So, umm, remember Gynoman and the Gastronomical Antichrist? Well, it's been a little while so, yeah.

Bella had just graduated, and Edward was going to back Forks with her to meet his parents. So, off we go, back to Forks.

Thank you NKubie, Prettyflour, Twilly, Nuttyginger, Beccagold, and Pennyloafer. I love you guys dearly.


Chapter 31

"Are we there yet?"

Edward takes a deep breath and his jaw twitches, but I know he's fighting back a smile. "Almost," he replies in a patronizing, sing-song tone.

He said the same thing the last three times I've asked. For some reason, this amuses me to no end. I'm determined to find out how many times I have to ask before he cracks.

What? We've been traveling non-stop since 6:30 this morning, and I'm sleep deprived. It's making me a little punchy.

I wait about ten minutes before I ask again. "How about now?"

He side-eyes me with high brows. "If you ask me again, I'll have to spank you."

Oooooh, the ovaries like that answer. I may have shimmied a little. "Promise?"

He looks me up and down, and when I bite my lip with a mischievous grin, his collected veneer breaks as the smile finally wins over. "I'm a man of my word."

Hmmmm…Noted and filed.

I sigh to myself as I lean forward and start fiddling with the radio of the rental car we picked up in Sea-Tac.

The music selection is atrocious. Very few stations come in clearly, and they seem to be only news, talk radio, or country. I keep hitting "seek" until a song I actually recognize comes on, and I turn up the volume. Edward taps his thumb on the steering wheel to the beat and grins with approval as "Build Me Up Buttercup" blares through the cheap speakers. I start to sing along, finally giving up and laughing at how much I sound like a cat in heat.

"You're pretty slap-happy," Edward comments, his voice laced with dry amusement.

"It's your fault for keeping me up all night."

"There were no complaints from you at the time." Cocky bastard.

"Well, I didn't get to catch up on my beauty rest the entire plane ride unlike someone I know." Which really pissed me off, to be honest. I don't like to fly, and no matter what I do, I never get comfortable in those sardine-can seats. So while Edward was knocked out most of the flight, I read downloaded fanfiction on my new iPad, trying not to kick the seat in front of me whenever I repositioned my cramped legs.

"So take a nap now."

"Excuse me, I don't nap on command," I snip, folding my arms across my chest as I glare out the window. I'm fully aware that I'm getting testy over nothing, but I can't help myself. I'm not some fucking toddler that needs nap-time so he can get some peace and quiet.

"Seriously, Bella. We still have two-and-a-half hours to go. Just close your eyes for a while."

"I'm fine." You're not the boss of me.

"If you say so."

I grit my teeth because I'm a millimeter away from snapping his head off. So I just turn my undivided attention to the blur of evergreens out the window. We'll see how he likes a nice side of cold shoulder.

A bump in the road startles me, and my head snaps upright. I force my eyes to refocus on my surroundings and realize we are already on 101N. And there's a wet sensation on the corner of my mouth.

Drool. Fantastic. I wipe it away as discreetly as possible and grab my bag to fish out some Tic-Tacs to get rid of the pasty taste in my mouth.

"Feel a little better now?"

I ignore his "I-told-you-so" tone, arching my back and rolling my neck to release some of the stiffness. I then realize I've caught Dr. Smug's attention as he side-eyes my every move. So of course I wiggle and stretch a beat longer for his benefit.

Edward's lips lift into that sexy little half-smirk of his as he picks up on my intentional display. Good God, do I want to bite that lip. Is it even normal to be so affected by someone like this? Everything about him draws me in—his looks, his mannerisms, his scent, even his voice… My gaze drifts along the sharp line of his jaw, now accentuated by that delicious thin layer of scruff. It only reminds me of the way it felt against my inner thighs last night…my, oh my…one dirty thought leads to another, and the next thing I know, I'm contemplating road head.

Even Dr. Responsible couldn't say no to something like that, right?

Truth is, I'd read about it in one of my favorite fanfics, and the whole prospect sounded deliciously naughty and hot as hell. And as far as roads go, this one is pretty straight and relatively empty.

Perfect.

I survey the interior of the front seat and try to iron out the logistics, wondering if the center console would get in my way. I'm checking for clearance, but somehow, the whole angle seems wrong… How do people actually do this? God knows I don't want to hit my head on the steering wheel and cause an accident. I examine his broken-in jeans and wonder if they're too restrictive. Zipper fly—will definitely have to be careful not to scrape any of his manly parts up against that. I should make sure his boxers provide a safe buffer…

"Bella?"

Heat and guilt sear my face as my startled-wide eyes dart up from Edward's err…lap, meeting his speculative stare.

Fuck. There it goes. All my bravado just flies right out the window. My mouth opens partially while my brain scrambles for an intelligible response. All that comes out is an awkward, "Uh-hmm?" that sounds more like a throat clearing than a response.

He glares suspiciously for a second, then just chuckles with a sigh. "What I wouldn't give to hear what goes on in that head of yours."

I kinda wish you could, so you'd pull over the car and let me defile you, dammit.

I also wish I wasn't such a chickenshit. The ovaries may think they're badass, but the stupid brain tends to be a killjoy. Although, right about now, I'm so goddamn horny that the rest of my body is orchestrating a mutiny and not giving the brain much choice.

"Edward?"

"Yes?" he replies warily, .

"Can I ask you something?"

He licks his lips as he glances at me. "Go ahead, Bella."

I can barely hold back the wicked grin as I ask, "Are we there ye—"

The car is pulled over before I can even finish, and I lunge at him before he can even shut it off. I attack his mouth to keep him quiet as I go to work on his jeans.

He pulls back for air, eyes darting around the dead highway nervously. "Bella, what the—" His words die in his mouth with a groan as my hand dives inside his pants and wraps around him.

Adrenaline surges through me, and I'm a woman on a mission. Edward makes a half-hearted attempt to protest, but by the time my mouth manages to replace my hand, the only peep coming out of him is a garbled curse or incoherent ramblings to a higher power. His sounds only spur me on; hard, fast and dirty. I'm intoxicated with the power of what I'm able to reduce him to, and when he comes with a drawn-out, guttural moan in record time, I am pretty dang pleased with myself.

Edward is a compliant glob of putty melting into the seat as I climb up to plant a kiss on his neck. "You know, I do feel better," I murmur into his skin, because yeah, I'm feeling a bit smug right about now. He chuckles as his arms make their way around my body and surprises me by kissing me without any qualms that mouth has just been paying homage to his glorious manhood. I quickly get lost in those magical lips while he pulls me closer until I'm in his lap, and his hands hungrily knead my ass. My breath comes out in shallow pants when his teeth graze my neck.

"Bet I can make you feel even better." His words send a quiver down my body that makes a beeline straight to the girlie bits. I've never been more grateful for yoga pants than I am at this very moment when his hand slips easily into them and cuts straight to the chase.

I moan like a whore when the fingers I love so much enter me. "Fuck, you're wet," he rasps into my ear. "You enjoyed doing that, didn't you."

Hello, Dr. Dirty. How do I love thee? Let me count the

"Oh my God!" He expertly finds that delicious spot inside me, and my brain has officially left the building. Not a single organ in my body gives a flying fuck about anything except my impending release, which I'm practically begging for. I sink my teeth into his shoulder just when the feeling is becoming almost too intense, and suddenly, the shock of a stinging slap on my ass launches me off the cliff.

It takes me a minute or so to recover and for my brain to re-engage. When I can finally drag my limp head up off his shoulder to look at him, I see someone else is feeling quite smug this time.

"Holy fuck, Edward," is all I can manage to say.

His smile broadens. "I told you, I'm a man of my word."

XXX

Excitement has been progressively building throughout the day, coming to a head and bubbling over as we pass the welcome sign to Forks. All of the green, the familiar scent of pine in the air...it's making me giddy. As much as I miss being home, I'm even more excited to have Edward here with me. And I know, without an ounce of uncertainty, the first place I want to share with him.

"Bella Marie Swan, you're home!" Nan Johnson pulls me into a crushing hug the moment she sees me. She's worked here at the Forks Diner as far back as I can remember and is a landmark of my childhood. She gives a questioning nod toward Edward.

"Nan, this is—"

"Edward Cullen, is that you? Of course it is! You look just like your daddy. And no one else has hair like that." Edward says 'hi' with a sheepish smile, scratching the back of his neck. She glances back and forth between the two of us with a knowing look. "Well, I'll be damned."

After a quick update on life in general, she leads us to an available booth toward the back. "Getting the usual, sweetie? No preserves, extra blueberries?"

"Of course."

"What can I get for you, hon?" she asks, turning to Edward.

"Vegetable omelet with swiss—"

"And egg whites?" Nan interrupts.

Edward is obviously taken by surprise. "How could you possibly remember that?"

She taps her forehead with a smug grin. "It's the way my brain works. Just don't ask me what I ate for breakfast yesterday. So, can I get you two anything else? Coffee? Juice?"

We complete our order, and Nan flashes me an enthusiastic double thumbs-up in approval before she disappears into the kitchen.

When my pancakes arrive, I take a moment to breathe in a deep lungful, letting the familiar, comforting aroma fill my senses. They aren't the oversized fluffy cakes I'd get at the diner in Queens; these are rather humble-looking in comparison. But one bite reminds me that these are hands-down the best I'll ever have. The perfect amount of berries, the delightfully buttery edges, and just that certain something-something my mouth expects blueberry pancakes to taste like. I'm not quite certain why they're the best, but I think it's because these are the pancakes I grew up with. These are the gold standard to which all others will compare.

I feel Edward's eyes on me and meet his gaze with a sheepish smile. So I try to convey my "gold standard theory" to him. "Maybe it's because I have so many nice memories attached to them, you know? We used to come here for breakfast whenever my dad was off on Sundays, and I always ordered this." I roll my eyes at my stupid sentimental self. "I know, I'm such a dork."

He smiles at this and nods, wiping his mouth with a napkin before he speaks. "No, I get it. My parents used to bring me here after my games when I played little league. My dad always ordered a vegetable omelet, so I did too. I used to want to be just like him," he chuckles softly. "So now, whenever I go to a diner, I have to order a vegetable omelet."

This makes me swoon. He really does get it.

I grin ear-to-ear and can't control how inordinately happy I am in this very perfect moment. Being back in Forks, with Edward, eating blueberry pancakes at my favorite place. It's like everything is right in the world.

Edward drops me off at my house, helping me with my bags and making pleasantries with my over-zealous mother. He politely declines when she asks him to stay for dinner, explaining that he has plans with his parents tonight. I elaborate that we both thought it was only fair that we get some quality time alone with our families our first night in town, and Renee is pleased with that answer. I'll be spending the whole day with him tomorrow anyway, including the big "meet-the parents" dinner.

I walk Edward out the door and give him a G-rated goodbye-kiss, having no desire to give my mother a show.

"Say hello to Esme for me," Renee calls out to him, and he gives an obedient salute in response.

I turn to her, quirking a curious brow at her. "You know his mother?"

She shoots me a knowing smirk. "Of course I do. Small town, remember? Besides, she's in my book club."

Hell and no. That's just fifty shade of wrong, wrong, wrong.

XXX

Here we are. Dun dun duuunnnn.

Edward cuts the engine, and I just stare at the lovely home in front of me. It's set back in the woods, with large windows and a deck that wraps around to the back. Suddenly, my throat feels really dry. Shit just got real. "Do I look okay?" I ask Edward just before he opens his car door.

"You look beautiful," he assures me and seals it with a kiss. Stupid sweet-talker.

"Are you sure what I'm wearing is all right?" I smooth my hands over my navy skirt, wondering if I should have worn capris instead. I don't want to look like I'm trying too hard. Even though I totally am. But I don't want his parents to know that.

Ugh.

Edward tucks his finger under my chin, guiding my face to look up at him. "Bella, will you please relax? You have nothing to worry about. As far as my mom is concerned, you walk on water just for getting me home to visit. And my dad has been hearing Charlie brag about you for years, so, you're golden."

Sucking in a deep breath, I try to convince myself to just listen to him and chill out. "I know, I know. I'm ready."

I grab the platter of brownies I made for dessert. Chocolate makes everything better, right?

Here goes nothing.

The brick-red front door opens before we even reach it. A pretty, petite woman with a lighter version of Edward's hair color and delicate features welcomes us with an enthusiastic smile.

"Bella, It's so nice to meet you."

His mom radiates warmth, and I'm immediately put at ease as she ushers us inside. Edward's hand on the small of my back keeps me grounded as we follow her into their gorgeous kitchen.

I have this theory that if there really is a Heaven and Hell, it would be customized to each person. And while an eternity of bathing suit shopping with 10-way mirrors in shitty fluorescent lighting is my personal Hell—or maybe Cooch Clinic...it's a close call—my Heaven would look like this kitchen. Creamy white cabinets, granite countertops, commercial-grade appliances, and a swoon-worthy island. All with a wall of windows overlooking their vast backyard.

I'm über-happy that when I offer to help with dinner, Esme graciously accepts and puts me to work preparing a salad. Edward sidles up next to me to join in with the prep work while his mother teases him about his newly-found interest in cooking.

"Well, well. Bella Swan! I'm so happy to see you actually made it to adulthood," Edward's father greets me, and my entire face instantly flames. Esme apologizes on his behalf with a shake of her head, casting a disapproving glance his way. Dr. Cullen obviously enjoys both our reactions, and winks at me before flashing a sly grin at his wife.

Apples don't fall far from the tree. Apparently, button-pushing is a genetic trait.

Despite my nail-biting anxiety, dinner with his parents is surprisingly easy-going and, dare I say, enjoyable. Apparently, they are just genuinely nice people. Esme has to be the sweetest woman I've ever met and seems to go out of her way to make me feel welcome. Much to my sheer delight and Edward's chagrin, she even brings out their family albums. I'm treated to pictures and stories that span from his baseball successes to his rather entertaining streaking phase. He had such a cute little butt, even as a toddler.

She surprises me and pulls me into a hug as I leave. "Thank you for bringing my son home, Bella." The gesture fills me with an unexpected surge of emotion. I swallow thickly to tamp it down. "And thanks for removing the stick he had planted up his ass. I haven't seen him this happy and relaxed in ages."

I choke out an unlady-like combination of a snort and a giggle, hugging her tight. I guess my cooking has that effect on some people.

"See? I told you there was nothing to worry about," Edward gloats proudly with a nudge into my side. "They loved you."

"You think?"

"I know."

"Really?"

He wraps his arm around me. "Really."

"It was the brownies, wasn't it." His dad loved them. I may just have a friend for life. Chocolate really does make everything better.

Edward and I wander through the spacious backyard. The view beyond the cleared land is breathtaking, overlooking the Calawah River and flanked by towering evergreens.

"This was your backyard growing up? It's so beautiful." Even the air smells intoxicating. Edward just shrugs, like it's no big deal. "So where are we going?" I ask, as he leads me by the hand down a wooded path.

"Damn, you're impatient," he mutters.

"That's not exactly an answer."

"There." He points to a clearing with two wide trees, and a wooden ladder leading up to a large red treehouse. An old tire swing hangs from one of the branches.

"Wow," I gasp, circling around it. "This is amazing. I always wanted one of these." The roof looks like it had been recently repaired, with areas of new, brighter wood shingles. A small deck wraps around the front. I can only imagine what a great lookout it would make for a lucky kid.

"Want to go inside?"

I agree eagerly, only to learn that climbing a ladder in a skirt is no easy feat. I try not to think of the view I must be giving Edward, who insisted I go first. But he's going to be seeing much more of me later, so let him have a little teaser.

The interior is about the size of a small bedroom. It looks remarkably well kept, with a built-in bookshelf, as well as a picnic table with attached benches. There are windows on all four sides to let in light, and exposed support beams lining the pitched ceiling.

"Did your father build this?"

"Hell no." Edward scoffs. "One of his patients was a fantastic carpenter. He built this for us when I was seven."

"It looks pretty damn good for something that was built over twenty years ago," I comment, still taking in all the details.

Edward doesn't answer right away, so I glance over at him. "It's been well-maintained." He traces his fingers along the walls reverently, finally turning to me. "I'm pretty sure my mother is preserving it for grandchildren."

It takes me a second to fully process that comment, but the image of green-eyed, moppy-haired children are now seared into my brain. My cheeks heat all the way to my ears with the unexpected appeal of it. I feel Edward's eyes on me, but I can't face him and let him see my reaction.

Diversion is my best friend.

"So, when was the last time you've been back in Forks?" I've avoided asking, but the curiosity is killing me.

He sits down at the table, motioning for me to join him. So I do. "I've visited twice since I moved to New York. Once for a wedding, and the last time for my grandmother's funeral 4 years ago."

That's all? Twice in nine years? I can't even fathom being away that long. Obviously my poker face gives away everything going through my head, because he looks contrite. "My parents love New York City, so they usually come visit about two to three times a year."

I try to digest that, but it sounds so lonely to me. As much as I enjoyed spending those two years in New York, it wasn't always easy for me. I missed my family. It makes me think of the wistful way he looked at my dinner that first night on call with him. Maybe it wasn't just a home-cooked meal he was missing.

XXX

As frustrating as it is to be two grown adults and still having to sneak around behind our parents' backs to get some quality "alone" time, I must confess that I am thoroughly enjoying the naughtiness of it all. But time seems to be flying by so quickly.

It's Friday day night. Edward and I are tucked into a booth with Angela and Ben at The Lodge—which, incidentally, just so happens to be the same exact place both Edward and I went for our celebratory high school graduation dinners—while Angela and I share the entertaining war stories of our youth. She'll never let me forget the time Charlie "grounded" the both of us after catching us drinking beer with boys on the beach at the rebellious age of fourteen.

"Ugh—the Chief made us clean and gut fish as penance. I couldn't get the disgusting smell off my hands for days!" Angela cries, and I dramatically shudder at the memory.

"Yeah, but at least he never told your parents," I remind her. "You would probably be a nun right now if he did." This makes Ben chuckle, and Angela blushes with a solemn nod.

"Hey, stop stealing all my fries, woman!" Angela laughs and playfully slaps my hand as I pop another sweet potato fry into my mouth with a victorious grin.

Edward shakes his head with that shmexy, amused smirk I love. "Why didn't you just get your own?"

"It's the Meatball Theory," Angela explains with an eye-roll.

"Exactly." I give a confirmatory nod, stealing another fry for good measure.

The confused looks on Edward and Ben's faces tickles me to no end. Angela glares at Edward with a dramatic jaw-drop. "Do you mean to tell me you haven't heard the Meatball Theory? Don't you know Bella has a theory about almost everything?" She turns to me. "Should I explain, or do you want to take over?"

I may cringe a little, but, whatever. "Please, be my guest."

"Bella's mom never really cooked, so she'd conveniently manage to stay over my house for dinner whenever my mom made certain foods. Especially, her Swedish meatballs."

"They were so good! Hard to believe she actually made them with grape jelly, of all things. But you'd never guess that by tasting them."

"Anyway," Angela continues. "She used to drive my mom crazy because she liked to steal the meatballs fresh out of the frying pan. My mom would always tell her to wait until they were served, but nooooo. Bella insisted they tasted better that way."

"What does that have to do with stealing fries?" Ben asks.

"Because Bella claims everything tastes better when it's stolen, especially off of someone else's plate. Hence, The Meatball Theory."

Edward stabs a crab-stuffed mushroom off my plate with his fork and chews it thoughtfully.

"Well, doesn't it?" I ask, lifting an eyebrow.

He grins ear to ear. "Absolutely."

XXX

Last stop on the Forks grand tour lands us on First Beach. We sit under a starless night sky beside our small driftwood bonfire, listening to the peaceful hum of the ocean.

"I don't want to leave," Edward murmurs into my ear. I remember sharing the same sentiment when we were back in New York, and the sadness creeps in as our impending separation looms over us.

I nuzzle closer. "I wish you didn't have to."

There's a pregnant pause, which makes me turn to look at him. His eyes are intense, and his jaw is ticking like mad. "What if I didn't have to?"

My brows furrow in confusion as I examine him, trying to read his face. And now we are just watching each other in a silent standoff. I want him to elaborate, and he obviously wants me to ask him to. There's a gleam in his eyes that makes my heart accelerate. Is he fucking with me?

A small smile toys with his lips as he licks them, and his head tilts to the side as he waits for my response. But since my brain seems to be in gridlock, I just continue to stare at him stupidly.

"What if I don't want to leave, Bella?"

My eyes widen as the heart picks up to a full gallop, and my thoughts race to catch up. "What are you saying?"

"Just, hear me out, okay?" I nod, watching his fingers rake nervously through his hair. "Being here with you made me understand why you needed to come back. You have a life here. Filled with roots, and history, and people who adore you. Forks is home to you, and I get that now." He cradles my cheek in his broad hand. "I want that. Here. With you."

My heart is bursting out of my chest, and the ovaries are sobbing uncontrollably. I can't even put in words how amazing that sounds to me. But the fucking brain just can't keep its two cents to itself. "Edward, you can't be serious. Your fellowship starts in four days!" Shut up, Swan. Just shut the fuck up, dammit. But my conscience won't let me. "I mean, you can't just give up something you worked so hard for."

"I'm not giving up anything, trust me. It's more like…" He hesitates, looking around as if he's physically searching out the right words. When his eyes make their way back to mine, they're electric. "For the first time in my life, I know I'm exactly where I want to be."


Thank you for your patience if you are still here after all this time. It means the world to me.

And just for the record, this wasn't the way I expected the story to go. But apparently Edward had ideas of his own and changed everything.

Only 1 more chapter to go, my friends. And I promise it will be soon :) XOXO