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One of the things about my old life was the rush. Every job was a challenge, a problem ripe to be solved and conquered, and when I'd completed what I'd set out to accomplish, it was like getting high.
And then there was the camaraderie I felt with my father and Emmett, the love. The warmth of belonging to something bigger than myself. It didn't matter – then – that what we were doing was wrong; it was what we knew, and it was ours.
But all of that pales in comparison to the feeling of Bella Swan's hand in mine.
Because it's not just her hand: it's her trust. I look down at her as we cut through the crowd. Her face is turned down, but she looks like she might be smiling a little. Maybe. And then her fingers tighten, gripping me, and I know she is.
Every sad moment I've had, every guilt ridden thought and anxious emotion, dissipates in the wake of this. I know things are far from perfect, but if I died right now? I'd be happy.
I understand, with abrupt clarity, my brother and Rose. Life is no bowl of cherries for them, either, but having each other makes the tough times bearable. I get it.
I get it.
We emerge into the night, welcomed by crisp air that turns our breath to smoke.
"Where are we going?" Bella asks, giving me another squeeze. I don't know if she even realizes she's doing it. I squeeze back, and she half-smiles, her eyes caught up in mine.
"Home, I guess."
"My home? Because, I drove..."
"No, I know," I say, but really, I'd forgotten. Seeing her try to distance herself from some asshole looking to score had provided me with the blessing of stark single-mindedness: nothing existed outside of getting Bella away. Because while that kid may not have been a threat to her safety, he was a threat to me.
And I'm not at the point where I can just sit back and let that go down. Not yet, not now. Not when she still looks at me the way she's doing right now, eyes wet with want. She's something bright, even in the dark.
"I'll follow you home," I say. "Make sure you get in okay."
I drive her to her car, and then I follow her to her dorm, where I idle on the curb, watching her. Always watching. She stands hesitantly on the sidewalk before coming to me, and I roll down the window, preparing my heart for her goodbye.
"Come up for a second?" she asks, voice small.
I gaze up at her, giving her a minute, but she doesn't take it back. Turning the car off, I grab my phone and get out. "What's up? You okay?"
She nods, shrugging. "Yeah. Come on."
We walk inside, past the desk I left the money at. In the grand scheme of things, that day wasn't so long ago, but it feels like it's been a lifetime. Things are different now than they were then, amazingly even more complicated. Every time I learn something new about Charlie or his case it's like this rabbit hole is endless, and we're falling deeper in by the day.
I've been honest with Bella about things, but I've used discretion, too. There's a lot of scary shit going on, and I don't want her to be paralyzed by fear. God knows I'm scared enough for the both of us.
I watch Bella as she leads me through hallways and doors, the way her hair swings and her hips sway. She glances back just once when we reach a door, smiling a bit. "This is it."
Nodding, I wait for her to let me in. She flicks on a light when we hit her bedroom, making me blink in the sudden brightness.
It's small, but tidy – and hard to tell it belongs to two different people. The styles, the stuff, seem seamless.
"You stay with the blonde?"
"Lauren," she says, nodding.
"She a good friend?"
"The best. I've known her since way back. Her and Alice."
"Alice the little one?"
Bella smiles, her features softening. I wish I could kiss her.
"Yeah, though I think she'd prefer 'petite'," she says.
"I got a friend..." Pausing, I think about the best way to word my request.
"You have a friend..." she prompts, sitting on the edge of her bed.
"Jasper. He works with me. At the restaurant. He –"
"What is it with you and restaurants?"
"I don't know," I say, caught off guard by the randomness of her question. I forget sometimes that she knows me primarily as someone else. "I'm good at it, I guess."
The silence between us is kind of awkward, and screw that. So I continue, "Jasper was there the night you saw me. At the club. Anyway, he likes your friend. Alice."
"Jasper likes Alice?"
Bella smirks, nodding slowly. "Lots of boys like Alice."
"I doubt Jasper cares about that," I reply with a smirk of my own, thinking of the incessant flirting this kid engages in. He's not exactly lonely.
"Well...I'll let her know," she says, watching me closely.
I nod. We're quiet again. I wonder what we're doing, not that I don't cherish every second spent. Tiredness creeps in, and I sit beside her, easing back until I'm against her pillows.
"So what's up? You nervous? I can stay if you want," I say, yawning.
"No, I...no." She looks at her lap. "I just didn't want to say good night."
I don't know what to say to that. Actually, I do, but I can't. I can't say anything because she has the upper hand, and if I'm ever going to have a chance with her, she's going to have to come to me. I can't risk scaring her off. It's bad enough I have to 'stalk' her, decent intentions be damned.
"Why are you so quiet?" she asks, like she's programmed to see right through my reticence. "You were never like this before..."
"What do you want me to say?"
"I don't want you to say anything."
I consider myself well versed in the art of communication, but apparently I have a lot to learn when it comes to the verbal dynamics of actual relationships. Instead of responding, I wait for Bella to explain...which she does, after a couple of weighted minutes.
"We used to have so much to talk about and now everything's different. You can't be that marvelous of an actor, Edward. Was it all lies? Even the little things?"
She's trying to provoke me. Because...we do talk, about a lot of things. But she wants to talk about certain things, and it's as hard for her to articulate as it is for me.
We've been through this a couple of times already, and it's frustrating to hear her bring it up again. Still, I guess that's what happens when there's any dishonesty at all. My integrity is so compromised that it's a miracle she's even speaking to me. But then I remember Alice that night at the club, telling me that Bella can't get over me. Just like I can't get over her. I stare up at her now, willing her to just...get it. "I've already told you it wasn't all lies. You were with me. It was just under shitty circumstances. Every time I kissed you...that was real. Everything I said – when it came to how I felt and what I wished we could have – was real."
Her face darkens. She gets up, wandering to her window. It's warm inside, and cold outside, so condensation has formed on the glass. She reaches up, drawing designs with her finger.
"When we were together, you had me," I say.
"Do I still?"
"You know you do."
"Is it wrong that I want what we had, even if it was make-believe?"
"It wasn't make-believe." Part of me is sick of trying to convince her. Most of me is just sick there's reason to.
She pauses in her window doodling. "I want..."
I wait, listening, watching. I could watch her forever.
"I'm tired of chasing you," she admits.
"What?" Unless I'm mistaken, I'm the one doing the chasing these days. She's been avoiding me, and rightfully so, ever since we left Miami. And shit, she made me chase her down there, too, even if it was all a game back then.
"You said you loved me."
"But sometimes this feels more like obligation. Like you're still trying to repay a debt." Her shoulders curve inward, and she rests her forehead on the glass.
"I feel a lot of things," I say slowly. "And I'll probably always be trying to repay this debt."
"You can stop. I don't want you to."
"Well, what do you want me to do?"
She's silent, back to tracing her fingertips through the frost.
"I'll be whatever you need me to be right now, Bella. But I don't even know if you hate my guts or..." I shake my head, my lack of eloquence making me feel like an idiot.
"I don't hate you," she says softly.
Again, I stay quiet. I've told her I love her. I'm not sure what else there is to say.
"You know, most guys are pretty obvious when they want something, but you hold your emotions close."
"I'm not most guys."
"Every guys says that."
"Yeah, well I think you're full of shit. And scared of me."
"You're right. I am scared of you."
She turns, wiping her hands on her jeans. "Why?"
"Because I've never felt this way about anybody."
Watching me with those big, dark eyes, she slips out of her jacket and the sweater she's got on underneath, leaving on just a t-shirt and jeans. She loosens her ponytail, letting her hair fall down around her shoulders, and I swear my fingers ache to touch it. To touch her. Everywhere.
"You could crush me," I say.
Scoffing, she eases back on to the bed.
"I think you think you love me. I think..."
I'm close now, inches away from her and her ridiculous rambling. We look at each other, and I don't care what she thinks she knows about me because she doesn't know shit. So instead of trying to explain it, again, I grab her face and kiss her.
She doesn't move, but her mouth opens, receiving me. Instead of holding back, the way I've been doing since the night I kissed her on the beach, I let loose and let her have it, pushing her on to her back. She thinks I don't care, that I'm more concerned with protecting her and righting past wrongs, and while those things matter to me, they're peripheral. At the base of it all is my love for her, and the love I think she has for me. It makes me crazy. I don't know if I'm losing myself in her, or if I'm finally finding myself.
Bella's breathing turns heavy, and she reaches up, soothing fingertips through my hair. I kiss her harder, filling her mouth with my tongue, swallowing her little moans and gasps as I push my hips against hers. She pulls back, panting, and I follow her, my lips back on hers before she can say another word.
"Edward," she whispers anyway, her lips moving against mine.
Sliding my hand up under her shirt, I touch her warm, soft skin, feeling her shudder beneath me. I remember her legs wrapped around me as I rocked into her that summer night, listening to her pain turn to pleasure. I want to do it again, lose myself in her, even if just for a night.
She manages to squirm put from under me, putting her hands on my cheeks, my mouth.
"Why did you bring me here?" I ask.
"For this," she whispers.
"You can have it wherever you want."
"Don't lie to me anymore," she pleads, holding my face. "Don't hurt me."
"Tell me the truth. Always. It's the only way."
"I will." Lacing my fingers back through hers, I press her into the mattress and kiss her again. I'm hard and she knows; she pushes up against every chance she gets. Her hands disappear beneath my shirt and now she's touching my stomach, her fingers tickling over my skin.
Groaning, I slide down, letting her hand fall away. I kiss her neck, sucking and nipping at her skin, remembering the way she smells and loving it.
The lock clicks open loudly. I move to Bella's side, unsure of what she's going to say, but she comes with me, resting her head on my chest.
The blonde...Lauren...comes cautiously in, looking only slightly surprised to see me in Bella's bed.
"Hey," Bella echoes.
"Hi." I give a small wave, and then figuring this might be my cue to leave, disentangle myself to get up. "I'm heading out. You gonna be okay?"
She nods, sitting up. Her cheeks are flushed and her hair falls in messy tangles, and she's all I want. I want inside her, and over. I want her tonight, and tomorrow, and over...and over. Grateful for the dim lighting in the girls' dorm, I stand up. "I'll see you tomorrow."
"Bye, now," Lauren says, just a little snidely.
She's protective of her girl, and I get that, so I let her alone. "Bye. Sleep tight. Call me, Bella. I mean it."
Her voice follows me out the door. "I will."
I listen for a moment, making sure they lock the door. Once things click in to place I'm on the move, yawning as I head downstairs. After being inside Bella's warm room, and specifically, her bed, the night air is a shock. Tightening my jacket, I hurry to the car and jump inside, turning up the heat.
There's not a lot of traffic at this time. I fly over streets and across the bridge, getting home on autopilot. My mind thinks of nothing but Bella: her kisses, her need, her honesty.
I don't know where we'll go after things clear up, if they ever do, but I hope she'll stay with me. Somehow, someway. I hope.
Carlisle and Esme are in bed when I get home. I let myself in silently, setting the alarm and locking up before grabbing a bottle of water. Weary to the bone, I climb the stairs and get ready for bed. Tomorrow is a long day, complete with a shift at work and then meeting Bella afterward.
She's the last thing I think of being drifting off as well as the first one I think of upon waking. Rubbing the sleep from my eyes, I shoot Emmett a text, asking if he's gotten any feedback yet. He responds promptly, informing me of the email he just sent my way.
I open my laptop and access my Gmail account, not surprised to see not one but several messages from Em. The latest is titled, simply, Jacob.
Turns out our boy was in on a couple of Charlie's jobs. He's also one of the people now keeping his eye on the Swan girls. I wonder if Charlie knows that, if he's figured it out. If I hadn't screwed the guy over so recently I'd go downtown and meet him myself, tell him what was up, but that seems a little brazen. So for now...I just read about Jacob Black. I scour his file, wondering if the wife, Leah Black, has anything to do with it, but she seems clean for now.
Bella says the Blacks are from back east, and according to this file that means New Jersey. Apparently Jacob has been with the force for seven years, so he sounds like he's a little older than what Bella thought. Nice guy. Married, in a position of authority, and a little older – totally appropriate for him to be checking Bella out while at her father's house for dinner.
The rest of the information is vague. While the Blacks have only lived in Seattle a short time, Jacob's been coming out for years to do these jobs. Charlie's gone east, too. They've all gone south. Looks like the main areas of interest are Seattle, Miami, Portland and Newark. The majority of the crimes have been somewhat minor, in that they'll result in jail time but they were no worse than the shit I used to do. The last two, though...those are what will probably land the Swan brothers...and Jacob – if Charlie snitches – real time behind bars. Drug deals. Major. Importing large quantities of cocaine into the country.
"Damn," I mutter, shaking my head.
I mean, I get it. To a degree, I understand the love of money and the rush when you get it. It's tempting, and it can be so easy. Dangerous, but easy. This stuff, though, is way over my head. Compared to the Swans, the shit my Dad, Em and I did was small potatoes. Chintzy stuff.
Well, until that last job. I'm starting to wonder if my decision to leave the "family business" was smart for reasons other than Bella. On a hunch, I call Emmett, who I know is probably already at work. He doesn't answer, but I leave him a brief voicemail, asking him to call back.
By the time he does, it's been a couple of hours and I'm the one at work. I slip out back, citing the need for a cigarette break, and take the call.
"Hey; got your message. What's up?" Like always, there's a lot of noise and commotion on his side due to the location and nature of his job. I've been down there to watch him work, and I think it would drive me crazy.
"I need you to be real with me, okay?" I say.
He sighs, loudly. "I don't have time for this, Edward. Say what you gotta say."
"Did Dad quit?"
He heard me. The fact he's stalling tells me what I need to know, but I repeat myself anyway. "I said, did Dad quit?"
"Why? Where is he?"
"Last I heard, South America or something. I don't know. He booked it when Rose and I told him we leaving because of the baby."
"But why? He couldn't have done it himself? Or hooked up with someone from back in the day?"
"You know you can't trust anybody," chuckles Emmett. "Look at this Swan guy. Being screwed over by the same shitheads who hired him. Literally. You got the dealers down in Miami who hired us, and you got internal affairs up here. The man's getting it from both sides, and not in a good way."
I'm quiet, thinking about that. It's true: trusting other criminals is risky. But is that really why dad quit the game? I know him. This is in his blood.
"What're you thinking?" Em asks.
"I'm thinking he quit because this last job got a little too deep."
"Well, you'd be right. Look, I gotta go."
"All right. Later."
We hang up, and I set my phone down. This whole time it's been Bella I've been trying to protect. That's still my main objective, but I'd never considered that agreeing to work for the outfit in Miami could result in this clusterfuck. I'm hoping we're in the clear. We did the job, took our cuts, delivered the money and left town.
But just knowing that we were so close to it – makes me nervous. I'll have to be extra vigilant, I guess.
The next couple days are routine. I work and watch Bella; she goes to classes and stays home, mostly. She doesn't try to keep me away anymore, so I spend time in her dorm with her while she does homework. Every now and then she has a study group or something, and when that happens, I just make sure to stay close by. Just in case.
Meanwhile, Charlie has been put on paid leave. At this point, a trial is pretty inevitable. The only question is when? How quickly will things proceed? How much time does he have? Bella tells me she'll be fine financially, that she and Tanya were the beneficiaries of their mother's life insurance policy. They each have savings accounts that have never been touched in addition to college funds Charlie insisted on maintaining over the years. I suspect he always knew this day would come, and like any good father, prepared for it. What wasn't a good parenting move, though, was choosing to go this route in the first place, knowing that if he got caught he'd be leaving his already motherless children. But who am I to judge? I think about my own father, and the way Emmett and I eagerly followed in his footsteps for so long.
Maybe I understand Charlie Swan better than I'd like to.
Bella's uncle Riley shows up. I remember him from the barbeque, and from some of the information Em's sent me since. He's a tall, intense looking guy, but Bella's pretty endeared. Guess their whole family is pretty close knit. He comes with his wife and they stay at Charlie's, for moral support I guess. Bella suspects, as time goes on and the trial draws near, their house will become inundated with her loud, boisterous family. I can't tell if she wants this to happen or not.
As much of a Daddy's girl as she is, one would think she'd be spending every drop of spare time with him...but she hasn't been. At first I encourage her to just go – Tanya's always there, too, and it's a safe place for them both.
But she won't. She loves her father, but this double life of his ripped the rug from under her feet. She's hurt, deeply.
Tanya's convinced her to come home for dinner tonight, though. She's going, because she misses everyone, but I know she's messed up inside. We don't go too in depth with things, because I tend to allow her to set the pace when it comes to disclosure, but I can tell.
I stand in the doorway of her dorm, watching her talk to Lauren and Alice as she packs a bag. "I never thought I'd be nervous at home," she sighs, throwing clothes into a bag. She'll be coming home to me tonight after dinner. I tell myself – and her – it's because it'll be safer, but I have selfish reasons for convincing her, too.
I want to talk to her until we fall asleep and then wake up beside her. I want her to finally meet my aunt and uncle, and maybe even Em and Rose, who's been bugging me about it for awhile.
I look up, realizing she's talking to me now, her friends looking on expectantly.
"I said, you'll come get me early if it gets shitty, right?"
"Yeah...but I don't think it will. Just, I don't know. Make the best of it."
Alice nods. She looks even more sad than Bella does. "I know you're pissed at him, but he's your dad. This time with him is precious."
"I know that," Bella says, frowning. "Trust me. I think about it all the time. I just...I feel like I don't even know him."
"You know him," I assure her. "You just don't know this side to him. Don't let it affect your feelings for him. There's nothing you can do about what he did."
She stares at me, zipping her bag. We both know I could be talking about me, too.
Lauren clears her throat. "Charlie's still Charlie, and he loves you, and that's all that matters. If you don't hang out with him while you can, you'll regret it."
Bella nods, picking her bag up. "Yeah. I'll be okay. I just need to start dealing with this." Her voice cracks, and her friends jump up, no doubt to swoop in and comfort her. Unsure of where I stand with them, and sometimes, with her, I reach behind for the door handle.
"I'll be outside, Bella."
"Hold on," she says, voice muffled by Lauren's shirt. They hug and cry and mumble things and then Bella breaks away, coming toward me. I wave a quick goodbye to Lauren and Alice and then we're gone, walking silently down the hall. I know she's stressed over this dinner and spending time with Charlie in the wake of the shitstorm that's gone down, so I let her stew. There's nothing I can say that hasn't been said.
Downstairs, she tightens her scarf and leans in to me as cold air whips through the lobby's open door. It's frigid out; about to be December.
I've known Bella for nearly six months.
"What?" Bella asks. "What're you smiling about?"
She's so close she's almost resting her head on my shoulder. I slide my arm around her, smelling her hair. "We met six months ago."
"That long, huh?"
"In some ways it feels like I've known you longer."
She pauses, then nods. "I know what you mean."
The text comes around nine thirty.
Can you come?
I respond to her immediately, and then grab my keys on the way out the door. Esme, tucked in at the kitchen table, grins at me from behind her laptop. She can't wait to meet Bella, no doubt feeling very smug that she was right about everything.
Smiling back, I roll my eyes and leave. It's quiet and cold, and all I can think about is Bella and blankets and how good it's going to feel to combine the two.
I pull up to the Swan house in record time, knowing, but not caring, that I'm at this girl's beck and call. I text her to let her know I'm outside and she appears promptly, pulling the door closed behind her. It opens again as she slips into my car. My heart lurches as Tanya Swan strides out, her face pulled into an angry mask.
"Just go," mutters Bella, clicking her seatbelt.
But I don't. I roll down the window and wait as Tanya leans down, peering in at me. "You've got a lot of nerve."
I don't respond. Somehow I think her observation is meant to be hypothetical.
"Why are you here?" she asks.
"Shut up, Baby Bell," she snaps, her blue eyes bright even at night. "Edward. What do you want with my sister? Why can't you just leave well enough alone?"
I hear Bella's sharp intake of breath, and I know she's fighting mad. I've got a brother; I know what it's like to be so mad you're murderous, and I get why Tanya hates me. But I don't want to be in the middle of this, nor do I feel like explaining myself to anyone besides Bella. She grabs my hand, squeezing, giving me support I don't deserve.
"Because I love her. And I'm here for her."
"You don't know what love is," she says, sounding deflated.
"I didn't...but I do now."
"We're leaving now, Tanya. I'll see you later," Bella says loudly. "Come on."
Tanya backs slowly away, looking a little shellshocked. I don't know what she was expecting when she came out to talk to me, but I'm guessing it wasn't that. I roll the window back up and leave, turning the heat a little higher.
"I'm sorry," Bella breathes.
"Don't be. She's right to be freaked out."
She shakes her head, looking out the window. I glance at the reflection of her face, wishing I could read her silences. "How'd it go tonight?"
"Pretty good, actually," she says, a smiling a little. "It was nice to spend time. Felt like always, you know?"
I nod, because I do know. I miss that. I miss my dad, even if he is kind of a dick.
She finds some dreamy song on the radio and we go home.
Esme's nowhere to be found when we walk in through the kitchen door. I peek surreptitiously around, half expecting her to casually stroll in for a peek, but she never does. I'm assuming she wants to give me privacy, and I appreciate that. After making sure Bella doesn't need anything, I bring her upstairs.
She drops her stuff on the floor and comes to me, resting her forehead on my chest. I bring her into my embrace. We do this a lot lately. Holding, hugging. There's kissing sometimes, but there's a lot of pulling back, too.
Right now she's pulling back so she can look at me. I thumb the delicate shadows beneath her eyes: she's so soft.
"Stop thinking," she says, her fingers wrapping around my wrists.
"I want you to..." She yanks me close, kissing me.
So I kiss her. I unwrap her scarf and drop it to our feet, and then I help her out of her jacket. I slip out of mine while she loosens her bun, grinning when her hair gets caught in the elastic. We take off our shoes and get into bed, where she pulls me on top, wrapping herself around me. It quickly becomes apparent that her jeans need to go, so I back up and peel them off of her, kissing her thighs and her belly button as I do.
She shivers like she's cold...aroused. I kiss her skin, chasing her goosebumps with my tongue. Her fingernails scratch lightly through my hair, and then she tugs, bringing me up to kiss me. I grind and push into the cradle of her hips, reaching down to unbutton my pants. She joins me, sliding her hand down and grasping me so firmly I gasp into her mouth. For a minute she does just that: holds, squeezes, slides her hand up and down while we kiss. We get my pants off, and then I roll on to my back, bringing her with me so that she's on top. She curves over me, silky hair brushing my face while our mouths reconnect. I hold her hips in my hands, working her body over mine, and she meets me move for move.
She's got this little black sweater on, one with buttons. I undo them, kissing her as I go lower, collarbones to cleavage. I open it up, revealing her beautiful body to me, remembering that there was a time when I saw her like this constantly because of the beach. Tugging her bra down, I kiss her nipples, running my tongue around each of them, making her tighten her grip on me. She reaches around to unclasp her bra, tossing it aside. I push my face into her breasts, making her laugh quietly and pull me back by the hair so that she can kiss me again.
I run my thumbs over her nipples while we kiss, feeling them harden beneath my touch much the way I've hardened beneath Bella. She responds by circling her hips, pushing down where I push up.
Watching her, lips parted, breathless, her eyes heavy with want for me. I flip her over again and reach back, yanking my shirt off by the collar. Bella pushes my boxers down with her feet, and I help her, desperate as she is to be naked. And then all's that's left are her little black panties, which I peel off.
And now I pause and look at her. She gazes back up at me, the features of her face illuminated by the lamp in my room.
Running my finger down her stomach, I follow its trail with my mouth, ending between her legs.
She groans when I taste her. Her knees try to clamp shut, but I hold them open and do it again, and again, until she's coming and crying out and coming, pulling my hair so hard it hurts. I'm inside her before either of us expects it, going on sensation and feeling, drunk off of the five senses of Bella. Leaning down, I kiss her ferociously, sliding my tongue through her mouth, knowing she can taste herself.
She is so wet, and so good. Her face, beatific, her hands, holding my arms. I thrust a couple of times before withdrawing, knowing that I'll regret it if we don't use protection. I just want to be with her, no worries, no stress. We have enough to worry about.
Her eyes seem darker as she watches me roll the condom on. When I'm finished, she grabs at me and places me back inside, wet fingers needy and sure. I'm as far inside her as I can possibly be, rocking back and forth but never enough. I cover her face in kisses, and then I lean to the side, toppling on to my back again so that she can ride.
This moment, burned incredibly into my brain: Bella, swaying above me, her breasts close enough to kiss, her hair backlit and aglow.
I don't deserve her, I don't.
She should have run and stayed far away, but she didn't. She could hate me right now, but she doesn't. And I'll be damned if I lose her now.
"Stay with me," I whisper, bringing her close, kissing. "Just stay."
Under Your Spell - Desire
sorry for the wait. summertime - kids everywhere, all the time. THANKS SO MUCH FOR READING (and reviewing!) love.