"For the Love of a Man in Uniform" O/S Contest

Title: Anchor My Heart

Word Count: 10,056

Rating: M

Pairing: Edward/Bella

Summary: After a devastating end to a relationship, Bella vows to never date another man in the Military. Can a handsome U.S. Coast Guard Lieutenant change her mind?

"Maggie! You little scamp. You're supposed to share. Isn't that right Mae? You tell her those treats are for everyone."

I loved my job. I'd been working at the Monterey Bay Aquarium for the past four years. Maggie and Mae were just two of the seven sea otters we had here. Every day I'd come in and take a peek at my animals and they were always happy to see me. I had the joy of working with the sea otters. My best friend, Angela, was one of our vets here and together we made a great team.

"You know, Bella, you'd have something great if you'd put as much time and passion into a relationship with a man as you do with these otters."

I shook my head.

"Ange, I'd love that, but it's too much work. At least my girls here listen to me when I have something to say and they love me unconditionally."

"Oh geez, Bella, now that is just sad. We really have to get you out more often. Ben has a friend that he wants to introduce you to."

"Ugh … not again. Ange, I love you and Ben, but you've really got to let me handle my own love life."

"Come on, Bella, please?"

I rolled my eyes. When Angela set her mind on something there was no stopping her. I appreciated their concern for me, truly I did, but I was content with my own life.

I had a Master's degree in Marine Science that I worked my butt off for, I had a little cottage by the beach that I loved, and of course a great job.

"I'll think about it and let you know," I said, grabbing my bag from my locker and shoving my ID badge into it. "Tell Ben thank you and kiss him on the cheek for me."

Ben was in the U.S. Coast Guard and was stationed here in Monterey. He was always trying to hook me up with someone he worked with. I just couldn't bring myself to tell him that I wasn't interested in someone in the military—no matter what form of military it was.

I walked out the back door and unchained my bike. While strapping on my helmet, Angela stood in the doorway glaring at me.

"Got a hot date tonight with the boob tube and a pint of Ben & Jerry's?"

"Bye, Ange. See you tomorrow."

I took my time riding home. It was my favorite time of the day—early evening. The sun had settled down over the ocean, the sky lighting up in hues of pink, orange and gold before turning various shades of blue as darkness closed in. With the darkness came the mist and fog. It was what I loved most about Monterey.

My modest little cottage wasn't far from the aquarium. It was a twenty minute ride at most. I loved it. I found it by pure luck when I began looking for places to rent. I must've looked at twenty different places until I stumbled across it. It was perfect for me and had a great view of the ocean.

After locking my bike in the shed, I let myself in, dropping my bag by the front door. I wandered into the kitchen and heated up some leftovers. Sitting on the deck, twilight was my dinner companion.

"Bella, we're all going out tomorrow night. Don't you want to come with us?"

"Ange … " I whined. "If I agree to this, will you let it go?"

"Yes, and I promise to never get tired of hearing you say thank you!"

Angela had been bugging me relentlessly for a week. I knew she meant well, but I was happy. If she needed to introduce me to someone to make herself happy, then I was willing to budge, but just this once.

I found myself standing in front of the mirror, hoping I looked good enough to meet a complete stranger whom I truly had no interest in meeting. I'd decided on a pair of dark-washed skinny jeans, a feminine navy blue tank top with a cream-colored cardigan over it, and my favorite gray Chuck's to complete the ensemble. Comfy casual I liked to call it. It worked for me.

Hearing my phone ring from the abyss known as my messenger bag, I had to hurry before the call went to voicemail. It was days like this that I wished I had remembered to toss it on the sofa table when I came in the door.

"Hello?"

"Hey, Bella, I just called to tell you that we're meeting at Bubba Gump's. You're still coming, right?"

"Yeah, I'm still coming. What time?"

"Umm … in about twenty-five minutes?"

"I'll be there."

I wasn't worried about drinking too much, so I decided to drive. Parking along Cannery Row could sometimes be a bitch, but I could always park in the employee lot at the aquarium, as it was only a short walk to the restaurant.

Bubba Gump's was an interesting place. Named after Bubba from the movie Forrest Gump, it was a seafood restaurant of sorts. If you'd never seen the movie you might not understand how it worked. There was a tin bucket on the end of the table that contained a roll of paper towels, and a stand holding two license plates. One read, "Run, Forrest, Run" the other one read, "Stop, Forrest, Stop." When you needed the waitstaff you flipped it to Stop and when you didn't you left it on Run. Not that the sign ever stopped the staff from dropping by your table to ask trivia questions about the movie.

My friend, Alice, worked there as a server, and Angela would only have us go there if Alice was working. It wasn't really busy when I walked in as it was late October and the tourist season was pretty much over. Alice spotted me and led me over to the bar where a gorgeous man with medium-brown hair and piercing green eyes was sitting.

He was wearing what looked like a U.S. Coast Guard uniform, and damn if he didn't look good in it. The long-sleeved navy button shirt contoured to every muscle in his chest, while the navy pants were snug, leaving nothing to the imagination as he stood and I saw what a fine ass he had.

"I think you two are both waiting on Angela and Ben." Alice smiled. "Edward, this is Bella."

Edward offered his hand to me and I took it in greeting. "Nice to meet you, Bella. I'm Edward, obviously."

His handshake was gentle; his large hands completely encompassed my own. Edward's skin was soft, but I could feel the calluses on his hands. His voice was smooth like honey.

"Nice to meet you, too."

"I'm sorry, I thought Ben and Angela would've been here by now," Edward apologized as he peeled the label off of his beer bottle.

"Don't apologize; Angela will be late to her own funeral."

Edward chuckled and asked me what I wanted to drink. I ordered a beer and waited while the barkeep popped it open for me.

"How long have you lived in this area?" Edward asked quietly.

"Umm, I've been in Monterey for just over six years I guess. How about you?"

"I was just stationed here, so I've been here for about three weeks now."

"How long have you been in the Coast Guard?"

"Twelve years."

"Sorry we're late, guys! We didn't mean to leave you hanging all by yourselves, but it looks like you've both survived without us," Angela said, giving me a sideways hug.

Ben introduced Angela to Edward and Alice showed us to our table.

"So, Angela, Ben tells me that you're a veterinarian at the aquarium?"

"Yes, I am. I've been at the aquarium almost six years now. I really couldn't ask for a better job.

Edward smiled. "There's no point being stuck in a field that you don't love. How about you, Bella? Ben said that you work with Angela?"

"Yeah, I do."

Though Edward seemed like a nice guy and an upstanding citizen from what Ben said, he was still in the Coast Guard—a branch of the military. I didn't date military guys―not anymore.

I met Eric when I first moved to Monterey. He was in the Army, stationed at the Monterey Presidio. He was an interpreter, highly intelligent, and spoke seven languages. Of course he spoke Italian and French. He had me at hello. He was kind and sweet, and obviously I fell for his charms quickly.

When he came to me and said that he was being deployed to Afghanistan, I was crushed but I thought that I could get through it. He promised me the world if I would just wait for him to come home. What was eighteen months in the grand scheme of things?

Two months in to his tour, I was sitting at home after class one day when there was a knock at my door. I found a woman and an adorable little boy standing there.

"Bella Swan?"

I nodded. "Yes, that's me."

"Hi. I know you don't know me, but I know who you are. I'm Lauren Yorkie, Eric's wife. This is our son, Michael. I know that Eric didn't tell you about me, but we have our reasons. Anyway, to make a long story short, I've been deployed just like Eric and I have no family and neither does he. Would it be possible for you to keep our son until Eric comes back?"

I was stunned. He was married? He had a son? He had his reasons for not telling me? How could he just leave out those minor details? I was twenty-three years-old. I knew nothing about kids let alone how to take care of one. I was an only child.

"Excuse me? You're WHO?"

"Bella, if you'd just let me explain…"

"No, no I think wife was pretty self-explanatory. What kind of woman would allow her husband to have a mistress? I don't know what kind of fucked-up game you two are playing, but it's one that I don't care to be involved in."

"Bella, I.."

"Really, Lauren, I get it. You may not mind sharing, but I DO. Make sure that you pass that message on to Eric and tell him to never contact me again."

I slammed the door in her face. Turning my back toward the door, I slowly slid down to the floor, hot tears of anger falling down my face. How could he have done this to me?

My heart fell to the floor and shattered into a million little pieces that day. I'd given Eric everything I had, and loved him so fiercely. He thought so little of me to make me his mistress. I vowed then and therenever again.

Angela elbowed me in the stomach and brought me out of my daydream. "What the hell? That hurt."

"Edward asked you what you do at the aquarium. Right, Edward?" Angela stated with gritted teeth.

"Yeah," Edward said with a smirk.

I turned to Edward and gave him a smile. "Um … I work with the sea otters."

"What's that like?"

"It's great. My girls are always happy to see me and they love me unconditionally. They're like family."

"Your girls?"

"Yeah … Joy, Kit, 502, Mae, Rosa, Toola and Maggie. All the sea otters at the aquarium are female."

"Wow, that's a lot of estrogen in one tank."

I cocked an eyebrow and asked, "Does that intimidate you?"

Edward gave a heartfelt laugh. "No, not at all."

To say I was glad when Alice brought our food was an understatement. I didn't want to seem like a total bitch, but I'd had enough of the personal questions. Edward was a nice enough guy—and totally gorgeous—but I refused to succumb to his charms much like I had with Eric.

I didn't interact much during dinner but mostly listened as Edward told stories. I learned he grew up in Chicago but had moved to Seattle while still in high school. Before coming to Monterey he'd been stationed in Hawaii for the last three years. He had an older brother, Emmett, who was a police officer for the Seattle Police department where his parents still lived.

It seemed Edward had no problems sharing information from his personal life, unlike me.

"Because Edward's new to Monterey, it would be nice if he had someone to show him around. Maybe you could help him out with that, Bella."

"What?"

"Bella, it's okay you don't have to."

"Yes, she does. It's the polite thing to do."

I turned to Angela and gave her the bitch brow. "What the hell, Angela?"

"What? It's not like I'm asking you to marry him. Just show the man around."

"Bella, it's okay."

"Edward, it's not okay. Bella needs to get out more instead of sitting and watching the boob tube all the time."

"You know what? Fine. Edward, I would love to show you around Monterey if you want."

"Is that sarcasm I hear in your voice?"

"I'm sorry, Edward. Really, I don't mind showing you around. What I do mind is my friend butting into my life." I turned to glare at Angela who just smiled back.

"Well, I'm actually off next weekend so maybe we could get together then?"

"That works for me; I don't think I have any plans, either."

"Sounds good to me."

Edward handed me his phone and I quickly programmed my number into it. After handing it back to him, he called my cell so that I had his number as well.

This was not a date. Even if my brain agreed, my stomach had other ideas. Just the thought of spending an entire day alone with Edward had my stomach in knots.

I had to relax. Today was no more than a friend showing another friend around a new city—nothing else.

Cannery Row would be busier because it was Saturday but I thought I would start there. Edward was meeting me at the aquarium parking lot as parking could sometimes be a pain in the ass.

I grabbed my stuff and headed to the aquarium. After checking on the girls and giving them each a treat, I went outside to wait for Edward.

As I walked outside the rumble of an engine caught my attention and I turned to see Edward pull up on his motorcycle. He looked so sexy straddling his bike as he removed his helmet and cut the engine. I stood there in awe.

Edward's eyes locked with mine and he had a damn smirk on his face—like he knew the effect he had on me. When my legs finally decided to work, I walked the short distance to him.

"Hey," Edward said, climbing off his bike.

"Hey. Some ride you have there."

"Ever been on a motorcycle?"

He walked around his bike and stood in front of me and I couldn't form an answer. Edward was dressed casually in a blue and white Monterey Coast Guard t-shirt and khaki cargo pants. His t-shirt clung to every muscle and I could tell he was well-built. He was even sexier than the last time I saw him.

I just shook my head.

He laughed. "Well, I'll have to take you for a ride sometime."

"I'm not sure I trust you."

"Well, then, I'm gonna have to work on that."

"You do that," I said with a smile.

"So, where to first?"

"I thought we could have lunch and then walk around."

"That sounds great to me."

"The Fish Hopper has a great lunch menu."

"Lead the way, m'lady."

I took off toward the Fish Hopper, hoping he was following. After settling in and ordering, my stomach was in knots again as the nerves settled in. Edward must've noticed my nervousness.

"Bella, I'm sorry if I'm making you uncomfortable. I know you really didn't want to do this. I was hoping we could be friends."

I was stunned by the softness in his voice and the concern in his eyes. He wanted to be friends. I still wasn't sure if it was a ploy or if he really just wanted to be my friend, but it was really hard to stay closed off when he was so nice.

"Edward … I should be apologizing. I was a real bitch the other night. I really don't have a problem showing you around. I just have some issues I'm trying to work through."

"Well, if you ever want to talk, I'm here."

"Thanks … and I would really like to be friends, too." I smiled.

The waiter delivered our food and we tucked it away like we hadn't eaten in days. We dined in comfortable silence as my nerves seemed to ease a little. After settling the bill we headed out to explore Cannery Row.

We went from store to store checking out everything. As we walked, Edward's arm would brush casually against my arm, innocently, but invoked all these new feelings.

Edward was always trying to make me laugh by pointing out the most ridiculous items in each store. He had me in tears when he pointed out a woman that seriously needed a wardrobe makeover. I was actually starting to have fun.

When we passed Ghirardelli's I convinced Edward that he needed to try the best ice cream. He agreed and we rested while enjoying the cold treat.

Edward was a nice guy and a lot of fun to be with. It didn't hurt he had a rock-hard body and gorgeous face either. Just spending time with him made me lower my defenses.

"Where to now, tour guide?"

"You up for a game of miniature golf?"

"I haven't played since high school, but sure, why not."

"Great. Let's go."

The mini golf was located in the American Tin Cannery, just a block away from the aquarium. Oceans 18 Mini Golf was a glow-in-the-dark underwater adventure that was so cool to play in. It made you want to let your inner child out.

It was so cute watching Edward concentrate on a shot like it was the PGA. We had so much fun laughing and goofing off.

"I haven't had that much fun in a long time."

"Me, either. Thanks for talking me into it."

We had reached my car by now and the knots were back. What was the appropriate thing to do? Give him a kiss on the cheek? A hug?

"Thank you for today. I had a lot of fun."

"I did, too. We'll have to do it again."

Edward kissed my cheek. "Good night, Bella. Drive safely."

"You, too."

I spent the next three days trying to get Edward out of my head. He seemed so sweet and genuine, but then again, Eric seemed that way at first, too. Yeah, I realized that all men weren't monsters, but the ones who were gave the good ones a bad rep.

Edward called me Wednesday morning hoping that I'd be able to meet him for lunch that day, but I just let the phone go to voicemail. When my phone buzzed later that afternoon with a text, I sighed and shoved my phone back in my pocket.

"Bella, are you just going to ignore that poor man?"

Angela stood in front of me as I prepared the fish to feed my girls for their evening meal.

"For a little while, yes, I am."

"Bella, he really is a good person. You should give him a chance."

"Ange, I appreciate what you're trying to do here. If I'm going to try this whole dating thing again, I'm going to have to do it on my own, with my own rules. I don't need you shoving Edward at me every chance you get. That's not fair to me and it's certainly not fair to him, especially if I'm not ready yet. I know you mean well, but please … just don't, okay?"

"Okay, Bella. I'm sorry. Just please don't shut him out. That's all I'm asking."

When I got home that evening, I grabbed my dinner and plopped down on the sofa, my remote in my hand. I had just turned on the TV when my phone chimed with a new text.

Please don't ignore me, Bella. I had a great time with you on Saturday. I'd really like to see you again. – E

I decided what the hell and quickly texted him back.

I don't mean to ignore you. I just need time. I hope you can understand that. I had a great time, too, for the record. – B

Time I can afford, just make it before I'm an old man, okay? – E

K. - B

Can I call you sometime? Just to talk, I promise. – E

Sure. – B

My phone rang in my hand. Edward calling. Well, this guy didn't waste any time, did he?

"Hey. That was fast."

"You said I could call you, so I did."

"I didn't think you'd call tonight. I thought you meant some time in the future."

"The moment after I got your text was the future, so I dialed your number and took a chance. Are you going to hang up on me now?"

"No. How often do you use that line on women?"

"What line?"

"About the next moment being the future so you took a chance."

"Not often. You'd be the first."

Edward's voice was so soft and sweet in that admission that it almost made me feel bad for asking about it. Almost.

"Look, Bella, I know that you've obviously been hurt, and from what I can tell you've been hurt pretty badly. I just want you to know that I'm not the bad guy here. I'd really like to be your friend, but you're so closed off, you make it really hard."

"Edward, honestly … I'll tell you the same thing I told Angela. If I'm going to try this whole friend thing, I'm going to do it on my own, with my own rules. Please don't force it on me. I really am trying the best I can to deal with my issues, but those are my concessions. I won't allow myself to tell you if you're right or wrong, because that would be giving away too much of myself. Just please, please don't push me to do anything that I'm not ready for."

"Oh, Bella, what did he do to you?" Edward asked softly, "I know you won't answer that, and you don't have to. I hope maybe one day I'll earn your trust enough for you to tell me on your own without being prompted. Will you tell me what you're doing right now?"

Edward's second question caught me off-guard. Did I really want to tell him that I was sitting on my ass, feeding my face, and watching TV? I was Angela's description, painted out in a nice vivid picture. Deciding that honesty was the best policy, and not really giving a shit what he thought about what I was doing, I told him.

"I'm sitting on the couch watching TV and eating dinner."

"What are you eating?"

"Thai. Orange chicken and pad Thai with a big huge Thai tea to drink," I snipped.

"What are you watching?"

Even I didn't know what the hell I was watching. I'd just turned on the TV when he texted me. I hadn't even begun to channel surf yet.

"Oooh, Lost is on!"

"Yeah, but it's just a rerun though. The new season doesn't start for another couple months."

"Are you watching it, too?"

"Yeah, I thought maybe we could talk and watch TV together over the phone as you seem opposed to doing it in person. Friends do that, right? Sit and chat about their favorite TV shows while they stuff their face with greasy takeout?"

Where was he getting this shit from? An outdated issue of Cosmo?

"I suppose talking on the phone is better than actually sitting with you, giving you a pedicure while you search for the perfect color of pink polish for your toes."

"Ahh, there's the humor that I've missed since Saturday. All right, Miss Bella, I've taken up enough of your time. You enjoy your dinner and precious time with your boob tube. I hope that you'll call or text me to get together for lunch soon."

"I'll think about it, Edward."

"That's all I'm asking, Bella. Good night."

Before I could say good night, the line went dead. I instantly felt sad that I could no longer hear his sweet, smooth voice. There was just something soothing about the soft tenor of his voice. I didn't want to, but I craved it.

I totally gave in the next morning and called him to ask him to lunch. He quickly answered and agreed immediately, saying that it was his day off and he'd be more than happy to spend an hour or so with me. I picked up some sandwiches from my favorite deli and set off down the beach to the spot where he'd promised to meet me.

Edward was waiting for me when I arrived.

"Thanks for thinking about it and having lunch with me."

I smiled sweetly at him.

"You're welcome, Edward, but you realize that this is purely selfish on my part. You didn't give me a chance to say goodbye last night, and I'm so used to having the last word it's pathetic."

"Well, beautiful Bella, with me you're going to have to get used to not always having the last word."

I was speechless; I had no comeback to that. He said it so sweetly and softly, it made me melt a little.

We enjoyed our lunch on the beach, the banter between us light and unforced. Once again I found myself lost in the sound of his voice. My little happy bubble was broken when the alarm on my phone went off, telling me it was time to go back to work.

"Back to work, eh?"

"Yeah, back to work. Edward, thank you for meeting me. I know that I may come across as being a little neurotic sometimes. I really don't mean to be, I just have to be … careful."

"Bella, it's okay. There's no crime in being cautious and protecting yourself. Especially if you've been burned before."

I nodded and stood up, grabbing my messenger bag. Edward stood as well and walked me back to where I'd locked up my bike.

"Thanks for lunch, Bella. It was really nice and I hope we get a chance to do it again sometime."

"You're welcome, and I think I'd like that."

I reached up and kissed his soft cheek. As I pulled away from him I was dazed by the smell of him. He was all sun, soap, and heavenly man with the tiniest hint of cologne.

I shook my head to clear it and promised him that I'd call or text him soon.

"Maggie, what did I tell you about sharing? You know the fish are for everyone."

I threw some more fish for the others and watched as they enjoyed their morning treat. Jessica and Kate, my helpers, were getting all the toys and activities for our morning training session together.

During our sessions I would work with my girls with different enrichment toys to help stimulate natural behaviors. The sessions kept them active and learning all the time. This morning one activity we were doing was our ice activity where we hid their food and they had to search through the ice to find it.

"Good girl, Rosa."

This was what I loved about my job, knowing I helped to make their lives fulfilling.

"That's it Toola. You can do it."

While Jessica and Kate worked with Rosa, Toola, Mae and Maggie, I worked with Kit, Joy and 502 with a frisbee. I would throw it and they would return it to get a treat. Back and forth it went between the three girls.

After our session was done I started to clean up and put the toys away when I was startled by a smooth, velvet voice.

"You know, you're really good with those animals."

"Edward! What are you doing here?"

"Well, I couldn't stay away. I missed you. Plus I wanted to see you in action."

Over the past few weeks Edward and I had been spending more and more time together. We seemed to have more in common than we knew. I was starting to like this whole friendship thing, even if I knew there were lingering feelings underneath.

"You watched, right? So what'd you think?"

"I now see why you love your job."

I felt my face warm up and knew I was a bright shade of red. "Thanks."

"So … I was thinking maybe we could get together later."

"How about you come to my place, we could order takeout and watch Lost?"

"You're inviting me to your humble abode?" Edward feigned shock with his hand to his heart.

"Jerk," I punched his shoulder in a friendly gesture, "it's not my fault you want to cook all the time and show off."

"I do love to show off, don't I?"

"So, are you gonna come over or not?"

"I'd love to."

"Good. You bring the beer."

"What time do you get off?"

"Four o'clock. Why?"

"I'll pick you up."

"Edward, you don't have to. I brought my bike."

"I want to, and anyway, you can put it in my trunk."

"Fine." I pouted.

"See you at four, Bella." Edward smirked, kissed my cheek, and left me to finish cleaning up.

I shook my head to clear my thoughts but nothing helped. The lingering effects of his soft lips on my cheek was boggling my mind. It was going to be a long afternoon.

Edward and I were curled up on the couch with our Chinese food, enjoying an episode of Lost. It felt right to be sitting with him like we were meant to be there, together.

The way we were so comfortable around each other was unnerving sometimes. Silence between us wasn't awkward or unusual; it just felt like … us. There were times that I wanted to let down my walls, but I still needed to protect myself. This night, I left myself vulnerable and was caught completely off-guard.

"Women are just attracted to Sawyer because he's the bad boy."

"Would you apply that stereotype to all women?"

"Maybe not all women, but a fair share of them, yes."

I rolled my eyes at that comment.

"Well in that case, I'm glad you think so highly of us."

"As the saying goes … innocent until proven guilty."

"Okay, hypothetical, what happens when a non-stereotypical woman meets a good guy like Jack and he turns out to be the stereotypical asshole?"

It seemed Edward eyed me carefully before he spoke.

"There has to be something there that she missed, didn't see maybe because she was so jaded by everything that was good about him that she missed all the bad things that made him an asshole. Just for the record, Jack had his fair share of issues, too."

I really didn't know how to respond without giving too much away of my past, so I let it go. We continued eating our food and watching the end of Lost.

As we cleaned up our trash and empty containers from dinner, Edward grabbed my arm gently so I faced him.

"Bella, I'm sorry if I offended you earlier. I wasn't implying anything."

"Edward, it's okay."

"I don't want you mad at me."

I really wasn't mad. It wasn't like Edward knew my past and was being intentionally mean.

"It's fine. I'm not mad."

"Okay."

"This weekend is your weekend off, right?"

"Yeah, why? What did you have in mind?"

"I thought I would take you up on the motorcycle ride."

"Does this mean you trust me?" Edward said with a gleam in his eye.

"Maybe." I smirked.

"I should be going. I have an early start tomorrow."

"Okay. I'll call to let you know what time Saturday."

Edward kissed my cheek. "Bye, Bella."

"Bye."

Edward gathered his belongings, waved goodbye, and left me standing at the doorway contemplating what I'd just got myself into. What the hell was I thinking accepting a ride on a motorcycle?

I could blame it on being drunk or high, but the only thing I'd been exposed to was Edward. Though he did have a tendency to make me feel lightheaded, weak in the knees, queasy in the stomach and more often than not, completely breathless―I couldn't use that as an excuse―not one that I could share with Edward anyway.

At least I had given myself a few days to get used to the idea. What I wasn't expecting one sleepy morning was a frantic phone call from Angela.

"Bella! There's been an accident! An oil spill and they need volunteers!"

She said everything so fast that it took me a few moments to comprehend what it was that she was telling me.

"Ange … slow down. An oil spill? Where?"

"In the San Francisco Bay and they've called the Coast Guard out to assist, and of course Ben got me involved because I'm a vet. I'm calling you because there's no one better that I'd want to work with. Bella! You've got to help! Please!"

I rolled over in my bed and glanced at my alarm clock. Nine thirty-seven. I'd slept in and it felt wonderful. It was a rare day off during the week for me, and it had been shot to hell with a single phone call.

"All right, Ange. Calm down. You woke me up so you'll have to give me a minute. My brain can't think that fast before coffee. Do you need me to come in to work? What do you need me to do?"

"I need you to come down and help me organize a team to head up to the bay. We've got permission to board one of the Coast Guard ships to help with the wildlife."

"All right, give me twenty minutes and I'll be there."

I shut my phone and jumped out of bed. I quickly showered and pulled my hair up into a messy bun before pulling on an old pair of jeans and found a sweatshirt with the aquarium's logo on it. Grabbing my keys and messenger bag, I flew out the door.

When I arrived at the aquarium, there were already a lot of familiar faces gathering. It was one of the things I loved most; the folks I worked with were good people. Volunteering to help with this oil spill wasn't going to be a picnic. We listened intently as Angela gave us a run down—what happened exactly, and what we were going to expect when we got there. We were told that there were a lot of birds in danger and we were going to save what we could. If I had it my way, we'd save them all.

We loaded up in vans and headed toward the Monterey Presidio where we'd catch a helicopter ride up to San Francisco. I had to hand it to Angela, the girl had connections.

When we arrived in San Francisco, we quickly climbed aboard our rescue craft. What I wasn't expecting was to see Edward there.

"Bella, what are you doing here?"

"Ange called me this morning to see if I'd help out. I just couldn't say no."

Edward sighed as he helped me pull some of our gear up onto the deck.

"What is it?" I asked quietly, once all the gear had been brought on board.

"It's nothing. It's just been a stressful morning. Let's go see what we can do."

I turned to see Angela talking animatedly to Ben at the other end of the boat, but I couldn't hear what they were talking about. Ben looked as if he'd aged ten years since I'd seen him last. As we made our way into the bay, closer to the spill, I understood why.

"The accident happened around eight thirty this morning. We are trying to control the spill as much as possible," Ben said, looking at me as if he knew I was going to ask.

"How much oil are we looking at?"

Ben sighed. "We're not exactly sure at the moment. It's still a bit early to tell, but we've got to work on getting some of this wildlife taken care of before it gets worse."

I swore I felt my eyes bug out of my head.

"Bella!"

I heard one of my co-workers holler at me, and I turned in their direction. I wasn't prepared at all for what I was about to see, but it didn't take me long to spring into action.

"Bella, let me help."

I turned to see Edward's soft green eyes peering down at me as I worked to clean off one of the birds my co-worker had just rescued.

"I've got this, Edward. You should be out there doing what you can to keep the spill from spreading."

I still couldn't get his look from earlier out of my mind. He wanted to know what I was doing there. It was like he didn't want me there. I was doing my job. Who was he to question that?

Angela came in and joined me once she'd had an official briefing with the Commanding Officer and the person who was heading up the Wildlife Rescue efforts.

"Bella … " Angela said after a few minutes. "Don't give Edward too hard of a time. He really cares about you. I hope one day you'll realize just how much he cares."

"Ange … please don't. Leave Edward and me to fight our own battles okay?"

"Okay, okay. I just wanted to say that I understand why he's so concerned about you being on this rescue. He's stressed with work right now and you being on this boat isn't helping his nerves."

"What the hell are you talking about? What do you mean you understand why he's concerned about me being on this rescue and being on this boat?"

Angela sighed.

"That's something that you're going to have to talk to Edward about, especially because you want me to leave you two to fight your own battles."

I huffed. I hated when Ange started something and then was so cryptic about it. I couldn't find the fight in me to stay mad with Angela when I was focused on saving the animals we could, and added in the fact that I was concerned with whatever was causing Edward stress. When it came down to it, I cared for him, too. More than I wanted to admit. I cared about what made him angry, sad, or caused him undue stress.

Once I had the bird I'd been working on somewhat stable, I made my way out to see what else there was to be done. I crossed paths with Edward and his brows were furrowed and his mouth was drawn down. I found myself wanting nothing more than to wipe away his anger, sadness, and worry. I wanted to kiss his pillow-soft lips to see for myself just how soft they truly were. I wanted to say something completely off the wall just to see his beautiful crooked smile. But I couldn't. I had a job to do … and so did he.

"Edward … " I began, but he cut me off.

"Bella, don't. Just be careful okay? Promise me that you'll be careful," he begged.

I nodded.

"I promise to be careful as long as you eventually explain to me why you're making me promise to be careful, okay?"

Edward sighed and looked down.

"I'll explain it to you if you tell me why you won't date someone in the military."

Was he kidding me with this? I'd already promised to be careful … now he wanted something else from me?

Edward finally looked back up at me, his emerald eyes wide and pleading. I could see that this was something he desperately needed from me.

I nodded again. "Okay."

I saw Edward more than I thought was normal. Didn't he have a job to do? It was like he was watching my every move. It seemed everywhere I turned Edward was there.

It was late when we finally gave up for the night. We'd rescued as many animals as we could, but the truth was that we'd lost a fair few. Today was just the beginning of a long and arduous clean-up effort. We'd only touched the tip of the iceberg.

Day after day for the next few weeks I'd stayed on to help with the rescue efforts. Of course, I'd had to return to the aquarium a few days a week for fear that my girls would wonder what had happened to me. One afternoon as I was finishing up feeding my girls and getting ready to check in on a few of the rescue animals, I heard a very tired, velvety voice.

"Hey, Bella."

"Hey, yourself. You look like shit."

"Thanks." Edward chuckled. "Do you have a few minutes?"

"I was just going to check in on the murres we rescued. Give me a few minutes?"

"Sure." Edward smiled weakly.

By mid-November, a total of fifty-eight thousand gallons of oil spilled into the Bay. Sixteen beaches were closed and clean-up and rescue crews struggled to contain it. A lot of criticism had fallen on the Coast Guard who was leading the clean-up along with the Department of Fish and Game. Because Edward was a Lieutenant, as a Commissioned Officer, the criticism filtered down to him. They had focused so much on the clean-up and prevention of the spill spreading that they failed to provide regular updates to city officials.

In the days since, I'd only spoken to Edward a few times. I'd been extremely busy and with the holidays hurriedly approaching it wasn't going to get any better. I'd assured him more than once that he'd done his job. He wasn't a PR agent; it wasn't his job to make sure that the appropriate people were notified. Being honest with him, I told him I thought it was all a bunch of bureaucratic bullshit anyway.

I quickly checked on the birds we'd rescued. They weren't quite one hundred percent yet, but with a little TLC they soon would be.

I found Edward watching Maggie and Toola as they zipped through the water. I had to admit, they were fun to watch.

"Hey."

Edward smiled up at me.

"Hey. Are you sure this is okay? I don't want to take you away from work if you're busy."

"Oh gosh, you're fine, Edward. I was just finishing up for the day. In fact, if you want I can go grab my stuff and we can get out of here."

Edward nodded and I motioned for him to follow me to the staff locker room. I quickly grabbed my jacket, bag, and keys before turning back to him.

The next thing I knew I found myself swept up in his arms as he hugged me tightly. His warm arms felt so good wrapped around me. I couldn't help but throw my arms around his neck and finally run my fingers through his soft hair, lightly scratching his scalp in an effort to calm him. Edward trembled in my arms as I held him to me, my touch only slightly soothing him.

"Bella, I'm so sorry," Edward murmured, as he nuzzled his face against my neck.

"Shh … it's okay, Edward. Let's get out of here and go back to my place. We'll order some dinner and talk. Okay?"

We stood in an embrace for several minutes before Edward seemed to gather himself and released his strong hold on me. He looked sheepishly at me for a moment, but I just smiled back at him, hoping that he understood that his unexpected embrace was okay.

"Did you drive today?"

"I did. I've finally conceded that winter is well on its way and it was time for me to give up riding my bike again until spring."

Edward chuckled.

"Well, I rode my bike. Is it okay if I follow you? I don't know that I feel comfortable leaving my bike here."

I had to think about that for a minute. I didn't know how I felt about having Edward drive himself over after what happened between us in the locker room. He was visibly upset and quite emotional. I didn't feel comfortable with him riding his bike on his own. I didn't want to see him get hurt, so I took a deep breath and I was amazed at what came out of my mouth next.

"Do you have a spare helmet?" I blurted out, thinking he'd be more focused if he knew I was with him.

Edward grinned. "I do."

"Would you mind if I rode with you?"

The next thing I knew Edward was helping me to adjust the chin strap on my helmet. He straddled the monstrosity he called a bike and then I grasped his shoulder to steady myself as I climbed on behind him.

"Just remember to hold on tight and lean with the bike not against it."

"Okay," I said nervously, still wondering what the hell I was thinking getting on a motorcycle.

There wasn't a chance in hell that I wouldn't be holding on tight. I wrapped my arms around his chest and held on with everything that I had. I could feel him chuckling through his heavy leather jacket. I closed my eyes and laid my head against his back.

"Bella?"

"Hmm?" I asked, still wrapped tightly around Edward.

Edward gently rubbed his hands against mine where I was clutching his chest.

"We're here, beautiful. You can let go now."

I hadn't felt the engine cut off under me, I was so wrapped up in Edward … literally. I couldn't stop thinking about the hug in the locker room, and when I really thought about it … I realized that I really missed him. It seemed like so long ago that we were sitting together in my living room watching reruns of Lost.

I sighed and reluctantly released my grip on him. I slid off of the bike, Edward holding on to my arm to steady me.

I opened my door and led us into the dark house, turning on a few lights as I went along.

"Umm, I'll grab the takeout menus if you want to build a fire. It's chilly in here."

"Sure. Is there more firewood somewhere? It looks like it's low."

"Out on the patio."

I quickly found the menus and set them on the coffee table. Edward was still gathering up some firewood, so I slipped into my bedroom and threw on some sweats. Edward was just lighting the kindling when I came back into the living room.

"What do you feel like eating?"

"I'm not picky tonight, so whatever you want is fine with me," Edward said.

I made short work of ordering a pizza as he came into the living room carrying bottles of water. I quietly thanked him and he settled in on the sofa next to me. He reached over and gently took my hand in his and began to speak very softly.

"When I was younger, I had a friend named Kaitlyn. We met my sophomore year of high school, and we became really good friends. By my junior year, I wanted to be more than friends with her. She was funny, beautiful, and smart. I never told her how I felt because I was afraid of being rejected. The summer before our senior year, we all went and stayed with our friend's parents at their beach house, and our friend's dad invited us to go out on his boat. Kait went, but I didn't. None of us had any idea that Kait couldn't swim; she'd never mentioned it to any of us. One of the guys started showing off and punched it, throwing Kait off the boat. She drowned that day, and there wasn't a damn thing that I could have done to save her."

"God, Edward. I'm so sorry."

I gently pulled my hand from his grasp and hugged him. I could feel his trembling frame next to mine as I held him in my arms. Never could I have ever imagined that it was a boating accident that caused him to enter the Coast Guard.

"Bella, that's why I was so upset that morning. I saw you on the boat and all I could think about was that I couldn't be with you every moment to protect you. If you fell overboard trying to rescue those birds, I don't know that I would have been around to pull you out and that thought absolutely terrified me."

"Edward … I'm here, it's okay. I'm not going anywhere."

"Thank God for that," Edward murmured into my neck.

He looked at me with wary eyes and continued.

"Bella, it seems like it's been forever since we've spent an evening together like this. I've missed you. Like really missed you. I woke up this morning and I knew that I couldn't let another day go by without seeing you and talking to you. I don't mean to push you and I definitely don't want to overwhelm you … but Bella, I care for you so much. I'd be lying if I said I didn't want more with you. I haven't felt this way in a long time, if ever. You seem to bring out emotions in me that I don't even recognize. You've turned my whole world upside down, and you know what? I wouldn't change it for the world."

My throat was dry and the big lump in it didn't help. I had no idea what to say. I mean, yes, I was starting to have all those same feelings, but was I brave enough to voice them?

In less than a minute I decided if Edward was able to lay everything out there even fearing rejection, the least I could do was the same. After what felt more like hours instead of minutes, I took a deep breath and sucked it up.

"Edward, I have all these feelings swimming around and I don't know what to do. I want to put myself out there, but it's so hard. See, not so long ago I thought I was in love. I thought I had the perfect relationship with the perfect man. I was willing to wait eighteen months for him while he served our country. Eighteen months hardly seemed that long, and didn't really matter in the scheme of things. I never saw the bomb coming until his wife showed up on my porch asking me to watch their son while she deployed also," I sighed. "It's kinda hard to trust someone after that."

Edward cupped my face with both of hands, looking into my eyes. Those emerald eyes seemed to bore into me—like he was seeing into my very soul.

"Bella, I'm so sorry. But, don't you see what you're doing? You're comparing me to him. I'm not him. I would never hurt you."

"I want to believe you. I really do. It's just so hard."

"Do you trust me?"

"I'm starting to. Otherwise I would never have gotten on the back of your bike."

"Well, that's a start."

Edward gave me his trademark smile and I melted on the spot. It was like the world around us stopped even as we sat on the couch in my little cottage. I looked into his emerald eyes and knew nothing else mattered in this moment. I had to let the past go.

I did the one thing I had wanted to do since I met him. I lowered my mouth to his, not sure who was more surprised—me or him. Edward's warm, soft lips felt incredible against my own. Our lips moved in a slow passionate kiss as I moved closer to him, wrapping my arms around his neck. Edward dropped his hands from my face to my hips, gently caressing them in small circles.

The feel of his hands on my body as his tongue traced my lower lip sent my heart racing and tingles to my core. A heat poured within me as I shifted to straddle his lap while my lips never left his. My body molded to his in the most delicious way.

As our tongues touched, a wave of erotic pleasure began deep in my belly bringing on the most intimate of feelings. I rocked my hips against Edward's now prominent erection, hitting all the right places and making me moan.

Edward pulled back slowly, resting his forehead to mine. "Bella … do you have any idea what you're doing to me?"

"I have an inkling." I rocked my hips for good measure.

"Bella … "

"Hmmm?"

"Don't get me wrong, I love what you're doing, but I want to make sure it's because you want to, not because you're caught up in the moment or want to appease me."

"I want to. I want you. Now shut up and kiss me."

"Yes, ma'am."

The second his mouth touched mine I started dissolving from the inside out. I breathed him in, noticing he smelled like the ocean air with a hint of sandalwood. His body was hard in all the right places and every time I bucked my hips closer to him, my body temperature rose until I was ready to explode.

Edward's hands started to wander up my body until he was caressing the underside of my breasts. He started peppering kisses on my neck and he took my earlobe in his mouth.

"I want you."

I moaned at his declaration and rocked my hips to prove my point. He picked me up and set me on my feet in front of him. Ever the gentleman, he picked me up bridal style and carried me to my bedroom.

Edward pushed the door with his foot and set me down slowly on the edge of the bed. He bent to take my shoes off while I tried to rid him of his uniform. Not having success, Edward pulled his shirt over his head while I tried to unbutton his pants. My hands didn't seem to be working today, so Edward stood casually pulling his pants and underwear down to stand before me in all his naked glory.

The evidence of his arousal was long, hard, and stood at attention right at the level of my mouth. I took that as an invitation and licked him from base to tip invoking a growling moan from Edward.

"Bella … "

I fondled his balls and took his cock in my mouth, licking and sucking. Twirling my tongue on the tip, I tasted his pre-cum. I took him back in my mouth working my mouth up and down as I pumped my hand in rhythm with my mouth.

Edward tried to pull me away. "Baby, you gotta stop."

I continued working his dick in and out but the next thing I knew Edward hauled me off the bed and took my lips in a hard, passionate kiss.

"As much as I love what you're doing, I want to feel your warm, wet pussy wrapped around my cock as I cum."

"Oh, God."

Edward worked fast getting rid of my shirt and pants and slowly lowered me to the bed. At the edge of the bed I saw a gleam in his eyes and he settled between my legs and slid my panties down.

"I want a taste."

I jumped when his tongue touched my wet folds, but Edward held me down, enjoying every minute. He licked and sucked, igniting a fire within me. When he took my clit in his mouth, I thought I would die.

"Edward, please."

"Beautiful Bella, please what?"

I groaned, hating to beg for what I really wanted.

"You … in me … now!"

"Such a pushy little thing."

Edward crawled up the bed to lay next to me as his hands wandered up my body. My bra was still hooked so with a flick of his wrist the front clasp was undone and his mouth was teasing a nipple. He caressed each breast as he licked and sucked the other nipple.

My body was ready to explode and Edward was taking great pleasure in torturing me. I turned away from him as he got up to retrieve something from his wallet—a condom I presumed.

I sat up and grabbed the condom from Edward and lowered it on his straining cock. It was long and thick and I had no idea how it would fit. Once the condom was on, Edward grabbed my shoulders and slowly lowered me to the bed and aligned his erection to my entrance.

Edward looked down my body to where we were almost joined and then back up again. "You're so beautiful."

Inch by inch he pushed his cock in me and the feel of him stretching me was unreal. It was an erotic, painful pleasure that made my insides warm. When he was fully in to the hilt, it was like nothing I had felt before—like coming home.

"I never thought it could be this good."

"Me, either. You feel so good, baby."

"Edward … "

"I know."

Edward started moving in a slow torturous rhythm in and out like he was trying to make it last forever. I wanted the same thing but after all the teasing, I wanted relief. I wanted to see Edward come undone with all the pent up sexual tension we'd had for weeks.

"Harder. Faster."

He didn't waste time doing as I said. Edward picked up his pace hitting just the right spot to cause me to let out a guttural moan. I wrapped my legs around his waist causing him to go deeper. As he pumped harder, his lips covered mine possessively, taking everything I could give him.

"Please don't stop."

"Baby, I have no intention of stopping."

I met Edward thrust for thrust, bringing my clit in contact with his pelvis. I could feel my orgasm building in my belly as his movements became shorter and harder. He fingered my clit as he drove faster and more urgently, bringing my orgasm right to the edge.

"Shit, Bella."

With one more thrust of his hips, I was crumbling and he was following right behind. I rode out my orgasm until I felt the last of his warmth spill in me.

Edward collapsed on top of me as I took comfort in the feel of his weight on me, his skin on mine, covering me. The feel of him inside of me was nothing like I had ever felt before. Slowly he pulled out of me and I felt empty, not whole.

After discarding the condom, Edward laid beside me pulling the blankets up as he went. He wrapped his arm around my body pulling me against his chest, snuggling close.

"Bella, I want to be with you for as long as you want me to be. I promise that I'll always be honest with you, and I hope that one day you'll trust me with your heart and soul as much as you trust me with your body."

I whispered thank you before kissing him sweetly and nuzzling into his chest.

Falling asleep in Edward's arms was incredible. It was such a different feeling than I'd ever felt before. With Edward it was a more complete feeling. If I thought falling asleep in his arms was incredible, I couldn't even begin to describe how it felt to wake up in them. Even in sleep, Edward never let go of me. For the first time in a very long time, I felt happy—truly happy. Maybe even a little in love.

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