Same Beginnings, Different Endings

AN: Two hundred fifty to six hundred words will be written as the beginning of the exercise and you the author must come up with what happens next. Anything is possible. The goal is to see what the possibilities could be and help with writer's block. Word count is unlimited and is completely up to the author.

Who knows it may spark your imagination for a new story.


First Exercise – Corner Shop

Bella flipped the page and tried not to look at the clock on the adjacent wall. She knew time always seemed to move slower as she waited for them to walk into her store. They always came, everyday for the last two weeks between two-forty-five and two-fifty in the afternoon.

Customers kept her busy throughout the day, but the flow of people coming through the door always seemed to dwindle an hour before their arrival. She sighed and gave in to her need to know, her curiosity always got the best of her.

Fifteen more minutes, she realized, not feeling any better. Only six minutes had passed since the last time she looked at the clock. It was obvious that reading one of her favorite books would not make the time go faster, so she decided to straighten up, perhaps dust.

She looked around, smiling at the quaint little general store she was the proud owner of, thanks to her father. Living out in the middle of nowhere, in a small mountain community, everyone knew everyone. There were no secrets and gossip kept most of the town inhabitants entertained throughout the day.

It was the only reason she had learned his name, Edward. But not much else, which she'd, hoped to find out more about him herself from him.

She sighed and shook her head; it didn't do well to fantasize. The man had yet to say anything to her that wasn't related to his purchases or the store in general. However, his companion always seemed to go out of his way to greet her.

As she wiped down her counter, and straightened out all the jars of her homemade jellies, she was compelled to plate some of the cookies she'd made the previous evening. She'd been toying with the idea to sell some of her cookies, pies and cupcakes for the last few days. It seemed to be a good time as any to give away a few samples to see if anyone would be interested.

Humming as she worked, she hadn't realized someone had entered until she turned. "Oh!" she gasped, holding a hand over her thudding heart.

"I did tell you it may be a good idea to install a bell on the door," Edward said with a small smirk.

Bella rolled her eyes and laughed, taking in his appearance. His dark jeans were worn around the pockets, slightly fringed there from use. A dark blue button up was layered over a plain white t-shirt, but kept open. The hair was as always a mess of copper, brown and gold. She sighed when she realized he'd likely never forget his sunglasses, no matter the weather. She longed to know the color behind them.

"Hello, Edward. Where's my little buddy?" she asked, walking toward the counter again.

"You mean you weren't waiting for me?" he asked, feigning hurt with pout. Shocked, Bella raised an eyebrow in confusion. Edward had never actually teased her before. When she hadn't answered, his pout turned to a frown and she heard him curse under his breath.

Before she could respond, her little buddy nudged the back of Edward's thigh. Bella couldn't help but smile and knelt down to greet him.

"Hi, Cody," she said with a smile. The little boy, barely reaching the bottom of Edward's knee shyly grinned and offered her a gummy bear, already half chewed. She laughed and looked up at his dad with a stern look.

"Lunch of champions?" she asked. Edward looked down at his feet, as his face flushed and she immediately felt bad. "Are you still having a hard time getting him in the car?"

Edward nodded. "It takes a few of those to get him in the car and a couple to quiet him down once we get out of the car. I know it's not healthy, but I don't know what else to do."

She sighed, hearing in that brief statement that there was a lot more to the reason why Cody hated to ride in a car. It was the second time they visited her store that she noticed the child's apprehension, when it'd been raining that Edward had come into town in a car. She'd seen him trying to put a very upset little two year old inside, enough to make the poor man's heart break as he settled behind the wheel several minutes later. She'd seen the frustration and sadness in his face as he drove away.

It was the last time she'd seen him driving around town with Cody, choosing instead to use the town's trolley system. However, with the rain coming down pretty hard, it was obvious driving into town had been Edward's only choice.

"What can I help with you today?" she asked as she took Cody's offer, pretending to bite it and hiding it in her palm. Cody, with big green eyes and light brown hair, giggled and stomped his little feet in delight.

"Bel-la," he cooed, shaking his little head and offered her another gummy.

Edward smiled down at his boy and then looked up to see Bella laugh along with his son. He couldn't look away from the carefree smile on her face. Everything about her was expressive. From the dark, rich brown eyes and her smile framed by lovely pink lips, to the dimple that winked in her right cheek.

He had no need to come in everyday as he had been since he first stepped into her store weeks earlier. Cody didn't respond well to strangers, and frankly, neither did Edward. It had been a miracle that no one seemed to recognize him, or perhaps they had and chose not to say a word. Then again, it had been some time since the incident that gave him more than his fifteen minutes of fame. The infamous Edward Masen, undercover cop who single handedly brought down one of Chicago's biggest crime families.

He went in against orders, all in the attempt to rescue a woman he had a brief relationship with while undercover, who was pregnant with his child. In the end, Edward managed to bring the family down with charges of kidnapping, murder, extortion and even tax evasion.

The mother of his son, Tanya, hated him for the "good life" he'd taken from her and chose instead of joint custody to sign away all rights to Cody for money. The fact that she wanted to run, sent all kinds of warning signals to his mind.

Edward hadn't given in and managed to win full custody of his son by the end of the pregnancy. And in an incident of uncharacteristic fit of rage in mediation, Tanya unwisely implicated herself in a crime, and attacked him with a weapon. She would spend the next six to ten years in prison for attempted murder and a slew of other charges.

The trials against members of the crime family had been on the news across the country. For months, he had to hide— not from those who would seek revenge, since most were dead and imprisoned. Though there was a number of organization members unaccounted for, it was in shambles and would take a great deal of time and effort to pull itself together.

The ones he had to hide from were the savages that were the paparazzi and media, having been the reason for his exposure. Edward had come to the small mountain community for a fresh start for him and Cody under the guise of a new name and background.

A part of him wasn't ready to risk his heart to anyone, but Bella drew him in a way he couldn't understand. And the fact that Cody was just as taken with her as he was, he wanted to try. The problem was that he still had to convince her to give him a chance and the fact he couldn't remember the last time he'd been on a date.

Bella grinned down at Cody, offering her hand since it seemed that Edward spaced out. "Want a cookie?"

"Cookie!" Cody said, giggling and slapping a hand over his mouth. "Oh oh!" He took off running toward the counter as if on automatic pilot.

"Is it all right, Edward?" Bella asked, following right behind Cody. She loved how Edward dressed him, in cute jeans, little hiking boots, blue t-shirt beneath a grey corduroy jacket. On top of his head was a knitted owl beanie. "They have oatmeal in them and are probably a little healthier than gummy bears."

"Bw-ears!"

Bella smiled at Cody, taking his hand again. "Edward?"

He shook his head, still dazed or lost in whatever world he'd been in. She smiled at him, hoping to coax some kind of response. "Sorry," he mumbled and asked for her to repeat herself.

"It's fine, Edward," she said, waving a cookie in front of him. "I asked if it's okay for Cody to have an oatmeal chocolate chip cookie?"

"Of course, sounds healthier than gummy bears," he said with a shrug. Bella guessed he was sort of listening, at least.

"Probably," she said, handing Cody a cookie. The child had taken it from her and immediately ducked his head to attack his treat. "Like I said before, what can I help you with today?"

Edward scratched his head and removed something from his jacket pocket. "Any chance you can make a copy of this? The library was closed and Mike at the hardware store said that you have a copier here."

She smiled, knowing what old man Mike was up to. He had perfectly good scanner/printer in his office. He was up to his old matchmaking tricks again. Since he'd been successful nine out of ten matches, he figured he was meant to meddle in everyone's life. Unfortunately for Bella, she was the one failure. No one had foreseen the kind of asshole James Richardson would be until it was too late. And Mike strove to find Bella's soul mate to make it up to her ever since. Edward, the poor unsuspecting soul was the first new male, in other words, fresh meat.

"What's got you smiling like that?" Edward asked, instinctively reaching to sweep some hair from her face. She had the loveliest skin he'd ever seen, like creamy silk with a touch of rose. When she only smiled more at his touch, he'd seen it as a good sign.

"Cookie!" Cody exclaimed, dancing around his father's legs. "Cook-kie!"

"I better grab him something to drink," Bella said, though she hadn't moved. She didn't want to; it was the closest Edward had ever been to her. She drank in his scent, leather, musk, pine and the slightest smell of sawdust. She knew he'd been restoring a small cottage near the creek.

"That would be great," Edward offered, still holding out the paper in his hand. "But, why don't I grab him something while you get me that copy."

She nodded. "Just the one?"

"One would be great. Any chance you're scanning it?"

"Yes," she said curiously. "Is that a problem?"

"It's only that my scanner stopped working and I'd like a copy for my computer files." He ran a hand through his hair, removing his glasses to pinch the bridge of his nose. "I'll just order a new one soon."

"I can email it to you," she offered. Edward looked up to meet her eyes, she gasped softly. He cursed himself for forgetting to put his sunglasses back on. He slapped them on quickly and gruffly told her his email address as he led Cody to grab a small chocolate milk from one the fridges that lined the back wall without another word.

Bella chastised herself for reacting to seeing him without his sunglasses. It was unexpected. The first few times she'd seen Edward with them on every time, she thought he could be partially blind. She later thought he had sensitivity to light.

She never expected him to be scarred. It was a jagged, angry red mark from inside of his left eyebrow, across the lid to just a half inch below his eye. It was obvious that he hadn't lost his eye, but just barely it seemed. The color was startling, too. Bright green eyes, much like Cody's, but there was something behind them that made them much darker. They held so much pain and he'd seen things, possibly done things, to cause those emotions to swirl in his eyes.

Bella unfolded the sheet of thick paper he'd given her to copy, and once again, gasped in surprise. It was a pencil sketch of Cody as he slept. There was so much detail around his sweet face as he sucked on his thumb, a tiny dimple in his cheek, and he had such long lashes.

"What do you think?" Edward asked, watching from the doorway to her office. He'd been there for a minute, seeing all the emotion come over her face as she studied his drawing.

Bella looked up, disappointed to see his glasses were still on. "You have a gift. It's beautiful."

"I wanted to send a copy to my mother," he said softly, leading Cody into the room by the hand. "She'd love it."

She offered him a seat and then turned to scan the picture. "Though next time, you might want to consider not folding it."

"Yeah," he said, running a nervous hand through his hair again. "I was in a hurry, didn't want to be late."

She cocked her said to one side. "Late?"

Edward looked away, unable to meet her gaze. Though she hadn't said a word about what she'd seen, her once expressive face didn't tell him what she was thinking. "You know, late to come into the store."

"Edward," Bella said as she handed him back the picture and the one copy he asked for. "You can take off your sunglasses."

"It scared you."

"It didn't," she murmured. "I'm not going to lie to you, it surprised me. I was more startled to see your eyes."

"Why?"

She ducked her head shyly. "I've thought about the color of them since we met. You know. Were they the same color as Cody's? Did you have lashes as long as he does?"

Edward grinned. "You've been thinking about me?" She threw a small eraser at him. He caught it and laughed. Cody climbed on his lap, immediately assuming a position. Nuzzling Edward's neck, he stuck his thumb in his mouth, whispering something about Bella and cookies.

"Nap time, huh?" she said. "All right, you have an email waiting for you at home. Thank God for satellite internet, right?" Edward nodded, and found Cody was asleep in seconds. As Edward adjusted his son so that he slept more comfortably, he pulled out a piece of paper. "Why don't you hand over your shopping list," she said, because he always had one. "And I'll grab your things."

Edward shook his head, slowly rising to his feet. "You don't have to do that. I can handle it."

She giggled beneath the cover her long hair, couldn't help herself. "Go on ahead then." Leading them back to the store, she walked behind the counter to watch. She'd give him five minutes before he asked for help. Internally, she rolled her eyes; men.

Edward tried not to look back at her. He could hear her sing softly to the music coming from built in speakers throughout the store. She helped two customers, including one named Jake, who was a little too friendly with her. Edward knew Jake was the best cabinet builder in the area; well the only one, too. He'd have to rethink about hiring him.

After about a minute, he realized it had been stupid to refuse her help, but having her so close was driving him a little crazy. She smelled so good. It had been too long since he'd been interested in a woman, especially with one that didn't seem to mind the scar. Then again, he hadn't been interest in anyone since the scar, too. He tried not to think about the day he'd gotten it. The same day his life changed forever. The fact that Tanya had double-crossed him in the end, only to try to avoid prosecution made it a scar he wished he didn't have to wear forever.

"Edward?" Bella said from beside him. He turned to look down at her, surprised she managed to sneak up to him. "Give me the basket." One hand was fisted on her hip, the other palm side up as she waited, with a sexy little eyebrow raised in challenge.

Damn, she's a bossy little thing.

"I got it," he said.

"You dropped three cans of corn, just trying to scoot one into the basket."

"I wanted three?"

Her pretty eyebrow rose in further challenge, and he had the urge to kiss it. He really needed to hurry before he made a fool of himself. "Um, okay," he mumbled, only adding to her slightly amused expression.

It had taken a considerably less time to finish with his list than he had hoped. Perhaps it's for the best, he thought to himself. It wasn't until she stopped at the frozen food portion of his list that she stopped and crumbled up the piece of paper.

"Hey," he said, growling slightly. "What did you do that for?"

"Frozen spaghetti dinners," she hissed as she turned on her heels toward another section of the store. "Are a sin, Edward."

"I don't know how to make homemade," he protested but followed her anyway.

Bella turned back, nearly crashing into his broad chest. Backing up a step, she looked up at his face. With his arms full with Cody, she raised her hands slowly, allowing him time to protest. When he didn't, she slipped off the black Ray Bans, smiling when she could see his eyes again.

"Ask me to dinner," she murmured. His eyes widened almost comically, she thought. Trying her best not to laugh, she smiled brightly.

What was he doing! "Um, would you like to have dinner?" His jaw unclenched and he smiled. It was what he wanted, a chance to get to know Bella.

"I would love to have dinner with you and Cody," she replied, looking triumphant. Edward's heart flipped in his chest. The woman before him was good, and the fact that she automatically included his son, he knew he'd do just about anything she asked of him. Though he'd do his best to make sure she never knew the power she already held over him.

"Where would you like to go?" he asked stupidly, struck dumb by the warmth that emanated from her gaze.

"How about I make us dinner, while throwing in a cooking lesson?"

Edward grinned and shook his head. "I'm pretty useless in the kitchen. But I'm game." After making arrangements and jotting down his address and figuring out a time, he left the store, suddenly in a rush. He and Cody had to do some cleaning up before Bella came over.

~oOo~

"Looks like he's got more on his face than in his mouth," Edward said, laughing. He tried to wipe his son's face, but the boy kept squirming.

Bella giggled, happy to see father and son smiling so much. Since her arrival, they seemed to welcome her with open arms. They were both ready to interact with others on a more personal level, but Edward seemed reluctant to share his past. Sharing stories about his sweet boy, however, he seemed to enjoy doing.

"That's the thing about spaghetti and children," she said. "They have a lot of fun eating it." Cody proved her point when he grabbed a handful of food in a small fist, stuffing some in his mouth, giggling and slurping up the pasta.

"Bel-la," he cooed, showing her his dirty, saucy hands. She laughed, understanding why Edward kept wet wipes at the dinner table.

"Look at your hands," she said and reached for one. "They're dirty."

"Oh oh," he whispered, his bright green eyes widening. "Da,da-ad! Hands! Dir-ty!" Edward watched as Bella expertly wiped his son's hands clean, laughing when he immediately put them back in his plate of food.

"It might be best to wait until after he's done," Edward teased. Bella sighed overdramatically, making him smile. "Thank you for dinner tonight, Bella." He reached for her hand, brushing his thumb along her wrist. He looked over to his son, who gone suddenly quiet. "What do you say, buddy?"

Cody grinned with a mouthful of food and cried out, "Thank yooou, Bel-la!"

She laughed and helped Edward clear the table and Cody. Together, they made quick work of doing the dishes as the little boy played with a toy nearby. Once he started to nod off, Edward asked for Bella to wait for him to put his son to bed since he wasn't ready for her to leave yet.

Bella watched as Edward carried his son down the hall to a bedroom and then turned her attention to pictures on the mantel over a handsome fireplace. There were several pictures of Cody in various stages of his young life. He was such an adorable baby, chubby, dimpled cheeks, born with little hair and big blue-grey eyes. They were striking then as they were at two years of age.

There one photograph that stood out, the only family type portrait displayed. It was Edward with much shorter hair, carrying a six month old Cody with a beautiful woman standing beside them. Her hands were on Edward's shoulders, almost protectively. His mother.

It was confirmed when Edward came up behind her and told her. "She looks happy to be with her boys," Bella said, touching the edge of the framed photo. "He was such a beautiful baby."

Edward smiled and took one of his favorites from the mantel. It was of Cody, figuring out he had toes, stuffing his big one in his mouth at five months. "I almost lost him," he said, forgetting how he didn't want to talk about his past.

"Oh," she whispered. Edward could see her mind working something out as her eyes swept to each picture. It didn't take her long to see who was missing. "His mother."

He shrugged half-heartily and refused to elaborate. "Would you like a glass of wine?" he asked instead. When she murmured her approval, he walked back into the kitchen, surprised when she followed. "How long have you lived in the area?"

Bella sipped carefully, watching Edward over the rim of her glass. She knew he was holding back, while processing and compartmentalizing every word she said. For the moment, he didn't trust her or perhaps didn't know how to, but she was willing to try to earn it.

She would be open book for him.

She smiled at him and wistfully told him how she moved to the area to care for her aging grandfather, and eventually, after his passing, inherited the store she owned.

"Your parents?" he asked softly.

"Died when I was pretty young," she replied. "Botched robbery attempt at the gas station they stopped at while on vacation." Edward could see that despite how long it'd been, their deaths still affected her. "Everyone was thankful I had stayed with my grandparents."

"I'm sorry." She only smiled and sipped on her wine in response.

"Yours? You mentioned your mother."

Since he had already said something about his mother at the store earlier, he decided to share a little more. "They're both are living in Chicago. She's a furniture designer and Dad's a chief at one of the local hospitals."

Smiling, she simply reached out for his hand that rested on the kitchen island. "Don't take them for granted."

He nodded, understanding where she was coming from. The fact that he wanted to share so much more with her had him scrambling to push the urge aside. "Come on," he said, leading her by the small of her back into the living room. He stroked the fire in the hearth and sat beside her, once he felt more in control of his emotions, having built a wall around them.

However, they toppled the moment she turned to face him with her big brown eyes, her knee brushing against his thigh. God, she's so beautiful. He was swallowed deeply and took a large drink to cover it up.

"Why is Cody so frightened of riding in a car?" she asked, softening the question by taking his hand onto her lap. It was as if she knew he would need the comfort. There were a few reasons why Cody hated automobiles but telling her all of them would expose him too much. He settled for a half-truth for the moment.

"We were in an accident when he was about seven months old," he replied, refusing to meet her eyes. He thought back to that day, the mob of people and media that attacked the car when he tried to take his son to a doctor's appointment. It was in the middle of the trial and he had been constantly hounded for the first year of Cody's life.

Bella's fingers tightened around his. "The scar?" He shook his head, silently letting her know to drop it.

When it was obvious that he needed a change of subject, Bella turned toward his music collection on shelves near his entertainment unit. They spent a few hours discussing music, books and even films, arguing about what should be considered as classic rock.

Edward found Bella easy to talk to, allowing some of the walls to crack open for her further. How he wanted to let her in, and there were so many things stopping him, but he wanted to try. Unable to resist as she passionately discussed music programs in schools, he threaded his fingers through her hair. With the light of the fire, he admired the occasional shimmer of natural colors in the soft strands.

Bella's eyes closed as Edward's fingers kneaded the back of her head and allowed him to pull her closer. His breath along her mouth alerted her of his nearness as he held her. She knew early on that he would need to be the one that made the first move. It was the only way she could earn his trust.

Edward watched her lashes flutter against her cheeks, and when he'd seen her acceptance, he pressed his mouth on the soft curve of her bottom lip. He sucked it between his own, tasting it with the tip of his tongue. Her soft moan encouraged him to explore her further. She was warm, sweet, with the hint of the wine on her lips. It emblazoned him to continue and mold his hands around her waist to pull her closer. She whimpered softly at his touch, his hands spanned from hip to hip easily. Bella's skin heated when the tips of his calloused fingers ran along the hem of her blouse.

Oh God, she thought. She wanted, craved and realized she'd do anything to have more. That was when she knew she had to leave before they did something they'd regret. It was too soon. But when his chest rumbled when she tugged on his hair, all thoughts flew from her mind. Her senses only seemed to focus on the feel of his skin where it touched hers, the male scent she only had gotten a hint of earlier, and the feel of him beneath her.

Edward did his best to keep from growling, grunting and to take what his body so desperately needed. He gasped for breath, struggled for control as his lips rested on her forehead.

"Whoa," she whispered, her hands clutching the back of his neck and shirt. "I think I better go." He only nodded in response, but didn't let her move off his lap yet. When she'd ended up there, he had no clue, only that he had wanted her as close as possible.

"I'll walk you to the car," he murmured after his heart rate slowed. After a few more moments, taking her hand in his, he led her to his door, planning on walking her to her car and taking a cold shower after she was gone.

However, when he opened his front door, they barely could see the driveway, much less her car. Fog had come down hard and fast while they talked. "Oh," Bella whispered. "I…I should've known. I had forgotten about the forecast."

Edward thought the same thing. From the moment they had made plans for dinner, most of his thoughts revolved his son, Bella and on cleaning up his house.

"There's no way you're driving down the mountain in this," Edward said firmly. "You can have my bed, I'll take the couch." When she tried to protest, he continued. "It's a pull out, sweetheart."

As he led her back inside the house, Edward had settled with the fact that it would be a long night.

~oOo~

She thumped her hands on the mattress, shoving the sheets off her. The entire room smelled too much like Edward, making sleep impossible. Frustration and need seemed to heat her skin bone deep, and her heart rate had barely settled to a manageable rhythm.

Hoping a book would help, she tiptoed into the hallway and into the living room. She tried not to look where she knew Edward lay. However, her eyes betrayed her and when they fell on him on the sofa bed, the very breath exited her in a soft "whoosh."

He was clad only in black boxers, the sheets that should've kept his modesty intact laid tangled around his feet. A hand laid on his lightly tanned chest for a moment and then ran over his sculpted stomach, making her mouth water.

He has a child. He has a child.

Having Cody wasn't a deal breaker for her. Edward only made it obvious that a casual relationship was something he couldn't do. And it wasn't what she wanted with him, but if she joined him on that pull out couch, it might make him think it was all she wanted. She had to remember that if she wanted him to trust her, she had to rein in her desires for a while. She could live with that.

When a floorboard creaked beneath her feet just inches from where Edward laid, she cursed her control. It was at that moment, as her hand reached to touch his hair, and her eyes on the bad wood floor that it happened.

It was so fast that she hadn't realized what was happening until she was choking for air. A large hand clasped her throat in a vise, a knee on her sternum forced the air from her lungs, pressure hit her temple and a livid, but unfocused gaze bore into hers.

A tiny movement of his thumb allowed her to gasp, "Edward!"

Realization hit him hard in the gut when he could clearly see his assailant. It wasn't the same woman in his nightmares that stood above him with a knife in the dark, determined to end his life. Instead of looking into icy blue eyes, they were warm brown ones filled with fear.

Bella.

"Oh God, oh god," he groaned and jumped back, falling against the couch on his backside. After he gathered himself, he placed the gun carefully beside him, and he crawled toward Bella who had yet to utter a word. "Oh God. Bella?"

Her eyes were clenched shut which allowed him some relief that he hadn't killed her but it was short lived when a tear fell and then another. A gut-wrenching sob fell from her lips as she scrambled away from him. She hadn't torn away her gaze, only held his, with questions and fear within the warm depths of her eyes.

"I'm so sorry," he pleaded, wanting desperately to hold her as her body started to shake. When he tried to reach out for her, she flinched; it was like a knife to the gut. To have such a sweet, generous woman quiver in fear of him, it completely unmanned him.

"Please," she croaked, clutching at her throat. His gut twisted further as he made out the raw skin where his fingers had been. "Please…tell me you d-don't sleep like that every night?" Confusion filled his features as anger came over hers. "What if I had been Cody?"

It was something that had plagued him and the reason why Cody still slept in a crib. His son could easily climb out if it, but he made such a commotion that Edward would've been alerted to his wakefulness.

"Crib," he whispered. "I'm sorry."

She looked away and the tension that came between them was devastating. "I need a drink," she said hoarsely after another minute of uncomfortable silence. When she tried to rise to her feet, she listed to one side. Edward helped steady her, relishing the fact that she hadn't flinched as she had before.

"I hit my head," she grumbled. They both looked toward the living room and could see that the small end table had toppled over. Edward flipped on a switch, allowing dim lights from under the kitchen cabinets to come on. He grimaced when Bella's eyes snapped shut from the bright intrusion.

"Sorry." She let him guide her to sit on the high-back bar stool at the kitchen island so that he could check her throat and head. "I don't know what to say." He handed her a small glass of whiskey to warm her up, hoping that she would stop shaking, too.

Her eyes were on her lap as he stood before her. Taking a first-aid kit from the junk drawer, he turned his attention to the small cut on her head. It hadn't been from the tip of his gun but from the impact when he'd slammed her against the floor. She must've hit her head against the end table.

She hissed when he cleaned the abrasion and kept her gaze averted from his. Had he lost her before he had a chance to have her? Of course he had. She would never forget that he had hurt her. His hand cradled her face, touching the bruised skin where he held the gun to her.

A shudder ran through her at that moment, forcing his hands to fall away. He wanted her to look at him, scream at him, anything but the silence and distance that formed between them.

"You should check on Cody," she murmured, her hands fidgeting on her lap. When he stepped away from her further, he tried not to wince as she breathed a sigh of relief. Turning quickly, he walked toward Cody's room after he safely locked away his gun in his room.

He found his son lying on his stomach, his bottom in the air with his thumb in his mouth. Smiling, he covered him up and touched his cheek softly. The floor creaked outside in the hall, and she was leaning against the wall, waiting for him. He sighed, wishing that circumstances were different. That he could keep promises he wanted to make, to her.

Closing the door behind him, he followed her back into the living room. She sat in a chair instead of the loveseat. He tried not to react to her reluctance of being close to him, but he had. She only shook her head and breathed deeply.

"How long have you been a cop?"

Whatever questions he expected, it hadn't been that. Stunned, he ran a hand over his face, trying to find a way to answer. He owed her some sort of explanation.

"How did you know?"

"Grandpa and dad were cops and my half-brother is one, too," she replied. "I recognized the alertness, your stance and the way your eyes shifted throughout the room. The move you did to take me down." He groaned softly, and knelt in front of her. When she took his hand, he sighed and whispered his apologies again. "I know you are. It's written clearly in your face. But I want to know why."

"I was an undercover cop in Chicago," he said after a few moments. "But that's not an excuse for what I did. Bella, you have to believe me that I would never do anything intentionally to hurt you."

She nodded and threaded their fingers together. "My brother was undercover, too. I stayed at his place for about a month and something similar happened. He was always worried that his enemies would come for him. The nightmares and panic attacks stayed with him after he lost his handler and partner for a long time. He had warned me to stay away from him when he slept. But he was screaming in his sleep."

"And he did what I had just done to you."

She nodded and lifted her free hand to touch the scar over his eye. "Did you get this then?"

"Yes," he murmured. "I didn't trust her, but I believed that she wouldn't do anything to the father of her child."

Shock registered in eyes, quickly turning, not to remorse or pity, but anger. "I almost killed her while she was pregnant with Cody." She sucked in a breath as he continued to explain. "She was part of the organization I was investigating. She was the one that found out I was a cop and that ultimately led to the death of my partner and a friend."

"That was you," she whispered as recognition seemed to register in her eyes. "You changed your hair. It was very short then, the color is different, too." He nodded and kissed the tips of her fingers as they brushed along his lips.

"Thank you for telling me," she said. "Are you in trouble? Is that why you sleep armed?"

"Mostly everyone is either dead or behind bars. Plus, I cut all ties with everyone and found ways to still talk with my parents. But a part of me will always worry about what's lurking in the shadows."

"Understandable."

He took her hands and shook his head. "How can you be so fucking calm? I nearly killed you."

"But you didn't. Once I said your name, you snapped out of it."

"That doesn't mean that will happen the next time you stay."

She cocked her head to one side. "Do you want there to be a next time?"

Edward groaned, rising to his feet. He couldn't believe he'd said that out loud. There was no reason to stop being honest with her. "Yes," he answered. A small smile lit up her pretty face, making him sigh in relief.

"And fog won't be the only reason," she asked coyly. He shook his head and helped her to feet. "It's okay to want something, Edward."

He wrapped an arm around her waist, touching the side of her face. Head bent, he laid his forehead on hers. "I want you."

"Oh good, for a while there I thought it was just me."

Chuckling, he kissed the top of her head. "I don't deserve to have you."

"We'll see." Leading him toward his bedroom, she turned to him at the foot of the bed. "I'm cold and I'm sure shock is about to hit me. Please stay."

Nodding, Edward climbed into bed behind her, curling his body around hers. She felt fragile in his arms and as small quakes ran through her as she slept, he promised to himself, he'd do whatever he could hold onto her.

She was worth it.

~oOo~

Nine months later

Bella sang as she straightened her shelves, dusting as she worked. A bell chimed from the front of the store, alerting her of a customer.

"Ma! Ma!" a voice cried out. "Ma. Where are you?" A warm, deep chuckled followed that question.

"Not sure, buddy," Edward said. "Maybe she's hiding."

She ducked behind the shelf, listening for the sound of running feet, quickly dashing into another aisle. From the corner of her eyes, she could see Edward catching her. She grinned, pressing a finger to her lips. He winked and shook his head.

"She's not here, Cody," he said, his voice suddenly grave.

"Oh oh." Cody stood still as if listening for her, peering around the corner. Edward laughed, watching as his son ran down the aisle when a flash of brown hair crossed the opposite end of the row. "Ma! Me want cookie!"

Edward heard her huff as she stood up fully and walked back into sight. "What about my kiss?" Cody giggled and ran toward her, smacking his hand and sending "kisses" to her until she finally scooped him up.

"How many?" he asked, cocking his head to the side.

"A hundred."

He shook his head. "Daddy said no!" Bella cocked an eyebrow as she turned her attention to Edward.

"Why did daddy say no?"

"He wants more," Cody cooed, pressing his nose against hers. "Mine." He wrapped his arms around her, nuzzling his cheek with hers.

"Sorry," Edward said as he walked over to the pair. "But he insisted on a visit."

"You know I don't mind," she said as she let Edward kiss her lips softly. "Did Jake finish the kitchen cabinets?" Edward grumbled a yes, making her laugh. "At least you don't have to deal with him anymore."

"Thankfully, you didn't have to deal with him," he said firmly. "If I had to hear one more time how hot you were and how much he wanted to f…" He trailed off when he realized that Cody was listening intently. He had to be more careful; his son had started to mimic anything he said. A lesson he learned when the accidently smashed his thumb and cursed. By the time Bella had come home that night, Cody added it his list of vocabulary words.

Bella was less than pleased.

"Kiss, Mommy," Cody asked, trying to gain her attention again. Edward sighed, it took some time but he had to learn to share the incredible woman with his son. Cody was constantly vying for her affection as often as Edward would.

Bella pursed her lips and Cody stuck out his cheek for her to kiss. She complied and laughed when he turned so the other side would get the same attention. He lowered his head and pointed to his forehead. Once done, he sighed and asked for a cookie again.

After she settled him in the small play area she made for him behind the counter with a cookie and a sippy cup, she turned her attention to Edward, surprised to find him watching her closely.

"What is it?" she asked.

"Do you have any idea how much I love you?"

She blushed at his question and shrugged. It was hard to get used to. The soft words, the compliments and the encouragement he often whispered to her.

"About as much as I love you."

He shook his head, taking her hand, kissing the ring that graced her finger. The one he put there only a month earlier. It wouldn't be much longer before their engagement made the gossip vine in town, until then he would tell anyone that asked about her.

Brushing his lips over hers, he whispered, "How long until Angela's shift?" He hummed and sucked gently on her bottom lip, loving the light taste of mint from her tea.

"In about twenty minutes."

"Kissy, kissy," Cody said, giggling madly from his little corner of the store. "You kissy kissy." Edward turned quickly, growling at his son. Cody screamed and ran, laughing and watching to see if his dad was following behind him.

Bella sat back, watching her boys laugh and play together. She touched her stomach, deciding to wait until they got home to tell Edward the news. She finally had the family she always dreamed of and knew he'd love their child as much as they loved Cody.

Mike the matchmaker watched the homey scene from outside, smiling at the trio. It had taken some time for that stubborn man to give himself a chance to let that special someone to enter his life. Should've known all it would take was a pretty smile and compassion from the girl behind the counter.


AN: Betaed by kyla713. Be sure to check out kyla713's ending of this same beginning. You'll find her on my favorite author list. Thank you.