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Previously on SOUL…after months of fighting their urges, Professor Swan and Edward experience a drunken night of kissing and groping. For Edward, things escalate quickly. The next day, Bella, in a moment of panic, finds him at the gym and suggests he end his infatuation with her. He negotiates a pause to his courting until the end of the semester:
"All or nothing," she muttered, pacing. I would not pay to be in her contrary head just then, it was a mindfuck.
Her shoulders slumped. "Okay, okay."
"Six weeks. Then I graduate."
We smiled and acted like we did not willfully jail our libidos until the end of the semester.
I was going to murder someone.
The next day, and the day after that, we pretended as though our drunken night never happened. I followed Bella's lead and didn't talk about it. We acted like we'd never had the pleasure of skin-to-skin contact, as if shutting down our lust and going about our business would be la-di-da.
But the cat was out of the bag. Our chemistry was off the chart, and there was no denying it. I caught her looking at me when she thought I was preoccupied; small glances that came off as tricks of the imagination to a less observant person. But I had the advantage of shadowing her for three months. She was attracted to me sexually, she had made it clear, and in my quest to make her mine, it was a promising start. I aimed to work the angle.
That she didn't push me away after I confessed my intentions gave me hope. But Hope was a tough emotion to subsist on when Patience, my specialty, was failing me. I struggled to play the part of a platonic friend when I held the knowledge of a star-shaped birthmark on her left breast.
It felt cruel to wait until the end of the semester, but she insisted on staying the course to save face with the university. I had no choice. The situation was driving me insane, as were my friends, who all felt compelled to add their two-cents on my love life.
At Riley's, the whole gang sat at the bar celebrating the beginning of Spring Break.
"Let me get this straight. She finally let you kiss her and dry-hump her on your first date?" said Ben to me.
I cut Emmett a look.
"What did you want me to do? He was in the room when I told Mike."
"You guys are worse than a sewing circle," I told them.
"Don't worry about me. I'll take it to my grave," promised Mike, hand over heart, like a Boy Scout. We all turned our heads toward Ben.
"What? I just found out. Who would I tell?"
"Popped your nut before you could tango, eh, young Cullen?"
"Marcus. So what now? The whole bar knows?"
Marcus pulled up a stool. When he got deep in his cups, he liked to either write in his corner like a misanthrope or talk your ear off. Such was my luck, he was in the mood for the latter. "It happens to everyone, son. Young Ben and I were chatting in the men's room. Do not begrudge friends who want to help."
Help. That's what they called placing bets on how long Bella and I would hold out. Emmett, inspired by my newfound aggressiveness, was overconfident at two weeks. "I like this side of you," he said. "I knew you had Mr. Nasty in you."
On the other hand, Mike thought my inexperience worked against me, especially with an older woman. Maybe she was testing me, he ventured, maybe she liked the chase. And Ben, he chalked it up to the go-to excuse guys my age deal in. "She's playing games, Cullen. Every woman does it, it's in their DNA."
With that kind of advice, I motioned to the bartender he should cut my friends off.
In the end, only one person made any sense, which came as no surprise.
"You guys are dense," said Rose, disgusted with the conversation she was an accidental party to. To Ben and Mike she spoke slowly as if to children. "You need to call your mothers and ask if you weren't dropped on your heads at birth." Then she turned her elegant blonde head to my curmudgeon of a mentor. "I'm sorry, Marcus, is it?"
Rose, who had landed in the great city of Tallahassee that morning with the poise and outfit that screamed young, urban professional, had demanded that Emmett and I give her a tour of our country bumpkin scene. Tally was no upstate New York, but Rose didn't want to be impressed, she wanted to be entertained. Cut the tourist crap, she had said, she wanted local color.
So Emmett and I, perhaps dumbly, drove her to the first place that came to mind.
She sat through our talk with the skepticism of an atheist walking into church. Marcus had gone off on a long, crude rant about man's sexual prowess, "You have to mount her like an animal."
Rose had heard enough. "You may be my friend's professor, but your assessment of what women want is full of shit."
Marcus gave her the full measure of his bleary stare, half-expecting, I suppose, backpedaling on her behalf. But Rose had years to hone the steely countenance that intimidated high school boys, not even the hardened Marcus was immune. Sensing that he had underestimated her, Marcus sank into his seat like a grump who decided that disturbing the hornets' nest was more trouble than it was worth. He shrugged and surrendered without a fight. "She's a live one, boys," he muttered before sulking into his whiskey.
Emmett, tolerant of Marcus' grandstanding, had shown obvious impatience with his drunken ramblings. It struck me how different, almost gentle, Emmett became around Rose. He leaned in and urged her on, "Don't hold back." The blush at the tips of her ears, a sight I hadn't seen since her boy band days, said more than words. It told me the hours Emmett spent on the phone with her had made them closer, they had the sort of familiarity that explained why their hug at the airport lingered.
Rose turned to me. "Bella is not playing games, not at her age, not with her life. A young guy, a student, even, comes sniffing around and how do you expect her to act? Of course she's retreating. No offense, but you can be intense when you go after what you want. Give her time to sort it out. She'll come around."
We grew silent. Rose sipped on a vodka soda with a satisfied smile. "Besides, if she hasn't pushed you away so far, it's only a matter of time." She slid a ten-dollar bill toward Ben. "I give them 'til the end of the week."
"Were you dead?"
"If I was, you brought me back," I replied, trying to wake up. I was too groggy to know what I was saying, and to whom I was saying it. It was one-thirty in the morning and I was slowly waking from a dream that was quickly fading away. I pulled the phone away from my ear. I did not remember answering it. Five missed calls. All from Bella.
"I envy people who can sleep deeply," she said as if in mid-conversation.
"This is a good time of night to try it." I stumbled to the bathroom and splashed water on my face. While I was happy to hear her voice, I was too exhausted from a long day of work to entertain the fantasy that she was calling me for romantic reasons. "Why do I have a feeling this is not a social call?"
"How do you feel about breaking and entering?"
"Do I want to know?" I said, finding the cleanest pair of jeans I owned. As it was when Bella was in professor mode, you could expect a call from her at any hour of the day with a new lead or breakthrough (amazing how many tiny discoveries have to be made before a true eureka hits).
She had received a call. Another spider-loving compadre had observed a black widow virgin in his area. It would be the third known in existence, but unlike Bella's black widows, his lived in the wild. He had heard of her work and faxed her his findings earlier in the day.
"Dr. Henry. I met him at a conference once. A short fellow with an unfortunate lisp, poor man. He's recorded similar observations as we have about Leah and Emily, but for the one difference."
I yawned. "What's that?"
"The vastly diverse habitats between our specimens. I need to check his images against mine. I need access to the electron microscope on campus."
"No time like the present. Besides, I don't want to go through Vanderlay for the key. He's liable to make me wait days, the boar."
"I suppose if I don't go, you'll find another way."
"I don't want to wake Angela."
"I'm honored." I located my keys and checked my wallet. "Bring bail money," I said.
"We won't need it. I'll take care of you," she responded before she could take it back.
Maybe it was the timing of the call, in the middle of the night like it held promise for something more, or maybe it was her teasing, but it made me feel good, bold. "Remains to be seen. I'll be there in half-an-hour."
I met her on her porch as she was locking up. Bacon whined behind the door.
"I'll be back, scaredy cat." She wore a baggy sweatshirt emblazoned with Chief Osceola over a pair of black yoga pants.
"You pass for a student in that," I said, not hiding my approval.
"We're going to campus during off hours, I better look like I belong there."
The sweater barely covered her ass. She cleared her throat, gaining my attention. I watched her swallow like she was suddenly unsure of her bright idea to sneak away with me in the middle of the night.
Before I could make our situation any more awkward, I pointed to the book bag at her side. "What's in there?"
"Tools to hide the body," she said, recovering with her standard cheekiness. She slung the backpack over a shoulder and skipped down the steps as if eager to treat our late-night rendezvous like any other outing. "Actually, they're just slides. We should get a move on."
"Consider the subject dropped."
We parked two blocks away from the science building. I could say that it was a Mission Impossible, hearts racing type of break-in but it was a science lab, not Fort Knox. The janitorial shift worked late at night, but they had left hours ago.
Campus security, on the other hand, circled the grounds all night. I was her lookout. The fewer questions to answer, the better. We accessed the building with her faculty key card. The real trick was breaking into Vanderlay's office and finding his key to the lab with the electron microscope. Not a challenge given how efficiently Bella picked the lock to his office with a hairpin, like a professional cat burglar. (Later, she would confess it was a simple matter of an Internet search.) We found the key glinting in the dark on a stack of fly-fishing magazines like a tiny beacon.
The microscope, white and shaped like a small silo, towered five feet above the desk on which it sat. Bella powered it on, then slid the images out of her backpack and placed one under the lens. "This imaging focuses in on everything," she said.
"What are you looking for?"
"Hair. Chemosensitive hairs, to be exact. There has to be a disparity between Leah and the specimen in Guatemala."
"Guatemala?" It hadn't occurred to me the third black widow would come from so far away.
"Hmmhmm. That's where this little one is from."
She had already tuned me out, distracted by the images on the screen. She magnified on different parts of the spider's body while muttering her own brand of humor. "Come out, come out with your tarsi up."
I wandered among the rows of specimens. I tapped on a glass enclosure filled with busy ants. It looked like a kid's first ant farm. The label listed the name of the study and its owner, 'Vanderlay'. What would happen if I let them free to scatter outside?
"Have you ever thought about releasing Leah?"
"Why would I want to do that?"
"Instead of studying her in captivity, you let her out, see if her mate comes after her. Open up the dating pool."
"I won't risk something happening to her again. Have you forgotten I had to save her from the clutches of a developer in Louisiana?"
The soft whirr of the microscope gave way to the sound of a printer starting up. Bella was loading paper into the tray. "Besides, it might not be necessary." She called me over. On the screen, we viewed the underside of the Guatemalan black widow. The hairs on its body magnified to the point of large spikes. "What am I looking at?"
"Evidence that this creature once released pheromones onto her web, you can tell by the way the hair near her spinneret leans sideways. Leah and Emily, on the other hand, have shown no indication of ever doing this. They're not releasing pheromones at all." She rubbed her temples with her fingers. "Too many questions," she said. "But, still, very exciting. I have to call my colleague and discuss. This is, this is just wonderful, Mr. Cullen. Let me print this out and we'll be on our way."
I poked my head into the hallway. It was quiet but for the machines behind me. Then I heard footfalls squeak across the corridor. A flashlight shined on the wall in front of me. I backed inside and turned off the lights, locking us in.
"Someone's coming. Shut it off."
"I'm almost done," she said, alarmed.
Working from the glow of the monitor, she turned off the microscope and printer, snatching the last image from its tray and shoving it into her bag.
The air went silent. We waited for the footsteps to pass, our backs pressed beside the door. Not ten seconds passed, but it felt like minutes.
"I thought you said no one was going to be here," I whispered.
"There's some valuable research being conducted in this building. Maybe they've added extra security." She shrugged.
We waited until we heard a steel door groan shut at the end of the hallway leading into the next wing.
I threaded my fingers with hers and tugged her to me. I opened the door, checked the coast was clear, and sprinted to a side exit at the opposite end of the building.
Outside, we hit a sheet of rain. "These can't get wet," she said, clutching her backpack. I grabbed it and stuffed it under my jacket.
"What are you doing?"
I didn't answer. I turned around and motioned for her to hop on. She hesitated for a second, but eventually pulled the hood of her sweatshirt over her head, and leapt on my back. I ran across the lawn carrying Bella, one hand under her knees and the other protecting her treasured research. I maneuvered around puddles, guided by the orange glow of the street lamps. The rain came down like needles. She gripped me tighter. We laughed all the way to the car.
Back at her place, we changed into dry clothes. Ever since she allowed me an office, I kept a modest wardrobe in her home for moments between the gym and her place. I had made myself comfortable in sweats and a t-shirt while we brainstormed in her home lab. It was where she kept Leah and Emily. They flickered around in an empty plastic container once used for packs of Twizzlers. A pocket-sized camera mounted on one corner recorded their movements 24/7, tracking all of their suitors' failed mating attempts.
It was three o'clock in the morning and I sat on a couch, struggling to keep my eyes open while she paced, theorizing out loud, in a sort of jazzy stream-of-consciousness. It was impressive how her mind worked, precise and nimble, focused, the very opposite of my state. I was warm, and comfortable, and too tired to contribute anything of value. I closed my eyes, just for a second, I told myself. I snuggled into the couch and trailed off.
I woke up to a rooster crowing from over the fields. A quilt blanket covered me. Bella sat in her chair, watching me with a curious expression that dissolved once I roused. In its place was a pleasantly neutral face. In her hand, she held a steaming mug of coffee. It read, "Arachnologists do it better." She handed it to me.
"Hi, sleepy head."
I croaked out a good morning. "What time is it?"
"Sorry I passed out on you."
"You apologize too much. I'm the one who's sorry for forcing you out of bed and putting you in danger."
"We weren't in danger," I said. I sent a prayer to the coffee gods for the headiness that followed the first sip of caffeine. "Did you call your contact in Guatemala?"
She clinked my cup with hers. A spark of excitement lit her up from within. "He thinks the answer is in their silk. I told him I checked, but given what we've seen, I have no option but to listen to him." She slouched, suddenly moving between enthusiasm and self-doubt without so much as taking a breath. "Maybe my approach was off."
She went on about their conversation, but I stopped listening. The room was warm and there we were, newly wakened, and sipping coffee in loungewear – for Bella, the ubiquitous black skirt and an untucked t-shirt while barefoot was loungewear.
I couldn't help notice the intimacy of the moment, in large part to the sly presence of my morning wood.
"Why are you looking at me like that?"
"You're radiant when you get like this," I said.
We spent a few minutes in silence, then it hit me. "When do you leave for Guatemala?" I asked, masking a crushing disappointment that threatened to make me reckless.
It was impossible to miss the regret on her face and I knew. I put down my cup. We had reached the end of our dallying.
"It won't be for a while yet. I have my own research here." Her chest rose and fell under her thin white shirt. She swallowed. "I will miss you." The looming deadline of her exit from my life forced the issue. The time for euphemisms was over.
"I couldn't have done last night without you," she said softly.
I was tired of waiting for the right time, of letting nature take its course. Nature didn't determine my next move, I did. I pulled her onto my lap and she gave no objections.
She melted the like end of a sigh. A kiss on my bicep, and the sound of her giving in, she said in a rush of emotion I recognized as resigned lust. "I want you. I'm tired of staying away from you." Without preamble, she kissed me with the same vigor as the previous time. I returned her fervor, basking in the Bella assault plundering my senses. She smelled so good, like cookies and sunshine; I never wanted to let go. She tugged at my shirt, signaling where she wanted to take this outpouring of desire. I wanted to. God, did I want to. My brain threatened to shut off and float on, but the idea of a repeat performance of the other night stopped me. I couldn't rush it again.
I held back.
Bella reacted to my cold feet. "You don't want to," she said, in an almost-question, her face registering confusion and the beginnings of embarrassment.
I shook my head. "Feel this." I placed her hand right where my blood rushed. Her fingers molded around me, squeezing. I sucked in a breath. I put my forehead to hers. I was not going to screw this up. "I don't know what I'm doing," I admitted.
"It feels to me like you do, so very much." She surrounded my face with her hands. "It's been a long time for me, too," she assured. "Don't look so astonished," she said, misinterpreting. "What's the saying? It's like riding a bicycle."
"No, you don't understand. I'm a virgin." I sighed.
A bucket of ice water over her head would have had the same sobering effect. "A what? But why? How is it possible? Is it by choice?"
I nodded, imaging how many more questions ricocheted in that head of hers.
"The other night – "
"I came as fast as I did because I'd never been with a woman before. Not like that. Not like this," I said, my body fully aware of her bottom squirming on my lap. "When you move like that." I groaned.
"It never occurred to me. I thought it was your youthful exuberance. Maybe even a little zeal about the older woman thing."
"That goes without saying."
"Why didn't you tell me?"
"Because I'm a coward, embarrassed. Because of this right here, you, freaking out."
"No, I'm not."
"You're acting like I just stepped on a spider."
She regarded me with a new curiosity. "I guess I'm shocked. I was certain an attractive guy like you would have." She wiggled her bum.
"Too good," I warned.
"Never? Not even touching?" Her palm trailed my chest and lower, pausing at the waistband.
"Second base, but it was a fake boob. Doesn't count."
"How is it possible?" She was showing the sort of interest in me as she did when faced with a new scientific question. "I'm sorry I misunderstood. You seem to know what you're doing sometimes, and I've seen how women look at you."
"You thought my bed was a revolving door."
I read her like a book. Her mind worked a mile a minute, she wondered what this meant, what the implications were if she indulged. Behind the sparkling eyes raking over me, she warred with herself. Dare she?
I didn't think I could get more turned on by her obvious appreciation of me.
"And you want me to be your first?" she said.
"What's wrong? Tell me, I'm dying here."
"This…it's a big deal for most people," she responded, haltingly.
And here was the rub. I was on delicate ground. If I confessed my heart to her, she would panic, but I couldn't play it off, either. "Sex isn't casual with me, no." I kissed her fingers, and silently wished for my personal philosophy not to cockblock me after having come this far.
I had never doubted that if I were faced with the opportunity to have sex with Bella, I would go through with it, regardless of how she felt about me. I loved her, but she couldn't, or wouldn't say the same. Not yet. And I was okay with that. I had daydreams, but I was a realist. I would wait for her to catch up emotionally.
Nonetheless, I wanted her to be around in the morning. "Is it casual for you?"
She faced me then and said in a rush, "No, of course not. I just hadn't had time to think about it. It's surprising, flattering even, and you're so sweet. I don't want to hurt you."
"B, I'm not talking about making declarations here," I assured her. "I have a beautiful woman on my lap who wants to have sex with me and for once I want to go through with it."
"I just don't know why you'd want me, of all people, to be your first."
A landmine of a statement spoken with deceptive calmness. Was she fishing? I wasn't positive, but she was not ready, and I was not prepared to deliver an answer as long as the story of my life. I had one chance to prove to her I could make it worth her while.
I fanned the residual embers from our earlier fire, and dared to kiss her from shoulder to temple. "Because this feels right," I whispered. "Because I can't get you out of my head," I said before kissing her. "Because you drive me insane, Bella." I traced her lips with my lips and became overwhelmed by the contrast between her feminine form and my awkward maleness. When her eyes reflected trust, and I knew we'd become inevitable, I was moved by a fresh batch of nerves.
"This will change everything," she said, without apprehension. She had made up her mind.
"I hope so." I spread my arms over the back of the couch to disguise my ever-growing anxiety. "I'm all yours. Teach me. I'm a blank slate." Whether she knew it or not, giving it up to her thrilled and terrified me. I was outwardly collected, but I was not succeeding in disguising my nervousness.
She saw through me then, and as if a switch had been flipped, Bella stood and regarded me, spread out on her couch, for all the world like a virgin sacrifice. A calm descended, the sort that came after a decision had been made and fully accepted, anticipated even.
"I'm going to hell," she muttered as if she was planning on enjoying it. "If we're going to do this," she said, resolved, "we're going to do this right." I shuddered, my heart banging away like the little drummer boy.
She guided me through the house, past the living room where her terrariums swayed with life, and up the stairs into her room. A window was open. The curtains were white and gauzy. Outside, the pink light shone on the surface of the fields like the world had been lit on fire.
The door shut behind me. Bella leaned against it, hands behind her back. The position might have suggested the demureness of someone younger, less experienced, but such was not the case, not with that look. She was in charge, she made it clear while sizing me up. It was sexy and arousing.
"Take off my shirt," she ordered. The tremble in her voice was comforting as it betrayed her anticipation. I reached for the hem, "Slowly."
I imagine every instruction I obeyed was executed with the pious devotion of a monk, extra careful, with shaking hands, and eager to please. This did not bother me, did not make me less of a man. I was at her mercy, and I knew this.
At any rate, the pleasure she introduced me to, starting with the unfettered access to her breasts, made up for my self-consciousness. "The clasp is on the front."
I released them and marveled how they spilled, heavy, onto my palms. "These are glorious." I watched Bella's face, one cheek plastered to the door, her bottom lip between her teeth. Her breathing, ragged.
I flicked her nipple, off and on, testing, testing. "You like this," I said, in part as a question and observation. The words left my throat with a low tremble as if it echoed from inside a dark room.
She sucked in air before replying. "I do. They're very sensitive."
"They feel like dough. I don't mean lumpy, firm, actually." I traced the constellation of stars bumping into her nipple. "I've dreamt about this birthmark you have here."
"I could have a third nipple and you'd like it."
"I would if it's on you."
She chuckled at my rapt concentration and stupid rambling. "You're reacting to a male's evolutionary fascination with the mammary glands."
"Stop. Can we put the professor away and bring back Bella?"
"Fine. But, I can't help I view the world in its – " she gasped. So that's what pushing them together looks like. "Natural state, whether human or animal – "
"You're still doing it," I chided, mock irritated. I was oddly fascinated by her reaction to my fondling. A flush spread from chest to shoulders along with a cover of goosebumps. Her tiny gulps of air, her bemusing chatter.
"It's been so long." She stretched out the last word as I handled her breasts like a balance scale, up, down. I rolled them under my palm, so smooth. "You should know," she continued with some effort, "I'm on the pill. Oh, that's good. You're not listening, are you?"
I nodded. She rolled her eyes and felt me lean in. "Can I kiss you now?"
We found our footing then. Not knowing what I was doing, but going for broke, I grasped and squeezed her hips while I kissed her, which was a great way to stop talking because words were caught in my throat like a fish in a net.
I listened. I was good at that. I was born for it. She was teaching me a new language, and I catalogued every groan that shook out of her, every whimper that eked past her lips. By the time our clothes had come off – a trick she managed by distracting me with lips and fingertips skirting across my flesh – we were in bed.
She didn't allow me time to worry about my newbie fumbles. Her strategy was to rip off the Band-Aid, so to speak, in order to clear the air of my awkwardness. She pushed me on to my back with the surety of a vixen.
After a study of what I had to offer, of what had grown purple with anticipation, Bella stalked up my body, and ever so slowly, a shit-eating grin spread across her face.
"I believe I just hit the jackpot, Mr. Cullen." She let me know I was in for it. She placed my hands on her hips and straddled her bicycle.
"How's that?" I choked out, no longer nervous, but swimming in keen anticipation. The dampness between her legs slid slick on my dick. If we didn't hurry, I was going to have a heart attack.
"I am going to love being your teacher." She ground down on me and gasped. "This is going to be quick. Try to hold out, but don't make it a challenge."
She positioned me at her entrance. My fingers were nailed to the mattress, and my stomach was taut. "Breathe, Edward."
I did as she said and two hip-jacking thrusts later, I was no longer a virgin.
What can I say? The mantra is this is it, this is it, this is it, this is it, a warm volcanic shudder overwhelms you, shoots you into a limitless stratosphere where there are stars and a few seconds of black out.
It is impossible to romanticize a virgin's first time, to make it loftier than it is, especially if you're a healthy, virile dude pent up with more sexual energy than a nuclear power plant. And even if it can be described, it's only unconditionally meaningful to the couple sharing it. It arrives with awkwardness and the probability of future emotional pain. After all, at no time before in your life are you at your most vulnerable, lying there, naked and shivering in her arms. Safe and happy. Not everyone experiences that level of connection their first time. For most guys, not all, the first time is a throwaway.
Unless you're me.
I opened my eyes and there she was smiling down at me with a look of awe and expectancy. I watched Bella's face dissolve in pleasure like she was sinking into a warm, sudsy bath as my once turgid member grew soft inside of her.
I was over the moon. I hooted and hollered and startled her when I flipped us over and rained kisses all over her in gratitude and love and all the things I could not articulate at that very moment.
She laughed, snorted at my antics, at my dumb apologies for making it all about me. She shushed me, it didn't matter to her, I knew. This one was for me, she said tenderly, but I made a silent promise I would re-pay her for as long as she allowed me in her bed.
"What are you doing the rest of the day?" she asked, with a playfulness I would only witness in the bedroom. I thought about her question, how it always led to the best sort of trouble.
"Does it matter?" I lifted her arms above her head, and rested on my palms as I enjoyed the view. She was like a buffet and I was overwhelmed as to where to begin. I swiveled my hips, suddenly conscious of my greedy John Thomas acting like a heat-seeking missile over his Lady Jane.
"I'm sorry, B." It hadn't been a minute and I was hard again. "Is it always going to be like this?"
She moaned. "Unfortunately, it won't. But that's a long time coming." She writhed, scooting closer to it. "I suggest a comprehensive study of core concepts." I hissed when delicate teeth grazed my nipple. I had no idea. "It just so happens, my schedule is wide open," she rambled as she kissed her way further down.
Six weeks of waiting. We didn't last one.
This is where I apologize for the uber-tardy chapter, isn't it? *Hangs head in shame* I could tell you it was work, life, blah blah blah, but every explanation will sound like an excuse. The good news is that I will post again in three weeks, so there's that, yes? In all seriousness, thanks for coming back and reading, it means a lot to me.
A huge thank you to the ladies who spot my typos, crazy word arrangements, inconsistencies, and the never-ending flaws, lol. Thanks WriteOnTime, Faireyfan, and Notsoimmortal for the kick in the pants. You guys are awesome.