This was my entry into the Write That Tune anonymous contest. I won third place! You can see the Story Banner (by me) and the Prize Banner (by katmom) on my profile. Thanks to all who voted !

Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.


I need a hero

I'm holdin' out for a hero

'til the end of the night

He's gotta be strong

And he's gotta be fast

And he's gotta be fresh from the fight

Holding Out for A Hero by Bonnie Tyler


"Alice," whined an exasperated Bella. "I feel like the lamest third wheel on the planet. Why are we doing this?" Jasper went outside to warm up the truck. If there was some way—any way—to get out of this evening, Bella couldn't think of it.

"Because it's fun, Bella. Besides, there are always tons of people there. You'll meet someone." Alice tugged on her reluctant friend's hand and grabbed her tiny beaded clutch on the way out of the little two bedroom ranch house they shared.

"But that's just it: I don't want to meet anyone! I'm not jumping back on the market so soon after . . . him." She shrugged on the new cropped jean jacket over her red, ruffled, cap-sleeved shirt. She would be self-conscious of the plunging neckline the whole night. She just knew it.

"I can't let you live in self-imposed hermitude anymore." Alice waited for Bella to step out onto the porch and locked the door.

"Hermitude? Is that even a word?" Bella ran her fingers through her artfully tousled chestnut brown curls. She fingered the one strand of blond that streaked across the front and down the side of her long hair. It was her attempt at mixing things up with her usually bland locks.

"Whatever. Look, we won't be babysitting you, okay? Sit at the table and do nothing all night if you want, but you've said in the past that you wanted to try this. Never mind that you are totally hot." She licked her index finger, pressed it to her backside, and made a sizzling noise.

Bella turned her head over her shoulder and attempted to catch a glimpse of her rear end. She'd somehow managed to pour herself into a pair of skin-tight, boot cut jeans, thankful that the bit of stretch in the fabric was enough that she could still bend over to pull on her boots. If she had a dime in her back pocket one could probably tell if it was heads or tails.

"Whatever you say, Sensei."

Alice slid into the red Chevy truck and snuggled up next to her fiancé, and Bella followed. There was only the bench seat, which wouldn't have been Bella's first choice. She liked having a console in the middle so she could hide her sunglasses and junk. Jasper, though, said the bench was perfect because he liked resting his hand on Alice's knee in between shifting gears. It always made Alice giggle when he did that.

"You ready to get your groove on, Sugarpie?" Jasper hooted as he spun the tires in the dirt and pulled onto the darkened two-lane road that led to The Stampede.

"I don't dance, Jasper. That's why I'm kind of freaking out. I'm not ready for this. It's too soon." Bella flipped the visor down, eyed her reflection in the mirror, and gave her lips another rub and a smack before settling in for the short drive into town.

"Nonsense. It's been almost a year. Besides, anyone can learn to line dance; that's why they do the lessons beforehand. You'll be fine." Jasper smiled and wrapped his arm around his sweetheart's shoulders. He had a good feeling about tonight.

The trio walked into the saloon and searched for an empty table. Alice scanned the building and noted that it wasn't too crowded. Most of the regulars wouldn't show up until later; they generally didn't bother with the dancing lessons.

The Stampede was a favorite among beginning dancers. The instructors, Emmett and Rose McCarty, were two-time Country Dance World Champions and always made sure that anyone who came to dance at The Stampede could do so without embarrassment. Bella still had her doubts despite their reputations.

They had just ordered their drinks when the DJ's voice came over the speakers. "Ladies and Gents, let's clear the floor and make some space for Emmett and Rose!" Music pumped through the sound system as an energetic pair ran into the middle of the dance floor, and awestruck patrons lined the edges.

Bella was immediately intimidated. Emmett was tall and strong, his denim shirt tight against his broad chest and shoulders. The black jeans he wore hugged his powerful thighs and . . . My gosh! she thought. Those blue eyes and dimples could drop a woman dead on sight. Rosalie was just as devastating with her golden blond hair, piercing gray eyes, and a body that was all voluptuous curves and grace and everything that Bella was not. They spun in fast circles around the ring of spectators, their steps deft and quick. It was dazzling to watch the complicated arm maneuvers and twirls as they twisted and careened around the dance floor. The song was short and explosive and lasted only a minute or two, just enough to whet the palate of all the eager would-be dancers in the bar.

"Howdy, folks!" bellowed Emmett in a smooth, baritone voice. "That was just a taste of how much fun partner dancing can be. We teach a pair's class over at the rec center on Wednesday evenings, so y'all can come check that out." His grin was a mile wide and deepened his dimples even further.

"How about we get started on some dancing? Let's get everybody lined up, and we'll start with the Grundy Gallop!" Rose spoke with a cool confidence and ease that matched the aura she projected.

Jasper slid out of their booth, waited patiently for Alice to take one more swallow of her drink, and led her to the dance floor. Alice looked over her shoulder and gave Bella a pointed stare.

Bella sighed, sipped her soda through a straw, and glanced balefully at the assembling group. Her view was abruptly blocked by an inordinately large, shiny, oval belt-buckle touting the wearer as a Rodeo Champion seven years ago. Still reliving the glory days? she thought snidely.

Her gaze traveled from the slim hips to a trim, wiry torso dressed in a white shirt edged with black piping around the yoke and pockets. His face was clean-shaven and angular with sharp cheekbones and a square jaw. His eyes were dark—almost black—and his smile was so predatory it made Bella want to run for the hills.

"Hey there, sweet thang. You here for the dancin'?" His words wrapped around her like a snake coiling around its victim, his gaze unnerving. She felt like she'd been stripped bare by the way he ogled her.

"I'm enjoying my drink right now, thanks." She clutched her jacket a bit tighter together and scanned the dance floor in an attempt to capture Alice's eyes, but she and Jasper were in the thick of the group and weren't paying attention to her.

"Come on, now. It'd be a shame for those pretty legs of yours to go to waste tonight. Just a dance, sugar; you're breakin' my heart." His eyes softened as he reached his hand out to her.

Maybe he just didn't make very good first impressions, she thought. She couldn't let her miserable dating history color every interaction with men. Besides, she was here to dance. Alice was right. She really had wanted to try line dancing for a long time, but this guy gave her the willies. She was torn and kind of wanted to scream at all the stupid conflict in her head.

"Come on, Jimmy!" someone called out from a short distance away.

Bella regarded the man. He'd probably been fairly handsome at one point, but the leathery appearance of his skin and the lines around his eyes had transformed him into something much less attractive. He glanced toward the person and hollered, "Just a minute, Larry." He turned back to Bella. "One dance, darlin'?"

Trying to hide the reluctant sigh, she took his hand and followed him onto the dance floor. She managed to stumble through the instructions, and tried and failed to relax and just enjoy the dancing. She just couldn't shake the prickly feeling she had every time her back was turned. As soon as the dance was over, she thanked Jimmy and fled to Alice's side.

For an hour, Emmett and Rosalie continued their instruction through several more line dances. Finally they both shouted, "Partner up, everyone."

"We're gonna go over the basics of two-steppin' and promenade position," Rose continued.

People scurried around and took up positions in a two-ringed circle. Bella edged backward to escape back to the booth unnoticed. She didn't see the person behind her and treaded heavily on their toes with the heels of her boots.

Hearing the low grunt of pain and the mumbled string of curses coming from her victim, she stepped forward and spun around only to be stopped short by the sight in front of her. Could the gods of masculine beauty and virility have no mercy on her? First Emmett McCarty and now this . . . gah! There were just no words. Not even in her head. She had only a moment to peruse the handsome man who stood before her wincing in pain. He was a head taller than her and broad-chested. His arms were flexed and straining the worn-in cotton of his red, button-down shirt. One hand curled around the crown of his black Stetson, and the other gripped his hip as he hunched forward and shook his injured foot back and forth.

Though his head was down, she could tell his jaw was strong and chiseled. He let out one more grunt and resumed his full height. Her breath was sucked away completely when he finally noticed her. His eyes flicked up and down her form, but never lingered, then returned back up to her face to hold her gaze. He pursed his lips and smirked as he took in her stunned silence.

"Now just where are you sneaking off to, huh, beautiful?" The low tones, filled with warmth and amusement, floated over and around her like a comfortable blanket—a stark contrast to the smarmy discomfort of Jimmy's voice.

"I . . . uh . . . I'm . . . jeez. I'm so sorry. I was just going back to my table. I'm all alone, so the partner dances are . . ." Good grief! Can my boot fit any farther into my mouth? she thought with what was surely an unhealthy amount of self-loathing. "I'm just gonna go sit down now." She shook her head and went to side step the gorgeous stranger, which became impossible when he matched her step.

"Hey, no harm done. You're a fair bit lighter than the bull that stepped on 'em yesterday." He smiled again, extended his hand, and introduced himself. "Name's Edward Cullen. Pleased to meet you Miss . . .?"

"Swan. Bella Swan." She smiled and accepted his offered hand. It was when he brought that hand to his lips and kissed the back of it that all the rest of her functioning synapses shut down. She felt a rush of heat flutter across her skin as the stupid smile spread unbidden across her lips.

"Well, Miss Swan, would you do me the honor of dancing this two-step with me?"

"Is . . . uh . . . are you okay? I mean, don't feel like you have to dance with me just because I squashed your toes. In fact, you'd probably be better off, or your toes would be at least, if you just let me get back to my table. I'm really not a very good dancer, and I'd probably just stomp all over your feet again, which would totally saddle me with a lifetime of guilt for . . ." She took in his amused expression and dug her teeth into her bottom lip.

"I think I'll risk it. Besides, Emmett and Rose are pretty good teachers." He tugged her hand gently back toward the dance floor and waited for her to follow. When she smiled and started back toward the hardwood, he gave her a wink and said, "Thatta girl."

They were almost to the edge of the floor when Jimmy and Larry slid in front of them and barred the way. "Looks like you got yourself mixed up with the riff raff, sweet thang. Why don't you let me show you how a real man dances?"

Bella's whole body stiffened at the unwanted approach, which set off Edward's overzealous protective instincts. He rose up to his full height and faced the two men and crossed his arms menacingly. His substantial height and the breadth of his chest dwarfed both of the unsavory intruders.

"She's already got a partner for this dance. Move along." Edward's tone was low and threatening but didn't faze Jimmy. He was already well into his cups for the evening and his inhibitions and common sense had fled, not that he had a great deal of common sense to begin with.

Jimmy's lips pulled up in a sneer as he said, "Wasn't talkin' to you, Cullen. Now, how 'bout it, Sugar?" he slurred. His dark, hungry eyes never left Bella's.

She shrunk further into Edward's protective stance and tried to shed the overwhelming sense of disgust and anxiety that flared up inside at each encounter with Jimmy. Edward squeezed her hand once and, in that instant, she shook off the fear and stood a little straighter. She had a backbone, and she'd be damned if a half-drunk, good ole' boy ruined her night.

Stepping away from Edward's side just slightly, she locked eyes with Jimmy, ignored his menacing leer, and responded, "Sorry, I'm all set. Maybe later." She strode toward the dance floor by pushing in between Jimmy and Larry. Edward followed behind her and tipped his hat smugly to the pair.

Bella's heart pounded as Edward took charge of their direction and settled them into a spot in the circle of two-steppers. "You okay?" he asked once they'd taken up their dance position.

She sucked in a deep breath and peered up into his eyes, which were crinkled with concern. "Yeah. I'm okay. He's just . . ."

"A creep. The man is a cowardly, no good, piece of sh—crap." His sheepish smile spoke volumes of the lengths he would go to treat a woman with respect. "Apologies, Miss Swan. It's been a while since I've had to use my manners."

Her eyebrows pulled together as he continued on.

"Let's just say I've been a bit solitary for the last few years. Just me and my ranch hands. The . . . ah . . . language gets a little coarse." His voice was laced with a years-mellowed sadness that tempered the smile he showed her. It was most likely a story not meant for a first meeting.

"I'm glad you're here tonight." She offered a demure smile as she repositioned her hand to grasp his bicep more firmly. Oh my, she thought as her fingers caressed his strong arm without her brain's express permission.

A much more genuine and warm smile spread across his full lips as he replied, "Likewise." His hand spread a little wider across her waist and sent warmth fluttering through her body.

After one turn around the circle, Emmett's voice piped up over the speakers. "Okie doke, folks. Ladies on the inside ring, gents on the outside." Everyone shuffled around to the appropriate positions. Edward's smiling eyes caressed Bella's cheeks with each blink. She hardly even noticed when the beautiful Rosalie took up the spot to her right.

"We're gonna practice a little more two-step," Emmett continued, "but it's time to change partners. So men? Go on and shift to your right and bow to your new partner." Emmett walked around the circle, stood directly in front of Rosalie, dipped his head close to her ear, and whispered something that made her giggle. She drew back and ran her hand over his chest and said, "Hush, you big ape! Mind your manners with this one!" She nodded toward Bella and pushed him gently in her direction. When Rose caught Bella staring at their interaction, she shrugged and said "What can I say? He's an animal, but I love him" and faced her new partner.

Emmett turned his dimpled grin of spontaneous combustion on Bella. Her eyes grew wide as she tossed a panicked look toward Edward. He found her reaction to his good buddy hilarious and didn't cut her any slack. He simply leaned in and whispered in her ear, "I hope you'll save me another spot on your dance card, Miss Swan." When he pulled back, he winked and stepped to his right to give a gentlemanly bow to his new partner.

For one brief, irrational moment, Bella felt a surge of jealousy and envy pass through her like a rolling wave. She couldn't avoid it any longer and turned to face Emmett. She'd probably need to see a chiropractor for the kink she'd have in her neck from craning up just to catch a peek at his chin, let alone his eyes.

His friendly grin made up for any discomfort she felt. His fitted denim shirt was undone enough to show he was a man's man in the follicular department. Rosalie wasn't kidding with the animal comment. I'll take sexy green eyes and strong arms any day, she thought.

"How'do, pretty lady? First time at The Stampede?" Emmett's voice was full of mirth and good humor as he picked up her hand.

"Um, yeah. Is it that obvious?" Bella cringed at her pathetically sub-par dancing skills.

"No, not at all. Rosie and I are here all the time, so we tend to recognize the newcomers pretty easily. You're doin' just fine, by the by." He smiled all that much wider and Bella thought his dimples might actually set some kind of world record.

Encouraged by his praise, she shook the limpness out of her hand and took a more active position for the dance. Rosalie called out instructions on turning your partner around into promenade position as Emmett skillfully spun her and led her through the steps. His whispered, mini pep talks helped her to be surer on her feet. When Rosalie called out to change partners, Emmett swept his hat off, bowed deeply, and said, "You're gonna do just fine, Little Sister. Have fun tonight." He flashed his killer dimples one last time and moved on.

For the next fifteen minutes the circle rotated and partners changed. She'd met Tyler, Eric, and Ben, all of whom had shown eager interest and asked for dances from her later. Her last partner before they opened the floor for regular dancing was Mike, a younger pimply-faced kid who was more like an adorable golden retriever than an adept dance partner. She smiled and thanked him for the dance but was non-committal when he asked her to dance again.

Jasper chuckled as he and Alice watched the love-struck boy shuffle away from Bella. "You sure know how to whip them fellas into a fine frenzy," he said and put his arm around her shoulders.

"I don't know what you're talking about, Jasper." Bella's cheeks heated as he turned her toward the group of men, most of whom she'd just danced with, to see all of them openly stare in her direction and converse back and forth. She could just imagine what kind of nonsense they were talking. She wanted to crawl into a hole when Tyler tipped his hat toward her and Eric waved enthusiastically. At least she didn't see Jimmy or Larry amongst the group.

"Aww, they seem like nice guys," Alice added. Before they'd had a chance to sit down at their table, someone bumped into Bella's back and shoved her into Alice.

"Oh! My bad. Didn't see you there, hon," a sickly-sweet voice simpered from behind. A sharp cackle and muffled snicker followed.

Bella turned around and almost started to say that it wasn't a big deal until she saw the evil sneers the three women wore on their overly done-up faces like badges of honor.

Alice rounded on the trio of women and eyed them with disdain. She crossed her arms and said, "I guess it would be hard to see past mount silicone there." A hand gesture indicated the inflated and oddly shaped breast implants of the redhead who'd done the initial bumping.

The blonde woman, whose shirt was too short and jeans were so tight that an unattractive roll of fat ballooned over the waistband, hissed and said, "Come on, Vicky Jo. We really shouldn't hang around the trash anymore. The stink is starting to spread."

As the three women walked away, the brunette turned and shot Bella a hateful glare before tripping over a purse that had been left in the aisle. She was expecting the catty woman to stick her tongue out as though it was Bella's fault she'd stumbled. Instead, she threw a little extra energy into her sashay, which served nothing but to expose the trashy thong made visible by her too-low low cut jeans.

Alice shuddered and let out a discreet gagging noise. "Guess we'll need to watch out for the ugly stepsisters. My word! What a bunch of skanks." She slid into the booth, sipped her drink, and rested her head on Jasper's shoulder.

"I will gladly steer clear of those three for the rest of the night!" Bella sighed as she sat across from her best friend. She clinked the ice in her glass, trying to screw up enough courage to stick out the rest of the night and not just hide in the booth but actually get up and dance.

She'd just set the drink on the bull-shaped paper coaster when another coaster and a new drink slid under her nose. Bella glanced up, and the waitress gave her a tight smile and said "From Edward" then turned and bustled off to serve the rest of the drinks on her heavy tray.

Bella turned toward the bar and immediately spotted him. His black hat and vivid shirt made him stand out from all of the white and blue solids she'd seen all night. When their eyes met, his grin widened, and he lightly touched the brim of his hat with two fingers as she gave a slight nod and lifted her drink in thanks.

"Oooh," Alice gushed. "Hitch your wagon to that hunkaburninlove, and you will have no problems tonight, Baby Belle."

Across the room, Jimmy watched the exchange between Bella and Edward, a scowl plastered firmly across his work-roughened face. The rude, redheaded woman was draped all over his right arm, trying in vain to grab his attention. When she couldn't distract him, she followed his gaze toward Bella. Her expression turned murderous with proverbial steam coming from her ears. Bella hadn't caught it, but Jasper had and it put him on edge. He suddenly became more observant of the emotional climate circling around them.

A round of applause grew in strength as Bella watched a handsome, middle-aged couple stride through the crowd and out onto the dance floor. The DJ handed the gentleman a microphone as the woman struck a patient stance at his side. The laugh lines around his mouth and eyes were deep and spoke of a lifetime filled with joy and happiness. A few tufts of golden blond hair peeked out from under the brim of his simple, black felt hat, and his silver eyes held a twinkle of anticipation for the night's activities. The woman gazed at him with clear adoration, her soft, caramel colored hair tied back in a loose and wavy ponytail that draped over one shoulder. She was petite but had a fierceness about her that so many country women did. One look at her and you knew if you messed with her, or any of her people, she'd take you down.

"Welcome to The Stampede! I'm Carlisle. This is my wife Esme." He spoke with a warm, western drawl. "We're glad y'all came out to our place tonight. Hope y'all had fun with the lessons. Now who's ready for some dancin'?" he yelled.

The crowd erupted, and in just moments people swarmed the floor. Bella followed after Alice and Jasper, but couldn't keep her place and was jostled right into the arms of Carlisle.

"Beg pardon, little lady," he offered with a tender smile. "I'm afraid I haven't made your acquaintance. Name's Carlisle. Pleased to meet you." He offered a little bow and stepped aside to reveal his lovely wife. "And this is Esme, my sweetheart."

"It's nice to meet you. It's my first time here. I'm Bella Swan." She took the hand that Esme offered and shook it firmly. A strange, but significant non-verbal exchange passed between the couple as Bella's smile faltered slightly.

"Well. It certainly is very good to meet you, Bella Swan. Have fun tonight." Esme winked as she sauntered back toward the bar while Carlisle merely tipped his hat and followed after his wife.

As soon as Alice realized Bella had been separated from her and Jasper, she returned to retrieve her reluctant friend. "Come on, Bella. Let's dance!"

Out on the dance floor, Alice and Jasper managed to ward off the more obvious attempts of the ugly stepsisters to get to Bella, and she was none-the-wiser. When they weren't right next to her, Edward hovered nearby.

Bella had, for once, allowed herself to get caught up in the fun and energy of the night. It was one of the first times in years she'd felt like she could really cut loose. She only stumbled through a few parts of the line dances, and all of the partners she'd had for the couples dances had been generous in their embraces, allowing her to avoid stomping all over their toes.

Her only disappointment was that Edward had still not asked her to dance, nor had he even danced in her proximity. She was on her way back to the table when a strong guitar intro began. It was a song that had been playing on the radio for a few weeks, made popular by a movie, and was fairly catchy. The DJ came on over the speakers and announced that it would be a ladies only dance.

The men scattered to ring the edge of the room while Alice reeled Bella back onto the floor and positioned her in between Rosalie and herself, right in front of Edward. The ugly stepsisters also took up space on the front row and shot their now familiar nasty glares in Bella's direction.

Bella's knees shook; she wasn't prepared for this dance. It was definitely one they hadn't gone over during the lesson portion of the night.

"It's easy," Rosalie whispered in Bella's ear. "I'll talk you through it the first time, then you should be able to catch on. Just have fun and look him in the eye."

"Look who in the . . .?" But then the dance started. She was distracted for the first several bars of the song as she tried to get used to the steps. During one of the turns, Vicky Jo intentionally bumped into Bella and knocked her slightly off balance. When she regained her footing, she ignored the three hags by staring fixedly at Edward.

She almost wished she hadn't. His gaze was hot enough to melt her into a puddle right then and there. His cheeks were flushed with color, and his five o'clock shadow appeared even more delicious than it had earlier. When he winked at her, her heart almost beat right out of her chest. Edward turned and said something to Emmett, which drew Bella's attention away toward a completely unwelcomed sight: Jimmy.

The chorus of the song started, which apparently meant she needed to start strutting her stuff like all the other women were doing. Her cheeks flamed, and she truly wanted to crawl under a rock when Jimmy fixed his eyes on her. All of a sudden, a wide hulk of a man—Emmett—had obscured Jimmy from view. Edward caught Bella's eyes and imperceptibly shook his head as if to tell her to ignore the scumbag.

As soon as the dance was over, Edward walked with purpose toward Bella and, without saying a word, took her hand in his and waltzed her across the floor. He was inches away from causing a scene with that disgusting, piece of trailer trash, Jimmy, and he needed a distraction.

"Is this okay?" he asked close to her ear and inhaled the intoxicating scent of her hair. "It's just. . . I couldn't stand to watch him defile you with his eyes anymore." The rough quality of his voice was surprising, even to himself.

"No, this is fine. He was really starting to creep me out." Her voice wavered with the admission, clearly shaken.

For the remainder of the dance, Edward kept his arms locked around the slim brunette and figured this was as close to heaven on Earth as he'd ever get. It had been far too long, he realized, since he'd allowed himself to truly enjoy the feel of a woman in his arms. And this woman! Lord, she was absolutely perfect—all soft curves and long, dark, wavy hair. She was the embodiment of his dream girl, and he'd told his Aunt and Uncle the very same thing earlier that evening.

When the music faded out, he didn't let go of her hand. "How about I go get us something to drink and maybe we can talk for a bit?" He was cautiously optimistic about his chances with Bella. He'd have felt a bit more confident in his reading her signals if he hadn't been so embarrassingly out of practice.

She beamed an amazing smile at him and nodded while saying, "That would be great. I'm just going to freshen up a bit, and I'll meet you at my table."

Edward couldn't help whistling as he made his way to the bar. Esme cocked an eyebrow at him as he bellied up and order their drinks.

"Be careful with her, Edward. She's as skittish as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs," Esme said, her voice full of caution as well as hope. She and Uncle Carlisle had been hinting at trying to fix him up for a while now.

"I'm trying, Aunt Esme. She's sweet. I don't want to mess things up." His uncertain shrug shaved years off his age and made him appear like a younger version of himself.

"Oh, sweetheart. I know you are, and you won't mess anything up." She smiled and patted his hand. "Now go woo."

When he returned to Bella's table she wasn't there, so he went to track her down. He'd just rounded the corner when he saw her struggling in the arms of none other than James Leroy Puckett the Second. He saw red and his blood started to boil. His hands flexed and curled into fists as he pushed through the throngs of people to get to his woman.

Bella frantically searched all over the room for a friendly face; someone who could help her out of this situation, but Jimmy had very cleverly maneuvered them away from the main view of the dance floor.

"Let go of me." She pressed her hands against his shoulders, but he had his arms wrapped so tightly around her torso she couldn't gain any leverage.

"Nuh uh, sweet thang. You've been a tease all night long, and now I think it's about time I got some of your attention." He ran his nose up and down her neck to sniff and lick all the way up to her ear. The sensation nearly made her vomit. She wished she had puked all over him then maybe he'd have let her be.

"I haven't done anything to try and draw your attention. Please, just let me go." Bella turned her face away and tried to lean back, but he still wouldn't loosen his grip.

"Oh, I saw exactly how you were dancing. Right in front of me, no less. You certainly flaunted it and made this cowboy want it." He pulled her hips closer to him and ground his excitement into her belly.

It was about that moment when all hell broke loose. Edward growled, "Get your damned hands off her." At the same time Vicky Jo screeched, "What do you think you're doing with my man, you whore?"

Jimmy responded to Edward with a terse, "Go to hell, Cullen." Bella continued to pry herself away from her supposed dance partner.

"I don't want your man!" shouted Bella as she glared directly at the wonky-chested redhead. "I wouldn't want him touching me if he was the last man on earth."

Jimmy grabbed a handful of Bella's hair and pulled back roughly, seething. "You'd like the way I'd touch you so much you'd be screaming my name inside of five minutes."

Bella spit directly in his face, which was the first thing she'd done that had caused Jimmy to drop his grip on her. She didn't realize that he'd raised his arm and was about to level a closed-handed punch to her face until Edward reached out, caught Jimmy's fist, and followed the action with a right hook to his jaw. Jimmy growled and head butted Edward in the mouth. After that, both men started punching with frenzied speed.

Vicky Jo screamed and lunged at Bella, shouting all kinds of ridiculous insults and obscenities while flailing her arms. Her long, green, acrylic nails, while they seemed menacing, really didn't do much in the way of harming Bella.

By now a crowd had gathered. Rosalie joined the fray and pulled Vicky Jo off Bella while Emmett stepped in to try and keep Edward from killing James. But then Larry broke a chair over Emmett's back, and Jasper stepped in to keep other would-be brawlers out of the mix. Emmett laid two sharp punches on Larry, and when he tried to get up a third time, Emmett stared at him and growled, "Stay down, you idiot."

The other two stepsisters tried to get involved, but Alice kept them both out of the way. Somehow she'd managed to sit on one of them while she had the other on her knees with her arm chicken-winged behind her.

It was the sharp ch-chick of a shotgun being cocked that stopped everyone in their tracks. The crowed cleared a path as Carlisle moved into the center of the brawl, his gun trained on the cause of the trouble.

"Puckett? I should've known you'd be in the middle of this mess."

Everyone spoke at once; Vicky Jo defended her man and herself against the perceived wrongs that Bella Swan had done to them, and Rosalie and Alice vehemently defended Bella's and Edward's involvement in the altercation, but Esme wasn't having any of it. She pointed sharply at all the parties involved and shouted, "Outside. NOW!" Once everyone had filed out into the parking lot, she held court with more efficiency than Judge Judy. When all of the different elements of the evening that had contributed to the blow up inside had been laid out, Esme was swift to mete out justice.

"Jimmy Puckett, don't you darken my doorstep again. You are hereby persona non-grata for as long as Bella lives in this town. Vicky Jo, that includes you as well. How dare you assault another person unprovoked? Your momma would be ashamed of you." She turned to the other three and leveled them each with a steely glare. "Lawrence, you're banned for a year. Trina? Jessica? You too."

Jessica whined about how it wasn't fair and that The Stampede was the only place nearby for dancing, but she was cut off by the loud blast of Carlisle's shotgun. Everyone flinched at the noise and covered their ears.

"You heard the woman. Now get." He cradled the gun in his arms as he watched the group of troublemakers scatter in the wind. When the last of their cars had pulled out of the parking lot, Carlisle turned his scowl on the rest of them.

Heat rushed into Bella's cheeks. This was all her fault. She never should have come. And good grief, look at all the trouble she'd caused. "I'm so sorry. This is all my . . ." Her eyes grew wide, and she snapped her mouth shut as soon as Carlisle held up his hand.

"If I never see that bunch again, it'll be too soon. I've been trying for years to figure out a way to keep them out of my club," Carlisle said in a soothing voice.

Bella's eyes popped open in disbelief at his statement.

"It's true," added Esme. "Ever since Trina's sister, Tanya, ran out on Edward with one of his ranch hands, the rest of 'em have been nothin' but trouble." Edward groaned and slapped his hand over his eyes. Esme patted his shoulder and giggled. "Was that too much information, sweetie?"

"Is everyone else okay? Emmett, you need some ice?" Carlisle asked as he took Esme's hand and walked toward the front door.

"Naw, C. I'm good." He turned his warm grin on Bella and chucked her gently on the chin. "Pretty exciting first night, huh?"

All she could do was nod in response, still completely baffled by the impromptu court hearing that had just gone down in the parking lot. He wrapped his arm around Rose and said more jovially, "We've got your back, lil' sis. Don't you worry 'bout a thing."

Alice stepped in front of Bella, gave her a fierce hug, and apologized for not being aware of the situation until it was too late. Jasper joined in and circled his lanky arms around both of the girls, earning a combined giggle.

"We'll see you inside in a few minutes, yeah? Looks like someone wants to talk to you." Alice glanced over Bella's shoulder and waved at Edward as she and Jasper turned back into the bar. Bella nodded, glanced down, and kicked at the rocks and dust with the toe of her boot. She shoved her hands into the back pockets of her jeans, unwittingly jutting her chest out and tantalizing Edward's visual receptors. He shook off the distraction and tried to marshal his thoughts into something coherent and not offensive. He really didn't want to screw things up but was afraid it was already too late for that.

She tipped her head to the side, silently asking him to follow her. When they stopped at Jasper's pickup truck, she let the tail gate down and hopped up. He stood several feet away, hands buried in his pockets and shoulders slumped. He no longer presented himself like the knight in shining armor who'd just defended her honor. When he finally met her gaze, she noticed the cut on his lip. He'd already managed to wipe off most of the blood but it was swollen. He took a big breath, as if he was bracing himself for something.

"This night sure didn't turn out like I thought it would," he said.

"Hah! You can say that again. How did you think it would turn out?"

"Well, you see, I met this really pretty brunette. She was sweet and funny, and I was kind of hoping to spend a little bit of time getting to know her better." He smirked and took a couple steps closer to the truck. Closer to her.

"Oh! Well, don't let me keep you from your quarry. She sounds like a nice girl. Maybe kind of boring, though, don't you think?" she replied sassily.

"Not this one. She's without a doubt one of the most interesting women I've ever laid eyes on." As he stepped closer, the air around them changed. Heat surged back and forth as their gazes grew lustier and their meanings plainer. "And just how did you think this evening would turn out?" Another step. He was directly in front of her with feet dangling off the edge of the tailgate.

She sucked in a deep breath as she opened her legs to wordlessly invite him even closer into her space. Chalking her behavior up to an out-of-body experience, she tried to not think about the implications of her forwardness. Who knows, maybe for all his obvious brashness, Jimmy was the lesser of two evils? Maybe with all his subtle charm and manners, it was Edward who would hurt her even more?

All those thoughts were thrown out the window when he stepped fully into her personal space. Because of the lift on Jasper's truck, she was nearly at eye level with Edward, and she was more than aware of the limited amount of space shared by their bodies.

He picked up one of her hands and placed it on his shoulder, then held her other hand cradled against his chest. Instinctively, she shifted forward and hugged her thighs more tightly along the outsides of his legs, rested her head on his shoulder, and breathed in his scent that was light on cologne, heavy on just . . . Edward. His free arm drew her closer while he hummed along with the song that tumbled softly from the bar.

"I figured it would end with someone getting injured," she murmured into his neck. One flick of her tongue and she could taste him. . .

"Huh? Do people often get into barroom brawls over you?"

She chuckled, which tickled his neck something fierce. "No," she responded softly, "I figured I'd end up hurting myself dancing and wind up in the hospital."

"Naw. You just need the right partner. Seems to me you're dancing just fine right now."

Her head ducked down in embarrassment, which drove him crazy. How could such a beautiful woman doubt herself so much? He stroked the back of his index finger lightly over the apple of her cheek to draw her attention upward.

"Bella, I . . ." His voice fell across her face in a whisper so full with longing it was impossible to mistake his intentions. To his credit, he allowed her the choice to back away. His embrace was neither too strong nor was it suffocating or scary as Jimmy's had been. His eyes pleaded with hers, for only a moment, to come just a little closer.

Energy thrummed around them as she acquiesced. Her eyes closed, and she lifted her chin and leaned into to his encircling arms. First she felt his warm breath on her lips, then the soft pressure of his mouth covering hers. They were still for one, perfect moment before their lips slid against each other in a slow, unhurried kiss. He let go of her hand, which she brought up over his shoulder and buried into the soft hair at the base of his neck. He snaked his hand around her hip and spread it widely across her lower back. He was more than just a little tempted to let that hand wander ever so slightly under the hem of her shirt and explore what he was sure would be the softest, most creamy skin on the planet. But the gentleman in him managed to resist.

In an achingly slow dance, they traded top lips for bottoms. Without demand or aggression, the tips of their tongues met and rolled around each other in a hesitant greeting. As his desire for her intensified, so did the insistence of his tongue. He explored the soft skin on the inside of her lips, and skimmed over her teeth until he met her tongue again. Having lost her mind completely in the effortless connection they were sharing, Bella reciprocated by tilting her head and opening a little more, boldly seeking the hungry passion that had been missing from every other kiss she'd ever had. He broke away and trailed little nips and kisses along her jaw until his head rested in the crook between her shoulder and her neck.

She placed a few small kisses on his stubbly jaw, and enjoyed the roughness of his whiskers. The nerves in her lips were ultra-sensitive as she kissed all the way up to his earlobe. She sucked the soft flesh in between her lips and bit gently. His low groan sent a frisson of tingling anticipation throughout her whole body, which settled heavily in her abdomen and thighs. He gave her a gentle squeeze and slid back, hands bracing himself on the tailgate of the truck as he leaned down, partially to hide his discomfort, and partially so that he could peer directly into her dark, brown eyes.

"Again, that is not how I saw this night ending." He raised an eyebrow, his lips pressed into a wry smile.

"No? Then how?" she breathed and inched her face a little closer, hypnotized by the glint in his eyes and the mellow tone of his voice.

"I was going to count myself lucky if I got your phone number," he whispered, his lips connecting lightly with her cheek, then the corner of her mouth.

"Well, then I think you're gonna get lucky tonight." She turned her head to capture his lips in another languorous kiss.

"How about you let me spin you around the dance floor a few more times and see if we can't make this night perfect?" he whispered and lifted her from the tailgate.

"It already is." She smiled and took the hand he offered her. "It already is."


A/N: Hope you liked it. If so, please let me know with a little review!

Song inspirations for this story were Bonnie Tyler's I need a Hero, John Michael Montgomery's The Auction (Rose and Emmett's Solo dance) and Gwyneth Paltrow's Shake That Thing (The ladies alone dance). Links are on my profile