've been with the girls all afternoon. Bella made me an honorary chick so I could join them for girl time." He shrugged.

I huffed out a surprised laugh and flashed a glance up at Bella who was smiling easily down at Emmett. I raised an eyebrow questioningly at Emmett and he grinned happily and then sipped his drink.

"I wanted to do the circus thing." He said with another shrug.

"You went to the circus?" I asked curiously.

"Circus school." Bella corrected me quietly. "We had a go on the trapeze… Emmett rocked it." She smiled at Emmett.

"Yeah, I did." Emmett said proudly.

I frowned slightly between Bella and Emmett because their explanation didn't actually tell me much. Emmett grinned and then nudged Rosalie and flicked his fingers at her purse. Rosalie looked over at me briefly and then pulled a sheaf of small cardboard folders out of her purse and handed them to me before she returned to listening to Angela.

I curiously opened the first folder and saw a five by seven inch photograph of Emmett swinging on a trapeze high over a huge net. I flashed a shocked look up at Emmett and smiled wonderingly before I quickly started to flick through the rest of the folders. One photo showed Rosalie and Emmett both hanging from their knees on two trapezes and swinging towards each other with their hands outstretched on their bisecting arcs. The next shot showed Emmett gripping Rosalie's forearms as she swung beneath him and had captured both of them smiling triumphantly into each other's eyes.

"Awesome." I breathed.

I grinned up at Emmett when I heard his puff of laughter and met his proud smile with an amazed expression. I smiled across at Rosalie who was now smiling widely back at me and then flashed a look at Bella who was smiling down at her feet. I looked more closely at the second shot where Emmett was hanging upside down by his knees and swinging Rosalie beneath him and saw that he wasn't wearing his knee brace. I moved onto the next folder that held a photo of Bella, Angela and Alice sitting on the trapeze together and smiling at the camera.

I stood up and passed the folder across to Jasper who took it uncertainly and then stared at it with an open mouth after he'd looked inside at the photograph. Alice giggled when Jasper shot her a surprised look and then impatiently motioned at me to pass over the next folder. I looked at it quickly and then handed the shot of Alice swinging upside down from her knees with her arms outstretched to be caught by an unknown guy to Jasper. Jasper looked at my little sister in awe after he'd glanced at the photo and then bent his head over to examine the shot more carefully. I passed the next shot of Angela in almost the identical pose as Alice to Ben and then opened up the next folder. The folder contained a photo of Bella in mid air as she swung from the same strange guy's forearms and I looked at it closely before I flashed a smile at Bella.

"You look terrified, Arizona." I murmured before I bent my head down to look at the photo again.

"I was terrified." Bella admitted easily. "I hated every minute of it until I swung down off the net… Then it was okay, I guess." She shrugged.

I frowned slightly as I looked back up at her and she smiled ruefully before she picked up her cocktail and sipped from the straw.

"I'm scared of heights." She confessed sheepishly. "But a birthday resolution is a birthday resolution and so I had to do it." She said firmly.

"Um, birthday resolution?" I asked and was confused all over again.

"Bella and Angela have a tradition where, each birthday, they make resolutions that they have to make come true before the next year." Emmett explained for Bella.

"Like birthday wishes? Or, New Year's resolutions?" I asked uncertainly.

"Exactly." Bella confirmed. "A combination of both… Birthday wishes are just wishes, like something you sit back and think would be nice but don't have to do anything about… And no one keeps their New Year's resolutions… And so we came up with birthday resolutions." She rambled while gesturing with her glass.

I nodded seriously and bit the inside of my cheek so I wouldn't smile at Bella's tipsy explanation. I carefully shuffled the photo folders into a neat stack and then added the three that Ben passed back to me and handed them to Rosalie before I sat down again. I froze when Bella straightened from leaning against the booth and stepped over to me before she perched lightly on my knee. She flashed an apologetic smile back at me and then twisted and leaned towards my ear and I automatically moved my hand to her waist as she bent close.

"Sorry, my legs are tired." She whispered.

I pulled my head back slightly and smiled into her eyes before I used the excuse of reaching forward to get my drink to resettle her weight on my lap so she would be more comfortable.

"I like it… plus, I did offer." I murmured with an easy shrug.

Bella smiled widely and then twisted back to listen to Alice chatter excitedly about their circus school experience. I kept my hand lightly clasping Bella's waist and then smiled slightly when I caught Emmett grinning happily at me and Bella together. I glanced away from staring at Bella's hair when the bartender arrived with another round of drinks and quickly finished my drink so he could take my glass when he started to clear the table of two rounds worth of empty glasses. I felt my cheeks get hot as the effects of three double scotches in close succession started to hit me and decided I needed to eat before I ended up as smashed as Emmett.

"Food?" I suggested to Emmett quietly.

He nodded urgently and I laughed lightly before I leaned my mouth forward next to Bella's ear.

"Em and I are going to order some food. You're going to have to let me up." I murmured softly.

Bella nodded easily but didn't make a move to stand and I laughed quietly after a short wait. Bella smiled cheekily over her shoulder before she turned back to listen to the girls conversation.

"Arizona, do I need to ask louder?... or faster?... or harder?" I joked in a silky murmur.

Bella shot to her feet and turned on me with her hands on her hips and then opened her mouth to start to tell me off. I rose fluidly and was deliberately standing too close as I smiled crookedly down into her outraged eyes. Bella snapped her mouth shut and met my intense gaze with softened eyes and I felt my smile start to fade as the heavy awareness between us built.

"C'mon, little bro, I need food." Emmett grumbled from, again, too close to my side.

"Okay, Em." I sighed as I tore my eyes away from Bella and lightly brushed her hand with my fingertips.

Bella stepped to take Emmett's seat at the edge of the booth next to Rosalie and sank down on the bench without looking at me again. I winced as Emmett clapped me on the back and remembered that he always forgot what a strong, intimidating guy he was when he was drinking. I followed him up to the bar and then stood beside him as we looked through the bar menu and argued about what to order for our table. We both got another drink because we'd left ours back at the table and were happily descending into our usual brotherly bickering when Emmett flinched violently. He spun to face two busty blondes who I realized were standing closer than the scrum at the bar demanded.

"You goosed me." He accused both of the bottle blondes.

"My bad." The taller blonde shrugged and then simpered at Emmett. "Would you like to buy me a drink to make up for it?"

"No." Rosalie answered for Emmett from behind the two girls. "Excuse me." She said pointedly before stepping to his side.

She turned to start reading the menu with Emmett but placed her hand possessively on his ass when he turned back to the bar. I smiled delightedly when Bella slipped between the two blondes and casually stepped around me to read the menu with Rosalie and Emmett. I slipped my arm around her waist and stood close behind her as I pretended to look at the menu but was really lost in the smell of her hair and the feel of my forearm against her stomach through her silky top.

"Thank you for rescuing me, Arizona." I murmured quietly.

Bella shrugged too casually and kept her head bent over the menu.

"Do you know what you want, Edward?" Rosalie asked me over Emmett's shoulder.

"Yes." I answered simply and wasn't talking about food.

"I'm still deciding." Bella mumbled and I knew she wasn't talking about food either.

I frowned slightly as I looked at Bella's bent profile as she chewed her lip while she read the menu.

"The chicken would be good." I tried to joke.

Bella huffed a laugh and I grabbed her hip with my other hand to hold her away from my body when her small movement bumped her shoulders into my chest and brushed her jeans against my hips.

"You don't think it would give me indigestion?" Bella asked nonchalantly as she frowned at the menu.

"Heartburn is always a risk, Arizona." I murmured softly. "… But you'll be fine with this chicken." I added so only she would hear.

"Which chicken dish? There's, like, five of them." Emmett asked exasperatedly.

"The buffalo wings." Bella told him quickly.

"Oh… they're hot." Emmett warned.

"Yes, they are." Bella nodded seriously.

I laughed delightedly and met Bella's quick smile over her shoulder with a cheeky grin. Bella huffed a laugh and turned back to pretend to read the menu.

"So, have you decided already?" Emmett whined.

"Yep." Bella answered. "… I'll try the chicken." She added after a pause where my heart didn't beat and my lungs didn't expand.

I inhaled a shaky breath and squeezed Bella's hip gently but she kept her head turned towards Emmett and Rosalie.

"So… burgers for everyone, four baskets of fries and wings." Rosalie listed.

"Yeah!" Emmett breathed and excitedly rubbed his hands together.

Rosalie turned to catch the bartender's attention and I leaned forward to place my mouth next to Bella's ear.

"I won't let you regret your decision." I murmured huskily.

"You better not." Bella warned sternly.

I smiled as I realized I liked this forthright Bella and then got hit with another blinding revelation. Her tattoo, along with its wicked, delightful double meaning, was how she wanted to live her life. Bella wanted to be harder, faster and louder. I decided to test my theory and ask her about it but she was already starting to turn in my hold with Emmett and Rosalie to head back to the table. I tightened my grip on her slightly and smiled into her questioning frown.

"Stay awhile, Arizona?" I asked softly.

Bella shook her head but took away the sting of her refusal with a quick smile.

"I'm heading for the jukebox." She explained.

I nodded quickly and released my hold around her body but placed my hand on her lower back.

"I'll be right by your side." I told her quietly and wasn't talking about walking with her to the jukebox.

I smiled innocently into her quick look and followed her closely through the crowd pressing forward to the bar. I stepped forward to her side as soon as we were clear of the swarm of people and smiled easily into her careful eyes.

"Will you tell me about the time when you felt too soft, too slow and too quiet?" I asked diffidently.

Bella stopped abruptly and I quickly swung around to face her after I'd taken one step before I'd realized she had stopped. I met her shocked eyes seriously and waited for her to decide if she wanted to answer or wanted to tell me to mind my own business. I knew by her reaction that I had interpreted her tattoo correctly and quirked a small smile at her before I stepped back to her side and nudged her gently with my hand on the small of her back. She flashed a quick smile at me and then started walking again and I matched my stride to hers as we weaved around the tables to the jukebox.

I leaned against the side of the jukebox and watched Bella as she concentrated while flicking through the songs and then pushed myself up quickly when she pushed her hand into her pocket.

"I'll pay." I offered quickly.

Bella shook her head with a smile and pulled out a large fold of one dollar bills and started feeding her money into the jukebox.

"Angela and I come prepared." She explained with a smile at my startled look.

"You look like you're prepared to head out to strip club." I said with a chuckle.

"Been there, done that… Eh." Bella shrugged dismissively.

I laughed and stepped close to her side because I couldn't resist being near her and watched quietly as she chose her songs. I flashed a look at her profile and decided I had to ask the question that was rolling around with the four double scotches in my empty stomach.

"What changed?" I blurted out. "Between yesterday and now?" I added hurriedly.

I saw Bella frown slightly and realized I had pushed her too far and so tried to backpedal with a joke.

"It's just that, you know, a guy has to watch out for girls taking wanton advantage of him." I said with a light shrug. "You know, getting him drunk and dragging him back home and then never calling again." I tried to pout.

Bella scoffed a laugh and flashed me a wide smile before she frowned back at the jukebox as she selected another song. I waited for her to say something, anything, and concentrated on not shifting my feet uneasily like a nervous schoolboy. Bella finished choosing her songs and then turned to face me and leaned her hip against the jukebox.

"Alice and Rosalie." She said cryptically.

"Alice and Rosalie?" I repeated stupidly.

"Yep." Bella confirmed lightly. "I was watching Rosalie on the trapeze with Emmett and I could see that Emmett was freaking out about letting her fall, probably because of his knee… But Rosalie just trusted him not to let her down and he didn't… She didn't let him see that she was also nervous and it was okay." She explained and was again using her hands as she talked.

I nodded seriously and mimicked Bella's posture against the jukebox by propping my hip carefully against the glass.

"And Alice?" I asked softly.

"Yeah, um, Alice was telling me about how she got together with Jasper when we were getting manicures… Jasper was a real slut." Bella accused me indignantly.

I quirked a smile and nodded my agreement that Jasper had been a man-whore during college and his early twenties.

"So, anyway, Alice told me that she was really scared that Jasper was just feeding her lines when they first started dating." Bella flicked me an uneasy look. "This is girl talk, Edward, and so you're not allowed to say I said anything." She warned.

I nodded quickly and picked up her hand and squeezed it reassuringly because I needed to know why she seemed willing to give me another chance tonight. Bella smiled slightly and then dropped her head to look at our entwined fingers.

"So, I asked Alice what let her know that Jasper wanted to and was able to change and she said that she just had to trust him… She said she could see it in the small gestures he made and in his eyes but, ultimately, she just had to trust that he wanted to be with her." Bella mumbled and I could tell she was uncomfortable because she wasn't waving her free hand around as she talked.

I smiled down at our hands and smoothed my thumb across the back of Bella's hand before I decided to lighten the intense moment while also raising the small doubt I had in the back of my mind.

"So, it's not just the cocktails that are making you want to tap my fine ass?" I joked with Felix's teasing at the zoo.

"There's probably a bit of that in the mix, too." Bella shrugged easily. "You do have a very nice ass." She laughed and then waggled her eyebrows at me.

I laughed in surprise and then tugged her back to me when she giggled and spun to head back to the table. I was suddenly serious and met her dancing eyes intently before I dropped my eyes to stare at her small hand clasped in my fingers.

"I did you a disservice by saying you walk away, Bella." I apologized quietly. "I realized that you're not walking away and leaving things unfinished behind you… You're moving on… I'm the one that was always stuck standing still." I tried to put into words what I knew in my head.

I flashed my eyes up to meet her, now, steady gaze and smiled slightly at her tiny shrug.

"I can see that I sometimes make a quick, low key exit… No one has ever expected me to wait around, I've gotten used to just being able to slip away without making a fuss." She admitted softly.

"I don't want you to slip away from me without making a fuss." I told our entwined fingers. "If I've done something wrong I want you to rail and scream and tear into me… I want you to tell me to man the fuck up." I said and held her eyes intently.

Bella nodded slowly and then I saw sudden amusement dance into her eyes and she smiled widely.

"So, Edward Cullen gets philosophical when he drinks." She teased lightly.

I pushed off the jukebox and squeezed her hand as I started to lead her back to the table.

"Only for the first couple." I admitted over my shoulder. "The horniness kicks in after the next few." I added with a cheeky grin.

Bella laughed softly and then danced around me as approached our table.

"Someone get this man a drink, stat." She joked loudly and used Jasper's stupid word from earlier.

I huffed a laugh and tried to snag her back to my side but she lightly evaded my reaching hands and sat abruptly on Emmett's knee.

"Was he talking about the stock market again?" Emmett asked her sympathetically.

"It's just another form of gambling." I pretended to start my lecture.

"We were talking about gambling." Bella seemingly agreed with Emmett lightly and flashed me a smile.

I sank down on my chair and then gulped when I saw I had four scotches lined up in front of my seat. I frowned across at Alice and Jasper and met Jasper's already slightly inebriated grin.

"Jazz, I can't get smashed tonight." I told him seriously.

I heard Bella snicker softly and flashed her a quick look and then narrowed my eyes at her when I caught her too innocent smile. She dropped her eyes down to the table with another soft laugh and I ran my hand through my hair when I realized I was going to have a hard time doing the right thing and not taking Bella home with me at the end of the night.

"Why not, dude?" Jasper drawled.

"Because he's afraid that I'm going to have my wicked way with him and not respect him in the morning." Bella joked.

Jasper looked at me in surprise and I shook my head even as I laughed.

"I have to drive down to Tacoma in the morning, remember? I told you about it." I reminded him quickly.

"What's in Tacoma?" Rosalie asked curiously.

"Crystals, incense, tie dye, hippies." I muttered.

Jasper looked at me in shock and I nodded slightly even as I grimaced.

"Dude…" Jasper breathed and sounded happy and impressed.

He stood up and leaned across the table and grabbed two of my queued up scotches and set them next to his bourbon before he reached across for the third glass and placed it in front of Ben. I glanced around and saw the whole table was staring between me and Jasper and waiting for an explanation.

"Emmett got a manicure." I told Jasper hurriedly as I saw Alice open her mouth to ask for more details.

"Dude…" Jasper exhaled and sounded unhappy and disappointed.

I relaxed back in my seat as Ben and Jasper immediately pounced on Emmett's metrosexual tendencies and Emmett started to defend the importance of looking after your hands. I picked up my last drink for the night before I switched to water and raised it cheekily at Bella in a silent toast and then laughed at her tiny pout. She smiled quickly and then stood up abruptly and turned to Alice.

"Alice, I am now going to the bathroom." She said formally.

Alice giggled and then immediately started to climb out of the booth over Jasper and Rosalie nudged Emmett to get him to let her out of their side. I frowned as Angela slid out of the booth behind Rosalie and then all four girls started to walk towards the ladies toilets.

"What was that about?" I asked Emmett in confusion.

"Alice told Bella off earlier for going to the ladies without telling her… in case she needed to go too." Emmett explained. "I told you Bella didn't go to the bathroom in pairs." He added with a laugh.

I laughed quietly and then sipped my scotch as I relaxed back and thought about my unexpected good change of fortune with Bella tonight. I sipped my scotch and tried to steel my resolve not to fall into bed with her when she was tipsy and might regret what we'd done in the morning. I sipped my scotch and tried not to think about how desperately I wanted to fall into bed with her when she was tipsy and in this playful, flirtatious mood. I sipped the last of my scotch and needed another drink.