Huge thanks to Bekah, Bri and Kathy for their red pens, to all the Pop The Question judges, writers, and readers, and to Stephenie Meyer for starting this all.


Pop the Question Contest Entry

Pen name: theladyingrey42

Twitter Name: theladyingrey

Title: Game On

Word Count (without the A/n and header): 7403

Pairing: Edward / Bella

Rating: M

Summary: Edward thinks he can convince Bella to marry him by denying her sex? The boy's got another thing coming. A story of patience, love, and baseball.

Warnings (if any): None


...

..

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For a minute, all I can do is stare at him. "You're kidding, right?"

"Nope." He crosses his arms behind his head and leans back in his chair. "Completely serious."

"You. Are going to withhold sex. From me."

It's the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard. If he didn't have that patented Cullen determination thing going on, I'd laugh at him. As it is, though, he's staring at me, jaw set, eyebrow arched. His bright green eyes are twinkling, but they're serious at the same time.

I decide to call his bluff.

God, I hope it's a bluff.

"Fine." I stand up and turn around, making sure to sway my hips as I head to the fridge to put away the remnants of the dinner I made for him. The fancy dinner. The dinner that was supposed to lead to nookie. Bending deeply from the waist, shaking my ass at him, I taunt, "If you think you can stay away from all this to prove a point…"

The words are barely out of my mouth before his hands are wrapped around my hips, his very hard, very willing cock pressed against me through our clothes. When he speaks, his voice is gruff and warm, and it turns my insides and my girly-parts to goo. "I didn't say I'd stay away from 'all this'." He gives me a little thrust, and I swallow a moan as I stand and lean back against him. "I just said no sex. And I'm not 'proving a point'."

"No?" I hate how breathy I sound.

"No." He pulls me back against him, his chest to my spine, and sucks on the skin below my ear. "Bella. Do you love me?"

Non-sequitur much? Still, my voice shakes as I answer, "Of course."

"Do you know how much I love you?"

He presses the palm of his hand to my abdomen, and it fills me with heat. All I can do is nod.

"Then you have to know…" His breath fans out across my face, sexy and dangerous and probably illegal in most states. "…that I would give up anything if it meant I could be with you the way I want to. Forever."

I'm melting into him, but just as suddenly as he pushed himself against me, he's gone, and I'm reeling. Standing there in the cold blast of the fridge, I sputter, my mouth opening and closing in shock. When I find the presence of mind to look for him again, I find him in the doorway leading to our living room, his smile wide. His eyes are still twinkling, but they're even more serious now. Even more resolved.

And maybe just a little bit sad?

"Then you have to know." The corner of his mouth wavers, and it tugs at my heart. "That that includes giving up the thing I love most in the world."

I swallow hard but force myself to snark, "Baseball?"

He narrows his eyes at me. "No, silly. Making love to you."

He walks away before I can recover from my swoon. I can't believe I'm refusing him, but then I remember what he's asking for. My voice is an annoying whine, even to my ears. "But, Edward. Marriage? Really?"

"I told you, babe." He plops down on the couch and hits the power button on the remote, filling the room with the sounds of—you guessed it—baseball. "Forever. Nothing more and nothing less."

"But we're twenty-one."

"And neither of us is getting any younger." He puts the remote down, his eyes fixed on the TV.

And that's when it really dawns on me.

"You're seriously picking the Cubs over sex with me."

His lips curl into a slow smirk. "Nope. I'm picking marrying you over sex with you. The Cubs are just a convenient … distraction."

His eyes flicker down to the obvious tent in his lap, and mine do, too. He's told me more than once that thinking about baseball is one of his key strategies when he's inconveniently hard, or when we're together and he's too close and needs to hold back.

I hate it when he holds back.

Well, fuck that. I close the refrigerator door with a huff. "Fine. Well, I hope you're distracted enough for this." Without any further ceremony, I peel off my top and fling it at him. My bra, jeans and panties follow.

He stares at me, agape. "What are you doing?"

"I'm going to go take a shower."

His eyes immediately widen. If there's one thing Edward Cullen loves more than sex, it's shower sex.

Ha. Let's see you resist that.

Secretly, on some level, though, I hope he does resist it. If he really meant what he said about loving me more than he loves having sex with me… My throat gets raw and tight.

For a second, we stare at each other, then I watch as reason slowly returns to his eyes. I don't know whether to be relieved or disappointed.

He turns his gaze back to the TV.

Disappointed. Definitely disappointed.

"Better make it a cold one."

He's not even looking as he tosses my underwear back to me. I catch it and growl, my eyes shooting daggers into the back of his stupid, sexy, romantic, baseball-loving head.

Little does he know, I can be just as stubborn as he can.

Game. Fucking. On.

~ ~ G ~ ~ O ~ ~

The next night, we're sitting on the couch together. The heavy haze of sexual frustration and annoyance and resistance from the night before is still hovering around us, but we're both channeling it into our usual diversions. I've got my earbuds in, listening to angry chick music and catching up on my Chaucer, while he's plugging away at some calculus problems. SportsCenter is on in the background. As always.

I keep sneaking little peeks at him when I'm sure he's not looking.

He's always kind of taken my breath away, and other than being enhanced by the lack of nookie we've been having thanks to his stupid sexbargo, the reaction he evokes from me tonight is no different from any other. He's quite simply the most attractive man I've ever met, and I'll never get over the fact that he chooses to be with me. That he wants me. Forever, apparently.

I breathe out a little huff and divert my gaze back to my page. Forever.

It's not that I'm opposed to making things official. Eventually. We're just so young—almost as young as my parents were when they embarked on their miserable failure of a marriage. A little ball of irrational anger gathers in the back of my throat and gets stuck in my craw. People don't get married at twenty-one. Not unless they're knocked up.

No matter how in love they are.

Can't he see that?

With my concentration shot, I close my book and pull out my earbuds. I lean over and give him a quick peck on the cheek. "I'm heading to bed."

"Okay. I'll be in soon."

"Take your time," I grumble under my breath. It's not like we're going to be doing anything but sleeping anyway. After a half-dozen more clumsy attempts at seduction yesterday, I'm more or less resigned to waiting him out until he cracks.

I'm not going to make it easy on him, though. Oh, no. I'm going to make it very, very hard.

Before I stand back up, I take my lips to his ear and give it a quick nibble, sucking on the lobe. His breath hitches, but he's otherwise impassive. Working hard to mask my frustration, I trail my fingertips over his chest and give one more soft, wet kiss to the side of his neck, then rise. On my way back to our bedroom, I sway my hips.

For all the good it does me.

With the door to our room closed behind me, I finally give voice to my pissiness, flopping on the bed and burying my face in a pillow before letting go of a muffled scream. Immature as it may be, it actually does make me feel better, and by the time I'm done with my hissy fit, I'm more centered and even more resolved to go through with my plan.

After another a minute or two of heavy breathing, I haul my sorry ass up and start getting ready for bed. I brush my teeth and wash my face, then peel off my clothes and throw them in the hamper. I dawdle in front of my nightstand, though. Trailing my fingers over the handle to my pajama drawer, I consider just giving in and going for my usual awesome ensemble of Hello Kitty flannel pants and a t-shirt. Because the harder I try, the more his rejection is going to hurt.

"Man the fuck up," I mumble to myself. Bypassing the safe, familiar drawer, I open the smaller one above it.

I'm not a big fan of lingerie, for the most part. I know it's supposed to make a girl feel sexy and beautiful, but it usually just makes me feel like I'm pretending to be something I'm not. Edward loves it, though. Maybe because I'm so reluctant to bother with it. Maybe because he knows I only get dolled up in it for him.

Figuring I'm probably just going to get stuck sleeping in whatever I pick once he inevitably ignores my advances, I push aside the racier pieces until I find something less…ridiculous. I hold up a green silk chemise, eying it for a second before making up my mind. I lose my underwear, then pull the filmy fabric on.

I cast one quick glance at myself in the mirror. Even I have to admit that I look good. I fuss with my hair a bit and make a goofy, pouty face at myself in the glass, bending slightly from the waist so I can look down my own shirt.

It's as good as it's going to get.

With a sigh of resignation, I dim the lights, then turn down the bed and slip in underneath the covers. Some sports announcer is still yammering on the TV in the other room, so I know I have a little time to kill. I dart my gaze around the room, eventually settling on the framed, autographed picture of Alfonso Soriano on my night stand.

It's a bit of a standing joke between Edward and me.

The first time we met, it was at a rooftop party for a Cubs game, our freshman year of college. We'd both been inducted into an 'emerging leaders' program at Northwestern based on our first two quarters' performance, and our extremely well-to-do advisor had arranged everything.

I stood there against the iron railing at the edge of the roof, clutching a plastic cup of soda close to my chest and gazing out over the illustrious Wrigley Field. The old stadium walls were low, and some of the best, most expensive properties in the city were the ones that abutted the stands. The owners rented them out, and people gathered there to watch the game.

It was pretty cool. And really, really boring.

"So, how many errors you think Soriano is going to make today?"

I turned, surprised to find a bright green pair of eyes staring at me, one eyebrow arched. For a second, I couldn't speak, couldn't look away. He was too good-looking to be talking to me.

As I stood there, dumbfounded, he frowned, and I scrambled, trying to kick-start my brain into responding.

"Ummmm…none?"

Errors were bad, right? I mean, they didn't sound good.

His mouth cracked into the most winning, crooked smile, and something in my chest shifted.

"Don't tell me you're a believer, still."

"I like to believe the best about most people," I hedged.

He leaned his arms over the railing, picking at the rim of his own plastic cup. "Admirable." His smirk grew deeper as he gazed at me out of the corner of his eye. "But I'm pretty sure you're setting yourself up for disappointment."

I definitely was. But not about Sor—Soria—What was the name of the guy we were talking about?

I was setting myself up for disappointment just soaking up the attention this beautiful boy was giving to me.

And he gave me a lot of it that day. Somehow, I bluffed and blustered my way through nine innings that actually seemed short, thanks to his company. The whole time, he didn't budge, didn't wander off to talk to anyone else. He introduced himself and told me about what he was studying and about his family. About how he'd always loved baseball and how his love for the Cubs was one of the reasons he'd picked Northwestern.

I told him everything he asked about me.

When the game ended, I hardly noticed, except that he turned away and put his back to the railing for the first time in three hours. "Looks like you got lucky."

"Oh?"

Just gazing at his jaw made me want to get lucky.

"Your man Soriano didn't screw up once. It's nothing short of a miracle."

It took me a long minute to remember what the hell he was talking about. Once I did, I grinned and pretended I had a clue. "See? It pays to have faith in people."

Apparently, it did. We traded numbers and dorm addresses before we parted at the 'L' stop. The next day, he left the picture of Soriano in an envelope hanging from my door. I framed it, even though I had no idea who it was.

He told me much later that the day he came to my room and saw that picture on my nightstand was the day he knew he was going to marry me. The fact that I'd just confessed to being a total dolt about baseball in specific and sports in general hadn't even deterred him; if anything, he thought it just made the gesture more sweet.

Even if it did creep him out a bit that there was another dude watching me sleep.

As I reminisce, the edges of my memory start going fuzzy, and there's a heaviness to my limbs as my eyes drift closed. The next thing I know, the bed dips with an added weight and there are soft kisses being pressed along the back of my neck. I'm on my stomach, my thoughts slow and lazy. I can't hear the sportscaster talking in the background anymore, but I don't remember the TV turning off. Annoyed that I must have dozed off for a bit, I stretch and hum and arch my back, leaning into the warm touch of breath beside my ear.

The covers slip from my shoulders, and behind me there's a sharp intake of breath and a low groan.

"Are you trying to kill me?"

He slides his finger along the lacy edge of the negligee, tracing a line across the naked skin of my back between my shoulder blades, sending shivers and low pangs of want up and down my spine. Over the silk, he runs a fingertip all the way down to the small of my back, and I moan, feeling the ache begin between my thighs.

My voice is rough with sleep as I shoot back, "Are you trying to kill me?"

Figuring that if I'm going to die I might as well die happy, I push myself up onto my forearms and turn inside the warmth of his embrace. He doesn't shift away, and I take advantage of his hesitance, lifting to thread my fingers through his hair. I pull him down to me and kiss him, wet and slow.

To my surprise, he returns the kiss with equal intensity, opening for me and pressing forward with his tongue. His mouth is hot and hungry, his hands roaming.

"God," he mumbles between nips at my lips. "You're so sexy, baby."

He has no idea.

Pressing my luck, I press my hand against his chest, rolling him to lie on his back as I start to kiss my way down his throat. I touch the firm skin of his abdomen beneath his shirt, pushing the fabric up.

The first hint of doubt creeps into his voice. "Bella?"

"Just helping you get ready for bed."

With a groan he reaches down and helps me pull the shirt up and off, and then he's just bare flesh, a smattering of chest hair, and the smooth cords of muscle that I love so much. I kiss and touch, lower and lower, a nibble at his nipple and a dance of tongue beside his navel.

His murmured, "Baby," sounds like giving in as I pop the button on his fly. Before he can say anything else, I have the hot length of him out and in my hand. I purse my lips around the head and give it a slow, wet suck.

"Bella…" This time, my name is a low, shuddering exhale. He slips his hand into my hair, like he can't quite decide if he should pull me off or urge me on. "Bella, I said—"

I pop off and look him in the eye. "You said no sex. You didn't say I couldn't have you in my mouth."

With that, I take him deep, running my tongue along the sensitive spot that makes him groan. He does just that and lets go, melting into the mattress beneath him. His voice is gruff and adoring even as he seems to be laughing at me. "Only you would argue semantics while giving head."

It's hard to give a proper blowjob while I'm smiling this wide, but I persevere all the same. I suck and lick, moving my mouth over him slowly. Just the way he likes it.

Only, when he tightens, gripping my hair and holding his breath, all the muscles in his chest and stomach tensing, I give him one last slurp and pull away.

"Fuck," he hisses. "Bella—"

And I want to make him come so badly. It's killing me to deny him. But he's killing me even worse with the way he's denying me.

I climb back up his body quickly, still stroking him with my hand, but in a way that's more meant to tease than it is to bring him to climax. I slide my thumb along the slit, then let him go, straddling his hips and sliding the hot, wet ache of my sex up and down the length of him.

"Baby, your mouth—"

"My pussy," I insist. I kiss his mouth and suck on the skin below his ear. "Remember how much you love my pussy?"

His response is a laughing groan that sounds like agony. "I do."

Then, in a move so fast I hardly know what's happening, he flips me, presses me into the mattress on my back and hovers over me. Instead of nestled between my thighs, his cock is pressed against my hip, the thick length of it slick with him and with me.

"The question is…" He spreads my legs and slips his fingers in my wetness, and I arch my back, it feels so good. "…do you remember how much I love it? How much I love this pretty little pussy? In my mouth? On my fingers? Around my cock?"

"Fuck, Edward…"

He knows my body so well, every inch of it, and I'm so turned on, both from waiting and from the noises he made while I sucked him. He rubs my clit in fast little circles, pushing me to the edge well before I'm ready. If he would just put himself inside me already…

"Inside, baby, please. I want you so much."

"Not as much as I want you."

He's relentless in his assault, and for a shaking moment, I'm terrified he's going to leave me hanging just the way I did him. I reach for him, wanting to make amends and wanting him inside and just wanting.

"Uh-uh-uh," he says, tsk'ing, shoving my wrist aside but starting to slide himself along my thigh. "Do you feel how close I am? It'd be so easy to bury myself in you."

My voice is a high-pitched whine. "Then do."

He bends to suck the place where my shoulder meets my neck, then slides up to breathe into my ear. "Marry me."

"Fuck me."

"Not until you marry me."

"Not until you—ugh, fuck—just…fuck me."

He shakes his head against my throat. His cock is sliding more easily against my skin now, the slickness thick, and I know he's as close as I am.

He bites beneath my ear, sending a sharp pang straight to my clit, and he fingers me harder. "What's it gonna be? All you have to do is say yes and I'll give you my cock. I'll give it to you so good and deep."

The yes is in the back of my throat, but I force it back. "This is—ungh—coercion."

"Hell, yes, it is."

"Edward…"

"Oh, fuck, baby. Come. Come on my hand."

I try to hold back, as stubborn as ever and not wanting to clench around nothingness, wanting him in me, thick and good, but I'm helpless. I'm so helpless to him.

"Oh, fuck, Edward." It's a long, low moan as I crash off of the edge, plummeting and spinning and clutching at him.

The instant the last wave subsides, his hand is gone, and then he's over me, straddling my chest, fist pumping roughly at his cock.

"Baby, I'm—"

His whole face scrunches up and there's one hot stripe after another, painting across the tops of my breasts. He shudders and gasps.

When he's done, he melts and rolls to lie on his back beside me. His pants and boxers are bunched around his thighs, and his cock is still spasming, leaking sticky white across his stomach. He looks rumpled and fucked and I love him so much I can hardly breathe.

Also, after the stunt he just pulled, I am irrationally, unspeakably, demonically-possessed-kinds-of pissed.

And it doesn't matter that I started this or that I could end it all if I just gave in. I don't want to give in.

I don't want to feel like this.

So when he leans over, his smile lopsided and loopy in his post-orgasmic haze, and slides a finger through the mess of his come across my chest, murmuring, "God, I love your boobs," I don't respond with my usual giggle or an offer to let him fuck them once he's hard again.

Instead, I throw his arm off of me and stand, facing away from him. I gather up a bunch of tissues from the box on my nightstand and clean myself up, then yank open my ugly pajama drawer. I pull on a pair of black and white and pink pants, wiggling them over my hips before tugging the negligee over my head. Holding a t-shirt over my chest, I glare at him over my shoulder.

"Fine. You love my boobs so much? You don't get to play with them again until I get to come on your cock."

He looks like I just killed his puppy.

"Do I at least get to see them?"

"No." I turn away again and search for the hem of the shirt. Once I find it, I pull the fabric over my head.

Edward's voice is petulant. "How come he gets to see them and I don't?"

Confused, I glance at him to find him casting a dirty look at the picture on my nightstand, and I throw my hands up in the air.

"Because at least he isn't pressuring me to do something I don't know if I want to do!"

The words hang in the air, and I wish I could pull them back.

I want so, so badly to pull them back.

Edward's whole face falls. I don't think I've ever seen him look so hurt.

He darts his gaze away from mine as he pulls his boxers back over his hips and takes his jeans the rest of the way off. His silence is terrifying.

I swallow hard and try to make the words make sense. "Edward, I didn't mean—"

My eyes get fuzzy and my chest tight. It's not like I don't ever want to marry him. He knows that. He knows—

"I know you didn't." His mouth is a grim line, and he still won't meet my eyes. "I'm tired."

He slips under the covers and lays his head on the pillow, facing away from me. Speechless, I get up to turn the lights off, then get into bed on my side. It feels like there's a hundred miles between us as I lie on my back beside him.

We may wake up in any number of crazy positions, but he always spoons me as we fall asleep.

I consider heading into the living room to go have a good screaming session with one of the throw-pillows out there.

Instead, I tentatively seek his skin out with my hand. The instant the back of my knuckles connect with the warmth of his spine, we both sigh. He flips onto his back and intertwines his fingers with mine, there in the space between our bodies, but neither of us moves to get closer. We're both still so tense.

I'm staring at the ceiling as I whisper, "I love you."

He squeezes my hand and exhales hard.

"I love you, too."

~ ~ G ~ ~ O ~ ~

The words I spoke in haste linger in the air, squeezing themselves into the silences in our conversations. We don't talk about it, and we don't really touch except to hold hands or place chaste kisses on cheeks. I'm done playing games, done living under the cloud of all this pressure and denial. All I want is to get back to normal. To us. But I'm starting to wonder if we can.

It all boils over three days later. Craving comfort and unsure how to ask for it from him without giving in, I head to bed early with a book I've read a hundred times, changing into stretchy pants and the Cubs jersey he gave me for Christmas, foregoing a bra and not even caring that I'm wearing my plainest cotton panties. I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror. I look defeated. Maybe I am.

The sounds from the television end abruptly only a few minutes later. He taps on the door to our room before pushing it open and stepping through. I keep my eyes trained on the page in front of me, but in my periphery I'm watching him intently.

Instead of heading to his dresser or the bathroom like he's been doing instead of talking to me these past few days, he climbs up on the bed. He pauses for a second over on his side, and I hold my breath. Finally, he shifts over, putting his whole side flush with mine.

My lungs empty, and I shiver with the relief.

God, I've missed him.

We both melt a little with the contact, our postures relaxing for the first time in days. As he slips his fingers through my hair, combing it back and away from my face, I lean into him. He chuckles and presses kisses up and down my neck.

There's no defensiveness as I ask, "What's so funny?"

Trailing the backs of his knuckles down my arm, rubbing the fabric of the jersey between his fingers, he says, "You got all dolled up to seduce me the other night, but you could have just worn this."

"Really?"

"Really. The lacy stuff is nice, but this is just…Bella." He kisses just below my jaw, his breath warm across my skin. "I don't think you have any idea how attractive you are to me."

It's easy to forget, especially when he says he doesn't want to be with me.

I bite back those words, not wanting to start again. Besides, I know that's not the issue. It never was and it never will be.

The issue is that I don't like ultimatums, especially ones that push us apart like this. I don't like feeling as if I'm being forced into a particular action, or like my concerns aren't being heard.

Fortunately, he's braver than me.

That he's a lot more diplomatic doesn't hurt things either.

"I miss you," he admits quietly, face pressed against my hair.

I turn into him, setting aside my book and brushing my fingertips along his cheek. "I miss you, too."

"The whole sexbargo thing was a bad idea, wasn't it?"

I bite my tongue, literally and metaphorically. Releasing it, I sigh. "You've had better."

"I just hoped it would make you see my point of view."

I search his eyes for a minute. He laid out all his points back a few days ago, when this whole thing began, but I wasn't really listening, too caught up in my own neuroses. I'm ready to now.

"Why don't you explain it again?"

As I speak, I keep my face as neutral as I can. I slide my hand down to grasp his, intertwining our fingers.

He rubs his thumb along the edge of mine and gives me a soft smile. "There's not a lot to explain. I just want to be with you. I want to introduce you as something more than my live-in girlfriend. You're so much more to me than that." He pauses, testing the words in his mouth before adding, "I want to be able to call you my wife."

His expression is so earnest, and for a second, I can see it. I can see how nothing would really have to change. We'd still be us, just more official. More permanent.

He's still talking, though, and everything he says melts my heart. "I want to know that I get to spend every day making you smile. Forcing you to watch baseball and laughing when you get bored and start trying to distract me. Watching you read. Kissing you. Making love to you."

"I want all of those things, too."

His eyes grow even softer as he brings our hands up to his lips. "Why don't you— I didn't do such a great job of listening to you the other night either."

All my rationalizations for waiting sound silly in my head after that.

I take a deep breath and try to explain it all anyway. "Honestly, I don't know why it bothers me so much. I just never saw myself getting married until I was older. My parents always told me to be independent, you know? And I feel like I don't even know who I am without you anymore."

"Is that such a bad thing?" There's that hurt look dancing around the edges of his eyes, but he's giving me a chance tonight.

I choose my words carefully. "Not necessarily, no… It's just scary."

He thinks on that for a second, idly playing with my fingers as he does. And it strikes me that he's really listening. Finally, he squeezes my palm. "I think you know who you are. I think that person is amazing. And I think… I think we can both be ourselves. We just do it together."

"I like that idea."

"Yeah?"

"Yeah. Only… we really are so young, Edward."

"I hear what you're saying. Please, believe me, I do." He kisses my knuckles one by one. "I just don't get it. What age do you think it is okay to get married?"

"I never imagined it until I was thirty."

For the first time all night, a glint of the guy who decided withholding sex and not talking was a good way to change my behavior appears amidst the cracks in his calm. "Thirty?"

I cringe. "Maybe twenty-five."

"Bella." He breathes in and out a few times, nostrils flaring as he seems to fight for control. "What do you think is going to happen in the next four to nine years that's going to change how we feel about each other? Do you plan to break up with me? Or to meet someone else?"

"God, no." The whole idea is abhorrent.

"Then what are you waiting for? I want you. Forever. Starting now."

I'm grasping at straws now, clawing at this feeling in the pit of my stomach that if I give in to this it'll represent some kind of personal weakness. That my parents who raised me to be strong and independent—the ones who taught me to work hard and who sent me to this amazing school—will be disappointed somehow if I decide to go get hitched to some guy while I'm still barely old enough to drink.

Only he's not just 'some guy.' He's Edward.

Still, their names bubble out of my lungs. "Charlie and Renee…"

"…Were okay with us getting an apartment together this year. Do you really think they don't see this coming?"

"And Professor Banner and our friends and…"

"Bella." For the second time in five minutes, he says my name like he's trying to get a child to see reason. But at least he is still reasoning instead of shutting down or making decisions for me.

I guess that's something.

He must see something of my frustration with him in my eyes, because he groans and lets go of me, rolling onto his back and scrubbing his hands over his face. "I just…"

And I don't know what to say. I know what he wants and I know why it terrifies me, and I don't know how to make it stop terrifying me.

But, entirely to my surprise, he does.

With the heels of his hands digging into his eyes, he blurts out in a rush, "I just don't understand why you care what everyone else thinks but you don't care what I think. Or what you think, even. I know you want me the same way I want you." He pulls his hands away from his face and flops them onto the pillow on either side his head, shooting me a wry smile that undercuts his words. "I don't know how I'd put up with your commitment issues if I didn't know that."

"Of course I do—"

"So why won't you just let yourself? Why can't you just say 'fuck it' to everyone else and let us be together the way we want to be?"

I gape at him.

Because all of a sudden, I don't know why, either.

It doesn't matter what anyone else thinks.

Something deep inside me starts shaking, but my hands are steady, my voice level. "Okay."

He looks at me like I'm a mental patient. I'm not sure if that's better or worse than a five-year-old.

"Okay? Just like that?"

I take a deep breath and nod. The smile that's overtaking my face is so wide it hurts. "Okay."

"Okay you'll marry me."

For some reason, I have to give him a hard time. "Well, not if you're going to propose like that."

He sits up straight, his eyes sparkling and his mouth curling up, like he's figuring out that this is for real. "And how would you prefer I propose?"

"Surprise me." I think about that for a whole three tenths of a second and screw up my face. "Though if you try to do it on a JumboTron, I will reject you. And for real this time."

"Pfft. Wrigley doesn't even have a JumboTron."

"Fine, no proposals at Wrigley Field, either."

He smirks and glances over my shoulder. "Why? Don't want your boyfriend Soriano to watch?"

"No."

"Me neither."

With that, he lunges across the bed and slams the picture down so it's resting on its face. So Soriano isn't watching.

Oh my God. Soriano isn't watching.

He's got that Cullen I'm-up-to-no-good thing going on as he clambers back to the other side of the bed. He yanks open the drawer on his bedside table and digs around in it.

I think I stop breathing.

He comes back up with a shit-eating grin and a black velvet box.

Now I know I'm not breathing.

"Isabella Swan?"

"No…"

"Uh-uh. You promised me I could."

The oxygen-deprivation starts to make me feel light-headed, and I suck in a harsh gasp of air. "I did not. I just said to surprise me."

"You should see your face. I'm pretty sure you're surprised."

I have no response for that. No response for his teasing. Or for his smile.

For the sight of glittering diamonds set in platinum as he opens the box.

For the sight of him. My Edward. On his knees, his heart shining out through his eyes. All his love so clear. His love for me.

"Yes," I whisper. He falters, and I wave my hands in front of my face. "I mean, go ahead."

The one side of his mouth is still turned down. "You're ruining it."

"No, I'm not."

He collects himself for a second, and then he's taking my hand in his, holding it between us as he presents the ring to me.

"Isabella Swan." He stops, chuckles and shakes his head, then glances up at me with one eyebrow raised, his cheeks pinking. "I had a whole speech planned."

"I'm sure it was wonderful."

"It was. It really was. But it doesn't matter."

"No, it doesn't."

He screws up his face, then forces his expression to be serious again.

We don't need a speech or ultimatums or—heaven forbid—a JumboTron.

We just need us and those four simple words. "Will you marry me?"

Everything in me is shining as I whisper, "Yes."

I'm in his arms before the answer is even fully out. He squeezes me so tightly, picking me up and kissing my neck and cheek. When he sets me down again, it's only to take my face between his hands and to press his mouth to mine in a kiss so hungry and so full of love it staggers me.

It also makes three days of moping and barely touching each other come back to me in a rush of need.

I pull away and put my hands on his shoulder. "Now. Will you finally fuck me?"

The growl in the back of his throat does things to me. "Fuck, yes."

"One thing first, though," he says, grabbing my hand. With a single, smooth movement, he slides the ring onto my finger. I stare at it, dumbfounded, surprised that none of the fear comes back to me. The band looks right there.

This feels right.

He must think so, too. "You look so fucking good in my ring."

In the next breath, his mouth is on mine, the kiss possessive and full of heat. I feel it all the way down my spine, to the space between my legs where I'm suddenly hot and wet.

"Four days is too damn long."

"You're telling me."

I palm the length of him through his jeans, and he groans, sliding an arm behind my knees and practically throwing me down on my back on the bed. He's over me in an instant, already tearing his shirt off. I move for the buttons on the front of the jersey, but his hands are there before I can get the first one undone. He slips each of them through with practiced ease, parts the fabric and then dives in. He kisses between my breasts and sucks the tip of each into his mouth in turn.

"God, Bella. Your breasts in pinstripes…"

He's pretty much humping the bed, so I get the idea.

"Wanna fuck me in them?"

That gets his attention. His head snaps up, his eyes wide, almost like he'd never thought of that before. He shakes off the haze after just a moment's hesitation, though, leaning in to bite down lightly at the top of my breast. "Next time."

Another couple minutes of rushed fumbling in between kisses and gropes has the jersey on the floor and my pants and underwear following right after. I can't get the buckle on his belt undone fast enough, and after a few seconds of tugging at it, he gives up and does it all for me. He opens his pants and pushes both them and his boxers down, and then he's naked on top of me, all long, hard, beautiful man.

And I still don't know how I got so lucky.

I thread my fingers through his hair, pulling him down on top of me. And I'm not afraid. I'm not afraid at all.

"We're going to get married."

I don't think his smile could get any wider. "Hell yes, we are."

For a long second, we just stare at each other, grinning like idiots. Engaged idiots.

God, that sounds so weird. So weird and so good.

Because he's right. It doesn't matter what anyone else thinks. This is it. Him and me. Me and him.

Forever.

He cups my face with his palm. "I love you."

"I love you, too."

Letting go of my cheek, he sneaks a hand between our bodies, testing me and rubbing gently.

When I tell him I'm ready, I mean it on so many levels.

His forehead is just a breath away from mine, his lips parted, eyes staring into mine as he lines himself up and pushes so slowly, so maddeningly slowly forward. Once he's fully seated within me, we both breathe out. There are those sweet little crinkle lines between his brow, the look of concentration he always gets when he's overwhelmed.

"You feel so good, baby."

I tell him with my hands and mouth that it's the same for me. Together, we push and pull, love and touch.

When it looks like it's all becoming too much for him, he closes his eyes. I can almost see the RBI stats running like a ticker through his brain.

"Don't." I touch his cheek, gazing upward as he looks back down at me, confusion and pleasure mixing. "Don't hold back."

His elbows buckle before he straightens them again, hovering over me and thrusting gently. It's still so restrained, though.

"Bella, I can't. I'll—"

"I want you to."

His eyes roll back in his head and his jaw tenses, rough, animalistic noises falling out of him as he starts to move again. In a voice that's low and tight, he grunts, "Touch yourself. Baby, please."

I slide my fingertips around my nipple, and he groans.

"Touch your pussy for me."

At his tone, I stop messing around, slip my hand between us and slide my fingers in a 'V' around his cock as he pushes in and out of me. Coated in my wetness, I bring my fingertips back to my clit and move over it in the quick, tight motions I know will push me over quickly. Already, it's building.

"That's it, baby." His breath is shaky, his chest heaving as he takes us home. "Touch that pretty little pussy for me. I want to feel it come so hard around me."

The gathering warmth explodes in a sudden shock of heat.

He groans and presses his open mouth to mine. "Oh, God, you're—"

And then I do. I shatter, screaming his name and pulsing around him, and it's so much better. It's so right when he's inside me, buried deep and coming and—

"Fuck, Bella, fuck."

He jerks and spasms, and it's all heat and liquid.

It's better for him, too.

We ride out or climaxes in slow rocking motions and mumbled whispers of each other's names and 'I love you's and obscenities. As the last spasm takes him, he collapses down on me, just barely holding himself up so I'm not crushed beneath his weight. He pulls out a few breaths later, but he doesn't get up to clean the mess away.

Instead, he lingers, framing my head with his forearms, his nose brushing mine. And he's still smiling.

"We're going to have so much fun, Bella. You just wait and see."

And I know he's right. Of course, I do.

I don't know why I doubted it before.

Him and me? We're a home run.