Fan Fiction, Sex Gods and Single Girls

A/N: I know nothing about buying a website or Chevy Trucks circa 1953. I do know where this story is going and we're getting there.

Chapter 58: Hugs and Gropes

Bella wasn't sure she'd heard him correctly.

"You did what?" she asked, certain she'd misunderstood Edward. He sat next to her on the couch, chewing at his lip. He withdrew his hand from hers and it wandered uncertainly up into his perfect head of hair.

"I…uh…put in an offer to buy Star-lighted," he said, as he began tugging at a lock of his burnished copper-penny hair. His eyes narrowed as he watched her watching him, waiting for her reaction.

"Why?" A pucker was forming between Bella's brows. Edward didn't like the pucker; it made him even more anxious than he already was.

"Well, James has been looking into the possibility of us expanding Stellar Publishing House in some new directions," he said, unconsciously twirling and twisting his hair.

"But Star-lighted is a fanfiction site," Bella pointed out. "How does that help you and James expand your publishing house?"

Her brow-pucker was now fully formed, Edward noticed as he tensely twirled, tugged and twisted.

"Well, James was already kicking around some ideas even before the barbecue, when Eric wondered if publishers ever scout fanfiction sites for material to publish. We've decided to pursue a few of James' ideas.

Star-lighted has a lot going for it. It's a popular site but doesn't really take full advantage of its traffic. It has an extremely large, established reader base and a host of competent, mostly novice writers and editors. It also has a fairly rigorous screening process, so the stories are pretty well-written. The homepage, with its twinkling stars is extremely eye-catching and the site is already set up, known, and functioning smoothly—except when upgrades are made. But unlike many other fanfiction sites, Star-lighted isn't already affiliated with a publishing house."

"Oh." Bella nodded thoughtfully. "And you and James want to tie it in with Stellar."

Edward nodded. "Exactly. We think there's potential for more business for Stellar if we purchase the Star-lighted site…and others if this idea pans out for us."

The pucker between Bella's brows seemed to be un-puckering. As a result, Edward's hand left his now-thoroughly-tousled hair and dropped to his lap, joining his other hand, where his fingers began fidgeting amongst themselves as he continued.

"Are you familiar with The Writers' Tea House site?" he asked, cracking a knuckle. Bella nodded and he continued. "That site has a broad scope of fandoms, they also promote original fiction, and they publish works through their own publishing company—that Fifty Flavors trilogy, for example."

Edward tried not to smile at Bella's immediate blush. He wondered how familiar she was with that work of erotica.

"That was a fanfiction before it was re-worked as an original series and published through their publishing house—but maybe you already knew that." He raised an eyebrow at her in inquiry.

Bella nodded, making sure not to blurt out that she'd read and re-read Master of Her Universe numerous times. Nor did she mention the fact that she already owned the first book in the Fifty Flavors trilogy and would own the other two as soon as they became available. She also didn't bother mentioning that, should there be a movie made one day, she would be at the first show, sitting dead center—probably right next to Angela—come hell or high water.

"Anyway…" Edward continued as one hand massaged the other, "James put together a short list of popular fanfiction sites run by solo-webmasters who were likely fans who built the sites, rather than someone looking to profit. Star-lighted was on that list. It's run on donations by readers. That site has ballooned in growth because of high interest in the books and movies. Our hunch is that the site is costing the owner money to run efficiently."

"Why not just offer to buy advertising space for Stellar there? Why would you want to buy the site?"

"Well, we'd have more control if we owned it—we could do more marketing without having to run our ideas by another party and hope for the best."

"Do you even know who the owner is?" Bella asked out of curiosity.

Edward smiled and nodded. "Yes, we looked into that. She's a retired teacher living in Texas; Joan Jenks."

"Really?!" Bella was surprised.

"Really. And we're hoping she'll take our offer. We're even willing to employ her and any staff she has as administrators to keep running the site."

"So you would keep it running as a fanfiction site?" Bella asked uncertainly.

"Well, of course. We wouldn't do anything to change the fanfiction aspect; we would just tie Star-lighted into Stellar and advertise the publishing house on the site and include direct links to us. We're hoping novice authors might be tempted to publish some of their original works or re-worked fanfictions as e-books or books in print through Stellar. And readers might be enticed by banners and teasers to purchase original works by favorite fanfiction authors or other authors we've previously published."

"But isn't Star-lighted a rather narrow audience for a company like Stellar?"

"Well, it's a place to start. Like I said, we'd expand to others if this is successful. In purchasing Star-lighted, we would already have an audience of readers and their favorite authors. It's a cost-effective way of knowing exactly what your audience wants to read and having writers already producing those types of stories. Our hope is to eventually expand in a few other new directions as well."

Bella flinched as he cracked another knuckle.

"Expand in what ways?" she wondered aloud.

Edward shrugged. "Offering short story compilations by a variety of authors for broader exposure—like a collection of one-shots. Maybe offering subscriptions to e-serials—just like regular fanfiction updates on works in progress, with updates on a regular schedule and guaranteed story completion. And he'd like to try to somehow include reader/writer interaction. These are all concepts that fanfiction sites already have in place; he'd like to try to bring them into the mainstream. Now is the time to try some new things in the market. E-publishing is the future, so we want to get a foot in the door more firmly now to boost Stellar's presence. We wouldn't see an immediate profit, but most publishing will be done electronically eventually. Books in print will be a thing of the past at some point; they'll be museum pieces."

"The thought of actual books disappearing makes me sad. I love holding an actual book."

Edward regarded Bella's forlorn expression and he smiled "I know; I agree with you. Don't forget who you're talking to. My own love of reading books is the reason I got involved with a publishing company in the first place. But look at it this way—you're already reading things electronically when you read fanfictions on your phone or laptop. Stellar has to e-volve and better utilize its e-publishing division now or we'll be left behind in the e-dust."

He smiled, but the look in his eyes was serious, watching and waiting to see how she'd take his pitch.

Bella nodded as she looked at the earnest expression on his handsome face. And then she burst into a fit of giggles.

"What's so funny?" he asked, puzzled by her sudden outburst.

"You, Edward! How long have you been stressing out over how I'd react to this news?"

Edward laughed in surprise. "Uh…all evening. Was I that obvious?" He scratched uncertainly at the back of his neck and then tugged at the hairs at the nape of his neck.

Bella grinned as she abruptly climbed onto his lap, looking at him affectionately. Her hands moved to his shoulders, squeezing the tense muscles there and his look of surprise changed to one of delight. His hands moved to her waist, holding her in place on his lap as she smiled and spoke.

"You've been sitting here twiddling your hair, wringing your hands, and cracking your knuckles during this whole conversation. You were quite obviously worried at how I'd react." She reached up and combed her fingers through the now-disheveled locks of hair he'd been fiddling with earlier.

"I was just worried you might be offended," he explained, leaning into the pleasant sensation of her hand raking through his hair.

"Offended? Why would I be offended?" she asked.

"I didn't want you to think I was trying to step on your fanfiction-toes. I wasn't sure how you'd take it, being both a writer and a reader of stories on Star-lighted. I mean, here we are planning to link up and advertise a publishing company on that site—which will surely lure some writers away to publish for profit. James said fans sometimes get quite upset when they find out stories are removed because the author is trying to publish—as if the writer were selling out, you know?"

Bella shrugged. "I don't feel that way, though I certainly might miss a story that gets pulled for publication, but I could always track it down if I wanted to. I think if someone has put a lot of time and effort into creating a story and they want to try to publish, they should go for it. I mean, that's kind of the next step for a fledgling writer, isn't it—trying to get published? Maybe not for everyone—I know I certainly have no plans of trying to publish anything I've written; it's just a hobby for me, but for some writers, fanfiction is a stepping stone to bigger things. And if writers are going to pull stories anyway and go seek out a publisher, they might as well turn to Stellar. So I think it's a smart idea. I certainly have no problem with it."

Edward exhaled, shaking his head. "Thank God…you have no idea how glad I am to hear that. And I'm really jumping the gun here—we're not even positive Joan Jenks is willing to sell—but we made her a very good offer."

Bella grinned at his obvious relief. "So what's the next step? Assuming Ms. Jenks is willing to sell, I mean."

"Well, business negotiations and advertising decisions aside, it would depend upon whether she would want to stay on as site administrator. If not, we'd get someone into place to continue in that role. We'd also need to hire someone who could act as a sort of liaison between Stellar and Star-lighted and hopefully do some creative things connecting the two. That person would need to have an editing background and get familiar with that site's content and writers, hopefully also assisting in proofing works for publication and make sure a re-worked fanfiction doesn't infringe on the original work."

Bella froze in place, staring gape-mouthed at Edward, her eyes as big as saucers.

"Oh my god!" she finally sputtered, barely containing herself. "Edward… Do you know who would be…perfect…for that kind of job?"

Edward couldn't help his cocky-smirky-smile. He knew exactly who Bella was going to say. And so he said the name with her.


"Angela!" their voices said in unison.

Bella blinked. "Yes! Exactly! Angela! Oh my god! You knew that! Of course you knew that! How did you know?" And then Bella noticed the crooked grin looked rather smug and she gasped. "You were already thinking of her, weren't you?!"

Edward laughed, scooting excitable little Bella closer to him on his lap, where her warm, curvy body would be far more accessible to his hands.

"At the barbecue she mentioned being interested in working with original fiction, rather than staying with textbook editing. James told her to send him a resume and she did. He had it with him this evening. On her resume she mentioned working as a beta, editing stories for Star-lighted—which of course, I already knew—and also that she helped coordinate and judge a couple writing contests for that site. She's actually probably a very good candidate for what we'd need—yet another reason why Star-lighted seemed so appealing."

"Oh my god! I have to call her and tell her!" Bella blurted. "She could move here to Seattle! She's going to flip!" She made a move to jump off his lap, but he held onto her, wrapping his arms around behind her so there was no escape.

"Bella, wait!" he said, chuckling at her reaction and animated expression. "You can't say anything to her. It's all up in the air. It depends upon Joan Jenks. Everything I've told you is in confidence. I just didn't want to take the chance you'd be upset, so I thought I should tell you."

Bella sat smiling at him, but now she was curious. "What if I had been upset?"

Edward shrugged. "I didn't really want to think about that; I was hoping you'd be okay with the idea. I suppose if you'd been upset, I would have told James I wanted to scrap that idea and pull the offer and look into one of the other sites."

"What were the other sites?" she asked, curious.

Edward paused. "I don't really remember the specific names; I didn't focus on them too much."

"So you were mostly focused on Star-lighted?" Bella's lips were curling up into a little smile as Edward nodded.

"Why?" she asked.

"I told you why, Bella. It fit what we were looking for."

"No other reason?" Bella persisted; certain Edward seemed just a little evasive.

Edward rolled his eyes a little as he shook his head. He was squirming, Bella thought, noticing that his ears had seemed to redden just the slightest before he finally answered her question.

"Well, of course Star-lighted would catch my eye…" he confessed, "But I assure you, when I pursue something it's because I have a good gut feeling about it. I have very good instincts, Bella. Star-lighted might be close to my heart—for obvious reasons—but I'm going with my gut."

Bella wrapped her arms around his neck and leaned in to kiss him. She smiled at him then, stroking the back of his neck.

"I wasn't trying to put you on the defensive, Edward. I was just curious. I think it sounds like a good business move. And the names Star-lighted and Stellar go together…so it seems meant to be." She smiled. "And best of all, maybe Angela will find new employment and move to Seattle," she finished with a hopeful grin.

Edward chuckled. "You never know; stranger things have happened around here lately." He grinned crookedly at her, quirking a brow meaningfully.

"Are you calling me a strange thing?" Bella asked wryly.

Edward burst into laughter. His hands framed her sweet little face and he looked at her fondly. "I would never objectify you like that, Bella. You're more of a strange person." He grinned as he pulled her face toward his and kissed her on the mouth before she could form an indignant rebuttal.

When they finally moved apart, Edward pulled a smiling Bella into his chest. She tucked her head into the crook between his shoulder and neck, mumbling, "It takes one to know one, Edward."

He snorted a laugh and exhaled a sigh. Now that he knew she wasn't upset with his business plans he could fully enjoy holding his girlfriend on his lap.

"So, enough about my evening," he said as he rubbed her back lightly. "What have you been up to?"

"Nothing very exciting; I puttered—I did some schoolwork, read a little, made dinner…. Oh! I almost forgot!" She sat up abruptly, looking at him with an excited smile. "I spoke to Angela this evening. I told her about our discovery—that we were all in Port Angeles the night I met her, and that it was your sweatshirt I wound up wearing home. I even made her dig out her photo album and check out those pictures."

"What did she say?" Edward grinned and reached up, smoothing her hair away from her face and looping a silky lock around one long finger.

"She was shocked. She nearly shrieked my ear off. And then she asked if I'd mentioned it to Ben, but I didn't think about it today at work. She wants to tell him…and show him the photos. He's going to see her in Olympia this weekend."

"Oh yeah?" Edward smiled. "That's cool. Ben's a good guy. And I like Angela—she's sharp and she's clever…and she seems like a really good person." He nodded at his own words and his expression became thoughtful.

"Did you two talk about…anything else?" he asked hesitantly. "Regarding…me?"

Bella blinked. Of course she and Angela had talked about Edward; she'd spilled just about everything regarding her surprisingly sudden and amazing boyfriend. She thought about her conversation with her best friend and it dawned on her what he was specifically referring to—Bella knew what a protective Mama Bear Angela could be.

"Don't worry, Edward, you're off the hook. Angela knows things are okay between us. She knows you told me you'd been reading From Hate to Heat and that you're Stardusted—well, Stardust Ed. And yes, I know she knew about all that on Sunday but you'd asked her not to say anything to me."

"Were you upset when you found out?" Edward's hand headed absentmindedly for his hair.

Bella watched as his fingers begin tugging at the locks she'd raked back into place a few minutes ago.

"Maybe I was upset for a moment, but she explained that you wanted to be the one to tell me…and she wanted to give you that chance." Bella's eyes glanced back up at Edward's fingers, twining through his hair. She smiled. "I'm glad she did and I'm glad you were the one to tell me…so it's okay…you can stop groping your hair, Edward."

Edward's fingers stilled. He blinked at her. "I don't grope my hair."

Bella laughed. "Oh my god! You do so grope your hair! I can always tell when you're worried about something because you grope your hair!"

Edward pulled his hand out of his hair and placed it firmly on Bella's thigh. He rolled his eyes at her silly little cackles of laughter.

Okay, so she has a point.

"Fine, I grope my hair. I was worried about what you were going to think; I grope my hair…because…I care." He shook his head as her body shook with laughter. Then he smirked and shrugged. "Well, so what? You hug yourself when you're nervous around me."

He chuckled gleefully as Bella stilled and her mouth dropped open.

"Don't look at me like that, Bella, you know it's true," he added, grinning crookedly.

Bella closed her mouth and stared at the self-congratulatory expression on Edward's face.

Oh my god…he's absolutely right! And he's so proud of himself!

She huffed at the cocky look on his face and arched a brow as she spoke.

"Well, so maybe we should both try to focus more energy on hugging and groping each other, rather than ourselves." She pinked up at her own suggestion, but took great delight in the swift change in Edward's facial expression.

From smirk to surprise to smolder! All in the blink of an eye! And I did that! You go, Isabella Marie!

With a low, rumbling growl Edward flipped Bella onto the couch. She squealed in surprise and began laughing as he pinned her in place with his body.

"Less squirming and giggling…more hugging and groping, if you would," he growled into her neck. His hips pressed against hers, indicating to her just how inspired parts of him were regarding her hugging and groping proposal.

Bella giggled and squirmed as she felt his tickling, chuckling mouth kissing her neck. She wrapped her arms around his waist, hugging him and then she decided she might as well go in for the grope—both hands landing simultaneously on his fine, firm, flexing ass. She gave those glorious glutes a good squeeze and Edward's head shot up, looking down at her in absolute shock. She was blushing fiercely and smiling proudly and Edward burst into guffaws of laughter.

"Well, aren't you the cheeky girlfriend!" he observed, smirking at her pink face. "That was unexpected."

"You're the cheeky boyfriend!" she countered. "And I distinctly heard you demand more hugging and groping. I was just giving you what you asked for."

Edward chuckled and leaned down, capturing her lips with his. He kissed her softly a few times, smiling each time he did so, before opening his mouth to hers and kissing her more deeply. Her arms slid up his back, her hands caressing him. After a moment he slipped his hand beneath her body, reached down and gave her fine feminine ass cheek a squeeze. It was accompanied by an appreciative little humming sound in his throat and a brief, startled squawk from hers. He smiled against her lips. When he finally he pulled his mouth away from hers, his face remained close—his nose nuzzling against hers.

It surprised him that he could have so much with one person, and how easy and right every moment felt. They'd had a serious conversation about the state of her truck, an intelligent discussion concerning his proposed business venture, they'd poked fun at one another, goofing and laughing, and now all he could think about was how incredibly sweet and sexy she was. She was everything…all rolled into one curvy little, completely unpredictable package.

He wondered if he could spend the night with her again, though he didn't want to invite himself. He just couldn't imagine going home to his own empty bed—undoubtedly to lie there sleepless, thinking of her, wishing he was holding her. He wanted to stay here with her and be close to her in any way she wanted, simply to be together.

His eyes opened to find her expressive dark brown eyes looking back at him, her lips smiling softly at him. He returned the smile a bit wistfully.

"Would you like to stay here again tonight?" she murmured. Edward inhaled deeply as the corners of his mouth curled up into a thrilled little smile.

He nodded as he spoke. "So…you can read minds."

She grinned at his ridiculous response.

"I would really like that, Bella," he added. "Although…" He paused, frowning.

"Although what?" she asked.

"I should probably go home and take a quick shower. I was quite literally sweating it out earlier, wondering what you were going to think about my business endeavors." He grinned crookedly.

Bella bit her lip to keep from laughing as she pictured her hair-groping, knuckle-cracking, hand-wringing, nervously-sweating boyfriend. "You could take a shower here, if you want," she offered.

Edward smiled. "That's kind of silly—my own shower is right across the street."

Bella nodded. And then she posed a follow-up question.

"Well, would it be…less silly…if I joined you?"

Edward stilled. His eyes darkened perceptibly. "That would be…a lot less silly." His eyebrows and the corners of his mouth suddenly lifted in a hopeful boyish grin. "Will there be hugging and groping?" he asked.

A little giggle burst from Bella's lips. "I could see that happening."

Without further ado, Edward pushed himself up off of his girlfriend and the couch.

What about your car?" Bella wondered, thinking of his Aston Martin parked out front.

Edward shook his head, giving her an amused look as he extended a hand to pull her up. "My car doesn't need a shower…or hugging…or groping."

Bella smiled and rolled her eyes. "I mean, do you want to put it in your garage first?"

"No." He tugged her upwards and into his arms. "It'll be fine on the street."

He followed her upstairs, his eyes traveling the length of her, though mostly focusing on her curvy little backside—which was certainly worth a few gropes. He headed into her bedroom while she made a quick detour to the guest bathroom down the hall.

When she returned, Bella noticed Edward was barefoot. His wallet, keys, and belt had been placed neatly on the seat of the rocking chair in the corner of her room and his shoes tucked beneath it in a somewhat OCD manner that struck her as being very Edward-esque.

"I have a gift for you," she said, reaching into the pocket of her hoodie as she neared him. She withdrew an oblong package and held it out to him. "I mean…it's sort of a gift…I guess."

Edward looked at it in surprise as he took it.

Bella felt instantly stupid. "It's not your breath…your breath is fine…it's just…well, plaque buildup is a bad thing and nobody wants gum disease…and I thought…"

What the hell is wrong with you, Isabella Marie? He's going to think you're a complete lo…

"You're giving me a toothbrush? As a gift?" Edward asked with a broad grin.

"Yeah…I know…it's kind of dumb. I just…I had an extra new one in the guest bathroom…" Her voice trailed away as she blushed and frowned at the package in his hand. "I just thought, you know, you can keep it here for the nights when you sleep here…"

She didn't get another word out of her mouth. Edward was crushing her in an embrace and laughing. Bella could barely breathe, let alone speak. And her face was turning hot pink from the embarrassment of his reaction. Edward kissed the top of her head before giving her one more squeeze and then letting her go. He grinned at the perplexed look in her wide brown eyes and on her flushed face.

"Bella, this isn't dumb. It's actually kind of…cool," he said. He realized he probably sounded like a total moron; it was just a toothbrush, after all. But he saw it as something more—even if she didn't realize what her very ordinary "gift" was telling him.

In all his foolish and fleeting hook-ups, Edward had never belonged to anyone, nor had any of his belongings ever taken up residence in anyone else's…residence. Whatever belongings he'd brought with him had always left with him when he'd departed.

This toothbrush-gift was such a ridiculously mundane object, but Bella's gesture told him he belonged in her home and she wanted him there…on a regular basis, happily.

"It's just a toothbrush, Edward," Bella protested. "You rented a truck for me today for the foreseeable future. The two don't even compare."

Edward shook his head, smiling. "No…it's what this says. So, thank you. Not just for caring about my dental health…but for making me feel like I belong here."

Bella smiled in sudden understanding and her eyes sparkled up at him. "Well, of course you belong here! You belong with me. I'm just doing what any girlfriend would do, right?"

Edward shrugged and smiled almost shyly. "I wouldn't know. I have no prior experience with that."

Bella smiled widely and hugged him, stretching up and adding a quick peck on his lips. "Well, we're both learning here."

She took his hand in hers, and gestured toward the bathroom. "Come on, first you can use your new toothbrush and then…I'll mark you with my scent: strawberry shampoo and freesia body wash. If anyone stops by in the middle of the night, one sniff…and they'll know for sure you belong to me."

They stood next to one another at the sink, brushing their teeth, eyeing the couple in the mirror, giggling and chuckling through mouthfuls of toothpaste. The cause of the laughter was largely due to the splotch of foam on Bella's cheek from where Edward had paused to plant a kiss on her in mid-brush.

After finishing up and setting their toothbrushes together in the little holder, they set to the task of undressing themselves—which rather quickly turned to undressing each other.

With a growing pile of hoodie, tank top, dress shirt and undershirt already on the floor, Edward reached for the zipper on Bella's jeans. He unzipped and bent to push them down and off her legs. As she rested a hand on his shoulder for balance she felt a kiss on her hipbone. It made her shiver.

Edward gave Bella's shoulders a little squeeze when he stood, stepping closer. His fingertips grazed across her back as he ducked his head down, kissing the curve where neck met shoulder, slowly working his way up her neck. She felt him unclasping her bra and he stepped back slightly, pulling it down her arms and adding it to the pile of discarded clothes on the floor.

"No self-hugging allowed," he growled softly, as she blushed and made an instinctive move to cover her naked breasts. His hands slid down her arms to grasp her hands in his for a moment as he looked into her dark eyes with his own intense gaze. "I like looking at you, Bella. Don't try to hide yourself from me."

She exhaled, feeling slightly embarrassed still. "The light in here is pretty unforgiving," she mumbled, unaccustomed at being the object of such smoldering scrutiny.

"I don't see anything to forgive," Edward said in that low, velvety voice of his as his eyes flickered over her body and lovely face, framed by thick, wavy hair. He stepped closer, bringing her into his chest, enfolding her within his arms and pressing her nude torso to his. He wondered why she couldn't see what he did.

"All I see is a beautiful, smart, sexy, and delightful woman with a big heart," he said sincerely. "You're perfect, Bella…exactly as you are. Don't ever doubt that."

She blushed as she looked up at him, seeing nothing in his eyes but a reassuring openness and…well, a whole lot of sexiness. She linked her arms around him more snugly.

"I think you're the perfect one, Edward," she murmured happily.

He smiled and held her for a moment, finally moving back a bit to look down at her as he tucked her hair over her shoulder. "I'm not that perfect, Bella, and you know it. For one thing…I'm…kind of…smelly."

Bella smiled as his mouth curled into that lopsided grin of his she loved. "Well, then you've come to the right place because I can fix that. Don't go anywhere, smelly boy," she advised, pointing at him before she moved away to turn on the shower.

She returned to him once the water was on, taking in his look of anticipation as she reached for his fly. She bit down into her lower lip as she unzipped carefully, cautious of the contents within—which also seemed to be filled with anticipation.

Do you not see that evidence of his attraction, right there? And did you not just hear how he sees you?! Go for the grope, girlfriend! Show him some sexy! Be a bolder Bella!

She pushed his suit pants over his hips and they slid down his long, lean legs to the floor. And then, eyeing the now-familiar, still-impressive bulge in his boxers, she palmed him…firmly so. He was already quite responsive…firmly so. And he actually had a variety of reactions to Bella's sudden caress: fluttering eyelids and dilating pupils, a sudden inhalation that was more of a hissing sound, sucked in between his teeth, his nostrils had flared and a low sound vibrated in his throat as he exhaled.

God, he's so freaking sexy! And I did that to him! I made him purr!

Bella hooked her fingers into her panties with a sudden confidence, dragged them down her legs, and stepped out of them.

Edward couldn't rid himself of his boxer briefs quickly enough. And Bella couldn't help but notice the heat in his eyes as they roamed her body and face.

Gah! That look! He's just so damn sexy! And naked! And glorious! He looks like he's been sculpted. Michelangelo's David has nothing on Bella Swan's Edward!

He advanced on her then, turning her to face the shower stall, marching her into the shower enclosure, and shutting the door behind them. He pulled her under the shower's warm spray, leaned into her hard, kissed her hard, and was unequivocally…hard.

"You have no idea how sexy you are," he breathed, cupping her chin and looking at her upturned face. "And that just makes you all the more so," he added. He shook his head a little, thinking what a constant surprise she was. She was a natural beauty and yet she was sometimes on the shy side—that blush of hers made him absolutely crazy—but then in the next moment she would say do something completely bold and unexpected. She kept him guessing, that was for certain; he never knew what she was thinking.

What she was thinking at the moment was how amazing it was that he would even think she was sexy. He was the sexy one, she thought—undeniably attractive but so much more appealing than she'd ever expected. He was hot inside and out. And showering with a hot, wet, naked Edward…well, that just seemed like the perfect recipe for steamy.

Edward's personal steaminess will be the cause of most of the steaminess in this shower. How do I ignore that?

Obviously you don't! Now grab that body wash and grab your hot boyfriend and get to work on him, Isabella Marie!

Bella poured body wash into both their hands. It was tacitly understood that they would be washing…and exploring…the soft curves and hard planes and length and breadth of each other's bodies. Edward paid particular attention to Bella's soft curves and she, in turn, paid close attention to his hard planes…and length.

Naturally, things escalated quickly from scrubbing and soaping to hugging and groping.

After losing themselves in ragged kissing, combined with harsh breathing and flesh kneading, Edward pulled away, moving to the bench seat at the side of the shower stall, tugging Bella toward. She blinked at him, uncertain what he intended.

She gazed down into his hungry, upturned face and raked his slick, dark wet hair back off his brow. His hands moved up the outsides of her thighs and around to the small of her back, and then lower, grasping her enticing little behind and keeping her close. His eyes looked black and his jaw was slack as he gazed up into her eyes. Bella tipped her head down lower, caressing his face and kissing his perfect mouth.

Light fingertips grazed her skin and she sighed into his mouth at the tantalizing touch. His mouth moved slowly downward, kissing her chin and neck. She closed her eyes, threading grasping fingers through wet locks of his hair as his lips lingered on her collarbone and then lower.

He was kissing and licking and flicking.

Oh my!

She reached down between them, touching him lightly and then grasping more firmly. He made an appreciative growling noise at her actions and his hand moved down the front of her body, his fingers searching until Bella's soft moan told him he'd arrived at his destination.

If Edward's thoughts and field of vision hadn't been so filled with Bella's perfect breasts and parted legs…or if he'd been able to overlook the sight of his hands working her into a frenzy as she did the same to him…and if he hadn't noticed she was nudging as he was bucking…and if the sounds of her breaths and moans hadn't been mingling with his own grunts and groans…he might have been able to hold them both off a little longer.

But Edward Cullen was powerless to hold anything at bay. He began unraveling the moment he tipped his head up to take in the sight of Bella coming undone, only to find her looking right back at him as she began dropping breathy little F-bombs and panting his name. Who the fuck could ignore something as spectacular as that? Edward growled a curse of his own and groaned her name as they both derailed like a runaway freight train.

As her body collapsed into his, Edward was thankful he'd been able to shift his arm and hang onto her when her shaky legs had begun giving out. He pulled her onto his lap and they leaned against each other, bodies tingling and chests heaving, catching their breath as their heartbeats returned to normal.

"I really like showering at your place," Edward commented after a while, as he rubbed leisurely at the nape of Bella's neck.

Her response was to begin shaking against him with silent laughter.

He kissed her temple, smiling into her wet hair. "What?"

"We never even washed our hair, Edward!"

"Oh, yeah…you're right," he agreed. "Well…we got…distracted. I can live with unwashed hair."

Bella lifted her head to look at him. "Are you serious?"

"If I have to choose…hugging and groping with you in the shower will beat shampooing every time."

Bella laughed as she climbed off his lap. "Well, luckily, you can have it all. Come on, we'd better hurry before the warm water is completely gone."

He joined her under the shower spray and they quickly shampooed and rinsed off before getting out, drying off, and wrapping up in thick towels.

Edward sat on the closed lid of the toilet seat, his towel wrapped and tucked around his waist, watching Bella, in her own towel, as she dried her hair. Her eyes kept flickering over to him and she smiled as she flipped and fluffed and brushed. Despite the noise of the blowdryer, Edward thought it was a rather peaceful, intimate moment—kind of a domestic moment—and he kind of liked that. He inhaled deeply and his exhale came out as a yawn.

"Edward, that's your third yawn. You've been running around like a madman all day—mostly because of me; seriously, go get into bed—I'll be right there."

He shook his head, smiling. "Nope. I'm good. I like watching you. You're very watchable."

She rolled her eyes as she moved to stand in front of him, running her fingers through his hair and drying it, though it was just barely damp. Finally she turned off the blowdryer and set it on the counter.

They made quick work of the clothing strewn about the floor in the bathroom and then climbed into bed, sinking into the warmth of each other's naked body.

The day had been a long and rather hectic one for Edward. And though he'd had good intentions of basking in their bedtime nudity, he drifted off to sleep rather quickly holding Bella in his arms.

Bella remained awake for a while, gazing at the beautiful, peaceful face of her sweet and sexy boyfriend, lying stunningly naked and sound asleep next to her. She thought about the Christmas-morning feeling of waking to find him next to her in bed at the start of her day. Then there was her Trucker, dealing with her vehicle problems and even renting her a rescue truck. She thought about his anxiety at how she'd take his plans to try and buy Starlighted and then she grinned. Their shower hugging and groping had apparently gone a long way to relieve any residual stress he might have had.

She snuggled closer, contemplating the kind of man who had helped to set two of his closest friends up in successful businesses: a boutique gym and a publishing house. And now there was the possibility that her own best friend might someday be employed in her dream job as a result of Edward's newest business venture. It made Bella wonder which came first: the right friend for the job or the right job for the friend. Either way—and maybe it was all just coincidence—Bella decided Edward Cullen was a good man…an exceptionally good man.

She had asked him out to dinner this afternoon to thank him for all he'd done today, but because of his meeting with James, they'd put it off until tomorrow. She realized now that she had to figure out where she wanted to take him. As she lay there, sorting through possible dinner date destinations for the following evening, Edward shifted against her, his arm pulling her closer.

"Bella," he said in a quiet sigh.

She stilled, holding her breath and watching his face, wondering if he would say anything more. And if she hadn't been listening so intently, she might not have even heard his next words.

"Tell her, Cullen," he mumbled.

Bella couldn't help but smile. She'd just made two interesting discoveries about Edward Cullen. First, just like her, he talked in his sleep. And second, the man obviously talked to himself...out loud.

Unfortunately, she would have to wait for the third discovery—whatever it was he needed to tell her.

A/N: So…the reasons for acquiring Starlighted become clearer and Gropeward becomes cleaner.