After an extended weekend with Edward, I returned home that Wednesday to find my brother sitting on the front steps of his house. His short hair and the fabric of his shirt were damp from the lightly drizzling rain, and his eyes rose to look at me when I cut the engine.

"Emmett, what are you doing out here? It's freezing," I said as I stepped out, walking toward him quickly.

"Waiting for you, sis. You didn't come back and we haven't heard from you in more than five days," he answered with a worried tone, looking over to me as I sat down beside him.

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to worry you or Dad. I just had something to do," I mumbled tensely, keeping my eyes lowered to the ground. "Or someone."

Emmett sighed heavily at my tone, resting his elbows on his knees, and I instantly felt bad for snapping at him. "I'm sorry, Bella. I didn't mean what I said."

"Yes, you did, and you were right. I had a lot of figuring out to do," I replied, sliding my arm through his and leaning my head on his shoulder. I loved my brother so much, the thought of what I was about to tell him tore at my heart painfully, and from the deep breath I heard him take, it seemed as if he felt it, too. "I'm moving to California, Emmett."

He brought one of his massive hands to cover mine on his arm and pressed a kiss to the top of my head, and I felt him nod. "I knew that was coming someday, whether it was now or later. Just wish you didn't have to."

"Me, too. But you know I do, Em," I said with a sniffle.

"Yeah, I know. But is it because you love each other, or is it still all about the sex right now?" Emmett asked and I lifted my head to look at him. He sighed, raising his hand to the base of my neck and brushing his fingers over my skin. My eyes widened as I brought my own hand to cover the mark there I'd only just noticed the morning before, from Edward. "Bella, I know you're a grown woman, but you're still my baby sister. Nothing is ever going to change that. And I want you to be happy. If he can do that and this is enough for you right now, I will really try to keep my nose out of your business. But if he hurts you, I swear to God, best friend or not—"

"He says he loves me, Emmett. He's not the one hurting me," I cut him off, shaking my head.

"You don't love him? Then why the hell are you going, Bells?"

"I don't know if I do, but I can't say for sure that I don't," I replied, tears finally spilling over my lids. "I miss him. There are times he can piss me off so bad, I don't know whether to hit him or strangle the life out of him. But I went down there, thinking I was pregnant. I bought a test right after I crossed into California, and I honestly thought he was going to flip the hell out on me. And he didn't. Emmett, he stayed right there with me and held my hand, the whole time."

"You're not, though, right? Pregnant?" Emmett asked with a furrowed brow and then his eyes widened abruptly. "Is that why you're going? He got you pregnant?"

"Down, Cujo. I'm not pregnant. I got my period the next morning," I replied, tugging his hand to get him to sit back down next to me after springing to his feet a moment before. "I've been on the pill for over a year now, it was just a scare. And that's not even the point. When he said he loved me, it was the strangest thing I've ever felt, and with his own weird way, I believe him. But how do you really know when you love someone? Especially when you have a past like we do. Part of me thinks that, despite everything, the moments I feel the happiest, I'm with him. And if it was just sex, I wouldn't go to California for it. I could get that from anyone I wanted up here, right? So it's possible."

Emmett nodded slowly, but also started getting that brotherly, 'this is too much information' look on his face. "Sure."

"But then there's the other part of me that knows there are times I could kill him. Like put my hands around his throat, kill him. Because he can be such a jackass. We fight and scream at each other worse than any married couple I've ever seen. We do and say things that cut one another so deep. That can't be healthy, can it?" I continued, gesturing my hands around wildly and then thrusting them into my hair. My brother's arm wrapped around me, gently massaging my shoulder and I sighed. "But it's like, even with all that, I still want him. I'm miserable without him. At first, yeah, it was the sex. I was addicted to the way he made me feel."

"Bells," Emmett muttered, clearing his throat uncomfortably but his arm tightened around my shoulders.

"Sorry, but you asked," I answered with a shrug.

"Point taken."

I returned my head to his shoulder and his cheek settled against it. "I know I want to go, to be with him, but it's so damn confusing. We even fought right before I left, just because I grabbed my overnight bag out of habit. He was so sure that it meant that I would change my mind and wasn't planning on coming back. And for about ten minutes after I hit the road, even though I'd left my bag behind, I thought about it. I was crying and so fucking angry, and I considered just saying the hell with it and stay here. But the more I thought about that, the more it hurt, and I started missing him again. I don't know what's wrong with me. Why can't I just pick a nice guy like Riley or someone like him, settle down and just have a bunch of babies? Why do I need him like this? And damn it, why is he turning me into such a girl?"

Emmett laughed, rubbing my arm briskly with his hand. "Oh, how awful. How dare he?"

I lightly thrust my fist into his stomach at his sarcastic remark, but then snuggled more into his embrace. "You know what I mean, Emmett. I'm not this gushing, hands flailing, weepy girl, and over a guy. A guy I shouldn't even want in any capacity. But I do. I want him so much, and I can't control it. How can I know that, but not how I feel about him? I don't know what to do, to be honest."

"You want my advice?" Emmett asked and I lifted my head from his shoulder to look at him, nodding as he brushed his thumb over my cheek to wipe away my tears. "I think you should go up those stairs and get out of this cold, pack up your apartment, and get your little ass back to California. Then you need to sit down with him and tell him you love him."

"What?! No, how can I do that to him? String him along, making him think that feelings are there that I can't be certain of, that might not be? And like he'd really believe me right now anyway. But I can't hurt him like that, Em. I just can't," I replied, shaking my head and lowering my eyes.

"Bella, just that fact alone of you being worried about hurting him speaks immeasurable volumes. If you didn't feel something for him, you wouldn't care so much," he said, running his hand over my hair.

"Of course, I would. I don't care who he is, I'm not a complete, unfeeling bitch," I snapped, appalled that my brother, of all people, would think that.

"Never said you were, sweetheart. But this is Edward," Emmett pointed out in a calm voice, gazing at me with a raised eyebrow. "And despite everything you've done and said to each other over the years, since we were kids, you miss him. You want to move over a thousand miles away from your family and friends to be with him, and I don't hear any real regret in your voice about it. He's 'turned you into a girl'. You're so worried about hurting him because he loves you, you're afraid to figure out exactly what you feel for him. And you're sitting here, talking to your brother about your sex/love life, because you know for a fact that your best friend would do everything in her power to talk you out of it, even though that's her brother. Like it or not, Bella, you're in love with him. The sooner you figure that out for yourself and tell him, the better off you'll both be."

I took a deep breath and let it out slowly, trying to process all that he'd just said. I couldn't argue with most of it, since I had to admit, it was true. To say that I loved Edward, however, would take a lot more thought. "Rose is going to be pissed."

Emmett hummed in agreement and nodded, hugging his arm around my shoulders. "Yeah, but only because she loves you. She loves Edward, too, just not the way he is with you. Rose has a way of taking things at face value, but she'll come around. And you and Edward aren't going to be the only ones in the doghouse, you know. I'll probably be on the couch for at least a week when she finds out that I knew about you two."

"So don't tell her. I don't want to cause problems between you and your wife. I feel bad for even asking as much as I have from you. I can take the heat," I replied, sliding my arm around his waist.

"It's not exactly something I can hide. I don't lie well with her, she reads me too well and that's one thing she would never take at face value," Emmett said with a laugh. "Don't worry about me, Bella. Rose and I will be just fine once she calms down. Just think about you and Edward, and consider what I've said. Now go, start packing before the over-protective brother in me rears its ugly head and I bolt and chain your door so you can never leave."

I chuckled as we stood and hugged him tightly, pressing my cheek to his chest. "I love you, Emmett."

"I love you, too, babygirl," he replied and I smiled at the name he hadn't called me since I was very little. His embrace squeezed around me until I could barely breathe, but I didn't complain; I knew it was just as hard for him to let me go as it was for me to leave him. "And don't worry about Dad, either. He'll come around, too."

I was even less sure about that than I was about Rosalie. My dad had been fiercely protective of me throughout my entire life, and I knew the idea of me and Edward together would not go over well with him at all.

"You're twenty-three years old, Bella. We have to let you make your own decisions in life sometime. And if it doesn't work out, you always have a home here and people who love you to come back to. But I really don't believe that will be necessary," Emmett said emotionally, gripping me to him even more before finally releasing his hold and nodding toward the garage.

x-x-x

I'd barely gotten my living room packed into three boxes when I heard the pounding of heavy footsteps and heated voices from the stairs outside my door. It swung open and I looked up from my seat on the floor, spotting Rosalie standing there with her arms crossed over her chest.

"I hope to God I did not just hear what I think my husband just said to me. Because otherwise, what the fuck are you thinking, Isabella Swan? California? Edward? There is no way in hell you are actually considering this," Rosalie shrieked, shrugging off Emmett's hands on her shoulders when he joined us, attempting to calm her down.

I cut off the packing tape on the box I was sealing, pressing my fingers along the top and standing up to face her. "Rose, I love you like a sister and I always have, even before you married my brother. And I'm sorry, but it's really none of your business what I decide to do with any aspect of my life, especially this."

"Like hell, it's not. You're my best friend, and my family," Rosalie retorted, stepping toward me.

"So is Edward, Rosalie. He's your brother. He's blood," I shot back, throwing my arms out in frustration.

"And I love him. I always will. But he's also the most colossal asshole I've ever met when it comes to you, and he treats you like shit! Have you forgotten about that? And I'm sorry, but you are just as toxic for him. Edward requires a lot of patience and understanding that you just don't have with him," Rose said, shaking her head with the beginnings of tears glazing her eyes.

"Why? Because he's dyslexic?" I asked and both hers and Emmett's eyes widened instantly. "He told me. And I'm not pampering or treating him any differently because of it. That is what he needs. Not to be closed off and sheltered from someone who actually gives a shit about him, because of something out of his control. That only serves to make him feel more isolated and abnormal, not to mention inadequate. He loves me and needs me, and I need him. And I care too much about him to turn my back on him because of something as insignificant as a learning disability."

"It's not insignificant, Bella," Rosalie ground out through clenched teeth, her shoulders rigid with defensiveness over her brother.

"I'm not downplaying the effect it has on him, or your family. But it doesn't change the way I feel about him, either," I answered, tugging at my hair sharply.

"You can't stand him, Bella. You could barely tolerate being in the same building with him for our wedding, and don't get me started on the little display at Alice and Jasper's," she said and I stared back at her intently. The argument he and I had on that dance floor that resulted in me storming out, had been in full view of everyone to see, but it wasn't as if it was the first time. Yet, it was different. Things had changed dramatically between us by then, and had been since the first moment I felt him inside me. Suddenly, her jaw dropped and her eyes flared, and I cringed at what I knew was brewing within her. "Oh my God, you had sex with him, didn't you? That's why you got so pissed off about him getting head from Angela Weber!"

"Not exactly," I hissed, my fists tightened at the memory of that night flashing in my mind. The first real hint of jealousy I'd ever felt with him. The fury I had burning inside me, that he'd come to me after her and I'd let him, even if I didn't know at the time. But more than that, wanting to prove that I could satisfy him more than any other woman, and loathing that I didn't feel disgusted by that thought. And I'd let him into my body, welcomed it, and hadn't been the same since.

"And that's where you've taken off to all those weekends. And this past one. With him," Rosalie continued, even when Emmett begged her to back off.

My eyes flashed to her and burned with emotion. "Yes, Rose, if you want all the gory details, I have. I've been having sex with your brother for the better part of the last year and a half. That's where I've gone. That's why he left. And I've never been more miserable in my entire life as I have since he's been gone. No one makes me feel the way he does, and I don't think there's anyone else that ever could. I won't lose him."

"Fine. But when this little coital bubble you've surrounded yourselves with pops and he breaks your heart, or you just can't handle him, neither of you better say you weren't forewarned," Rosalie snapped, but the anguish in her eyes buried beneath the anger was obvious. "I love you both, but this is a disaster waiting to happen."

Emmett sighed, gazing at me apologetically and turned to follow her as she began toward the door. "Rosie, wait—"

"Don't you 'Rosie' me, Emmett Swan. I know you knew about this because you're not down there killing him already!" Rosalie yelled from the stairs before my brother closed the door behind him.

One down, one to go.

x-x-x

Surprisingly, telling my father about my move to California didn't go nearly as bad as I'd expected. He was upset that I was leaving and obviously concerned about my desire to be there with Edward, but he didn't yell or carry on the way Rosalie had, not that I'd really thought he would. I could only remember a handful of times in my entire life when my father had actually raised his voice at me, and even then, it had mostly been when both my brother and I were in trouble together.

My dad gave me the same speech that Emmett had; "If it works out, then great. If not, you can always come back home." I appreciated the gesture and the sentiment behind it, but it also upset me a little to think that no one believed that Edward and I really had any kind of chance at all. I knew that even Emmett had his doubts, despite his "won't be necessary" conclusion. I was well aware that they had their reasons, ones that we'd given them ourselves, no less, but I really wanted to believe that I was making the right decision. Even one approval from any of them would have meant so much.

However, I was on my own to figure it all out.

After a tearful goodbye with my brother in the driveway and catching a glimpse of Rosalie in the window, I got into my car with what little I was taking with me stacked in the back seat. My mind was in a whirl as I reached the highway and set the cruise control, eliminating the chance of losing myself so much in my thoughts that my lead foot would take over.

The last thing I need at this point is a speeding ticket, I mused, but then I quickly returned to thinking about Edward and every reason I had for my course of action.

I wanted and needed him more than any man I'd ever met, that much I'd already discerned. The idea of waking up beside him every morning rather than a few days a month at most was a surprisingly exhilarating one. I would never have to lie in my bed in Forks, missing him so desperately and wondering if he missed me even nearly as much. I had faith that we had a chance of working out—hell, we hadn't killed each other in all those years—and wasn't that all that really mattered in the long run?

Even though I'd called Edward right before I left Emmett's, I was barely three-quarters of the way to his house when I stopped for gas and a break for coffee, and I wanted to talk to him again. I had my phone in my hand, dialing his number before I reached the cashier.

"You're not coming, are you? Son of a bitch," Edward said before I even had the chance to say hello, and I groaned in frustration. "Just go ahead and tell me, Bella."

"Actually, I was calling just because I wanted to hear your voice, you ass. But if all I'm coming there for is to be met with that kind of doubt right from the get-go, then maybe I should just turn around. Even if I am only a few hours away," I retorted, handing the money to the cashier for my purchases and walking away from the poor, wide-eyed blonde. "Is that what you want?"

Edward's heavy sigh echoed in my ear, and I felt a little guilty for barking at him like that. "No, I'm sorry. I'll be much better once you're here. I just got another hour-long earful from my sister. I was afraid she'd gotten to you."

"She seriously needs to back off. This is our life, not hers. And don't you have any faith in me at all?" I asked softly, heading out to my car and leaning against the still-warm hood. "I need to know that you believe in this, Edward. I can't do this alone."

"Please, just get here, Bella," Edward replied in a strained tone and then dropped an octave. "I miss you."

My heart ached at his agonized tone, pounding with desire to be there already. I wanted to feel him in my arms and ease his fears as well, kiss him, inhale the scent of his aftershave—fuck, I missed the hell out of him. "Me, too. I'm going to be there before you know it. I'll be back on the highway in a few minutes. You're holding my bag hostage, remember?"

"Very funny," he replied in an unamused tone, but I could hear the hint of a smile beneath the surface. "Okay, I'll see you when you get here. I love you."

The line went dead as I made to reply, but in all honesty, I still wasn't sure how. I settled into my car and started the engine, flipping the heater on to warm my chilled body. "Damn it, I thought California was supposed to be warm."

I was muttering only to myself, in an unsuccessful attempt to distract my brain. I'd given a lot of thought to what my brother had said to me that day on the front steps, but I was still working on wrapping my mind around it. After so many years of being certain I felt one way about Edward, it was difficult to come to terms with anything else. What Emmett told me made a lot of sense, and the more I thought on it, the less I found myself able to argue a single point.

Hours passed, and as I finally turned onto Edward's road, tears were once again streaming down my face and continued until I pulled into his driveway. I hadn't even taken the time to call him to let him know I was close and left everything behind in the car, rushing for his front door and throwing it open without knocking.

After nearly running into him in the front hall, I paused long enough to take a single breath before inhaling deeply again and blurting out, "I love you, too."

Edward stiffened at my words and took a step back, shaking his head. "Bella, don't do that."

"Do what?" I panted, brushing my tears from my cheeks.

"Don't tell me what you think I want to hear. That's not something you figure out in a few days," Edward replied, leaning his body and head back against the wall beside me and closing his eyes.

"Maybe not, if I didn't know it already somewhere deep down inside of me. I just couldn't see it," I said firmly as I stepped in front of him and rested my hands on his arms. "Why would I want to move all this way for a man that I didn't feel something more than a general 'caring' for? And nothing anyone up there said to me came close to deterring me or changing my mind in the slightest. All I could think about was getting back here to you. To feel your arms around me. And I've spent the last few hundred miles dying to get here and tell you that I loved you, too. Maybe I shouldn't have just blurted it to you like that, but I was ready to burst if I didn't get it out."

Edward's eyes opened and gazed somewhere behind me, over my head, his body and jaw so tense that it almost appeared painful. He seemed hesitant to touch or look at me, and I was regretting that I didn't take Emmett's advice and sit down with Edward to talk it out. "That's a pretty huge leap from not knowing exactly how you felt about me only days ago, Bella."

"I understand that. And I know it will take some time for you to believe me," I replied, lifting my hand to his cheek and stroking it gently. "But I'm not going anywhere. And I will keep telling and showing you until you can. You are the man I'll love and want forever, even when you piss me off."

Edward chuckled and took a deep breath, finally lowering his eyes to look at me. "I want to believe you, Bella. You have no idea how much."

"I have a general one," I whispered, stepping closer to him and sliding my arms slowly around his neck. I waited for resistance from him that never came, and instead, felt his embrace encircle my waist. "I wasn't exactly prepared for your little declaration, either. And it's still a little confusing. But I've never felt anything so certainly in my life. I love you."

Edward's fingers clawed at my back and I could see the internal battle raging inside him, struggling in every expression crossing his face. "I was prepared for anything but that. I'm not sure how to react right now, Bella. I'm really not."

"It's okay. We'll take it one step at a time, just like we planned," I replied as he rested his forehead on my shoulder, running my hand along the back of his neck. "The first step I need is to get some sleep. It was a very long drive. And tomorrow, we're hitting the books."

"Bella…"

I brushed my lips on his temple and shook my head. "There's no use in arguing with me on this, you know that. I will win."

x-x-x

Although he claimed he wasn't tired, Edward joined me in bed, yet didn't try anything. He just held me against him as I fell asleep and I relished in that feeling until I couldn't fight my exhaustion anymore.

When I opened my eyes the next morning and the first thing my gaze met was his bare chest beneath my cheek, I closed them again and snuggled into his side. Something as simple as his warm body next to me felt so damn good, almost better than sex…almost. I had never experienced anything like that with him or anyone else with just his arms around me, nothing sexual whatsoever, but I'd also never been in love before.

Love—another strange sensation. I'd always believed that it was nothing more than another emotion, not something you could physically feel. Yet, I did. In every look and touch, I could feel my love for the man in the bed beside me, and his for me. My heart pounded faster at the thought of him, my skin tingled beneath his hand on my shoulder, even through the fabric of my shirt separating us. And when I finally opened my eyes to look at him, there was more than physical desire and lust coursing through me. I found pleasure in simply gazing at his profile, watching him sleep without the lines creasing his forehead or the corners of his mouth. He looked peaceful and relaxed, and in that, I found happiness.

I really was turning into such a girl, but I no longer cared. I was thoroughly enjoying the newness of the realization that I was completely and utterly in love with this man.

I brought my lips to his jaw, brushing a soft kiss there and chuckling as his scruff prickled against my skin. His face contorted but he didn't wake, only turned his head away and let out a slow breath. "Edward, it's time to wake up, baby."

"No," he grumbled, gliding his hand down my arm to settle on my side and gripping it gently. "Too early."

I slid my leg between his and shifted half my body on top of him, turning his face with my fingers and lowering my lips to his. "It's almost ten, according to that clock over there."

"And I haven't slept in three days," he replied groggily, still with his eyes closed. I traced my fingers through his hair and noticed the dark circles still present around them, even after all the hours of sleep. Concern rushed through me, as well as frustration with myself for my lack of observance the night before. Surely they would have been darker then, and I hadn't even noticed. "I missed you, Bella. I don't sleep well when you're not here."

I rested my forehead on his chest, bringing my hand to his shoulder with a sigh. "I missed you, too. And we don't have to worry about that anymore. Go ahead and get some sleep. I'll be right downstairs, I need to eat something."

"Mm-mm, no," Edward hummed, rolling us over and settling his head on my chest instead. "Just a few more minutes. I need you right here with me. Please."

"I'll be here when you wake up. I can't stay away from you for long, either," I replied, kissing the top of his head and his grip tightened around my waist. My stomach growled just then and he sighed, rolling onto his back again. "I can't control when I get hungry."

"I know. I'm just really not ready for you not to be next to me, yet," Edward said in a tense tone, his jaw locked. "I'm a selfish prick, remember?"

"And by some strange twist of fate, I love that about you," I murmured, feeling him tense beside me, and I couldn't stop the huff that escaped me. "You're going to have to get used to hearing that, because I'm not going to stop saying it. You wanted me to figure out how I felt about you, and I have. It was a fucking long drive, and all I did was think about this. The longer it takes for you to accept that, the longer it will be before we even have a chance at being happy together. And I don't know about you, but I was really happy about two minutes ago, and now I'm pissed."

The fact that he didn't trust me enough to believe in what I was feeling combined with everyone's perception of it being a disaster in the making only added to my anger and frazzled nerves.

I shoved the blankets off me and swung my legs out of bed, still grumbling under my breath when I heard him speak again. "And you accepted it right away, didn't you? You couldn't even look me in the eye when I told you I loved you before you left, and it had been three days. What happened to one step at a time or all the understanding from last night?"

I felt the bed shift behind me as he sat up abruptly as well, facing the other wall. I gripped the edge of the mattress with my fingers, tension building in the room around us so quickly, it felt as if it would crush us at any second. "Some things will never change between us, will they? We're always going to fight over the stupidest things."

"Probably. But I don't know that I want them to. Not everything, anyway," Edward replied, falling back onto the mattress and reaching above his head for my arm. I glanced over my shoulder to him, his long body stretched across the bed with his legs still hanging off the edge. With a gentle tug, he pulled me back and I lowered myself down, resting my head beside his in the center of the bed. "Your temper and ferocity is one of the things about you that I fell in love with. All that passion, it makes you even more beautiful, especially when it's directed at me. It's also insanely arousing."

I groaned and rolled my eyes, attempting to move away, but he caught my face with his hand and gently brought it back. I glanced to him and he finally returned my gaze, and I shifted closer to rest my temple on his shoulder. "You're an asshole."

Edward nodded and gave me a small smile, and I felt his fingers running through my hair. "Yes, I am. I wouldn't be me if I wasn't one on occasion."

"I can't really argue with that," I replied and laughed as his lips gently met mine. How quickly moods could switch between us; from tender and adorable, to raging pissed at one another, to teasing yet peaceful serenity. Yet, for us, it was completely normal.

"I do love you, though. And I'm really trying to not be afraid of that, or you telling me in return," Edward replied with all humor absent from his voice. "If I lost you, I don't know how I'd handle it. And that thought is terrifying."

I brought my hand to his hair, twirling the tips of his strands between my fingers. I knew Edward did not love freely, but the fear still present in his eyes was haunting. The only people in his life he ever professed to care for to that deep of an extent was his family, and in one way or another, he'd lost them all. His parents had been gone for nearly eight years, and although I knew he loved Rosalie, their relationship was strained and they barely spoke most of the time. She was no longer just his sister, as she'd been forced to be his parent as well, and it created a divide of sorts between them. Even at our worst times, I was still the closest person to him, and that scared him. "I'm sorry, Edward. I shouldn't have snapped that way. But you're not going to lose me. I love you, and I'm a selfish bitch as well. I need you too much to let you go ever again."

Edward closed his eyes and pressed his lips to mine, and then sighed. "This is a really awkward position."

I laughed and rolled over, crawling across the bed and turning to straddle his hips. "Is this better?"

"Much," he replied, running his hands along my bare thighs and underneath my nightshirt. "We didn't even say a proper good morning."

My smile grew with his words and I leaned down to kiss him again. "Good morning."

"Good morning, baby," Edward murmured as his arms wrapped around me, holding me close to him. "Even fighting with you is an amazing start to my day. Because you're here with me to do it."

I moaned as his morning erection pressed against me, my fingers gripping his hair on either side of his head and our breaths increased in pace. "Do you still keep those granola bars downstairs?"

Edward froze and opened his eyes to look at me, his brow furrowing in confusion. "Okay, that was definitely random. Yes, why?"

"Because I really am hungry, and a fraction of that is for actual food. Don't move," I panted, rolling my hips over him one more time and kissing him firmly, and then quickly rose from the bed.

"Don't think I could if I wanted to," Edward answered with a groan and I caught the movement of his hand in the corner of my eye on my way out of the room, adjusting himself.

I nearly tripped down the stairs in my haste toward the kitchen, grabbing the granola bar out of the cabinet and tearing into it. By the time I reached the bedroom again, I was popping the last bite into my mouth and tossing the wrapper in the trash can. My eyes locked with his as I shed my underwear and climbed on top of him, shoving his boxers down just enough to free him. I hadn't felt him inside me for days, and I needed him desperately.

Edward's breath stilled as I positioned myself over him and took him inside me, shuddering when he released it. "You have a newfound preference for the top?"

"Who said anything about 'newfound'? Although it's very, very hard to decide," I replied with a smirk, beginning to rise and descend over him in rapid succession. He somehow managed to sit up, stripping my shirt from my body and sealing his lips to mine. His breathy moan sent a shiver through me and I gripped my arms around his shoulders, allowing his strong hold to guide my movements. "Now shut up and fuck me."

When he tightened his hold on my waist, I was sure he would flip me over right then and was pleasantly surprised when he didn't. He continued to pull me down onto him, filling me deeper with each movement, and my head fell back with the intense rapture he was throwing me into. I began clenching around him and his lips pressed to my throat, his groan rumbling against my skin until he finally rose from the bed with me in his arms. He never left my body as he turned to lower us back down, and parting from me just as quickly.

"No. No, no. Please. I need you, please," I panted, writhing on the bed as he stood up completely. He'd always loved to tease me, to keep me dangling and make me beg for him, but his eyes only held a determination within them. He didn't say a word in reply, instead kicking free from his boxers around his ankles and taking hold of my thighs, pulling me to the edge of the bed sharply. His hands moved to my hips and lifted them up level with his, arching my back and thrusting back inside me. "Oh fuck!"

The wind was literally forced from me with that first motion, and my eyes rolled back as he repeatedly struck the spots I needed, inside and out. My hips jerked of their own accord, despite his firm grip on them, my entire body throbbing with my impending orgasm. I tried to speak but it only came out in incoherent grunts, until I literally screamed with my release, my eyes squeezed shut.

I locked my legs around his waist, grinding my hips against his thrusts to prolong the sensation for as long as I could. Before I could come down completely, I heard him growl and then pulse inside me, pinching my skin with his fingers.

Edward lowered to his knees once he set my hips back down onto the bed and turned to rest against the side, breathing heavily. "That's definitely one thing I hope never changes."

I chuckled and stared up at the ceiling, resting my foot on his shoulder as my entire body continued to tremble. "What? Sex in the morning?"

Edward laughed and raised his hand to my shin, turning his head kiss my ankle. "Great sex in general. The way I want you so much all the time. Watching your cute little ass running through the house in your underwear."

I pursed my lips and nudged him with my heel, and then looked down to him while his hand ran along my leg. Reddened marks in the shape of his fingertips on my hips caught my eye and I rubbed over them with my palm. "Good thing no one else sees me in my underwear. I'd hate to have to explain those."

Edward's eyes opened and turned to me, falling to where my hand was running over my skin. He crawled up onto the bed beside me and closed his lips over mine, sliding his hand under my ass. "What would be so difficult to explain? Shows that you're mine."

"You feel the need to stake claim now?" I challenged, pinching his lower lip with my teeth and causing him to groan.

"No. And if I really wanted to stake claim, I would do it in a place I wouldn't mind the whole world seeing, you already know that from experience. Not these hips, or these," he replied huskily as he kissed down my neck to my chest, nipping at the outside of my right breast. "My eyes only."

"Well, not if I wear the right bikini," I teased and then gasped when he bit my nipple. "Ow! Neanderthal!"

Edward grunted in response and I laughed, raising my hand to the back of his head and running my fingers through his hair. His head lowered to lay on my chest, closing his eyes. "I always want this, Bella. That no matter how pissed off we get at each other, we always come back to this."

"We will. You'll see," I whispered, wrapping my arms around him tightly.

x-x-x

Four months later, not much had changed, but I was not complaining about that at all. We still had our bad times and fights, yet we never threw in the towel because, as we'd both realized, we really did love each other that much. The thought of life without him was more inconceivable with each passing day, because very simply, he made me happy. And the good times began increasingly outnumbering the bad.

I was sitting on the couch reading one day with my legs draped over Edward's lap while he watched television when a knock came to the door. Glancing out the window behind us, I spotted a Fed-Ex truck out front and looked to Edward, who was obviously pretending not to notice.

"Were you expecting something?" I asked and he replied with a simple 'nope', never taking his eyes off the screen. "Don't worry about getting up or anything. I've got it."

"It's easier for you to get up than it is for me," he retorted to my sarcastic remark, gesturing to my knees with the remote before pointing it at the television again to change the channel.

I growled in frustration and rolled my eyes, swinging my legs off his lap and making my way to the front door. A tall man stood outside with a large envelope in his hand and he asked for Edward.

"Just sign for it, please. I'm indisposed," Edward answered when I called out to him, his voice coming from the bathroom.

"Jackass," I mumbled under my breath and the man visibly restrained himself from laughing while I signed and took the envelope when I'd finished. I closed the door and turned the object over in my hand, gasping when I saw the return address. "Edward, get out here. It's your test results."

Two weeks earlier, Edward had gone in again to take the GED exam with audio assistance, despite his efforts to convince me that he really didn't want to. He'd been grumpier since, but I tried to be understanding of the fact that he was nervous.

Edward returned to the living room and his face was ashen, his eyes glossed over as if he'd just been sick. "Just throw it away. I don't want to know."

I sighed and shook my head, making my way over and holding the envelope out to him. He backed away more the closer I got, staring at it like it was carrying a deadly pestilence. "Baby, it's going to be okay. Just open it. You'll always wonder if you don't."

"No. You," he replied, leaning his head against the wall he'd just backed into.

"It has your name on it, Edward. That's like a federal offense or something. We're not even married, so I can't," I said insistently, thrusting it toward him again.

"Bella, please. Just open it. It's not like I'm gonna turn you into the feds for something I am begging you to do," Edward pleaded in a tight voice, his fists balled on either side of him.

"All right. Calm down, I'll open it," I told him, running my free hand along his arm to soothe him. He didn't relax at all so I looked down and pulled the tab to remove the long strip sealing it closed, extracting the paper from inside.

I could feel his eyes on me as my face dropped while I read and his fist meeting the wall brought my tear-filled eyes back up. "I told you it was pointless, Bella. Now will you give up on this?"

I began to laugh and his forehead creased, a hurt expression crossing his features. "Yes, I will. Because you did it. You really did it."

Edward's eyes widened and he snatched the paper from my hand, hesitant to look at it but finally did, and froze. "I passed?"

"And not by the skin of your teeth, either. You did amazing," I replied, taking his face between my hands in my excitement, pressing my lips firmly to his. "I told you my study method would work."

Edward brought his hands to my waist and squeezed gently, pulling me against him. "I hope that it's a study method exclusively reserved for me."

I smirked and wrapped my arms around his neck, pressing my body to his. "Only for you, babe."

While I was helping him study in the beginning, I watched his frustration level steadily rising, and decided on a very cheesy, but apparently very effective approach. I came downstairs one night in three layers of clothing, earning a strange look from Edward. I told him that for every question he answered right, I would remove one article of clothing. Even though he wasn't getting many wrong to begin with, his frustration shifted from cursing himself to becoming determined to get the next one right—as he only got to have sex with me if I ended up completely naked by the end.

We didn't go a single night without it.

And when he returned from taking the test, he grabbed me the instant he walked in the door and pinned me to the wall. All he'd been able to envision in his mind with each question was me shedding a shirt, a sock, shorts, my bra—and it resulted in the best sex we'd had in a while, right there against that wall.

"I'm so proud of you, Edward. I knew you could do it," I murmured into his shoulder as he held me to him.

"Thank you, baby. I love you so much," he whispered against my neck and I replied softly in turn. His arms tightened around me, but the rest of his body remained relaxed and I smiled at the evidence of one of the most important things that had changed.

Edward no longer fought me when I would tell him that I loved him and it was worth the gradual process it had been to get to that point. He still didn't understand it, but he was actually allowing himself to believe it, and that's what mattered to me the most.

"Marry me, Bella," Edward mumbled into my skin and it was my turn to freeze, slowly pulling back to look at him with wide eyes. "Before you start arguing with me, just listen. It's going to happen someday anyhow. I love you and you love me. We are the only ones in the world who know exactly how to handle the other, and that means something. We can obviously live together without killing each other, not to mention the amazing sex we have. We're meant to be together."

"Edward…"

"You can't tell me we're not. If you're not perfect for me, there's not another woman in existence who is. You're my world, Bella. Everything to me. I want to spend my life with you, and only you. Marry me," Edward continued, his fingers gripping at my shirt in an attempt to hold me against him, as if I could even move. "Please, marry me, baby."

"Will you shut up long enough for me to say yes?" I spoke before he could even take another breath and his eyes held mine in silence. "I do love you, and you are my everything. My home is here with you, and that's exactly where I want it to be. So yes, I will marry you."

"I don't have a ring."

I lifted onto my toes and slid my arms more securely around his neck, gliding my body along his. "I don't need it."

"Our families might not be too thrilled with the idea," he whispered, resting his forehead on mine.

"Are you trying to talk me out of it now?" I asked and felt his arms squeeze around me, shaking his head abruptly. "Take me to Vegas tonight for all I care. This is our life, and what we want to do with it is all that really matters when it comes right down to it. And if we're happy, that is what's important. Our families approval or lack of it isn't going to change how we feel about each other if it hasn't before this."

"I love you," Edward replied with a smile, kissing me and then burying his face in my neck again, his hold firm around me. "Were you serious about Vegas?"

I chuckled and kissed his jaw, threading my fingers in his hand. "Very."

"Then let's do it," he mumbled and lifted his head to look at me. "I want to marry you, Bella Swan. Now."

There wasn't even a hint of teasing in his eyes or expression—he was deadly serious. I barely felt the strands of his hair between my fingers as they moved through it, completely stunned speechless. Nonetheless, a smile stretched across my lips as I nodded and my arms clung around him when his lips met mine heatedly with a moan.

Within hours, I was Mrs. Edward Cullen, despite our families' shock and hesitance when we called them while waiting our turn in line to be married. Rosalie sobbed when Edward told her what we were doing, but not in anger. She was still so afraid for the both of us, and we knew that might not ever change—that and she was three months pregnant. I knew I couldn't go through with it without at least telling my dad and brother, no matter how hard that part was. I knew my father envisioned walking me down the aisle someday, and Emmett just really wanted to be there to see his little sister get married. They calmed slightly when I promised them both a "real wedding" someday, but I knew what I wanted, and that was Edward.

I never regretted it, either. Six years later, we were still happily married, lying in our bed with a brand new baby girl wiggling between us. It had taken a long time for Edward to even consider the possibility of bringing a child into the world. But after a successful, though still difficult, effort to receive his college degree in graphic design, his confidence seemed to grow and some of his fears began to dwindle. Five months later, we found out that I was pregnant with our daughter, Kaitlyn.

Nothing has ever been easy sailing or simple between us, but anything worthwhile in life never is. And neither of us would have our lives, or each other, any other way.