Bella frowned out the window as Edward slowed the Volvo on Alaskan Way, a mere five blocks from the club. She had hoped he would be taking her to his house in Magnolia. But as he flicked on the turn signal, she realized they weren't leaving the heart of downtown Seattle at all.

"Where are we going?" she asked. She thought that after Highway 99, they would call it a night. Surely he wanted to be alone with her. He'd been eying her more hungrily as the night went on - she wasn't imagining that. She was looking at him the same way, matching his intensity. The heavy, sensual mood of the club still swirled under her skin, like an undercurrent stirring the heart of an otherwise placid pool. And after Edward sang to her the way he did, the desire to be close to him had burgeoned into an aching need. She was desperate to be alone with him.

She gazed over at his profile, its hues shifting through the full spectrum of the color wheel as the multi-colored city lights illuminated his skin. She kept staring until he felt the burn of her eyes and glanced her way. His eyes burned back, the flames easy to read. His lips pursed into the faintest of smirks before he shifted his attention back to the road before him.

"It's my turn to surprise you," he said at last. "Although I'm surprised myself that you haven't figured it out by now."

She frowned again, looking at her surroundings. She didn't know the city that well. But when he made a left onto Madison, she almost slapped her palm to her forehead as the realization hit her. She should have known. He was taking her back to the place they met a seeming lifetime, yet only a few weeks, ago.

They made another turn onto First Avenue, and Hotel 1000 loomed before them. Her stomach lurched nervously in recollection of the sheer terror she'd felt that first night, pulling her crappy old truck into the drive while the valet tried not to snicker. Now, of course, the valet had nothing but respect for "Mr. Cullen's" racy black convertible as he took the wheel and drove it away. But the reason she'd been so nervous before was still the same reason she was nervous now.

She couldn't shake the feeling that something life-changing was about to happen.

Her palm was sweaty when Edward pressed it to the dry warmth of his own, then linked his fingers between hers. His smile was just as warm, but his eyes were something else - something more. They sparkled at her under the royal blue neon of the entryway as they approached the hotel. Good God, he was sexy. That was the only word she could come up with to describe him sometimes. Everything about him smoldered and beguiled, even when he was wearing a plain old plaid shirt and jeans. The vision of his suit and tie flashed through her mind, as vivid and shockingly gorgeous as the real thing had been when she first laid eyes on him.

She was a little overwhelmed, schlepping along beside him in her own faded jeans, Converse and denim jacket. She was as dressed down as he was, yet felt more grungy somehow. She was a little embarrassed entering the elegant Madison Tower like this, backpack slung over one shoulder like a hobo.

Edward didn't seem to care how they were dressed. The night concierge still treated him like hotel royalty, nodding and addressing him formally.

"Mr. Cullen, how good to see you again," the middle-aged gentleman greeted him with a deferential nod. "It's been too long since we've had the pleasure of having you as a guest."

Edward nodded and smiled in return. "Good to see you, too, Marcus," he replied in passing. He didn't stop at the front desk, but guided Bella straight to the elevators instead.

"Don't we have to sign in?" she asked him.

"No. I checked in this afternoon."

He was grinning like the Cheshire cat as the elevator doors opened with a muted ding. A couple of passengers exited before Edward and Bella took their place.

"So you had this planned all along," she said as the doors closed with a swish behind them.

He nodded, grabbing her other hand and pulling her to him. "Do you remember the last time we were in this elevator together?" he murmured.

She bit her lip at the memory of desperate kisses; groping hands. "I was afraid I wouldn't see you again."

"Me too," he whispered. "Even though we both put a little insurance policy in place to make sure that wouldn't happen."

"That we did. And it worked."

"Even if it hadn't, I think we would have found another way," he said, leaning down, closing the distance between them. He was about to re-enact their first elevator encounter when the contraption slowed to a halt, its doors parting to let more passengers on. Edward stepped back from Bella with a frustrated sigh, letting go of only one of her hands. The group that had joined them was apparently headed for the same floor they were.

They all dispatched at once when the doors finally reopened, but thankfully soon parted ways. Edward led Bella down the hallway toward his favorite room, the one he'd always used, the Grand Luxe Suite. The room that now held some of his most cherished memories - ones he'd refused to tarnish by bringing anyone else here after her.

Bella's heart was pounding and she wasn't sure why. She wanted to be alone with Edward more than anything, so why was she so nervous?

He dropped her hand in order to rifle through his billfold and find the key card. Once the door was unlocked, he held it open and smiled down at Bella, encouraging her to go ahead. He was surprised to see her balk. She stood stock-still, staring at the floor, just like she'd done that first night.

His brows knitted. What was the problem? He went on into the room and flipped the nearest light switch, then turned to take her hand and help her inside, like he'd done before. Her face relaxed a little as she stepped into the room, finally flashing him a small smile.

"What's wrong?" he asked her bluntly. "Don't you want to be here with me?"

"What? Yeah, of course," she assured him. "More than anything."

"Then what's going on? You're looking a little like a deer in the headlights, same as you did the night we met. It feels like we're starting all over here."

She let out a shaky breath. "It kind of feels that way to me, for some reason," she admitted. "Maybe it's this place. It reminds me how crazy I felt coming here. Hiring you in the first place." She paused, letting out a sigh. "I guess I was kind of hoping you'd take me to your house again."

"Oh." Edward was thrown a little by her admission. Apparently her memories of the night they spent here weren't as fond as his were. He tried to read her face for signs of disappointment as she shrugged out of her backpack and jean jacket. He quickly grabbed them and set them down with his own bag on a nearby desk, then turned back to face her.

"I'm sorry," he apologized. "I didn't take you home tonight because Alice is there, and I wanted to be alone with you. I guess I wanted to try to recreate the connection we made that night, here, in this suite. You made this place special for me." He gave the room a fond once-over. "I kind of miss it."

"Miss it?" she echoed, not understanding. "I thought you came here all the time. Isn't this your go-to spot for your dates?" She couldn't stop a little acid from seeping into that last word.

"It was," he corrected her. He let out a relieved sigh. Now he got it. He reached out and placed his hands firmly on her shoulders, his thumbs gently stroking her neck. "Bella, I think of this as our place now. I haven't brought anyone else here since the night we met."

Her eyes widened in surprise. "So that's what the concierge meant," she said, remembering his comment to Edward that it had been too long.

"Right. I haven't been here in almost a month. I've been avoiding hotels in general, as much as possible. I don't want to be with anyone else but you." He drew her closer, his face dropping toward hers. Her eyes were cautiously hopeful, seeking something he wanted desperately to give her. "I haven't been with anyone since the last time we were together."

Her eyes grew rounder. "But . . . that was over a week ago," she stammered. "Haven't you been working since then?"

"Working, yes. Working overtime, no. I don't think I can anymore. I don't want to."

She stared at him blankly, afraid to absorb what he was saying. "But how are you getting out of it? I know what I hired you for. I'm not so stupid as to think it isn't the same reason tons of other women are hiring you."

"Well, you're right - some of them have a specific objective in mind," he agreed. "I haven't quite been fulfilling some of their expectations this past week."

Bella's elation was dampened slightly by worry for him. "But won't you get in trouble with your agency?"

"Probably." Edward's fingers crept up her neck, into the silky hair growing at its nape. He wanted to lose himself in the warmth of her and forget about everything else. "I'm meeting with Rosalie tomorrow. I'll find out then what she thinks of my latest client reviews."

"Do you think she'll fire you?" Bella felt a little guilty that she was rather enamored of the idea.

"I don't know. I doubt she wants to give me the severance pay," he said with a sardonic chuckle. "Trust me, I'd love nothing more than to just walk into her office and give my notice on the spot. If I can hold out for just a few more weeks, I'm hoping I can do exactly that. I just hate asking for your patience in the meantime."

Bella looked up into those pleading eyes, midnight blue in the lamplight, and she felt like she would agree to most anything for him. That kind of surrender was what should have made her afraid. But instead, her anxiety was gone, replaced by the same sureness she felt right after he took her virginity and gave her his vulnerability in return. Was she crazy to trust him? Maybe. Maybe she was just plain crazy, doing the things she'd done this past month. But when she searched his eyes, she found a strange sort of sanity she knew she'd never find with anyone else.

"I just wish you'd tell me what was happening in a few weeks that might change things," she said at last.

He smiled down at her, and he was tempted. So tempted to let her root for him, let her get caught up in high hopes that might come crashing down on them both like a lead balloon.

"I don't want to jinx it," he finally told her. "Let's just say I have an opportunity to get back into music, and I'm hoping it might lead to some job offers. But until that happens, I don't want to make you any promises I can't keep. I know I sound like a broken record, and a fucking cowardly one, at that. I just don't want to disappoint you."

"You could never disappoint me. Not as long as you're trying to find a way to do something you love. And you're not a coward," she insisted. "It's got to be hard to leave behind a job that gives you the kind of security being an escort does. And I have no right to ask that of you, anyway. I don't want to be a hypocrite. I hired you for sex. This whole thing, whatever we have, started as sex."

She stopped and took a deep breath. "I guess maybe that's the one thing I'm afraid of - that this could happen again for you, as long a you're still in this line of work. That you'll find someone else. Connect with someone else the way you did me."

"Impossible," was his immediate response. His grip tightened gently on her skull beneath his fingers. He wondered how to make her understand how ludicrous that idea was to him. "Bella. I was an escort for over two years and it never happened. I never once experienced anything like our first night together. I know I'll never find that with anyone else. We were never just about sex. You have to know that."

She wrapped her hands around his forearms, stroking the light brown hair beneath her fingers. She nodded up at him, believing. Basking in the truth.

"You woke me up," he continued. "Made me stop being complacent. Made me want more for myself again. And for you, too. I want to give you more."

"You already do," she protested feebly.

"It's not enough," he shot back. Then he paused for a moment, realizing he was letting his shortcomings take center stage again, when Bella was the star of this show.

"But, I do have a little something to give you in the meantime," he said, letting a more light-hearted grin spread over his face. He leaned down and gave her a gentle kiss, careful not to linger too long, or he knew he'd never make it any further into the hotel suite before ravishing her. "Come with me, birthday girl."

He slid one hand down to her shoulder, turning her toward the dining room and pushing her in that direction while he followed close behind. When they reached the entry, he left her to flip the nearby light switch, illuminating the modern-style chandelier suspended over the table. Bella gasped at the sight before her. Multi-colored streamers were strung from the light fixture to the four corners of the room, while every inch of space between sported dozens of helium-filled balloons clinging to the ceiling. Each was tied with a long curly-cue ribbon so that she could grab any of them and pull them down at will.

The table below was covered as well, loaded with more regular air-filled balloons, ribbons, streamers and confetti, creating a chaotic rainbow that made her want to laugh and cry at the same time. It was crazy and colorful and over the top, like a kids' birthday party on crack. But the fact that he did all of this for her made her throat constrict and her eyes well up, just like his birthday serenade had earlier.

"Edward . . . I . . ." She didn't know what to say. She knew she was going to cry if she tried to speak.

He looked at her stricken face and began to suspect he'd made a colossal blunder. "I know. It's overkill, right? Looks like a clown exploded in here," he said, cringing.

She burst into laughter at that, which made the tears spill over. "Yeah, kind of," she agreed. She walked over and batted at one of the myriad balloons lolling on the table. "I love it. It's perfect. Next to the song you sang to me, this is the best thing anyone's ever done for me."

Edward's shoulders slumped in relief. "Yeah? So those are tears of joy, not disgust?"

"Definitely," she said, giggling and wiping her cheeks quickly. "Thank you." She attacked him in a bear hug, and his arms were only too willing to envelop her. He gave her a kiss on the forehead, knowing that anything more would derail him.

"Don't thank me yet. You still have to open your presents," he instructed, nudging her back toward the table.

"There are presents hiding under here?" she joked, batting more balloons out of the way. Sure enough, she uncovered two packages buried beneath the confetti mountain. They resembled Alice's gifts - one larger, rectangular, flat package, and a much smaller counterpart. Their wrapping paper boasted an artsy graphic that was as colorful as the rest of the room.

"Open the big one first," Edward ordered.

Bella raised an eyebrow at him. "Bossy much?"

He let out a laugh. "All right, open the small one. Whatever your heart desires."

She grinned at him, then picked up the larger of the gifts and began to carefully peel back the tape at one end. The paper was creased in several spots and folded unevenly, like the person wrapping it had made a few unsuccessful tries before getting it right.

"I love that you did this yourself," she said softly.

"Is it that obvious?"

She only smiled and slid her finger down the center of the gift, gently pulling the tape free of the paper.

"Christ. You're one of those careful un-wrappers. I figured you'd be the type to rip the paper into shreds to get to what's inside."

"And I figured you'd be into subdued, tasteful birthday d├ęcor," she retorted as she slowly pulled the gift wrap apart.

They exchanged grins. "Well, I guess we know we can still surprise each other," he remarked.

Bella nodded, turning her attention back to her gift as she tossed the wrapping paper on the table. Subdued and tasteful definitely described the book she was now holding in her hands. The hardback cover was sheathed in deep crimson parchment-style paper with delicate gold filigree accents framing the front and back. The color scheme reminded her a little of the comforter on Edward's bed, which made her smile. She opened the book to find a thick sheaf of cream-colored pages, blank save for the fine burgundy rule that stretched across them.

"When I found that poem of yours written on notebook paper, I figured you must like to write the old-fashioned way sometimes, by hand," Edward explained, examining Bella's face for evidence of her like or dislike. "I thought you should have a nicer place to write. You can use it for your poems, or as a diary . . . whatever you like."

"It's beautiful," she told him. "Too beautiful to ruin with my scribbles."

"That book will be lucky to have your scribbles," he contradicted. "I just hope you'll let me read them some time."

"Okay. Maybe," she hedged, wondering what she would ever write that she'd be proud to have Edward read. She was about to close the book when she noticed some handwritten script inside the cover. She dipped her face closer to the text to read it.

All words contained herein are the sole property and creation of Swan-I-Am.

She laughed at the disclaimer, then looked up at Edward. "Is that the nickname I've doomed myself to? Swan-I-Am?"

He grinned. "I kind of like it. But I'm sure I can come up with a few others, if you'd like."

"Please," she begged, then lowered her eyes to the rest of his message.

Bella ~

Your words move me. They make me feel things I could never begin to explain or describe. They deserve a canvas as special they are - as special as their author is. (Or at least one that doesn't have punch holes and perforations down the side.) I hope you find your inspiration here. I know I've found mine, in you.

~ Edward

Here it came again - that surge of emotion engulfing her, filling her to the brim until her eyes could no longer contain it.

"You've got to stop doing this to me," she said, trying to blink back more tears.

"Doing what?"

She almost laughed at the panic that flashed across his face.

"Making me cry. I don't want to cry on my birthday, damn it." She dabbed her fingers at the corners of her eyes before the tears could start rolling again.

"I'm not trying to make you cry, I swear," he said, confounded.

She waved the book at him in accusation. "Well, you can't write such beautiful things to me, and sing to me in a bar full of people - when I didn't even know you could sing like that, for fuck's sake - and not expect me to get all choked up."

His eyes widened in exasperation. "So what are you saying? You want me to stop doing nice things for you?"

"No. It's just -"

"Because I can be an asshole if you'd prefer, believe me," he interrupted.

She let out an abrupt laugh through her tears. "I don't think you can, actually." Her tone softened. "I wouldn't want you to."

"Good. Because I like doing nice things for you," he said, reaching out to fondle a few strands of hair near her face. "I'd like it even better if you'd let me."

"All right," she relented. "As long as you let me return the favor."

"You already have," he reminded her. "Here I thought I was going to surprise you by getting on stage tonight, but you were already a step ahead of me, asking that keyboardist to let me play. It felt like my birthday instead of yours."

"Great minds," she said with a smile. "Okay, so we're even."

"We're even," he agreed. He wasn't sure why that was so important to her, but he let it go.

Bella turned her attention back to the table, carefully setting down the diary and reaching for the smaller gift. She unwrapped it as leisurely as she did the first, prompting Edward to pantomime an exaggerated yawn. She gave his arm a swat before peeling off the last of the wrapping paper to reveal an oblong black box. She slowly opened it to find an elegant pen and pencil set within, the same deep claret and gold as the writing book he'd given her.

"They're not Montblancs or anything, but they should write pretty well," he said, sounding almost apologetic. "You can use the pencil for your rough drafts, so you can erase those scribbles you're so worried about."

"Good thinking," she replied. "These are perfect. I would have killed you if you'd splurged on something as expensive as Montblanc."

"You would have been worth it. And a hell of a lot more."

She looked up at him with that you're-too-much expression again, which only made him feel like he could never be enough. He reached out once more to touch her, and he wondered if he did it so often just to make sure she was real. Then the softness of her cheek under his fingertips reminded him that he did it because she felt so fucking good. He leaned down to kiss her for both of those reasons, and so many more that his brain could no longer enumerate them. It now registered only what his senses could perceive: Soft. Warm. Wet. Delicious. Her kiss was better than any dessert he could think of. Better than . . .

"Cake," his lips murmured against hers.

"What?" she mumbled back, disoriented.

"It's time for your birthday cake. Before I get any more distracted."

"But I was kind of enjoying the distraction," she whispered, reaching her hand up behind his neck in a futile effort to stop him from pulling away.

His sigh came out a little more like a groan. "But I told you I was a full-on birthday specialist, remember? And it's not a proper birthday without cake. Turning twenty is big. You have to do it up right."

"And don't you remember when I told you there is no right or wrong way to do things?

You taste better to me than any cake could," she whispered, wrapping her other hand around his neck to keep him close.

The sound he emitted was definitely a groan this time. "I was just thinking the same thing about you," he said, running his thumb over her juicy bottom lip, resisting the urge to taste it once more. "But I still think you should see the cake first before you make up your mind." He forced himself to disengage from her grip and head for the kitchenette at the other end of the room. Her arms dropped to her sides in disappointment .

"Why? Did you bake it?" she called after him.

"God, no," he retorted over his shoulder. "I wouldn't subject you to that."

"Oh, please," she scoffed, giving up and sitting down at the table, in the same chair she'd occupied during their first date. "I'll bet you can bake, too. I'm sure your grandmother taught you well."

"She did. But even she had her limits," he called back. She heard the strike of a match, so she leaned over the table to watch him light the candles, though the cake itself was partly out of view on the countertop in front of him. He reappeared in the doorway a minute later, carrying a square layer cake dotted with frosted flowers, glowing under the light of what was presumably twenty candles.

"Neither Emily or I could make something like this," he said, setting the cake platter atop the ribbon-strewn tabletop, directly in front of Bella.

"Wow," was all she could muster at the sight of it. Her birthday cake looked like something out of a magazine, geometrically perfect and covered with flawlessly smooth fondant in shades of pale yellow and cornflower blue. The floral embellishments were ornate and exquisitely detailed, from the butter-cream petals and leaves to the tiny edible pearls at their centers. The flowers adorned one corner of the cake and cascaded down two adjacent sides to the platter beneath. Scrawled across the top in a gorgeous script, surrounded by burning blue candles, was the ubiquitous "Happy Birthday, Bella."

"You'd better make a wish before the wax melts all over the frosting," he warned her as he sat down in the chair opposite hers.

"Hmm?" she murmured, blinking. She'd been a little mesmerized by the glowing masterpiece. "This is too pretty to eat. Oh, and I need to get a picture of it first!"

She leapt up at the thought of her forgotten new phone and ran for her purse, shoved inside her backpack near the front door. "I can't believe I haven't taken any pictures yet tonight," she lamented as she hopped back to the table, phone in hand. "Or that I didn't record that killer song you played with the band tonight. And my birthday song," she added, growing more wistful by the minute.

"That's probably just as well," Edward said, wincing.

"What do you mean? You sounded amazing. I still can't believe you never told me you could sing."

"That's because I can't. Not that well, anyway," he protested.

Her eyes popped open wide in disbelief. "Are you crazy? I love your voice. I loved hearing you sing even more than hearing you play."

He chortled and made a face like she was out of her mind, which only incensed her further.

"Sing it for me again," she demanded.

"What?" His grin withered.

"Sing me 'Happy Birthday' again, so I can record it this time."

"Oh-ho no," he refused, shaking his head. "I can't. Not without accompaniment. There's no piano in here tonight."

"You don't need a piano. What's that Lauren Bacall line from that old movie? 'You just put your lips together and blow.'"

"That's for whistling," he corrected her.

"Whatever." She ignored his continued head shakes of protest and turned on the video recording button of her phone. She held it up until both her gourmet cake and Edward's reluctant face were centered in the display screen.

"Sing 'Happy Birthday' to me, Edward. You have to, so I can blow out the candles and make a wish."

"Geezus," he grumbled, squinting and rubbing one eye with his fingertips before letting out an exaggerated sigh. He'd never been that confident in his singing abilities, especially without a piano to keep him on pitch. But one look into those expectant brown eyes of hers soon had him singing "Happy Birthday, dear Bella," in a husky, faltering tenor.

She barely noticed the nervous break in his voice. She was too enthralled by the liquid warmth of it, seeping down her spine like a shot of Black Velvet over crackling ice. The look in his eyes as he sang to her was every bit as intoxicating. She watched as his exasperation quickly faded to resignation, then turned to affection. This a cappella serenade was even more intimate than the version he'd performed earlier. Now there was nothing else to detract from his soft vibrato traveling across the table to her, making the candles waver slightly in its wake. Nothing to keep him from staring into her eyes with relentless and uncanny perception, reading what she was sure was written plainly there.

I'm so in love with you.

She felt like it might as well be tattooed all over her body, carved indelibly into each cell. She knew now that she had loved him all along. Loved him since that first night. Loved him at first sight, first sound, first touch. She could no longer argue with the idea, pushing it aside because it might be foolish and she might get hurt. The love simply was. There was no denying it or excusing it away. She felt its aura radiating from her, filling the space between them, wrapping itself around Edward and drawing him to her.

"Happy birthday to you." His voice was nearly a whisper as he finished the song.

The air was heavy and still. He looked at the Bella's face, glowing with something far brighter than the candlelight between them. He knew he had to capture that look and hold onto it forever. He reached one hand out across the table, gently withdrawing the phone from her hand and pointing it back at her.

"Make a wish," he said.

She gazed at him for a long moment, letting him luxuriate in those dark pools before her lashes fell and concealed them. She smiled that little Mona Lisa smile; then she took a deep breath and blew.

She extinguished the entire circle of candles with one breath while Edward recorded the feat. He couldn't clap and hold the phone at the same time, so he made sure he gave her a loud whoop of congratulations.

"That's my girl," he concluded with a chuckle. "Complete annihilation with one blow."

She bit her lip and glanced down at the cake before quirking an eyebrow at him. "I do give one hell of a blow job, don't I?"

His laugh was an exclamation this time. "You'll get no arguments from me. And I'm guessing that this video isn't going to get sent to your parents anytime soon."

"Ha! Not without some serious editing."

Edward turned off the camera and handed it back to Bella, then returned to the kitchenette to retrieve serving plates, napkins and utensils. After setting them on the gaudy tabletop, he poised the knife over the cake and asked, "Frosting flowers: yes or no?"

"Yes," she answered immediately. "Lots of them. I intend to get a full-on sugar high in the next ten minutes. I won't be responsible for my actions after that."

"Is that a promise?" He gave her a suggestive smirk and proceeded to cut a large corner piece of cake for her, loaded with butter-cream flora. He cut himself a piece with far less fondant, pushed the cake platter out of the way, then sat across from her and grabbed a fork.

Bella grinned at the flavors he'd chosen. "Chocolate and white?" she commented, scooping a forkful of the darker bottom layer.

"I didn't know which you liked better, so I went with a layer of each."

"Well, I like both. But chocolate definitely wins that battle."

"And now I know something else about you," he said with a smile.

"What about you? Which do you like best - dark or light?" Her question brought memories of their beach date rushing back to him.

"You can't have one without the other," he repeated her words from that day.

"Right. But that doesn't answer my question."

"More Twenty Questions," he teased. "That's two different questions, anyway. I prefer the light to darkness. But the decadence of chocolate is hard to resist."

He took a bite and chewed slowly, savoring the flavor, imagining it was the taste of those big brown eyes beckoning from the other side of the cake. Suddenly she giggled, and her cheeks reddened. She averted her eyes to her cake and cut into it with her fork.

"What were you thinking just now?" he demanded.

And there was his favorite bashful grin. "This just reminded me of our first dinner. Sitting in these exact spots, across from each other, eating dessert."

Her grin stretched wider, like she was smiling at some secret joke she was keeping from him.

"And . . . ?" he prompted her impatiently.

"And, that was the first time I fantasized about you," she admitted. She treated him to a long, tantalizing look before she turned her attention back to her cake.

"Really," he said, a statement more than a question. He let that sink in for a minute. They had barely had a conversation by then, and the one they did have was rife with brutal candor. He'd done a very poor job of seducing her at that point.

"So, what was your fantasy?" he probed. He folded his arms on the table and leaned forward, staring at her intently.

She looked up at him from under her lashes without raising her head. "I imagined leaning over the table and eating that tiramisu right out of your mouth," she said quietly.

His left eyebrow arched. "Why didn't you?" he asked, his voice just as hushed.

"I don't know. I couldn't be that forward with you."

"But you bought the right to be whatever you wanted to be with me. Forward, backward, and anything in between."

"Maybe I didn't know what I wanted. Not until you helped me figure it out."

"You knew exactly what you wanted," he contradicted her. He'd deduced that from the start. "You just couldn't acknowledge it yet. You couldn't accept that part of yourself that needed release. The part that wanted to give in to basic human desire."

Bella could feel her breath coming harder now. She was mirroring Edward, leaning over the table, her half-eaten cake forgotten as her eyes locked with his. She knew he spoke the truth.

"You made me give in," she whispered. "You set me free."

The corners of his mouth lifted slightly. "You were already on the brink. I just gave you a little nudge."

She shook her head. He'd given her far more than a nudge. He'd pushed her off the ledge so that her wings were forced to open and take flight. Then she'd soared, so high; and higher still, each time she was with him. She never wanted to come down.

"You were the only one who could have done it," she told him. "I was ready because of you. I was ready because I wanted you."

Their eyes fused across the table, bristling with the current of their mutual desire.

"What do you want now, Bella?"

It was all he could do to break the connection long enough to look down, pick up his fork and spear a bite of cake. His eyes snapped back to hers at the speed of light. But the fork was a ten-ton weight in his hand, heavy with portent as he slid it into his mouth. He felt like he was moving in slow motion when he pulled it back out, laid it on the table, and began to chew. The anticipation made the seconds drag into an eternity.

Bella felt the gravity of it as he taunted her with her fantasy. He was going to make it come true right now. All she had to do was act this time instead of wishing.

In the literal blink of an eye, the wait was over. Bella lunged from her chair and over the table; Edward stood and leaned in to meet her halfway. Then there was nothing but his mouth, filled with melting sugar, merging with her own. Their tongues scrambled awkwardly to keep the cake in their mouths, to no avail. They began to laugh; crumbs fell to the table and frosting smeared around their lips. They opened their eyes to look at the glorious mess they'd made of one another. Then they laughed and kissed some more, until the cake and the humor were gone, and the kiss was all that remained.

Edward broke away at last, panting, raising one hand to cradle Bella's face as his eyes questioned hers.

"What was next?" he asked, his breath quick and urgent on her face.

"Next?" she repeated woozily.

"Your fantasy. What happened next?"

She tried to catch her breath as she thought back to that night. "Well, I'm pretty sure I untied your tie . . . which you're not wearing right now," she said, lifting her hand to his naked throat, gently stroking his Adam's apple. He swallowed and it bobbed under her touch. "And then I unbuttoned your shirt . . . but you're already unbuttoned," she continued, running her fingers slowly down the thin cotton of the t-shirt he wore beneath a faded plaid over-shirt.

"I guess we'll have improvise," he murmured, watching her hand descend toward the waistband of his jeans.

She nodded, giving him a wicked glance before focusing on his button fly. "These are a little tighter than your suit was. In my fantasy, I was able to slide my hand right down the front . . . all the way." She stuffed her fingers under the denim waistband and stroked curls of his happy trail, up and down. Like a good soldier, Junior began to salute.

Edward exhaled heavily, relishing the feel of her warm fingers on his stomach. "Did you find what you were looking for?"

She reached her hand down further, underneath the elastic of his briefs. The minute her fingers grazed that stiffening rod of flesh, she replied, "I most definitely found what I was looking for. And then some."

Edward tried to relax the grip he had on her jaw, his hand still holding her face close to his though the table separated their bodies. "And how did I respond to this . . . discovery of yours?"

Her eyelids were heavy with desire, as was her breath on his face. "You took my virginity, right here. On this table." He felt her fingers leave his pants and travel beneath his t-shirt until her hand rested on his bare chest. "You gave me a first time I'll never forget."

He knew her last words were the truth. She was no longer delving in fantasy. She was speaking of reality. And he knew this reality would far surpass anything either of their minds could conjure up.

He let go of her face and stood upright, then took her hand and guided her to meet him at the head of the table. As soon as they arrived, he grabbed her by the waist and hoisted her onto its streamer-covered surface, knocking balloons to the floor below. She'd barely got out a shriek of laughter before he silenced it with a kiss, crushing her so close to him that she couldn't catch her breath. When he finally stopped, she gasped for air, gripping his shoulders to get her bearings. His fingers combed through her hair, massaging her scalp, holding her face near his.

"Undress me," he ordered. His eyes were emerald flames licking at her, his voice liquid persuasion. She needed no other enticement. This was her fantasy, after all.

She pushed the plaid over his shoulders and lifted the white cotton from his torso. He raised his arms in obedience, eager to expedite the process. But once his pale, magnificent flesh was exposed, she faltered, wanting to savor the sight and feel of him. She ran her hands slowly down the scratchy stubble of his neck, over the smooth skin of his shoulders and the swell of his biceps, over his long forearms to his elegant hands. She briefly clasped their warmth in hers before letting go and returning to the sparse curls of hair on his chest. She smoothed her palms over his pectorals, then swirled her fingertips over his nipples until they became hard, pink buttons under her touch. Without thinking, she knelt her head and pressed wet lips to one, then the other, before kissing her way across the expanse of warm skin between them. She was right - nothing could taste better to her than he did.

Edward's sighs were full of appreciation. God, how he'd missed her. The gentle touch of her hands all over him, the warmth of her lips on his skin . . . this was his nirvana. He had to feel her, kiss her, the same way. He assumed that at some point in this first-time fantasy of hers, he had undressed her, so he went for it now, pulling at the hem of her t-shirt until she raised her arms and let him remove it. He wasted no time reaching around to unhook her bra, sliding his fingers beneath it to loosen it, then moving them to the front so that he could caress the round swells of her breasts.

It was her turn for sighs, her eyes closing for a moment to savor the sensation of her nipples responding to his touch. Their hardening corresponded to a distinct clenching of the muscles deep in her belly, like the nerve endings between them were hotwired together. When Edward removed the flimsy bra and knelt to suck her left breast into his mouth, she was sure of the connection. Her fingers sank into the thick hair at the nape of his neck, clutching him tightly as his tongue and teeth worked her left nipple into a swollen knot while her genitals burned with envy. By the time he switched his affections to her right breast, her back was arching and her thighs were spreading in readiness.

Edward's body reacted instinctively, one hand sliding down her back to her hip, pulling her body closer. His dick strained against his jeans, pressing into her abdomen; their owners moaned softly in unison. Instinct and desire drove Bella's hands from his hair, down to free Junior from its denim prison. She worked at the buttons with nimble fingers, then shoved Edward's jeans and briefs down until his erection sprang free. The burning between her thighs increased as she stared at it, longer and thicker and pinker than she remembered.

Why was she always startled for a moment at the sight of that engorged penis? Perhaps because she was still amazed that her body had learned to accommodate it - no, welcome it - so quickly. She wrapped her fingers around it now in a firm handshake, reintroducing herself to its hard, silky heat. It responded by twitching slightly under her touch, its owner tilting his hips toward her and emitting the loveliest of moans.

Bella lifted her eyes back to Edward's, blazing at her from beneath heavy lids. His breath grew more labored as she stroked him, and his eyelids closed more frequently as his pleasure intensified. Finally he grabbed her face and dove in for a kiss, his lips hard on hers, tongue probing her mouth in time to the rhythm of her hand working his cock. Her own tongue moved with his, swirling, pushing, dancing in mimicry of the sexual act it presaged.

By the time they broke apart in gasping moans, Edward's hands had traveled the length of her body to her own jeans, unbuttoning and unzipping them hastily. But now he needed her help.

"Lie down," he ordered, his voice thick with lust.

But she was already resting back on her elbows, hips tilted upward in readiness. He gripped the denim waistband of her pants and yanked firmly until they slid down over her hips, then her thighs. Her underwear came with them, and he grunted at the sight of the juicy pink flesh between her legs. He couldn't remember ever wanting someone the way he wanted her, right now.

He made quick work of her sneakers, letting them fall to the floor before removing her pants entirely and tossing them to the nearest chair. He finished undressing himself as well, letting his own clothes and shoes lie in a pile at his feet. When he turned his eyes back to her, she was lying flat on the table, hair fanned out around her head in a dark halo. The cake platter crowned her, and their plates of half-eaten confection rested by her sides. Beneath her lay a rainbow of streamers, ribbons and glittering confetti, a colorful backdrop which served to highlight the glowing perfection of her ivory skin. She was a vision, an angel, a work of art.

But "God, you're beautiful," was all he could seem to muster at the sight.

She looked up into his adoring, hungry eyes and her own hunger and adoration mounted. She felt exposed and on display, yet Edward's obvious appreciation made her brave. It heightened her desire, as did his fully aroused cock pointing at her. Its proximity to her open legs made the muscles within her begin to pulse again, squeezing open and shut, ready to grip that fleshy rod deep inside.

Her eyes closed and she moaned softly at the feel of his hands on her once more, cradling her knees and then sliding up the insides of her thighs. She gasped at the sensation of his fingers stroking her sex, first tracing the outer lips, then spreading them to reach the tender, damp flesh between. He used both hands, taking turns probing her most sensitive spots until she was slippery with desire. Her eyes rolled back in her head slightly and her moan was louder this time. God, what he did to her, with just a touch . . .

Edward thrilled to her responsiveness. The way her body surged up to meet him; the unchecked sounds she made. This was why he wanted to bring her here, instead of his house. There was a magic that happened when they were alone, truly alone, with no one else in earshot. No one to make her inhibited or self-conscious. No one to stop her sexuality from fully expressing itself.

He stood upright to look at her, lying spread-eagle before him like that first night, lit now by the golden light of a chandelier filtered through a dozen multi-colored balloons. The pink petals of her sex and the rosy peaks of her breasts were far more gorgeous than the sculpted flowers on the nearby cake. Still, their proximity gave him an idea that he couldn't resist.

Grinning, he reached over to Bella's half-eaten cake and scooped up one of the larger frosting flowers with his fingers, trying to keep the petals intact.

"Hold still," he instructed as he leaned over her.

"What are you . . . ?" she began, then stopped as his intent became clear. She craned her neck up and gaped in surprise as Edward positioned the yellow flower directly over her right nipple.

"Oh my God," she exclaimed with a slight shriek when the cold icing hit her skin. Then she began giggling, and the flower wobbled precariously.

"Don't laugh," he ordered, though he was having trouble holding it in himself. "It'll fall off."

"And what a tragedy that would be," she commented sarcastically. She watched in silence as he topped her other breast with another flower, this one blue. He stood up, grinning down at her, looking quite pleased with himself.

"At least you could have made them match," she reprimanded him, still trying not to laugh.

"That would be boring. You're more unique than that. One of a kind, actually."

She felt a full-body flush race through her at his words; at his eyes appraising her. When his gaze lingered between her legs, the flush only increased.

"Please tell me you're not going to smear frosting down there," she begged. She couldn't decide if that would be sexy, or a hygienic disaster.

He looked as if he were considering the implications as well. "I don't think I will," he concluded. "That particular flower is absolutely perfect the way it is. Not that those aren't," he added quickly with a glance at her iced breasts. "But I don't want to ruin the flavor of this." He reached his clean hand down to her pussy, stroking it for a moment before putting his fingers to his mouth to lick her essence from them. "So much better than frosting," he told her, his eyes burning into hers once more. Then he brought his icing-covered fingers to his mouth, but her voice stopped him before he could lick them clean.

"Let me," she said.

A shot of pure adrenalin coursed through him as he reached his hand down to her lips. She grabbed it and pulled his frosting-filled fingers into her mouth, licking them up and down with languorous thoroughness. Her eyes were heavy with innuendo as she sucked each finger down to the bottom knuckle, her tongue tickling the webs of flesh between. His cock throbbed with envy; he stroked himself in accompaniment until she was finished. He was dying to attack her now, to suck those flowers from her breasts, drink deep from her pussy and fuck her until she screamed his name.

But at the same time, he wanted to memorize how she looked right now, an ethereal sculpture, the epitome of beauty, the embodiment of everything that drove him to aching want and need.

And then he spied her smartphone from the corner of his eye, and his dilemma was solved. He grabbed it and turned it on, while Bella stirred beneath him in protest.

"You are not going to film me," she commanded. The embarrassment and self-consciousness she thought she'd gotten rid of came rushing back in full force.

"No, I'm not," he assured her quickly, before she lurched up and ruined the moment. "It would be very easy for me to record an extremely hot porno right now, but I wouldn't do that to you. Not until you're ready." He grinned at the indignation flaring in her eyes. "But I would take a picture to capture how gorgeous you look right now. A birthday portrait to end all birthday portraits."

Bella knew her cheeks were flaming despite her attempts to remain calm. "I'm sure I look ridiculous. I have yellow and blue cake flowers for boobs."

"You're a fucking work of art," he shot back, his humor fading. "You have no idea." He shook his head and centered her image on the smartphone display screen. "No idea."

An eerie thrill shot through her at the tone in his voice, the look in his eyes. The same look from earlier. So intense it made her burn deep within more than ever before.

"At least cover up my snatch," she said weakly, grabbing a nearby streamer to throw between her legs. She couldn't close them because his own thighs stood between them. He stopped her efforts to cover herself with The Look again.

"That," he said emphatically, looking straight at her wide-open pussy, "is the most beautiful flower on this table. Don't you dare cover it up, or be ashamed of it." His eyes met hers, softer this time. "Don't you remember what I told you that first night? There's no room for shame here. Not with me."

Oh, God. There they came again - the tears. She squeezed her lids shut for a moment to force them back. Then she opened her eyes and looked straight into his, giving him her own Look back.

No shame. I'm ready. I want this. I want you.

He saw the surrender in her eyes once more, just like the first time. Overwhelming relief and desire surged through him at once. That rule-breaking free spirit of hers was back.

One picture was all it took. He knew he'd captured the moment as soon as he saw the still frame on the phone. That angelic face, those devil-may-care eyes. Those sensual curves offering the promise of ecstasy. It was all there, captured for an eternity: his temptation, his salvation, his reason for being.

But he took one more picture, enlarging the parameters this time. At the base of his human Venus hovered his own rigid flesh-and-blood sword, desperate to invade and conquer the beauty that lay before it. To disappear inside its warm depths; to be surrounded by its embrace and coaxed to a climax of utter euphoria and release. He already knew where she would take him. He only hoped to take her there with him.

Edward dropped the phone to the table and fell on Bella with an urgency that surprised neither of them. He devoured the flowers from her breasts, their sugary sweetness tempered by the creamy tartness of her flesh beneath. His hands were everywhere, sparking every inch of her skin to life as his mouth traveled down her torso, scattering kisses and tender love bites in a chaotic pattern leading to her groin. And then his lips were on her nether lips, sucking them, parting them, tongue plunging ahead until it found the sweet nectar dripping from her opening.

She sighed and moaned as he licked and probed. Her hands became tangled in the locks of his bronze hair, thick and soft compared to the rough stubble that ignited the flesh between her thighs. Her hips undulated beneath him, urging his tongue deeper inside. The sounds they uttered became increasingly urgent and primal until he finally tore his mouth from her sex and plunged two fingers inside her instead.

She cried out and her hips surged upward, pulling his fingers in deeper. He wanted to be more gentle with her, but he couldn't seem to stop himself from thrusting his hand in short, quick bursts that had her body tensing and rising off the table. Her exclamations matched the quaking of her body - gasps of, "Oh God - Oh yes - Oh please - Oh fuck" that only spurred him on. Her body loved the manic pace, and he could feel it escalating toward orgasm. She was going to come already. He suspected he would love it as much as she did.

Bella squirmed and bucked on the table, wanting to grab Edward's wrist and stop him, but knowing she would do no such thing. He had masturbated her like this in his bedroom last week, but this was even more intense, almost brutal, yet so maddeningly pleasurable that she wanted to scream. She did scream, at last. Her climax was too strong for her to contain it. She'd never come quite like this before, her muscles contracting so tightly that they squeezed Edward's fingers for one agonizingly endless moment before releasing and contracting again.

She sobbed in release as she came undone more thoroughly than ever before at Edward's hands. Through the haze of her ecstasy she saw him staring down at her, his eyes glassy in wonder and satisfaction. He loved making her this way, the smug bastard. Perversely, she loved his smugness, his sureness, his sheer elation at doing this to her.

And when he finally released her, she quickly realized he wasn't done yet.

He disappeared briefly, leaning over to retrieve his jeans from the floor. He reappeared with a condom wrapper in hand, fiddling with it until he tore it open and rolled the latex onto his rock-hard cock. She moaned at the sight of it, still reeling from what he'd done to her. And now he wanted to do it again, already? She didn't know if she could take another orgasm like that one.

"I know, you hate condoms," he said, misreading her dismay. "But honestly, baby, in the state you're in, you're not going to notice it, I promise you."

She tried to catch her breath, to ready herself for the next sensual onslaught. But when he rubbed his erection up and down her still-sensitive clit, she gasped again at the intensity. And when he pushed it inside her, it knocked the wind out of her entirely. It came rushing out of her lungs in two desperate syllables:

"God, yes!"

Edward stopped short after her loud, wanton cry. He had never seen her like this: bathed in a sheen of sweat, skin bright pink from her chest to her forehead, lungs heaving, back arching. She seemed to be in some kind of sexual thrall, and she was rapidly pulling him in with her. He grasped her hips firmly in his hands and thrust deep, his cock sliding easily into her tight opening, as drenched as she was with arousal. He hated the condom now himself, wishing he could feel that wet heaven encasing him. But the friction created by his repeated thrusting soon had him riding that wave of growing ecstasy, panting and moaning along with her.

Bella didn't know what to do with her hands. She buried them in her own hair, not being able to reach Edward, other than to occasionally grip his hands or forearms. The two of them watched with lust-filled fascination as every inch of his thick cock disappeared inside her, then reappeared briefly before plunging deep once more. As his rhythm increased, he lifted her hips right off the table, pulling her body flush to his with each thrust. Only her shoulders and head remained supported by her table full of birthday streamers. The rest of her was suspended in air, held aloft by Edward's hands gripping her hips and his cock pounding her pussy, faster and faster, deeper and deeper, until she couldn't take it anymore. She needed to come. Her body was screaming for the release.

Her hand reached for her clit before she even knew what she was doing. She stroked herself rapidly, willing the blood flooding her groin to come to a boiling point and finally spill over.

"Fuck, that feels so good," Edward gasped. He didn't know what was better - watching her fondle herself, or feeling the pressure of her fingers on him while he fucked her. "Oh baby, you're killing me. You're so fucking sexy. Christ."

He tried to shut up then, because he knew he sounded like an idiot. But he couldn't seem to care. Bella didn't seem to care, either. She even joined him as her own pleasure escalated. Her eyes squeezed shut and she finally cried, "I'm going to come, I'm going to come . . ."

God, yes! He couldn't wait to see it again, to feel it this time. But she was too far away.

"Come here, baby," he whispered. "Let me see you."

He lowered her to the table long enough to slide his hands under her shoulders and pull her upright. They were face to face now, eyes locked in crazed anticipation. She wrapped her arms around his neck and her legs around his torso as he pulled her closer. He began moving inside her again, building quickly to the crescendo they'd both been waiting for.

Bella found herself bouncing off the table once more, hanging onto Edward for dear life, suspended in air and impaled on his cock, so deep . . . so deep. How could anyone be so deep inside her? Could he be any more a part of her than he was right now?

She looked just as deep into his eyes and then cried out at the answer. No. Her body convulsed all around him in a lovers' mantra: Mine. Mine. Mine.

Edward clutched her writhing form to his as the same possessive thoughts flooded him. This girl . . . Dear God, this girl. He would never let her go.

He set her back on the table as her orgasm subsided, but he didn't release her. They were both shaking. It was all Edward could do to keep from coming himself, but he wasn't about to let this end. Not yet.

Bella's breathing slowed, and she relaxed in the cradle of his arms as he gently rubbed her back and covered her face with tiny kisses. When he finally withdrew from inside her, she realized that he hadn't come along with her on this last ride. She glanced down at his cock, still rock hard, pointing up at her.

Her brow creased in confusion. "Why didn't you come?"

His answering grin was maddening. "Because I'm not finished with you yet."

She stared at him in a mixture of trepidation and excitement.

"What do you mean?" she finally asked him warily.

His grin grew positively wicked.

"You didn't think I'd forget about your birthday spanking, did you?"

.

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This was by far my longest chapter, but hopefully it didn't seem like it. It has been proofread only by yours truly, so I apologize for any typos. Hopefully by the end, you wouldn't notice 'em anyway. ;)

You know how much I love all your support and great reviews - you all rock. I'm a very lucky girl to have you! xoxo