A/N: Here's the usual chit-chat.

Massive thank you to my best friend, rock, sister and my amazeballs beta: Simply Jaded4

Huge huggles to my two fabulous pre-readers: Madmamabear & SassyNoles


6. Am I Dreamin'?

Am I dreaming, baby,

Are you for real?

Things are kind of hazy,

And my head's all cloudy inside.

Now I've heard talk of angels, baby,

But never thought I would have one to call mine.

See you are just too good to be true,

And I hope, there's not some kind of mirage,

With you, oh baby.

Am I dreamin',

Am I just imagining you're here in my life?

Am I dreamin',

Pinch me to see if it's real,

Cause my mind can't decide.

Will this last for one night,

Or do I have you for a lifetime?

Please say that it's forever,

And that it's not an illusion to my eye.

And I hope that you just don't up and disappear,

My love, I pray,

That it's not a hoax, and it's for real, oh.

Baby I know,

Sometime, say that sometime,

I need you to show me girl.

Show me that you're not a mirage,

Oh baby, I need you, I need you, I need you.

Oh, I need you to pinch me, baby.

I need you to pinch me baby,

Am I dreamin baby?

Ol Skool - Am I Dreamin'?

JPOV

A deep, disapproving grunt rumbled from my throat as I was rudely awakened from my deep sleep to the unusual-and to be honest, fucking annoying-blinding rays of sunlight streaming into my bedroom. Huffing in frustration, I closed my eyes and yanked the bed covers up and over my head protectively, burying my face into my pillow. As I laid there, my head, heavy with memories, sank further into the pillow as visions of Bella and her beautiful smile and stunning laugh continued to fill my mind-and I say continued because, in all honesty, she never stopped invading my brain.

Walking away from Bella last night was one of the hardest damned things I'd ever done. I wanted to stay with her indefinitely, and just one day wasn't going to cut it. That stunning woman and her precious little goddaughter had fucking embedded themselves into my heart, and that was more than okay with me. The day we'd spent together was perfect. Holding her in my arms and teasing her until I saw that sexy as fuck little blush of hers float across her cheeks had made my heart seize up in my chest and my jeans grow too snug, every damn time. Jesus, there was no feeling like it. And then playing with Jaymie, eating dinner with them like we were a proper family, it was pure heaven. Nothing compared to it.

Then there was that kiss...

Christ.

That mind blowing, life-altering, earth's rotation-stopping, fucking amazing kiss. Any sane person would probably think I'm a moron or a dick for kissing her when I'd told her only hours before that I'd just wanted friendship, but the truth was, my "let's be friends" statement was a load of bullshit. I couldn't stop myself. I don't know what I was thinking if I believed, for even a moment, that I could just "be friends" with Bella. Fuck, how in the holy fucking hell could I let friendship be the first damn thing on my mind? God, I must've been high to suggest us trying out as friends! Either that or I was just a goddamn idiot.

She was perfect. So beautiful. She had that kind of beauty that you read about in the books. You know, the kind that makes your heart stop? But it wasn't only her striking looks that had me hooked, it was her personality too. Bella was everything I'd ever wanted. Everything I needed. I wanted her by my side, on my arm, in my arms, wrapped in my embrace where I could protect her and keep her safe. I wanted her as my own. No other man touching her. I wanted her to be mine, and only fucking mine.

But what did I go and do? Asked her to be my friend.

What an idiot!

And because I knew she was trying to do the right thing, trying to please me, she seemed to accept it.

Fucking great.

I wanted Bella Swan more than I'd ever wanted anything or anyone else in my whole Godforsaken life. So, when I had her panting, breathless, writhing and flushed beneath me-looking sexy as fuck I might add-I couldn't stop myself from mashing my lips to hers. And goddamn, feeling her lips against mine? Fucking magical.

But the thing that really got to me? She was still here. After everything I'd told her, she'd hung around. Bella hadn't judged me. She'd listened with an open heart and an open mind, and fuck if that didn't have me completely undone. She was here, with me, making me feel like a superhero, the greatest lover and the best that ever could be all rolled into one person. Only Bella could make me feel all of those sensations and emotions. Shit, I hadn't known I could feel since everything that'd happened with my ex, let alone have any real emotions. But she was starting to make me see and feel things I didn't think were physically possible. She had awoken something within me when we locked eyes two days ago, something raw, wild, intense and possessive. Fuck, something I wasn't sure even existed. And I had a strong and powerful feeling that, as long as I had her in my life, I would continue to feel this way.

Nobody else had ever made me feel like this.

No one else had ever come close. Hell, nobody else had ever even tried.

Nobody ever listened.

They all judged.

But she didn't.

Bella refused to give up on me. She was pushing her way through my sky-high barriers, and seemed determined to show me that there was more to life than the shitstorm I'd been dealt. And fuck, if that didn't get my heart racing.

I couldn't believe my damn luck. How had a complete fucking loser like me managed to gain the attention of such a beautiful woman? And how in the wide universe would I ever manage to be worthy of such a gorgeous, kind and generous soul?

I was fucked if I knew how. But I did know one thing for damn certain: I was gonna do everything in my power to keep her by my side and to show her exactly how amazing she was.

By the time I was finished with this task-fuck, whatever the hell this was- Bella would know what an incredible woman I thought she was, and she would know how deeply into my heart she had burrowed. That beautiful brunette would finally understand just how she had completed me and how she had-somehow-salvaged my heart and soul from a junk heap of my own making.

~UH~

An hour later, once I'd finally and reluctantly hauled my lazy ass out of bed, I dragged my tired, heavy and aching body into my son's room, made my way over to his crib, gingerly and cautiously picked him up and cradled him safely in my arms. Once I had him, I then went about my daily routine of changing, feeding and dressing him all while he either babbled, chuckled or fussed 'cause he'd had gas. Yeah, my little champ was all man.

After making sure my son was set, I walked us into his nursery, which was opposite my room, pressed a loving kiss onto his soft forehead and placed him in his baby rocker. Now, safely buckled and swaying to his heart's content, I watched with a lopsided smile as his big brown eyes grew even wider in wonder as he focused on the colourful toys dangling on the mobile above his head.

Chuckling, I shook my head at my son's blatant joy before trudging back into my room, running my hands over my face tiredly and retrieving my cell from my nightstand so I could send Bella a quick text telling her my address and letting her know that I'd be cooking dinner.

I'd never cooked for a girl before. I'd never wanted or felt inclined to do so, but with Bella, the thought of doing this for her brought a smile to my face.

Quickly grabbing a pair of boxers and jeans, I changed into them and walked to my wardrobe and pulled out a denim-style button down shirt. What? I wanted to look nice for her, so sue me.

Just as I was about to head into the kitchen, my cell rang, blasting out Becca's tune.

Groaning, I threw my head back in irritation and closed my eyes, willing myself to find the patience to talk to my high-on-life sister without blowing a fuse. I didn't know why, but that sweet but crazy woman seemed to press all of my buttons.

Retrieving my cell from my nightstand, I ran my palm along the back of my neck, pressed the answer button and put it to my ear.

"What do you want, Beccs?" I huffed while sinking down onto my bed.

A long, drawn out, disappointed sigh came from her end. "Well, isn't that lovely? I call my brother to find out how everything went with the-girl-that-almost-got-away, and I'm greeted with that tone?" she asked in a rambling and slightly high-pitched voice. "Charming," she finished dryly. I could literally hear her eyes rolling.

Sighing inwardly, I leaned forward, rested my elbows on my knees and pinched the bridge of my nose in annoyance. "What do you want, Becca?" I asked in a straightforward, 'I'm-not-in-the-mood-to-be-mind-fucked' voice.

I just knew she would be standing in her kitchen with her hands on her hips, scowling into her cell with an 'oh no he didn't!' look on her face. "Don't be such a grouch," she scolded me. "How'd it go? Did you finally grow a set and fix your mistake, or is she out there considering that her only option to get over your lame ass is to sleep with anything that moves on two legs?"

My insides tightened instantly.

Okay. What the fuck?

Where the hell did she get off saying shit like that about a girl she didn't even know?

"Take it back," I bit out, clenching my fists into furious balls.

"Excuse me?" my sister asked, shocked.

"You fucking heard me," I growled, menacingly. My need to protect Bella overpowered and consumed my entire body. "Take. It. Back."

"Take what back?" she asked, confused. "What I said about Bella? Jeez, Jake, I was only messing!"

"Do I sound amused?" I threw back in a snarl. "Don't fucking talk about her that way. She isn't like that. You don't know shit."

A brief, awkward moment of silence passed between us before Becca asked in a stunned whisper, "You really like her, don't you?"

Okay. Why the fuck was it so hard to believe that I could be into someone? Or that someone as smart, beautiful and decent as Bella could be interested in me? Was I that damaged?

"Is that so hard to believe?" I whispered, vulnerably.

Awesome. Here I go again with the fucking raw, weak, exposed shit.

"No, of course not," Becca murmured, meekly. "It's just after what...Charlotte did to you, I'm just surprised."

The hairs on my neck rose instantly.

Yeah, what happened with Charlotte was fucked up, and I closed my heart off for a long time afterward. But then I met Bella and somehow, and with one intense, powerful glance-one look into those exquisite eyes-I knew that she'd be the one to break through my walls and bring me back to life.

And slowly, but fucking surely, she was doing exactly that.

"Don't," I warned her. "Don't compare them. Bella's nothing like her. They're not even in the same league. Charlotte was a fake, manipulative bitch. Bella's pure and real," I said, passionately, defending Bella's honour to my sister. "I don't get you, Becca. Why are you so surprised? Don't I deserve a chance to be happy?"

Becca scoffed and huffed disapprovingly. "Jake, don't talk shit. You know I think you deserve all of the happiness in the world, and after what you've been through, I'm glad Bella's come along. So don't make me out to be the bad guy here. I'm just looking out for my baby brother," she replied in response to my question. "Did you manage to make things right?"

"Yes," I muttered, curtly.

"Is that it? Just 'yes'," she asked incredulously. "C'mon! I deserve more than that after playing fucking Cupid for you two."

Grumbling under my breath, I rubbed my temples lightly, feeling the beginnings of a headache coming on. "Ethan and I spent the day with her and her goddaughter, and they're coming over today. Satisfied?"

"Extremely!" she squealed, the sound of her clapping her hands boomed through her cell, when her excitement suddenly came to stop. "Wait-she has a goddaughter?"

"Yup," I said with a smile. "Jaymie. She's four years old."

"So you've kinda got a ready-made family going on here then, huh?" Becca mentioned in a slightly judgemental tone.

A primal, protective growl rumbled within my stomach. "Becca..." I growled, darkly.

"What?! Did I say it was a bad thing?"

"You implied it."

"No, I think it's awesome that you accept Jaymie and she accepts Ethan. She does accept him, right?"

"She loves him," I replied in a wistful, quiet undertone. "In fact, I'm thinking about asking Ethan for advice. He's got her wrapped around his tiny little finger. I dunno how he does it. You think I should be getting jealous?" Fuck. I hated how raw I sounded.

Becca's chirpy laugh drifted into my ear. "I think you're probably safe there, bro. And he's got her wrapped around her finger because he's a baby and women love babies! Trust me, Jake. She's only got eyes for you."

"How'd you know that? You've never even met her?"

"Because I'm a woman, Jake. I know these things. Trust me, there's only one Black she's interested in, and it's not my adorable little nephew."

Relief washed over my body as her words sank in. Sighing heavily, I collapsed back onto the bed and closed my eyes.

"Fuck, Becca, this dating shit is so fucking confusing. I mean, I really like her. Hell, even Jaymie knows I like her! I just want her to feel the same way about me."

"She does, baby bro. Otherwise she wouldn't have kissed you," she reminded me, reassuringly. "That's pretty fucking awesome if you ask me. And I'm happy for you, Jake. Truly happy. I think I like this girl already, and I haven't even met her yet!" She laughed loudly, before asking, "Hey, are you coming here for Thanksgiving?"

"Planning to. Actually, there was something I wanted to ask you-"

"The answer's yes," she answered, without even knowing my question. How the hell did women do that shit?

"You didn't even know what I was going to ask!" I exclaimed, accusingly.

"If you can bring Bella and Jaymie?" she responded casually, silently begging me to say she was wrong.

"Smartass," I grumbled in a chuckle.

"What can I say? It's female intuition. Anywho. I was actually going to suggest that you bring them along. I'd love to meet the woman who's got my baby bro so whipped."

"You can be a real bitch sometimes, you know that?"

"Meh. You win some, you lose some," she said, indifferently. "So, whatcha making her for dinner?"

"Spaghetti and meatballs."

"Wow. She must be special. You only make that for mom, and that's only on special occasions. I like it. Quick, simple, child-friendly and filling. Nice choice, bro."

"Great. Now that I've got your much needed approval," I mumbled, rolling my eyes, "I gotta go eat. I'm fucking starvin'. Talk later."

And with that, I pressed the 'end' button on my cell and threw it back carelessly so it bounced on the bed, while my mind was left spinning out of control and my heart was going into fucking cardiac arrest.

God, women were a complicated species. But fuck me, Bella Swan was worth it.

~UH~

Two incredibly slow hours later, I felt my heart rate spike as the heavenly-Christ, who knew being into a girl would make you use words like 'heavenly'? I must be seriously whipped-sound of Bella's Mini Cooper rolled onto my driveway, creating a whirlwind of nerves to take up residence in my stomach.

She's here, said the relieved little voice in my head.

Smiling, I rested my palms on the marble countertop of my island and watched discreetly as her stunning body climbed out of the sleek, black car and sauntered around to the trunk.

My jeans tightened instantly as my hungry gaze descended to her pert and sexy little ass, swaying viciously as she walked. Goddamn. That woman could turn a fucking priest into a sinner. One look at her and he'd be done.

Gulping hard and swallowing the large ball of desire, I quickly adjusted myself.

Christ, I knew I'd practically built my own grave when I asked if we could start out as friends, and trust me, I'm regretting that stupid-as-fuck little brainwave more with every passing minute, and all the while working overtime trying to figure out how in the hell I can back out of it with my pride still intact...

But holy shit! I thought by now my body might've grown used to her presence and stopped reacting like a horny, sex-starved teenager whenever I laid eyes on her. Wrong. In fact, if anything, it was worse. Every time she was around me, it was like she'd started a fucking bonfire in my body. My veins instantly became alight with passion, and my entire body burned with desire.

This was goddamned crazy! I'd never wanted a woman this badly before. And they certainly didn't continue to have this insane effect on my body only days after I'd met them. And like hell did they have me acting all caveman, animalistic and jealous at the thought of other men touching them. Just the thought of it made me want to tear down this whole fucking house.

She was gonna be mine.

Yeah, I knew I had no right claiming her as so, but fuck, she was. I may have made one of the biggest mistakes of my life by asking her to remain my friend, but damn it all to hell, she was gonna be mine. And once we'd spent a little more time together, I was going to make damn sure that every male in the Seattle area knew that Bella Swan was my girl, and if anyone had any problems with that, then I guess they'd just have to suck it.

The loud slam of her trunk closing jolted me out of my inner caveman act, and I was suddenly extremely aware that the woman I had been busy claiming in my head for the past few minutes and her precious little goddaughter were making their way toward my front door.

Fuck!

Like a mad man, I sprinted through my house checking every room, making sure I hadn't left any dirty clothing in a heap on the floor and that everything was clean-well, clean as it could be-and odour free. The last fucking thing I needed was for my place to stink when I had the most beautiful woman in the world about to walk through the door.

Making my way toward the front of the house as calm and casually as I could, considering the fact my heart was hammering away in my chest, I couldn't help but chuckle and shake my head at myself.

Yep, definitely whipped.

Or, at the very least, a long way down the road toward being whipped, if I got my wish. Christ! What had happened to me?

Opening the door, I was greeted with two things:

The insanely gorgeous and positively glowing Bella.

And a beaming and excited little girl.

Whoosh, there goes the air from my lungs.

"Hey, you," she greeted smiling sweetly, while holding Jaymie's hand.

"Hey, beautiful," I responded, smiling also as I watched that sexy little blush colour her cheeks, before stepping aside so they could come in.

God, she was mind-numbingly perfect.

As Bella walked past me, I couldn't help but take in a deep breath; her delicious scent was everywhere, encapsulating me. Groaning silently, my entire body grew taut as I prayed that I wouldn't get a boner. I tried my hardest to block all of the impure thoughts about the woman now in my house.

"Hi, Mr. Jake!" came the precious outburst from an eager Jaymie.

Closing the door and crouching down to her level, I smiled at the sparkle of delight shining in her brown eyes. "Well, hey there, Princess. Don't you look pretty today," I complimented her, motioning up and down her bright pink Sleeping Beauty costume.

Blushing profusely, she twirled around proudly, showing off the fullness of the dress. "It's Aurora's dress," she explained. "Bella said I could wear it for our Disney day!"

"She did, huh?" I chuckled, turning my gaze up to a grinning Bella.

Bella nodded in confirmation. "Yes, but that was before you picked out the two DVDs you wanted to bring, honey," she chuckled, shaking her head. "I thought you were going to bring Sleeping Beauty."

Genuinely intrigued, I moved my gaze back to Jaymie and asked, "What films did you bring, squirt?"

"Jungle Book and The Lion King."

Impressed, I pursed my lips together and nodded in approval. "Well, I gotta say, The Lion king gets my vote. Timon and Pumbaa rule."

That obviously caught Bella's attention as she turned her head toward me. "Is that so?" she smiled, folding her arms over her chest and leaning against the doorframe. "Why, Mr. Black, I never would've pegged you for a Hakuna Matata kinda guy."

"Me? Sure, sure. It means no worries, baby," I smirked teasingly and winked at her.

Laughing wholeheartedly, she took Jaymie by the hand and lead her toward the living room. "You're crazy, did you know that?" She glanced back at me, her face gleaming with happiness. "But I love it."

She loved it?

I smiled victoriously.

Fuck yeah.

"Hey, Jake? Do you mind if Jaymie watches one of her films now?" Bella asked, courteously. "She's super excited to get her Lion King on," she snorted.

Holy Christ. Ever her snorts were sexy!

Grinning at the beautiful melody of her laugh, I nodded and made my way toward them. "Sure, sure. I don't wanna be responsible for the little princess not getting her Lion King on." I winked at Bella again, jauntily.

Snickering, she helped Jaymie up onto the couch, and walked over to Ethan's rocker and gave my sleeping son a quick kiss on the forehead.

What I wouldn't give to trade places with him right now.

Once the DVD was in and the movie had started playing, I walked around to the back of the couch and watched contentedly as the two most important women in my world made themselves at home in my house.

Fuck, there was no better feeling.

Well...I could think of one...

"You know," Bella's soft, alluring voice purred from beside me, "One of these days, your winking is going to get you into some serious trouble, Mr. Black." She pressed her gorgeous body into my side, and slid her arm around my waist.

My disloyal heart began to pound rapidly in my chest at her closeness.

"Yeah?" I returned gutturally, wrapping my arm around her petite body and gingerly maneuvering her until she was pinned between my body and the back of the couch. "Maybe I like getting into trouble, d'ya ever think of that?" I countered in a low and secretive voice.

"The thought did cross my mind," she said, lifting her hands from between us and skimming her fingernail suggestively over the buttons of my shirt before finding the collar and gripping it tightly.

Jesus. I'd never wanted to kiss someone so much in my life.

"But then I thought, 'every troublemaker needs to be punished.' Are you a troublemaker, Jake? Do I need to punish you?" Her dazzling brown eyes glowed with seduction and desire.

Holy crap...

"Well, Miss Swan, I guess it would depend on who's doing the punishing," I contested quietly, matching her erotic tone. "I'm sure I could let it slide if I had a sexy, brown-haired teacher handing out the punishment. But other than that, I'm not even interested."

"Not interested, huh?" she whispered in deliberation. "Not even a little?"

I dipped my face lower until my bottom lip skimmed over her earlobe and I felt her shiver just a little.

I smirked in satisfaction. Bingo.

"Not one. Damn. Bit."

Bella glanced up at me, looking a little breathless and flushed, and murmured, "So, I guess the punishment is down to aforementioned sexy, brown-haired teacher?"

"That's what I'm hoping."

Suddenly, her entire demeanor spun a one-eighty, and she'd transformed from a shy and innocent little school girl, into a devilishly wicked, sexy-as-fuck (not that she wasn't sexy before), dominant head mistress.

Jesus, I was in serious trouble.

Pinning me with her smokey smoulder, the corner of her mouth tugged up into an devilish smile as she pulled me by the collar until our bodies were pressed together, almost making us one. "Well then, buckle up, big boy. You're in for a bumpy ride."

I groaned audibly and dropped my head into her neck. I also had absolutely no doubt at all that I was in way over my head, and yet, I could not find the urge to be antsy or tentative anywhere in my heart. I was wide open and ready for whatever this beautiful angel was interested in doling out to me-punishment, pleasure or anything in between.

~UH~

"I got you a gift today," Bella announced as we sat opposite each other at my island.

"You did?" I answered, perplexed. I had no clue we were exchanging gifts...

"Yep," she smiled angelically and popped the p. "Hold on one second and I'll go grab it," she said, hopping off of the stool and jogging into the living room.

She'd gotten me a gift? She never mentioned anything before about us buying gifts. So, did that mean that she'd seen something that reminded her of me, or...?

I wasn't sure why, but the latter of the two options brought a smile to my face. It was a nice fucking feeling to know that she'd possibly been thinking about me.

"Here it is," Bella's voice boomed through the kitchen, jerking me from my musing.

Instantly, my eyes riveted to her gorgeous figure and my heart began to race.

So goddamn beautiful. Mouth-wateringly beautiful.

Seriously? Dude, the constant boner you have for her is not cool.

"Whatcha think?" she asked, beaming with elation as she brought out a tangerine-orange cap from behind her back. "I also bought some ingredients to make some marshmallow brownies."

Holy fuck. The brownies, along with the rather explicit image of Bella strutting around my kitchen wearing nothing but an apron and heels, had my mouth freakin' salivating. However, as cock-hardening as those thoughts were, they weren't what'd caught my attention.

My jaw dropped incredulously as my eyes focused on the monstrosity she'd brought into my house. "You're kidding me, right?"

"What?" she questioned innocently, her eyes darting between mine and the cap. Yeah, innocent my ass. Little minx. "Don't you like it? I could go and get another colour if you'd like?"

Standing from my seat at the island, I walked over to her robotically and wide-eyed in disbelief. "You brought a freakin' Broncos cap into my sanctuary, Bells!"

"Right...?" she drew out the word as if I was making no sense.

Oh, so it was like that, huh?

Well, two could play at this game.

Tearing my eyes from the thing in her hands, I snapped my gaze to hers and stalked towards her. A nervous yet devious smirk formed on her lips.

"Maybe I'm not making myself clear," I growled darkly, but amused. "You brought a Denver Broncos cap into my house and planned on giving it to me? I'm disappointed, honey." I folded my arms and shook my head in mock-offence. "I'm seriously gonna have to rethink this thing we've got going on," I motioned between us, "'Cause I can't be with someone who gets me stuff like this," I pointed to the cap, realising too late that I'd said 'with' instead of 'friends with'.

Shit.

Not gonna lie, the need to hold her in my arms knowing that she was all mine was driving me fucking crazy. But, I was the stupid ass who laid down the 'lets-be-friends' rules, and I needed to respect her decision to let us heal before we took our friendship any further. But goddamn if it wasn't killing me.

"Sorry, Bells." I shrugged nonchalantly, fighting my amusement and hoping she hadn't caught on to my mistake.

As if my words had caused something inside of her to snap into place, she raised an eyebrow skeptically. "Oh, is that right?" Bella threw back, placing her hands on those sexy hips, resolutely.

Damn...

"Well, I guess I'll just take my cap and leave," she huffed stubbornly, but with the smallest hint of a smile.

Over my dead body was I letting her leave.

Chuckling at her hot-headedness, and feeling a slight tinge of fear wash over me at the thought of her leaving, I strode toward her and hauled her sexy ass into my arms, causing her to squeal and press her palms flat against my pecs. "You're not going anywhere, Miss Swan, so don't even think about it," I commanded raspingly into her raspberry and vanilla scented hair.

Closing my eyes and allowing myself-if only for the briefest of moments-to bask in her heavenly perfume as it drifted around my head, clouding my mind, I subtly tightened my embrace as if I had no intention whatsoever of letting her go. Never mind that it was the truth.

Fuck me. How was I ever gonna survive being around her?

In a weak attempt to struggle against me-and I say weak because she really wasn't trying that hard to escape-Bella forced me back a little and mumbled determinedly, "No. You've already made yourself perfectly clear. And I wouldn't want me and my Broncos cap to stay somewhere we're not wanted."

God, this woman was proving to be a handful, but I loved it.

Framing her gorgeous face unrelentingly with my hands, I lifted her until she was looking straight at me. "You are wanted, Bells," I growled, fervently. "Don't you fucking dare think that. Both Ethan and I need you, and so does that little girl in there."

For a brief moment, I could've sworn I saw a flash of disappointment shoot over her eyes. But just as quickly as it was there, it'd gone.

Smiling meekly, Bella blushed and jabbed me in the ribs with her finger. "You only want me for my awesometastic brownies," she pouted.

Really? She thought that was all I wanted her for? Hell, she wasn't even close. Shaking my head, I leaned down and whispered exactly that in her ear, "Honey, you aren't even close."

With her body tight against mine, I felt her shiver and take a sharp intake of breath at my admission.

We stood together, wrapped in each other's arms for a little while longer, perfectly content to just hold one another when I felt her hands draw my shirt into her fists and clutch me tightly to her. "I'm sorry if I upset you with the gift. I just saw it in the shop and remembered what we talked about last night, and I guess it just made me think of you," Bella whispered, timidly. God, it killed me to hear the uncertainty in her voice. I never wanted to her to feel that way with me.

"Bells, I love the gift," I assured her, honestly.

She raised one of her perfectly shaped brows in confusion. "But I thought you sai-"

Pressing my finger into her lips to shush her, and so I could explain why I loved it. I ran the pad of my thumb over her bottom lip and replied, "I know what I said, but I was messing with you, honey. I love the cap because it's from you. That's all I care about."

I felt her smile into my shirt as she asked with her voice slightly muffled, "So you'll wear it?"

A coarse chuckled rumbled over my entire body as I pressed a kiss into her forehead. "Don't push it, woman."

~UH~

"So I gotta ask," I started as I was finishing up loading the dishwasher from lunch. Bella offered to make a fucking awesome chicken club wrap while I fed and burped Ethan, so I told her that I'd clean up. She wasn't doing both. "Why were you in Babies R' Us on Friday?"

Bella chortled as she put away Jaymie's colouring book. "I was in there browsing for a birthday present for Jaymie."

I looked up from the dishwasher and glanced over at her. "Yeah? When's her birthday?"

"This coming Saturday. It's a fairly big birthday. Milestone, I think?"

"She'll be five, right?" I was pretty certain I knew Jaymie's age, but it didn't do any harm to double check.

Suddenly the beautiful, proud smile she had glowing on her face slowly fell until nothing but sadness remained. "Yup," she muttered, emptily.

Okay, something wasn't right there. Bella loved Jaymie like she was her own, so why wasn't she more excited about this?

"Hey," I began softly, shutting the dishwasher and walking over to her. She looked like she was about to break at any moment. Fuck. What had I said? I gently lifted her drooped chin until I could see her soul-deep sad eyes, and my heart lurched in my chest. "Why'd you go quiet on me?" I searched her eyes looking for some kind of answer, silently pleading with her to give me something. Anything.

What I saw shocked me to the goddamn core. Her once happy and sparkling eyes were now replaced with nothing but...unshed tears and agony.

"Nothing," she said evasively, shrugging out of my grip and doing everything in her power to avoid eye-contact. "Do you mind if we have some music on while I make these brownies?"

But before she could take another step, I reached out and delicately-so I didn't hurt her-grabbed her wrist and pulled her back to me. "Bells, stop," I commanded softly, cradling her cheek with my free hand.

Not meeting my gaze, Bella looked to the floor and quickly licked her lips.

"Honey, I know we haven't known each other for very long, but I can see something's bothering you-and you can tell me I'm wrong all you want," I added, sensing she was going to protest. "But we both know I'm right. Talk to me, Bells. Let me help," I urged, my eyes pleading with hers.

Bella sighed dejectedly in my arms while pressing her forehead into my chest and closing her eyes. "I'm so lost, Jake."

Wrapping my arms around her, I placed a loving kiss onto her hair before tilting my head to the side and resting my cheek on her silky tresses. "Tell me, Bells," I pleaded, tenderly.

Nodding against me she took a deep breath and began. "You remember yesterday when that short, black-haired woman stomped past you at my place?"

"The pixie looking woman, right?"

"Yeah, her," she exhaled, heavily. "She's Jaymie's mom."

"Seriously?" I asked, nearly speechless.

"Deadly serious," she deadpanned, moving out of my embrace and walking towards the dining table where she pulled out a chair and collapsed into the seat. With her head in her hands and a look of pure turmoil on her face, she continued. "Before you came by yesterday, we had a big argument and she said some things that have left me in limbo regarding Jaymie."

My brows pulled together in confusion as I followed her and took a seat in the chair next to her. I knew she needed space, but I also knew that she needed a someone to talk to, a friend. "What did she say?"

Bella peered over her shoulder to make sure Jaymie was out of earshot and well occupied, which she was. Thank god for The Jungle Book. Then she turned back to me with a lethal mixture of fear, confusion and need shadowing her eyes.

I inwardly cursed this so-called woman who had the blatant fucking nerve to call herself Jaymie's mom. Like hell did she deserve that title, and the unwavering love of that precious little girl in my living room. The only person who had earned that right was the beautiful woman in front of me, killing herself with worry.

"She had the audacity to say that Jaymie was basically a distraction," Bella spat in disgust. "She said they'd be better off without her."

My blood boiled with rage.

Fucking bitch.

Who the hell was she to say her own daughter was a distraction? I'd give my damned life to protect Ethan! Yet this psycho disregarded her own child like she was nothing. A fucking toy.

"What's her name?" I demanded in a harsher tone than intended.

Bella flinched, almost obliterating my heart. I never wanted her to flinch around me-and took a deep breath while looking down at the table. "Alice," she answered before adding, "She was my best friend during the first year of college. I know that's not a hugely long time to get to know someone and then ask them to be the godmother to their child, but we'd become really close." She licked her lips and shifted slightly in her seat.

Shit. This was tearing me apart to see her so uncomfortable.

Leaning across the table, I placed a gentle hand over hers and whispered softly, "You don't have to talk about this if you don't want to. I get it."

Smiling warmly, she looked up at me through those long lashes of hers and shook her head in protest, while using the pad of her thumb to stroke my knuckles, causing a warmth so fierce to surge through me. "It's okay, I want to tell you," Bella assured me as that sexy little blush of hers blossomed over her face. "Besides, I need to tell someone."

Cocking my head in curiosity I asked, "You've never told anyone else?"

She shook her head again and bit her lip. "Nope. Just you."

My heart thudded to a stop.

It was in that exact second that I realised just how special and amazing this woman was.

She'd trusted me enough to let me in on something so private and personal to her. Bella believed in me not to judge, and to just listen and be there.

And I needed to show her the same respect.

But not yet. Today was about her and her goddaughter. My pathetic shit could wait for a little while longer, and Bella had already shown me that whatever demons I may be dealing with, she would be there for me regardless.

It wasn't exactly as if it was going anywhere.

Scooting closer to her, I interlaced our fingers and held her hand reassuringly, showing her without question that I was here; I was here for her and I wasn't going anywhere.

"I just don't know what to do," she worried, sounding so...beaten.

My body stiffened instantly.

Fuck no. I wasn't about to sit here and let her crumble to pieces in front of me.

We could fix this.

There had to be a way around all of this.

"Look at me, Bells."

She didn't. She just kept staring at our joined hands. Her beautiful eyes filling with tears.

Shifting closer, I reluctantly released her hands, my heart going into a knot in my chest from the sudden loss of contact, before I gently cupped her chin making her look back at me. "We can fix this, honey," I vowed, meaning every fucking word. "There has to be something we can do to...I dunno, get her away from them."

The woman slowly consuming and rebuilding my heart looked up at me with hopeless eyes. "Like what, Jake? To do anything, I'd need proof," she pointed out, exasperated. "Otherwise it's just my word against theirs."

"So we'll get proof," I told her, adamantly. "We might not get it this week, or this month, but we'll get it, Bells. And when we do, I'll make sure our evidence is so fucking tight they'll have no choice but to award you sole custody," I promised. "But don't you dare give up on me, you hear me?"

"I hear you," she yielded in a hushed voice.

"And in the meantime, we're going to give that girl the best fucking time of her life," I declared confidently, beaming.

Bella shot me a confused look. "I love your enthusiasm for this," she smiled, vaguely. "But how are we gonna do that?"

"We're gonna give her what every kid wants on their birthday. A party."

~UH~

Bella's jaw dropped in shock. "Are you serious?"

I grinned widely. "Deadly."

Her eyes widened as the cogs in her mind began to turn rapidly, a pleased smile worked its way onto her face. "You really want to throw her a party? You'd do that for her?" she murmured in disbelief.

I nodded without delay. "For her," I reaffirmed, "And for you."

Her stunned eyes sprung to mine. "For me?" she squeaked.

"Yeah," I smiled, brushing her leg with mine. "For you."

She held my gaze unapologetically; the power, intensity, passion and electricity coursing through that single glance just about blew my mind.

There was something colossal and world-altering fusing between us. Something breathtaking and knee-weakening; I felt it in my bones every time she looked at me. I knew by the way my heart kicked every single time she touched me, and the way my entire body tingled, that whatever was happening between us wasn't going away anytime soon. This woman was special, unique, different. She wasn't like every other woman I'd met, and that right there was the deal breaker.

"And you're positive you're sure?" she asked again, needing to be certain.

"Bells, I wouldn't have offered if I wasn't one-hundred percent sure."

Bella swallowed, bit her lip and looked down to the table in uncertainty, before glancing back up again. "Okay," she yielded, "Let's plan her a party."

I stood up and leaned over her, pressing a kiss into the top of her head. "That's my girl."

~UH~

"So, I was going to call my colleague today about that job I told you about the other day," Bella whispered in my ear, causing me to tense slightly as the tantalising heat from her breath worked magic on my eardrum. Seconds later, I relaxed into the sudden sensation as we sat cuddled together on the couch with Jaymie and watched Baloo prance around on the screen in a hula skirt and a weird-ass coconut shell bra thing.

"Yeah?" I asked in a throaty and raspy voice.

Bella sat up slightly and shot me a quizzical look. "You okay?" she questioned, concerned, placing her hand over my arms in a soothing, comforting manner.

"I'm good," I shot her a reassuring smile. I needed to change the subject, like yesterday. "You think this dude would hire me?"

Bella scoffed and relaxed against my shoulder, keeping her eyes trained on the TV. "Honey, don't even worry about that. He'd be stupid not to hire you."

My heart swelled with happiness.

I fucking loved how she had so much faith in me, yet we were still at the 'getting-to-know-you' stage.

Shit, what had I done to deserve this angel?

Smiling at her confidence in me, I tilted my head and rested my cheek happily on Bella's head.

"Also, I hope you don't mind, but I was thinking about care for Ethan while you worked. I'd be more than happy to take him for you," she volunteered, causing my heart to constrict with adoration in my chest. "I mean, you'd probably be working twelve-hour days so you'd more than likely be doing an eight 'till eight."

"I appreciate you offering to take Ethan," I breathed quietly into her hair. "But you have a busy enough day as it is without me dumping my kid on you as well."

Instantly, she bolted upright and threw me a look that said 'shut-the-fuck-up.' "Jake, stop. I want to take him for you. I love being around him, and I certainly don't see looking after him as you dumping your kid on me."

Smiling at her stubbornness, I chuckled and gazed down at her. "You don't take no prisoners, do ya, Swan?"

"Nope." Popping the p at me, she grinned wickedly, and for a second, just a brief second, I could've sworn her chocolate eyes flickered to my lips.

Yeah, I should be so lucky.

A hoarse chuckle escaped my throat as I leaned forward, without breaking out contact, and retrieved my soda from the coffee table. "I'm gathering that," I winked, taking a hearty swig of my lukewarm drink before placing it back onto the coaster and falling back into place behind her. "But I don't want you to feel obligated to take him just because we're...friends." Fuck me. The word 'friends' had never sounded so wrong, or tasted so sour in my mouth. "I can, uh, ask my sister."

"Jake," Bella said in a scarily calm voice.

"Bells," I echoed, amused, but also a little confused. Why did she seem so put out over this?

Huffing, she pulled away from me, panic instantly began its nuclear war on my heart at the sudden anger in her touch, and pushed herself off of the couch and stomped into the kitchen.

A smirk grew over my lips as I automatically followed.

Did she seriously just stomp? Shit, I thought they only did that in movies.

"Don't you get it, Jake?" she whisper-yelled, spinning around and sounding extremely pissed while piercing me with her hurt eyes. Shit! "I don't offer to do these things because I think you're some charity case or because I feel sorry for you. I do them because, believe it or not, I actually care about you and him and I want to help." She paused to take a breath and lick her lips. "Please let me help, Jake," she pleaded, damn near splintering my heart.

"Bells, c'mon. You know that's not what I meant," I threw back in defence, shooting her a knowing look. "I just don't wanna be any more trouble."

Her eyes flashed to mine, making me instantly regret my words. "Any more?" she repeated in a dangerous and disbelieving tone.

Shit.

Narrowing her stunned eyes in an evil manner, Bella pressed her palms flat onto the island, facing me head on. "At what time in the past few days have I ever made you feel like you were trouble to me?"

Dammit!

I needed to do damage control, and fast.

I rounded the island and took her into my arms. "Honey, stop. That's not what I meant and you know it. I just don't want you to feel like I'm using or taking advantage of you." I wrapped my arms around her tightly. "Christ, Bells, you have no freakin' clue how much your help means to me. Hell, I couldn't have gotten through the past few days without you!" I exclaimed, pulling back and looking her dead in the eye. "If this really means that much to you, then we'll sort something, okay?"

She nodded, appeased.

I leaned forward and rested my forehead on hers before closing my eyes and breathing in a gentle voice, "Don't be mad at me, Bells, I don't like it."

Relaxing into me, she stood on her tiptoes and snaked her arms around my neck. "I know. I'm sorry. I just wanted to help."

Reluctantly, I withdrew from her arms, and gazed down at her with wide eyes. "Honey, you are helping, and not just with Ethan, but with everything else as well. I'd've been a fucking goner if you hadn't come along when you did. Trust me."

Biting her lip, she smiled up at me through her lashes and nodded again.

"Did we just have our first fight?" I asked, smirking.

Hilarity flashed across her face at my question before her eyebrows rose in surprise. "Yeah, I guess we did!" she laughed.

"Does that mean we get to kiss and make up?" An impish smile tugged at my lips.

Flashing me her million dollar smile, I watched as she inched her perfect lips closer to me before leaning in and pressing a chaste kiss on my cheek and lightly patting my ass, reminding me of the goddamn friendship rule I'd enforced.

"C'mon, lets get back to the film. I wanna get my Bare Necessities on."

I groaned inwardly as my cock twitched painfully in my jeans at the smokin' hot sight of her figure receding into my living room.

Goddammit.

This friendship thing was gonna kill me.

~UH~

"So, Mr. Black, fancy having some fun? Getting a little wild?" Bella asked with a sly and sassy grin on her face as she returned from putting Jaymie to sleep. Little thing was completely beat.

"Whatcha thinkin' of, Miss Swan?" I asked, pulling two beers from the fridge and popping the lids.

"What else?" she smirked before pulling out a Monopoly board from behind her back.

Handing her the beer, a hearty laugh fell from my lips as I watched the pure glee dancing over her face. "Damn, honey. You sure know how to live," I teased.

"Hey!" Bella cried out in protest, clutching her beer. "Thank you for the beer, but don't distract me," she warned me playfully, narrowing her eyes accusingly. "Monopoly can be an extremely cut throat game, mister," she defended passionately, making me smile. "Especially if you get thrown in jail-and don't think for one second I'm gonna bail your cute ass out."

My ears perked up at that. "You think I've got a cute ass?" I beamed, feeling over the fucking moon at her unbeknownst slip of the tongue.

Bella rolled her eyes at me and snorted. "Only you, Jake Black. Only you."

"What?" I chuckled in feigned innocence, leaning back against the counter and taking a swig from my beer.

"Don't you 'what' me, Black," she eyed me with a suspicious smile. "You're a troublemaker and you know it."

I kicked off of the counter, and strolled toward her with a smugly wicked smirk. "Didn't you say trouble makers get punished?" I reminded her in a low, husky baritone while towering over her.

"I did," she agreed, glancing up at me with those gorgeous brown eyes. "You're not ready yet, handsome," she informed me, poking her finger into my abs. "You know it's coming, so I have to bide my time and hit you with it when you least expect it. Think you can handle having me around that long?" Bella challenged.

Reaching out and curling my fingers possessively around her waist, I hauled her into me until she was pressed tightly against my body before murmuring, "Question is, Swan, can you handle me for that long?"

She bit her lip before throwing me one helluva smoulder. "Oh yeah, I can handle you."

"Better hope so, beautiful. 'Cause I don't let go of people I care about so easily," I growled in a promise before releasing her waist and taking her hand. "C'mon, gorgeous, " I softly instructed, grabbing the baby monitor from the counter and leading her towards the back doors. "Let's take this party outside."

Opening the French doors leading onto my tiled back porch, I heard Bella gasp audibly from beside me.

"Jake," she breathed, awestruck, her eyes roaming the length of my backyard. "You have such a beautiful house and view."

She was right, I did. And that was thanks to Becca for scouting the realtors with a fine tooth comb before my move here. As soon as this place came on the market, Becca blew up my cell and demanded I put in an offer. So, that's what I did. I trusted her judgment, so if she said this was the one, then this was the one. So far I have no complaints.

"Thanks, but I can't take the credit for it. This one is all Becca's," I chuckled as we approached the wooden table and chairs.

"Becca's your sister, right?" she asked, momentarily confused.

I set the monitor on the table, and walked around to pull out Bella's chair. I may not know much about women, dating rules, and all that shit, but I knew how to be a gentleman. My mom had fucking embedded that into me. And I'm glad she did.

"Yeah, my oldest. Remember me telling you my other sister lives La Push?"

"Rachel?" she asked warily, taking a seat and scooting closer to the table before removing the lid from the Monopoly box.

I smiled with elation, loving that she'd remembered my sister's name, and took my seat opposite her. "Bingo."

I sat back in my chair, watching her contentedly as she took everything out of the box, laid the board out and began counting out the money.

"Do you get along with your sisters?"

I took a long draw of my beer before I sat it back on the table and started helping her. "They drive me up the wall and I'm pretty damn sure I do the same to them," a throaty chuckle rumbled over my body as I removed the game pieces from the box. "But we have each other's back. Can't really ask for more than that."

Handing me the money, she replied wistfully, "You're lucky. I'd love to have had siblings."

A twinkle of sadness flickered in her eyes that just about broke my already cracked heart. "Your parents didn't want anymore kids?"

Shrugging, Bella placed her elbows on the table and rested her head on her hands, her beautiful eyes were cast out toward the harbour with a faraway look shadowing them. "I'm not sure. I used to get the feeling my dad wanted another child, but I'm not certain about my mom. I think one was enough for her," she laughed feebly, turning her eyes back to me.

"Your father lives in Cali with his wife and her kids, right?"

She nodded and pursed her lips together. "Yeah, he moved there a couple of years ago. After my mom died, he went through a phase of denial. The love they shared was powerful, intense and one-of-a-kind. It's the kind of love you want for yourself, you know?"

I nodded, knowing exactly what she meant. My parents shared the same kinda love.

The kinda love that I wanted.

"When she died, he couldn't accept it. He spent weeks refusing to believe that she'd gone, and when he did finally come to terms with her death, it nearly killed him. He started drinking, not going into work, withdrawing himself from his friends and family, sleeping a lot, and it just kept spiralling from there," she exhaled heavily, rubbing her forehead wearily. "But then Sue came along. She, along with Leah, her daughter, and Seth, her son, helped him and looked after him. She kind of took on a caretaker role, and over time, she managed to bring him out of his grief. From there, they formed a friendship that eventually led to a romance. It was hard for him at first; he felt like he was betraying my mom's memory, but they worked through it and he gradually saw that moving on was ok."

My heart knotted in pain for her and her father. "Jesus. I'm sorry, Bells. That must've been hard for you."

She waved me off dismissively. "I had my friends there to help me get through my grief."

"Still," I continued, "Can't've been easy for you. I admire your strength. I don't know how I'd deal if I lost one of my parents," I admitted, shaking my head at the morose thought.

"It wasn't always easy, but with school and a few other things, I managed to keep myself occupied," her voice was feather-light and reassuring. "Anyway, enough of the depressing stuff. Tell me something about you. What are your parents like?"

"Mine?" I laughed, wondering where to start. "There's not much to tell. My old man lives and breathes for fishing. And my mom, well she's pretty fucking amazing," I smiled, proudly. "You actually remind me a lot of her."

"I do?" Bella looked up at me, stunned.

"Yeah. You have a lot of similar traits. Kind, caring, smart, loving, generous...the list just goes on," I paused, smiling, and brought my eyes up to hers. Our gazes locked in a powerful and intense exchange. The heat between us was undeniable. "She's also breathtakingly beautiful."

A light blush stained her cheeks as she coyly took in my compliment. God. I seriously loved that sexy little blush.

Seeming a little flustered, Bella smiled sheepishly and cleared her throat while handing me the dice. "Wanna roll first?"

I couldn't help the smile that had crept its way onto my face.

Nice subject change, Miss Swan.

Shaking my head in response, I ran the pad of my thumb over the slowly deteriorating label while keeping my eyes firmly on her, and relaxed back in my chair. "Nope. Ladies first."

I watched, enthralled, as a stunning smile drifted across her face and highlighted her features.

My heart clenched in my chest at the sight.

So fucking beautiful.

I'd never get tired of seeing that stunning smile.

"Ever the gentleman aren't you?" she complimented, her dazzling smile intensified as she lowered her eyes to the board and threw the dice, rolling a three before handing them over to me. "Tell me something else about you, Jake?"

"What did you wanna know?" I took the dice from her, ready to take my go, when her fingertips grazed mine. My entire body roared to life at the new sensation. My cock hardened in my jeans as I imagined that tiny hand working wonders on my body. I bit down hard on my lip, trying to keep myself from groaning, but the pure driven lust that I continued to feel for her was just getting worse.

"Anything. Everything," she shrugged casually, her eyes searching mine unrelentingly.

Throwing her a crooked smile, I leaned forward, resting my elbows on the table and juggled the dice in my hand. "How about we forget about Monopoly and play another game?" I proposed, my smile broadening. "'Cause seriously Bells...you kinda suck at this. There's two dice and you managed to roll a three on your first go."

At my comment, Bella's jaw dropped and her brows rose in shock. "You did not just say that," she said in an astounded slightly high-pitched voice.

I chuckled.

Hell yeah, I did say it! I wanted to rile this sexy little brunette up and see her feisty side.

Her perfect brown eyes widened at the sound of my laugh. and she flailed her hands in the air incredulously. "And now he's laughing!" she screeched in disbelief as I tried my hardest to withhold the boisterous laugh that was just begging to be unleashed. I watched, my whole body shaking from the laughter, as her face contorted into a scowl and her eyes narrowed into slits. "You're an ass, you know that?"

"So I've been told," I smirked impishly, taking another swig from my beer.

"I'm not sure that I wanna play this 'game' now," Bella huffed childishly before folding her arms and turning her nose up to the sky, stubbornly.

Putting my bottle down, I leaned forward until I was practically towering over her and breathed thickly, "Tell yourself that all you want, gorgeous. I know different. I can read you like an open book, Bells." I winked, cockily.

Tilting her head to the side, she narrowed her eyes challengingly. "Is that so? What am I thinking now then?" Bella folded her arms over her chest, confidently.

"I make you nervous," I stated boldly, not bothering to mess around. "You second guess yourself when you're around me. I make your heart beat a little faster than it's meant to. And right now? You're wondering how in the hell I know all of this. Simple. You do the exact same to me."

I could tell by the patent shock on her face that my little speech had left her lost for words.

Bella stared at me, her gazed fixed and unmoving on mine, as we sat opposite each other. My words hung thick in the air surrounding us, filled with questions we were both too afraid to ask. Reluctantly, I tore my eyes from hers and lowered them to her top, watching intently as the rise and fall of her her chest began to pick up speed. She looked shocked. Amazed. Completely thrown off target. But the emotions that stood out the most? Lust, adoration and a hint of something that I'd never seen before.

Breaking the spell between us, Bella averted her eyes to the table and self-consciously licked her lips. "So, this game. We gonna play it or what?"

Sitting back against my chair, I shook my head and just stared at her. "Why do you do that?"

"Do what?"

Cocking my head, I shot her an 'are you kidding me?' look. "Don't give me that, Bells. You know what I'm talking about. Why do you dodge my questions and pull away?"

Her body stiffened instantly. "First of all," she countered, meaning business and pointing her finger at me sternly. "What you just said wasn't a question. You were telling me how you think I feel; there's a difference. And secondly, I'm not pulling away, Jake, I'm just trying to keep to the rules that you set in place."

Damn, I loved it when she got angry.

Sexy. As. Hell.

"So, are you telling me that I don't make you nervous? Make your heart beat faster?" I questioned, challenging her further.

She drew in a deep, exhausted breath and exhaled audibly. "I'm not denying that you make me nervous, Jake," her tone was soft and warm, betraying every forlorn emotion painted her face. "I'm not gonna sit here and lie to you by telling you that I don't think about how it would feel to kiss you again or hold your hand, or have you take me in your arms and embrace me publicly, knowing that there was more than just friendship going on between us. I wasn't brought up that way. But I am, however, trying to do the right thing here. I'm trying to give you the space that you need to heal whatever demons that are haunting your heart, as well as my own," she took another deep breath before licking her lips and closing her eyes. "Jake, you asked me to be your friend, and that's what I'm trying to do. I'm not denying it, it's hard as hell, but I'm doing this for you."

"Why?" I demanded, softly. "Why are you doing this for me? Putting my feeling first?" Nobody had ever made my feelings and emotions a priority, but I had a feeling this girl might just be the one to break that streak.

"Why?" she echoed, incredulously. "I thought I'd explained all of this earlier? I'm doing this because I care about you, Jake. I want to be a part of yours and Ethan's lives. Like you said earlier, I know we haven't known each other for very long, but you're both becoming increasingly important to me," she confessed. "I've never mislead you regarding my feelings toward you, and I don't plan to start now. But if we're ever going to get anywhere beyond the friendship realm, then we need to take this slowly. I want to do things the right way with you. Not rush it," she explained hesitantly, as if she were afraid I wouldn't understand. "Can you do that?" Bella asked, looking at me expectantly.

I groaned inwardly. Could I do this? Take things slowly with her when all I wanted to do was take her in my arms and make her forget everything I'd said yesterday about just being friends? Like hell were we just friends. Friends don't look at each other like they're a chocolate covered strawberry that they want to devour. Friends don't dream about hearing 'I love you' and having life-altering, earth-shattering love-making sessions. This friends thing was bullshit. She knew it, and I certainly fucking knew it.

But I had no choice. I wanted this with her, and I wanted her and Jaymie in my life. So, if sticking to my guns was what I had to do, then I'd damn well do it.

Plastering on the good-humour that luckily came so easily for me these days, I flashed her my trademark smile. "Sure, sure. I can do that."

I had a funny feeling I'd do just about anything for her.

~UH~

"So this game..." Bella started cautiously, while placing the Monopoly board, cash and game pieces back in the box. "How exactly do you play it?"

"It's simple," I said, quickly downing the rest of my beer and putting the empty on the far side of the table. "We each throw the dice, and whomever rolls the highest, gets to ask a question. However," I added with a slight mysterious edge to my voice, "I wanna change it up a little. Add a stipulation."

Bella's eyes jerked to mine, intrigued. "Okay...what's the stipulation?"

"We answer the question with total and brutal honesty."

She nodded, appearing happy with my idea, and placed the unwanted board game on the floor. "Absolutely," she agreed. "You wanna go first?"

I tilted my head at her skeptically. "Seriously? This again?" I smiled, knowingly. "How many times do I have to show you I'm a gentleman? The lady always goes first."

Bella held her hands up in surrender and laughed. "Okay, okay! I just wanted to ask."

Picking up the dice from the table, she juggled them in her hand, and threw them out in front of her, rolling a five. Handing them to me, I took my turn and rolled a three.

"First question goes to you, beautiful. Make it good." I winked, coquettishly.

"What's your middle name?"

I raised my brows in disbelief. "Really? That's what you're going with?"

She shrugged, picked up her untouched beer, bringing it to her lips and taking an impressive gulp. My eyes widened, stunned.

A sly, sassy smirk worked its way over her lips as she drank in my awestruck expression. "What? You think a girl can't drink?"

"Not at all," I chuckled, "I was just thinking about how impressive and sexy it is to watch you down that beer like a pro."

Her face flushed for a brief moment, and her sassy smirk transformed into a shy smile. "Don't be too impressed, I don't usually drink," Bella laughed.

"All the more reason to be impressed. I don't know many women that could handle a beer with such expertise. The chicks I know have that girly sipping shit mastered, so watching you drink that is refreshing," I told her grinning, cheekily. "Don't stop on my account." I winked, smugly.

"Well clearly you've been hanging around the wrong women," she told me, feistily. "Unlike most, I'm not afraid of getting my hands dirty, and I certainly won't have a bitch fit if I, god-forbid, break a nail." Bella set her beer down on the table and leaned forward surely. "And like hell will you catch me ordering a salad at a restaurant. Prime ribs and cheese burgers all the way for this gal." She returned my wink, heavy with confidence and seduction.

Holy shit!

"And to answer your previous question: I don't want to ask you anything you wouldn't want to tell me on your own."

Nice answer.

"Ephraim," I responded slowly, meaningfully.

A radiant smile graced her lips. "Ephraim. I like it," she mused. "Good strong name. Suits you." If this were even possible, her radiant smile intensified into something fucking heart-stopping.

Who knew a smile from the right person could stop your heart?

"Thanks." I matched her smile, and threw the dice again, rolling an eight, before passing them to Bella and watching enthralled as she scored a five.

Cue smug smirk.

"My turn," I clicked my tongue cheekily. "What's the wildest thing you've ever done?"

She groaned and dropped her head into her hands. "I can't believe you've asked me that for your first question!" She barked out an embarrassed laugh before quickly composing herself. "Okay," she began, taking a deep breath. "About a year after meeting Mary, my best friend, we got crazy drunk one night after school and played truth or dare. The bitch decided to have me run across our school's football field late at night with the floodlights on yelling every weird and random thing that came into my head," Bella paused for effect, before delivering the killer blow. "In my underwear," she snorted at the memory, while I sat opposite her, trying my hardest not to groan at the hard-as-fucking-granite boner I was now sporting in my jeans.

I sighed inwardly. Great.

Noticing my apparent pained facial expression and frigid body stance, Bella arched a brow and looked at me in concern. "You alright? You look a little...stiff?"

I groaned, this time audibly.

Fuck this. New subject needed, now.

"I'm fine." Handing her the dice, I watched keenly-trying hard to get rid of my erection-as she rolled again, scoring an eight while I rolled a two.

"What's your favourite colour?"

"Black," I answered with ease. "But blue's a close second."

She also won the next round and chose to venture into more personal questions. "Most people I know have a place they can escape to when they need time to themselves...where's yours?"

I smiled automatically at the thought of my happy place. "Hands down, First Beach in La Push. Most people don't see the fascination with it, but I love it there. I used to go there all the time with the guys, and we'd play some football or skim a few rocks. But other times, when I've needed to be on my own, I'd just sit there and stare out toward the waves and think," I paused, watching her fascinated face closely. "I'll take you there one day, if you want?"

A beautiful smile formed on her face. "Sounds perfect."

Bella ran the tip of her nail idly along the edge of the Monopoly box. "Have you been friends with the guys you mentioned for long?"

I nodded. "Yep. Since we were kids."

"Are you still friends now? I know some people tend to grow apart from their friends. I just wondered if it was the same for you?"

"Nah. Some of them I've known since I was in diapers, like Quil and Embry. They're my best friends. Then there's Jared, Paul-as in Rachel's Paul-and Sam. We all met in high school and we've been buddies ever since," I explained as a little nostalgia worked its way into my veins.

"They sound like a great bunch of guys," Bella said with a bright smile.

"They are," I agreed. And they were. Without them, the past eighteen months would've been pure fucking hell. "We might rip on each other, but we'll always have each other's backs."

"That's awesome, Jake. I'm glad you're all still friends," her smile grew broader.

"What about you? You see any of your childhood friends?"

"Two of them. There's Rhonda, who I've known since I was a baby. We grew up in the same area, went to school together, but then she moved away to Port Angeles to pursue her dream of opening her own chocolate and candy shop. We don't see each other as much as we'd like, but we text every day and talk on the phone as much as possible. Then there's Penelope," Bella laughed and shook her head. "God, that woman is completely nuts. Totally off her head, but she's the kind of woman who'd do anything for anyone. Her story is pretty similar to Rhonda's. We grew up together, went to the same school until she decided she wanted to head off to Washington and follow her dream of getting into the police force."

I bobbed my head, impressed. "And you met Mary in college, right?"

Bella's eyes lit up at the mention of her best friend's name. "Yeah. And thank god for that."

I narrowed my eyes in puzzlement at that, but decided to let it go. I figured she'd tell me when she was ready.

We played our question game again, that round going to me.

"What's your favourite childhood memory?"

Bella pursed her lips into a long, thin line as she contemplated her answer. "This isn't really a childhood memory, but it's one of the best memories I have. I loved going to A Shot In The Dark with my mom, and sitting there marvelling over the decor of the coffee shop, while talking and catching up. I used to love those days," she sighed wistfully, running the tip of her forefinger around the rim of her beer bottle. "While I love being in Seattle and studying to become a teacher, I also loved my mom's visits. They were rare and incredibly special," she finished with a sad smile.

Instinctively, I sat forward and reached my hand over the table to comfort her. "Your mom would be incredibly proud of you, you know."

Her eyes found mine, and I swear, my lungs damn near collapsed. I never thought I'd ever say this about anyone, but even with her eyes glistening with unshed tears at the memory of her mom, she was hands down the most beautiful and remarkable woman I'd ever met.

"You think?" She whispered, unsurely.

I laced our fingers together, and I ran the pad of my thumb up and down her middle finger. "I know."

Smiling up at me through her lashes and with watery eyes, I felt a stab of pain slice straight through my gut. I wanted to take the pain away and tell her everything was gonna be okay. But how could I? I'd never lost a loved one, and wouldn't have the first fucking clue on how I'd cope if I ever did. All I could do was be there for her. Be a shoulder, a rock, someone she could turn to if she ever felt lost. So that was what I was gonna do.

Come hell or high water, I was gonna be the man that she, and that precious little girl sleeping soundly in my room, needed.

And like fuck was I gonna let anyone get in my way.

~UH~

"Need any help with that?" a soft, honey-like voice said from behind me.

Goosebumps erupted on my skin and my body came to life just from the sound of her voice.

Quickly drying my hands on the wash-cloth, I threw it carelessly on the island and turned in the direction of that heavenly voice. My heart immediately galloped to a stop as I found her leaning against the wooden door frame with her arms crossed over her chest.

Beautiful.

I stood opposite her, my heart skidding to a stop as I drank in the angelic-like form before me.

How was it possible for someone to look this exquisite?

The subtle nose of Bella's throat clearing jolted out of my musing.

"Jake?"

"Huh? Oh, uh...you could grate some cheese if you want?"

"Sure, sure," she teased, mimicking my earlier words, pushed off of the door frame and headed toward the fridge.

Raising my brow in question, I followed her, trying my hardest not to focus on the sexy sway of her hips and ass, and took out the rest of the ingredients from the fridge. "Stealing my lines now, Swan?"

Placing the cheese on the counter and removing the packaging, Bella gazed up at me with amusement in her eyes. "Oh behave and get to cooking."

Chuckling, I shook my head for the thousandth fucking time today and followed her command and resumed cooking.

"So, what music does Jake Black have on his iPod?"

A boisterous bark boomed from my lips at her words. "Firstly, I have a iPhone not an iPod," I corrected her. "Secondly, I'll listen to anything from Green Day to Jay-Z to Ne-Yo. What about you?"

She shrugged nonchalantly while running the cheese down the grater. "Same as you really, although I do like a bit of Jason Derulo. But I'll listen to anything from John Legend and Katy Perry to Avicii or Evanescence. I'm not picky."

I nodded my head in appreciation as I put the oven on preheat and started working on the meatballs. "Alright, so we've established we both have pretty good taste in music. How 'bout movies? What's your favorite?"

Bella stopped what she was doing, put the cheese back in it's packaging and placed the grater in the sink. "My all-time favorite movie has to be Titanic. I know it's cliché and totally predictable, but I really love it." She brought the bowl over to me, and set it down next to my meatballs. "Although, I also have a slight crush on Batman and Bane, so I'd have to say theDark Knight Trilogy would be in there somewhere," she informed me, beaming uncontrollably.

Sassy little minx.

"Batman and Bane, huh?" I shot back in a slightly more judgmental tone than intended, but also loaded with mirth. I knew what I was about to say would irk her to a point where she felt she had to defend herself, but fuck me if I didn't love to see her rise to a challenge. "I never would've pegged you as the kinda woman to crush on a dude with serious voice problems and someone who's a little too friendly with steroids."

"Oh really?" she replied, taking the bait. "I suppose you would've had me down as one of these women who drool over Ryan Gosling and gets all giddy over Channing Tatum?"

Damn. She knew me better than I thought she did.

"Alright Mr. Movie Fanatic, what's yours? Lemme guess, Mission Impossible? The Bourne's?"

"Those are both awesome films. And Tom Cruise and Matt Damon are wicked actors, but no. They aren't in my top five."

"Care to tell me what is?"

Cautiously setting the meatballs into the sizzling oil, I turned the heat down a notch and let them fry until they were golden. "Braveheart. Iron Man. Lethal Weapon. The Avengers. Annnd Independence Day."

"Huh. I don't really rate the Lethal Weapons. I've seen them, just can't seem to get into them. But the others? Yup. Could totally roll with them," she nodded, pleased.

Chuckling, I set to work on the tomato sauce. "I'm glad you approve of my choices. Now, you wanna chop up some basil for me? Gotta work for your food around here, woman."

"Jeez, Jake. You really know how to woo a girl. You say the nicest things to me," Bella kidded, nudging my shoulder playfully.

Smiling, I stepped away from the oven for a brief second to press a kiss into Bella's hair and give her a gentle butt slap. "You ain't seen nothin' yet, baby."

~UH~

"Ouch! Damn it!" Bella cried out several minutes later, the knife she was holding dropping onto the cutting board with a loud clank.

"You okay?" I asked concerned as I turned the heat down to simmer on the sauce, and threw the dishcloth hanging out of my pocket onto the counter.

"No," she pouted. "I cut my blasted finger."

"Blasted?" I echoed, amused, while walking toward her and inspecting her cut.

"Shut up, you. I was trying not to curse," Bella laughed softly and hissed as I gently pried her hand toward the sink and turned on the faucet to clean her cut. "Is it deep?" She asked, while chewing relentlessly on her lip and peering over my shoulder grimacing.

"Nah, it's nothing a band-aid can't fix. You'll live."

"Well that's a shame...I was actually looking forward to you giving me the kiss of life." Shrugging, Bella leaned back against the cupboards smirking.

"Well, you know me," I murmured thickly, "Anything to make my Damsel in distress happy." I winked and smirked cheekily.

I watched as her eyes clouded over in lust, my own body having a similar reaction

Fuck.

Absentmindedly, I leaned toward her, my eyes focused on her delectable lips and the way her tongue slipped out and slid along her perfect, plump bottom lip.

Just the thought of those lips on my own again had me groaning in sexual frustration. Christ almighty.

I needed to taste those lips again, but I wasn't sure if it was a good idea. I didn't want to push it; after all, we are meant to be 'friends.'

This woman and my own need for her was seriously giving me a severe case of blue balls.

Mentally kicking myself for concocting that genius fucking idea, I lifted her wounded finger to my lips and pressed a soft kiss onto her cut.

My heart stopped and my jeans tightened as i heard her take her own much needed breath.

Shit, she was just as affected by the sexual tension between us as I was.

God, I didn't know if knowing that little piece of info made my ache for her better or worse.

Ah, who the hell was I kidding? Worse. Always fucking worse.

Finally gaining some composure, she sank her teeth into her lower lip and said in a strangled whisper, "That was awfully brief and incomplete for the kiss of life."

I smiled and planted another kiss on the inside of her wrist. My heart was fucking pounding as I felt her pulse beat rapidly against my lips. "Good. Gives me an excuse to do it better next time."

A brief but comfortable moment of silence passed between us as I reached into the cupboard above our heads to get the first aid kit, and carefully, tenderly, placed a band-aid over her cut.

Once I was done, I lifted my gaze to find her looking straight at me. Her eyes were pleading with my own to kiss her.

The heat and intensity of her stare was beyond anything I'd ever experienced.

Thump. There goes my heart.

"You have such gentle hands," she whispered in awe.

"I missed you last night," I said suddenly, gently stroking her palm.

Shit! Where the fuck did that come from?

Surprising the hell out of me, she squeezed my arm affectionately with her free hand before replying, "I missed you too. It was too quiet there after you'd left and I put Jaymie to bed."

My heart plummeted at her admission. "Do you get lonely, Bells?"

Frowning, she averted her eyes to the tiled flooring and nodded. "Sometimes. You?"

"Yeah. Sometimes."

I reached out and tucked a wayward strand of hair behind her ear before caressing her cheek with my finger. "Tell me about your ex, Bells."

~UH~

My question must've surprised her more than I thought it would have because the colour drained rapidly from her face.

"My ex?" she repeated in a strangled whisper, staring directly at me wide-eyed.

I nodded, unsure of what to say.

She sighed and sat down on the stool by the island, placing her head in her hands. "There's not much to tell. I thought I was in love with him, and him me, but turns out he was just using me because of my talent for dancing and the fact I was best friends with-and these were his words, not mine-one of the sexiest girls in school," Bella mumbled, sourly. "So, yeah, anyway, I came home early one night after an exhausting day at school, wanting nothing more than to cuddle up with him, only to find him in bed with my then best friend."

"Fucking bastard," I growled, pissed at the thought of what that asshole must've put her through.

Was he fucking crazy to cheat on this beautiful woman? Shit, if I had her in my home, arms and bed every night, there's no chance in hell that I'd be even looking at another woman.

And this prick had her and cheated on her?!

Fucker was lucky I didn't know where he lived.

Bella ran a tired hand through her hair, and leaned back against the stool. "Yeah, it wasn't nice, and it took me a long time to ever trust anyone again. Well, that was until you came along." She blushed and smiled up at me weakly through her lashes. "But you already know this, don't you?"

My entire body stiffened, and my stomach dropped. Shit. She must've heard me talking with Jaymie.

"I overheard Jaymie telling you how lonely I get sometimes, and how I haven't been with a guy in a while. What she said is true. That night, I didn't just lose the man that I thought I loved, I also lost my best friend. For a while, it was like I just shut down. Closed myself off from the world. I felt worthless and ugly. What they did made me second guess everything." A small smile graced her face. "But then I met Mary."

I sat there completely stunned. Was she serious? She thought she was worthless and ugly?

Fuck me, I wish I had been around when she was in school. "Please tell me you're joking?" I asked in disbelief. "Bells, you are the most beautiful, sexy and stunning woman I've ever seen. That douche was out of his damn mind to cheat on you!"

"I know that now, but at the time I didn't. I just thought all men were worthless and untrustworthy. I didn't even let myself make friends because thought they'd all try and sleep with any future boyfriends I may have had."

She paused to lick her lips before continuing.

"Mary saved me in more ways that one. She's like my sister, best friend and confidant all rolled into one. There's nothing we wouldn't do for one another. She felt guilty because she knew about his affair, but she couldn't say anything because he had something on her. She'd only just admitted to herself at the time that she was bi-sexual and didn't want the rest of the college to know about it. She was petrified of her sexuality spreading across the grapevine and reaching her parents' ears, so my ex promised that her 'sordid'," she made air quotes, clearly emphasizing what the asshole had said. "Little secret would stay between them."

I knew Bella was watching me and waiting for my reaction to what she just told me. I scrubbed my hands over my face and looked at her.

"It's 'cause of him, right? The reason you want to take this slow? He hurt you."

Bella exhaled heavily and lowered her eyes to the counter. "He's not the only reason, Jake," she sighed and raked her hands through her hair. "You're the first guy I've liked-hell, been attracted to since my ex. For years I've lived my life just focusing on my career and being the one person Jaymie can rely on. I've been scared shitless of taking that leap and dipping my toes in the dating pool again. But when I saw you in Babies R' Us, I just felt so drawn to you. Something about you called to me, and I just couldn't ignore it."

"Something about me called to you?" I repeated in a breathless whisper.

An incredulous snort filled the room. "I know, pathetic, right? Who says that stuff anymore?" Her eyes lifted and locked onto mine. "I know it sounds stupid, Jake. But it's how I feel. It's taken a lot for me to trust in you, but there's something about you that makes me feel...safe. Like I can be who I truly am around you and you won't judge me."

Reaching across the island to try and soothe her, I placed my hand over hers and gave it a loving squeeze. "You never have to pretend around me, Bells. I happen to love the person you are and I wouldn't change a thing. And anyone who says otherwise? Isn't worthy of your time," I said with a kind smile. "But you need to know that I'm not him, honey. I know what he did to you, but, Bella, I would never, ever do that. I won't ever hurt you. I promise," I vowed, passionately. "I won't ever let you down. You can count on me."

Throwing me a soft, reassuring smile, she laced our fingers together and said in a tender, confident voice, "I know, Jake. I know you'd never hurt me, and that's why I trust you so much."

And it was in that moment that I silently vowed to myself and to her that even if it killed me, I was going to make sure that no man would ever hurt this beautiful woman again.

Including me.


There you go!

Another chapter. Again, sorry for the length, I'm hoping the next chapter will be shorter.

Before you go, I need you fabulous peeps to do me a few favours. The next chapter will be will be mainly to do with Jaymie's birthday, but I need to know whether you guys would like the party to be a costume party? It's going to be a Halloween/Birthday party for Jay, but I think it might be fun to add in some costumes. If you'd like to see that (I'm not sure yet) could you tell me what you'd like each other them (Bella, Jake, Jaymie) to be dressed up as?

Also, I'm looking for fun things that Jake and Bella could do in Seattle both with and without the kids. Any suggestions?

Please know that if I decide to go with your idea, I will credit you in the following chapter. :)

Thanks ladies!