Yeesh. It's been way too long. My heartfelt apologies for the delay in updating. Thank you, everyone, for sticking with me.

The best parts of Copward are brought to you by my stellar beta, writingbabe. She always nudges me to write more, write better, and write fearlessly, and that's exactly what I need. (You are reading her fic "Release," aren't you? She's among the best writers in the fandom. I'm completely unbiased on that point.) As ever, I'm also grateful to my insightful, talented prereader, Isabeausink. Feel better and rock on, Medieval Slore.

Since it's been awhile: Edward brought Bella to his apartment after she fell asleep at his parents' party. They spent the night in his bed. Chastely. (That'll soon change.)

Edward opened his eyes in the middle of the night. Why am I awake? When he rolled over, his legs moved freely, a sign that Mookie wasn't in his usual spot, asleep on Edward's feet.

The lump on the side of the bed was another clue that something was different.

With a start, he remembered that Bella was here with him. She had moved so far over that she practically dangled from the edge of the bed. Accustomed to having the entire space to himself, Edward had spread out into the middle, pushing her away in the process.

She was curled up into a small ball, covered only by the sheet. Not only did he hog the space, he'd also taken most of the comforter. The bedroom was chilly, thanks to the air conditioning, and even in her sleep she looked like she was trying to keep warm without much success.

He ran his hand across her shoulders. Her skin felt too cool to be comfortable - he was amazed she slept through it.

Shit. Furious with himself, Edward straightened out the blanket, covering her with a generous part of it. She turned toward him slightly, murmuring.

"Shhh," he said soothingly, tucking the comforter so it stayed put around her like a soft, protective layer.

She shifted to her back and touched his face. "Edward?"

"Yeah, it's me. It's only me." He clasped her hand. "I'm sorry I woke you."

"Is everything okay?"

"It's fine. I was worried because you were cold," he explained. "Go back to sleep."

"How did you know I was cold?"

"Because I pretty much stole the damn covers for myself." He kissed her contritely. "You should be more comfortable now."

She laughed. "You worry too much." He heard her draw in a long breath, as if she was about to doze off again. "I almost forgot I was here."

"You're with me. And I'm an idiot. You'd probably be better off in your own apartment."

"Noooo," she said, her voice full of sleep and scolding. "You're a love, and I want you to be mine."

"I'm a…you want me to be yours?" Edward asked, amused. "Your what?"

"Everything. I want all of you for me. Or you for all of me." With a sigh, she moved to her side and fell back asleep. He watched her for few minutes before hesitantly stroking her cheek, not wanting to wake her but needing to touch her one more time before he also drifted off.

Hours later, Bella woke again, this time on her own. At first she burrowed deeper under the comforter, enjoying the warmth. She opened her eyes lazily, taking a few minutes before realizing she was in an unfamiliar room. Homey kitchen sounds floated down the hall: the closing of a refrigerator door, clinking coffee mugs, the rasp of a pan being pulled across a stove burner.

She lay there blinking, gradually recalling bits and pieces of the previous evening: the party, a lot of people, heat, alcohol, and Edward's old bedroom. She sighed in deep contentment, even more appreciative that Edward had asked her to stay over. It set right some of the mistakes from last night that embarrassed her. Most important, it showed her that he wanted her here with him. If she'd woken in her own bed, her self-doubt would have been worse than a hangover.

Bella rolled over, in search of an alarm clock. 10 a.m. Late, but not too bad. Good thing it was Sunday.

She sat up and stretched. Mookie watched her impassively from the top of Edward's dresser.

"Did I steal your bed?" She rose and held out her hand to him. He sniffed it and let her scratch under his chin, purring louder with each pass of her fingers.

"Mmmm, who's your daddy?" she asked, smiling. "Actually, where's your daddy?" Edward must be making breakfast. She was eager to join him, but she wanted to wash the sleep off her face first. Bella grabbed her clothes from the top of the dresser and walked to the bathroom, the sound of her steps concealed by the mournful beauty of Jeff Buckley's "Hallelujah."

He was listening to music while he was in the kitchen. Bella smiled to herself. She never cooked without something playing in the background.

It took five frustrating minutes to tame her hair into a ponytail, and she was still not satisfied with the way she looked. Bella was rarely at her best when she first woke up, and on this particular morning, she didn't have the usual advantages of a shower, hair products, and makeup. She shrugged off her self-consciousness and pushed open the door.

Edward was at the kitchen table, drinking from a mug and reading from a laptop. He couldn't have been up very long, judging by the puffiness around his eyes. If he'd combed his hair, he was half asleep at the time. It lay flat over the top of his head but stuck out at the front. He looked adorable, and more delectable than anything else he could offer her for breakfast.

"Hey," he said, a big grin lighting his face. "How are ya?" He stood up as Bella reached the table, leaning in for a kiss.

"I feel great."

"How's your headache?" Edward watched as Bella downed the glass of orange juice he'd set on the table for her.

"Surprisingly nonexistent."

"That's good. Did you sleep okay?"

"I slept really well," she said. He looked so happy, and that made her happy. Her worries about her appearance floated away.

"Except for some idiot who pulled the covers and hogged the whole bed," he said. He smiled, but his eyes carefully watched for her reaction.

"Yeah," she said, frowning. "I think I remember that. You need to keep Mookie out of the bedroom. He's taking advantage, big time."

Edward tossed his fork down in mock disgust. "I knew it. Damn cat. You know, he goes out all evening and I never see him. He's probably sneaking off with my Mets tickets."

Bella nodded gravely. "Exactly. Uses your subway pass for the train to the stadium. Steals money from your wallet for hot dogs and beer."

"Then comes home and steals the blankets, too. I never even noticed he's a feline juvenile delinquent. What kind of cop am I, anyway?" Edward stood up. "You must be dying for coffee."

Bella picked up a clean mug and waved it in front of him. "You read my mind."

"What do you want in it? Milk? Sugar?"

"Both, please."

He committed that to memory and set them in front of her. "'Coffee regular,' huh?"

Bella nodded. "I never heard that phrase before I lived here, but I sure knew enough about coffee." She measured a heaping teaspoon and added a generous portion of milk. "You can't grow up in the Pacific Northwest without having it around all the time. We're practically weaned on it."

"See, that's the kind of thing I want to know more about," Edward said. "I know it's really rainy out there. I know Seattle is a big hipster haven. And I know Mount Rainier is among the tallest mountains in the continental USA. But I want to hear all about where you grew up."

Bella gratefully accepted the bagel he handed her. It was toasted a little darker than she liked, but she wasn't about to complain. Breakfast with Edward was perfect.

He offered her a few strips of bacon and pushed the container of butter toward her plate.

"Forks is a really tiny town on the peninsula," she said. "It's mostly grown up around the logging trade. It's a popular fishing spot because it's close to so many rivers and the Pacific Ocean. But the big growth industry is corrections. There are two local prisons."

Edward nodded in understanding. "I hear ya. What's the population?"

"A little over 3,000."

"Three thousand? The whole town is 3,000 people?"

"That's right."

"Damn, we have more than that on this block."

Bella laughed. "I believe it."

Edward looked at her with a new awareness. "It must have been a huge shock for you, moving here."

She took another few sips of the robust, delicious coffee, which was exactly the kind she'd been raised on. It brought up as many memories as talking about Forks. "Not really. I went to the University of Washington in Seattle," she reminded him. "And I went to grad school at Penn, so I lived in Philadelphia for a couple of years."

He waved his hand dismissively. "You can't compare Philadelphia to New York," he said, skipping over her mention of Seattle and going straight for his city's rival.

"Hey, Philly's great," she said, scowling and folding her arms. "Very underrated. Lots of history, amazing architecture, fantastic museums, excellent food…"

"…and the worst sports teams ever," Edward snorted.

"Oh, so that's how it is." Bella tapped her index finger on her forearm like a schoolmarm. "There's more to a city than sports."

"Here, sure. But it's, you know, New York."

"Come on! Even the Big Apple doesn't have Independence Hall. That's the cradle of American history."

He rolled his eyes theatrically. "Right. So. Statue of Liberty mean anything to you?"

"Technically, that's in New Jersey waters." Her blood rushed with the challenge of keeping up with him. It felt good: fun, teasing, unexpectedly safe...and a lot like foreplay.

"But the island is part of this state." He leaned forward and pronounced each word carefully. "The Statue of Liberty will never be anywhere but in New York. I don't care what some drunk 19th century cartographer says."

"That," she said, jamming her finger in the air in front of Edward's nose, "is why almost all of the rest of the country hates New York. There's a whole lot beyond the Hudson River. Might be a good idea if you thought of that every so often."

He sat up and held his arms out expansively. "It's a New Yorker's view of the world."

"Oh my God," she groaned.

Edward chuckled. "You're funny." He stood and pulled her up out of her chair. "I like fighting with you."

"Yeah, well, you're exhausting," she said, but she couldn't hide her smile.

"I hope I'm not wearing you out. I want you to come back tonight. We're still good for dinner, right?"

"I wouldn't miss it," she said, hoping to still see that brightness in his eyes. He didn't disappoint. "What time do you want me back here?"

"How about six?" Edward started to clear the dishes from the table.

"Sounds good." Bella finished the last of her coffee and carried the mug and dish to the sink. It was almost 11:30, which gave her plenty of time to get back to her apartment and get ready.

Edward turned around and leaned against the sink, snapping a dish towel against his leg. "Is pasta okay?"

"Pasta sounds perfect." There was a window above the sink, and the sun came in from behind him, highlighting reddish strands of hair that were sticking out around his head. His eyes seemed greener, more colorful in the bright kitchen.

"I should get going. I want to get to my parents' to see if they need any help cleaning up from last night. And I've got a few stops to make for things I need for dinner. I can drop you off at the subway. " He hesitated, and Bella sensed an internal debate waging in him somewhere.

"What is it?" she asked.

He looked surprised, then pleased that she'd seen right through him. "I was thinking…do you have any plans for tomorrow?"

"Not really." Now it was her turn to hesitate. "I wouldn't mind spending it with you if you want," she added.

Edward grinned. I want. Oh, I want. "There's a big event on Governor's Island tomorrow. Art show, music, food, you name it. The Dave Matthews Band is playing there in the evening. You interested?"

Bella's eyes lit up. "That sounds great. I'd love to go with you."

"Good. It's a plan, then. And, you know…" He took a few steps toward her. "I was thinking…" He was serious now, his eyes darkening with a certain heat. "You could bring a change of clothes with you when you come back. For tomorrow."

A delicious shiver ran through her. "You mean, stay here with you?"

"Yes."

"That would save me subway fare back to my apartment. So thoughtful of you," Bella replied in a low voice. She wrapped her arms around his neck.

"Yeah, well, I'm nothing if not thoughtful." He looked in her eyes intently. "Only if you want, though."

Like a spoken echo of his own desire, Bella replied, "I want." She stood on tiptoes for a kiss, and he responded with a soft hum and welcoming lips. His arms encircled her waist and he drew her even closer, his grip as firm as a promise. Bella left his apartment unwillingly, but with a satisfying sense of anticipation.

The crowd on the subway platform was small for a late Saturday morning. For the first time since yesterday afternoon, Bella turned on her cell phone to find several increasingly worried texts from Angela.

U ok? Late & yr not home. Hope yr having fun.

Then,

R u w/ Edward? This bettr be good!

And finally, at 9 a.m. this morning,

Worried now. Text/call me!

Bella had completely forgotten about her roommate. Swearing under her breath, she quickly hit the contact button.

The call went right to voicemail. "Ang, it's me. I'm fine. I'm so sorry! I fell asleep at Edward's." The train was rolling in, and Bella could barely hear herself above the roar. "I'm coming home. Well, for now. I'll see you there or talk to you later."

The subway doors squealed open, and Bella easily found a seat. Several teenagers, a man and a young child who looked like father and daughter, and an elderly woman were in the car. The teenagers leaned in toward each other, covering their mouths with their hands as they giggled and talked. Bella wondered for a moment if they were laughing at her, then decided it was mostly her imagination. Is it a walk of shame if you really don't have anything to be ashamed of?

She raced out of the station and made one stop at her favorite bakery before returning to her apartment. Her mind mapped out her tasks in the hours before she would return to Edward's: shower, figure out clothes to wear for tonight and tomorrow (tomorrow!); talk to Angela if she was home; and maybe do some laundry if there was time.

Bella rotated the key in the lock of her apartment door and pushed open the door. "Ang?" No answer. She walked past the kitchen and living room, then down the hall to Angela's room. The bed was made, and there was no sign of her roommate. She must have gone to Ben's.

The adrenaline that had been Bella's fail safe for the last 18 hours suddenly ran dry. Once she got into her own room, she kicked her shoes off in the corner and dropped her purse on the floor. Her bed and blanket suddenly seemed more seductive than the kiss she'd had an hour ago; and she pulled off her clothes as fast as she could, leaving them in a heap. In one quick motion, she pulled back the covers and slipped inside, moaning at the coolness of the sheets. Bella settled her head on the pillow and drifted off with the thought that the next time she fell asleep, it would again be with Edward, in his bed.

That was the last thing she was aware of, until she heard Angela's voice. "Bella? Hey, are you okay?"

"Mmmm," Bella mumbled, stirring. She smiled to reassure her concerned friend. "Yeah. Just tired."

"I'm sorry to wake you, but I was worried."

Bella sat up and glanced at her alarm clock. It was almost 2:30. "No, it's fine. I should get up anyway." She reached out and pulled Angela so her roommate sat on the edge of her bed. "Didn't you get my message?"

"I did, thanks. I was still a little freaked out, though."

"Of course you were," Bella said, laughing. "Don't forget, I was with a cop."

"I know. I wasn't sure whether that made it better or worse."

"Ha. I'll have you know Edward was a perfect gentleman."

"Really?" Angela grinned. "Are you disappointed?"

"No. Well, not in him. I got tired after a few drinks, and I fell asleep." Bella shrugged, then exhaled with a breath that blew strands of hair out of her face. "It's okay, though. He was really cool about it. So was his family."

"I should hope so. I'd kick his ass if he gave you a hard time about that," Angela said indignantly. "So his family…they're nice? You like them?"

"They're great. Now I know where Edward gets it." Every time she thought of Edward and his family, especially his effortless affection with Charlotte, she smiled all over again.

Angela saw the changes that came over Bella each time she said Edward's name. Her roommate and best friend looked happy and relaxed, and completely comfortable talking about how she'd met dozens of people, something that had never come easy to her.

"Sounds like you had a great time, sweetie," she said softly. Angela liked this policeman even more now, though she'd only met him once.

"I did. I really did," Bella replied. Her sweet smile morphed into a smirk. "I'm going to Edward's again tonight for dinner, and I'm telling you right now: don't expect me home until sometime tomorrow night."

"Oh, really?"

"Yes, really. We already agreed I'd stay over." The words sank in, and Bella blushed and picked at her blanket. She wondered how she'd make it through dinner.

Angela did an end-zone-style victory dance. "Yes! It's about damn time you got some."

"I couldn't agree more. I've been afraid I'm drying up here."

"Has it really been…not since Peter?"

"Angela." Bella cocked her head and smirked. "You're my best friend. Don't you think I would've told you if I'd been having sex with someone besides myself?" She looked at the alarm clock and scrambled out of bed. "Jeez, it's getting late. I'd better get in the shower."

The water felt exceptionally refreshing after yesterday's heat and humidity. Bella closed her eyes and lifted her hands up to the spray, letting it bounce off her palms. She thought again about her upcoming night with Edward. With a shiver, she dropped her arms and let the water soak through her hair.

Was it best to know in advance that she'd be sleeping with Edward tonight, euphemistically speaking? Or would it have been better for it to be more spontaneous? Bella smiled in spite of the ball of nerves in her stomach. What really mattered, she realized with swift clarity, was that it would happen, and that she wanted it. Both of them did.

Pressing her hands against the wall under the shower head, she jutted her hips back in a random, spontaneously sexual pose. Her mind roamed, imagining what it would feel like to have Edward behind her, his tall body molded against her own form and his skin pressed so tight against hers that nothing, not even the falling water, came between them.

She inhaled and closed her eyes, her every thought now about Edward. That warmed her better than the shower, and thrilled her just below her skin where water couldn't reach. Bella soaped her hands and ran them over her stomach, legs and rear, wondering if Edward would like her body. He hadn't given her any reason to think otherwise.

She didn't have any worries about whether he'd please her; what she'd seen so far was perfect. And she couldn't wait to do more than just see. Finally, she'd be able to use all her senses with Edward: touching, tasting, smelling, and hearing him in the most intimate of moments. The newness of it might do her in.

Bella dried off and put on a hint of makeup. Clothes piled up in her room as she changed her mind again and again about what to wear. Finally, she pulled on a fresh pair of jeans and an ivory crepe sleeveless top, then slipped on a dark sapphire shrug. After digging through the back of her closet, she found a small tote and threw in shorts, a tee shirt and a change of underwear for tomorrow, as well as a travel bag crammed with the ridiculous amount of toiletries she needed for even an overnight.

One more stop in the bathroom: she brushed her eyelashes up with her fingers and checked her lipstick. She rushed into the kitchen, the notepad hung on the wall by the fridge fluttering with her motion, and grabbed the small box of cupcakes she'd bought earlier. Angela, who'd gone out to meet up with Ben, left a short note on the table.

Have a great time! See you…whenever.

(PS: Hit it like the fist of an angry god.)

Bella burst out laughing. Angela gave great advice.

She locked the door and headed out of the apartment complex to the First Avenue subway station. The sun was still high; between the heat and the humidity, every scent along the street seemed magnified, more potent. That was New York, as she'd learned time and again: you took the bad with the good.

It took less than five minutes for an L train to arrive. Sometimes, if the subway car didn't squeak too much (and she was able to find a seat), the clacking rhythm was almost soothing, a cadence that complemented her thoughts and helped her unwind from her day at work. Now, she used the monotony of the noise to keep her thoughts from jumping too far ahead. She wanted to take this evening one step at a time. Otherwise, she'd find herself missing out on the enjoyment of Edward's company while focusing on the enjoyment of the rest of Edward to follow.

Since moving to New York, she hadn't met anyone who really enticed her sexually. Leery and self-protective, she didn't take to anyone's bed very easily. That she was actively planning to climb Edward like a tree spoke volumes about how radically she'd changed in the last few weeks. It wasn't just him; it was her. She'd finally met someone she liked and trusted enough to want intimacy with – to anticipate it, even.

Bella transferred trains to have a shorter walk to Edward's apartment. She wondered if Edward would be waiting for her again, though she had no trouble finding the apartment building. There was no sign of him outside, so she rang the bell for his apartment.

"Bella?" The anticipation was clear in his voice even through the crackling audio of the building's ancient intercom.

"Hey, Edward." She wondered if her smile came through, too.

"Come on in." A loud buzzer unlocked the main entrance just as Edward swung open the door to his apartment. He wore jeans and a dark green button down with the sleeves rolled up to his elbows, along with the broad grin that had pulled her in the first night they'd met. Matthew Sweet's "Girlfriend" blared from somewhere behind him.

"Hey."

"Hey." He grabbed her around her waist and swung her inside while kicking the door shut with his foot. Bella gave a short, surprised laugh before her breath was cut off by Edward's mouth on hers. It was a lovely welcoming kiss, lasting just long enough.

"I'm glad you're here."

"Me, too." His eyes sparkled like water in sunlight. "Are you hungry?"

Am I ever. "Very."

Edward grabbed her hand and walked them both into the kitchen. Fragrant marinara was slowly simmering on the stove, mingling with the distinct aroma of fresh basil and cut garlic from a wooden board on the counter. Bella closed her eyes and tilted her head. "It all smells fantastic."

Edward waited a beat, watching the delighted smile on her face, before answering. "I hope you like it. I guess this is the first time I've cooked for you." A nervous edge crept into his voice.

"Well, there was breakfast this morning. I think this is going to be far more spectacular than a bagel. Not to disparage your bagel preparation skills, of course."

"Of course." He motioned to the box Bella had in her hand. "What's that?"

"I brought a few cupcakes even though you told me not to." Her glance warned him not to argue. "I wanted to contribute something."

"I figured you would." He put the cupcakes in the refrigerator and sheepishly pulled out a small box. "I bought some cannoli anyway. They're from Fortunato Brothers, and they're the best."

"So you're a cannoli snob too?" she asked, teasing.

"Hell yeah." Edward took a container of fresh penne from the refrigerator. "The water's almost boiling. Think you can take care of this while I make some vinaigrette?"

She made a face. "I'll try not to screw it up."

They worked in a synchronized domestic routine for the next 15 minutes, not saying much. But Bella's form pulled at Edward's focus, and his eyes were irresistibly drawn to her every few minutes as she rinsed the lettuce or checked the pasta water. She reached for a large wooden spoon hanging near the stove, her shirt creeping up from the stretch and her rear and leg muscles tightening visibly under her jeans. When she turned to Edward with the spoon in her hand, she caught him looking.

Not that she minded.

"Um. Can I taste the marinara?"

"Only if you let me help…Here." He took the spoon and stirred the pot, then scooped up a healthy sample. "It's hot." Carefully, he brought it to her mouth, watching as she opened her lips and slowly sipped.

Bella closed her eyes and held the sauce in her mouth like it was a full-bodied wine, humming in approval.

"Good?" He watched her hopefully.

"Excellent. Now I really want to eat." Once the penne was done, she dumped it into the sink and turned on the faucet.

"Whoa whoa whoa, Chef Boyardee. What are you doing?"

She pointed to the colander. "Rinsing the pasta."

"For what?

"To get the starch off."

"It's just spent the last nine minutes in boiling water. It's got nothing left to get off." Bella arched an eyebrow – it was still more polite than laughing out loud - and Edward coughed and grabbed a pasta fork.

"Here." He stood behind her and reached forward to turn off the tap, slipping his arms alongside of hers. With one small step, his tall frame closed in on her, a welcome crowding. The frayed edge of the buttonhole on his jeans pressed against her back, like a small wick that might catch the fire simmering inside her.

Bella leaned back, her body easily nesting into Edward's. He pressed his arms against her while he worked the colander, tossing the pasta to shed the remaining water. Steam rose from the sink, hot and humid, in sync with the licks of desire running through her. Bella was seconds away from turning around in Edward's arms when he cleared his throat and stepped away reluctantly.

"We're ready."

Bella ladled sauce into a serving dish while Edward transferred the pasta to a bowl. The salad, dressing, and bread were ready on the table. As they sat down, he muttered, "Almost forgot," then twisted around and grabbed a bowl of chopped onions off the counter. When he leaned over to dump it into the salad, Bella's arm shot out to stop him.

"Uh…can we leave the onions off?" She winced at her impulsiveness, not wanting to seem rude.

"Not a fan?" Edward's hand hovered in mid-air, still holding the bowl.

"No. Not at all."

"Okay." He put it back on the counter. "A fatwa on onions, then."

Bella smiled weakly. "Sorry."

"No, no. Don't say you're sorry." He pressed his hands along the edge of the table, focusing his attention on her. "You can let me know if you don't like something. I want you to. You know, you're safe telling me anything." It was an unexpectedly intense response, but his words made a soft landing. Bella knew that if she ever completely placed her heart in his hands, he would respect its occasional fragility. Impetuously, she leaned over and kissed his cheek.

"Why, thank you." With a flourish, he sprinkled grated cheese over his meal. "You should know there are onions in the sauce, though. Don't expect me to take 'em out now."

"Hah. I'm leaving."

Edward laughed. "Next time, I'll find a recipe that doesn't use them."

"Good luck with that. Onions are in everything, except maybe pancakes.

He set down the vinaigrette carefully, a shocked look coming over his face. "You're not supposed to put onions in pancakes?"

"Not if you're planning to use syrup," Bella replied smoothly. "Yuck."

"Now you tell me."

She slid a forkful of penne in her mouth and almost moaned at the savory-sweetness of the sauce. "When did you learn to cook like this?"

"I guess when I moved into my own place and it was either cook or starve. Fast food gets old and crappy real quick." He furtively glanced down and had second thoughts about the menu. Anything this messy often found its way onto the front of his shirt. I will not embarrass myself tonight.

"I was only going to go back to my parents' for dinner so many times, you know? Not that my mother minded. But I thought, hey, I can learn for myself." Edward shrugged.

"This is amazing," Bella said, for as simple as it was, the meal was the best she'd had in a long time. "So what are your best dishes? I'll bet you've got a few specialties."

He pursed his lips, concentrating. "Found some great ways to make pork tenderloin. And I can do a hell of a roast chicken. In fact," he said, nodding, "that'll be on the menu next time you're here for dinner. Which I hope is very soon." He caught her eye and smiled.

"I even learned how to make pierogies. I don't do it too often because it takes so long, but I have a great recipe from…" Damn. You took a wrong turn here, asshole. "…my ex-girlfriend's family. They're Polish."

Bella's eyes widened in surprise, and she glanced nervously at Edward before staring hard at her dinner plate. This would be the perfect time to tell him about that conversation with Alice yesterday.

Knowing nothing about what was really going through Bella's head at the moment, Edward assumed he'd upset her and moved on. "I'd like to try Asian cooking. I don't know much about it, other than ordering Chinese takeout. Which isn't really the same." He took a gulp of wine. "Think you'd be willing to be my guinea pig if I did?"

"I'd love that. I'll bet it would be really good." Say it. Say it. Say it.

In the few seconds she hesitated, Edward hastened to change the subject. "So talk to me about Forks. I want to hear more about your life growing up in Washington."

Bella couldn't bear to bring the conversation back to Tanya. Her lack of courage distracted her, and she gave a rote answer. "There isn't that much to tell. I had a boring life as a kid."

"I'll bet you didn't." He chased a few pieces of pasta around his plate with the fork before finally spearing them. "I'll bet you lived a life of mystery and intrigue. And lumber."

"Heavy on the lumber, hold the mystery and intrigue," she said, thinking about the trucks rolling through the heart of Forks. They were loud in a way that was so different from the vehicles that glided through Manhattan every day. "The industry's still a presence, but it's not as strong as it used to be."

"But your dad doesn't work in it, so that probably didn't affect you much."

"Not directly. But when guys lose their jobs, they tend to get drunk a lot, especially if they can't find more work."

Edward nodded in understanding. "That happens everywhere. Tell me about you, though," he pressed.

"What do you want to know?" There really wasn't much to tell him. Life in Forks wasn't like Brooklyn.

"What did you wear your first day of school? What was your favorite book? What did you say to your third-grade teacher that got you in trouble? 'Cause I know you did," he said, pointing a slice of garlic bread at her.

She feigned indignation. "I did not!"

"Uh-uh. It's quiet ones like you that everyone has to watch out for."

"Well, if you must know, it was fourth grade. The teacher was going to punish Tyler Crowley for something he didn't deserve to get punished for, and I set her straight."

"Somehow, I can see you lecturing a teacher." He smiled at the thought of a young Bella, her hands in fists, mustering the courage to speak up.

"We were outside for recess and this dog wandered onto the playground. Tyler chased it until it ran into the street. I told him that it was his fault the dog went into the road, so he had to make sure it didn't get hit by a car. Our teacher saw him take off and yelled at him. She was going to give him detention, but I told her I made him do it so the dog wouldn't get hurt."

"What happened?"

"She gave us both detention." Bella licked some sauce off her fork, and the sight of it made Edward dizzy. He distracted himself with more salad.

"That's American justice for you. I know all about that." He smiled wryly.

"It was worth it, though. The dog was safe."

"What did your dad say?" Edward wanted to know more about the chief. He had a strong inkling he'd meet her father some day, and any intel would be helpful.

"He acted annoyed with me. We're not supposed to leave the playground during school hours. He tried to impress on me that those rules are there to protect us. But I know he was proud of me."

"He should've been," Edward said. "You told the truth. You paid a price for it, but that often happens." There was silence for a moment. "Sounds like you and your dad have a really good relationship," he said, trying to prompt her.

"We do. He's a great guy. I respect him so much. He works so hard, and he's always so fair with everyone. He's quiet, but he's not the kind of guy to talk for the sake of talking."

Edward nodded. "Sounds a lot like you."

"That's true. I'm probably more like him." Bella glanced down in her lap and toyed with her napkin for a moment. "My mom, on the other hand, never met a gap in conversation she couldn't fill. She's a lot more sociable than my dad. They both care about people, she just puts it out there a lot more easily than he does," she added, affection evident in her voice.

"Who do you look like?"

"Oh, much more like my dad. I have his hair color and eyes. My mom's kind of a strawberry blonde with blue eyes. She's so pretty," Bella said.

"Well, that sounds like you."

She shook her head. "No, she's much more-"

He held his palm up before she could get any more words out. "I think I know what you're going to say here. Don't."

Bella frowned slightly. "But-"

"I never want to hear you talk about yourself like that," he interrupted her. "You're perfect. And I don't mean like a supermodel. I could care less about that." He sounded almost harsh, so he softened his voice. "You have a real beauty about you. I saw it on the outside right from the start, and more and more I see it on the inside. And it fucking knocks me out."

She'd been shaking her head when he started to speak, but by the time he was finished, she'd stopped, silent for a bit. "Edward."

He squeezed her hand. "What, sweetheart?"

"I don't even know what to say when you tell me things like that." She closed her eyes, and at first he thought she was going to cry. When she opened them, there were no tears, but an expression of quiet gratitude. "I feel like you somehow see the person I always try to be. I don't think anyone else has really bothered to look, but that doesn't matter now. I'd want you to be the one to see me." The last words were uttered almost in a whisper.

"That's good," he murmured. "Because I don't want anyone else looking." He'd crossed his arms on the table, and Bella grasped his wrists to separate them widely. Edward watched her, his puzzled expression shifting to one of pleasure as she climbed into his lap. She swung her legs around on either side of his so they faced each other.

"This is nice," he said, trying to remain calm. "But it's a little tough to eat dessert this way."

"Can't dessert wait?"

"Mmm," he agreed, his hands on her waist. "This is better."

"No," Bella said, "this is." She pulled him in hard and fast, her lips and heart eager.

Edward's hands had moved to her back, pressing her chest against his, exactly where he wanted it. They stayed like this for awhile, kissing in a way that was heated but not hurried. When they finally broke apart, Edward felt her smile as he gave her several small kisses around the side of her mouth.

"You did say not to apologize for something I want. I hope I shouldn't say I'm sorry for that," Bella said.

"You never have to apologize for sitting on my lap. You can do that any time. Well, maybe not when I'm driving." Edward cleared his throat and briefly glanced out the window. "We should...No, scratch that." His chest gently rose against Bella's as he inhaled deeply. "It's been about a year since Tanya and I broke up. I've had a few…casual dates since then," he said, faltering, although his eyes remained on Bella's. "I'm clean. But I'm careful, too. I trust you; I just think we should be smart."

Bella understood him immediately, grateful he'd had the nerve to bring it up. "I agree. My last boyfriend and I broke up almost two years ago. I haven't dated anyone, unless you count some disastrous drinks after work which never went further than the bar." She rolled her eyes, then grew serious again. "But just so you know, I'm clean, too. And I also want to be smart."

"That's good." Another kiss, and Edward linked his hands behind Bella's back. "You know," he said thoughtfully, "I'm pretty full right now. I think I can wait on dessert."

"Me too," she said quickly.

"Good. You can relax for a couple of minutes, and I'll take care of the dishes." The absurd cliché of slipping into something more comfortable practically line-danced through Edward's mind, but he managed to keep from saying it.

"I can help you," Bella offered.

"No," he said firmly. "You're my guest. I'll take care of it. Won't take me long at all."

He propelled her into the living room and then finished cleaning the kitchen. She wandered around the small space, accompanied by the music from Edward's iPod that flowed smoothly through the speakers in the room.

Bella ran her index finger around the rim of her wine glass as she came to a stop before his bookcases. Several shelves were full of CDs; others held dozens of books. Bella tilted her head to get a better look at the authors and titles. At the top, textbooks on criminal justice. Encyclopedic volumes about music and art. Several hardcover books about the Knicks, including "The Values of the Game" by Bill Bradley. Fiction by Raymond Carver, James Lee Burke, and John Irving. An anthology of Jack London. And a few books by Annie Proulx. Bella was surprised that Edward didn't own more novels by female authors, but she reserved a verdict until she could ask him about it.

Judging by the reduced volume of sounds coming from the back of the apartment, Edward had finished wrangling the dishes into the dishwasher. Bella wandered to the framed print over the fireplace and was struck by the similarity to the painting hanging in the living room of his parents' home. Both were urban streetscapes, though this one was different in composition. The artist painted the buildings so they were practically overlapping each other. Chimneys were prominent, and there was a furnace and what appeared to be a human figure in the front.

"Do you like that?" Edward had come into the living room and was standing behind her.

"I do. I like that there isn't much color in it. It looks sort of Cubist," she said.

He smiled and put his arm around her. "Exactly. The artist is Joaquín Torres García. He was originally from Uruguay, but he studied in Europe. He was a friend of Pablo Picasso. "

Bella pointed to the word "TABAC" which appeared on one of the buildings. "What does that mean?"

"It's French for 'tobacco.' I had to look that up," he said, an admission that somehow endeared him more to her. "I'd never heard the word before, but it's not like I studied the language. Makes me think this is a scene from Paris."

"Mmm. I'll bet you're right." Bella had never been to Paris, but she imagined it could be gritty and crowded, as Garcia had painted it here. "I can see why you'd hang this in your living room." She turned around to face him. "It's a scene from a city somewhere, and that's you. It's in your blood."

Edward was playing with a strand of her hair that had fallen in front of her shoulder. His expression grew serious and his hold on her tightened. She inhaled, not quite from anxiety but a similar acknowledgment that everything was about to shift.

"Bella?..." His voice trailed off, but he didn't need to finish. She nodded her head in answer to his barely-voiced question.

Edward's face relaxed just as her stomach felt like it was plummeting to the floor. Nerves. Underneath her skin, she was a fiery bundle of nerves, all of them running in different directions. She was nervous with anticipation, with self-consciousness, and most of all, with desire.

The music changed, and a soft guitar melody filled the room. Edward pulled her to him and put his right arm around her back, clasping her hand to his chest with his left. He sang along with Ray LaMontagne, his own voice whispery yet assured.

When you came to me with your bad dreams and your fears
It was easy to see that you'd been crying
Seems like everywhere you turn catastrophe reigns
But who really profits from the dying
I could hold you in my arms
I could hold you forever

They swayed together through the rest of the song, and Bella drank in the lyrics as if every line was written for her. The words were beautiful, and they helped her feel again as though Edward could see right into her, and everything that was there – the good, the weak, the spirited and the inadequate – was exactly what he wanted.

It's my worried mind that you quiet
Place your hands on my face
Close my eyes and say
Love is a poor man's food

The song faded, and Edward released Bella so he could take her hand. "Come with me," he murmured, and led her into his bedroom.

He turned on the small table lamps on either side of his bed for just enough light to see, but not to glare. As if inspired by the lyrics, he held her face in his hands but kept his eyes on hers before kissing her. He led this dance as well, his mouth opening against hers, his lips gently tugging at her bottom lip, wanting more.

In seconds, Edward's tongue was stroking hers, and Bella moaned as the kiss intensified. They parted momentarily, catching their breath. Tonight, they had all the time in the world.

Bella began undoing the buttons on his shirt, her fingers shaking but still deft. Once the shirt hung loose, she brushed her hands over his tee, lingering on the chest muscles that lay underneath. She smoothed the dress shirt away from shoulders and eased it off completely.

Less restrained, she tugged at his undershirt and pulled it up over his head while Edward chuckled. "Is it my turn yet?" he asked, his voice low and deep.

He swept his hands up her arms and rested them on her shoulders before removing the shrug. His fingers danced unexpectedly along her back, tickling her. "What are you doing?" she asked, giggling.

"Looking for buttons or a zipper. There has to be something holding this together, right?"

She shook her head. "Nope. Just comes right off."

"Easy access. I like that." Very slowly, he removed it until Bella stood in her bra and jeans.

Edward exhaled, more like a sigh than a breath. He placed his palm against her cheek in a gentle caress. Though he was sorely tempted to touch other parts of her first, he thought she needed the kind of reassurance that would come from looking in her eyes.

Bella took a small step back and removed her pants, thankful for the dusty-rose-colored matching bra and panties that she loved but rarely wore. Impulsively, she'd bought them at a lingerie store a year ago, thinking she had no real use for them but optimistic that someday, someone else would get to see them. That day had arrived.

She had a quick moment of this is it. There was some anxiety – do I look okay? – but it was outmaneuvered by a yearning that was as rich and deep as a velvet river. She wanted Edward, she was pretty sure he wanted her, and she'd waited long enough.

A low moan escaped from Edward's throat. "Oh, God…you're…" He never completed the sentence, just swallowed hard. Quickly, he started to undo his own pants, but Bella stopped him.

"Let me."

Edward watched as she carefully unfastened the button and pulled his zipper down slowly. Her breath was heavy, focused with anticipation. She pushed at his jeans, then let him take over so he could pull them off, which he did in record time.

He stood before her in his briefs, his chest strong and firm and planing down to a flat stomach. She ran her fingertips over his muscles, finally reveling in the feel of his skin after wanting him ever since she'd seen him half naked on the basketball court. She brushed over his shamrock tattoo lightly, tracing the edges before tickling down to his abdomen.

Edward was nearly hypnotized by her touch, so blessedly different than anyone else's. There was a fire about it but it didn't consume him; it burned enough to make him want more, to make him want to touch her in turn. He stroked her breasts over the lacy bra, his hands passing over her already hard and aching nipples, before pulling her against him.

There, edging against her midsection, was the tempting evidence of his arousal. Bella embraced him as they kissed, and then moved her hand between them. She stroked him, loving the feel of hardness under soft cotton.

Edward moaned and closed his eyes, dropping his head on her shoulder. From this vantage, he could see the bra's clasp behind her back. He unhooked it, searching her face, questioning again; and she nodded. The bra came away easily with the slightest tug on the straps. In a quick and graceful movement, she bent over and removed her panties.

"It's your turn again," she said, keeping her voice steady.

"Right." Edward removed his underwear and tossed them off to a corner.

Oh. Oh. It seemed all of him was tall, long and hard, except for the look on his face, which was soft and lustful. The anticipation of having him inside her was overwhelming; and her body, already lit with desire, was on the brink of detonating.

She tugged his hand toward the bed but he stopped her, moving back slightly so he could look at her fully.

"Bella," he said reverently, caressing her stomach and hips. "You're like the best works of art. Beautiful. Unique. Always fascinating. I can see a hundred different things in you every time I look at you."

Suddenly self-conscious, Bella ducked her head. "I'm not-"

"Shh." He put his index finger against her lips. "You are. God, you're everything I knew you would be from the first time I laid eyes on you."

Tears welled up in the corners of her eyes. "Thank you," she whispered. She moved closer to him, moving her hand up his chest and around his back, then down his ass before sweeping over his abdomen. She took him in her hand. "I think you're…magnificent."

He moaned, letting her work him and enjoying the feeling because it was…well, it was what it was, but more than that, it was Bella. It was her hands on him again, but not on his chest this time. They were where he'd wanted them since his Bella fantasies started that first night at Chelsea Bar and Harbor.

"Baby," he said, his voice tight, "this feels so damn amazing, but maybe now would be a good time to move to the bed."

She stretched on her side along the comforter, holding her hand out in a gesture that was both invitation and request. Edward grasped it and lay down next to her. He combed through the soft chestnut strands of hair that had fallen down her back, fanning them out with his fingers. Once more, he brought his lips to hers, smoothing his hands along her waist and hips. Bella closed her eyes, rising in response to his hands and mouth as he kissed her neck and then her breasts.

To him, they were perfect; they fit her form and size. He loved their smoothness and the delicate peaks which rose to meet each touch. With quiet worship, he trailed light kisses along her chest, then took a nipple in his mouth, exploring it with his tongue, growing bolder as he heard Bella's sighs.

Edward edged a hand down between her legs, his fingers touching her lightly at first. She moaned, easing her legs apart further, and he explored her more firmly. He slipped one, then two fingers inside, then drew them back up, tracing and teasing.

Bella buried her head in his neck as he continued caressing her; learning what touches she preferred, using her quickening breaths as a guide. "Let me look at you," he whispered. He wanted to see her in this moment, wanted nothing more than to watch her and feel the pleasure he was giving her. Bella lay back on the pillow, her eyes avoiding him at first. When she finally met his gaze, the adoration she saw there tipped her further to her climax. Her panting escalated to cries that resounded between them as she was swept away by her orgasm.

"Bella," he whispered, "that was the sexiest thing I've ever seen."

She thanked him silently with her eyes and the sweetest smile he'd ever seen. Still wordless, she began stroking him again, loving the skin that was soft in a way that was so different from any other part of his body.

"Oh God," he groaned. "You have no idea how great that feels."

"Oh, I think I do." She laughed, taking his hand and pressing it against her once more for a few seconds, just to make her point.

He reached for the nightstand next to the bed and managed to pull open a drawer. Victoriously, he held up a foil packet.

Bella took it from his hands. "May I?"

"Like I'd say no to you." He loved her mischievous excitement.

She tore into the packet and carefully removed the condom, then sat up. With a slight nudge, she pushed Edward so he was lying on his back. Carefully, she rolled the condom over the length of him, and he had to fight back a smile at the look of concentration on her face.

Every little thing she does is magic…Every thing she does just turns me on…

Edward took her in his arms, guiding them both so they were lying down again. He shifted so he was between her legs, sliding one hand around to her lower back. With his other hand, he positioned himself and pressed inside her almost all the way. They cried out in unison, a chorus of release and relief.

Every movement inside her brought a fresh sensation that eclipsed all his other experiences. This was intensity and ease, warmth and passion, coming home and joyous discovery. Edward closed his eyes as his mind flashed back to their time in the museum, when he'd known he'd never want to be there with another woman. Being with Bella was like taking steps where each one closed off the need to be with anyone else. This, he knew, was another step, but one much larger than every other.

Her warm hand cupped his face. Edward opened his eyes and saw his awe reflected back in her expression. She hooked her legs around his thighs and cried out again, her head and neck arching as she came. It was enough to hurtle him forward to his own orgasm, and he called out her name with that one last thrust.

Minutes went by before he could bring himself to move. He lowered himself carefully so their bodies were skin to skin, loving the contact and the mingling of their scents, a sweet perfume of sweat and sex. With his head bowed, Edward placed tender kisses on her face and neck.

"Sweetheart, you're…that was…" Edward shook his head like he was trying to loosen the right words.

Bella was lazily combing her fingers through his hair, her gaze roaming his face, so close to hers. "Amazing," she whispered, completing his sentence. Her body felt like it had come apart and was put back together haphazardly, her limbs nearly useless.

"Wonderful," she continued. "Incredible."

"All of that and more," he said softly. Legs intertwined, they lay together, unhurried and quiet except for occasional words of adoration.

The dim light created silhouettes in random places around the room. Edward traced a crescent-shaped shadow under Bella's breast as she lay on her side, wanting to memorize so many things about her body for the times they couldn't be together. He hoped that wouldn't be often.

After a while, Edward pulled on a pair of pajama pants and padded into the kitchen. He returned to the bedroom with two cannoli, a cupcake, and two forks. They finally had dessert as they talked about New York and the next day's concert. They made of all the museums they wanted to see. By Bella's count, if they were able to visit one on each of the few days off they had together, it would take them into next year. She liked being booked so many months in advance. It represented some solid plans, and that warmed her.

And later still, Edward reached for Bella with his right hand as his left snuck under the pillow for the extra condom he'd put there. She opened for him, welcoming him a second time, and they moved together softly, already following the course of their new intimate rhythm. Edward cherished every gasp and moan she uttered because of him. When their breathing had returned to normal, Bella yawned, though she tried to hide it.

"You're tired," he said, smiling.

"Yes," she admitted. "Phenomenal sex will do that."

"Phenomenal. Exactly." He turned off the table lamps so the room was enveloped in darkness. "I hope you don't mind, but I'm planning to wear you out a lot, then."

"Mind? Never. I'll get sleepy with you any time." She snuggled back into him so they were spooning. Edward moved in closer, one arm around her chest and the other snug around her waist. Bella rested her hand against the one Edward had curled over one of her breasts.

They drifted off together. The woman who'd slept alone for two years and the man accustomed to sprawling across the mattress shared the bed gladly, closing off any distance between them. Edward's hands were warm; the blankets, soft; and Bella fell into a slumber as deep as any she'd had.

I apologize for not responding to all reviews for Chapter 6. I hate when I'm unable to do that, because it means a great deal to me to hear from readers. Unfortunately, it became a question of writing responses or this chapter. I hope to do better next time. Please leave a review if you'd like, even just to say hello.

There are links in my profile if you want more information on some items of interest in this chapter.

I'm very grateful to the lovely lisamichelle for suggesting Ray LaMontagne's "Hold You In My Arms" for this chapter. It's perfect.

Many thanks to Violhane for the info on the best Italian shops in Brooklyn. It made the chapter even more delicious.