Notes: Huge thanks to my pre-readers: Deb Arrington, Mandi Niko, and Jules Twifanawesomesox; my beta: Alice's White Rabbit; and my Validation beta: Kherisma.

I hope I didn't scare you with my last note. This story was never in any danger of not being continued. I'd never do that to you guys. I just hit a point where I didn't know how to continue it. But thanks to Alice's White Rabbit we're good to go!

Here is a rather big chapter for you all. At the end of the last chapter I asked if you thought it was going to be a trick or a treat, something naughty or something nice. The truth is, it's a little bit of everything, and I don't think you'll be disappointed in that at all!


Chapter 15: The Front Porch

The following two weeks flew by and I found it getting a little easier to compartmentalize my feelings for Edward when I was at work. I wasn't sure it would ever be easy, but it became tolerable. Of course, I still felt a pull to touch him, but it wasn't quite as torturous to greet him politely. His cool demeanor softened to one of friendly but polite indifference. It was for the best, his cold treatment of me might have drawn as much attention to us as his warmth. Instead, we found a balance, and it grew easier every day.

It seemed hard to believe, but before I knew it, it was Halloween. Earlier that week, Edward had asked me if I wanted to help him hand out candy since it fell on a Saturday night.

"You don't have plans with Maggie?"

"No. She's at Heidi's, and she and some friends are going trick-or-treating. I know she seems a little old for it, but they all love dressing up. Most of the candy gets donated to the Peds floor at the hospital anyway."

I laughed, a little surprised. In my mind, I'd built Maggie up to be incredibly selfish. Her doing something so altruistic seemed surprising. Then again, she was Edward's daughter and I knew how hard he'd worked to try to make sure she wasn't spoiled. The two encounters I'd had so far with her hadn't been pleasant, but I knew I needed to cut her some slack. Divorce wasn't easy, and it had to be difficult seeing your parents dating new people.

"She's much nicer than I am," I admitted. "My friends and I went trick-or-treating all through high school, and we kept all of it."

Edward chuckled. "It was something we started when she was young. Our reasons for doing it were different; Heidi was concerned about her eating that much candy, and I was trying to teach her about charity. That gesture at least seems to have stuck, though. The girls tell everyone what they're doing and people are often very generous."

"That sounds like fun."

I was currently in Edward's bathroom getting ready. I was concerned about going overboard with a costume, but I wanted something fun to wear. I'd scoured thrift stores before finally coming across a gorgeous white lace dress. It looked like it was from the 1960s; short, with long sleeves and a shallow scooped neckline. It was in beautiful shape and careful hand-washing made it ready to wear. A sexy, nude lace bra and matching thong, along with white thigh-highs and stiletto heels were for Edward to enjoy later.

The crowning touch, so to speak, was a delicate gold halo and a pair of fluffy white angel wings. I styled my hair in large, tousled waves and went for heavy dark eyeliner and shimmery nude lips.

Edward was sitting on the edge of the bed when I walked out of the bathroom. He rose to his feet, his eyes never leaving me. "Christ, you look …" he shook his head as his voice trailed off. "There are no words."

"You like?" I spun in a slow circle, and he swallowed audibly.

"Very much."

I frowned at him playfully. "And where is your costume?"

He gestured to the suit and tie he was wearing. "Right here. Can't you tell I'm a very important person?"

I snorted. "You are so full of it."

"I could be a Vice President of a hospital."

I shook my head and laughed. "Come on. That's the best you can do? You're just a man in a suit." I stepped closer, running my hands over his shoulders. "A very hot man in a suit though."

"Yeah?" His green eyes twinkled down at me.

"Mmmhmm. You know how much seeing you in a suit turns me on."

"Why do you think I wore it?" He gave me a crooked grin. "I have to confess, I had no idea what you would be wearing. I'm not sure any of the things I imagined came anywhere close to what you went with."

He claimed my mouth with a deep, searing kiss but the moment was interrupted by the insistent chime of the doorbell. He tore his lips away from mine with a regretful groan. "I forgot about trick-or-treaters. I'm sorry, Bella. If we don't go down now, they'll never stop ringing the bell."

I pouted and gripped his lapel more tightly. "But I want you so much."

"Later," he promised. "I don't want any interruptions. Tonight I'll make it up to you, I promise."

I reluctantly agreed when the bell rang again. I let him go with one last deep kiss. I took a few minutes to make sure that Edward's passionate kisses hadn't mussed my hair and makeup too much.

When I went downstairs, Edward was outside on the porch. He had unearthed some candles and lanterns from somewhere, and lit them. They gave a warm glow to everything and I settled down in a chair next to Edward, mindful of the wings I was wearing. It wasn't exactly warm out, but it wasn't horribly cold either and the crisp fall air felt good. It wasn't long before the trick-or-treaters began to arrive and we spent the next hour handing out candy and admiring the costumes. Edward seemed to genuinely enjoy himself, and I did, too. He was good with kids; drawing out the shy ones and making each of them feel like their costume was the most unique one he had ever seen. It was a sweet, light-hearted side of him that I'd never seen before.

We were both surprised by the car that pulled into the driveway, and the four giggling teenage girls who spilled out of it. "What is she doing here?" Edward asked, sounding puzzled and a little anxious. We both stood up, and my stomach twisted with nerves at the sight of Edward's daughter. I really wanted this encounter with her to go better than the one prior.

"Hey, Dad!" Maggie called out, jogging up the driveway ahead of her friends. She was dressed as a classic vampire, complete with long, flowing black dress, chalk-white makeup, fangs, and fake blood. It was impossible to disguise her copper curls, though, even in the dim light. Her steps slowed as she caught sight of me. A pouty, petulant look crossed her face as she walked over to us.

"You look great. I like the costume," Edward said and held out an arm to her, giving her a one-armed hug.

"Thanks." I could hear the irritation in her voice as she glanced over at me. The other three girls stopped halfway down the sidewalk; one dressed as a ladybug, another as a gypsy, and a third in a princess costume.

"Did you forget something?" Edward asked.

"No, I just came by to say hi and show you my costume. I didn't know she was going to be here." She shot me a hateful look and I tried not to wince.

His voice was firm. "Maggie, I expect you to be civil. Bella was here for the weekend and she's helping me hand out candy. Will you at least acknowledge her politely?"

"Hi, Maggie. It's nice to see you again." I tried to make my voice as warm as possible, but it was clear she had no interest in talking to me.

"Hi," she said petulantly before turning back to him.

Edward frowned, but didn't comment. "Are you girls having fun?"

Her face lit up for a moment. "Oh, my gosh, so much fun. We got so much candy to take to the hospital tomorrow."

Edward waved at the three girls still waiting on the sidewalk. "Your costumes look good, girls!"

They giggled and preened and I had the overwhelming urge to find the nearest flat surface and bang my head against it. Great. Maggie's sixteen-year-old friends had a crush on Edward. Well, that wasn't awkward at all. It wasn't particularly surprising, but it made me uncomfortable. Judging from the expression on Maggie's face, it was one thing we had in common.

"Ugh." She rolled her eyes at them. "Anyway, we're headed back to Lauren's house. Jess and Amy and I are all spending the night. Mom said it was okay."

Edward raised an eyebrow. "Are her parents home?"

"Yes, Dad."

"Boys coming over?"

"No, I swear. Just us girls. The same sleepover we've done for years. And we'll drop off the candy at the hospital tomorrow."

"Okay. Have fun."

She squealed and hugged him, but when her eyes passed over me, they narrowed. Edward didn't see it, and I tried to brush it off. He hugged her back and kissed the top of her head. "Let me go get Jess some money for gas for tonight since she's the one driving."

"You're awesome," she gushed. He disappeared inside to get his wallet and her hateful glare returned.

"I don't know what you're still doing here, but if you're after his money, you need to give up," she said coldly.

"I'm not after his money, I promise," I reassured her.

"You better not be. I'll make you regret it." It was a little hard to take her threat seriously, pissed off expression aside, she was dressed in a vampire costume, and lisping a little from the fangs.

I looked her in the eye and calmly spoke. "I know this is uncomfortable for you, it is for me, too. But I care about your dad. I'm not going anywhere, and I'd really like it if we could get to know each other. It would make him happy."

She scoffed and rolled her eyes. "You aren't going to be around long enough for it to matter. Jess's dad totally fucked some college chick after his divorce, too. What do you think's going to happen? You're going to be my stepmother? Right. Give up now. I'm way more important to him than you are, and he'd never pick you over me."

"Maggie, I don't want him to pick me over you. He's your father, of course you come first. But we're happy together and I think he'd really like it if we were at least civil to each other."

"You look like a total tramp." Her eyes raked across my body scornfully. "I'm sure my mother will love to hear about this."

I winced, and her eyes gleamed, knowing she'd found something that had hit a nerve. I cursed myself for letting her discover that weakness. She opened her mouth to speak but Edward walked out the door before she could.

"Sorry, Maggie. The phone rang while I was upstairs. Here's a twenty for Jess, and another for you, if you guys want to order pizza or something tonight. I'll see you tomorrow, okay?"

"Thanks, Dad. You're totally awesome!" She grinned at him and threw her arms around him, kissing his cheek before running off to join her friends.

Jesus, the girl could go from sweet as sugar to hateful and back again in no time at all, I thought. Her mood swings were giving me whiplash.

"Night, Mags. Have fun, and be careful," Edward called out to her.

"I will," she replied, waving goodbye.

I didn't even bother to say anything to her. Chances are she would have just ignored me anyway. After Maggie and her friends had piled into the car and pulled away, Edward sat and tugged me down onto his lap sideways. "Once again, I have to apologize for an unscheduled appearance by Maggie. Was it too awkward out here when I left?"

"Uh, it wasn't good," I admitted. "I'm not trying to rat her out or anything, but she wasn't exactly polite to me."

"Shit, I was afraid of that. I'm sorry."

"It's okay," I reassured him.

"What did she say?"

I briefly told him and he raked a hand through his hair. "Jesus, okay, that's completely uncalled for."

"I can handle it."

"I know you can, but you shouldn't have to. It isn't fair to you, and that's not the type of person I want to see my daughter grow up to be. Treating anyone like that just isn't acceptable to me."

"I understand." I touched his cheek softly. "But we made a little progress, I guess. At least I had on underwear this time."

His deep laugh made me chuckle, too, and he stretched up to kiss me. "Thank you, Bella."

"We'll figure it out," I reassured him.

"You're wonderful." He lifted my hand to his lips and brushed them across the palm. "I don't know how I lived my life for so long without you."

~BtBR~

Apart from a few sporadic trick-or-treaters that trickled in after Maggie left, the night seemed to wind down after that. We were talking quietly when a thought occurred to me. "You said you got a phone call earlier. Was it anything important?"

He shook his head. "No, just one of my friends calling to see if I wanted to come over for drinks. It's a tradition every year, the adults get together for cocktails and appetizers while the kids gorge themselves on candy."

"Sounds like fun."

"I haven't gone in a few years."

I ventured a guess. "Since your separation from Heidi?"

"Exactly. I didn't really feel like socializing with other happy couples."

"I could head home, if you'd like to go," I offered, disappointed by the thought of not spending the rest of the night with him, but completely understanding that he might want some time with friends.

He threaded our fingers together. "No, I want to spend tonight with you."

I frowned. "Are you sure? I don't like feeling that I'm keeping you from spending time with your friends."

Edward shook his head. "Truthfully, other than the hosts, Kate and Garrett, I don't particularly enjoy socializing with most of them."

"You're sure?"

"I am." He leaned closer to me. "Now, I believe I promised to make up for the earlier interruption. It looks like trick-or-treating has ended. What do you say we go upstairs and I show you just how much I appreciate that incredible outfit you're wearing?"

I glanced around. The street was dark and quiet and some of the houses had already turned off their lights. "I think I'd like that."

We stood up and I helped Edward blow out the candles and lanterns. I put a little extra sway in my walk as we headed up the stairs to his bedroom. I heard him groan and I felt fingertips skim the back of my thigh. After the door was shut and locked behind us, I gently pushed him down onto the foot of the bed.

"So. I want to know, do you want me to keep any of the costume on?"

His eyes raked over me and he shook his head in amazement, but didn't answer my question. "You are just too beautiful to be with an old man like me."

His tone was joking, but I frowned, the light-hearted mood immediately disappearing. "You know I hate it when you say things like that."

A remorseful look crossed his face. "I know. I'm sorry." He stood and cupped my cheek in his hand, our eyes meeting.

"I just want you to believe me. You know I find you very attractive, but I care about you for who you are as a person. I don't care about the age difference, Edward. I don't. I'd feel the same way if you were twenty or fifty. But your experiences have made you who are. You make me happy."

His expression was hopeful, but a little sad. "You make me happy, too. Sometimes, I just worry that you're going to realize that there are so many men who would kill to be with a woman like you, and they come without all of the baggage I do. I worry that I won't be enough for you."

"They aren't you," I said simply. "I love you, Edward. Only you."

Shock crossed his face first, then awe, and finally pure, undiluted happiness. "I love you, too. So much … I … Christ, Bella, I love you. I've been afraid to say something, afraid I was moving too fast for you."

Tears spilled down my cheeks as he pulled me in for a kiss. His mouth ravaged my own, needy and hungry. The kiss was full of desperation and pure, heady passion. Heat flared in me, spreading across my body, making me ache with want for him.

"No, it's not too soon," I whispered against his lips. "Now do you believe me when I tell you that I don't want anyone else? That your age doesn't matter? That whatever your baggage, I want nothing more than to be with you?"

"Yes."

Relieved, I kissed him again, opening my mouth to let his tongue slip inside, feeling the way his hands shook as he gripped me tightly. After another deep, passionate kiss he pulled back, trailing his lips down my neck. His hands worked the wings off of me, letting them fall to the ground. His fingers trailed down my spine, gently lowering the zipper on my dress. He helped me out of it before pulling back. I saw his eyes travel over me appreciatively. His fingers played with the edges of the stockings I wore.

"I really like these," he said huskily. "It's a good thing I didn't know you had them on earlier, or I wouldn't have left the bedroom tonight."

"I wore them for you," I admitted and he groaned. His mouth moved to my neck as my fingers threaded through his hair.

"Whatever I did to deserve you … I'm grateful."

I smiled, loving that he was no longer doubting that he did deserve me.

"What about the fact that you're a good person and a wonderful father?" I asked softly. "That you sacrificed everything for Maggie. Maybe it's a reward for the happiness you were denied then."

His lips moved to my collarbone and sucked lightly. I gasped and my grip on his hair tightened.

"That begs the question though," I continued, after a moment. "What did I do to deserve you?"

He chuckled softly. "Hmm. Well, you're sweet, smart, and caring. You were patient with me while I worked through my issues. You are brave enough to face everything we have to deal with at work."

"Thank you. I love that you see me that way." I let my head fall back as his lips continued their path across the top of my chest. "I'd say we're just about perfect for each other then."

Edward drew me close, his lips meeting mine in a slow kiss. They were soft as they sought mine, again and again. The kisses were light and sweet, with the barest hint of gliding tongue.

"I love you," he murmured against my mouth.

He shrugged out of his suit jacket and loosened his tie. I slipped the shirt from his body and helped him lift the undershirt off. My hands worked his belt loose and he removed it along with his pants. When he was completely bare, I kicked my heels off and he lay me down on the bed as he slowly unrolled the stockings down my legs, my breath catching in my throat at the feel of his fingertips skimming across my skin.

We shifted so my body was stretched out over Edward's. We kissed for a long time; deep, slow kisses, pouring every bit of emotion we had into them. I let everything else get swept away as I sank into the sweetness of loving this man. It felt like I had waited so long to tell him, although it had really only been a few weeks.

"I love you. I'm in love with you," he murmured as his mouth brushed the shell of my ear. "Do you know how long I've waited to say that to someone and fully mean it?"

All I could do was nod and slide my fingers through his hair while I turned my head to capture his lips with mine again. His hands curled around my hips and pulled me tighter to him. I played with his hair as my head tilted, deepening the kiss, my tongue stroking his in an eager dance.

With a suddenness that surprised me, he gripped me tightly, crushing me against him so hard I let out a gasping breath. "I want to make love to you," he whispered.

I sat up and his hands immediately moved to the middle of my back, flicking the bra clasp open. His hands smoothed over my shoulders, brushing the straps aside and removing it from my body. He dropped it on the bed beside us and his thumbs played over my nipples, making them tighten to stiff peaks. A tingle shot through me and settled low in my belly.

"Beautiful," he crooned. "Everything about you."

I flushed with pleasure at his words. The tension built, our breaths becoming labored as our gazes locked. His hands moved lower and the small bit of lace covering my lower body was tossed aside.

Our bodies met again, his skin smooth and hot against mine, as he settled over me. His slow exploration from earlier continued; his fingertips, lips and tongue tracing maddening paths over my skin. He sucked lightly at the skin above my left breast—right over my heart—causing little pinpricks of pleasure to shoot through me at the sensation. When the skin had darkened, he drew back with a smile before kissing the spot gently.

"Mine," he whispered. I gently pushed at him until he rolled over onto his back. When my lips moved to the corresponding spot on his chest, he grinned knowing I was marking what was mine. He looked happy and carefree, and his hands tangled in my hair as I sucked at his skin. When I was done, I slid up his body, capturing his mouth in a heated kiss. If we were limited in showing off our relationship in public, in private at least we could indulge our small possessive moments.

He rolled me onto my back and worshiped my breasts and belly, along with my arms and legs. The tops of my shoulders, the skin on the side of my hip; they all received the same appreciative scrutiny. I watched as he slipped between my thighs, lifting them over his shoulders as his hands slid under me and brought me to his mouth.

I waited with baited breath as his head slowly lowered and his mouth began a slow exploration of my body. I kept my eyes locked on his for as long as I could, reveling in both the sensations his lips and tongue caused and the way he was looking at me. The love in his eyes and the pure, unadulterated happiness there were overwhelming. I reached down and his fingers threaded through mine, the grip firm and reassuring. I closed my eyes, my head falling back against the pillow as the urgent need built within me. When I let go, it was with a soft, gasping cry that reverberated through my chest.

His tongue slowly lapped at me, bringing me down from the intense climax and it wasn't until I stopped shaking that he let go of my hand and slid up my body. Still parted, he settled between my thighs, his torso pressed to mine. His elbows rested on the bed and he cradled my face in his hands as he leaned in. I whispered my love to him, and with a subtle shift of our hips he was sheathed within me. I felt complete, two pieces of a puzzle locking together.

Tears spilled from my eyes, the emotional intimacy staggering me. "I didn't know it could feel like this," I whispered.

"I didn't either," he said, wiping away my tears. He began to move, unhurriedly, his eyes never leaving mine. They were so green, so full of adoration. I swallowed hard and wrapped my arms around his back, holding him tighter.

I felt connected to Edward in every part of me; from the top of my head to the tips of my toes. His movements were slow; this was about far more than a desire for release. It was an affirmation of our deepening feelings for each other, and the promise that we were in this together.

He moved slowly within in. My heart felt full, emotion thickening my voice as I whispered his name. It seemed like we could go on like that for hours; the slow glide of our bodies so gentle and easy. My eyes closed as he pressed his forehead against mine. I shifted slightly and he sank deeper, brushing a spot that made me moan.

"I've never made love before," he whispered. "Everything I've ever felt pales in comparison to this."

I took a deep, shuddering breath, overwhelmed by emotion. "I feel the same way."

We were so close that our whispered conversation brushed our lips together as we spoke. I wound my legs more tightly around him and pulled him against me, needing to feel him as close as possible. We kissed as we rocked together; the heady push and pull of our bodies making my skin flush.

I tensed under Edward as the steady movement and overwhelming emotion finally built into a crescendo. I came, not with a staggering climax that overwhelmed everything, but something quieter and deeper. My body clenched around him in small rhythmic pulses that made his breath catch in his throat. He buried his face in my neck as he came, whispering my name over and over against my skin.

A long while later, he rolled us to our sides, cupping my cheek in his hand and brushing his lips against mine. Still joined together, we kissed for a long time.

I moved one hand to touch his face, to trace the faint lines at the corners of his eyes, to brush the mingled copper and silver of his hair. This man was mine. Older, yes, but there were no doubts that he was everything I could ever need.

Someone closer to my age and without the baggage might have been easier, but he wouldn't have been Edward.

There wasn't a shred of doubt in me that I belonged with Edward Cullen, body, heart, and soul.


Notes: Whew! Another encounter with Maggie, and even bigger, they said 'I love you'.

Were you disappointed that Bella said it first? Or did you think it fit the characters? I've always thought it made the most sense for them, but I'm curious to hear your thoughts on that, and the rest of the chapter.

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