This was originally submitted to the Christmas Wishes compilation.

Thank you once again to darcysmom for our wonderful beta skills and for being such a good friend. We love you!


"Officer Masen, so lovely to see you. What brings you to this side of town?"

I sighed. "Mrs. Meyers, you know the beach is closed and there's no swimming after five."

"We were just taking a late night swim. No harm."

It was nearly midnight and Mrs. Meyers and her friends thought there was no harm in taking a swim in the ocean. These women were going to be the death of me.

"It's not safe to be swimming so late with no life guards. A tide could pull you under and take you out to sea. Ladies, I'm going to have to ask you to get out of the water and leave the beach, please."

"Party pooper," the ladies in the water muttered.

Mrs. Meyers and her entourage paddled to shore before stepping out of the ocean bare ass naked. While I was talking a minute ago I really wasn't paying attention to what the ladies were wearing and hadn't even noticed they had no clothes on.

I groaned trying to avert my gaze quickly but not quick enough. There was only so much a man could take and seeing seven old ladies bare ass naked wasn't one of them. My brain needed to be bleached.

"Ladies … please cover up and get some clothes on before I have to take you in for indecent exposure."

"Rubbish. We're all adults here. There's nothing we have that you haven't already seen," Mrs. Snyder chimed in.

"It's against the law to be naked in a public place, Mrs. Snyder."

"Are you going to arrest us, Officer Masen?" Ms. Henry asked.

"Not if you get dressed and vacate the beach quickly."

I kept my back to the women as I heard them treading water and gathering clothes. One eyeful was enough for the night.

Mrs. Meyers and the other six women were all in their late sixties and were hell on wheels. They called themselves the Lucky Strikes and their motto was, "We don't look for trouble, trouble finds us."

Even though they were a rambunctious group of women they were well loved in town and would do anything for anyone including myself.

"You can turn around, Officer Masen. It's all clear."

Hesitantly I turned around to see all seven ladies fully clothed and gathering the rest of their belongings. Thank God.

"Ladies, next time you want a late night swim try the YMCA. Have a nice rest of your evening."

"You too, Edward," the ladies said.

I followed the women off the beach and towards their cars making sure they got in safely before I drove away. It was late and my shift was almost over so I hopped in my cruiser and headed back towards the station. After finishing up some paperwork I had been putting off, I waved goodbye to Valerie the nighttime desk clerk and got in my SUV for the short ride home.

I was lucky enough that when I came to town four months ago I was able to find a condo right by the beach that I could afford. It was a corner unit located on the first floor with a little patio. It had two bathrooms, a nice size kitchen and just enough room for a bachelor like myself.

Only few short months ago I had left the busy city of Chicago to come to the quiet New Jersey town of Stone Harbor. Don't ask me how I got here because I'm not quite sure. I had never even heard of Stone Harbor before I took out a map and pointed to where I wanted to go.

I researched their police department and saw they had an opening and sent a request for transfer in. The Stone Harbor chief was pleased with my background and experience and happy to welcome me to the department.

I've been happy with my choice, and small town life suited me well. Life in this town was never dull by any means. On most nights the worst I had to deal with was a bunch of old ladies getting into trouble. If that's all I needed to deal with on a regular basis I would take it any day compared to the drug dealers and gang bangers I left behind on the Chicago beat.

After parking and letting myself into my condo I hung up my holster and grabbed a beer from the fridge. It may have been late but I was too wired and not at all ready to sleep, so I plopped on the couch and channel surfed. I must have been more tired than I thought because somewhere during the NCIS re-runs I fell asleep.

The morning light filtered through the blinds as I woke with a stiff neck and back ache from sleeping upright all night on the couch. Thank God it was my day off or I would be hurting all day. I picked myself up making my way to the bathroom for a much needed hot shower.

I stripped out of my dirty uniform then let the hot water beat on my back loosening my tired muscles. After I was good and clean I donned a pair of faded jeans and a black t-shirt with my pair of Chucks and headed out the door for some much needed food.

It was a nice day and the local diner – Roseabella's – was only a few blocks from my place so I decided to walk. It was quiet except for the distant sounds of the ocean winds. I exchanged a few hellos as I made my way toward the diner. It was still early but not too early for the regulars to be out and about.

As I walked in the diner I waved to Bella before taking my normal spot at the counter. She placed a mug in front of me and filled it with some steaming hot coffee.

"Usual, Masen?"

I nodded and took a sip letting the caffeine do it's magic. I watched the beautiful, sexy brunette swing her hips as she placed my order with the cook.

Bella and I had a love hate relationship. She'd acted nice to me one minute but then was standoffish the next. We'd talk and flirt but never acting on the attraction we both seemed to be denying. Today the diner was busy and she didn't have time for either.

With her long mahogany hair, hazel eyes and curves in all the right places Bella was the epitome of sexy. Her breasts were small but would fit in the palm of my hand as I caressed her nipples with my thumbs. Her ass was perfect with its round heart shape meant to grab hold of as she rode me. And now my cock twitched behind the zipper of my jeans.

I casually adjusted myself as I took another sip of coffee. It was no surprise I had a constant hard on whenever I was around Bella or that she had been starring in all my naughty fantasies as of late. It had been nearly a year since I had gotten laid but that didn't mean I wanted to act on the attraction.

If my last relationship taught me anything it was not to rush into something.

Not too long and Bella was placing my plate of pancakes, eggs and sausage in front of me. My mouth watered at the delicious smell and my stomach growled. It didn't help I wasn't sure when I had my last real meal that didn't consist of a powerbar or energy drink.

"I heard you had an interesting night," Bella said with a giggle.

"How the hell …" I shook my head. "Nevermind."

Bella laughed. "Edward, haven't you learned anything yet? There is nothing you can hide from in this town."

I learned that the hard way. There was one thing about small town life - word of mouth traveled fast.

"Yeah, I've noticed."

"So who had the best body?"

"Not funny, Bella. Not funny at all."

"I'm sure you'll live."

Bella was still laughing, refilling my coffee before moving to help some other customers. I dived into my meal moaning as the delicious food settled my empty stomach. Every once in a while my eyes settled on the sexy brunette.

My days off usually consisted of running errands, grocery shopping, cleaning, doing laundry and mowing the lawn. At the end of the day, I usually prepared my dinner out on the grill and ate al fresco with a beer in hand. It wasn't any different that night and I sat out on my deck enjoying the early June evening.

The next morning, I woke up feeling rejuvenated from my day off. I was looking forward to another one so I decided to go for a walk down to the beach. There was something about the beach at sunrise.

I thought that maybe I should look into getting a dog but then wondered if it would be a bit cliché - a single guy with a dog running down the beach? I finally decided that it wouldn't' be any different than a single woman running on the beach with a dog. It was normal. That's what I wanted to get back to – normal.

My mind continued to wander as I walked further down the beach. I was so lost in my thoughts that I almost missed my favorite waitress sitting on the pier. At first, I had to do a double take – her hair was down and the breeze blew it out around her. But it was definitely Bella. Her side profile completely gave her away.

Bella's feet were dangling over the side of the pier and she was clutching something in her hands. From a distance, I could faintly hear her murmuring to herself between sniffles. She was obviously crying. I wondered what could make this beautiful creature so sad.

I debated whether or not I should approach her, but as her sniffles morphed into all out sobbing – my heartstrings won out. Private moment or not – she needed someone, even if it was only for silent company.

"Bella? Are you okay?" I asked softly.

Startled, she turned and looked at me wide eyed.

"Edward … hey. Umm … I'm all right."

"You look like you could use some company."

"Oh, umm …."

I could see the panic in her face.

"We don't have to talk. I saw you crying and I thought …."

"Edward," Bella interrupted, "You're a nice guy and I appreciate your concern but this is really personal."

"I didn't assume otherwise, Bella. If there's one thing I know about a woman in tears – it's that she could use a shoulder to cry on."

Bella looked at me for a long moment and sighed in defeat. I took a seat next to her and swung my legs over the wooden planks.

"It's peaceful here," I mused quietly.

"I thought you said we didn't have to talk?" Bella snipped.

"We don't … I was just sayin'."

Bella huffed and returned her attention to the item in her hand. It appeared to be a worn out band t-shirt. It was black and faded, but Bella held on to it like her life depended on it. I couldn't help but wonder what the story behind the shirt was and I was sure it had everything to do with her sitting there crying on the pier.

We sat in silence for a couple hours. The sun had risen and the sky above us was shaded in pastels. Below us the water churned; waiting perhaps to see if it could swallow us whole. The silence between us wasn't unbearable – it was companionable. Bella continued to sniffle and pick at the shirt in her hands. After a while, I felt her lay her head on my shoulder. She was so close I could feel her tears on my shirt but I couldn't enjoy the smell of her sweet perfume because of the brine of the ocean.

My heart continued to pang at the thought of the sadness on her face. Bella was obviously very distraught over something.

"Thank you, Edward."

"For what?"

"For sitting here with me – keeping me company. I know it's not easy to console someone when you don't fully understand the situation but you stayed so thank you."

"Anytime, Bella."

There was so much more that I wanted to say to her, but I didn't want to push my luck.

Moments later, she lifted her head and murmured something about needing to get back. She thanked me again and took off down the pier, leaving me spinning in her wake.

The following morning my head was still reeling from the night before. I had left Chicago for a new start and it didn't include getting involved with a woman. But there was something about Bella that sucked me in. Of course there was an attraction there, but this was something more. I felt like we had a connection and it made we want to get to know her more.

After a quick shower, I dressed in my uniform and headed out the door. I still had a half hour before my shift and I wanted to check on Bella. I didn't want to seem like a stalker so I thought I could grab breakfast as an excuse to see her. I kept telling myself on the way that I was just concerned about her welfare even though my heart was telling me something else.

The bell over the door jingled as I walked in the diner and took my usual seat at the counter. I looked around expecting to see Bella helping customers but was disappointed when I didn't see her. I was concerned when I saw Rose since she usually worked the afternoon shift while Bella worked the morning shift .Rose smiled as she slid a coffee in front of me.

"Hey, Edward. What can I get you?"

"Hey, Rose. I'll take a short stack with sausage."

"Coming right up."

When I still didn't see Bella I wondered if whatever was bothering her last night had caused her not to come to work today. A few minutes later Rose was placing my food in front of me and I couldn't let my curiosity go.

"How come you're in here this morning, Rose?"

"I have some things to do this afternoon, so Bella offered to cover the afternoon rush."

"Oh … is she okay?"

"Why wouldn't she be? Edward, did something happen?"

"Uh … well …"

"Jesus, Edward, just spit it out."

"Right. Yesterday morning I found her on the pier crying."

"Why would she … Oh, shit!"

"What?"

"Yesterday was Jasper's D-day and I forgot. Crap."

"Jasper?" I choked out. "Who's Jasper?"

"Her brother. He died three years ago. He was hit by a drunk driver and died instantly."

"Jesus …"

"Shit. Listen to me telling you Bella's life story. She'd smack me upside the head. Anyway, I can't believe I forgot. I always stay with her."

"If it's any consolation I sat with her."

"You did?"

"Yeah … we didn't talk, I just kept her company."

There was no way in hell I would tell her that if felt right to sit beside Bella and be there for her. My emotions were all scrambled and it scared me to death.

"Edward, you're a good man. You'll make some woman very happy."

I grumbled, "I better go or I'll be late for work."

"Hey, before you go. We're having a barbeque on Sunday … you should come."

"I don't know."

"Come on, Edward. Emmett will be disappointed if you don't come. There aren't a lot of men he gets along with on the force. But you he does. Besides … Bella will be there too."

My ears perked up at the sound of her name and the thought of seeing her outside of the diner. I hesitated a moment but resigned to try to be normal. I needed to get on with my life and stop being such a loner, and if that meant getting to know a sexy brunette then so be it.

"Alright, I'll be there."

"Great! I'll see you Sunday then."

Over the next few days, I purposely avoided going to the diner and seeing Bella. It's not because I didn't want to see her – I did, but I knew that I needed to have some space from her.

After my shift on Friday, I stopped in at the diner to see if Rosalie was around. I wanted to ask her if there was anything I could bring to the barbeque on Sunday.

"I've got pretty much everything covered, Edward. If you want to bring some beer that'd be great and an extra bag of ice never hurts."

Rosalie winked at me and stepped away to refill another customer's coffee. I turned to leave and nearly ran over Bella in my effort to do so.

"Are you okay?" I asked as I helped her up.

"Yeah, I'm okay. Where are you running off to? You act like your ass is on fire."

I shook my head in an attempt to clear it. Having Bella so close was a heady feeling.

"I'm just on my way home. I stopped in to see Rose and now I'm …."

"Ahh … got a hot date with the couch and the remote control, huh?"

"Erm … not exactly."

Bella looked at me disbelievingly.

"Yeah … I'm not buying it, Ponch."

"Ponch?"

"Uh huh … you're a cop, you'll figure it out."

Bella smirked at me then turned on her heel and walked away.

Sunday afternoon, I drove over to Emmett and Rosalie's but not before I'd stopped at the liquor store to pick up a bag of ice and a 12-pack of beer.

I found Emmett outside on the deck preparing the grill.

"Hey, man, what's up?" Emmett asked, fist punching me.

"Not much, man."

He showed me where to put the extra ice and beer and I popped open bottles for the two of us.

"Soo … Rose said she convinced you to come because Bella will be here."

I grinned and shook my head before taking another sip of my beer.

"You like her …" Emmett grinned.

"She's nice." I shrugged.

"Thought you moved here to get away from a bad relationship not get into a new one?"

"I did, but ..."

"But … you're attracted to her?"

"Fuck, Emmett, I don't know. I like her but she's hot and cold and I'm having a hell of a time trying to read her."

Emmett nodded.

"Rosie told me you found Bella crying on the pier the other morning."

"Yeah, she was pretty upset."

"She's been through some shit. Her brother was one of my best friends. When he died – it was like a piece of her went with him."

"So you knew him?"

Emmett nodded.

"They were twins – Bella and Jasper. Jazz was older by like six minutes. If you didn't know any better – you'd think he was six years older. He was so protective of her. They were very close."

Rosalie walked out onto the deck, carrying a tray of ribs wrapped in tin foil.

"Em …" Rosalie shook her head. "That's not your story to tell. I've already given up too much."

"I'm not allowed to talk about my friends?" Emmett asked.

"Don't talk about Bella like she's not here and give out private information about her life. No offense, Edward, but if she wants you to know – she'll tell you herself."

"I know that, Rose. I'm just trying to understand why she's so hot and cold. I can accept the fact that it's because of something tragic. If it's just in her nature – that would be a little harder to take."

"Try talking to her, Edward. That's the best advice I can give you. Push her a little if you have to, but if you can't catch her when she falls – and she will – then you need to walk away now."

We heard the sliding door open and turned to see Bella standing in the doorway.

"Hey, guys." Bella smiled.

"Speak of the devil …." Emmett murmured.

Bella looked at us in confusion.

"What's going on?" She asked.

"I was just telling Edward if he can't handle the Lucky Strikes he needs to walk away now," Rosalie deadpanned.

I don't know if Bella had overheard any of our conversation but I did know that she wasn't buying Rosalie's explanation. Rosalie asked Emmett to help her with something in the kitchen, effectively leaving Bella and me to ourselves.

"Can I get you a beer?" I asked.

"No thanks. I don't drink."

There were a few beats of silence between us before Bella spoke again.

"If you really wanted to know about me, why didn't you just ask me instead of asking Rose and Emmett?"

"Bella," I sighed.

"No … I'm sure after finding me in a sobbing mess on the pier you want to know why."

"Bella … it's just that you're so hot and cold with me, I mean one minute you're flirty and funny and the next you're closed off and serious. It's giving me a little bit of whiplash. When I found you on the pier, you seemed so heartbroken and lost. You were crying and it made my heart ache to think of you that way."

"Edward, when you've experienced the things I've gone through, you'll appreciate why I run hot and cold. I have good days and bad days just like everyone else. I'm sorry if you feel slighted in any way."

I let out a breath I hadn't realized I'd been holding.

"It's not that I feel slighted – I just wish I understood a little bit better. I want to understand how you can go from the sweet, funny, sexy , girl-next-door type of waitress who is kind to strangers and treats regulars like family to a seemingly miserable, sad, closed off shell of a person that I found sitting on the pier."

Bella stood against the railing, her fingers tracing the pattern in the wood over and over. She took a deep breath and exhaled quickly. She turned toward me and her eyes were shining with tears.

"Will you come for a walk with me?" She whispered.

"Sure."

I stuck my head in the door and told Em and Rosalie that Bella and I were going for a walk. I met Bella at the gate and followed her a couple blocks down to the beach.

The main part of the beach was teeming with people. It was a beautiful day – perfect for lazing about on the beach. Bella led me down to the water – just far enough so that it washed over our feet.

"My Dad used to bring my brother and me here when we were kids. We'd spend two weeks here every summer with my grandmother. My dad was a police officer in Philly and he was killed in the line of duty when we were thirteen years old."

"What about your mom?" I asked quietly.

"She left when Jasper and I were two. She was from the Midwest and missed the 'quiet' country life. She'd come to Philadelphia hoping to find something bigger and better, but in the end she realized that she liked the quiet life better. Anyway, after Dad died, Jazz and I came here to Stone Harbor to live with our grandmother. Nana told us that our mom was severely bi-polar and would go through stages where she wouldn't take her meds. Dad eventually filed for divorce and sole custody which she signed off on with the stipulation that we could contact her if and when we wanted."

"Did you ever want to?"

Bella shook her head.

"Where's your grandmother?"

"She passed away when Jazz and I were eighteen. Jazz moved to Philly to go to college about a month after graduation and Nana died two weeks later."

Emmett wasn't kidding when he said that Bella had been through some shit. She'd lost her entire family within a few years of each other.

"I stayed here, of course. We all kind of grew up together. I met Rosalie in 8th grade and we've been friends ever since. It's more than that though …"

"More than what?" I asked confused.

"My best friend, Alice – she, Rosalie and I – we were inseparable. They made everything better because they helped me through losing my dad and Nana by being there. Alice and Jasper were a couple. He loved her and she loved him. When he went to school – Alice and I stuck together because it made us miss him a little less. That never stopped me from feeling like the odd man out. I helped Rosalie open the diner and it made me feel better after Nana died because I was interacting with everyone she knew and it kind of made me feel like she was still there. Jazz studied criminal justice for a couple years before he went to the police academy and that's where he met Emmett."

"Emmett's not from here?"

"No … he's from Philly too. Anyway, one weekend Em came home with Jazz. For Rose and Em, it was love at first sight. When Rose and Em got together I was really the odd man out. But we were family the five of us. Jazz and I only had each other and the others accepted us without question. We were thrilled of course when both Jazz and Em got positions at the local police department. It meant that we could all be together. Jazz had been with the PD for a little over a year and he was out on patrol that night."

Bella stopped walking to pick up a shell at her feet. I could see the tears falling down her face as she fidgeted with the shell. She walked a few feet up onto drier ground and sank down into the sand. I sank down beside her.

"Jazz made a routine traffic stop and was just getting back into his cruiser when he was hit by a drunk driver. He never had a chance." Bella sobbed.

Jesus. I couldn't even begin to imagine.

"Alice and I were devastated. What I didn't know was that Jazz had proposed to Alice. They were waiting until his weekend off to tell everyone. Instead of planning a wedding, we had to plan a funeral. Alice and I couldn't agree on anything. She wanted a big elaborate affair saying that he was a police officer and he deserved something dignified. I argued because that wasn't who Jazz was – he was selfless and didn't care about stuff like that. He was the best brother that anyone could have ever asked for and that's how I wanted to remember him."

Bella was all out sobbing by the time she finished and I pulled her into my arms, knowing that she only needed someone to be there. I was thankful that she trusted me enough to tell me what was going on in her life but I felt awful at all the heartache she'd experienced. It was so much more than my own.

"So now you know," Bella sniffled. "I like you, Edward. I like you a lot but I don't have a great track record with police officers and I tend to lose the people I love the most. I'm trying like hell to hold on to Rose and Emmett."

"What happened to Alice?"

"Losing Jasper gutted both of us. I think the pain was too much. I was a constant reminder to her that he was gone and my Nana's ring on her finger was my constant reminder that I'd lost everything. Alice moved to New York about a year and a half ago and I haven't talked to her since. She sends letters every now and then letting me know how she's doing but I can't bring myself to respond. Some days I wish that she'd stop sending them and other days I hold on to them like a lifeline."

I held Bella to me a little tighter – my heart aching for her and everything that she'd lost in her young life. If my math was correct, Bella was just shy of being twenty-five. I knew that the day I found her crying on the pier held importance – Rosalie said something about D-day.

"Why were you out on the pier that day, Bella?"

"That day marked three years without my brother. When he died … I felt like I lost a part of myself. I still feel lost sometimes."

"Sounds like your brother was a big part of you and that's understandable if he's your twin, Bella. He may be gone but he's always with you. Please tell me you know that."

She nodded and leaned her head back against my chest.

"Thank you for telling me, Bella. I'm so very sorry you've had so much heartache in your life and that you've had to face so much loss."

I only noticed that time was passing because the light on the horizon was waning, and I hoped that Bella felt calm enough to walk back to Rosalie and Emmett's.

"It's getting late … are you ready to head back?" I asked quietly.

"Yeah, but I don't feel like eating."

I didn't want to push her but I had a feeling that Rosalie would have other ideas.

There were no more words for everything Bella had lost. We walked back up the beach in companionable silence, our arms lightly brushing the other as I thought of Bella's life. How could a person go through so much heartache and still go on? My only answer was that the beautiful woman who walked beside me was much stronger than she even thought.

I knew Bella didn't want anyone's sympathy which was farthest from what I felt for her — I admired her. She was gradually chipping away pieces of the armor I erected around my heart. It scared me to death all the feelings she made me feel but at the same time excited me with the thought of getting to know her.

When we stepped on the patio Rose was just walking outside with a plate of food while Emmett was standing at the grill.

"You're just in time. Have a seat."

"Rose … I'm not really hungry."

"I swear to God, Bella, you are going to wither away if you don't eat."

"I eat."

Emmett snorted.

"One meal a day isn't eating. At least have some salad or fruit."

"You're such a pain in the ass, Rose. Fine."

Rose smiled a big toothy grin. "Thank you."

"Bella, can I get you a drink?"

"Thanks. I'll take a water."

"You got it, beautiful."

I pulled out a chair for Bella before kissing her temple and froze at the realization of what I had just done. Bella gasped while Rose stood with her mouth open. Embarrassed, I hurriedly walked away to get our drinks. Emmett was just pulling steaks off the grill as I walked over.

"What the hell was that, man?"

"I have no idea."

"Edward, I like you, but if you hurt Bella I'll have to kill ya."

"I would never hurt her —not intentionally anyway. Emmett … I have no idea what I'm feeling, but I know I care for Bella."

Emmett nodded and I seemed to appease him for the moment. We walked back over and I took the seat next to Bella while Emmett sat across from me. Bella smiled at me and I relaxed a little as I gave a smile back.

Dinner was filled with laughter, stories, and friendly banter. I felt at home with these people and was glad I could call them my friends. I relaxed more in my chair as I saw Bella was happy and smiling and comfortable with her friends.

"Hey, Edward … you thought the other night was bad but that was nothing. A few months back I had a call that there was a disturbance at the community center. I was expecting there to be teenagers fighting but no it was the Lucky Strikes. They were playing strip poker and fighting over who was going to get to see Mr. Jones naked first," Emmett cringed as he finished the story.

"Jesus. Why do I see a pattern here with these women?"

Rose laughed. "I have to give them credit. They are comfortable in their own skin."

We all continued to laugh as Emmett, Rose, and even Bella shared their outrageous stories. The more I heard about this town the more I was glad I had moved here.

As the night grew on I felt the low hum of chemistry between Bella and me grow stronger. My hand twitched, wanting to caress and touch every inch of her. The soft flirtatious touches of her fingers on my forearm as she spoke did nothing to control my libido. I couldn't tell you how many times I had to discreetly adjust myself.

What I felt for Bella was more than I ever felt for another woman. It was deeper than a sexual attraction but more like a connection of souls. It was hard to explain it but I knew it was different with Bella. I was hoping that after tonight Bella would want to spend more time with me.

"It's getting late I better go," Bella said as she stood.

"I should too. I have an early shift tomorrow."

I gave Rose a hug and kissed her cheek. "Thanks, for inviting me, Rose. I had a great time."

"You're welcome to come by any time, Edward."

"Thanks." I shook Emmett's hand, "Thanks, man. I guess I'll see you tomorrow at the station."

"Bright and early."

Bella said her own goodbyes and then we were walking to our cars. I grabbed Bella's arm before she was able to open her door.

"I hope you don't mind but I'm gonna follow you home. I wanna make sure you get there safely."

"Thank you but you don't have to do that, Edward."

"Actually, I do. My mom would be really upset with me if I wasn't a gentleman. Besides it's the cop in me."

Bella nodded. "Okay, then."

The drive to Bella's house wasn't far but then again everything was fairly close. She pulled into the driveway of a modest beach home. It was white with a wrap-around porch and a small yard. I cut the engine and walked the short distance to meet her at the porch.

"You really didn't need to do this, Edward."

"I know I didn't … but I wanted to."

"Oh."

"I'm glad I accepted Rose's invitation. I had a nice time."

"I'm glad you came too."

"Do you think maybe I could take you out some time? Maybe dinner and a movie?"

"I'd like that a lot."

"Good."

After we exchanged numbers we stood silently staring at each other. I wasn't sure if I should hug or kiss her goodnight. I felt like a teenage boy on his first date and not a twenty seven year old man.

"Well, thanks again, Edward. Goodnight," Bella said before placing a sweet kiss on my cheek.

"Goodnight, Bella."

She turned and let herself in her house before waving goodnight and closing the door behind her.

A few nights later I took Bella to a quiet dinner and a movie. We enjoyed each other's company and were both attracted to each other. From then on, all our free time seemed to be spent with each other. We'd take walks along the beach or curl up on the couch with a movie.

Beside a few heavy make out sessions that would rival a teenage couple, that was all there was physically between us. We both seemed to be hesitant on taking our relationship to the next level. With each passing day another piece of my protective armor came crumbling down. I knew it wouldn't take long till I was completely bare, unprotected, and falling hard for Bella.

One evening, Bella invited me to dinner. I worked until seven and Bella encouraged me to come over right after work.

"I need to shower and change first, beautiful."

"So bring your stuff with you and shower here." Bella shrugged.

I was as eager to see her again as she was to see me so I agreed. We still weren't doing anything more than kissing physically – with the exception of a little over-the-clothes groping. Bella sent me in to use her bathroom.

"Sure you don't want to jump in with me?" I asked jokingly.

Bella glared at me for a moment before she shook her head and left the room.

When I finished cleaning up, I walked into the kitchen to find Bella sitting at the table. It appeared as if she were going through her mail but she was intently reading the letter in her shaking hands.

"Bella?"

She looked up at me with teary eyes and I immediately went to her side to push away her tears.

"I got a letter from Alice," She explained with a sob.

"Is she okay?"

Bella nodded.

"She's fantastic, apparently. She wrote me to tell me that she's got a new boyfriend and he's asked her to marry him. She wants to know what I think about it. I don't get it … why would she need to ask my permission?"

I was surprised and found it a little odd that Alice would write to Bella to let her know about a boyfriend and his proposal, but for the life of me I couldn't figure out why she'd need Bella's permission. I stood behind Bella, massaging her shoulders as they were knotted up with tension.

"Maybe she's found happiness again and she wants to know if you're okay with it," I offered.

"I don't know. It seems like it's more than that. And why? Why now? It's so close to Jazz's D-day. Is she trying to tell me that she's finally let him go and that maybe I should too?"

"Bella," I said, kneeling in front of her. "You never, EVER have to let go of your brother's memory. Yes, you have to accept that he's not physically with you anymore, but spiritually he's always with you."

"I know," She sobbed.

I pulled Bella into my arms and carefully picked her up. I carried her into the living room and sat down on the couch, settling her in my lap. I rubbed circles on her back, hoping to relax her. She looked up at me through her sad brown eyes and spoke so very softly.

"For the last few years, I've felt like my world shattered around me. It seems like it's always one thing after the other with no time in between to catch my breath. Then I met you and everything sort of … stopped. It didn't stop, I mean … umm … everything kind of got better."

I wasn't sure what that meant but I decided it would be better to ask her than to assume.

"What do you mean?"

"Before … I would force myself to get out of bed every morning and drudge to work. Then one morning, you came into the diner. You looked so handsome in your uniform – and your smile – it was happy and beautiful. You were so charming and sweet. I heard you joking with Emmett and Rosalie, and I felt a little jealous. I wanted to know you too. Without knowing it, you gave me the boost I needed to be excited about coming in to work. I actually looked forward to it because I'd get to see you.

I loved our banter in the mornings and I wondered what having deeper conversations with you would be like. Then it was D-Day and I felt my world close in on me again. You didn't know, and I hated the thought of you knowing. I didn't want you to pity me. I took a chance when I told you that afternoon at Rosalie's and I've never looked back. When you look at me, you do look at me differently but it's not pity I see."

Bella was quiet for a few moments so I took the opportunity to speak.

"It's not. I see an amazingly strong woman who has faced a lot of heartache in a short amount of time. Instead of letting it break you – you push on. You're so much braver and stronger than you believe yourself to be. That person – that's who I see, Bella."

Bella cupped my face in her hands and leaned in, kissing me ever so softly.

"Thank you," She whispered against my lips.

I brushed my lips against hers once again. Bella pressed her lips against mine more firmly before dragging her tongue along my bottom lip begging for entrance. Our tongues caressed each other as we kissed lazily. Her fingers tangled in my hair and she moved to straddle my lap. My hands found their way to her hips and I held her against me. I could feel the warmth of her center through my jeans and hers. I groaned when Bella snaked her hand down between us and stroked my erection on the outside of the restrictive denim.

"Jesus, Bella … that feels …."

Our kissing continued as Bella's hands found the button to my jeans and worked along the waist band until she unfastened it and lowered my zipper. When her hand moved under my boxer briefs and touched the overly sensitive skin of my cock, I bucked my hips into her caress. Warm fingers wrapped around me and worked over the length of my cock, gathering up the bead of liquid at the tip and using it to her advantage.

Bella's ministrations felt so good that I couldn't form a coherent word. Instead I moaned in appreciation. My eyes were squeezed shut, and I let the sensations overtake me.

"I want you, Edward," Bella whispered in my ear as she nipped at my lobe. "Please."

"Oh, God, Bella … I want you too, but I need you to be sure."

I desperately wanted the beautiful creature hovering over me, but I wanted it to be on her terms – not because something was pushing her over the edge emotionally and she wanted to use sex to push it from her mind. I was falling hard and fast for her and one of the last things that I wanted to do was give in when I knew it wasn't what she needed.

"Please, Edward. I want you inside me. I'm tired of waiting."

"Bella … I want you too, beautiful, but I don't want you to regret this later if this is in reaction to that letter."

She pulled her hands from my pants and wrapped her arms around my neck and nuzzling into me. I wound my arms around her back and held her to me.

"I need you, Edward," Bella whimpered. "I don't want you to go anywhere."

She was breaking my heart.

"I'm here, Bella. I'm not going anywhere."

I wouldn't go anywhere – not unless she told me she didn't want me around anymore.

We sat for a while until I was sure that Bella had calmed down. My stomach growled and Bella giggled softly.

"I'm sorry, Edward. I'm a horrible hostess, I should have fed you already."

Half an hour later, Bella and I sat out on her deck eating dinner and sipping on beers. I had a hard time getting Bella to look me in the eye after the incident on the couch. While she cooked dinner, I stood and watched her until I couldn't take it anymore. I stood behind her as she stirred something on the stove.

"Bella … talk to me. What's going on?"

She shook her head and attempted to busy herself with dinner.

"Bella … stop. Will you look at me please? What's wrong?"

She shook her head again and pinched the bridge of her nose.

"I'm sorry, Edward. I guess I'm embarrassed. I pretty much threw myself at you and you called bullshit. You were right … and here you are, yet again – saving me again from myself. I just wish I understood why."

I lifted her delicate chin with my finger so our eyes met.

"Bella Swan, I think you are worth saving. I wish I could make you believe that."

I pulled her into my arms and kissed the top of her head.

"Don't over think things, Bella. That's what gets you in to trouble."

After that, things seemed to lighten up and we had an enjoyable dinner together. Sitting out on the deck in the warm summer night, I could see the fireflies in the dark corners of Bella's small yard. Bella snuggled up next to me laying her head on my shoulder. When I heard her yawn for the umpteenth time, I decided it was time to put her to bed.

"Come on, beautiful. Let's get this mess cleaned up and get you to bed."

Bella had a look of panic on her face.

"I don't want you to leave," Bella whispered.

"You want me to stay?" I asked, incredulously.

She nodded.

"Okay," I agreed.

We managed to get the dishes in the dishwasher and the counters wiped down. I shut off the light to the kitchen as Bella checked the locks on the front door. She reached out for my hand, and I gave it to her without a second thought. I followed her down the short hallway and into her bedroom. We took turns in the bathroom before settling down into bed.

"Will you hold me?"

"Of course, I will, beautiful," I whispered, kissing her bare shoulders.

Bella turned out the light and snuggled into my embrace. She was so warm and soft beside me, and it felt so natural laying with her. I couldn't wait to wake up next to her. As I was drifting off to sleep, I could have sworn that I heard Bella's soft voice telling me that she loved me.

The next morning, I woke up and the bed was cold next to me. I lay in bed for a couple minutes listening for Bella. When my ears were met with nothing but silence, I decided to get up and see where she had gone.

The kitchen was empty as was the deck, living room and her little reading nook. I walked toward the front door and saw the note.

Edward,

Something you said last night stuck with me. You said that I push on. That wasn't entirely true. When it came to Alice – I held back. I haven't talked to my best friend in over a year and a half because I was too afraid of facing reality. The engagement ring that she wore from my brother was only a bitter reminder of all the things I'd lost and I hated her for flaunting it in my face. I never told her that of course and it was my own stubborn pride that kept me from admitting it.

I want to be worthy of you. I want to be worthy of the faith that you have in me. By the time you read this, I will be well on my way to New York. I'm going to see Alice and I hope that when I come back I'll be in a better place. Thank you for being there for me last night. I appreciate it more than you know and I hope that you'll welcome me back with open arms. Please know that this is something I needed to do.

I will call you later this afternoon.

Yours,

Bella.

It was a jolt to my system to see that letter from Bella. After the initial shock wore off, I took a step back and realized this wasn't something about us per se but something that Bella needed to do. I just hoped like hell this wasn't a goodbye because I don't think I could live without her in my life.

I tried like hell to busy myself at work but it was hard. Every thought I had all went back to Bella—her soulful eyes, her sexy smile, and the beautiful sound of her voice. She was so interweaved with me there was no way I'd be able to unravel her.

That afternoon I didn't receive a call but a text that made me think of her even more.

I made it to New York and I'm fine. I'll talk to you soon. XX–B

I didn't bother with a response opting to let her have her space for a little bit longer.

The next morning I went to the diner as usual. I knew Bella wasn't there which only made my mood worse. Rose slid a steaming cup of coffee in front of me and gave me a solemn smile.

"How are you?"

"Could be better. Have you heard from her, Rose?"

"I'm sorry, Edward I haven't."

I nodded.

"Can I get you anything to eat?"

"I'll just take the coffee. I'm not really hungry."

"If you need anything else just let me know."

"Thanks."

I trudged through another day of work without hearing from Bella. Emmett tried to joke and lighten the mood but it didn't help. It had been less than two days, but it felt like two months. I missed Bella and nothing was going to help except hearing the sound of her voice.

After work I settled for a night alone instead of Emmett's offer to have dinner with him and Rose. I knew they were only trying to be good friends but I was more in the mood to sulk than socialize.

I grabbed a beer and settled on my couch with the remote flipping between an old Chicago Bears game on the NFL Network and a How I Met Your Mother marathon on FX. By eleven o'clock I was tired and needed to try to get some rest.

Sleep didn't come easy for me that night. I tossed and turned and couldn't get comfortable for the life of me. After staring at the ceiling for the umpteenth time I gave up on sleep. The red numbers on the clock read five am, giving me just enough time to grab a quick shower and catch the sunrise on the beach.

My thoughts were muffled with different emotions and I was unfocused or I would have noticed the small figure sitting on the beach sooner. As I crept closer I realized that the figure was none other than Bella. She had her chin resting on her knees and that same shirt clutched in her hands. She was whispering in low tones as if quietly talking to herself.

As I got closer I listened more closely and realized she was talking to someone. I stayed back in the shadows afraid to intrude on her moment.

Jazz, three years is a long time to put your life on hold and that's exactly what I've been doing. I've been treading water instead of taking the plunge in the deep end and actually living. You were my other half and we knew each other better than we knew ourselves. When you died I thought I lost a piece of myself. I kept your memory close, afraid if I let go I would forget you.

For a long time I was so afraid to let another person get close for fear I would lose them like I lost you and daddyespecially another cop. But I met someone, Jazz. You'd like him. He's a cop just like you and Daddy. He's a good man and treats me well. He's strong and protective and makes me happy. I love him very much and I know you'd love him too.

I went to New York to talk to Alice. She misses you but is really happy. She met someone too and he wants to propose but she didn't know what to do. I told her that all you ever wanted was for her to be happy. That it's okay to be happy and you would want her to move on.

She told me I should take my own advice—which is why I'm here. I need to let the grief go and finally live. You'll always be my brother, my other half, but I think it's time to move on and start really living.

I'll always love you, Jasper. I know we'll meet again sometime.

I watched as Bella stood and threw the shirt she'd been holding in the ocean. My heart broke at her admission and I just wanted to wrap my arms around her and love her. As if knowing my presence and my thoughts, Bella turned slowly. Her eyes were red and puffy from crying and her cheeks were tear stained. She was still the most beautiful sight I had ever seen. I opened my arms wide and she walked into my embrace and sighed.

No words needed to be spoken as I rubbed her back soothing her. I kissed her forehead and whispered sweet words in her ear as she cried in my arms. Once her sobs were under control, Bella stepped back and looked up in to my eyes.

"I'm sorry, Edward."

"For what?"

"For leaving … I shouldn't have left the way I did. I should have waited till you were awake but I needed to do this on my own and I was afraid you'd talk me out of it."

"Bella … I understand why you went to New York. I hated every minute you were gone, but I understand the reason that you had to go. I wouldn't have tried to talk you out of something as important as this."

"You wouldn't?" Bella asked incredulously.

"No. I would have tried to convince you to let me go with you because I'm sure it wasn't easy, and I would have wanted to be there for you – to support you every step of the way."

"That's … I don't know what to say, Edward."

"How about Edward, I love you? 'Cause I am so in love with you, Bella."

"I love you, Edward."

I pulled her into my arms once again and lowered my mouth to hers. Bella's lips fit perfectly to mine, soft and supple under the warmth of my lips. Our lips gently slid against each other tenderly. Her honey sweetness invaded my mouth as I traced her bottom lip with my tongue before surging between her inviting lips.

I slipped my hands to the curve of her ass, lifting her up till my erection was wedged between her thighs and leaned against the pier. A soft moan whispered from her lips while her body rocked against my hard cock. I could feel her warm center and the slight dampness from her arousal through my jeans.

The soft sounds of the crashing waves hitting the sand brought me out of my drunken haze.

"Bella … baby, we need to stop. As much as I want you right now I don't think this is the place."

"Take me home, Edward."

She didn't need to tell me twice. I grabbed Bella's hand, and we walked up the beach to my condo. It was closer than Bella's house, and I wasn't sure if I'd make it back to her place without taking her. For months we'd been flirting and teasing and the sexual tension rose with each day. I knew if I wasn't inside her soon I would explode.

We made it back to my condo as fast as our legs could carry us. I let Bella in before closing and locking the door behind us. As soon as I turned Bella was on me. Her lips fused with mine in a hard demanding kiss. I picked her up, and with our lips still connected I walked us to my bedroom.

I gently lowered her to the floor, no words needed to be spoken as piece by piece we undressed each other until we stood before the other completely naked. Ever so gently I picked her up and placed her on the bed before I shimmied up it. I settled between her legs using my thighs to open hers wider.

Bella was so gorgeous - open and vulnerable to only my eyes. She had a beautiful body; pale skin tinted with a hint of blush, soft curves that started at her petite waist giving way to shapely hips and long legs. Every inch of her glorious body only accentuated by the honest, caring and loving person she was on the inside.

I spent a few moments basking in her beauty before I couldn't help myself any longer. Her nipples were stiff and the color of rubies. My palm cupped the heavy weight of her breasts as I tweaked the tip.

Bella moaned deep and loud.

My lips twitched, I needed to taste her. I dipped my head and took a nipple deep in my mouth. I swirled my tongue along the tip, licking and teasing, emitting little mewls of pleasure from her lips. Bella's nails scraped my scalp while I continued suckling her breasts.

"More … I need more."

I lifted my head to see her dark eyes filled with seething passion, breathy gasps left her lips.

"Baby, tell me what you want."

"I want you, Edward. All of you."

I grabbed a condom from the nightstand and settled between her thighs before sheathing in protection. I hovered over her body as I teased her opening with just the tip. I eased her knees further apart, inching myself into her warm heat. As I pushed to the hilt we moaned, reveling in the feeling of coming together.

"Bella … you feel so good."

I thrust in and out of her body in a slow sensual rhythm while my eyes never left hers. Her warmth wrapped around me consuming all my thoughts at finally becoming one. Bella wrapped her legs around my waist, changing the angle and allowing me to slide in a bit more.

"Oh, God," Bella moaned.

"Good?" I asked, swiveling my hips a bit.

"Ung … yes."

Her breath was warm and wet on my ear as I slid out of her only to thrust back into her warmth. She surrounded me in every way and it felt so good. As I thrust into her body and slid out painfully slow, I could feel her quiver beneath me and with every push of my hips, Bella was closer to the edge. I quickened my pace and I could feel the fire burning deep in my groin.

"Oh, Edward …." She breathed, "I'm gonna … come."

I felt her muscles flutter around me and I couldn't slow down my own orgasm as Bella's pulled me over the edge with her. I emptied into the condom in several long streams, all the while holding on to Bella as I buried my face in her neck.

When our breathing steadied, I raised my head to find Bella looking up at me with the most beautiful look on her face. She seemed so serene and peaceful.

I touched my forehead to hers.

"I meant what I said, Bella. I love you and I want to tell you every day. "

Bella cupped my face in her hands.

"I love you too, Edward. It feels so good to say it out loud and I want to hear you say it every day."

"C'mere," I said, pulling out of her and tugging her off the bed.

I wrapped the sheets around us and led Bella out to the deck just off my bedroom. I settled down into an old Adirondack chair and pulled Bella into my lap. I wrapped my arms around her and held her to me. We sat quietly as the sun rose in the sky and warmed the skin that peeked out from under the sheets. For Bella and me – it was a new beginning and the sun rose softly on something beautiful.

Us.


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