A/N: Hello, awesome readers! Ready to learn some seKrets?

A fondle from Edward to my lovely prereaders, Keye, Sandy, and Caz. Love to my awesome beta, SassySue (chayasara), for untangling my word yarn.


Chapter 27

~Wash Away That Which is Not Truth~

The greatest enemy of any one of our truths may be the rest of our truths. ~William James


~*Bella*~

When Edward walks into the living room with Esme, I'm surprised. The surprise turns to shock when I take in her disheveled appearance and the dark circles under her eyes. I've never seen Esme look haggard.

Edward's face is tight, concern flooding his bloodshot eyes. He has a duffel bag over his shoulder, which he drops behind the couch.

"Mom, can I get you a glass of water or something to eat?"

Esme brushes a few wisps of hair away from her face. "You have anything stronger?"

"Sure." Edward looks from Esme to me and back again before heading into the kitchen.

"Hello, Esme." I come around the couch and give her a hug.

She pulls me in so tightly, I can hardly breathe. "I'm so sorry, Bella. There was no way of knowing . . ."

My eyes widen, and I look at Edward over her shoulder. He's busy grabbing a bottle of liquor from the cabinet.

"What's wrong?" She trembles in my arms, and I stroke her hair.

There's a clink as Edward pours amber liquid into a glass tumbler. "Here, Mom."

Esme and I separate when Edward walks over and hands her the glass. She brings it to her lips with a shaking hand, spilling a few drops on the front of her coat. Edward watches her helplessly, his mouth opening and closing, so I put an arm around her shoulders and lead her to the couch.

"Thank you, dear."

Edward returns to the kitchen, watching us from behind the breakfast bar. He holds up the bottle. "Bella?"

I nod, and he pours two more drinks then joins us in the living room. He hands me a tumbler and sits on the love seat, leaving me on the couch beside Esme.

"Mom, what's going on?"

Esme gulps half of her drink in one shot, scrunching up her face as it goes down. "Haven't had bourbon in years. Packs a wallop." She laughs shakily and wipes the back of one hand across her mouth. "Edward, I hope you can forgive what I've done."

An unsettling feeling churns in my gut. "Maybe I should go . . . give you two some time."

Edward shakes his head at the same moment Esme does. "No."

Esme pats my knee. "Stay. This affects you."

"All right." I take a sip of the bourbon. It numbs my tongue and sets my throat on fire. For a moment, I wonder why anyone would willingly drink something so caustic, but then a comforting warmth blooms in my belly, taking the edge off.

Edward scrubs a hand across his face. "Mom, talk to me. I can't imagine there's anything you're capable of doing that I won't forgive."

Tears brim in Esme's eyes. "Thank you for saying so." She puts her drink on the coffee table and sits back, twisting her fingers together. "This is really hard. Edward . . . your therapist was right."

"About . . . ?"

"You were so young . . . I never dreamed you would remember it on some level, that it would become a part of your psychological makeup. I—I failed you." She drops her face in her hands, letting out a plaintive sob.

Edward leans so far forward, he almost falls off the love seat. He takes a long swallow of his drink. "Please . . . just tell me." His voice is gentle, but his eyes burn with need.

She takes a deep breath and raises her head, looking directly at him. "Edward . . . Carlisle and I—we're not your biological parents."

Of all the things she could say, that wasn't even on my radar.

Edward must feel the same because he laughs and shakes his head. "Mom, that's ludicrous! I mean, would you look at us?" He gestures between the two of them. "I couldn't resemble you more."

"That's true. You do look like me—but not your father." Esme looks up at the ceiling and takes a shuddering breath. "I've loved you since the moment you were born. You were so small, Edward . . . tiny and pink with curled fists. You came out squalling." She smiles, lids fluttering closed. "I'll never forget the moment I got the call that you were about to arrive." Tears trickle over her cheeks, and she balls her fists.

I touch her shoulder to offer comfort, glancing between her and Edward. Should I be here for this? I feel like a voyeur, an intruder.

Edward stares at his mother with an expression of helpless confusion. "Mom, what are you saying? Did you . . . have an affair?"

"No!" Esme's lids fly up, and her eyes blaze with green fire. "Your father is the love of my life. He was my first, my only."

"Help me understand, then."

"Clara called me that night. We hadn't spoken for years. She begged me to come, and I rushed to the hospital, so happy for the opportunity."

"Who the hell is Clara?" Edward's voice rises as if he's on the edge of sanity. He rakes his fingers through his hair with a shaky hand.

"Your birth mother. My sister."

"You don't have a sister!" Edward gulps the rest of his drink and stalks into the kitchen for a refill. He remains there, leaning against the breakfast bar. "Just . . . just tell me what's happening."

"Clara was a few years older than me. She was wild, getting involved with alcohol and drugs and bad boys. Dad insisted she settle down and follow house rules, so Clara told him to go to hell and moved out. Dad forbid me from talking to her though I did anyway. She was my sissy!

"He followed me one day, caught me bringing her some clothing and food. There was a huge blowout, and he gave me an ultimatum—either give up Clara or join her, living hand-to-mouth in the shitty part of town. I was only seventeen and didn't understand or desire her choice of lifestyle, so I went home with my father. It tore me up inside." A steady stream of tears cascades down Esme's face now, dripping off her chin and wetting her jacket and blouse. She doesn't seem to notice or care.

Edward stares at her with such intensity, his body rigid as stone. I can't tell what he's thinking. Grabbing a pack of tissues from my purse, I offer it to Esme.

"Thank you." She tugs out a tissue and mops at her face before taking a deep breath. "A few months later, Clara moved out of state with one of her many boyfriends. They drifted a lot. She'd send letters through a friend every so often. They were filled with lies—how great life was on the road, how she wished I could be with her, promises to come back for me. Through my college years, the letters slowed then stopped.

"It wasn't until a few years later, she called me from Seattle General to tell me my nephew was about to be born. Carlisle and I were already married. Emmett was a toddler." Esme shifts on the couch, shredding the damp tissue between her fingers, and looks at Edward. "Clara gave birth to you that night, Edward. She . . . had track marks on her arms . . . and bruises. She swore it was over with your father. Carlisle welcomed her into our home, and things were fine for a few weeks. But one night, she took you and disappeared. She left behind a note, telling a fairytale about how your father went through rehab and got clean. They were going to raise you together . . . " The sobbing starts in earnest, and Esme pulls more tissues out. "We tried to find you—even hired a private detective. I went to the police, but they said I had no rights. A child belongs with his parents, they said. What a laugh!"

Edward pours another bourbon and chugs it, putting the glass down hard on the counter. "Jesus Christ."

"Our investigator found them living in New Mexico. I tried to see her, but Antonio, your father, wouldn't let me near either of you. He spit in my face and threatened a restraining order.

"When you were three, a drug dealer killed Antonio, and Clara . . . was caught in the crossfire. You were alone in the apartment for days with nobody to take care of you." Esme covers her face. "Finally, a neighbor heard you crying. The authorities took you into custody. One of the inspectors contacted my investigator, and I went to get you. When you saw me, you called me ‛Mama' and clung to my legs. They arranged an adoption, and we took you home. You've been mine ever since. Edward, you're my blood, and in every way that matters, you are my son."

My mouth is agape. I want to comfort Esme, but Edward needs me more. I go to him, not sure what to do. He grabs me in his arms and crushes me against his chest.

"Holy fuck. I don't know what to think, what to say."

"Edward, I'm so sorry. Your father and I made the decision to treat you as our own. We never spoke of it again."

"Does Emmett know?"

"No. You were both so young, and Alice was just a baby. We moved to Forks and started a new life. Nobody knew the truth except us, the private detective, and the social workers in New Mexico. My parents were both gone by then."

Edward's arms tighten around me, his breathing ragged against my hair. "You never thought to tell me when I got older?" His voice holds no accusation, just a deep sense of weariness.

"We saw no reason to upend your life. Your biological parents were dead. If I knew there was a chance you'd be scarred this way . . ." Her voice hitches. "You and Tanya, the insecurity, the need to be loved—it's all my fault! You must h-hate me."

Edward lets go of me and rushes to Esme, pulling her up from the couch into a hug. "No, Ma. I could never hate you. Look what you went through for me. If you didn't keep track of me, who knows where I could have ended up! I love you so much." They sway together in the middle of the living room.

I pour myself another drink. The amber liquid goes down easier, a pleasant warmth spreading from the center of me outward until my joints and limbs feel elastic. In the living room, Edward and Esme huddle together on the couch. He strokes her arm and whispers to her. I can't hear the words, but it's obvious he's comforting the only mother he's ever known. Some people might react with anger at hearing such a stunning revelation, but I'm so glad Edward understands why his parents handled it this way.

"Bella, my mom is going to stay the night. Why don't we take her to dinner?" Edward stands across the breakfast bar from me and places his hand on top of mine.

"No, you two need time together. I'll head back to Delaney Hall—I've got so much catching up to do anyway."

"Are you sure?" Edward ducks his head to look at me.

"Of course! Your mom isn't here every day, and I am."

"There's room for the three of us . . ."

I caress Edward's cheek. "Another time. I'll see you tomorrow."

I gather my things and say goodbye to Esme, reassuring her that things will be all right.

Edward walks me out. The moment the apartment door closes, he grabs me in his arms, pressing my back against the wall. His fingers tangle in my hair, one hand cupping my jaw. "Thank you." Our eyes meet, his bloodshot and wet with tears.

I smile, rubbing my fingers lightly over his chest. "For what?"

"Giving me some time with Mom. We do need it."

"Edward, I love you. We have the rest of our lives to be together and work through this. At least now you know the origins and have a starting point for your therapy."

Edward strokes the hair along the side of my cheek. "Tanya was never understanding—the way you are. She squelched who I really am, made me feel inferior." He cups my face, kissing me hard. "You bring out the best parts of me, make me want to be a better man. Life is so much fun with you—even if we're just sitting around studying. I thought I was in love with Tanya, but I didn't even know what love was until you walked into that church."

I swallow around the lump forming in my throat. I can't speak without crying, so I kiss him back, pouring everything I feel into it.

~*SN*~

When I arrive at Delaney Hall, there's a certain hush blanketing the space. I can tell Becca's spending the weekend with Jim because the dishes are sitting in the drainer, and tracks from the vacuum crisscross the carpet.

I flop on the couch and tilt my head against the back with my eyes closed. My psychology lectures await, but there's no chance of concentrating on them tonight. The liquor still creates a false sense of relaxation that my mind rejects. Thoughts whirl about in my head, moving faster and faster.

Edward is adopted.

Esme is his biological aunt.

He was alone for days when his parents were killed.

I wonder if they were good to him when they weren't doing drugs or if he was neglected. An image of a toddler with tufts of reddish hair and scared green eyes calling out for his mama floats behind my lids.

Edward, the popular jock in high school, always surrounded by cheerleaders, yet so profoundly insecure that seeing me in Mike's arms was enough to set off a chain of events that impacted both of our lives. Of course, Tanya took full advantage—can't forget her part in all this or Mike's for going along with her evil plan.

My thoughts turn to Tanya's latest schemes. She hires someone to attack her, and Edward ends up spending the night in her hospital room; then she sends me that awful DVD, and I break things off with Edward, falling right into her web of lies and deceit.

Tanya must have realized what she was doing to Edward. Maybe she enjoyed rough sex, but Tanya lured him into drinking and popping pills and didn't care as long as she could mold him into what she wanted.

A knot forms in my chest, pulling tighter and tighter.

Tanya Denali is not getting away with this.

I pull out my cell phone and dial my father.

"Bells? It's so good to hear your voice! Thought you forgot about your old dad."

My throat jams up. Hearing Charlie's voice makes me feel like a little girl again. I want to crawl onto his lap so he can put his strong arms around me and tell me everything's going to be all right.

"Bella? You there, honey?"

He's probably in the living room with an icy can of beer, watching a baseball game; the cheering of the crowd coming through the speaker yanks me back in time. I've never been a big sports fan, but I loved sitting in the living room with my dad, watching games. Sometimes I'd bring a book with me, but I rarely ended up reading any of it. The only way to glimpse the real Charlie, not the gruff Police Chief, is to watch sports with him. It's the one time he truly lets his guard down and experiences true joy.

I burst into full-on, blubbering tears. "Wish I . . . was th-there . . . to watch a g-game . . . with you, Daddy."

"Well, now I know something is wrong—you never call me Daddy. What the hell is going on over there, Isabella Marie?"

~*SN*~

~*Edward*~

After Bella leaves, I slide down the wall and rest my forehead on my knees. My mind is hyper-aware, despite the amount of Wild Turkey I slammed back. It would take a lot more than that to get me drunk right now.

I grind my knuckles into my eyes hard enough to create yellow flashes. How could an abandoned little boy live inside me all these years without my knowledge? I grew up as part of a healthy, whole family unit, treated the same as my siblings, yet somewhere inside, I'm still broken.

My mother—my real mother—is brave. She could have left me hanging, wondering what caused the psychological issues, instead of hopping on a plane and confessing the truth. Mom thought there was a real possibility I'd hate her after the truth was out, yet she still told me.

That's the kind of woman I belong with, not one who lies and schemes, caring only about herself. Bella is honest and brave like Esme. Tanya is selfish and dishonest, a lot like my biological mother was.

When I push the apartment door open, it seems to weigh a hundred pounds. Mom is in the kitchen, washing dishes. Her duffel bag is no longer against the wall, probably already on the futon in my office.

"Ma, what are you doing?"

"Cleaning up. What do you want for dinner? I can go shopping . . ."

"Not a chance. I'm taking my mother out on the town."

She freezes in the middle of drying a coffee mug and turns to face me, her eyes shining with tears—eyes that look so much like mine. "I love you so much. I never wanted any of this pain for you." She puts the mug away, tosses the dishtowel over her shoulder, and pulls me into a hug.

I rest my chin on top of her disheveled hair. "I know. You and Dad have given me everything, and it means even more to me now that I know the truth."

"I'd like to freshen up before dinner." Mom pats her hair self-consciously when we part.

"You're always beautiful, Ma."

"Oh, you charmer! Carlisle taught you well."

I follow my mother into the office and pluck the duffel off the futon, bringing it into my room. When she opens her mouth to argue, I silence her with a look. "You are not sleeping on that lumpy futon. Take my room."

I leave her to freshen up and snicker a few seconds later when she goes into the bathroom and exclaims, "I went out in public looking like this?"

~*SN*~

Gianna's is a cozy, Italian restaurant just outside of Hanover. I've heard the food is superb, but I mainly chose it for the lack of associations. I've never been to Gianna's, and that means I've never taken Tanya or Bella there.

We enter the cozy vestibule, and I approach the reception desk, requesting a quiet table. We have to wait twenty extra minutes, but the host finally seats us in a round, high-backed booth on the quieter side of the dining room.

Once the waitress takes our orders, I grab Mom's fingers. "It was so brave and selfless of you to come forward and tell me all this."

Her expression is incredulous. "How could I not? Once I knew how the past still affects you, there was no other option."

I look at the ceiling and smile, shaking my head. "Not true. Not everyone would choose as you did. Tanya wouldn't know the truth if it bit her. In fact, she's quite the deceiver."

"How about Bella?" Mom asks with a cocked eyebrow.

"She'd be honest—even if it cost her."

"You've chosen well, baby boy." She blushes and ducks her head. "Sorry. I know you're too old for silly nicknames."

Mom hasn't called me that since third grade. When I turned ten, I told her to "knock it off before I die of embarrassment."

"I'll let you get away with it this time." I grin and wink at her.

Through some kind of unspoken, mutual agreement, we don't talk about the past or any other emotionally charged issues once our meals arrive. We exchange small talk about her garden club, my studies, and how hard Dad's been working lately.

After the waitress wraps up the leftovers, we linger over coffee and pastries. Mom picks flaky bits off with her fingers, making a mess on the china plate. I sip a strong, black coffee, enjoying the boost of energy it brings to my tired bones.

"You must have questions for me . . ."

I consider this for a moment. What do I need to know? "When you first brought me home, was I . . . okay?"

"You were withdrawn but clingy, too. You couldn't bear to be away from me for long."

"Did I . . . miss her?"

Mom smiles sadly. "You didn't really know, honey. To you, I was your mom."

"I don't understand."

Mom sighs and opens her purse, pulling out a well-worn photo and handing it to me. Two teen girls sit on a wooden bench in their Sunday best: one in a pink dress with a white hat and the other in a white dress with a pink hat. Their cheeks press together, caramel hair curling around their shoulders, green eyes dancing with mirth. They could almost be twins, but one is a slight bit taller than the other, her face a tad more mature.

"Wow."

"Exactly. You thought I was your mommy and that I disappeared for a while to . . . to find us a better place to live."

"What about my biological father?"

"You never asked."

"Did they ever love me? Were they good to me?"

A small sob hiccups out of Mom, and she presses a hand to her chest. "I don't know, honey. You were healthy—no signs of physical abuse—but beyond that . . . I can't say. We did our best with you, treated you as our own. Rest assured, I've never thought of you as anything other than my son, and neither has Carlisle."

When we return to the apartment, I call and talk to my father for a few minutes. Our discussion is brief, full of awkwardness and choked-up moments of silence. He offers the same assurances my mother did, and tears sting my eyes when he says he loves me. When we're done, I give the phone to Mom, who disappears into my bedroom, speaking to him in low tones for quite a while.

I sit on the couch with the lights off, still processing today's revelations. Part of me yearns to call Bella, but I text her instead.

Had a nice dinner w/Mom. Still processing all this . . . See you tomorrow? I love you, beautiful. ~ E

My phone vibrates less than a minute later.

I'm here. Love you, too. ~ B

I smile, feeling warm inside, because I know that Bella's message, though short, is heartfelt and true. She'll always be there for me as long as we're honest with each other. There are no more secrets to pry us apart.

~*SN*~

The clank of pots and pans wakes me from a fitful slumber. When I told Mom that fucking futon was lumpy, I had no idea how true it was. Ugh.

I crack open one eye and scrunch it closed against the blinding light streaming through the window. Sliding my legs over the side of the futon, I sit up and rub my aching back before pulling on yesterday's clothes. By the time I remembered pajamas last night, Mom was already asleep in my room.

The hush of voices from the kitchen piques my curiosity, and I venture out of my office and peek around the wall to the living room. My mom is perched on a stool at the breakfast bar with a steaming mug while Bella makes breakfast.

Almost as if she senses me, Bella turns and spies me leaning against the wall, watching. "Good morning, sleepy head. Feel like an omelet?"

"I feel like someone beat the crap out of me, but I'd love to have an omelet just as soon as I clean up and find some fresh clothes." I rub my tired eyes. "Morning, Ma. How did you sleep?"

"Morning, dear. I slept like a baby. It was so generous of you to give up your bed."

Got that right.

When I go in my bedroom to freshen up, I notice the bed is already made, and Mom's packed bag is sitting on the end of it. I'm not sure how I feel about such a short visit. Part of me wants her to stay, but another part is anxious to get to work. I want to set up a session with Dr. Pyke, discuss things with Bella, and give myself time to mull everything over. So many conflicting feelings and desires bandy about in my head.

By the time I shower and dress, Bella and Mom have already finished breakfast. I sit next to my mom at the breakfast bar while Bella cooks my omelet.

As she places the plate in front of me, she says, "Listen, I'm going to drive your mom to the airport, and then I'll come back."

"I can take her."

"You relax and eat. I'm sure you need some time to yourself anyway."

Mom nudges my arm. "Listen to Bella."

Before they leave, I hold my mom for a long time and thank her again for telling me the truth. She tears up, holding my face tenderly.

A big part of me is relieved to have the apartment to myself after they're gone. I start examining every move I've made since high school and attributing much of it to what happened when I was a toddler; then I second-guess myself and wonder if I'm just making excuses for my shitty decisions.

Even though it's the weekend, I pull Dr. Pyke's card out of my wallet. The call is answered by a machine but offers a beeper number for emergencies. This doesn't qualify as a mental health crisis, so I leave a message. "Dr. Pyke, this is Edward Cullen. I . . . um . . . there have been some developments, and I'd like to move my appointment up if I can. My mom was able to shed some light on my childhood. I'd appreciate it if you would call me at your earliest convenience."

Something inside me expands until it feels as if I'll explode. I go into the kitchen and grab the bottle of Wild Turkey from the cabinet, my knuckles white around the neck of the bottle. I sink onto a stool at the breakfast bar and put the bottle down, staring into the amber depths. I pick it up and tip it to my lips, stopping before any comes out, then put it down again.

Numbing my pain is how I got where I am.

Drinking.

Popping Albright's little blue pills.

Losing myself in Tanya.

Allowing myself to be manipulated, appeased, and misdirected.

It's important to keep a clear head. I pour the rest of the bottle down the drain.

My cell rings. I don't recognize the number. "Hello?"

"Edward, it's Dr. Pyke."

"Thank you for calling me back. I know it's the weekend."

"No problem. I was in my office catching up on paperwork. If you can be here within the hour, I have time to meet with you to discuss your new discoveries."

Something twisted tight inside begins to unwind slowly. "That would be awesome. I'll be right there."

When I enter the brownstone and pass the spot in the hall where I manhandled Bella the other day, I shudder. How many times have I come close to fucking things up with Bella, and how much more will I put her through before this is over?

I knock on the door, and Dr. Pyke welcomes me in. She's casually dressed in jeans and a tailored blouse.

"Come in. Have a seat. Can I offer you a water?"

"No, thanks." I rub sweaty palms on my jeans and sit in one of the chairs facing her desk.

Dr. Pyke appears relaxed when she takes her seat, just like my first visit. "So, Edward, where would you like to begin?"

"Well, after my visit with you, I called my mom to ask if she knew of any potential issues from childhood. She said no, but the next night, she hopped a plane and showed up at my door."

Dr. Pyke raises her brows but folds her hands together and waits patiently for me to go on.

I explain everything Mom told me about her sister and how I came to be part of the Cullen clan. As I tell the story, a knowing gleam appears in Dr. Pyke's eyes, and she nods often. Explaining my history dries out my mouth, draining me all over again, so I take her up on the water.

Dr. Pyke looks thoughtful. And calm, always calm. "How do these revelations make you feel?" When I stare, she continues. "You recited the story to me, and I can tell you've made some connections, but what's going on inside you?"

The need to move overcomes me, and I leave my chair to pace around her office. The empty water bottle collapses in my fist with a satisfying crunch, and I toss it into the wastebasket. I run my fingers through my hair with a huff. "Wow. Well, I feel really stupid, for one. How can it be that I didn't know all of this was hiding inside me, just waiting to be . . . to be triggered?"

"Early childhood trauma is like that, Edward," she answers in an even voice, which just agitates me all the more.

"Let me get this straight. You're basically telling me that what happened when I was three dictates who I am today?"

"Not at all. Those events have a bearing on who you are, an influence over your native proclivities, but they don't define you—not unless you allow them to. Now that you're aware of what caused certain behaviors, the issues can be worked on."

"So . . . when I saw Bella with Mike back in high school, it triggered memories of being abandoned when I was a child?"

"That's my best guess, yes. You were essentially abandoned by your parents, left alone to fend for yourself until someone found you. That is extremely traumatic for a child."

"And when Tanya swooped in to save me, I clung to her at first. Later on, she encouraged the alcohol and drug use . . . the rough sex. I just—"

"Edward, it's clear Tanya has her own set of issues. You were looking for someone who would be there for you, and in that moment, she was. Later on, Tanya probably exploited your weaknesses in an effort to keep you."

I grimace. "Like rats in a maze. Is this common—that there are so many tangled up layers of issues between people?"

"Unfortunately, many of us come with baggage. Sometimes we find people who raise us up, and sometimes we latch onto those who drag us down. Be encouraged, though. You know what the issues are, and you can begin the healing process."

I leave Dr. Pyke's office feeling somewhat empowered. The way ahead might be bumpy, but I'm ready.

Before pulling away from the curb, I check my text messages.

Released from hospital and staying with Kate. Please come to me. We belong together. ~ Your T

Anger rockets through me. Could Tanya be that delusional? Apparently so, because the next text is from her, too.

If I close my eyes, I can still feel your hands gripping my hips as you pound into me. You claim to love Miss Vanilla, but we both know what you really like. ~T

"Fuck you, Tanya," I whisper, resting my forehead against the steering wheel.

I don't want what we had, never truly wanted that life—at least not sober. When I sift through my memories, they make a lot more sense through the filter of what Mom told me about my past. I was vulnerable, and Tanya took full advantage. I allowed her to lead me down an unhealthy road, and part of me had to know it on some level—I'm hardly blameless in all this.

I know her texts should go ignored, but I can't help myself.

We. Are. Done. ~E

There's one more text. I let out a breath of relief when I see it's from Bella. It doesn't even matter what it says, just knowing it's from her makes me feel better.

On my way home from airport. Talked to Charlie last night—will tell you about it when I get there. Love you! ~B

I love you, beautiful. Have some stuff to tell you, too. ~E

When I get home, Bella's already there. She's sitting on the couch with the empty bottle of Wild Turkey on the coffee table in front of her.

"Hey, beautiful!"

"Hey." She looks at me and holds up the bottle. "Did you drink the rest of this after we left this morning?"

"God, no! I won't lie—I was tempted. I had it in my hand . . . even put the bottle to my lips . . . but I ended up pouring it down the drain. I figured easy access to past crutches wasn't a good idea."

Bella lets out a breath. "I'm so glad. I mean, you can drink if you want to . . . and I'd never presume to tell you what to do . . ."

I sit down and take her hand. "Bella, stop. It's okay. Did Mom make her flight okay?"

"Yup."

I put my arm around Bella, and she snuggles close, laying her head on my shoulder. "I called Dr. Pyke after you left. She happened to be at her office and told me to come for a session."

"That's great! How'd it go?"

I rehash my therapy session and explain how Dr. Pyke feels I can make progress now that I'm aware of my past. Bella enthusiastically agrees.

I debate whether or not to tell her about the texts from Tanya, but secrets and miscommunications are what landed us in trouble in the first place.

"In the spirit of full disclosure, I have something else to tell you. Tanya texted me twice."

Bella's body goes rigid, and her tone is deadly. "Oh, really?"

"She's fucking delusional."

"Can I see them?"

"If you want to, but I think—"

"I want to."

I pull my phone out and show her Tanya's texts and my reply. She's quiet for a few minutes, reading Tanya's words a few times.

"That crazy bitch. She'll never stop, will she?"

I shift on the couch, turning her toward me. "It doesn't matter how hard she tries or what she wants. I'm with you as long as you'll have me. There are no more secrets for Tanya to uncover." Bella looks down, and I tip her chin up until our eyes meet. "Do you trust me?"

"Of course I trust you!"

"Then leave Tanya where she belongs—on the outside and in the past. She has no power unless we give it to her."

Bella leans forward and presses her lips to mine. Sliding my hands into her hair, I angle my head to deepen the kiss and sweep my tongue into her warm mouth. She digs her fingers into my biceps, setting off a flare of tightening heat in my groin.

My mind focuses only on Bella and how much I want her. Without breaking the kiss, I slide one arm under her legs and the other around her back and scoop her off the couch, heading for my room. I kneel on the bed and try to lower her carefully, but she slips from my hold and bounces against the mattress, dark hair fanned out like a halo.

Bella looks up at me. "What are we doing?" Her voice is husky, cheeks flushed.

Hovering above her, I brush my lips against hers and slide my hand under the front of her shirt, gliding over silken skin until my palm encounters rough lace. I nibble along her jaw and whisper in her ear. "I want you. I know we decided to wait, and it's okay if we do." I'll just have to rub one out in the shower while dreaming of you—maybe once every hour.

Bella moans softly and rolls her hips against me. "No."

I lift my head, confused and more than a little hopeful. "No what?"

"Waiting." She grabs my face, looking into my eyes with fire. "Absolutely no more waiting." And then she mashes our lips together.

~*SN*~


A/N: What do you think of Esme's revelations? Even though she and Carlisle did their best, Edward was still affected by the trauma. :-( I expect this story to be 2-3 more chapters.

If you haven't checked out my new dystopian, A Measure of Grace, I'd love you to join me! It's an all human, Edward/Bella story that takes place after a deadly virus sweeps the earth. Think Walking Dead without the zombies. AMoG posts every other Tuesday.

Follow me on Twitter: at SaritaDreaming or at SarahAisling

Fanfiction blog: saritadreaming dot word press dot com