A/N: Hello everyone! My apologies that this story was stalled out for so long. My lovely co-writer Wendy has decided to leave the fandom, and I will be continuing this journey alone. I hope I can do the Edward parts justice. Thanks for the very patient emails and PMs and for not stringing me up—you guys rock!

Thanks to Keye, Sandy, and Caz for prereading and being all around awesome.

Suckles from Edward to my awesome beta SassySue (chayasara) for always keeping me on track. Mwah!

As a quick recap, Edward and Bella are still on their weekend getaway . . . connecting. ;-)


Chapter 21

~Back to Reality~


~*Bella*~

In the soft glow of the candlelight, Edward's hair has a fiery glow to it. My gaze roams over his bare back as he crouches down to toss another log on the fire.

I lean against the bathroom door and rub a towel lightly over my wet hair, pretty sure he's unaware of me.

After sharing a delicious dinner served in our room, I retreated to the bathroom to take a shower. Edward seemed disappointed when I declined his offer to join me. In truth, I needed the time alone. Tomorrow we return to Dartmouth. This lovely cocoon of bliss we've been existing in will come to an end, and the reality of classes, Jordin, and Tanya will return. Edward's idea to come here was wonderful, and I love him for it, but part of me worries about how I'll handle the reemergence into the drama that is our daily lives.

"If you think too hard, your brain might melt."

I yelp and press a hand to my chest, startled by the nearness of Edward's voice. I was so lost in my thoughts, he approached without my notice. Now he's two feet in front of me. Who's the unobservant one, Bella?

He's barefoot and bare chested, a pair of faded jeans hanging low on his hips. The button is undone, and my heart speeds as my gaze follows the soft down of the happy trail that disappears beneath the soft denim.

"My eyes are up here, Bella." Edward smirks at me, clearly preening over the fact he caught me ogling his body.

"Sorry." I shake my head, the heat of a blush rushing over me.

"Don't be." Edward's voice is husky as he trails his index finger down the side of my neck and over my breastbone, his eyes following its path. He hooks the edge of the towel wrapped around my body and tugs me in closer. "I love the way you look at me." The warmth of his breath, laced with traces of the wine we drank earlier, washes over me, causing goose bumps to erupt over my skin.

Cupping my face in his palm, he leans in and brushes his lips across mine, sending currents zipping under my skin. Every cell in my body strains toward his as if magnetized, leaving me breathless. At times I'm bewildered by how much I love and want him. I run my fingers up his sides, rubbing over the ridges of his strong ribcage. His kisses are slow and unhurried, his lips barely grazing mine.

Another tug sends my towel to the floor, and Edward slides his arm around my waist to draw me closer. I go willingly, allowing my hands to explore his muscular back. The roughness of his jeans against my nakedness sends delicious shivers dancing along my skin. He grabs the damp hair at the nape of my neck in one fist and tugs my head back, pressing his mouth firmly to mine. When he deepens the kiss, I taste the sweet sharpness of wine on his tongue.

He cups my ass with one palm and turns us, walking me back toward the bed. Our kisses grow frantic and rough, noses bumping and lips mashing against teeth. When I feel the fabric of the comforter brush the backs of my legs, he lowers me down to the bed and crawls over me, bringing his lips back down to mine.

I trail my fingers over his chest and the ripple of his abs into the downy hair I admired a few minutes ago. Edward groans when my fingers graze the swollen head of his cock, which is pressed up against his abdomen, restrained only by the edge of his jeans. I work to free him, but he grasps my wrist to stop me. "Not yet." He pushes back onto his knees, spreading my legs around them, and leans down to kiss my neck, sucking at my skin. The suction of his lips, tongue, and teeth sends jolts of pleasure through me to the point I don't care if he leaves marks all over. I moan softly, gripping his hair in my fists when I feel the coolness of his dog tags tickle my stomach.

Edward kisses his way over my sensitive breasts and grasps my hips firmly in both hands. "I love you," he murmurs as his lips hover over my navel. And then he kisses me much lower, so close to where I ache for him to fill me.

"Edward . . ." My fingers scrabble at his shoulders, sliding off once before my seeking nails find purchase. Panic floods through me. "Don't."

He stops and looks up at me from between my legs, but his hands remain firmly on my hips. "What is it?"

What do I say now? Do I tell him I'm afraid to let him go down on me? That to me it's more intimate and requires more trust than sex?

"I want you to make love to me."

"And I will. Be patient." He slides one finger along my folds, spreading the wetness around. "So beautiful." He lowers his head, warm breath whispering against my most intimate place.

"I'm afraid." Now that they're out, I can't take the words back.

"Of me?"

"No, of . . . letting you."

"Why?"

"Nobody ever has . . . before. To me, that's more intimate than sex. I never could bring myself to . . . let Mike." I feel the blush blooming beneath my skin and look away.

"Do you trust me?"

"Yes."

"This is something I really want to experience with you, Bella. If you feel uncomfortable, just tell me and I'll stop. Promise." His eyes are earnest but also smolder with unbridled desire. He grasps one of my hands, entwining our fingers. "Just say the word." With his other hand, he uses his fingers to open me to him, placing a soft kiss there. More kisses whisper over my inner thighs until his hot, ragged breath is once again hovering over the ache between my legs.

I hold my breath. Edward places several gentle kisses over my sensitive skin before snaking his tongue out to taste me. There's no way to describe how good his tongue feels, and my fear is washed away on a wave of desire. He tightens his fingers down on mine as he continues to love me with his mouth. I fist the sheets with my other hand as my back arches instinctively.

The most powerful orgasm I've ever experienced shatters through me, and I cry out to him with abandon. I don't know or care what I'm saying, just that he knows he's the one who brought me to this. Hot tears spill from my eyes as I let go of the last vestiges of reservation.

I'm completely his now.

Afterward, Edward's body covers me, his green eyes staring into mine intently as he cups my face in his hands. "Are you all right?"

"Oh, yes. There are no words." I caress his face.

Desire flares in his eyes, and he mashes his lips against mine. In the back of my mind, I know he's fumbling in the side table drawer for a condom, but the thought flits away as fast as it comes up when his tongue slides against mine and I taste myself. Another sizzling jolt of yearning flares inside me, and I thread my fingers into the hair at the nape of his neck and hold on for dear life.

Between kisses, Edward manages to roll the condom on. He presses his face between my neck and shoulder, his breath hot and panting. "Jesus, Bella. I want you so much. Are you ready?"

I can't speak but tug at his hair until he raises his head to look into my eyes which hold his answer, and his lips come down on mine again. His denim-covered knees press my legs apart, and then he's inside me—rocking his pelvis against mine. The thought that he left his jeans on because he couldn't wait to be inside me is a huge turn on.

Edward slams into me over and over; the added stimulation from the edges of his jeans rubbing against my thighs brings me to the brink again. I let go of his hair and claw at his back hard enough to draw blood. He pulls away from the kiss for a moment and hisses between his teeth before sucking my bottom lip into his mouth. I come hard, embedding my nails into his shoulders and involuntarily arching against him. Edward throws his head back, his dog tags sliding along my chest as he lets loose a string of curses. The tendons stand out across his arms and chest, and his hips pump into me one final time before he collapses against me.

"Fuck, Bella. That was fantastic."

"You didn't even take your pants off," I tease.

Edward growls, turning us to the side and nipping at my neck. "I couldn't wait another second to be inside you." Then he lifts his head to look into my eyes. "You're not upset about that are you?"

I shake my head. "It made it all that much hotter—to know you wanted me that much."

"I'll always want you this way, Bella. You're my forever."

~*SN*~

Sunday morning we share breakfast in the restaurant at a table overlooking the garden. I feel fine until it's time to say goodbye to the inn. A sick feeling blooms in the pit of my stomach, and I wish we could stay here—or go anywhere at all—so we don't have to face real life.

When Edward takes my hand and places a kiss on the back, I feel a little better.

"We'll be okay, you know." He turns his head to smile at me as we turn out of the driveway, leaving the Clamber Hill Inn in the rear view.

"I know."

"Move in with me, Bella."

"What?"

"I don't want to sleep without you by my side anymore. There's no Tanya to run into there, and if you live with me, you won't have Jordin to deal with." Edward squeezes my hand but keeps his eyes on the road.

"Let me think it over. For the next few days at least, I can pick up some things from Delaney Hall."

When we get to the dorm, Becca isn't home. There's a padded envelope in the middle of my bed with no return address. I shove it in my purse, intending to open it later. I gather some things, leave Becca a note, and then we head over to Edward's new place. I can definitely see myself living here and sleeping in his arms every night.

~*SN*~

~*Edward*~

When we arrive at my apartment, I lead Bella into the bedroom, carting the few bags of belongings she packed. I've saved half the dresser and closet space in anticipation of her moving in. Thus far it's been wishful thinking, but after this weekend, I think it's only a matter of time before she falls asleep in my arms every night. I want to share everything with her, and after all that's happened to us, I can admit to myself that I hate it when she's out of my sight.

Bella smiles shyly, finally agreeing to store her things in the dresser. She's low maintenance and doesn't have many toiletries to put in the medicine cabinet. That's a refreshing change from Tanya, who had every beauty product known to mankind and only allowed me one small drawer in the dresser in addition to a solitary shelf and two feet of pole space in the closet.

I put my arms around Bella and nuzzle her neck. "What do you feel like for dinner? Would you like to go out?"

"I'd rather eat here. How about the Mexican place we tried a few weeks ago?"

"They don't deliver, but I can go pick it up."

"Yeah?" Bella goes up on tiptoe, sliding her arms around my neck. She looks up at me with those big brown eyes, and I realize there isn't much I wouldn't do to keep her happy.

Fifteen minutes later, I'm on my way to La Cantina with a list of what to get. Just as I pull into the parking lot, my cell rings.

"Hello?"

"Edward Cullen, please," a brusque female voice replies.

"This is Edward Cullen."

"Sir, I'm calling from Darmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center. You're listed as the emergency contact for Tanya Denali."

"What's happened?"

"Can you come down here, Mr. Cullen? Ms. Denali was attacked at her apartment. There isn't much else I can tell you over the phone."

I start to wonder if this is one of Tanya's ploys. "Is this some kind of joke?"

"No, I assure you it isn't, sir. I'll give you our number if you'd like to call back to confirm."

In the background, a paging system squawks and the typical sounds of the hustle and bustle of a hospital go on. Why would Tanya want to get me to a hospital anyway?

"That won't be necessary. Tell me where to go."

On the way there, I try my new number and find out it hasn't been connected yet. Then I call Bella's cell and get her voicemail. If her phone is in her purse, she rarely hears it. I leave her a message to let her know where I'll be.

An hour and a half later, after being shuffled around, asked to show ID, told to wait, and asked for my ID again, a plump nurse with short dark hair leads me to an elevator and pushes the button for the second floor. When we step off into the hallway, everything is hushed—the only sounds are the beeps of heart monitors and the press of air from ventilators.

"I need you to turn off your cell phone, please."

"Why?"

"We don't allow disturbances in the ICU, Mr. Cullen."

"ICU? What the hell happened to her?"

"This way." Her dark eyes show a moment of sympathy before her emotions are shuttered away behind her professional persona.

I shuffle along behind the nurse and pull my cell out to turn the ringer off as instructed. We make a few turns and reach the end of a short hall. A policeman stands watch by the door, and the nurse stops and gestures at me.

"This is Edward Cullen. He's Ms. Denali's emergency contact. They already checked his credentials downstairs."

The officer nods. "Go ahead."

The nurse holds the door open for me, and I enter the room to the beep of a heart monitor. Thank God there's no ventilator. I shuffle in slowly, unsure what I'm expected to do now.

"Ms. Denali has been sedated. She should be waking up soon, and the doctor will be making rounds in an hour or so."

"Okay."

"Let us know if you need anything, Mr. Cullen." The nurse pats me on the arm and leaves the room.

Yes, I need something! I want to yell. I need someone to tell me what the fuck is going on here.

I realize I can't cower by the door forever, so I make my way across the large room to Tanya's bedside. The room was obviously set up for two patients, but there's only one bed. I hover at its foot, an involuntary gasp escaping when my gaze lands on Tanya's face. She's dwarfed by the hospital bed, white sheets and knit blankets tucked up under her chin. Her head is sunk pretty deep into the pile of pillows that prop it up, but her face is quite clear.

A rainbow of bruising mottles the skin of Tanya's face. Both of her eyes are swollen shut, her nose is crooked, and her lip is split and puffy. Her blonde hair is matted with blood on one side. She looks so helpless and childlike buried beneath all those layers of white bedding. It hurts to look at her face, but she seems to be at peace for the moment.

I don't know what else to do, so I pull up a chair and wait.

Nobody comes into the room for the next hour. No police, no doctors or nurses. I'm tempted to try Bella again, but I have to leave this floor to do that. I don't want to chance missing the doctor.

A soft moan from Tanya draws my attention. The beeps of the heart monitor increase and then increase again. A nurse bustles into the room—completely ignores my presence—and checks the chart and machines before pulling a syringe out of her pocket and injecting it into the IV tube.

"There now, sweetie. That will make you feel better."

"What did you give her?" I ask.

"Morphine." The nurse smiles sadly on her way out.

"Edward?" Tanya's voice is no more than a raspy whisper. Her head turns slightly, but her eyes are swollen shut to the point I doubt she can see much more than shadows.

"I'm here. The hospital called me." I stand next to the bed awkwardly.

"You . . . came." Her words slur around her swollen lips.

"What happened?"

An awful, hoarse braying sound comes from Tanya. "He . . . hurt me. You weren't there. Why . . . weren't you there?"

"Why wasn't I where?"

She grips my hand, the hold almost painful. "Apartment . . . in the middle . . . of night. He broke in—nobody else on our floor. You . . . I slipped away from him and banged on your door . . . begged you to help me."

The alarm on the heart monitor goes off, and the same nurse rushes back into the room. "Ms. Denali . . . I need you to calm down. The Morphine should help you relax soon."

"No! No!" Tanya starts to struggle, pulling at the IV. When she attempts to lift her body, she shrieks with pain, and the nurse presses her down by the shoulders.

"You're going to hurt yourself. Relax. Don't try to fight the medication."

Tanya finally drifts off into an uneasy sleep. She murmurs my name over and over until I take her hand. Her fingers grip mine with a strength I didn't think she had right now. When I pull my hand away, she grows agitated, so I find myself trapped at her side for the time being.

The door swings open and a man wearing green scrubs and a white lab coat breezes in. His tag reads "Dr. Norman Banks." To me he looks more like a nurse, but I guess the days of wearing a suit beneath the lab coat are over in many places.

"Hi there. Mr. Cullen?" He opens the chart and peruses it before looking over at me. "I'm Dr. Banks. I understand you have some questions for me."

"Well, we can start with . . . what the hell happened to her?"

"Ms. Denali was badly beaten. Other than the obvious contusions on her face, she came in with some internal bleeding and has several broken ribs."

"Jesus! Was she . . ." I falter.

"Raped? No. He tried, but she fought him with everything she had."

I swallow hard. "Will she be okay?"

"That's a rather broad question, Mr. Cullen. Ms. Denali is expected to make a full physical recovery—psychologically, I can't say. With therapy, maybe."

"And the internal bleeding?"

"It was caused by one of the broken ribs, but we have all that under control. Now it's a matter of time and healing." He closes the chart and reaches out to shake my hand. "I'm glad she has someone here for support. She's going to need it over the coming weeks. Best of luck to you both."

He assumes I'm Tanya's significant other, and I don't bother to correct him. I'm too exhausted to explain myself to complete strangers. Tanya's death grip on my fingers never lets up even while she's heavily sedated. My fingers go numb, but it's a small price to pay when she's in such bad shape. I pull the chair as close to the bed as possible and slump down in it, allowing her the comfort of my touch. Eventually I fall asleep.

When I open my eyes, bright light is spilling through the bank of windows beside the bed. My joints are stiff, and most of my left arm is numb. I rake a hand through my hair and stretch my arms. Tanya is sleeping peacefully, most likely under the influence of Morphine, and this time she doesn't protest when I untangle my fingers from hers.

I glance at my watch and realize it's eight in the morning. Bella! I spring from the chair and lurch awkwardly from the room on stiff legs, making my way to a waiting room one floor down where I can use my cell phone. When I turn my phone on, I have several notifications—nine from Bella, three from Emmett, and two from my parents.

~*SN*~


A/N: Yup, the shit is about to hit the fan. Did you catch the padded envelope left for Bella? Big trouble. Tanya? Big trouble. Edward falling asleep at Tanya's bedside? Even bigger trouble. There are only a handful of chapters left! Care to toss out any theories? You know how I love to read theories!

Next story to update will be I Want It Painted Black. (Yes, really)

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