Sorry it's been so long since my last update, everyone. I often find that everyday life isn't as conducive to creativity as I'd like. But I haven't forgotten this story and I have every intention of finishing it. Sincere thanks all of you who have read, alerted, favorited or reviewed. I hope you are still enjoying the journey, even though it's taking far longer than I anticipated. I wish you and your loved ones a wonderful and memorable holiday season this year!

Bella zipped up her hoodie and stuffed her hands in the pockets. The air around Green Lake was brisk, even chilly when the sun dipped behind the clouds. The first Sunday of October turned out to be a typically cool fall day, the sky a brilliant blue backdrop for a steady trek of cottony clouds across its surface. This would be the perfect day for the CROP Walk; and for picking Charlotte Rinehart's brain.

Bella had already stopped inside the host church, Green Lake United Methodist, to register and turn in her pledge money. She liked the fact that some of the money she'd raised would stay in Seattle to help fund food pantries and shelters. That made it easier for her to approach her classmates and ask them to sponsor her, when she normally hated soliciting. She even asked Jackass James for a donation, mostly because he overheard her giving her pitch to a couple of other kids in art class and then insisted on giving her a hefty chunk of change. She hated taking a dime from him, but at least it was going to a worthy cause.

She greeted the other walkers arriving as she passed through the church entry, then returned outdoors to scan the crowd for Edward's benefactor. She didn't have to look for long. She soon heard a mature female voice behind her, calling her name.

"Good to see you, dear," Charlotte greeted her as she approached, closing the top two buttons of her barn jacket against the breeze. "I see you weren't able to convince Edward to come along and get a bit of fresh air," she added with a chuckle.

"Actually, he already went for a run this morning. His Sunday afternoons are usually spent playing video games with his buddies."

"Is that so? Good to know he's not all work and no play," Charlotte said with a relieved smile before changing the subject. "Lovely day for the CROP Walk, isn't it? A bit nippy, but at least the sun is peeking out now and again."

"I like walking when it's cool outside. It's invigorating." Bella stopped and gave Charlotte a sheepish smile, wondering if she would need to slow her pace to match that of the older woman beside her.

"Invigorating, yes. Don't worry if I can't keep up with you. You may want to run along with the younger folks at the front of the group; I won't mind."

"It's not a race. I'm in no hurry," Bella assured her. "Besides, this will give us a chance to get to know each other better."

Charlotte's eyebrows raised in happy surprise. "I'd like that."

"Me, too. I mean, you're a big part of Edward's life, so . . ." Bella trailed off, not sure what else to add. Charlotte was as warm and easy as always, but Bella was still nervous about probing into the woman's relationship with Edward.

Charlotte made a clucking sound. "Make no mistake, my dear. That boy's world revolves entirely around you, with the piano coming in at a close second."

Bella felt her cheeks warm at the acknowledgement. "I'd still like to come hear him rehearse some time. He keeps putting me off, saying I'd be bored listening to him play the same thing over and over. But I could never be bored watching him."

Charlotte smiled at the starry-eyed look in the girl's eyes. She could well understand the infatuation, though she'd discovered that it was entirely possible to become weary of listening to day-long practice sessions, no matter how attractive the pianist.

Before she could dispel the girl's notions, the church minister gathered the large group of walkers together for a prayer before the hunger walk began. Afterward, a traditional bagpiper began playing a melodic drone to lead the way, and the walkers fell in line behind him as he marched down the sidewalk toward the lake. Bella let out a chuckle, prompting Charlotte to ask what was so humorous.

"I don't know. It feels a little like we're following the pied piper. Although bagpipes aren't quite the same, I know."

"I daresay not," Charlotte agreed with a chuckle of her own. "Quite a bit louder, for one. And we're far from being led down the wayward path. Looks more like this path would lead straight to heaven."

Her eyes swept over the placid tree-lined water ahead, the majestic outline of the Cascades in the distance. Bella's gaze followed and took in the view. It was easy to feel closer to God in a peaceful place like this, surrounded by people walking for a good cause.

The two walked in silence for a few minutes, marching in time to the bagpiper and the other participants ahead of them. Bella glanced at Charlotte occasionally to make sure the older woman wasn't overdoing it. On the contrary, she seemed fit as a fiddle, striding along confidently with the rest of the group. Bella hoped she was as healthy and attractive when she was Charlotte's age.

"Not too bad for a senior citizen, eh?" the elder remarked, seeming to read Bella's thoughts.

"I think you're in better shape than I am," she graciously replied.

"Pish posh," Charlotte dismissed the notion in her British slang. "But you're very kind to say so."

"You're the one who's kind, letting Edward practice on your piano every day. And getting that friend of yours to coach him. I know that means a lot to him."

Charlotte flashed a benevolent smile. "It means a lot to me as well. I want to see the boy do well."

"I know you do. But, I have to wonder . . ." Bella paused before going in for the kill. "Why is that, exactly? I guess I don't quite get what's in it for you, helping him leave the escort business."

Ah. So this was why Bella was happy to keep pace with her during the walk.

"And thus I'll no longer be privy to the pleasure of his company," she clarified, while Bella cringed slightly and nodded. "That's a chance I'm willing to take. His company isn't mine to keep, and I have no wish to buy it from him anymore. Should he willingly bestow it, then I shall be a very lucky lady indeed. But I have no illusions regarding his preference in that regard."

She gave Bella a warm smile, hoping to make the girl understand she was not a threat. How could she be? She had long lost the charms of youth so abundant in the girl walking next to her.

"Well, that's very generous of you," Bella said quietly. "Edward wouldn't have quit so soon if you hadn't helped him, financially and otherwise. I think he'll be indebted to you for a long time."

"Is that what troubles you? That he will feel beholden to me?"

Bella blushed at the direct question. "I know he'll want to repay you for everything you've done. He hates being a charity case."

"As do most people with pride and honor. I'll allow him to repay me if he insists, but I certainly don't require it. As far as I'm concerned, everything I have done for him is a gift. His happiness will be my greatest reward."

Bella nodded slowly. "You must care about him a lot."

Charlotte again felt the true weight of the girl's remark. "Yes, dear, I do. I have no children of my own, so spoiling Edward rotten is the next best thing."

She could see by Bella's uneasy smile that her words had not reassured her, so she added more. "I've never harbored any delusions that I could be anything more to him than a friend and companion, and I've never sought his services in any other capacity. I have no hidden motives or secret agenda. Yes, I'll admit I'm quite taken with the boy; who wouldn't be seduced by his charm? But it's not in the way you fear. Please rest assured that my affection for Edward is nothing more than that. I simply want a better path for him than escorting. He deserves a fulfilling career, caring friends and true love. I know who is capable of giving him those things, and it isn't me. So I've done what I can to point him in the right direction."

Bella absorbed her words, relieved and amazed in turn.

"You're wrong about one thing," she said at last.

"What's that, dear?"

"You have given him friendship. And true love—selfless love. And a chance at the career he always dreamed of. You've done so much for him. I know he'll be grateful for the rest of his life." Bella paused until Charlotte glanced at her. "So will I."

A long and meaningful look passed between them. Charlotte wanted to reply; to say it was nothing, the least she could do. But it wasn't "nothing." So she merely smiled, shook her head a little, and basked in the warmth of Bella's acceptance. She'd never sought it, but now that she'd received it, she was strangely grateful for the gift.

The two women walked on in easy silence. When they spoke, the words flowed easily. Bella found herself telling Charlotte about the UW art show coming up next Saturday, her excitement palpable when she revealed that her portrait of Edward had been one of the drawings chosen to be on display. She hadn't even told Alice the news, since she was still afraid Edward's effusive cousin would spill the beans and ruin the surprise. But somehow she knew she could trust Charlotte to keep mum. Charlotte even said she would try to attend the show, because she was keen to see Bella's work.

By the time the hunger walk came to an end, the elder of the pair felt tired, but satisfied; while the younger was exhilarated. Now that Bella had a better understanding of Charlotte's motives, or lack thereof, she felt as if another weight had been lifted from her shoulders. She even grabbed Edward's benefactor in a spontaneous hug before they parted ways.

"Thank you," Bella whispered in her ear. "For everything."

"You're welcome, child," Charlotte said gently before releasing her.

She watched with wistful eyes as Bella bounded down the street and hopped into a beat-up vintage truck. After a sputtering cough or two, the behemoth roared to life, then pulled out and trundled past her on the pavement. Charlotte returned Bella's vigorous wave through the window with a more subdued version. After the truck was out of sight, she shuffled down the walk to her Town Car, then settled into the buttery leather interior. A wan smile played at her lips as she turned the key and listened to the muffled purr of the motor. Her quiet luxury vehicle would now transport her to the cavernous emptiness of her quiet luxury estate. But she knew she would trade its sedate peace for the noisy excitement of youth again in a heartbeat.




Edward viewed the U-Dub Visual Arts Department exhibits with polite indifference. He never did quite get modern art. He could appreciate the varying colors and textures of the students' 3D collages, but they didn't make him feel anything. They comprised nothing more than a pleasant background to him, like so much wallpaper.

Bella seemed far more fascinated, studying each one intently, occasionally commenting on the techniques used to create certain effects. He nodded and smiled, but not at the artwork. She was luminous when she was fascinated by something. He liked watching her eyes take in the creativity before her, soaking it up like a sponge and reflecting it back with shining excitement.

"Maybe I should take a 3D class next semester," she enthused as she pored over the multi-media displays.

"Sure," Edward agreed amiably. "You'd be amazing at it, just like you are at drawing. Speaking of which: where, exactly, are your sketches? That's what I came here to see."

"Patience," she reprimanded with a grin. "They're in the next room."

Edward pointed to the doorway at the far end of the gallery. "That way?"


"Great. I'll meet you there."

"Wait!" he heard her call as he strode across the room. He grinned when he heard quick footsteps behind him before he felt her grab for his hand. "I want to go with you."

"Don't you think I'll be able to spot your work unless you point it out to me?"

"All the drawings are labeled with the artist's name," she reminded him with a roll of her eyes.

"Then I'll be fine on my own. Take your time back there with the fabric swatches and laser lights."

His smirk was still firmly in place as he barreled ahead, Bella right at his heels. He slowed as his eyes swept the room, skimming over dozens of portraits and nudes, looking for her signature style of strong lines mixed with delicate details.

"But I want to see—" her voice stopped short at the exact moment he did, coming to a halt in the middle of the room. His mouth dropped open at the sight of his mirror image, staring back at him from the far wall. Well, it wasn't staring, per se, since the eyes of his graphite likeness were closed. But there was no mistaking the features of his own face in repose. After all, he'd seen that sketch before, in the privacy of his bedroom, where Bella had drawn it. Seeing it displayed in public was jarring, to say the least.

"—your reaction," Bella finished uncertainly. He could feel her staring up at him, her sweaty palm pressing into his, seeking reassurance. But he was still trying to absorb the fact that she had submitted the portrait she'd done of him in blissful sleep after an unforgettable night together.

The intimacy of that captured moment stood in strong contrast to the posed art model nudes and stone-faced student portraits surrounding it. Bella's skilled hand had perfectly recreated the early-morning sunlight as it played over his face, creating deep shadows and contours that were missing from the other sketches. She had obviously added to the drawing since the last time he had seen it. Her portrait of him was a painstaking and dramatic study of light and shadow that elevated it far above the other classroom-created pieces.

Or was he drawn to it simply because it was his own face that shone like a beacon in a sea of practice sketches? No, it couldn't be that. He was mesmerized despite the subject matter, not because of it. He was mesmerized because it was a visual testament of Bella's feelings for him. The love she'd poured into her vision of him was what made his portrait stand out from all the others.

It was what made her stand out from all the others.

"Do you like it?"

Her voice was small and uncertain. How could she even ask that? How could she wonder?

He grasped her hand tightly and turned his head toward hers. "It's amazing. You're amazing."

"So you're not mad that I submitted something so private?" She bit her lip, eyes anxious.

"Mad?" He shook his head and rubbed her palm with his thumb. "I'm honored. And lucky." He smiled down at her obvious relief. "Looking at these other pieces, I realize I got off pretty easy. At least my privates aren't on display." He raised an eyebrow and gestured at the bevy of naked breasts and genitals adorning the walls.

Bella's laughter bubbled over as her anxiety eased. "Trust me, I'd rather be looking at your assets every day. Then again, I wouldn't want everyone else looking at them, too. So I guess I'll settle for exhibitionist James."

"Hmm," Edward mumbled as he took a couple of steps closer to the wall of nude sketches. He was naturally inclined to look at the female figures rather than the male. Women's bodies were so supple and alluring instead of hard and unyielding. But he dutifully studied all of the drawings, and found Bella's to be both more skilled and more interesting than those of the other students.

"Yours are the best," he whispered to her after they'd strolled the length of the room. "By far."

She beamed up at him. "I'm sure you're biased, but I'll take it."

"No, I just know good art when I see it."

"Do you, now?" She grinned up at the arrogant set of his jaw.

"I do. You'd never know that the subject matter was so distasteful to you," he said as he made his way back to her submissions while she followed. "You managed to make this James guy look halfway handsome. Should I be jealous?"

"God, no!" she scoffed. "He's a pompous windbag. He thinks he's God's gift to women. I hate that type."

"Well, he's obviously delusional. Everyone knows I'm actually God's gift to women."

Bella glanced up at Edward's poker face, betrayed only by the dimpled corners of his mouth. She elbowed his waist until he broke into a full grin.

"Your God's gift to me, anyway," she said. "That's all I care about."

"You always get it backwards," he said with a shake of his head. He placed a protective hand over hip, pulled her close and pressed his lips to the silk of her hair, above her temple. "My savior."

A surge of warmth spread through Bella as she wrapped her arm around his waist. She didn't want to get into that argument with him again—who had saved whom. They came together for a reason. And she'd never felt so much that they were a true partnership—a couple—as she did now, embracing him in this public place, the art-viewing passersby paying them no mind.

Edward basked in the simple bliss of this moment with her. He loved watching her come into her own, taking bashful pride in her abilities. He truly believed she could have a future as an artist, or writer, or whatever she put her mind to.

He studied her drawings again, almost envious of the strong, masculine lines she chose to depict the male model. Something was disconcertingly familiar about the look of him—his compact musculature, his unremarkable features, his ubiquitous ponytail.

"Wait a minute," Edward murmured as incredulous recognition took hold. "You've got to be kidding me."

Bella's eyebrows knitted as she reassuringly massaged his waist. "What is it?"

"I think I know your model," he said with a grimace. "Un-fucking-believable."

"You know him?"

"I think so. But I hope to hell I'm wrong about that."

Bella felt her uneasiness grow. "Why? Who is it?"

But before he could answer, a familiar, deceptively innocuous voice met his ears.

"Edward Cullen? What a coincidence."

Edward bristled as he turned to see James Hunter approach, the usual smarmy grin decorating his otherwise bland face.

"I never imagined I'd run into you at a student art show, of all places," the latter continued. "Well, not since you left your escorting days behind." He raised a questioning eyebrow in Bella's direction. "Or did you?"

It was Bella's turn to bristle. She'd always known she might have the misfortune of encountering someone from Edward's recent past, but she'd always assumed it would be a former client, not a co-worker. Still, she wasn't surprised at the revelation that James apparently moonlit as a male escort. Unlike Edward, he was perfectly suited for the job.

"Bella is my girlfriend," Edward gruffly asserted. "I'm here to support her." She felt his arm tighten around her.

"Girlfriend? Really?" James emitted a quick snort of laughter, then quickly recovered with a disingenuous smile at them both. "That's great. She's quite a talent. The best in the class. The best of both classes I model for, actually."

"I don't doubt it," Edward agreed.

The two men squared off in awkward silence. Bella watched them stare each other down, a glint of amusement in James' blue eyes, while Edward's green glare flashed in warning. Part of her thrilled to his protective stance, but the other part worried that he perceived James as a real threat. Should she be afraid of the guy? Did Edward know something about him that she didn't?

James let out another phony chuckle and shook his head as he regarded them. "It really is a small world, isn't it? I never dreamed the three of us would meet up like this, under these circumstances. Of course, I never thought this infamous ladies' man would ever settle down with one woman." He fixed his probing eyes upon Bella. "You must be a very special girl to lure him away from a whole string of beautiful ladies lining up for his . . . favors."

"She is a very special girl," Edward retorted through gritted teeth. "Not that it's any of your business what I do with my time, or who I spend it with."

"I'm sorry. Did I hit a nerve there?" James flashed innocent eyes at them both before giving Bella a look of chagrin. "You were aware of Edward's profession, right? If not, well . . ." His mouth formed an exaggerated grimace. "Sorry if I spilled the beans."

"That's enough," Edward snarled, while Bella finally found her tongue.

"I'm fully aware of what Edward used to do for a living. And what you still do, apparently. The difference is, Edward has moved on and is making something of his life, while you're still using your body and your dubious looks to skate through life. Good luck with that after the age of forty."

The astonishment on James' face was genuine this time, as was his amused chortle. "You're a real pistol, aren't you, Bella? It's always the quiet ones. Feisty. I like that." He sobered as he shifted his attention to Edward. "You're a lucky man, Cullen."

Edward gave him a grim smile. "Well, your luck is about to run out if you keep on running your mouth. I suggest you get the hell out of here. Now."

"Or what?" James taunted him. For a moment, he looked as if he were ready to pick the fight that Edward was threatening. Then the benign grin resumed control of his face and he took a step back. "Fine. Have it your way. I meant no disrespect to Bella, I assure you. Quite the opposite."

Edward seethed with the urge to punch James right in the nose and send it sideways into his left ear, but he kept his grip on Bella instead and tried to calm himself down. His irritation only grew when James began patting his pockets, mumbling about having to make a phone call anyway.

"Shit. I can't believe I forgot my cell. That's a cardinal sin in our line of work. Or, former line of work," he said with another smarmy grin at Edward. He glanced at his watch and cringed. "I'm supposed to check in with Rosalie by 3 p.m., and you know how she can be. I don't suppose I could borrow your phone, just for a minute? Then I'll be out of your hair, I promise."

Edward was floored at the unmitigated gall of this asshole. "You've got some fucking nerve, asking me for anything. But if it'll get rid of you for good, then here, be my guest." He dug in his back pocket and handed over his smartphone. "Make it quick."

"Thanks, man," James replied, sounding peculiarly grateful. He pointed to the door before heading out of the room, promising to return shortly.

"I can't believe that's the James who was modeling for your class all this time." Edward ran a hand through his hair in agitation. "If I'd known, I swear I would have made you switch classes or something."

"Is he that bad? I mean, he's a jerk, obviously. But it seems like you really distrust him for some reason."

"I don't know. I just get a bad vibe from him. I know he's getting a huge amount of pleasure out of taking over my old client list, and I have no idea why—I barely know the guy. But I don't like the way he looks at you. Like you're next in line."

Bella let out a soft snort. "Never gonna happen." She turned to face Edward, grabbing the zippered opening of his jacket. "He can look all he wants, and throw me all those creepy lines. He can't touch me."

"He'd better not even try," Edward muttered, dropping his face to Bella's for a quick but possessive kiss.

"Can't you two keep your hands off each other for even a minute?"

Edward and Bella broke apart with matching smiles when they recognized the bubbly voice interrupting their moment.

"It's nothing you haven't seen before, Alice," Edward reminded her, still grinning down at Bella.

"No kidding. Morning, noon and night, I am subjected to these sorts of PDA," she complained to her counterpart, Jasper, as the two planted themselves next to Bella and Edward.

"Well, good. Then maybe they won't notice our public displays," Jasper said, leaning in to nuzzle Alice's neck.

"You always see the glass half full," she answered with a giggle.

"A trick I learned from you."

"Thanks for coming, you guys," Bella told them. "I really appreciate it."

"Are you kidding? I wouldn't miss it, especially since I helped you pick out which drawings to submit." Alice stopped and gave the wall before them a quick scan. Her face lit up at the depiction of her sleeping cousin. "I knew your portrait of Edward would make the cut as soon as I saw it. It's so good! Isn't it, Jasper?"

"Nice work, Bella!" he exclaimed before taking a few steps closer to inspect her sketches. "I'm impressed."

"Thanks," she replied, a pleased flush spreading over her face. "I was inspired by the subject matter, I guess."

Edward returned her knowing grin before leaning in to whisper low in her ear. "You inspire me, too. I'm inspired to show you my appreciation in a very special way, later on."

The same shiver of anticipation he always gave her shimmied from her ear to her tailbone. She made no reply, just tugged on his jacket zipper again before running her fingers lightly down his chest and belly. She found it difficult to keep her hands off of him when he was so attentive and protective.

"So, how did you like the surprise, Edward?" Alice interrupted them again. She gave Bella a devilish grin. "Did he freak out?"

"I did not freak out," he denied. "I was a little surprised at first, but in a good way."

"He had me worried for a minute," Bella said. "I wasn't sure what he was thinking."

"I was thinking that you don't even realize how talented you are. But maybe now you'll get it, looking at your work compared to everyone else's."

"Exactly," Alice agreed. "I can see that already, and we just got here. You really should pursue art, Bella. You're a natural."

Bella wondered if she would soon reach her limit on the number of times a human being can blush in one day. Jasper's added remarks over his shoulder about her skilled use of shading only added to the cause.

"Hey, is that Jackass James over there?" Alice suddenly changed the subject. "His profile looks just like the one in your drawing."

Bella and Edward turned in the direction of the doorway, where James had paused in conversation on his borrowed cell phone.

"In the flesh," she informed Alice with a curl of her lip. "Get this—it turns out he's an escort at Renaissance. He just borrowed Edward's phone to call Rosalie."

"Get out!" Alice exclaimed, giving them both a shocked look. "Did you know about that, Edward?"

"Hell, no. If I had, I would have done something about it."

Alice let out a laugh at Edward's glowering face. "Like what? Get him fired from the university?"

"That's not a bad idea. Maybe they'd be interested to know what his night job is. I doubt they'd approve of him soliciting students for business."

"You don't think he's doing that, do you?"

"I wouldn't put it past him," Edward shot back.

"I've never heard him proposition anyone," Bella interjected. "I mean, he asked me out for coffee once, but that's it."

"But what if you'd gone with him?" Alice asked. "You never know what might have happened after that."

"And I never will. Not interested."

The three fell silent as the man in question ended his call and strode in their direction.

"Well, who's this lovely lady?" he asked with an ingratiating grin at Alice.

"This is my cousin, Alice." Edward's voice was sharp enough to cut glass.

"Well, now I know where Cullen gets his good looks. They obviously run in the family. James Hunter," he said smoothly, reaching for Alice's hand in greeting. But before he could get a slippery paw on her, Jasper interceded, grabbing his outstretched hand and giving it a firm shake.

"I'm Jasper, Alice's boyfriend," he introduced himself, his drawl thick with phony Southern charm. "Pleased to make your acquaintance. I've always wondered what kind of man would have the balls to take his clothes off in front of a classroom full of children for money. Now I know."

James shot a pair of indignant eyebrows skyward, while the girls muffled their laughter at the jab.

"Well, the students certainly aren't children, for one," James replied through a stiff smile. "And it's quite liberating, for another. But I understand that it takes a certain artistic sensibility to appreciate that. Not everyone is brave enough to bare all in the pursuit of great art."

"Great art?" Jasper reiterated. "Well, when you put it that way, it's downright noble, what you're doing. If Mona Lisa had known what an honor it was, I'm sure she would have taken off a few layers for Da Vinci. Just imagine what 'great art'that painting could have been," he finished with a wistful sigh.

The girls didn't bother to hold in their laughter then. Even Edward had to appreciate Jasper's wit, stifling a grin with difficulty.

James shot them all a sour smile. "Go ahead. Make fun. I won't apologize for my choices. I enjoy what I do. Edward knows what I'm talking about. Or, he used to, not so long ago. We'll see. What's that saying about leopards and their spots . . .?"

"Or wolves in sheep's clothing," Edward retorted.

"An even better analogy," James replied with the quirk of an eyebrow. "Be careful whose company you keep, Bella."

"I was referring to you," Edward clarified with a sneer.

"If the wool fits . . . " James grinned and began backing away from the group, tossing Edward's phone to him before he turned away. "Thanks again for letting me borrow your cell. I owe you one," he called.

"Nice way to get the last word," Jasper muttered. "Run away, coward."

"Don't listen to him," Alice said, her eyes shifting from Bella to Edward. "Either of you. He's just trying to get a rise out of you."

"Was he speaking? I didn't hear anything," Bella joked.

But Edward didn't laugh. He stared at the doorway for a long minute after James had disappeared through its frame.

"You should listen to him," he said to her at last.

"What?" she exclaimed. "Why? He's trying to get me to doubt you. That will never happen."

"You should be careful whose company you keep," he said. He grasped her arm, just firmly enough to let her know he was serious. "Stay away from him. Make sure you leave art class with another student every day. Promise me."

Another shiver went down Bella's spine, but it was very different from the one Edward had given her earlier. She heard Alice and Jasper each offer to come meet her after her art class, while Edward thanked them in turn. But her attention was drawn to the dozens of images of James on the surrounding walls, their army of harmless poses suddenly menacing, closing in. She zeroed in on her likeness of Edward, his sunlit face a beacon in the darkness, until the drawings of James faded away.

She turned to the real beacon beside her and met his anxious gaze with her own.

"I promise."

3/15/14-Just a note to apologize for the lack of updates on The Agreement this year. So far 2014 has brought me flu, bronchitis, and a severe sinus infection; but much worse, a death in my family. As a result, I simply haven't been able to write for quite some time. I want to finish the story but I honestly have no idea when that will happen. I really do appreciate all your feedback, even if I have not been able to respond as of late. Thank you for your understanding.