Baby It's Cold Outside O/S Contest

Title: As Long as You're Mine

Rating: M

Word Count: 14,850

Pairing: Edward/Bella

Summary: "I think I loved you before I met you. You were an angel I thought I could only dream about." Bella goes to Forks to spend Christmas with Charlie and meets a handsome stranger in the woods. How will her life change once she uncovers his family's secret? AH, sort of…

Disclaimer: The characters and original text of the Twilight series are owned by Stephenie Meyer. All other characters, settings, lyrics, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The author of this entry is in no way associated with said owners and no copyright infringement is intended.


As Long as You're Mine

True love leaves no traces/ If you and I are one/It's lost in our embraces/Like the stars against the sun

~Leonard Cohen

I listened to the whooshing sound of the packed snow under my skis, the trees in the forest behind my father's home in Forks, Washington gliding past me as I trudged through the new fallen snow. The woods were crusted over by hoar frost and my breath came out looking like I had just inhaled a cigarette. Blissfully enjoying the atypical winter wonderland, I breathed in the crisp, cool air deeply.

Then coughed and gasped for air.

My peaceful winter scene was shrouded by a cloud of smoke. I looked around for the source. Through the haze I could see a small cabin with the windows open and could hear loud cursing coming from inside.

I mentally reviewed the proper procedure for using a fire extinguisher and first aid for burns. I attempted to wrench my boots out of my skis but I couldn't find the clasp. When I bent over to fumble with the binding, I tipped over and landed on my side in the snow, hands still wrapped around my ski.

Whose damned idea was it to put me on skis?

As I continued to struggle to release my feet from the skis, I heard hysterical cackling followed by a loud snort. I twisted onto my back so I could look up to see what sort of creature I was about to be eaten by.

My mouth dropped open and I couldn't move from my awkward and embarrassing position in the snow as I gazed upon the most stunning looking man I had ever laid eyes upon. He was clutching his knees as he stumbled about, trying to stay upright while he laughed hysterically at my predicament.

I took a brief moment to admire the gorgeous but extremely rude man and then once again attempted to right myself. My skis were still attached to my feet, and I flailed about before falling back into the Bella-shaped snow angel I had just tried to vacate.

The snorting tapered off into gasping breaths and I felt strong hands under my armpits lifting me out of the snow.

"Oh, shit… snort… I'm terribly sorry…gasp… I'm not usually this rude, but…" He succumbed to the cackles again as I stood glaring at him, my face red from embarrassment and anger.

"Yes, well, you just carry on trying to burn your house down, and if you're lucky I'll forget to mention it to my father, Chief Swan." I huffed as I grabbed my poles and clumsily walked my skis around ninety degrees so I was facing the path home. My wonderful reverie in the snow was lost for today.

"Cabin." A voice like melted chocolate stopped me.

"Excuse me?" I twisted my upper body to look back at him.

"It's a cabin, not a house. I believe a house has substantially more leg room," he smirked.

I don't care if my panties most likely had just melted at that smirk, he was still extremely rude.

"You look cold. And wet. Why don't you come in for a minute and warm up?" So now he was Mr. Manners. Well, I wasn't so easily charmed.

"I have Bailey's and coffee." Okay, so maybe I wasn't playing as hard to get as I should.

"Um, sure. Thanks." I began to lift my left ski to turn around again.

"Whoa, just let me help you out of those." He chuckled to himself as he walked over to help me out of my skis. I shot him a look, and he lowered his eyes and cleared his throat. He effortlessly snapped the release on the bindings and held my gloved hand as I stepped out of them.

Not letting go of my hand, he guided me into the cabin. It still smelled like smoke, and on the kitchen table was a pile of scorched papers and photos. A fire extinguisher lay on the floor under the table.

"If you're trying to burn the evidence, you should have waited a bit longer to use the extinguisher."

He dropped my hand and ran his hand through his hair, looking to the side. "Ya...uh, it got a little out of control."

I walked away from the table so he wouldn't think that I was trying to see his personal documents, which he obviously wanted no one to see. I sat in a wooden chair and watched him clean up the remains of the scorched documents. He sauntered over to the fireplace and arranged some logs and kindling, then lit some newspaper to get the fire started. We were both silent as he stared into the fireplace, then tossed the charred documents in.

"Why didn't you just do that in the first place?"

He squatted in front of the fireplace. I couldn't see his face. "I don't know. I guess I wasn't really thinking," he muttered, looking down and turning away from me. He stood and wandered back over to the table where he grabbed a large thermos, poured steaming hot coffee and Bailey's into the lid and brought it over to me.

"Here. You must be cold." He gazed at me intently, holding out the cup for me. My pants were damp from my fall in the snow, and I was starting to feel quite chilled. As I took it from him, our hands brushed against each other, sending a wave of hot electricity through my body which contrasted deliciously with the coldness of my skin. I shuddered at the sensation.

"Oh, you're freezing! I'm such a jerk sometimes." I had to agree with him. Muttering to himself, he walked quickly into another room and emerged a moment later with a large, fluffy blanket. He wrapped the blanket around my shoulders and started rubbing them, trying to warm me with friction. The cold was really starting to get to me, and my teeth began to chatter.

"Here, come closer to the fire." His voice was soothing and soft like new snow. He sat on the floor in front of the fire and opened his legs for me to sit between. I hesitated.

"I apologize for my rudeness earlier." He held his arms out towards me. "I think that if you give me a chance, you'll find that I'm actually quite a nice guy." I stood up from my chair, the blanket wrapped tightly around me. I was battling with myself about whether or not I should snuggle by the fire with this stranger. My brain said no way, but the warm tingling in my belly was begging me to go to him.

Come on Bella, this is why you came here - to relax, and have a little fun. Loosen up and go sit with the nice, sexy man!

"Also, I'm a doctor, and I would hate for you to get hypothermia," he stated sternly. A mischievous glint appeared in his eyes. "First aid for hypothermia is body heat, Bella…"

My entire body flushed at his comment. I wasn't going to need body heat if he kept talking like that. I walked over to him and sat in between his outstretched legs, back straight. He shuffled forward a little and rubbed my arms some more. I could feel his chest pressed lightly up against my back, and my body was screaming at me to lean back and get comfortable. But my brain…

Wait a second…

"How did you know my name?" I turned around to look at his face and found myself staring into the most beautiful emerald green eyes I had ever seen. I couldn't breathe. He smiled slyly at me.

"Well, I think the whole town knows who the police chief's daughter is. He's been talking about your arrival for weeks now." He pulled my body into his, and I allowed myself to rest my head on his shoulder. He wrapped his long arms around me, and it felt like I belonged there. I took a sip of the coffee and Bailey's and sighed contentedly. I didn't think I'd been so relaxed in…well, ever.

We sat quietly by the fire for what could have been hours, or minutes. I finished my cup of coffee and he silently refilled it without moving away from me. I could feel his breath in my hair. He smelled like scotch and man. Perhaps the scotch explained his earlier behavior. I didn't want to break the spell, as we were in our own little bubble at the moment, but I realized that I didn't even know his name. When I asked him, he sighed, as if he didn't want the moment to end either.

"Edward Cullen." The smell of scotch grew stronger, and I realized that he had produced a flask, and was drinking from it. "I apologize for laughing at you earlier. I was feeling a little…edgy, I guess? And well, let's just say that your entrance was a much needed bit of relief. My mother taught me to act like a gentleman, but I'm afraid that I don't always."

"Well, I'm nice and toasty warm now, so I guess I can forgive you." I snuggled back against him again and he hummed in contentment. His name sounded familiar to me. I thought back to the previous times I had visited Forks and recalled a handsome blond doctor who had stitched me up a few times at the hospital. I tended to get a little rambunctious when I was away from my staunch life in Phoenix, and I frequently injured myself.

"Are you related to Dr. Cullen?" As soon as it was out of my mouth, I realized how it sounded and expected his answer.

"I am Dr. Cullen." If I had been facing him, I was certain I'd see him smirking again. "But, if you're referring to Dr. Carlisle Cullen, yes. He was my father." I didn't miss the fact that he used the past tense. That must mean that he had passed away. The last time I had seen him was about ten years ago, and from what I remembered he looked quite young. I didn't know what to say, but I felt that silence would be insensitive.

"I remember him from the hospital. What happened to him?" I turned around to face him. My cup was empty again, and he poured more of the steaming liquid for me. Between the coffee, Bailey's, and Edward's nearness, I had a nice warm burn in my stomach.

He looked down sadly, and I instinctively reached out to take his hand in mine. He looked up at me and smiled.

"He and my mother were killed about four years ago in a small plane crash in the Rockies. They were on vacation."

"I'm sorry." I realized that I was rubbing circles on the back of his hand with my thumb. He smiled wearily at me. When our eyes met, the atmosphere around us began to crackle with electricity. I couldn't move from his gaze. My peripheral vision began to fade, and my sight blurred until all I could see clearly was Edward, and a small person with spiky black hair…

"Bella? Bella! Are you alright?" I was lying in Edward's arms. He was brushing my hair out of my face and looking down at me with concerned eyes. The room smelled strongly of hyacinth, yet I didn't remember seeing any flowers.

What just happened?

"I'm sorry, I think I forgot to breathe." I struggled to sit up. His brow furrowed, but he let me go. My body felt cold without his warmth next to me, but I needed some space after my near faint.

Our earlier intimacy was gone. I stood awkwardly and walked towards my jacket. "I should be getting home. My dad will be wondering where I am."

"My car is nearby. Please, let me drive you." He was still looking at me with concern, like I might faint again.

"No, thank you. I've imposed enough on you for one afternoon." I began to put my jacket back on. In two long strides he was in front of me. He gazed down at me and very slowly brought his hand up to my face, cupping my cheek. Once again, I felt the rush of heat through my body. I made a conscious effort to breathe, lest I pass out again.

"It was no imposition, Bella, believe me." His voice was soft and husky. "Now, let me drive you home. It's getting colder out there, and your clothes haven't completely dried." His eyes were burning with intensity, his voice velvet but firm. I was utterly dazzled, and could do nothing but nod my head.

He led me to his car and opened the door for me, and then put my skis and poles in the back. I was still in somewhat of a daze as we drove back into town. When I told him I was getting too warm, we both reached for the heat control at the same time. When our hands touched he didn't flinch, but entwined his fingers with my own. He stole furtive glances at me throughout the drive, which made me blush a little.

He pulled into the driveway of my father's house, and I couldn't help but feel disappointed that my time with him was coming to an end. But, I realized that I needed time alone to think about my strange fainting spell.

"Bella, are you sure that you're okay?" He had leaned over towards me and was using his thumb to open my eyes and look into them. Checking my pupils, I guessed. Next, he placed his hand on my forehead.

How romantic.

"Can you tell me how you felt back at the cabin?" The doctor was in.

"Um, I sort of lost my vision, and then you were holding me." I left out the part about the other person I had seen. I didn't want him to think that I was crazy.

His eyes widened and then his brow furrowed. "What do you mean, 'lost your vision'?"

"I mean, my peripheral vision went black, and everything became fuzzy. Except you and…" I stopped myself. He stared into my eyes as if he could will the information out of me.

"Me and what, Bella?"

"Just you. I could see you clearly. But I smelled flowers." I watched him frown. "Did you have flowers hidden somewhere?"

"Oh um, I sprayed some air-freshener to get rid of the smell of smoke." He turned and looked straight out in front of the car.

He frowned and huffed out a long breath, then got out of the car and began to walk around to my side. I had started to open the door when he took it and held it open for me. He held out his hand and helped me out. My, what a gentleman-trying to make up for his earlier behavior, perhaps?

"Do you mind if I walk you to the door?" he asked softly. I appreciated his concern but I hated the fact that I had now become his patient.

"Thank you, but I'm fine now. I assure you that I will not faint again," I said tersely. He stared at me for a moment before replying.

"That's not why I want to walk you to the door." He ran his hand through his already tousled hair. "I was hoping to ask you out again, and I was trying to buy myself time to work up the courage."

"Oh. What do you mean, ask me out again?"

He smiled shyly. "Well, I guess I've started to think of our outing this afternoon as sort of a date. Is that horrible of me?"

I blushed again. This day was not turning out the way I had expected it to. "No, that's not horrible." We were both silent for a few moments more, then he took my hand and led me to my front door.

He brushed a stray lock of hair out of my face and inhaled deeply. "There are not a lot of romantic places in Forks, I'm afraid. But my brother and I go for drinks on Wednesdays. Would you like to come with us tomorrow?"

"So, I'd be on a date with you and your brother?" I smiled cheekily as his cheeks turned pink. I immediately felt guilty for embarrassing him.

He rubbed his hands with his face. "Ugh. I'm so terrible at this." He looked back at me again, a slight breeze blowing his hair into his face. "You're right, it's a terrible date. I'm sorry. We could go into Port Angeles for dinner, perhaps? There's a lovely little Italian place there…" He was speaking quickly, starting to panic.

"Edward, drinks with your brother would be lovely. I think it would be fun to meet some more people in town!" I smiled and gave in to the urge to brush his hair out of his face. He sighed in relief and smiled breathtakingly.

How on earth is a man this gorgeous so insecure about asking me out on a date?

"Okay then! I will pick you up here at eight o'clock tomorrow. Don't eat a big supper, because Wednesday is burger and beers night. They have the BEST burgers!" He was so gleeful that he almost looked boyish. I giggled, and he pulled me into a hug. And being in his arms was so amazing that I never wanted him to let me go. I could die happy right here.

He kissed me gently on the forehead and released me, taking my hand. I sighed in disappointment and he looked down at me curiously.

"It's strange, I feel like I've known you for so long already," he mused. The sun was beginning to set. I hadn't realized how long I'd been gone.

"Me too," I admitted. He started to move his face closer to mine, and I held my breath in anticipation.

I almost jumped out of my skin when I heard a loud siren give a short burst and saw police lights flashing in front of the house. My father's voice boomed over his loudspeaker.

"Get your hands off my daughter, Cullen."

Please, earth, open up now and swallow me!

The passenger's door opened, and my father stumbled out, guffawing loudly. I stormed over to him as his deputy sat in the driver's seat looking embarrassed.

"Christ, Charlie! You sound like a bloody donkey!" I yelled, furious and extremely embarrassed.

"Shit, Bella! You should have seen your face!" More donkey braying. Edward sauntered over to me, smiling.

"Starting early with the Christmas parties this year, Chief?" Edward smirked, crossing his arms in front of him. I inhaled deeply and realized that I could smell alcohol.

"Jesus Christ, Charlie, have you been drinking?" I practically shrieked. I knew that my father liked to imbibe on occasion, and became a bit of a practical joker when he did, but I'd never known him to drink on the job.

"Shhh, someone might call the cops!" Charlie stage whispered and then burst into hysterical laughter again. "Oh, don't look at me like that, Bella. The legion is having their Christmas party and I just didn't change out of my uniform before I stopped by. I thought I'd just have a quick drink." He shrugged. "Oops!" More laughter.

I waved apologetically at Edward, who was chuckling to himself as he walked back to his car, then dragged Charlie inside and made him hang up his gun belt. He gave me a big hug.

"I love you, little girl," he slurred, patting me on the back.

I sighed. "I love you too, Dad."

That night, I slept restlessly. My dreams were filled with memories of my encounter with Edward, entwined with visions of the black haired girl I had seen when I had almost fainted. There were other people in my dreams too. There was the elder Dr. Cullen with a lovely woman who looked like a fifties movie star, and a bulky man with dimples and dark hair with a beautiful blonde woman who had a scornful look on her face. Some of what I had dreamed were memories of our afternoon together, while other visions had not happened. All of my dreams were about Edward and me, and we were blissfully happy.

I awoke the next morning thinking of him. I desperately wanted to see him again, and later that night seemed too far away. I spent the day making freezer meals for Charlie while he was at work. I really didn't know how he didn't have scurvy or something of the sort, as there wasn't a single fruit or vegetable in the house. I guessed all the beer he drank kept his vitamin levels up. Edward called me in the afternoon, sounding almost as nervous as I was about our "date." It still didn't really seem like a date to me since his brother was going to be there, but I was looking forward to getting out and meeting some new people. My life in Phoenix had been so strict and regimented that I hadn't had much time for socialization. Renee could be a bit of a tyrant when it came to things like dance rehearsal and homework. She was living vicariously through me, since she had grown up poor and had had no opportunities for extracurricular activities.

Unless you count getting knocked up at nineteen.

Whenever I came to Forks, I tried to break out of my shell and live a little, though sometimes I tended to go a little overboard. I cringed, thinking about one of those times in particular.

Jacob Black.

Putting the unpleasant thoughts out of my mind, I searched through Charlie's liquor cabinet for something to lubricate myself with while I waited for Edward to arrive. After pouring myself a rather large scotch, I looked through my closet for something to wear. I pulled out a sweater dress that I had bought for just such an occasion. It was tight and short, and I had the perfect pair of slouch boots with stiletto heels to go with it. Renee would absolutely hate it.

After I had my outfit and accessories on, I avoided looking in a mirror so I wouldn't psych myself out. Even though my stomach was warm and tingly from the scotch, I normally dressed very plainly and never wore anything form fitting, so tonight was a huge stretch for me. I went downstairs to wait for Edward to arrive.

When I heard his Volvo turn into the driveway, I waited. I figured I'd let him practice his manners some more. I heard a light tapping at the door and went to greet him.

Oh. My. God.

The god of panty-soaking gorgeous men was favoring me today, because the juiciest, most lick-able man I had ever seen now stood in my doorway. Edward's wool peacoat was unbuttoned, and he was adorned in black jeans that fit him like the designer had used a mold of his body for inspiration, with a white dress shirt and thin black tie. I felt the last of my Phoenix constraints fall to the floor as I stepped towards him. I met his gaze confidently as he stared down at me with his mouth slightly open.

"Bella. You look amazing," he breathed. I smiled alluringly, grabbed my coat, and stepped around him and out the door.

Ever the gentleman, he held the passenger door open for me and held my hand as I attempted to get into his car without flashing him or falling over. Apparently the gods of gracefulness were smiling on me today too.

Yay me!

The pub was packed with people, and as we made our way to the back, people of all ages and genders stared. Many greeted Edward as Dr. Cullen, and I felt a little weird since this was a small town with only a handful of doctors, which meant that many of these people had been Edward's patients at one point or another. I kept my posture as straight as I could, trying to convince myself that I loved all the attention we were getting.

Edward led me to a table in the back, where a handsome blond man was seated, drinking a pint of Guinness and reading a book. He was wearing a black t-shirt that said "Humans Suck." As I sat down on the tall stool beside him, he closed the book and looked at us.

"Bella, I'd like you to meet my brother, Jasper." Jasper looked at me appraisingly then turned back to Edward.

"Are we doing trivia night tomorrow?" He didn't even acknowledge me. I stomped at the insecure thoughts that were threatening to invade my peace of mind and instead imagined that Jasper was plagued with a social phobia that he hid by drinking copious amounts of alcohol, reading in a bar and generally being stand-offish.

Yes, that must be it.

Edward placed his head on his hand. "Geez, Jasper! Can you at least pretend to have some social skills tonight?" He looked at me apologetically. "Jasper likes to give the first impression of being a total dick so that your opinion of him can only go up."

Jasper shrugged and picked up his book again. I felt like pointing out that Edward hadn't made the best first impression either, but I thought that might be rude. He'd turned out to be okay, so I thought I'd give Jasper another chance.

"What are you reading?" I tried to peek over to see Jasper's book. He angled the cover so that I could read it. 'Zombie Economics: How Dead Ideas Still Walk Among Us'. Okay then.

When the waitress came to take our order, I decided to stay with scotch and ordered a Glenfiddich. Edward raised an eyebrow and Jasper finally looked interested.

"Do you prefer the twelve or fifteen year old?" Jasper asked. When I looked at him blankly, he told the waitress, "Fifteen." Looking back at me, "Always go for fifteen year old with Glenfiddich."

"Um, thanks?"

Edward ordered Oban. I had never even heard of it. It was most likely something that could not be afforded on a Police Chief's salary.

After we had ordered burgers and made idle chit chat for awhile, Edward excused himself, leaving me alone with Mr. Sociable.

"So, how long are you in town for, Bella?"

"Just for two weeks. I'm going home after New Year's."

"Do you visit your father often? Why have I not met you before?"

"Well, the last time I was here I spent a lot of time in La Push." I really didn't want to discuss that.

"And how long have you been friends with Edward?" Geez, I felt like I was being interrogated.

"Actually, we just met yesterday." He raised his eyebrows before his face took on a knowing expression. He leaned towards me and continued to ask questions about my interests. I wasn't sure if I imagined that he slid his chair closer to me. I guess the scotch was making me a little less observant.

When Edward returned, he paused before sitting down, frowning at Jasper. Edward definitely slid his chair closer to me. I was beginning to feel a little squished.

As the night wore on and our table was littered with empty glasses, Jasper became more friendly towards me, even flirtatious, while Edward's hands became braver, exploring my body while Jasper instructed me in everything from Zombie Economics to particle gravity. They listened to my comments with interest and made me feel like I had important things to contribute to the conversation.

I had never had more fun in my entire life. Apparently I was a geek at heart.

I met several of Edward and Jasper's cousins, and it seemed like they were related to a large number of people in Forks.

"Our family was part of the initial settlement here. The Cullens have always been known as healers in this area. Most of my family work in the health care field in some capacity," Edward informed me when I looked quizzically at him after having met Tyler, the fifth cousin of the evening.

I was nicely buzzed, so when Jasper took my hand and began caressing it under the guise of looking at my nails, I thought nothing of it. Edward and Jasper both stiffened and got a far away look, and I smelled the same hyacinth scent that I had noticed after I had fainted at the cabin. Things got even stranger when the stereo stopped in the middle of the Arcade Fire song it had been playing and began to play a Leonard Cohen song. Jasper dropped my hand like it was coated in acid and stood so abruptly that he knocked his chair over.

He walked out without saying a word to either of us.

I looked at Edward, my mouth hanging open. He shrugged.

"That song reminds Jasper of our favorite aunt." He looked down at his hands. "She passed away at quite a young age." I took Edward's hand in mine, and he looked at me and smiled. "He was very fond of her. Once, when he was quite ill as a child, she sat at his bedside all night and sang Leonard Cohen songs to help him sleep."

"She must have been very special to him for him to react like he did just now."

"Oh yes, she's very special to him." He coughed into his hand. Was he suppressing a chuckle? No, of course not. I'd just had too much to drink.

We were silent for a moment, Edward rubbing circles on the back of my hand with his thumb. When our eyes met, the rest of the room disappeared and the space between us began to course with electricity. Sighing, he ran his hands down my arms and rested them on my hips.

"Bella, this isn't something that I normally do." His voice caught, and he seemed to be struggling. "I guess I'm lubricated enough, so I'll just come out and say it." He looked into my eyes and I gasped at the intensity I saw there. "You are beautiful. That's obvious. But, it's something else too. I dream about you. I think I even dreamed about you before I met you. I felt bereft without you today, and we only met yesterday. I want to touch you...no, I need to touch you, Bella. I'm being so ungentlemanly tonight, pawing at you like I've been, but when Jasper started to pull that shit I just had to..."

I grabbed either side of his head and pulled him towards me, pressing my lips against his. He responded immediately, burying one hand in my hair while the other pressed against my lower back and pulled me closer to him. My senses were overcome by his heat and my mind swirled with his scent.

"Way to go, Dr. C!" We were abruptly reminded of where we were by the other patrons hooting and cheering. Having had enough scotch to stave off the embarrassment that might have normally caused, I stood up and took Edward's hand.

"Take me home, Edward."

He stood and pulled me to him. "Can I take you home with me?" he murmured in my ear. I could feel his hot breath on my skin and my knees almost buckled.

"That's what I meant." I heard a low moan escape him before he took my hand and led me quickly through the bar, giving an embarrassed smile to those who felt the need to cheer him on as we left. I was beginning to lose some of my bravado and I kept my eyes down until we were outside.

"Um, I probably shouldn't drive. Let me just make a call." He pulled out a cell phone.

A taxi arrived and we crawled into the back seat together. We snuggled quietly during the drive home. Edward rubbed my knee reassuringly every so often as I tried to keep my nerves at bay. I had never gone home with someone after only knowing them for two days. Jake and I had hung out as friends every summer since we were children before we ventured into a sexual relationship.

And look how that turned out.

I refused to think about Jake right now. This was so very different; I felt drawn to Edward and apparently he felt the same. The dream I had last night had only intensified those feelings, as ridiculous as that sounded. There was no way I could turn back now. I needed to feel his touch like I needed air to breathe.

It was dark when we pulled up to his house, but I could tell by the dim lights that it was enormous. It was obvious that this was not the small cabin we had spent the afternoon in. Tucked away in the lush woods, there were no other houses in sight. I was surprised that the taxi would drive out here.

When we stepped through the front door, Edward took my coat and led me into the living room. The interior was decorated with a combination of chic, contemporary furniture that looked like it belonged in an expensive penthouse, as well as ornate wooden furniture that looked as though it had been in the family for generations. It was a strange combination, but it worked.

"This is my family's original house, with some additions over the years of course." He watched me as I ran my fingers along an antique cabinet filled with old books and then wandered over to the mantel to look at the photographs.

There was a family photo, and I recognized a younger Edward and Jasper, and the senior Dr. Cullen. I gasped when I recognized the woman from my dream – the fifties movie star.

"What is it?" I hadn't realized that Edward was directly behind me.

"I dreamed of her last night." I pointed at the photo of the woman who could only be his mother.

"Really?" He turned me toward him, and he was beaming. Before I could ponder how odd this was, he began stroking my face, his face inches away from mine. I lost all coherent thought.

"Dance with me, Bella." I hadn't noticed the music playing. Before I could protest, I was in Edward's arms, swaying slowly to the sultry rhythm. We danced together in silence for a few songs, our bodies gradually becoming more entwined, our breathing becoming louder.

"I've never felt this way before, Bella. I've never wanted anyone as much as I want you." His eyes were scorching, and my heart leapt at his words.

"Oh, Edward, I feel the same." I wrapped my arms around his neck and tried to bring him towards me for a kiss, but he resisted me. I frowned.

"Bella," his voice was hoarse, "If I kiss you now, I won't be able to stop. I should be a gentleman and go slow." His breath drifted across my cheek as his hands ran down my back and rested on my hips.

Flames exploded in my stomach and I let out an involuntary moan.

"I don't want you to be a gentleman," I breathed.

"Oh, God." He rested his forehead against mine. His lips were so close...

Taking my hand, he led me towards the stairs.

We made it up the stairs and into a large bedroom with an ornate iron king-sized bed and an ensuite bathroom. He shut the door and, before I could move, I found myself pressed up against it, Edward's lips hungrily devouring mine. His hands grabbed my hips and lifted me up, and I wrapped my legs around his waist. He carried me over to the bed without once breaking our kiss and laid me down on the bed. He pushed up my dress with one hand, while the other pulled at the neckline so he could have access to my breasts. He was frantic, his hands everywhere as if he was trying to touch all of me at once, and my god, did I want him to. My dress and bra were soon twisted around my waist and I was madly grappling with the buttons on his shirt. I needed to gain some control before we ended up tied together by our clothing.

Hmm, would that be so bad?

Using my arms and legs, I tried to maneuver our bodies so that he was underneath me and I could shed my twisted clothing and work on getting him out of his. He got the hint and rolled over, pulling me on top of him.

When we had shed all our clothing, I laid my body fully on top of his. We both moaned at the sensation of skin on skin, the heat of our bodies coalescing into a blazing inferno. I moved my legs so they were on either side of his hips, and I could feel his hardness between my legs. If I just moved my hips a fraction...

"Bella. Condom. In my nightstand." Edward's voice was breathless. I put my head against his neck to regain my senses enough so I could find the damned condom.

As I moved my body off of his, he let out a small whimper. Feeling a little smug, I opened the drawer of the nightstand. I slammed it shut immediately.

What. The. FUCK?

"What is it?" Edward sat up, frowning. I opened the drawer again and pointed at the offending items. I couldn't breathe, like I had just been punched in the sternum. My stomach felt as though I was being flayed, and I tried to hold back the tears that burned my eyes. It was a familiar feeling, but intensified by a thousand.

Neatly stacked on top of the box of condoms were photos of a beautiful blonde woman, wearing nothing but a come-hither smile. Edward began cursing under his breath as he picked them up and stared at them.

Take a picture, it'll last longer. Oh, wait. You did.

One fell onto the bed facedown. I didn't touch it – God only knows what he'd been doing while looking at those photos. Written on the back of the photo in loopy cursive handwriting was "I will remember this night forever. Love, Tanya."

Edward sat perfectly still, staring at the photo in his hands. Every muscle in his body was taut, and I watched as he slowly crumpled the picture in his fist. He repeated the process with the rest of the photos while I got up and attempted to sort out my clothing.

"Where are you going?" His voice was tight, almost a growl. He was still kneeling on the bed, head turned toward me.

I tried to regain my composure enough to speak.

"I'm leaving. I do not involve myself with men who are already spoken for." My voice shook with rage and unshed tears.

"It's not what you think." He still hadn't moved, his fists balled tightly.

"Yes, well. I've heard that before. And it was exactly what I thought." I managed to get my dress over my head, grabbed my underwear, shoes and stockings in a pile.

As I ran down the stairs, I heard a guttural wail and a loud crash. While I struggled to get my shoes on, I remembered that I didn't have a car.

Could this night get any worse?

I plopped down on the couch and put my head in my hands, trying to hold back the sobs that threatened to spill forth. I guess I'd have to call Charlie. This was going to be awkward. Rifling through my purse for my cell phone, I froze when the scent of hyacinth hit me. I looked around for flowers, but there were none. My vision began to recede like it had in the cabin and I put my head between my knees.

"Bellaaa..." a voice whispered. When I looked up, I saw the black haired girl before me, like a shadow. I felt myself leaving my body...footsteps...falling quickly on the stairs...and then I was falling too.

"Bella!" An angel was yelling at me. Was I in trouble? "Damnit, what are you trying to do to her?"

Warm fingers ran through my hair. Hmm, that's nice. The angel made my stomach feel better. And I could breathe when he touched me. It didn't hurt as much anymore.

"Bella, sweetheart, can you hear me?" The angel sounded worried. I opened my eyes so that he wouldn't worry anymore, and immediately wished that I hadn't. When my eyes focused enough to see that my angel was none other than Edward, the lying bastard, my guts were ripped out all over again.

I shouldn't be feeling this torn up. It's not like I had any sort of claim on Edward; I had only known him for two days. What had I expected?

Well, I didn't expect him to lie to me like that.

I certainly didn't expect that I would ever be the other woman. After what Jacob had done to me, I vowed to never get involved with a man who was with someone else. No matter how right it felt, or how drawn we were to each other.

Is this what it had felt like when Jacob met her? He had used those exact words. He had felt that Vanessa had been destined for him, and that he had little choice in the matter.

Well, I have a choice. I will not make anyone feel like I did. I stood up and turned to go.

"Please! Don't go!" Acute pain slashed through my limbs as I tried to walk away from Edward. It was like nothing I had ever felt before. It was almost crippling, and I stumbled.

Edward caught me, and I let the tears come. He held me tightly against him, whispering soothing words while I soaked his shirt. I felt like I was seriously losing my mind.

"Edward," I hiccupped, "what the hell is going on?"

"Sweetheart, I'm so sorry this is happening, but please, please let me explain! I cannot bear to watch you walk away from me again. It hurts too much."

"Then you'd better tell me right now who the hell Tanya is!" I struggled to get out of his embrace, and he sighed as he released me. We sat next to each other on the floor, our backs against the couch.

"Tanya was my wife."

"Was?" I raised an eyebrow at him, my arms crossed in front of me.

He looked down, his voice low and soft. "She's dead, Bella. She died two years ago in a car accident. With her lover." He looked at me imploringly, his voice stronger now. "I didn't take those pictures. I've never seen them before-he must have taken them." He looked down again and whispered quickly, "I have no idea how they got there."

I stared at him for a moment with my mouth open. He shifted uncomfortably under my astonished gaze, so I tried to get a hold of myself.

"That's weird. How would pictures that a dead guy took end up in your bedroom two years later?" I asked, still somewhat suspicious. Edward's face blanched and he squirmed uncomfortably. He wasn't doing a very good job of gaining my confidence.

"Bella, there are some things about my family that you should know, but I don't know if you're going to believe me."

"Try me. All I ask is that you are honest with me."

"I desperately want to tell you everything. I want you to know me, to know everything about me. And I want to know absolutely everything about you, too. But I'm worried, Bella. No one outside of the family knows the things that I need to tell you." I felt myself softening toward him, his desperate eyes finally melting my skepticism and weakening what was left of my resolve.

"We know so little about each other," I whispered, turning toward him. He nodded and took my hand in his. "I was cheated on too." I heard his sharp intake of breath. "My story's not nearly as heartbreaking as yours, but I guess I have an inkling of how you feel." He reached out his hand and placed it on my cheek. He rested his forehead against mine and I continued.

I took a deep breath and told him about Jacob. How we had grown up together during my summers in Forks, and he had been my first everything. My only everything. How I had applied to college in Seattle so I could be closer to him. How during my annual summer visit after I had graduated from high school, I had excitedly driven straight to his house after Charlie had picked me up from the airport, intent on surprising him. But I had been the one who was surprised. I had let myself into his house and walked into his living room, where he was lying on the couch.

With a woman riding him like she was about to win the derby.

She had looked on sympathetically as he had explained how they'd met; how they had been drawn to one another. How he couldn't be without her. I couldn't believe that she had sat there, witnessing my humiliation. I wanted to scratch the sympathy right off her face.

I didn't go to school that year; I didn't want to be anywhere near Forks. Renee had freaked out. I told her that I wanted to work for awhile and save up some more money, even though she had made sure that I had had a healthy college fund. That extra year with Renee was hell. Looking back, I wondered if most of my resentment towards Jacob came from the fact that he had cheated, or the fact that I had been stuck with Renee's brand of stifling parenting for an extra year. I should have just sucked it up and gone to school. Seattle was far enough away from La Push that I wouldn't have had to see him.

As I told my story to Edward, it didn't seem as bad as I had built it up to be in my mind. I actually started to feel less angry and resentful towards Jacob. It was actually kind of cathartic to have someone to talk about these things with. Having Edward hold and comfort me made me forget all the negative feelings that I was holding on to.

He got up off the floor and went to start a fire. I hadn't realized how chilly it had become. Looking out the window, I saw that it was snowing quite heavily and I could see the wind whipping through the trees. This was likely the most snow that Forks had ever seen. It was going to be my first white Christmas.

Edward pulled me up off the floor and onto the couch. He wrapped his arms around me, and I pulled my legs up and scooted closer to him, snuggling into his chest as he stroked my hair. I had never felt cherished like this before, like I belonged here. It was blissful.

We cuddled together quietly for a few minutes, then he cleared his throat.

"Bella, there is so much I should tell you, but I'm scared to. I'm scared that you won't believe me, or worse, that you'll think I'm crazy and leave. I couldn't bear it." I looked up at him and saw the uncertainty in his features. I couldn't deny that I was worried about what he had to say, but I needed to decide if I was in this or not. With the intense connection between us, it was becoming clear that we could not do this casually. It was all or nothing. Could I let down the barriers and give him my heart completely?

Did I have a choice?

After a shaky breath, I steeled myself and looked directly into his eyes so that he could see the conviction of my words. "Edward, I'm in this with you. All in." His eyes widened and his lips parted in surprise. "I couldn't bear to leave now, so that means that whatever you have to say, I will trust you completely." He hugged me so fiercely that I could barely breathe, then his lips were on mine and I completely forgot what we had been talking about.

I whined when he pulled away, and he chuckled. "Bella, you have no idea what this means to me, for you to accept me like this." He frowned. "I just hope you don't change your mind after you hear what I have to say."

"Edward, stop it. What could be so bad? Just tell me." I was starting to get very nervous.

He shifted us so that we were facing each other on the couch, took both of my hands in his, and began.

"So, there's an old legend that talks about my ancestors and the Quileutes." He paused for a moment and looked at me. I tried to keep my face passive so that he would continue. "Like I've said, we've always been known as healers in the area. The first Dr. Cullen's wife was a midwife. Shortly after they arrived they came across a Quileute woman who was in labor. She was having a very difficult labor and was weakening quickly. Her husband and other women in the tribe had tried everything they knew of to help her, but she was fading quickly and the baby was in trouble. My great-great..." he paused, "etcetera, Grandmother had seen this before and knew exactly what to do."

"Okay, so this is where it gets weird." He put his hands on my shoulders and began rubbing up and down my arms. Exhaling deeply, he continued. "According to the legend, the woman's husband was a powerful shaman. He was so grateful to my ancestors for saving his wife and child that he blessed them and all future generations with the gift of healing, as well as..." he stopped and closed his eyes.

"As well as what, Edward?" I rubbed his thighs, intending to soothe him, but when I looked down at his pants I noticed that it was having a different effect. He put his hands on mine to still them and gave me a sheepish grin.

"As well as the ability to visit the living once they died," he blurted out so quickly I wasn't sure I had heard him correctly. He cringed and looked at me, giving me a moment to process what he'd just said.

"Visit the living. As in...ghosts?" I tried the word out, and it sounded even more ridiculous than it did when it was just in my head. But, I had promised to trust Edward. And how else could I explain the things I had been seeing? "Okay, continue." I would keep an open mind. For him.

He stared at me, as if waiting for me to run away screaming. Part of me wanted to do just that.

"Um, we haven't seen too much of the ghosts since my parents died. It's like they try to get through, but they can't quite. I don't know why. But, I think my wife is haunting me."

"It sounds like your entire family is haunting you, Edward." I smiled and he rolled his eyes. "Wait, how is your wife able to come back? She's only a Cullen through marriage."

"That's exactly how she's able to come back. Because she was married to me. But I don't mean she's haunting me like the rest of the family does. I mean she's doing things. That day we met at the cabin? I didn't start that fire. I go to the cabin to be alone and uh...drown my sorrows, I guess." He looked at me sheepishly. "That day, I found our wedding photos, as well as our marriage license in the cabin. I had no idea how they had gotten there. Then, they just combusted, right in front of me. It scared the shit out of me. I grabbed the fire extinguisher to put it out. And then you stumbled into my life." He gave me a crooked smile, and I almost combusted right in front of him.

"So, you think..." I couldn't bring myself to say it out loud; it still sounded so ridiculous.

"I think she started the fire that day, and I think she put those pictures in my nightstand. I don't know what she's trying to do – I hadn't met you yet when she started the fire. Still, I don't know why she'd want to sabotage my relationship with you. It wasn't like she hadn't moved on while she was alive – why doesn't she want me to move on?" His shoulders sagged and he looked down at our hands. I felt conflicted. This whole situation was so far out of my comfort zone, and I didn't deal well out of my comfort zone. But I felt so awful for Edward. What a horrible person his wife must have been. She cheated on him, got herself killed, and now haunts him when he tries to move on with his life. I needed to be here for him.

"Edward, that is the craziest thing that I have ever heard." He stiffened. "And I believe every word." His shoulders relaxed and he rested his forehead against mine.

"Thank you," he whispered. "You have no idea how much this means to me, to be able to tell you this." His hands were wandering up my legs. "I was so scared that you'd bolt. I still am, to be honest." His hands rested on my hips. "Are you really here with me? Or am I dreaming again?"

I entwined my fingers in his hair. "I'm here, Edward. And I'm not going anywhere. Well, unless you boot me out."

"Never," he growled, and then his lips were on mine. Hesitantly, uncertainly. I tried to deepen the kiss, but he was resisting me. I could almost hear his brain working overtime.

"Edward, stop. I'm not her. I would never hurt you."

He pulled me to him so tightly that I could barely breathe. "Can I be enough? You deserve so much more," he whispered. This needed to stop now. I was completely his and he needed to know it.

"Baby, stop this." His head was buried between my neck and shoulder. "Look at me." No movement. "Edward, stop hiding and look at me. Now." With a deep breath he complied. He looked so vulnerable, like one harsh word from me could send him running. No doubt it would.

"This is so weird...we've only just met." My palms were damp with sweat. Tell him. Deep breath...here it goes. "I...I think I'm falling in love with you, Edward." He gasped. I closed my eyes and waited for him to tell me that we were moving too fast.

"Oh, Bella." He crashed his lips to mine, pushing my body down onto the couch. He began to place searing hot, wet kisses along my jaw, down my neck... "I think I loved you before I even met you." My dress was inching its way up once more as his tongue worked its way under the neckline of my dress. "You were an angel that I thought I could only dream about." He stopped and looked at me, his gaze deadly in its seriousness. "I think the dreams were my family telling me that you were coming. That you were meant for me, and that I didn't have to be alone."

Wow.

He looked down at me lovingly, and my heart almost stopped. No one had ever looked at me like that before. He ran his fingers tantalizingly slowly down the side of my face.

His voice was a hoarse whisper. "Bella, I don't think I can be gentle. This has all been so much, I feel as if I might explode. I don't want to hurt you."

"You won't hurt me. Just let go." He began kissing me again, but I could tell that he was still holding back. His body almost vibrated from the sexual energy that was waiting to be unleashed.

I took control of the kiss, slipping my fingers into his hair and pulling his face closer to mine. His hands began to travel lightly down my body, and I arched my back to press my body into his. I needed more.

"Edward, I need you. Please!" I reached down between our bodies and grasped his erection through his jeans.

He made a noise that began as a moan and ended as a feral growl, announcing the end to his composure. He began to consume me, grasping...pulling...tearing...

He was out of control. I felt as though I was being devoured; I couldn't even make a move of my own as Edward's body completely dominated mine. Lips sucked, teeth nipped, hands pressed firmly into my flesh; I would surely have bruises as a titillating reminder of this night.

And his tongue.

God of all things holy and rapturous, his tongue was quickly and rhythmically driving me to the brink of insanity.

There was no one in my world but Edward. Every one of my senses was focused on him and the pleasure that he was giving me. His heat consumed me. His body owned me. I was being violently pulled under by the current of lust crashing over me, and I wanted to let myself drown in him.

When I felt his hardness at my entrance, I looked at his face. I was completely and utterly staggered by the intensity of his gaze. His mouth was open wide as he gasped for breath.

In one swift motion he impaled me. His lips crashed onto mine. I screamed into his mouth as he began to pound relentlessly into me, his hands on my head to hold me in place while I pulled at his hair and grabbed at his shoulders, trying desperately to pull him closer. He was hitting all the right spots, and I soon began to feel the vortex tightening deep in my core, getting tighter and tighter as he thrust harder and deeper with every pass. We were not quiet, as indescribable, animalistic noises ripped from our mouths as we both careened out of control towards the peak of ecstasy.

I clung to him and dug my nails deep into his shoulders as I was sucked into the depths of lust, the weight of the current pressing heavily on my body until the room around me disappeared and the maelstrom inside me exploded, sending wave upon wave of unbearable ecstasy straight through me. His own screams mingled with mine as his release took him, and we clung to each other- wet, sweaty, and panting as we stared at each other in awe, trying to comprehend what had just happened between us.

To say it had been the best sex I had ever had would completely understate what we had just experienced together.

I was overcome by exhaustion and before I could protest, Edward wrapped me in his arms and carried me to his bedroom. He laid me on the sheets reverently and brushed my hair out of my face. Crawling in beside me, he pulled my body so that my back pressed up against his chest and wrapped his arms around me, snuggling me. His hand settled on my breast.

"Sleep well, my love," I heard him say as I fell asleep.

Sunlight streamed through the window. I was on the edge of the bed and there was something very warm wrapped around me.

The very warm something snored loudly.

I tried to detach myself and get out of bed without disturbing him, but I was tangled in the sheet and teetering precariously on the edge of the bed. I shifted my weight slightly and misjudged exactly how little space I had, but as I was about to fall onto the floor, strong arms scooped me up and rolled me on top of a warm, hard body.

Feeling Edward's body under mine caused my mind to recall images from the night prior, and I blushed as my entire body flooded with heat.

"Well, good morning," Edward said sleepily.

"Good morning to you," I replied, my voice husky and breathy, unlike the playful tone I had been aiming for.

"You were restless last night." He ran his fingers lightly down my back, tickling me. I squirmed, and he moaned.

"I had some really weird dreams." I played with the hair on his chest.

"Do you want to talk about them?" He began to plant kisses along my shoulder and up my neck.

"No, definitely not," I breathed. His hands were running down my body and I was about to align our bodies so that we could join once more when I heard the door open. Before I could blink I was flipped onto my back and covered with Edward's body.

"Holy shit!" Jasper shouted, covering his eyes.

"Get out!" Edward shouted back.

I had completely forgotten about Jasper. Had he been here last night? I looked up at Edward, panicked.

"Don't worry. Jasper was occupied in his room last night. He wouldn't have heard if the house blew down around him." I raised my eyebrows, waiting for an explanation.

"Oh, um. Remember how I mentioned our Aunt Alice?" I nodded. "Well, she, uh...visits him."

"Okay..." This was so weird.

"And they're madly in love." He cringed, looking at me through his lashes.

"Never mind that she's dead - they're related!" This was by far the strangest conversation I had ever had.

"Well, only by marriage," he said defensively. "She was married to my great-great-grandfather's brother." Oh, well, okay then. Part of me was expecting Charlie to come laughing out of the closet, having played one of his drunken practical jokes.

God, I hope Charlie's not in the closet.

"Poor Jasper...in love with a ghost," I mused. "Can't he find a living girl?"

Edward cringed and looked around, as if looking for something.

Or someone.

"What?" Then it hit me. "Oh my God! Is she here?" I almost screeched.

"No! Although I wouldn't put it past her to barge in here. She's been trying to contact you, you know." Oh my.

"Does she have short, black hair?" My voice was getting higher in pitch.

"Yes...wait, you've seen her?" He looked at me in disbelief.

"Yes, I saw her at the cabin when I fainted, and again last night." This was really freaking me out.

"Oh my God, Bella - no one outside the family has ever seen one of our family ghosts before. No wonder you fainted! It's quite the experience, isn't it?" I just nodded my head.

"But back to your initial question, no, Jasper will never find a living girl. Alice has been it for him since he was 10 years old."

"That's so sad. He's going to spend his whole life in love with a ghost?"

Edward's face turned solemn. "He'll be with her soon enough," he whispered. I blinked. "Jasper has had a rare auto-immune disease since he was a child. It's why he lives with me – I take care of him when he gets sick. It's been getting worse lately. There's not much more I can do for him." He turned away from me, and when I tried to pull his face back toward me he resisted. When he finally looked at me there were tears in his eyes.

"I am so thankful that he has Alice. Our family is so fortunate – we actually have an idea of what awaits us when we go. But it still doesn't take away the hurt." I held him tightly, and he buried his face in my hair.

A series of loud yells and curses broke us out of our moment. Edward and I jumped out of bed and grabbed whatever clothes we could find. We exchanged salacious grins when I picked up what was left of my dress, and Edward quickly handed me his shirt.

When we arrived in the kitchen, Jasper was on his back under the sink, a tool box on the floor beside him. Water sprayed everywhere, and he struggled to get out of the way.

Edward burst out laughing.

"Get over here and help me, you asshole!" Jasper bellowed.

When the crisis was taken care of, Jasper sat sopping wet at the kitchen table, examining a ring.

"This was in the pipe. Is it yours, Bella?" I shook my head. I'd never even been in the kitchen. When Edward saw what Jasper was holding, he froze.

"Edward? What is it?"

"Tanya's wedding ring." His voice was flat. I gasped and reflexively stepped back towards the doorway. Edward looked at me anxiously.

"Don't go!" he whispered, eyes wide.

I went to him immediately and he enveloped me in his arms.

This is where I belong.

"Why is she doing this?" I said into his bare chest.

Jasper choked a little. "She knows? What the hell, Edward?"

"She's seen Alice. Twice."

Jasper nodded his head and frowned, looking at the floor.

"Jasper?" Edward frowned at his brother. "What are you hiding?"

Jasper walked over to the fridge and banged his head against the door. "Shit. She's going to kill me!"

Edward's fists were balled at his side. "Tell me. Now," he ground out through gritted teeth.

Jasper sighed loudly and turned to face Edward. "Don't freak out, okay? Tanya was pregnant when she died. Alice told me that Tanya had been trying to break it off with James when they had the accident. The baby must have been yours."

Edward laughed humorlessly. "No, the baby was not mine. But I'd make a better provider than an unemployed stock broker, so of course she'd tell him it was."

I touched Edwards arm lightly. "How do you know the baby wasn't yours?" I had to ask.

Edward relaxed slightly at my touch. He wrapped his arm around my waist and pulled me into his side.

"Because Tanya and I hadn't had sex in over 6 months. I had begun to suspect that she was having an affair." My heart broke for Edward. How could anyone treat him so? I hugged him fiercely, and he moaned softly into my hair.

"Ugh. Good thing I haven't had breakfast yet. Nothing to puke up." Jasper muttered as he pulled eggs out of the fridge.

"Jasper makes the best huevos rancheros ever. Will you stay for breakfast?" Edward looked hopefully at me. I glanced at Jasper to see if he minded, but he just looked at me, waiting for my answer.

"I don't want to be a bother," I hedged. Jasper rolled his eyes. Fine then. "I'd love to stay, thank you." He pulled a couple more eggs out of the fridge.

"So, Bella. What are you doing for Christmas Eve?" Edward asked shyly, and Jasper stopped what he was doing again and looked at the two of us, wonder in his eyes.

"Oh, not much. Charlie will probably go drinking in La Push. I won't be joining him." I said sourly.

"We have quite the celebration here – you should join us." He looked tentatively at Jasper, who shrugged and went back to his breakfast preparations.

"Really? You're having a Christmas Eve party? That sounds great!"

Edward laughed and kissed my hair. "I think you'll really enjoy it. There's something you really need to see." I looked at him suspiciously. "You'll love it, I promise!" I looked at Jasper, who just nodded his head at me.

The next week flew by, and I got to spend a good portion of it with Edward. He had taken some time off from the hospital, and we went Christmas shopping in Seattle, where he kept disappearing and reappearing with more and more shopping bags, grinning evilly at me when I tried unsuccessfully to peek into one. We were so relaxed and carefree around each other; it felt like we had known each other for years, not days.

We didn't talk about the strange things that had occurred between our first night together and Christmas Eve, but I often noticed Edward watching me with concerned eyes. If I hadn't known Edward's secret, I would have completely freaked out when we stumbled into his bedroom, frantically undressing each other, and found a satin nightie that did not belong to me, flung across the bed. Edward had tossed it into the trash and carried me into the spare bedroom.

And I didn't mention the fact that I'd never had a hot shower at Edward's house. I had just started making excuses and showering at home. Or having record setting speed showers.

Someone did not want me around, that was clear. We were going to have to talk about it, but we were in such high spirits coming into the holiday season that I didn't want to taint it. I think Edward felt the same. But I worried for our future.

Not because I lived in Phoenix and he lived in Forks. I was a writer – I could live pretty much anywhere. Besides, I really needed to put a few states between me and my over-bearing mother.

How long were we going to be haunted by his ex-wife? What could we do about it? I felt silly suggesting a medium, but maybe we'd have to resort to that? I needed to be able to take a hot shower.

I resolved to speak to Edward about our future after Christmas. He and Jasper were so excited about their Christmas Eve party that they reminded me of two little boys waiting for Santa to fill their stockings.

Hmm, maybe that was the surprise Edward kept referring to? With all the craziness I had witnessed, I really wouldn't be surprised if Santa showed up.

On Christmas Eve, Edward picked me up early in the afternoon so I could help with preparations. Only the extended Cullen family were coming, but the night we had been at the pub it had seemed like that included a good portion of the town.

After dinner I changed into the dress that I had brought for the party. As I was fixing my hair in Edward's bathroom, he entered.

His eyes travelled up and down my body before he stepped behind me and wrapped his arms around my waist, resting his chin on my shoulder.

"You are so beautiful," he breathed.

"You're not so bad yourself," I replied, as I took in his navy suit and black shirt. He watched as I made the finishing touches to my make-up, then turned me toward him.

"You may see some strange things tonight. Be prepared, okay?" He looked at me worriedly.

"Do you think that she'll do anything tonight?" I didn't want him to know, but I was actually a little frightened.

He sighed heavily. "I really don't know. I hope not. But in case something happens, I just want you to know..." he paused, stroking my cheek, "I love you, Bella."

Tears sprang to my eyes. "Oh, Edward..." I whispered. "I love you, too."

"No matter what, we'll stick together, right?"

"Right," I agreed, and he kissed me tenderly.

"Hey, get down here; it's almost time!" Jasper hollered. Edward grinned and put his hand on my lower back as we made our way downstairs. I could feel the excitement rolling off him, and even Jasper seemed in a sociable mood.

I wonder if Alice is going to show up tonight? I hoped that I would have some warning, so I could at least sit down first. Maybe now that I knew about her I'd be able to see her without passing out.

When we arrived downstairs, I was surprised to see that the party was in full swing. I recognized some of Edward's cousins that I'd met at the pub, and he soon began introducing me to his many aunts and uncles. Everyone seemed to accept my presence at this family event without question - I wondered if Edward had warned them ahead of time that I'd be there?

There was a hushed sense of anticipation around the room, and as people quietly mingled I saw them frequently glance around the room.

Edward went to get me a glass of wine. I was speaking with his aunt Irina when the room was suddenly filled with glittery white flakes.

It was snowing.

Inside the house.

I think this is my cue to sit down.

I excused myself from Irina to go sit on the couch, but she wasn't paying attention to me anymore. Looking around the room for Edward, I saw that everyone had stopped what they were doing.

The lights dimmed, and the music on the stereo stopped mid-'Chestnuts Roasting'. A lone snare drum began playing a simple rhythm. I heard the low voice of Holly Cole begin to sing.

What is this fragrance, softly stealing...

The room was filled with so many different scents at once they were beginning to mix together, but I could make out a few of them-cinnamon, lavender, chocolate, vanilla...and hyacinth.

The room was suddenly a bustle of movement, and twice as full as it was a moment ago. People rushed to greet each other, and the hushed anticipation from before was replaced with squeals of excitement and loud, boisterous greetings.

The next song was a lively Latin rendition of Deck the Halls. I sat on the couch, gaping at the scene around me.

I exhaled when I saw Edward approaching me, a wide smile on his face. I started to stand up and go to him, but I gasped and sat down again when I saw who was with him.

His parents.

They weren't translucent, or in black and white. They weren't wearing sheets or dressed in tattered old grave clothes. They looked fully alive and well, and they were on their way over to meet me.

"Breathe, Bella." Edward was at my side now, looking at me with concern. I inhaled shakily and stood up.

"Bella, it's so lovely to finally meet you. I'm Esme." Edward's mother took my hand in hers, and I felt a light tingling sensation, like my hand had fallen asleep.

"Hello, Bella. It's nice to see you again." Carlisle smiled brightly at me. Edward was looking at me warily, like he was still expecting the running and screaming.

Get a grip - these are his parents!

I shook my head softly to try to regain some composure and smiled back at Edward's parents.

"I'm very pleased to meet you, Esme. And to see you again, Carlisle."

I felt Edward relax beside me.

"I know this is a lot to take in. You're doing splendidly! We tried to prepare you a bit, but we've been having some difficulty..." Carlisle stopped as my eyes went wide.

Esme wrapped her arm around my waist and helped me sit down. "Bella dear, I have to tell you that we've had our eye on you for some time now." She looked at me sympathetically. "Not intrusively or anything like that, we've just known for awhile that you were meant for our Edward, and, well, sometimes we maybe put our noses in where we shouldn't." I still must have looked panicked, because she turned to Carlisle. "Honey, help me out here?"

"Ah, here's the person we need." Carlisle was looking behind me, and when I turned around I saw Jasper with his arm wrapped around a tiny girl with black hair.

Alice.

She squealed when my eyes met hers, and bounced around the couch to sit beside me. When she wrapped her arms around me in a tingly hug, Edward's eyes widened.

"Alice!" he scolded. I'm sure he thought I'd bolt for sure, now. But it actually felt right being hugged by Alice.

"It's okay, Edward." I smiled at her as she released me. Edward ran his hand through his hair and Jasper laughed buoyantly.

Wow, that's a sound I've never heard before.

"I'm so happy that I can finally talk to you! I've been trying so hard, but you two were just being impossible, and we didn't have much time, and then all that stuff happened..." Alice spoke so fast I could barely make out what she was saying. I must have looked rather bewildered, because she stopped and patted me on the leg.

"I'm sorry. Let me explain. Edward, you may want to hear this as well." Edward replaced his mother on the couch next to me. Esme walked over to Jasper and embraced him warmly.

"So Edward, you've noticed that we haven't really been around much the last couple of years, right?" He nodded. "Well, I don't want to put any pressure on you or anything, but you see, you're the head of the Cullen family now...and well...you're all alone, and..." Edward was openly glaring at her.

"Spit it out, Alice!"

"Geez, okay! We thrive on positive emotions. The reason we always come at Christmas is because that's when the family is feeling the most generous, and most importantly, loving. With you being Mr. Grinch these last couple of years, we haven't been able to come out as easily." She looked at me. "Usually we can manage quick individual visits even when it's not Christmas, but we haven't even been able to manage that, as you know. I'm sorry if I freaked you out." She looked contrite. "I just really needed you and Edward to realize that you're meant for each other, so that we could all come out this Christmas!"

I looked up at Edward, and his eyes were full of emotion. He pulled me to him and kissed my hair.

"Plus, we want to make sure the right people get into the family." She gave Edward a knowing look and frowned as she quickly muttered this last statement.

"Excuse me, what?"

"So, wanna meet the rest of the family?" She grabbed my hand and bounced cheerfully as she dragged me off the couch.

I had never had so much fun at a party, ever. The Cullens were a lively bunch, even if most of them weren't actually alive. I recognized some of them from the dreams I'd been having. Edward's great-grandfather, Emmett, was a hoot and regaled me with stories of the Seattle jazz bars that he had frequented in the 1920's.

"I can't believe you saw Jelly Roll Morton play!" I had always loved jazz music, and often wished I had been around in the twenties to see it emerge. Emmett's wife, Rosalie, just rolled her eyes. Apparently she'd heard this story more times than she cared to.

Edward was playing the piano for Alice, who joyfully sang Christmas carols in her trilling soprano voice, when he suddenly froze. The dissonant chord he had landed on rang out in the ensuing silence.

A beautiful blonde woman was slowly walking toward him, her hands out in contrition. Alice put herself between Edward and the woman I could only assume to be his former wife.

"Maybe now isn't the time, Tanya." Alice said quietly. My stomach dropped as my fear was confirmed.

"Edward, please! I just want to talk," the beautiful yet malevolent ghost pleaded. My feet were frozen to the ground. Should I go to him? Or was this none of my business? Jasper caught my eye and motioned with a jerk of his head that I should be at Edward's side.

I took a deep breath. Everyone around me was frozen in place just as I was. When I began to slowly move toward Edward, heads began whipping around to see who dared to move through the tense silence. My heart pounded deafeningly in my ears as I willed my leaden legs to carry me forward, through the gawking crowd, past the ghost of my lover's wife and into his waiting arms.

Tanya smiled when Edward stood and pulled me into his arms. "You must be Bella. It's a pleasure."

"Don't you dare speak to her," Edward ground out through his teeth. "You have some nerve showing up here tonight after all you've done."

Tanya looked surprised. "I'm so sorry for what I put you through, Edward. I understand why you're angry, but I just wanted to come here and apologize for what happened. And to tell you how happy I am that you've found her." She looked sadly at me. "We weren't meant for each other. I only wish we had realized it before it was too late."

"Jesus Tanya, how can you stand here and talk to me like this after all the shit you've pulled in the last month!" Edward was furious. The living Cullen relatives looked uncomfortable, but the Cullen spirits were riveted, like they hadn't seen anything so exciting in ages.

Or maybe she's just that dangerous and they're watching in case they need to intercede...

I clung to Edward with one arm while turning toward Tanya so I could make eye contact. I didn't want to show her how frightened I really was.

The expression on her face was one of confusion, as she processed what Edward had just said.

"The last month? Edward, I haven't been anywhere near here."

"And you expect us to believe you?" Edward fumed.

"Um, actually Edward, I can vouch for her," Alice spoke up.

"As can I." I hadn't even noticed the tall man standing slightly behind Tanya. He looked like an older version of Carlisle.

Alice smiled as he stepped forward. "Hello, Peter."

"Hello doll, long time no see." Peter smiled warmly at Alice as he wrapped an arm around Tanya's waist.

"Will somebody please tell me what the hell is going on?" My heart couldn't take much more of this. Edward nodded his head in agreement.

"This is Peter. We were married while we were alive." Alice waved an arm toward him in introduction. My head was starting to hurt. Alice's ghost was cheating on her husband's ghost with her very much alive great-great nephew, while her husband's ghost was cheating on her with the ghost of my boyfriend's wife. I wriggled out of Edward's arms and slumped down on the piano bench. He stood behind me and rubbed my shoulders.

"Oh, stop looking at me like that, Bella. The vows only say 'til death do us part. We hardly knew each other when we were married, and I died shortly after. Jasper's the one I'm going to spend eternity with."

"And Peter's the one for me," Tanya said softly, looking at Edward. "Which is why I'm so happy that you've found Bella while you're still alive. She's your forever, Edward," Tanya said fervently.

"I know," he replied.

I kneeled on the bench so I could hug Edward. He kissed me quickly but passionately.

"Wait, if it hasn't been Tanya doing all those things, then who is it?" I asked.

So quickly that I almost fell on my face, Edward pulled me off the bench and put himself in front of me, shielding me. I peeked around his body and screamed.

All of the living Cullen relatives, except for Edward, were lying unconscious on the floor. At least I hoped they were only unconscious. The ghosts had vanished, except for Tanya and a tall man with his dark hair pulled back in a ponytail. Tanya gasped.

"James!"

"How the hell did you manage to come back?" Edward ground out through gritted teeth.

"Well, isn't that just the million dollar question," James sneered as he slowly circled around Tanya like he was a bird of prey and she was carrion.

He reached out to pat her belly. "I guess I'm part of the family now!" he laughed maliciously.

Tanya's eyes were wide. "I'm so sorry," she whispered to Edward.

"Shut it, cupcake," James spat mockingly. "Imagine my surprise when I woke to find myself stuck with the Cullens for all eternity. I had just learned that my lover was pregnant with my child, but was dumping me to stay with her rich husband, then I died painfully in a car crash. Let me say I was less than thrilled."

He turned his glare toward me.

"And then those other undead motherfuckers have to go and bring you into the equation." He pointed at me accusingly.

Tanya stepped toward him. "James, she has nothing to do with this. Leave her out of it."

"Oh, that's what everyone thinks, isn't it. Well, she has a big part in this, and she is a danger to me. And to you, my love." Sarcasm hung from his last words.

"That's ridiculous." Tanya folded her arms in front of her. James turned to glare at her.

"Is it? I've met some interesting people over here. Well, you can't really call them people. Let's call them entities, for lack of a better word. These entities are nasty little creatures, but they know their way around this...afterlife, or whatever you want to call it."

"Been hanging with a rough crowd, haven't you, James."

"Oh, you have no idea," he laughed darkly. "These Cullens are idiots. They have no idea of the powers they could have. They dabble in the dreams of the living, and make an appearance at Christmas and think themselves clever. But as you can see," he made a sweeping gesture around the room, "I have learned quite a lot in my short time on the other side."

He turned to face Edward and me again. "Now that he's found her, we're done for."

"What on earth are you talking about, James?" Tanya said impatiently.

"If he marries her, you will no longer exist in this afterlife. If you no longer exist here, then neither will I."

"And you trust these low-lifes you've been hanging around with?" Tanya retorted, disbelief evident in her tone.

Edward finally spoke. "This is preposterous. None of my family's ghosts have ever disappeared, even the ones who weren't direct descendents. First, you take my wife. Now you want to take away the woman I love more than anything? What did I ever do to you?"

James sauntered toward us. Edward stiffened and pushed me further behind him.

"I don't give a shit about you," James seethed. "I'm just trying to survive here. And you..." Suddenly he was behind me. I whirled around, feeling Edward's arms trying to pull me away, but it was as if I was bolted to the ground. "I overestimated your sense of self-preservation. Or else you're just incredibly stupid. You didn't take my little hints to get lost. I no longer plan on being subtle about it, just so you know." He flicked my nose with his finger. It went numb. "Consider yourselves warned."

He walked away, his image gradually fading. I could move and feel my nose once again. Edward pulled me into his chest and I clung to him and sobbed. He stroked my hair and murmured words of apology. The living Cullens began to stir, and ghosts began to gradually reappear. The noise level began to crescendo as everyone started to try and figure out what had just happened. Edward and I stayed in our little bubble.

As the haze of fear began to clear from my mind, I thought about what James had said. It would only cause a problem for him if Edward and I got married. I began to calm considerably as I thought about this. Marriage had never been big on my priority list. I really didn't see the point. I let out a long breath, relieved.

"Are you okay, Bella?" Edward asked. I nodded into his chest. "Don't believe a word of it. He's a lying shit."

Alice floated toward us. "Wow, that was strange wasn't it?" Before either of us could comment, she continued. "So, have you done it yet?" she squealed excitedly, looking at Edward. He glared at her and shook his head almost imperceptibly. She rolled her eyes and walked away.

"What was that about?" I asked. Edward took my face in his hands.

"I don't give a damn about what he said. I will not let him ruin my life again. I need you. We were meant to be together, and no one, living or dead, is going to tell me otherwise."

"Edward, what are you saying?" My voice was high-pitched and shaky. Edward reached into his pocket and pulled out a velvet box. I almost collapsed.

"Bella, will you marry me?"