Thank you for all the amazing birthday love today! Here's my birthday gift back to you!



Upon arriving at the Hilo International Airport at eleven o'clock this morning, Bella volunteers to grab our rental car while I wait for our luggage. Twenty minutes later, I still find her at the Hertz counter drumming her fingers. I've done my part, what's taking her so long?

"Ma'am, there's been a snafu with the reservation. As long as you don't mind, we've bumped up your category. It's only a two-door car rather than the four-door you'd requested, though."

Bella and I look at each other and exchange shrugs.

"I don't think it's a big deal. It's just the two of us and as long as it has trunk space, it's not like we're carting anything enormous around," Bella explains to the rental agent while I nod along with her logic.

"Okay, great. Well, if you'll just sign here," she points to the bottom of the document. "These are the keys and your car is parked right outside, space H-27."

Bella signs on the dotted line and happily takes the keys. Turning to me she says, "Who's driving, Cap'n?"

"Makes no difference to me. It's about two and a half hours to Kona. If one of us gets tired, we can switch off. It's been a long morning so far."

I follow Bella, doing my best not to ogle her tight ass in those shorts she's wearing, when she suddenly stops short and I have to swerve out of the way to avoid a Seven Dwarfs-type collision.

"What, what is it?" I ask, poking my head over her shoulder.

Bella points a steady finger at the fire engine red, 2012 convertible Ford Mustang V6 that's parked in our assigned spot. "Can this be right?" she squeaks.

"Uhh, I guess so. She said it was an upgrade. Holy fuck…press the remote; see if she beeps for us."

Bella hits the button and sure enough, the headlights flash on and off as the horn honks once.

We both burst out laughing. She runs to the driver's side while I wheel our luggage back toward the trunk.

"I'm totally driving this bad boy," she sings, sliding in and already making adjustments to the seat and mirrors.

After stowing the luggage, I move to the passenger side of the car where I hop over the door like some action star and land in the seat without managing to dislocate any body parts. Impressive.

"Smooth operator," Bella purrs, wiggling her eyebrows at me.

The long stretch of road we have to travel is called Hawaii Belt Road, presumably named for the fact that it travels the northern outer rim of the island. There are enormous, lush green mountains to our left, looking very Jurassic Park-ish again, as Bella notes; but, to our right is a measly guard rail, which is the only barrier between us and a perilous drop down the sheer, vertical cliffs to the ocean, hundreds of feet below.

Bella's hands, at ten and two, are white-knuckled for the entire ten minutes she's behind the wheel. When I volunteer to drive to put her out of her misery, she declares "uncle" and gladly allows me to take over. It's a gorgeous drive, but scary as hell.

By the time we approach Kona, we're much further inland. Bella asks to take over the driving responsibilities and I oblige.

For now, we're just driving on a thoroughfare with strip malls and chain restaurants. Looks like any other city in the US I've been to, except for the mountains that surround us and the palm trees lining the road.

"I'm starving again."

I snicker, shaking my head. "You mean your protein-packed fluffernutter didn't hold you over as well as you'd hoped, Rachel Ray?"

Bella clicks her tongue. "My fluffernutter was fantabulous, thank you very much…but it's almost two in the afternoon and I ate it at eight in the morning! How are you not hungry yet?"

"I could eat." I shrug, unfazed.

"Good. I vote for pizza. I say we find a Pizza Sluthut after we've done our shopping," she says, with a confident nod. "By the way, where are we going shopping?"

"Hang on; back up a sec. What in the name of God is a Pizza Sluthut?"

Bella contorts her face like I'm the mental case. "The sluthut…Pizza Hut, man!"

"Well, I sort of gathered you meant Pizza Hut; I just didn't understand the addition of the 'slut' in the title. Care to share?"

"Oh!" She smiles. "I waited tables through high school and then again during college at the Slut. The girls I worked with, we all called ourselves Pizza Sluts. It was dumb," she shrugs with a grin.

I smile at her recounting the silliness of her youth, "Pizza Sluts, that's a good one. Oh, and to answer your earlier question, the GPS says there's a Super Walmart coming up on our left side in less than a mile."

"Ugh, don't they have any other options? Walmart is the armpit of the universe."

I can't help the snort that escapes. This girl and her choice of words.

"Well, I tend to agree with you, but I stupidly left my flip-flops in the shower back on Kauai. You left your cell charger at the USO, to say nothing of the fact that we need to stock up on food. Where else can we get all of those items without wasting the day running around an island we know nothing about?"

"Dramatic much, sir?"

"No drama," I defend, "I just want us to get settled at the condo while we can still appreciate our surroundings in the daylight." I point, bringing her attention to the enormous blue and white sign we're approaching.

She grumbles adorably in concession. "Fine. Walmart it is. But you should know I'm not pleased about this."

Our heads are bobbing and weaving, trying to find an available parking spot in a lot large enough that it could belong in a convention center.

"So, what are you saying? I should treat you like a hostile shopper?" I laugh, and before I know it, she's joining me.

"Perhaps. Ooooh, I wonder if they have a handcuff section in housewares?" she coos with a mischievous glint in her eye.

I exhale grandly and groan, now that an image of Bella, naked in handcuffs no less, pops unbidden into my mind. Like I really need a semi as we walk the lot into the store?

"Troublemaker." I pinch her side. "Let's just get what we came for and leave the handcuff discussion for another day." We both chuckle and step out of the car. "Okay, let's go grab whatever personal items we need and then meet at the produce section in, say," I glance at my watch, "fifteen minutes?"

"Sounds good. See ya in a bit."


Bella and I manage to find everything we need, make the purchases and pull out of the parking lot all within an hour of arriving.

Less than a mile from the shopping center, Bella screams in delight when we spot a Pizza Hut. We decide that we can't stay to eat in their dining room, because our ice cream and the other dairy products we bought won't fare well in the hotbox our car morphs into about thirty seconds after we put the top up and kill the engine.

Once inside, we walk up to the carry-out counter and peruse the menu. "You were the one craving pizza, Clementine. See anything you like?"

"I certainly do."

I look over and see that her menu isn't even open. Instead, she's standing with her back holding up the counter, staring right at me, her eyes screaming lust and sex.

"Oh, I'm sorry…you meant food?" she asks as innocently as a serial killer and starts to turn around toward her menu.

My left brow rises and I lean into her hair. "Bella, if you don't quit staring at me like that, we're going to have a repeat performance of the hot tub scene right here in the foyer of Pizza Hut. Please don't get me arrested." I linger for a second, and trail my lips along her jaw, causing her to shudder.

"Yeah. Let's avoid you getting arrested, shall we? That would put a serious kink in our plans for this week," she mutters, frustrated but resigned.

I straighten back up and lean my elbows on the counter as one of the staff approaches.

"What can I get for you, folks?"

Bella pipes up. "What do you like on your pizza?"

"I'm not very picky. I just don't like onions or anchovies."

"Oooooh, a man after my own heart. I HATE onions, and anchovies skeeve me out big time." She winks at me and turns to the girl at the counter. "Quick question, are your mushrooms fresh or from a can?"

The waitress crinkles her face as she delivers the news. "They're from a can."

Bella squeaks and claps. "Oh, thank God. I hate fresh mushrooms on pizza; they taste like dirt. Fresh mushrooms are only meant for salads and dips," she says as if giving a seminar on the vegetable's pros and cons. "Okay, so we want a large Meat Lover's, with mushrooms and extra sauce, on thin crust. And two salad bars, please." She turns back to me. "You want anything else? Wings or breadsticks?"

I shake my head. "Nahh, pizza and salad work for me."

"That's it then," Bella says to the girl who finishes placing our order in the computer.

"Pizza should be ready in about ten minutes. These are for your salads." She smiles and hands us two aluminum trays with lids.

After thanking the girl, Bella and I head over to the salad bar. It looks like a pretty impressive spread. Unfortunately, it's lost on me because I only have my eyes on the romaine leaves and the cucumbers.

She and I stand on opposite sides of the bar and start dishing our portions. Bella's container looks like an artist's palette of colors, while mine is…green. It's not easy being green.

"I know you're putting more stuff on your salad, Cap'n. No way are you wasting this awesome smorgasbord and only taking boring lettuce and humdrum cucumbers…and don't even think about reaching for that balsamic." Bella points her salad tongs in my direction, scolding me through the Plexiglas dividers.

I chuff and walk around to stand beside her. "All right, Clementine… I've been switching things up ever since you cracked open my nose. What, pray tell, would you have me put on my salad today?"

She waves her hand across the eight-foot bar. "Just look at your choices! Of course there are other veggies like peppers, carrots and peas, but look what else! Hard boiled eggs, cheddar cheese, little chunks of ham, craisins, raisins, sesame seeds…"

"Okay, okay. I get it." I walk back over to my side and start scattering all sorts of toppings on my bed of romaine and iceberg leaves. I even top it off with what I assume are pumpernickel croutons and bacon bits. Now for the dressing.

I'm pointing to the six canisters displayed. "What do you suggest here, Bella?"

She peeks her head around to my side. "I'm partial to blue cheese or honey mustard…but you can't go wrong with creamy Italian or cracked peppercorn ranch, either. Under no circumstances are you allowed to ruin it with balsamic. Live a little; think outside the box."

I shake my head. "You're pushing it, Newton."

She giggles and goes back to smothering her salad in honey mustard dressing.

"Good?" I ask, showing her my container, which now holds a rainbow array of colors, flavors and textures.

"Mhmm!" she nods emphatically, giving me a hip bump. "Now THAT'S a salad. You're gonna love it!" It's ridiculous how I get excited just by the approval she's giving me over a damn salad. I'm losin' it.

"I don't know how I'm going to eat it all, though. This looks like two full meals considering all the meat, cheese and vegetables you forced me to throw on here."

Her pointy eyebrow in place, she stares me down. "Come on, Marine. You can do better than that. Besides, you can concentrate on your salad and save the pizza for dinner or tomorrow's leftovers. There's nothing worse than a soggy salad. Cold pizza, however, is beyond awesome. It should have its own food group."

"You have a solution for everything, don't you?"

She winks. "I told you I could show you some stuff."


By the time we travel the mile and a half to get to the Wyndham Royal Sea Cliff Resort in Kona, Bella has already scarfed down two of the pieces of pizza, and she's digging into her third. Honest to God, I don't know where she puts it.

I pull into the circular drive and shift into park.

"Let me grab a luggage cart so we can unload and get it all up to our room in one trip. I have to save my mint chocolate chip ice cream from an untimely death," she says quickly and hops out of the car before I respond with a yea or nay. Yes, yes…save the mint chocolate chip.

She comes back with the cart, then darts back into the lobby, presumably to check us in. Ten minutes later, we enter room 309 and think we've died and gone to heaven.

"This is incredible. I can't believe you found us this deal at the last minute! How was this still available?" I question, spinning around the living room, taking it all in.


I hear Bella scream from inside one of the bedrooms and I bolt in there, thinking she's having a close encounter with an extra large cockroach or something.

I turn the corner once inside what I assume is the master suite, and see her standing inside the most fantastic shower ever. The bathroom's construction is almost in a triangular shape. An enormous glass door is at the base of the triangle and opens up into a dual-headed shower with massaging jets on one side, with a long, tiled bench extending the length of the opposite wall. It's at least twelve feet from the base to the top of the triangle.

"We could host a party in here!" she squeaks with her arms raised above her head while she hops up onto the bench.

I walk over to her, watching her smile down at me as I put my hands on her petite but curved hips.

"I'd rather it just be an intimate gathering for two, if possible," I initiate, reminiscing about the scene in the hot tub late last night. The long, slow, wet kisses. The rubbing, the grinding, the moaning, the sighing.

She hums and wraps her arms around my neck, tilts forward and falls into my embrace, her legs instantly wrapping around my waist. When she lifts her head to lock eyes with mine, she leans in and kisses me gently. "That does sound lovely."

I smile, turning us around to sit down on the bench. I push her hair back behind her shoulders, our faces inches apart.

"I would very much like to take you to dinner tonight, Isabella Newton. Might you be able to make yourself available for such an occasion?"

The most innocent and beautiful smile graces her face. "Our first official date, Captain Masen?"

I nod and smile, waiting for my answer.

"I would love to. Thank you for asking."

"Excellent." I place a tender kiss under her jaw. "Let's finish looking around and then get unpacked. I can't waste too much time. I have to get ready for a hot date."

She giggles and pushes off my lap and I follow her out of the shower. Yeah, this place definitely has potential, I think to myself with a final glance around the room.


"Bella! I'm running down to the front desk. I'll be back in a few!" I call out to her closed bedroom door and wait for her acknowledgement from within. When I hear her confirmation, I close the front door behind me and jog down the stairs to speak to the concierge about making last minute dinner reservations at La Bourgogne.

Somehow the planets align and he's able to book a table for us. I thank the gentleman for being a lifesaver, as well as for placing the special order I'd requested after we checked in earlier today. I arrive back at the door to our condo, knock…and wait.

"Edward?" I detect Bella's muffled voice somewhere deep in the condo, but I don't answer her. I wait another twenty seconds and knock again.

I hear the click click click of her shoes on the tile floor in the foyer, thankful that she's on her way to answer the knocking and doesn't just assume that I'm the one at the door who could've gotten in without her assistance.

I can tell she pauses, probably to look through the peephole, and then I hear a little giggle, which makes me grin even more.

When she opens the door with a cheerful smile, any words I may have uttered get caught in my throat while staring at the stunning vision before me.

I'm suddenly brought back to a memory I have from Iraq several years ago. One night, when we had nothing but time on our hands, a bunch of guys in my supply section and I somehow ended up watching a chick flick, starring my celebrity crush, Kate Hudson. The leading guy was Matthew McConaughey, who's pretty much the coolest motherfucker on the planet. Anyway, in the movie, Kate wears this dick-hardening, slinky, yellow dress to a party and I've been hooked on her ever since.

Kate Hudson in a yellow dress however, has nothing, absolutely nothing on my Clementine in a yellow dress.

It's the color of the brightest star and, against her fantastically tanned skin, it's nothing short of perfection. The dress has thick straps that wrap around her neck and the front modestly covers her chest. The silky material clings to her slender frame and hugs her around the hips, falling cleanly to her ankles.

She dips her head forward, her eyes dropping for a split second. "Hi. Did you forget your key?"

I shake my head and present her with the tropical flower bouquet. "No. Since I intended for this to be our first date… I needed to do it right," I clear my throat and attempt a smile. "These are for you."

Her mouth forms a gentle 'O' and her eyes sparkle for me. "You're too sweet, Edward. They're gorgeous, thank you." Bella takes them from my hands, her fingers softly grazing mine in the exchange. She inhales deeply to appreciate their fragrance, and after humming in delight, she turns to walk back into the condo.

That's when my heart hammers in my chest even more, because I get my first glimpse of the back of her dress. Though the ties around her neck are hidden behind her shimmering long, wavy hair, her back is completely bare until the material returns just above the curve of what I've declared to be the most luscious ass I've ever seen. And that's just a determination I've made from observing it confined within clothing and skimpy bathing suits. I look forward to the confirmation of my theory, once I get to see it without said clothing.

I follow her into the kitchen and watch silently as she finds the largest pitcher available to display the bouquet. After cutting the stems and arranging the flowers, she looks at me and shrugs sheepishly, her nose scrunched up.

"Kinda tacky in the Rubbermaid pitcher, but they're so beautiful, I don't even care."

Eventually, I locate my long-abandoned voice. "Their beauty can't begin to compare to yours." Nice one, cheesy Chester Cheetah. "I've been struck dumb since you opened the door. Bella, you look…well, breathtaking, considering that's what happened to me when you greeted me."

She walks around the counter to where I'm standing and tilts her head up. Softly, she pushes her body up against mine, putting her hands on my chest. My body shivers slightly at her touch combined with the enticing scent of her perfume. I can't help but wrap my arms around her lower back.

"Thank you. And you look pretty incredible yourself, sir." She dips her head down, her eyes scanning my body, then brings her face back up to meet mine. "I think it's unfair that we have to leave and go out in public, when I can think of a number of perfectly fabulous things we could do to keep us occupied around here." The sexy pout on her face and the tone of her voice make me want to call the concierge and tell him to cancel our plans.

Clarity triumphs and I shake my head, smirking. "No way. You deserve to be shown off. I'm just the lucky bastard who gets to be your escort for the evening."

She puts her index finger up to my lips, a look of disappointment on her face. "Let's get something straight, okay? There is nothing 'just' about you, got it?" she clarifies, her eyebrow pointed in concern.

The sincerity in her eyes and certainty in her words bolster me in a way that makes me stand even taller. Whatever spell of hers I've fallen under, bewitched or not, I thank the heavens for it and hope it never breaks.

"Now come on, Captain Masen. Let's go enjoy our first date, shall we?"



I smile inwardly as Edward and I walk to the car hand in hand. No, I'm not stupid. I can see other guys turning their heads and watching us pass, just as I can see the ladies doing a double take when they see the gorgeous man at my side, but I don't care at all. My mission was accomplished the minute Edward was rendered speechless when he saw me all dolled up for him. And I truly did do it all for him.

I have to wonder, though; have the other ladies who've spent time with him in the past ever cared enough to try? I mean, really try to help him come out of the protective, practically bulletproof case he's built around his heart since he was a kid? If they wanted him badly enough, I wonder if they ever took the time, or even made an effort to help him overcome the demons he's dealt with. He's still wrestling with those demons, which make him question relationships and their inevitable doom, as he sees it.

Then, there's the other side of the coin. Have these women tried their hardest, only to have their hearts shattered at their feet because he's unbreakable and unable to allow them in? Or did they just go with the flow and walk away after their time together had run its course? Perhaps he's left a trail of broken hearts along his path. I don't want to think that way, but like I said, it makes me wonder.

Right now though, I can say with confidence that with every passing day, every funny moment, and even in the quiet times when I just look over at him and catch him looking at me, I feel myself falling…falling freaking hard and fast. It's exhilarating and terrifying all at the same time. In my nervous moments, I fear my heart could get crushed, knowing how honest he's been with me from the beginning. But then, I recall sitting with him last night when he admitted that he's never felt like this before; that I'm making him rethink all sorts of things he's never considered before.

Maybe I'm managing to crack the Edward Masen code? God, I hope so.

I loved Mike, I really did. He was my best friend, how could I not love him? But with Edward, I find myself hanging onto his every word, watching every move he makes and relishing the times when I have the privilege of seeing him let go of that strict and ordered Marine, and morph into the unencumbered free spirit I've caught glimpses of since we found each other a few weeks ago.

"Care to share where you're taking me tonight? I assume I'm dressed adequately since you didn't say otherwise," I say as we come to a halt at a stop sign.

Edward looks over at me, shaking his head. "Yes, we're going to La Bourgogne, a French restaurant which has gotten rave reviews, and as for your chosen attire for the evening…I think we covered this back at the condo. Your dress is more than adequate, Bella. You look like you belong on a Hollywood Red Carpet."

I feel the heat of my blush and fidget with the clasp of my purse. On purpose, tonight I didn't wear the necklace I usually wear— the pendant created from my engagement ring. Granted, the neckline of my dress doesn't call for a necklace, which is one reason I'm only wearing dangly earrings. But, more than that, I didn't want any ties to Mike tonight. I wanted a fresh start with Edward. He deserves that much…I deserve that much.

Just then, Edward's phone rings and he reaches into the breast pocket of his linen jacket. He looks at the caller's name and chuckles.

"Bailyn Grace, why aren't you in bed yet?" He looks over and winks at me, and I start to melt even with the air conditioning blasting me.

"Yes, Bella's here with me."

"No baby, not tonight."

"Because I'm driving my car and I can't watch your goofy face while I'm trying to pay attention to the other cars."

"How 'bout we FaceTime tomorrow?"

He pulls the phone away from his ear, shaking his head and laughing. I can hear her sweet voice screeching on the other end. I guess she's pleased about her phone date with her uncle tomorrow.

"Okay, you can say a quick goodnight. Hang on."

He passes the phone over with a pleading look. "Do you mind saying goodnight to her? She's desperate to hear from her princess."

I contain my elation at the adorable sight of this man wrapped around his precious niece's finger and take the phone with a happy nod.

"Hi Bailyn; how are you?" All I hear are giggles in response. "Baaaaaaaaa-ilyn," I sing out, sweetly.

"Hi, Belle!"

"Well, there you are! I thought I was on the phone with a giggle monster! What are you doing up so late tonight?"

"Mommy set up the tent in the basement. We're having a campout with Mommy's friend and my friend Hadley."

"Mommy's friend is named Hadley?"

"Noooo, my friend is Hadley. Mommy's friend is Ben."

My eyebrows shoot up and I clamp my lips together. I quickly look over at Edward, who's smiling at me, listening to the one-sided conversation.

"Wow, Bailyn, that sounds like so much fun, honey. Do you get to have sleepovers with friends a lot?" Yes, I'm digging. I only feel a teensy pang of guilt at the moment about it, though.

"Mmmm, sometimes. Hadley and Ben come over lots of times. They don't always sleep over. Mommy said tonight's a special treat 'cause Mom-Mom's not here. She's at a sleepover, too."

My eyes widen and I suddenly realize I'm in way over my head. This little girl has unknowingly revealed to me secrets that Edward's mother and sister would probably be mortified to know were told. And with the way Edward has spoken about his mother and Lauren and the heartbreak they experienced with the deaths of their significant others, I'm almost positive he doesn't have a clue that they're possibly keeping company with new men. I wonder what Edward would think about this development?

"Well, it sounds like everybody is having a very special night. I can't wait to talk to you again after your sleepover. You have lots of fun, okay?"

"Okay, I will. Wait, what are you doing Belle?"

"Your Uncle Edward and I are going to eat some dinner. And you know what else?" I try to make my voice hint at a surprise.

"WHAT?" she whisper-shouts back at me.

"I'm wearing a yellow gown tonight!"

I hear her petite voice give an Oscar-worthy dramatic gasp. "Tell Uncle Edward to take a picture of you!" More whisper-shouts.

I smile and bite my lip. God, could she be any more adorable? "I will, honey. You go have fun now. We'll talk again soon."

"Okay. I love you, Belle!"

A lump forms in my throat. It may seem silly to anyone else, but I feel wanted…needed, even. "Love you too, Bailyn…bye."

I hand the phone back to Edward, who's still smiling at me. I nod once and immediately turn my face toward the window to try and regain my composure. It's complicated enough that I feel myself falling for this man— a man who's basically declared himself unavailable— but to start falling for this little girl…and any other family members who present themselves along the way? I can't begin to wrap my head or heart around what it could all mean if things worked out…or if they fell apart.

I feel Edward's hand above my knee. "Hey…you all right?" he hedges.

I clear my throat and turn toward him. "Yeah, absolutely. She's a sweet little girl. Just tugged on my heart strings for a minute."

He smiles and reaches for my hand, threading his fingers through mine; a few minutes later, we pull up to the restaurant.


"Now that was filet mignon. When you can slice it with a fork and it just melts in your mouth…yeah, you know you've got the good stuff."

Edward laughs and takes a sip of his wine. "We weren't very creative tonight; we've usually been good about getting two different things off a menu and taste-testing each other's dishes."

"I think we get a pass. We're at a French restaurant, Edward. It's not like we went to Applebee's and ordered the same thing. When you have the opportunity to have top of the line filet…you do it!"

We smile at each other in silence…just staring. The words on the tip of my tongue would frighten him, so I hold back and wait. Edward looks like he's on the edge of his seat with anticipation. I guess he has something on his mind, too.

"So, I'd like to take you dancing. I had fun that night in Oahu, but we only had one dance…would you want to?"

Even though I had two glasses of wine with dinner, I feel pretty confident that I can still cut a rug even in the heels I'm wearing. "I'd love to. Have a place in mind?"

"Well," he chuckles, "it might be a little on the cheesy side, but Huggo's on the Rocks is having an eighties night tonight. I figured we could have some fun with that."

"Are you kidding? I am ALL about the eighties baby. I'm hot, sticky and sweet…from my head to my feet, yeah!"

Edward bursts out laughing. "I could've pegged you for having a soft spot for Def Leppard. Come on, Clementine, let's go pour some sugar on you."



Bella and I haven't stopped dancing since we arrived forty-five minutes ago. Every song from my childhood rocked, as far as I'm concerned. So much better than a lot of what gets put out these days, in my opinion. From the hard rockin' hair bands to Michael Jackson, and everything in between, the deejay is running the gamut tonight and we're loving it.

I'm laughing my ass off watching Bella twirl and shimmy around me while Salt-n-Pepa are waxing poetic about pushing it. We're the most overdressed people here tonight and we couldn't care less. Nobody else in the world matters; we're not self-conscious, we're just Edward and Bella in our own world…making our own rules, as Bella so eloquently told me was our lot in life for the remainder of our vacation.

The music slows, as does our laughing, and I don't even ask, I just pull her close to my chest. I smile when I realize what we're listening to. Its familiarity is soothing…one of my mom's favorite songs, if I'm not mistaken.

"What's this song from? I know it but I can't pinpoint it." Bella's eyes are narrowed in concentration and she's pulled her bottom lip between her teeth.

My fingers involuntarily move to her face and pull gently on her chin, causing her to release her tender lip.

"It's the love theme from the movie Tootsie, with Dustin Hoffman."

Her mouth drops open and her head tilts back in acknowledgement. "THAT'S right. I knew I knew it! Oh man, my Dad LOVES this movie. I remember seeing it many times growing up, one of his favorite videos to watch."

"Time…I've been passing time,
watching trains go by, all of my life…"

I smile, hearing that our parents' tastes sound similar. "Mine, too. I mean," I pause for a second. "I know my Mom really enjoys this movie. I think I remember my Dad liking it, too."

She looks thoughtfully into my eyes. "Do you remember much about your father?"

My smile falters a bit and I lift one shoulder in a shrug. "I remember he was always at my soccer practices and games when he could be. He even coached my team one season when I was really young." I look past Bella's shoulder and my vision blurs, staring at the tiki torches surrounding the dance floor. "We had fun times. He loved camping. Even if it was miserable outside and my mom refused to let him take me in the backyard because of the rain or the temperature, he'd set up the tent in our living room and we'd camp together in there. No amenities allowed. We kept all the lights off and used the camp stove to make hot dogs and s'mores."

Bella huffs and her eyes wander for a second, the gears turning in her head. Her hand travels to my neck while her fingers are dancing along the collar of my shirt, softly scraping her nails at the base of my hairline.

"Somethin's tellin' me it might be you.
It's tellin' me it might be you, all of my life."

"It sounds like you have some terrific memories you've held onto." She smiles, resting the side of her head on my chest.

I nod, though she can't see me right now. "I do. It was important to Mom that I remember as much as I could about him. We'd stay up at night sitting in my bed after she'd read to me, and we'd each share a memory of Dad. She tried to keep him alive for me for as long as possible."

I feel the vibration of Bella's calming hum in my chest.

"Even when Lauren was an infant or a little girl toddling around, we'd close my bedroom door so that she couldn't wander out of the room and we'd share stories about Dad. Mom always figured even if Laur wasn't paying attention, maybe she'd know how awesome our father was just by hearing the stories we'd tell."

We stop talking and sway to the music. Her small frame is tucked perfectly into mine, like two puzzle pieces that sit flush together. If you held us up to the light, you'd see no gaps. Two become one.

"I think we're gonna need some time.
Maybe all we need is time.
And it's telling me it might be you…all of my life."

Listening to the words of the song, I can feel a tugging inside. You spend your life on your own, looking at other couples, wondering how they make it work, how they trust it to remain. All these years I haven't felt a void at all. I'm not just telling myself that, I truly never felt that pull to be with someone. But these last couple of weeks with Bella caused this hidden desire in me to bubble to the surface. A rolling boil that's threatening to spill over, if I don't throw caution to the wind and make her mine.

I swallow tightly, reminding myself of all the obstacles of time and distance. It's too much to figure out tonight. Right now, I'm just going to relish the feeling of this girl—this woman—this perfect creature in my eyes and in my arms, who just wants me close to her.

"It's you. It's you…I've been waiting for all of my life."


"Thank you for the date tonight." Bella and I are swinging our clasped hands between us as we walk back to the condo.

"You're welcome. It was my pleasure. I know I've said it several times, but you're devastatingly beautiful in that dress, Ms. Newton." I bring her hand up to my mouth and kiss her knuckles as we turn into the alcove of our suite. "It would've been a crime to keep you all to myself tonight."

"Would you like to come in for coffee?" she giggles and I shake my head at her silliness.

"I'd love to, but—"

"BU-ut?" she whines, clearly exasperated that I seem to be calling it a night for the two of us.

I huff and pull her through the door. "But…I have plans for us tonight…later tonight. More like very early morning, I mean."

She twists my wrist to glance at my watch, noting the 12:30 in the morning time. I see that I've piqued her interest with the rise of her brows and the smirk that slowly emerges. "Oh, reeeeeeeally."

"Yes. Which is why I need you to head right into that bedroom of yours, get into some comfortable clothes and take a catnap for the next hour."

Bella falls against the wall next to her bedroom door, pouting. She reaches out and grabs the lapels of my jacket and pulls me close. "Wouldn't it be more fun to take a nap together, or better yet, spend the next hour staying occupied in other ways?"

I smile knowingly and move my hands to her hips while my mouth drops to her ear. I inhale her tropical scent of orange and coconut as her face leans into mine, her eyes fluttering closed.

As I slowly move my thumbs back and forth on her hips and lower stomach, I ghost my lips down the side of her face. My mouth trails under her ear and along her jaw, her body is tensing and relaxing. She knows how close we are to that precipice, but she also knows that I've already said we're not tipping over the edge tonight.


"Ye-essss?" her preoccupied voice sighs, her hands now wrapped around my forearms which gingerly travel up the sides of her ribs, beyond her shoulders to cup the underside of her jaw.

Gruffly, I whisper, "This much I promise you. When I start," I kiss her throat, where her pulse is a rapid beat under her creamy, tender flesh. "When I have your body spread out before me," I add a lick to that same pulse point. "When I wrap my body around yours," I come back up and barely touch the tip of my tongue to the shell of her ear and then allow my warm breath to blow over the same area, causing her chest to rise and fall heavily in anticipation. "When I bury myself inside you," I softly growl, eliciting a whimper from deep within her throat. "Bella, I promise you, PROMISE you," I gently place a kiss at the corner of her mouth, "an hour will never be enough."

I pull my face back; her eyes open up instantly as she swallows and exhales. We stare deeply into each other's eyes, the air thick with sexual tension and oozing the lust that's overwhelming this scene. I know she can feel how hard I am right now. I back up mere inches, allowing us a moment to breathe in an attempt to dial down the heat we've created.

Still staring at her, I say the only word that's keeping me sane at the moment and hope that it helps her, too.


A/N: Oh, you evil, evil Yummy. I know, I know...I've heard it all forget the incomparable Team Cabana had their eyes on this before you did. They already gave me an earful about my cockblocking ways. You heard what Spearward said! Soon. :D

Love to all my readers, reviewers, rec'ers, lurkers and the like. I'm so thrilled you're enjoying this journey. Come join the fun at The Cabanaboy's Playground if you haven't already. Lots of pic, music and snippet teasers as well as photos of places Spearward and Adventurella have been traveling.

The ThreeHot Potatoes went off and wrote an outrageously hysterical tale for my birthday today. A mash-up of Last Call and TotS cameos and funny moments throughout. Go check it out! The title is: Rob's My Last Yummy Birthday Tot . It's must.

I've already started writing the next chapter! Hip, hip, hooray! Hopefully less than two weeks this time! Love you all!

xo, Jen