Chapter 12: Consequences of Pushing Buttons

I pass her the phone. We haven't turned it back on yet. I hope she leaves it off until tomorrow.

"My phone reeks. We are switching phones for the rest of the day until you figure out how to clean it up and make it stop smelling like my ass."

I grin. "I like it. It smells like your love juices and there's nothing that smells better," I say as I take a big whiff. I'd lick it if she wasn't staring at me in disgust. "You won't be getting this phone back anytime soon."

"I guess you've been answering it all day anyway. If you see a number come through from Florida then I expect you to give me my phone for that call."

"Of course; I would never come between you and your daughter." I know that Cori comes first, and I respect their relationship.

"All right, let's get you packed and get over to my house. I'll make us some dinner and then you can make love to me in my bed until we pass out from lack of fluids and overtaxed sex muscles. I plan to pull a groin muscle and then make you massage it back to health."

"I like this plan." I slide my way in between her thighs since the day isn't over yet. We have time . . .

"Incorrigible college guy. How do I attract them?" she teases.

"With big tits and an even bigger heart," I say.

She pinches my thigh. "Don't tell anyone about the second problem. I try to keep that hidden under big sweaters, behind my big tits."

I pretend to frown. "It's not working. I can see it a mile away—it's gigantic." I lean over and place a delicate kiss over her heart.

"Stop trying to make me swoon—I like that mushy stuff too much, and have things to do. Packing. My bed. Sex. Food. Shower. Sex. My Bed. Packing. Not in that order, but it's a long list."

"Sucking on your ben wah balls you have yet to remove. I bet they're soaked with both our come," I say, my voice ragged just thinking about them.

"I'm sure they'll slide right out then, right?"

"Right into my mouth you mean. I'm sucking those babies clean." I smack my lips.

"Right after I smack some good back into you. What kind of horrible influence am I on you? I bet you never talked like this before you met me." She sets her hands on my bedspread and then runs her palms along the fabric.

Why is that turning me on that she's almost memorizing the feel of my comforter? Fuck if I know why, but I can't stop staring.

My mouth goes dry as she keeps doing it with a hungry look in her eyes.

"I'm a gentleman—I don't talk about past dirty-talking exploits." I put my nose in the air but keep an eye on those wandering hands on my bed.

"A gentleman who'd never heard of ben wah balls before me, so I've proven my point about how I've corrupted you. If you wanna suck on my balls, go ahead, but it's not gonna taste good." She kneads her hands into the fabric now. What the fuck is she doing?

And dammit, I'm stiff as hell.

I finally have to turn away before I fuck her again; I get up and put my jeans back on. Before looking at her again and wishing I was back inside her, I go to the kitchen and put the left over pizza into a large zip lock baggie and toss it into my almost empty fridge.

While I'm throwing out the box, I ask, "Hey, beautiful, did you want to take the rest of the pizza so you can enjoy it at your house?"

Her face lights up. "Please, if you don't mind."

"It's yours."

We head back to my room and she keeps me hard by continually staring at me like she's dying for more—more of me.

A moment later, she's on my bed, propped up on her side with her elbow digging into my pillow and her head set on her hand.

"Let's stay two days," she says, sounding out of breath. Her eyes gleam with excitement. "We can take Cori to the beach and maybe surf with her. She'd love that. We can fly back late Monday night. We'd miss our first partner yoga class on Monday, but that shouldn't be a problem."

"Can you get off work for two days?" I prowl toward her, unable to resist being close.

My room smells like her, and I love it.

I hope her scent lingers and there are still traces of her when we return. The thought makes me smile.

Or better yet, maybe when we get back, she'll spend the night.

Oh shit—her daughter. She won't be able to do that.

My stomach drops and my fingers curl into my palms.

This is gonna be complicated with a kid.

"Yeah, I make my own appointments and hours. I can call my clients tomorrow before we leave and reschedule. It's not a big deal." She sprawls out on my bed and her gaze drifts over me.

She's staring again. At me. And my chest heats over the appraising look she gives me.

"If you pick your own hours then why do you choose to go in so early?"

Could she sleep-in with me on some mornings if we did figure out a way to do that and work around her daughter?

"I go in as early as I can so I can pick up Corinne from school in the afternoons when school's in session," she says.

"Who gets her ready for school in the morning?" I relax my hands and take a deep breath.

"Jake does. He comes over, gets her ready, takes her to school and then heads to work." Her voice shifts and it's a little tight.

Is she worried I'll judge her again and bolt over her child?

I smile with what I hope is warm kindness radiating off me. She can relax. I want her enough to continue this and figure out what it means to date a woman who's a mother.

"Cori's happy seeing him so often." She sighs.

"So, he's in your house every day—all the time," I say, biting back a groan of frustration. Suddenly, worrying about her kid seems simple. He's the real issue. How the hell am I going to deal with his constant presence? At least in the mornings Bella's not there so he's not messing with her. But still . . . I don't like how often he's around her and in her life.

I shift away from her before I say something I'll regret.

"Hey, we've been doing this for a long time. It works for us," she says.

"It's fine," I say, shrugging it off.

"Really?" Her brows pop up and she purses her lips.

"Well, no, it's not fine, but it's not like I have a say. Maybe in time, we can figure out another way that involves him a little less, and gives us more privacy. He likes to interfere, and I'm not cool with that."

My chest tightens. I sound like a goddamn prick—a controlling asshole.

I exhale; my chest aching. "Maybe we should worry about packing. We can talk about this more later."

"If something bothers you . . ." She rolls onto her side and her eyes soften. "I want to know, Edward. I can't always accommodate all your wishes, but if I don't even know your preference, how am I supposed to look out for you? For us?"

"Sorry, I'm just . . ." I roll my head. "I hate the way he tries to get his claws in you. It needs to stop."

She moves to the edge of the bed, sits up and her head sags while she focuses on the floor. "You're right—and I want what you do, but it's rough—dealing with him. But maybe over time, like you've said . . ."

"Yeah, we'll work it out," I agree and grab a duffel bag out of the closet.

I sniff it to make sure it wasn't ever one of my bags I used for the gym.

It smells okay, so I start shoving my shit into it.

The room is silent now, and I can't help but feel worse.

I've alienated her when all I wanted to do was tell her I'm concerned, and I wish I could be more to her. Be more involved and take up some of the space he's unrightfully taken. The man makes her crazy, and consequently, me as well.

It only take a few minutes and my bag is ready to go.

I don't need much; I travel light.

She puts her workout outfit back on, but she moves with a rigidity I've never seen before.

"God," I groan. "I'm sorry, Bella. Ignore me. I say stupid stuff, and I don't know why I'm being such a possessive bastard. I just . . . I really enjoy being with you. It makes me nuts to think of him trying to get closer to you—to put his hands on you." I shake my head.

"No—don't." Her legs part and she takes on a stance that's hard to read. It's not defensive, yet it's not timid either. Is she preparing to run? "Don't apologize. I like that you feel that way about me—it's a lot to process though. I have a few people to consider here. I have a family."

"I know, and I wish I could help more . . ." And wish I was part of it.

What the hell is wrong with me? I really don't know her that well, but there's this place in my heart she's stolen, and being around her makes it harder to contain. It's spreading—this overwhelming need to be near and part of her everyday life.

"I can't turn away, but I know I should," she says so quiet, I almost wonder if I was even meant to hear it.

"No, Bella." I move so quick, she startles. I grab her by the shoulders. "You shouldn't. We both know this is bigger than us—that we belong together. Let's not worry about this now, huh? We've gotta get you packed and get ready. I'm excited to meet Cori."

She smiles and her eyes water. "Really? You really do wanna get to know her?"

"I do." I smile back.

"You're so wonderful—I can barely breathe around you," she says, her fingertips ghosting over my heart.

"That's you, beautiful. It's how I feel about you. Feel how fast it races?" I press my hand on hers, flattening her palm to my chest.

She smiles wider. "Edward . . ."

"Yeah?" I lick my lips and lean in for kiss.

She leans back. "As long as you never lie to me, I think we'll be together for a long time."

My heart damn near bursts at her words. I close my eyes and take a deep, steadying breath.

"I've never lied in my life, but if I do, I hope you'll kick the shit out of me—or better yet, send Jake after me. I'll deserve it."

She drums her fingers on my chest. "Okay."

"Good. It's a deal then. You're staying with me, I'll keep being a jealous asshole since I can't seem to control it, and we'll fuck in between because I can't get enough of you." I grin and my head wobbles.

She laughs.

"Still too cute for words." She pulls her hand away and visibly relaxes. "All right. No more distractions with talk of fucking. We can deal with more of that later. Should we buy the tickets here online or wait 'til we get to my place?"

"Whatever you want," I answer. I brush my fingers up her arm.

Why can't I stop touching her?

She pauses. "Let's wait, then. I wanna use a different credit card to buy the tickets."

"You're not buying mine," I say. "It's bad enough you paid for my yoga class." "How are you going to afford this?" she asks, her eyes crinkling at the corners. "Please don't be stubborn; I'll pay for it. I'm the one dragging you on this trip. You wouldn't be going if it wasn't for me."

I square my shoulders. "No, I wanna pay for it. I'm not your little charity case, just your boyfriend. I don't want you to ever resent me for not paying my way."

She shuffles her right foot and looks at the ground, pausing. A second later, she takes a deep breath. "I would never resent you. It's just money, and I have plenty of it. It's not a big deal to me at all. I hate taking what little resources you have. There's no need to be the hero here and do more than you can. I understand. I do remember what it's like to be a poor college kid. I was once in that position, too."

"I know you do, and I know you don't care about using your money on me, but I feel uncomfortable with this. It won't sit right with me." I rub her upper arms. "Call it ego. Call it asshole tendencies. I don't care—but I can't allow you to do this. I'm paying my own way."

She steps closer and pulls me into a little squeeze. "You definitely know how to be adorable, make me go all mushy and get fucked again, don't you?" She pinches my ass.

"Adorable? How old am I? Five?"

"You fucked when you were five?" She smirks.

I pinch her ass back. "If I saw you at that age, yeah, I might've."

She barks a laugh. "Yeah, that sounds about right for you." She leans in and gives me a quick, passing kiss then pulls away. "C'mon. Cori will have a schoolgirl-crush in no time. Let's get back to my place. I need ta pack."

"Okay, now I'm frightened, and might not be able to get it up again."

She giggles. "That's probably for the best since your monster hard-on might scare her and turn on my mom."

"Shit, woman. You know I'm teasing. I'm always hard around you." I set her hand on my dick. It's a semi—but still . . . Proves my point. "But I'll behave—promise."

She gives a knowing smile. "Yeah, I know your version of behaving. You were so naughty in yoga—groping when no one was watching."

"What's wrong with that?" I cup her breasts.

"Nothing, unless it's my daughter that accidentally sees it."

I drop my hands. "I promise, Bella. I'm not that big of an idiot."

"I know." She smiles, and I swear to God, I fall apart just looking at her.

Her trust means everything to me.

I won't screw this up.

"I won't pay for the tickets—okay? But if you start to resent how much I'm draining your bank account, you tell me and we'll figure out some compromises so we can still do the things we want to without making you feel uncomfortable," she says, her tone gentle.

"Thank you. And don't worry about it, I'll figure out my finances. I'm really good with money."

"So am I," she replies.

I grab my bag, she gets the leftover pizza, and we head out.

As I'm throwing my stuff in the trunk, she's behind me, stroking up and down my ass and rubbing her breasts into my back. I smile at her aggressiveness.

"What happened to you not being into physical displays in public?"

I glance around. No one's out, but still . . . Someone can easily walk by and observe her blatant attempts to seduce me.

"I've had a momentary lapse in judgment." She exhales across the back of my neck. "It's this ass—God, it's amazing." She squeezes my cheeks. "So rock hard."

"Kinda like my dick, now that you're touching me again?" I smirk.

"I don't know if anything's as hard as that, but your entire body's . . ." she leans in and trails the tip of her tongue up the nape of my neck ". . . delicious, and tighter than should be legal."

She runs her knee up the back of mine.

My breath catches in my throat.

"I've never been fucked while pinned up against the side of a car," she whispers in my ear. "Have you?"

"Well, since I'm the one that does the fucking, no—I've never been fucked on the side of a car."

"Smart ass," she says, squeezing my cheeks even harder then slapping it.

I exhale so loudly, making an erotic pained noise, she moans and leans into me in response, tucking her forehead into my neck.

"You're gonna kill me," she says. "I want you too much. Old ladies like me break hips this way."

"Only if the fucker ramming their dick into them while they pin them against a car doesn't know what they're doing," I say, reaching behind me and gripping her thighs.

"So, that's a yes. You have done this before."

"I didn't say that." I manage to turn around and grab her by the hips to hold her in place. "I haven't done this before, and I prefer if we're gonna do this, it be darker than this so nobody sees you."

"But they'll see your ass flexing and figure out what we're doing pretty damn quick," she points out.

"I don't give a fuck if they see me. I'll deal with that, as long as you're covered." My face is right in fronts of hers, our lips almost touching. "You're mine. I don't allow other dicks to see what's mine. I don't share, Bella."

"Good. I don't want to share you either." She strokes my ass and bites her lower lip, baiting me.

"My God, we're never gonna get over to your place at this rate," I say, smiling.

"Yeah, you're right." Her face drops a little and she pulls away.

Before I can tell her I was joking, she's placed the keys in my palm and she's in the car, seated in the passenger's seat.

My shoulders slump.

How does she get me so worked up from such little touches, simmering looks and seductive words?

I can't think when she's touching me like that.

When I'm in my seat, have the key right at the ignition, she grabs my wrist. "I'm sorry if I'm too out of control. But I want you again, so much it's hard to think about anything else. I wanna see you pull your gorgeous cock out. I want you to play with it while I watch. I wanna lick the bead off the tip when your precome drips out. I wanna—"

I lunge at her, my mouth seals over hers and I grip the back of her neck so tight, I realize I'm probably hurting her, so I let go with a growl.

"We're fucking the minute we get to your place. If you take too much time to shut the door—you'll be fucked against the side of your car, or in your doorway. I don't care which, but if you're gonna talk like that, look at me like that, then yes, my cock's gonna be out, taking over."

She smiles and her eyes glaze over. "Sounds like I need to live in a house with padded walls."

"If you like. Straightjacket's can be kinky." I kiss the tip of her nose.

She leans into it.

"I don't know why I'm even listening to this. I'll be in one soon for being with a minor," she teases.

I lean back in my seat. "No more talk like that. I don't wanna hear that on this trip at all. I'm legal, and you know it."

"You certainly fuck like it," she mutters.

I grin. "And that's all you need to remember."

I start up the car and drive off; we're back at her place within minutes.

"That was quick," she observes, her hand on the handle to exit the car.

I set my hand on her thigh. "Do you think I can concentrate about anything else besides being inside of you? Maybe you letting me borrow this car indefinitely's a bad idea. I can't afford speeding tickets."

"You won't speed because you'll know that'll slow you down even more, and if you're coming over to get your dick wet in the middle of the night, well . . ." She trails off, opens the car door and gets out.

"Not nice," I growl, shoving my way out of the car. Once I'm standing up, have shut my car door and have my bag in hand, she stops and gives me a heated look. "I'm already trying to figure out how to get over here nightly, and convince you it's a good idea. How about I invite your ex over to watch? Let's give him a call now . . . He can get his first show this instant."

She pulls her phone out of my pocket and starts pressing buttons.

I lurch forward and swipe it away. "Jesus—I was kidding."

"I wasn't going to call him. I was checking to make sure Cori didn't call when the phone was turned off. I figured once I got you inside, I won't be thinking about her anymore."

My Lord—did she say earlier I turned her to mush? I swear my bones turned spongy when she said that.

"Oh sorry." I hand it back to her. I fish my phone out of my pocket and extend it to her. "Don't forget we're swapping, so I want yours back."

I hardly ever get phone calls with the exception of a few of my buddies. My mom calls every few days, but other than that I don't use it very often.

I turn around and holy shit! Looks like I'm going to get my chance. Jake's blue Rolls-Royce convertible is parked in front of her place. He's obviously inside because he's not in his car or on the porch, and I was too fucking preoccupied with thinking about how to get inside her again to notice he was around.

"Stay here," she says as she tries to leave.

I grab her arm. "Don't you dare. If you want us to work you can't keep leaving me behind to talk to and pacify him. I'm coming with you, and I'm being involved with these conversations. We're together now, so let's act like it."

"Are you sure? I don't want you to have to deal with him. He gets pretty nasty and ugly." Her eyes soften and she swallows.

"I've been dealing with this asshole on the phone all day long. I can handle it. I'm a grown man," I say in a light, teasing tone.

Her eyes light up and she smiles her brilliant, adoring grin. "Have I mentioned you're amazing, and I love you?" "I'm sure you have, but just so you know—I love you, too, and we'll make sure to show our love in front of him so he can see what we have. Ready?" I grab her hand, making sure she isn't going to get away without me.

I leave my bag in the trunk, close it and we move up the front walkway as if he's not inside. She stares at me, and I stare right back, my chest full of love and some crazy, inexplicable elation.

How does she do this to me—knock me on my ass inside a moment by simply giving me that look?

My stomach flops as she bites her lower lip and sucks on it for a moment, as if she's fighting off a devious grin.

"My God, I may not have to pretend he's not there when I'm fucking your brains out—woman, you're wrecking me," I say. "You're all I can focus on."

She slaps my arm playfully. "Behave, or I may not invite you back."

"If I misbehave, it's exactly why you'll invite me back. I can tell by that naughty look in your eyes—you want this."

She pinches my arm next and then she goes silent.

We halt at the door. She grabs her keys from me so she can unlock the door.

A moment later she pauses before she uses them and says, "I'm giving you a spare key to my place the second he leaves. I want you over here anytime you're lonely or wanna be with me. I hope you don't have a problem with this . . ."

"A problem with an open ended invitation to be with you whenever I want? Hell no." I shake my head and chuckle.

Now I know I can deal with this fucker no problem. Just knowing she's this dedicated to us, has me high and confident as hell.

"Good. I may be calling you more than you'd like." Her voice goes hoarse.


I push her up against the wall, right beside the door-jamb, and before she can blink, I've got my mouth covering hers, my fingers digging into her ribs while my dick grinds into her like I'm an animal.

Jesus, the feel of her. The rhythm of her breaths pounding into me . . .

How can I resist? How can I ever stay away?

I hear Jake inside, pushing the curtains aside at the window. He's probably watching us intently.

I hope that nosy mother fucker's getting what he wants—a free show.

I bite back the urge to smile and flip off this bastard. It's unnecessary when this is so much more effective and gratifying.

Bella moans, making it that much more satisfying.

I fondle her breasts and she wraps her right leg around me. Hell yeah, I encourage this behavior by wrapping my arms under her ass and giving her a boost.

She's crushed even tighter against the house, and I'm even hotter for her, panting and nipping at her neck.

Her legs wrap tightly around my hips and her ankles lock together.

A moment later she breaks the kiss. "He's watching."

"I know," I reply.

"God, so fucking hot!" She leans her head back, and I slide my mouth up and down her neck. "Don't stop."

"Why would I?" I grin and lick across her pulse point.


The front door is being unlocked.

I slide her back down to the ground with the biggest, damn wicked smile my face has ever produced. "Well, that was fun. I think he can take more. Don't you?"

"Edward . . ." She shakes her head and chuckles like I'm so adorable, she can't help herself.

Jake opens the door only to find two completely aroused people who are not ashamed in the least.

"If you're done dry humping in front of the whole God damn neighborhood then I'd like to talk to you alone, Bella." He scowls at her and his arms cross over his chest.

We step inside, I close the door and Bella takes my hand in a firm grip.

"Whatever you've gotta say, you're going to share it in front of Edward. We're together now; he's a part of my life so he's included in everything I do." She steps closer to me.

Jakes eyes pop open and he huffs. "What? You barely met this guy."

"It doesn't matter. We love each other, and we're gonna be together all the time, so you better get used to it." She squeezes my hand.

He rolls his eyes at her. "This is one of the most ridiculous things you've ever done, and that's saying a lot since you've got a shitload of a list you've accumulated over the years." His arms flex as he grips them tight with his hands.

"What's ridiculous? How about sleeping with several women at the same time while you're still banging your ex-wife? That's not ridiculous?" I ask. My eyes narrow at him and my pecs twitch in response.

Please, give me a reason to beat your stupid ass . . .

"I was merely tending to your needs at your request," he tells her, his eyes raking over her as he wear a big nasty grin on his smug, prick of a face.

"I never asked you to fuck me!" she says, her voice raising in pitch and volume. "You were the one pushing it. I was getting my needs taken care of with other men. I don't need you anymore. I've got my needs permanently taken care of now." She turns and kisses me.

"Puhleazzzzz! He doesn't know how to pleasure you. He's a kid who barely had his first erection last week." He groans and waves his hand at me like I'm a pesky fly.

Before I can answer, Bella steps forward and her chest puffs out as she takes a large, exasperated breath. "He's pleasured me more today than you ever did in our whole twenty years of sexual experiences."

I choke on my inhalation. She's serious? My God—she just told him the absolute worst thing a woman could ever say to a guy. She basically told him that he sucks in bed and that a younger, less experienced guy has done the job better than he ever did as her husband. I'm exploding in my pants with the hardest erection I've ever experienced, and I'm breathless, unable to answer or add anything to what she's said.

"So childish, Bella. This is what you're resorting to now? Hitting below the belt? You know I've had way better than you in bed, but I don't throw it in your face," he says.

"You just did," I tell him. "And you're lying in the process. There's no one better than her. No fucking way."

His eyes darken and flash to me. "Is there a reason you're here? If you pleasured her so much, then why does she still need more? Obviously, she was ready to get rid of you and call me up so a real man could attend to her needs."

"She knows why I'm here." I grin and my head cocks to the side. "And it has nothing to do with you."

"For once," she mumbles.

"You can't be serious," he says, turning his gaze back to her. "Is he even legal?"

"You're not staying for dinner. That's not happening anymore. When Corinne gets back in town we'll figure out how to work things out, but for now dinners are canceled and so is our sexual arrangement. No more sleeping together."

"Are you even going to address his age? You could be his fucking grandma." He grunts in disgust when he looks back over at me.

I keep smiling.

"Jake, I'm not going to dignify your questions with a response. If you don't know me well enough by now to know the answer to that, then you don't deserve an answer." She points at the door. "Time to go."

"Fine, I'll have to cut you off financially then since you're cutting off my benefits." His arms swing loose at his side but his bunching fists say he's still fighting for her.

"I couldn't be happier. You know I don't want or need your money. I'm doing fine on my own. I can support our daughter no problem without your money." Her grip on me loosens.

I wrap my other hand around our clasped fingers.

"No you fucking can't!" he spits. "You live in this pathetic shack and drive that shitty car."

"I live in a nice home that's in a safe neighborhood, and I drive a sensible, affordable car that's practically brand new. Your idea of shitty is what I call snobby," she shoots back. "I would've bought a more modest home than this if I didn't think you would've freaked out about it and taken me to court over something so stupid."

I can't stop myself; I stride forward and say, "Enough! You're done here." I grab him by the arm to escort him out.

He takes a swing at me.

I duck right in time and laugh.

"We're changing the locks on the doors. You're not welcome here anymore. This isn't your home." She stares after us as I drag him to the exit.

"Bella, come on! You know I still love you!" he whines and continues to fight me as I push his ass away from her.

I open the door, shove him out and lock it. He immediately puts his key back in the door and starts trying to get back in.

"Jake, stop it!" she hollers.

"No, you stop it! You love me! I know you do," he screams back.

He pounds on the door since I've got a death grip on the dead bolt so he can't turn it with his key.

"I don't love you! Leave!" She goes shrill and bangs back on the door.

"Fine! Stupid slut! You'll be begging me to fuck you before the week's out after he's left your fat, old ass! He's probably already laughing at you behind your back with his buddies—you're pathetic enough to let him!" His feet stomp and he kicks the door.

I open it with my eyes blazing. I push him hard down the walkway. "Don't you ever fucking say that to her! She's the most beautiful woman in the world. You've fucked her up and controlled her for too long. No more!" I swing at him and hit him in the gut so hard he falls back and lands his ass on the concrete. "And unlike you, I'd never treat her like shit and then laugh about it with others. I don't speak bastard-with-tiny-dick-and-big-insecurities. That's your native tongue."

"She's mine!" He stumbles back up to his feet and rushes at me.

I kick him in the chest and send him flying back again. "Stay away—she doesn't love you anymore. She's in love with me. She's mine. A hearing-aid might help you hear her better. When. She's. Screaming. My. Name. When. I'm. Inside. Her," I enunciate like he's too geriatric to know I've made a sound.

Bella's on the steps, begging me, "Come inside; leave him out here."

I spit at him. "You've lost the best woman in the world because you're a selfish dick. I'll never cheat on her, never! I know an amazing woman when I see one."

"She loves the way I treat her. She eats it up." His teeth grind so loud, it makes my skin crawl.

"Not anymore." I lean forward, arms stiff at my side. "She's gotten a taste of a real man, treating her right, and she's hooked. She won't ever go back to you."

"Bella, I love you baby, don't shut me out!" he cries at her.

She ignores him, moves over to me and pulls me into a tight embrace. "Let's go inside."

Is she worried that he hurt me? I'm fine.

"Move in with me," I tell her as we're walking inside of her house.

The air grows thick and tense.

She locks the door, turns to me and says, "You know I can't do that. Cori has a life here. I can't pull her out of her school and uproot her like that."

"Then I wanna move in with you. You need me to keep this asshole at bay."

"If he tries to get back inside without our permission I'll file a restraining order." Her head falls forward and she sighs. "Let's not get carried away, okay? I'm not saying never, but I'm not ready to discuss this yet."

"I'm not trying to rush anything; I'm only saying, won't he find a way to fight it and work around it since he's a lawyer? You need to get away from him for good. He knows this house too well." I wave my right hand around the room. "He's gonna press the advantage—that's what he does. And I wanna protect you."

She pauses, wears an expression like she's considering what I'm saying. "This is insane. I barely know you." Her voice cracks; full of emotion.

The torn way she looks at me along with her shaky voice, breaks me up.

Shit—I don't want to trap her, but fuck—she needs help, and I'm dying to provide her with it.

"Then let's get a new place together that's all ours. Our little family," I whisper. "When you're ready . . ."

"You don't even know Cori yet. How do you know you want to be a part of my family?"

Why is she fighting this? Doesn't she want me? Doesn't she think that I want to be with her no matter what? She's right, I don't know Cori but I will with time, and I know I'll grow to love her. At least if she's anything like her mother, I don't see how I wouldn't like her immediately and care about her welfare.

"Show me her room." I have to learn as much about her daughter as I can.

"Are you sure?" she asks.

"Yes, more sure than I've ever been of anything."

She takes me by the hand and leads me to what I can already tell is her sanctuary—the place her heart resides as her pride and joy—her daughter's space.