A/N: Sorry for my ridiculously long delay in posting! I just needed a few months to sort my head out.

While I've been on hiatus I've been writing an Arrow one-shot, and the pairing will be Roy and Thea. They my newest obsession!

I've also be doing a lot of research on an original fic that I'd like to write called Bulletproof Love. A short summary for this will be on Freewriters and readers under my Five-Star Ficster group (Kitty).

I have a lot of people to thank and credit for helping with this chapter, so if I've missed you, please know it wasn't intentional and I truly appreciated your help. Anyway *clicks knuckles* let's get this started.

Thank you to my beautiful sister Simply Jaded4 for beta-ing half of this chapter.

Thank you to the kickass plainjanedee for her pure awesomeness in beta-ing the full story. You rock!

And lastly, thank you to OceanLover, EverythingYouWanted, Mizzdee, Chandi95, Lady Kathryne (who is now my pre-reader), AliDarkHairedBeauty, and ShadowingHope (I couldn't remember whether you looked at 7 or 8, but either way…thank you!).

Thanks to everyone that messaged me offering help, I truly appreciate the love!


7. Call On Me

I don't know if I've ever felt like this before

But I'm sure that the way I feel, I don't want it to go

'Cuz I've cried my share of tears

And I've sang my share of blues

But to keep you over here, I'll do what I got to do

So baby, call on me

Whether day or night, I'll never leave

See you don't have to be alone

I'll come anywhere you want

Baby just pick up the phone and call on me

So you ain't know

I wanna be your homie, lover, friend

See there it go, see there it go

See I never met a girl that could break me down

It's like I get caught in the middle

I get caught up a little anytime that she's around

I be posted, waitin' on standby

Lookin' to catch the hint

I'm doin' whatever, whenever

Never forget I said I'd be here when you want

To get what you need, if you wanna receive

Oh, please believe you could

Call on me whether day or night

I'll never leave

Call on me

When ya need someone who cares

Say the words and I'll be there

I can meet you anywhere

Call On Me ~ Janet Jackson ft Nelly

JPOV

During the week that followed, Bella and I fell into an effortless and natural routine. I felt as if a weight had been lifted from my shoulders; like I could breathe again.

When I was with Bella, all the other shit just kinda faded away. She had a way of making everything feel exciting, fun and unexpected. Hell, half the time I was with her, I felt like a nervous teenager about to ask out the girl of my dreams, and I didn't do well with nerves. At all.

It'd been fucking drilled into my brain, by the woman I flat-out refused to give any more headspace to, that nerves and emotions were a sign of weakness and vulnerability. According to her, "real men never felt weakness or vulnerability." Yeah, well, fuck her.

But with Bella? I never felt unmanned by all of these unknown emotions whirling around inside of me. I didn't feel fear, uncertainty or any kind of negative exposure to the new experiences she'd been showing me. Nope. Instead, I felt...free and invigorated, like nothing could get to me. I was ten fucking feet tall, and I loved every goddamn second of it.

And when I wasn't with her? Let's just say, I tended to go a little crazy. Sure, we'd only known each other for around a week, but just the thought of not having her with me screwed badly with my head.

My normal existence paled in comparison to my days with her. That dangerously sexy woman brought a whole new meaning and a sense of color to mine and Ethan's world, and for that I'd forever be grateful.

The three of us spent the entire week either at my place or hers, although the majority of it was at mine because Bella insisted she didn't want me hauling around Ethan's stroller and carrier, and I swear to fucking god, I could've kissed her beautiful face off for that. Dragging his shit around all day wasn't an easy feat.

We cooked, baked, talked, laughed, messed around, and had food fights-which, by the way, was sexy as hell. Watching her squirm in my arms as I marked my territory by placing a floured handprint on her fine ass was easily the highlight of my night. I loved watching her float effortlessly around my kitchen, browsing in different cupboards, opening various drawers. It was strangely comforting, and I couldn't help but wonder how she'd look cooking in my kitchen seventy years from now. I would stake money that she'd still be the sexiest woman I'd ever seen.

It was perfect. We chilled and relaxed together either with a beer or a glass of wine on the sofa, or Bella would grab one of her favorite books-usually Wuthering Heights-as she rested her head on my legs while I watched the tube.

Our time together wasn't forced or awkward. It was just us. Together. Enjoying the peace and quiet of each other's company. There were no expectations, no ill intent.

We were just Jake and Bells.

We just clicked.

And as my mom wisely told me several years ago, "When you find that special someone you click with, you never let them go."

God, she didn't know how fucking right she was. Bella got me in ways no other woman ever had-or ever bothered to. She actually took the time to get to know me. The real me. She didn't wanna use me for sex or brag about me to her girlfriends, she just wanted me.

And hell, if that didn't feel amazing.

I wasn't a trophy to her. I was just me - Jake Black.

Bella would ask me how my day had gone and vice versa. Sometimes she'd need to vent her worries and stresses over the jerks she worked with, and I'd happily listen. I'd never been so content to sit there and hold a woman while she told me her concerns, but with her, I wanted to know everything about her day. I wanted her to let me in, so I was fucking stoked when she did.

It also helped that none of the women I'd dated could hold a damn candle to Bella. That gorgeous brunette was in a league all her own.

However, something in her switched midweek. She wasn't her usual bubbly, bouncy self. Instead she seemed almost...guarded and shifty; as if something was on her mind and messing with her head. Most of the week someone had been blowing up her cell with text after text, and each and every time-when she thought I wasn't looking-she'd tense, read the message, run a frustrated hand through her hair and shove the phone back in her pocket. She'd then brace the counter for several seconds, calming herself, then as quick as a fucking flash she'd snap back to the woman I'd grown to care deeply about. But, there was one time, on Thursday, that I could've sworn I saw tears glisten in her eyes as she read one particular text. And that shit didn't sit well with me. Who the fuck was on the other end of these messages? And why the hell were they so damn set on making my girl feel like utter shit? If I ever found out, I'd make it my top priority to make whoever it was pay. If they wanted to cause my Bells pain, I'd make sure they got that shit back in spades.

So, as a way of taking her mind off the bullshit going down with her mystery messenger, on Friday night, I asked Becca to babysit Ethan for me so Bella and I could spend some one-on-one time together, I took her to see the newDenzel Washingtonmovie. She'd mentioned she wanted to see and let's face it, I'd do anything just to be able to be with her, so to the movies we went. I honestly couldn't say whether it was good because my eyes were glued to her the entire time. I was mesmerized by the sheer beauty radiating from her. I was enthralled by the way that sexy little laugh of hers rolled off of her lips at the funny parts, and I was completely captivated by the way she actually took stock of the movie.

Most of the women I'd taken out-and there weren't many, I never fucked around-were on their cells halfway through, Facebooking how boring it was or how they couldn't wait to get back and watch the latest episode of Once Upon A Time or some shit like that. But no, not Bella. She was completely engaged in the film, and while she wasn't looking at me, I was over the fucking moon because I knew that she was actually here with me, in every sense of the word. Now and then, she'd reach over and lace my fingers with hers, or rub affectionate circles on my knuckles just to let me know she was thinking of me, and I'd returned the favor-not because I felt like I had to, but because I wanted to.

I wanted to do those things with her because, at the end of the day, you only get one chance to live your life and do the things that make you happy. And fuck me, Bella made me happy.

However, like the truly messed up jackass that I was, I had to go and screw everything up.

"I need to run and grab some more balloons and paper plates," Bella told me, pulling out her list as we walked into the store's entrance. "Would you get some drinks? Just get a variety of soda and juice."

I nodded in compliance while looking around the crowded store, watching as parents tried and failed to control their hyper kids, and shop workers attempted to push roll pallets of produce through the hectic aisles.

A feeling of dread washed over me when I realized I'd more than likely be one of those parents in a few years' time. Fuck. I was not looking forward to Ethan becoming the age where he could trick-or-treat.

"Sure, sure." I smiled, leaning toward her, and placing a quick kiss on her forehead. I knew I probably shouldn't, but I literally couldn't help myself.

Ah, shit. Who the hell was I kidding? I wanted-no, needed-to kiss this stunning woman because my heart, body and soul demanded it.

Bella smiled softly and leaned into my kiss, almost as if to savour the feel of my lips, before she turned back to the list. Fuck if that didn't make my heart swell. She seemed to love my touch, and shit, I loved touching her. Bella Swan was like a fucking drug: addictive and gave you withdrawals if you went without your next hit for long periods of time.

I strolled down a little way until I found the family-sized packs, and bent down to grab some Pepsi, Dr. Pepper, Fanta, and 7UP before moving onto the juices.

After loading the cart with every kind of juice the store had to offer, I spun around and made my way back to Bella.

As I approached, the dick-hardening sight before me had me instantly stopping in my tracks. There she was, standing there in a white, lace blouse and denim shorts, bent over trying to reach the items that had been pushed too far back on the bottom shelf.

A lopsided grin quirked my lips as I stood back and folded my arms over my chest. My greedy eyes ran over her fine, toned body, and down to the little sliver of tanned and exposed skin from where her thin, and almost fucking see-through, top had ridden up.

That sexy little minx right there was the sole reason for my instant boner. Shit. Thank Christ for the shopping cart.

Every goddamned cell in my body was screaming at me to look away and quit gawking at her like some hormonal fucking teenager who'd just figured out how to work his tool, but I couldn't. And to be honest, I really didn't want to. The gorgeous little brunette before me was hands down the sexiest, most beautiful woman I'd ever had the pleasure of laying eyes on.

"Sometimes grocery shopping is fan-fucking-tastic," some creep said from beside me. "It's an awesome view right here, isn't it, man?"

I couldn't stop it.

Blood roared angrily through my veins, causing a red mist to descend in front of my eyes. I'd never felt rage or jealousy like it. I wanted to pound my fist into him until he was nothing but a bloody mess on the floor. It would be a cold day in hell before I let anyone leer over, or talk disrespectfully about that amazing woman.

"Move on, asshole," I growled through gritted teeth. "Now."

"What's your problem, bro?" Jackass asked, defensively.

"My problem, bro, is that woman," I sneered, pointed toward Bella, "She's mine. Got me? Now get the fuck outta here before I make it so you spend the rest of Halloween lying in a hospital bed."

And with that, I pushed away from the shopping cart, stalked with purpose towards the gorgeous brunette in front of me, and grasped her firmly by the arm-making her drop everything in her hand.

Spinning her around, my heart accelerated as I watched her eyes widen in shock, then glisten in excitement as she realized what I was about to do. Shoving her into the shelves, I pressed my entire body onto her, making sure she could feel my raging hard-on, before cupping her face and leaning in until I took her mouth in a ferocity I could only describe as possessive.

The second her lips met mine, I felt a power surge through me that was nothing short of electric. Cotton candy and sunshine. That taste would be fucking embedded in my head for the rest of my life. No better taste than her lips. None.

Surprisingly, Bella didn't fight me or try to push me away; instead, she melted against me and moaned-and I swear to all that was holy, that moan? Best damn thing I'd ever heard.

She stepped up on her tiptoes so she could snake her arms around my neck and entwined her fingers together, ultimately deepening our kiss. There was nothing slow or tender about this; it was pure, unrelenting passion. Fireworks, explosions of color and whatever the fuck else you wanted to call it, erupted inside my head as her lips moved in perfect sync with mine. Nothing compared to this. Nothing.

And right now, there wasn't a man alive who wouldn't give their right fucking nut to be in my position, yet here I was, kissing the living hell out of the only woman to ever have me in goddamn knots.

My fingers crept up and into her hair, tugging slightly as I thrust my tongue into her mouth and traced the undersides of her soft flesh. I explored her properly and thoroughly, making sure I didn't leave a single inch of her untouched. I kissed her the way she deserved to be kissed. And I cherished her mouth with determination and rawness, until she gripped me harder, arching her body into mine and pressing her gorgeous figure onto my impossibly hard erection. I groaned loudly against her lips, and ground my hardness into her. I couldn't help it. She felt too damn good against me, better than I could've ever imagined. And holy fuck, had I imagined.

Growling carnally, and with my desire now at an all-time high, I placed my free hand on her lower back and pulled her tight against me. I didn't want a single inch of space between us. Gliding my hand from the small of her back, down to the heavenly swell of her ass, Bella let out another dick-swelling moan and thrust her pelvis into me. My dreams hadn't done justice to the delectable way her curves felt under my touch. Not. One. Bit.

My restraint had been pushed several times this past week-hell, since the moment we first met-but having her this close and not being able to touch her and worship her the way I desperately wanted? It was downright killing me. Settling for second best, I let my hands continue their exploratory journey over her sweet plumpness as I kissed her harder and deeper than I had ever kissed anyone in my entire life. With a passion and urgency that I never knew possessed, my fingers hinted on her full, firm mounds, and I lost all control. Cupping her ass roughly, I hungrily and greedily devoured her mouth.

"J-Jay," she mumbled against my kiss, but I refused to let her finish.

Hell yeah, I wanted to hear her moan my name. Just the thought had my boner hard as freaking granite. But I needed her mouth more. I wanted to soak into her very being, and brand her with my lips and heart so no other guy would even register on her radar. I needed to own every fucking inch of her beautiful body and show her that this kiss wasn't just a kiss; it was a fucking game changer.

I wanted this kiss to blow her mind just like it was blowing mine.

I had to make her see just how much she meant to me, even if I couldn't say it with words. Hopefully, she'd see it with this kiss.

Hell, the intensity of our kiss even scared me. I'd never kissed a woman with so much desperation before; my lips literally bruised hers. I'd never wanted to make a woman feel my need for her. That wasn't me being a dick, I just never allowed myself to get too close...until Bella. But she hadn't just gotten close, she'd crawled under my skin and set up camp in my heart. She was a part of me.

Fucking crazy, right?

I'd never needed a woman to know that she was quickly becoming my whole life. But this woman? This perfect angel? Hell yeah, she needed to know. I needed her in on that little piece of info, like fucking yesterday.

Reluctantly, I broke away, panting and with a hooded gaze, as the flustered beauty in my arms struggled to gather her breath. I swear to god, there was nothing sexier or better than seeing your woman all swollen-lipped, red-cheeked and tousled hair.

I felt the beast inside of me roar with smug satisfaction. I did that. Fuck, yeah.

With one hand remaining tangled in her hair, my forehead rested on hers as our breathing slowed and hearts returned to a normal rhythm. I closed my eyes for a brief second to bask in her radiant glow.

Beautiful.

"W-Wow," she gasped, still recovering and frantically searching my eyes for answers. "W-What was that for?"

And then, like I'd been kneed in the balls, realization hit me square in the chest.

Should I tell her the truth? That I'd been wanting to kiss her like that since we first met? Or should I tell her that our kiss was just a sick show to save her from that jackass?

Guess which one I went with?

After swallowing my fear and pushing down the anxiety boiling within me, I took a deep breath and replied, "It was my turn to save you, gorgeous. After all, what are friends for?" Biggest fucking lie I'd ever told, and I regretted it as soon as it left my mouth. The words tasted like poison on my tongue.

If she felt for me even half of what I felt for her, I knew the shit I'd just spewed would rip her apart. And I was right.

Opening my eyes, I watched as her perfect face paled of its color and her eyes, glistening with wetness, lowered to the floor. My heart plummeted. Fuck. What had I done?

Nodding slowly, Bella moved out of my arms but not before quietly thanking me. That killed me. Straight-up slayed me. She shouldn't be thanking me. She should be beating me over the head with a fucking crowbar because I sure as hell deserved it.

Just like that, I'd taken the magic out of our kiss, and told her I'd only kissed her to save her from someone else.

Hell. I'm the one she needed saving from. I'm the one she needed to stay the fuck away from, because deep down in my gut I knew that at the end of it all I wouldn't be enough for her. She deserved someone who didn't come with a shit-ton of baggage. Someone who could take her out on dates, hold her hand, touch her flawless face, and kiss her beautiful lips just for the sheer hell of it. But because of the fucking ghosts I had waiting for me back in La Push, I couldn't be that man. And goddamn if that didn't hurt like bitch.

Mentally, I slammed my head against the shelf, groaning loudly at my own stupidity. "Jake Black, you're the dumbest motherfucker alive."

~UH~

BPOV

Still irked from the hurtful way Jake had treated me yesterday, I swallowed my agitation toward him so I could give my goddaughter the Halloween and fifth birthday party she deserved. But that didn't mean his chauvinistic words hadn't wounded me deeply.

How could he treat me like that? As if I was some kind of game?

"It was my turn to save you, gorgeous. After all, what are friends for?"

Save me from what? Him?

What were friends for? Was he freaking serious?!

Didn't he realize that I was falling for him? Didn't he see that I wanted him to kiss me because he wanted to, and not because he was forced to? And especially after he promised he wouldn't kiss me again unless it meant something.

No, of course he didn't. I think that was what hurt me the most. The fact that he'd made a promise-a promise that meant a lot to me-and had dismissed it as if it were nothing.

It wasn't nothing. It was everything.

I knew he wanted to give this whole friends thing a try because he had some issues to work out, and I totally understood that, I really did. But god, he was blowing hot and cold, and it was confusing the hell out of me! One minute he was telling me we could only be friends, and the next he was shoving me up against shelves and devouring me whole.

Or was I overreacting? Was I overthinking this? After all, it was just a kiss; a perfect, passionate, once-in-a-lifetime, toe-curling, body-tingling kind of kiss.

Ah, hell!

I wasn't sure what was wrong with me today. I just felt so...catty and on edge; as if the slightest little thing would cause me to snap. And, of course, it didn't help that I couldn't stop thinking about the rather unpleasant encounter I'd had with Alice earlier in the week.

Ever since Jaymie was born, the three of us-Alice, Jasper and I-had agreed that she would spend her birthdays with me because, let's be honest, dumb and dumber would rather spend the day lunching with their socialite buddies than giving their daughter the love and attention she deserved. So she spent her birthday as well as most national holidays with me and my family, and that suited her so-called parents just fine...until this year.

"Why are you so happy?" Alice asked rudely, folding her arms over her Dolce and Gabbana satin blouse and glancing judgmentally over my casual jeans and t-shirt look in distaste. What the hell ever, I thought, while I mentally rolled my eyes.

I really didn't need her pissy prissy mood swings bringing me down today. I'd had the most perfect weekend with Jake, Ethan and Jaymie, and this uptight prima-donna wasn't raining on my parade.

Smiling slightly at the thought of Jake, I bit my lip and shrugged. Blissfully happy, I replied, "Nothing." However, I wasn't exactly counting on my four year old goddaughter blurting out, "Mr. Jake makes Bella smile like that!"

Piercing me with an accusing glare and with one perfectly shaped brow cocked, Alice questioned in her typical venomous tongue, "And who is this 'Mr. Jake'?"

I was just about to tell the nosy witch it was none of her freaking business, when Jaymie jumped in a yelled, "Bella's special friend!" a little too enthusiastically, causing me to wince only because I knew what was about to be thrown my way: another truckload of insults.

Bending down to Jaymie's level, I smiled warmly, removed her backpack and coat. "Why don't you go find daddy and show him the drawings you made yesterday? I'm sure he'd love to see them."

Beaming brighter than the North star, she nodded animatedly, gave me a quick kiss on the cheek and zoomed off into the house to find her father. However, she hadn't even reached the end of the insanely long hallway when Alice nailed me with a condemning glare. "Wow, Bella. This is an all-time low, even for you," she spat, angrily.

Sighing, I leaned back against the door, "What are you talking about?"

"Don't play dumb with me, Bella," she sneered, "I know it'll be hard for you, but please try. You're entertaining strange men around my child."

Gritting my teeth, I clenched my fists and replied, "First of all, fuck you. And before you go giving yourself a nosebleed, he's my friend, not some one night stand I picked up at bar, so don't turn this into something it's not."

"How come I've never heard of this friend before?" Alice questioned.

Chuckling at her nerve, I responded sarcastically, "I'm sorry, I didn't realize I needed your approval in regards to my friends."

It was in that precise moment when my angel of a godchild began to sing, "Bella and Mr. Jake sitting in a tree! K-I-S-S-I-N-G!" I closed my eyes and sighed heavily, bracing myself for more verbal attacks.

Alice studied me carefully, before raising her eyebrows knowingly. "Really? Because my four year old child seems to be under the impression that there's more to your 'friendship' than you're letting on. Do you realize how inappropriate it is for you to sweep the cobwebs out of your vagina while my child is with you?!"

Was this chick for real?

I finally snapped. "Okay, enough! Who the heck are you to tell me who I can and can't date? And since when do you care about what your child does or doesn't witness?!"

Alice snapped back, "Since you started parading your hook-ups around in front of my kid!"

"Give it up, Alice, I don't have time for your Queen Bee act. Why do you suddenly care about my personal life anyway? I thought I was just your glorified babysitter." I was straining to keep from shouting at her.

Alice scoffed incredulously and waved her hand dismissively. "Oh, don't fret, I don't care, as long as you're not exposing my daughter to some kind of live porn show. It's not as if any man you could catch would be around very long anyway," she snorted.

Shaking my head in pure hatred at the woman before me, I turned to head toward the door, but not before I added, "You're a spiteful bitch, Alice. What did I ever do to you to deserve to be treated like this? We used to be friends."

"Things change, darling," she answered in a bored and uninterested tone, glancing down at her nails.

"Clearly," I shot back in agreement. "Just make sure you have her ready early on Saturday. I'll be around to get her at about half seven. She'll need her overnight bag."

"Why does she need that? Where are you taking her?" Alice demanded with a raised eyebrow.

"Why does it matter?" I threw back.

"Because she's my child, and as her mother I have a right to know where my daughter will be on her birthday," Alice replied, looking at me as if it should be self-explanatory. And with any other mother, it would have been. But this was new, for Alice to feign interest.

Well, she won't be where she should be, I thought as I adjusted my bag on my shoulder.

Sighing, I answered, "If you must know I'm taking her to Jake's house. We're throwing her a party."

"You're taking her to his house and throwing her a party together?" Alice sneered.

"Yes. Your point?" I replied, tiredly.

An evil sparkle glimmered in Alice's eyes as her lips curled into a cruel smirk. "Pinning your hopes on the first man to give you some attention since Gavin? Cute. But once he sees what a neurotic and pathetic loser you are, he'll take off in search of a real woman. Then you'll be right back at square one. Alone and lonely."

I hated to admit it, but her wicked words had managed to work their way under my skin. What if she's right? Jake was such a great person, and he's so devastatingly handsome, surely he'll figure out that he's just wasting his time with me. Maybe that's why he's trying to keep me in the friend-zone.

Opening the door, I took a deep breath and gathered myself together. I turned to look over my shoulder. "Run your mouth all you want, Alice, but at the end of the day, I'm not the one stuck in a loveless marriage. You're just jealous that I actually have a shot at being being happy, something you have already lost out on. Now, if you don't mind, I need to get back to my pathetic little life. Toodles!"

And ever since then, my mind had been working a mile a minute. I couldn't help but think that maybe she had a point. Maybe I was too messed up to experience a real, true and loving relationship.

After blowing up the last of the gazillion princess and multicolored balloons, I moved to the fridge, so I could finish getting the rest of the food and drink prepared, when a squealing little girl rushed down the hall and into the kitchen.

"It's my birthday! It's my birthday!" Jaymie yelled excitedly, running around the kitchen island several times before climbing up onto the stool and bouncing eagerly in her seat. I couldn't help but chuckle at her glee. Leaning across the work surface, I twirled an errant, silky bang around my finger, and planted a sloppy kiss on her nose. "Happy birthday, baby girl!"

Beaming exuberantly, she snuggled with her Olaf teddy and swayed joyously. "Thanks! Can I open my presents now?" Chuckling further, I playfully squeezed her nose, eliciting a giggle from her and turned back to the fridge. "Hold up there, Princess. We need to get some food into your belly first," I said, feeling a little bad for raining on her merry parade, but she needed to eat.

Opening the fridge door, I pulled out some milk, and asked Jaymie, "What would my special girl like to eat?" She put her finger to her chin, appearing in deep thought before her eyes widened in animation. "French toast with chocolate and strawberries!" Nodding in agreement and impressed with her choice, I reached for the fruit, eggs and the toast, and placed them on the marble counter.

"Sure thing, baby girl. What about a drink?" I asked her.

She quickly replied, "Chocolate Nesquik!"

Smiling, I set the pan over the burner and cranked up the gas. "Chocolate Nesquik and French toast coming right up."

Pouring out the milk and adding two heaping spoonfuls of chocolate powder into the glass, I stirred them together and handed it to her. "There we go, Precious. One chocolate Nesquik for the birthday girl!"

After taking the glass from my hand, she sat there happily slurping down her chocolate milk while I went to work on her French toast. "Where's Mr. Jake and baby Ethan?" Jaymie asked between sips.

My stomach instantly tightened at the thought of Jake, and I couldn't help but tense. I really didn't want to think about him right now, let alone entertain the fact he was asleep in his bed, possibly naked. A silent groan left my lips. I so did not need to punish myself right now. Seeing him later would be torture enough. I knew I was being a little unfair, seeing as he had offered up his house to hold Jaymie's party, helped put up the majority of Halloween decorations and gave me a key so I could come over as early as I wanted to set up, but still, I was pissed at him.

"They're still asleep, Honey. He was probably up early seeing to Ethan, so we have to be quiet," I told her as I added milk, vanilla extract and cinnamon to the eggs and began to whisk.

"Why was Mr. Jake up early?" She questioned innocently while gazing at the contents of her glass in fascination.

Adding the bread to the egg mixture, I coated it on both sides before placing it into the pan. "Ethan doesn't sleep through the night yet, sweetie. He's a little young, so Jake has to feed and change him."

Ethan had been quite an active baby this past week; he'd been learning subtle yet clever ways to control his body movement. He'd already mastered wiggling his legs, flailing his arms and slowly turning his head from side to side so he could see what was going on around him. But now he was-along with the help of Jake and myself-teaching himself to sit.

Every night for the past several days, we'd been trying out tummy time. Ethan was a little fussy at first as it was all new to him, but once we dangled some toys or keys in front of him, he was fine. Even if we weren't playing with him on the floor, Jake would have him rest on his stomach while watching TV so Ethan could still have the tummy time, but could also watch his father and the things that were going on around him. Or he'd place him securely on his funky little padded octopus wedge, where he'd lie there, kick his legs, turn his head and flash his gummy-smile at either myself or Jake. One thing he especially loved though was lying on my lap as Jake tickled him or played with his relaxed arms. At the moment, he was only doing around fifteen minutes of tummy time per day, and he'd only been doing it for a few days now, but that clever little munchkin was quickly nailing the art of lying on his stomach.

Placing her empty glass on the counter, she wiped her mouth on the sleeve of her Frozen pajamas, and she kept coming with the questions. "Why does baby Ethan eat and poop so much?"

Cooking the toast on both sides until it turned golden, I used a spatula to scoop it out and place it on her favorite Disney Princess plate. "Babies feed more than older children because they need the nutrients in the milk so they can grow up to be big and strong like you, Princess."

Jaymie's brows folded together in adorable confusion. "So, baby Ethan will grow up to be as big as me one day?"

I smiled at her, "He sure will, Sweetie."

After drizzling some chocolate sauce over her French toast, I cut up some strawberries and set them decoratively on top, just as the screen on my cell lit up alerting me to an incoming text. My heart instantly dropped. I'd been receiving threatening and spiteful messages from Alice all week regarding my 'relationship' with Jake, and my appearance, and if this was from her, I knew it would be another of the same.

Handing the plate to Jaymie, I smiled slightly as her eyes lit up in delight and she rubbed her tummy and liked her lips. "Yummy!"

Retrieving my cell from the counter, I slid the bar across and the message instantly opened.

Do you honestly think your 'special friend' would want to be with someone who has circles under her eyes and frizzy, messy hair? Honestly, darling, you're setting yourself up for rejection. Oh and by the way, there's this wonderful little invention called concealer...you should give it a try!

I grimaced after reading the text and closed my eyes. Great. Just what I needed. Skincare and make-up advice from a walking freaking mannequin.

Unconsciously I ran my hands through my hair, feeling the loose strands that had fallen from my messy up-do slide between my fingers, before I grasped the back of my neck. Sure, I knew I was no beauty queen, but for some reason being around Alice had always made me feel a bit like a country bumpkin. I always felt so old and frumpy; as if I could wear the nicest dress I owned and I'd still look like the poor relation compared to her. I'd never cared too much for fashion, choosing my clothing based on comfort and practicality. Heck, I'd rather spend the day in sweats and a tank top than torture my body with six inch heels, skin tight clothing and a crapload of makeup. It just wasn't my thing.

The only thing I did try to maintain was my hair. I'd always been told that I had such beautiful, long silky hair and in my mind it was my best asset. But when I was busy, like any sane girl, I preferred to throw it up into a ponytail or bun and be done with it. On days like today however, I didn't have time to spend hours in front of the mirror making sure every strand was in its rightful place, my attention was needed elsewhere. So my oh-so intricate and extensive beauty regime would have to wait. Sense my sarcasm there? Yep. Thought so.

Not that Alice would understand that. We couldn't all look like we'd just stepped out of a high-end fashion magazine. Unfortunately, some of us had to make an effort to look good.

"Now, there's a sight for sore eyes," a deep, throaty voice rasped from the archway.

Jumping slightly at the unexpected sound of Jake's warm, honey-like tone, my head snapped to toward him only to find his eyes trained firmly on me. A look of heavy seduction glazed over his topaz orbs as his gaze roved over my now trembling body. My heart sighed in contentment, while my insides churned with desire. If everything Alice had said was true...then why was he looking at me like that? Surely I should repulse him? Tearing my gaze away, I discreetly placed my phone in my back pocket and quickly busied myself.

Jaymie's eyes catapulted to his, and she dropped her fork. "Mr. Jake! Mr. Jake!" she squealed, enthusiastically. I hadn't looked at him, but I just knew that he was sporting his pearly-white grin. Out the corner of my eye, I saw him push off the doorframe and stroll over toward me. My throat immediately dried when I noticed he was deliciously naked from the waist upwards.

Holy Christ on a cracker.

Closing my eyes, I tried to prepare myself for the mental onslaught of emotions that I was going to feel when he touched me. I took a deep breath and held on to my composure as tightly as I could. However, attempting to block out the images of his gorgeous, topless body as it came towards me, was harder than expected. And my panties? Soaked. How was it possible to look that good seconds after getting out of bed?

Then, of course, I had to deal with the incredible and intoxicating scent of his natural fragrance that infiltrated my pores and surged over my body. And don't even get me started on the sheer elation I felt when his warmth radiated off of him and penetrated my hard exterior.

My heart didn't have a hope in hell's chance. Neither did my body. God. What was the point in even trying to be mad at a man who resembled a freaking Greek Adonis?

Wrapping his bare, muscular arms around me, he brought my body into his comforting embrace and pressed a soft kiss onto my hair before murmuring in a sleepy, yet incredibly sexy timbre, "Morning, beautiful." A small inaudible mewl escaped me as his warmth surrounded and encapsulated my body. Why, oh why, couldn't I get the naughty thoughts of his beautiful body, all naked and yummy, intertwined with mine, out of my head?

See? said the cynical voice inside my head. This is what happens when you don't have sex for over two years. You turn into a sex-crazed loon.

I wasn't sure how I could know this fact so soon into our relationship, but I knew that I wanted him. And I wanted him for as long as I could possibly have him. But I was scared stiff that our pasts had scarred us too deeply. I had yet to find out what was holding Jake back, but it wasn't taking me a hell of a lot to trust in him. I guess I just somehow knew in my heart that this man was worth it. I must be a glutton for punishment.

As Jake's strong, safe arms encased my body, holding me to him as if his life depended on it, I fought the urge to melt against him. I couldn't, no matter how much I wanted to, I just couldn't get past what he'd said yesterday. It was as if there was some mental block stopping me. I didn't want to be just a plaything to him. I wanted to be his everything.

Sure, it was crazy seeing as we'd only known each other a short while, but the heart wants what it wants. And mine wants Jake Black. On that resigned thought, I shrugged out of his grasp, mumbled good morning, and went about cleaning up Jaymie's breakfast mess.

Chancing a look into his eyes, I could've sworn I saw a hint of confusion and disappointment flicker at my sudden need for distance, but I couldn't be completely sure because it had disappeared in the same instant. Moving around the island, Jake lowered down to Jaymie's level and playfully ruffled her hair. "I hear there's a birthday girl in the house today," he started, teasing the gleeful little girl. "You know anything about that, Bells?" he asked, his beautiful brown eyes boring a hole into me.

I could literally feel him staring at me. "You heard that, huh?" I decided to play along for Jaymie's sake. "Well, I did just make a special breakfast for this little one...perhaps she knows?"

A loud giggle erupted from the radiant birthday girl. Tugging on Jake's arm, she said, "It's me, silly! I'm the birthday girl!" Jake cocked a feigned skeptical brow at me, "That right? Squirt here's our birthday girl?"

Goodness, the way he said 'our' just about melted my heart.

Still playing along, I gave a one-shoulder shrug before winking at my goddaughter, "Guess she is." "Well then," Jake said, standing up, "if you're the birthday girl, I guess that means it's you who gets the birthday tickles."

Jaymie's eyes widened in realization. Before I could even blink, she had bolted off the chair and dashed around the island, using me as her shield. "No! No! No, Mr. Jake!" she laughed, pleadingly. "No birthday tickles!" He shook his head defiantly, rubbed his hands together eagerly, and began to stalk around the counter in search of his target. "No can do, Squirt. Birthday tickles are tradition." Jake's gaze flickered to mine, and he winked. As he approached, Jaymie zoomed out from her hiding spot behind me and ran into the living room, yelling and giggling the entire way.

When Jake reached my side, he stopped and placed a large hand on the small of my back, before leaning in and breathing in my ear, "Don't worry, I know she's just eaten, so I'll go careful. I don't want her getting sick on her special day. By the way," he murmured, rolling his eyes over my body, "You should wear your hair like this more often," he motioned to my messy can't-be-bothered-to-style-it up-do before adding, "It's...sexy." And with a panty-soaking wink, he headed toward Jaymie.

As soon as he turned out of sight, an exhausted breath left my body, and I spun around and braced myself against the counter. My legs felt like freaking jello from his admission, and if I hadn't had this counter holding me up, I knew for damn sure I would've collapsed to the floor. Running a confused hand through my hair, I muttered into the silence, "This man's going to be the death of me."

~UH~

After Jake had unleashed the birthday tickles on Jaymie, she retreated to the living room where she sat watching Dora the Explorer, leaving me alone in the kitchen with the guy who haunted my dreams.

"Hungry?" I asked as I poured us some orange juice.

"Starvin'," Jake responded lustfully and without delay, before downing the fresh juice in one gulp, his eyes never left mine. Why was I getting the feeling he wasn't talking about the food?

Gulping hard, I took a sip from my drink and asked, "What do you feel like having?"

With his lips hooked up into an amused smirk, he answered, "Well, that's a loaded question, actually." His eyes darted briefly to this juice glass before they eased to meet mine. Keeping his heated gaze trained firmly on me, he skilfully poured himself more juice.

My heart instantly began to beat faster as the sexual tension rebounded between us. "Bells, you don't have to make me breakfast. I'm pretty sure I can cook a few eggs," he told me, playfully.

Rolling my eyes at him, I shot him a would-you-just-answer-the-question look. "I know I don't have to make you anything, but I want to, so stop being a stubborn ass and tell me what you want."

An amused twinkle danced in his eyes. "Insulting me in my own house now, huh?" he winked at me.

Setting my glass on the side, I turned and looked him straight in the eyes. "I'll do a lot more than that if you don't answer the question."

A slow, cheeky grin made its way onto his face. "Yeah?" he asked, placing both of his elbows on the counter, Jake leaned forward until we were mere inches from one another and asked, "Like what?"

I smiled slightly and pushed myself off the surface of the counter, turning from him to keep him from seeing the emotions flickering in my eyes. "Nothing," I mumbled, pursing my lips together. "I just want to get this done, so I can get Jaymie ready for Mary."

A couple of days ago I'd spoken to my best friend and told her that Jake and I were going to throw Jaymie a last minute Halloween slash birthday party. And, after teasing the hell out of me because I'd mentioned Jake ("Doing things as a couple now? Cozy."), she offered to take her out for ice cream and to the Disney store where she'd arranged for Jaymie to have a Princess makeover-apparently she had connections and knew someone who worked there that owed her a favor. I swear to god the woman was like the freaking mafia.

After several failed attempts at insisting that the ice cream would be enough, and that it was just so we could finish everything off, she'd straight up told me to zip it and that she was doing it. It would be her gift to the birthday girl. Who was I to argue with that? But to make matters worse, she then told me that she'd make Jaymie's birthday cake...and boy, did she make it.

Mary had a serious passion for food and baking, and if she were given the opportunity to make something, she'd snatch it greedily with both hands. And that's exactly what she'd done with us, and I couldn't have been happier. My best friend and all around life saver had created a beautiful blue and white, two-tiered, Frozen themed birthday cake, free of charge. It was stunning, and I was eternally grateful.

"Mary's your best friend, right?" Jake asked as he stood up and moved to my side of the counter while wrapping his arms around my waist, his chin resting on my shoulder. "The girl you told me about last week?"

I nodded and smiled as his day-old stubble roughly scratched at my skin. "Yeah, and she's going to be here in less than an hour, so I need to know what you want for breakfast."

In that same moment Jake's hands flew down to my sides and his fingers began to tickle me relentlessly. Laughing at his playfulness, I jerked and wriggled in his embrace, then teasingly swatted at his arm in a weak attempt to shrug him off. "Would you stop? I have to concentrate," I choked out.

Chuckling, he held me tighter and nuzzled the base of my neck with his nose. "Nope. I'm enjoying myself too much," he replied with a grin.

My entire body trembled and quivered as his warm, tantalising breath ghosted over my exposed skin. This felt too good. He felt too good. This was going far and beyond the boundaries of friendship. And apparently I wasn't the only one to notice that.

"I can feel your heartbeat," Jake whispered huskily into my ear, halting his attack on my body and causing my heart to thump even harder in my chest. "It's fast."

Pursing my lips into a long thin line and trying to gain control over my rapid heart beat, I breathed, "Yeah." Pulling back a little, the mood cocooning us now, heavy and permeated with sensuality, Jake gently placed his middle and forefinger on the corner of my mouth and slowly guided my face to his. Gradually my eyes found his and I felt as if the air had been sucked from my lungs. The intensity and another emotion I was too scared to acknowledge-simply because I didn't want to get my hopes up-almost brought me to my knees.

"I make you nervous," he stated in his warm and honey-like tone that I was growing to love; the back of his hand sweeping several wanton strands of hair over my shoulder. "Why?" Swallowing thickly, I wrung my fingers together anxiously.

"Jake..." I begged, desperate for him to just let this drop if it wasn't going to go anywhere. I really didn't want to be teased and my emotions to be toyed with.

"Relax, Bells, I'm teasing you," he chuckled, rubbing my arms. Is it bad that a part of me felt disappointed by that?

Biting my lip to keep myself from groaning, my eyes fluttered to a soft close and for just a moment, I allowed myself to enjoy this closeness by resting my head against his naked pectoral. I sighed in contentment. "How am I meant to relax when I have your annoying ass bugging the crap out of me?" I teased.

Smirking, he pressed a soft kiss onto my shoulder and answered smugly, "Deny it all you want, Bells, but we both know how much you'd miss my annoying ass bugging you if I stopped."

"You're delusional," I joked in a light-hearted retort.

"You'd miss it," he threw back, challengingly.

Scoffing, I shook my head in defeat and muttered, "Yeah, h'okay."

"You're still denying it," he smirked, mischievously. I turned and pinned him with a glare. "Am not." Jake wiggled his eyebrows, "Play innocent all you want, gorgeous, but we both know you're lying your sexy little ass off."

Growling at his persistence, I tried to shrug free from him and continue on with my day but of course, he refused to let me. Holding me tighter he buried his face in my neck and softly murmured, "Don't."

Don't? Don't what?

I wasn't in the mood to deal with him and his mixed signals today; hell, I was having enough trouble dealing with my own reeling mood swings, but I needed to focus on the task at hand. This was my goddaughter's day, so I broke free from his embrace, leaving him with a crushed expression on his beautiful face. "I have a busy day ahead of me, Jake, so, please, stop messing around and just tell me what you want for breakfast."

The look he gave me was like a knife to the heart, but I couldn't focus on that right now. With his arms braced on the counter and his shoulders slumped in defeat, he growled, "We." Turning back toward him I noticed how taut and angry he'd become as his strong jaw worked ferociously.

"What was that?" I asked, needing to know I'd heard him correctly.

"You said 'I have a busy day,'" he echoed my previous words. "We have a busy day ahead of us, Bella," Jake bit out through clenched teeth. "We're doing this together; well, at least, I thought we were. Guess not." He then turned and stormed off toward Ethan's room.

"What about your breakfast?" I called after him.

"Not hungry," he retorted evasively, before closing the door and effectively shutting me out.

Sighing in annoyance at myself, I sagged back against the work surface and closed my eyes. What the hell just happened?

~UH~

Three awkward and uncomfortable hours later, the house, food, drink and party games were finally set up and ready to go.

After I'd successfully earned the silent treatment from Jake, I reluctantly left the house and journeyed over to my place so I could grab Jaymie's Wii games and anything else that we needed. And when I'd returned, Jake was sitting out on the porch looking somewhat somber while Ethan laid on his shoulder cooing, blowing bubbles and flexing his tiny fingers, trying to reach for Jake's short hair. My heart broke in two.

Everything I'd ever wanted was sitting on that porch, and because I'd stupidly let my heart control my mind, I was falling head over heels in love with a man that wasn't sure what he wanted or when he'd want it.

Deciding to leave them be, I placed the Wii games on the couch in the living room and headed into the kitchen, so I could start taking the tons of plastic trays filled with all different kinds of Halloween-themed foods from the fridge. I had spent a good two days browsing the net and looking on Pinterest trying to find ideas on what I could make for her that would be fun, appetizing and the right balance between healthy and unhealthy. It's safe to say I gave up with that. If I saw something that looked good and didn't take too long to make, I wrote it down.

So now, instead of being the responsible adult and providing my goddaughter with healthy party foods, she had: Witches Broomsticks made out of peanut butter cups and pretzel sticks; cheese puffs; chocolate-covered pretzel pumpkins; meringue bone cookies; bat fruit skewers; Jack-O-Lantern taco dip; mummy pizza fingers; ghost bananas and pumpkin oranges; cheeseburgers; candy corn cookies, candy corn marshmallows on sticks; green worm jello and werewolf cupcakes.

Then of course there were the gallons of soft drinks that we'd conveniently renamed so they'd have the desired spooky effect. For example: 7UP was now Zombie Virus and Tango was Jack-O-Lantern juice. I didn't have a ton of money, but we'd managed to get a fair bit with what I did have. Jake had offered to pay if I didn't have enough, but like hell was I allowing him to pay for all of this. He'd done enough and he had his own little family to take care of. He knew I appreciated the gesture, but it was just too much.

"Need some help with that?" A quiet, unsure voice asked from behind me. The sound of his subdued bass tone had my entire body crumbling in relief, and sent little waves of elation straight to my heart. The fact that he'd broken our pointless, and quite frankly, painful silence first, spoke volumes to me. Maybe this was his way of calling a truce? I wasn't sure, but either way, I was just grateful that he was speaking to me again...even though I wasn't so sure I deserved it after the way I'd treated him earlier.

Softening at his anxious yet warm offer of help, I turned and nodded, "I'd love some."

A lopsided, relieved and somewhat sheepish smile bloomed over his perfect face as he pushed off the doorframe and strolled over to me, "Whatcha need?"

Flustered and feeling like a thousand huge butterflies had set up camp in my stomach, I self-consciously looked everywhere but at him-even though I was extremely conscious of his presence edging closer and closer toward me-before motioning toward the rather heavy birthday cake I'd just taken from the fridge. "This cake is a lot heavier than it looks," I quipped bashfully, then winced at how lame that just sounded. Gosh, I really wasn't good at this stuff.

Chuckling, he moved to stand in front of me and bent at the waist to take the cake from my arms. As he placed his hands under the round board they gently and accidentally grazed mine. Immediately, I felt the surge of electricity rush through me at the skin-on-skin contact. I held back a gasp as the sensational feel of his touch headed straight toward my now throbbing sex. Not now, Bella! Get a grip! Swallowing my desire for him, I lifted my eyes to his and jumped a little as I found him looking at me intensely with dark, hooded eyes, and his jaw clenched. My heart was thumping like a jackhammer in my chest.

Making sure he had the cake, I stepped back and ran a unnerved hand through my hair. "I'll...uh, I'll get the door for you."

Nodding stiffly and gulping hard, his Adam's apple worked overtime as he turned and headed toward the door I held open for him. Maybe he wasn't completely immune to me after all...

~UH~

A little later after everything was set up, I retreated to the spare room to quickly check on my outfit and put on a little mascara, when I heard a soft knock at the door.

Peering his head around the door Jake asked, "Can we talk?"

Placing the wand back into the tube, I screwed on the lid, set it on the nightstand and turned to face him. "Sure, what's up?"

Tentatively, he edged into the room, one hand nestled in his jean pocket while the other anxiously rubbed the back of his neck. He was nervous. He only ever did that when he was nervous. Why did that thought make my soul flutter? "So, uh, I, uh, wanted to...apologize for my little freak out session earlier." Oh God. Now I felt bad. He was about to apologize for something that wasn't his fault. I couldn't let this happen.

Holding up my hand in protest, I quickly stopped him before he could continue. "No, Jake, please, don't. You have absolutely nothing to apologize for." Well that wasn't strictly true, but this wasn't about that. This was about me losing my shit and taking it out on him. "If anyone needs to say sorry, it's me," I admitted, ashamed. Averting my eyes to the floor, I idly began to fiddle with the hem on my top. "I was out of line earlier and I shouldn't have snapped at you. If anything I should be thanking you, especially after all that you've done for Jaymie and I. I don't think I'll ever be able to express just how grateful I am, so all I can do is say I'm sorry and hope that you accept it."

An anguished groan tore from his mouth as he shook his head and strode toward me with purpose. Hauling me into his warm embrace, Jake wrapped his arms around my body, and pressed his cheek onto my hair.

"You never have to apologize to me, Bells. You had every right to be pissed," he paused, kissed my forehead, and continued. "I know I've been...sketchy, and I was a complete shit to you yesterday, but you have to know, I haven't done any of it to hurt you, Bells." Pulling back, he moved one hand to my face and lovingly stroked my cheek with his forefinger, "You're...fuck...you're different, okay? You're better-the kind of better I want to be good enough for." He gazed at me long and hard, his eyes almost pleading with mine to understand, "I would never, ever hurt you, Bells, you have to believe that."

And strangely, after his heartfelt confession, I did believe him. I think I always had, maybe that was why his words yesterday hurt so much. Because I believed in him. Reaching up on my tiptoes, I pressed a lingering peck on his lips causing his eyes to widen in a happy surprise, and replied. "I do believe that, Jake; thank you."

"Anybody home?!" Mary's high-pitched, sing-song voice filtered through the house and interrupted our conversation. Pressing his forehead against mine, we both closed our eyes and just laughed. After a moment our laughter subsided until we were just holding each other, listening to each other breathe and feeling our hearts beat with one another. It was our moment, and it was one I wouldn't trade for all the money in the world.

Turning so I wouldn't pierce his cranium and deafen the poor guy, I shouted, "Be right out!" Intertwining our fingers, I reluctantly pulled out of his embrace. "C'mon, I need to introduce you to the woman who will undoubtedly scar you for the rest of your life," I chuckled, feeling my body burn with warmth as his thumb slowly caressed my knuckles.

"It'll take more than her to scar me, honey," he chuckled in return.

"Ahem," a throat cleared from behind us. I turned back to Mary, smiling at us knowingly. "Am I interrupting something?" she asked, loving that she'd caught us having a moment.

Blushing profusely, I buried my face in Jake's chest and began to mentally steel myself to be thoroughly tortured for this later. "Jake, this is Mary, my best friend. Mary this is-"

"The gorgeous hunk of man meat that you've been seeing?" she finished, winking coquettishly at Jake. I felt him chuckle beside me and place an arm around my waist, holding me tightly and proudly to him. Traitor.

"What's man meat?!" Jaymie's voice bellowed from the kitchen, making us all laugh at her innocent outburst as she skipped into the hallway twirling in circles so her new dress fanned out.

Releasing Jake and heading out of the room to meet her half way, I crouched down and opened my arms beckoning her to me. "Nothing you need to worry about, sweetheart," I assured her as she skipped over to me.

"Don't I look pretty, Bella," she beamed, showing me her milky-white teeth. "The nice people at the Disney store put some of that shiny stuff on me. They told me I look like a princess!" She giggled.

"That's awesome, sweetie! And they're right, you look absolutely radiant, doesn't she, Jake?"

"Sure does." He grinned at her.

Jaymie blushed and giggled again. "Aunt Mary said that's the stuff you used when Mr. Jake took you on a date. She said you wore it to look pretty for him like I did for my party!" Instantly my body tensed, my face flushed and my eyes widened in embarrassment. I shot Mary a murderous glare. Little minx. She was going to pay for that later.

"What?" I asked, acting oblivious, as Ellie Goulding's "Burn" played through the speakers Jake had set up outside.

Obviously we couldn't have the music too loud because of Ethan sleeping, but Jaymie was happy and dancing away with her best friends, so it didn't matter too much.

Mary's perfectly shaped brow rose knowingly as she said, "Don't you 'what' me, Swan. You know exactly why I nudged you."

I shrugged and sighed tiredly. Did she really have to burst my bubble? I knew she didn't want me to get hurt, but couldn't I at least be happy? "What do you want me to say, Pops?" I asked, testily. 'Pops' was a nickname I'd given to her years ago because she'd always reminded me of Mary Poppins. Don't ask me why, it just seemed to fit. "Do you want me to say that I think I'm falling in love with him after one week of knowing him? Do you want me to say that I'm scared as hell because I don't want to get hurt again? Do you want me to say that I absolutely hate the dreaded friend-zone I've been placed in? Because I do," I told her, my voice wavering, "absolutely hate it, but I'm doing it for him, because it seems to be what he needs."

She nodded in agreement and folded her arms. "The friend-zone does suck ass, but I gotta tell ya, honey, after what I walked in on earlier...there's no way in hell you're in the "friend-zone," she commented, studying me carefully. "If you really think he only sees you as someone he wants to shoot the shit with, you need to get your head checked."

My ears perked up at that. What did she mean? "Are you holding out on me, Watts?" Standing up, I grasped Jaymie's shoulders and turned her to Mary, "Why don't you and Aunt Mary go and grab some of your books from my bag and she can read you a story before your friends get here?"

"Okay!" the excited little girl danced over to Mary, grabbed her hand and dragged her into the kitchen.

Just before they disappeared around the corner, Mary glanced back and smirked wickedly, before promising, "This isn't over, Swan," she then turned to look at Jake. "Good to meet ya, hunkalicious."

Jake chuckled and responded with, "Like wise."

And as I turned to look at him, I couldn't help but smile at the look of amusement on his face. "Are all your friends like her?" he grinned at me.

I winced and smiled guiltily, "There's a slight possibility."

He winked at me, "Good to know," and shot me a cheeky smile. "Now what was that Jaymie said about you wearing the war paint to impress me?" I groaned audibly making him laugh. Goddamn you, Mary!

Dipping down to my level, he whispered in my ear, "You don't need that shit, honey. You're fucking beautiful either way." Holy...swoon...

~UH~

"He's good with the kids," Mary stated from beside me as we watched Jake play What's the Time, Mr. Fox with the kids. Each time he'd turn around, they'd all scream and go running back. It wasn't the aim of the game, but it was fun to see them all having a good time.

The party had been running perfectly for almost two hours. Presents had been opened, games had been played, music had been listened to and the food had been devoured. Apparently they liked my cooking. The only thing left to do was cut the cake and hand out the party bags.

"Yeah, he is," I replied a little too dreamily, as I stood on the porch overlooking the yard while still keeping an eye on Ethan's baby monitor. Mary nudged my arm and looked at me pointedly. Yeah, she knew how deep I was, and I had a feeling I was about to get the 'friend talk.'

She tilted her head to the side and gave me a 'really?' look. "Girl, I've watched him whilst I've been here. I've seen how he acts and looks at you; I'm your best friend, it's my job to scope out possible threats and take them down before they get a chance to strike. I'd be a pretty shitty best friend if I didn't."

Again, what? "What do you mean the way he acts and looks at me?" I asked her, pointedly.

Mary rolled her eyes and sighed. "Do I have to draw you a fucking picture? I thought you were meant to be smart?" she asked and I scowled and discreetly flipped her off. "The dude can't take his eyes or hands off you," she informed me, a mischievous twinkle dancing happily in her eyes.

"For example, when you were shaking your groove thang on the dance mat with Jaymie, guess where his peepers were?" she asked, tilting her head to the side in amusement. "Oh that's right! Glued to your skinny butt. And guess who can't resist touching, holding or kissing you whenever he gets a damn chance? Got it in one, sugar. Mr. Tall, Dark and Extremely Fuckable over there." I knew this was stupid, but I couldn't help but smile at that. It was true, all day, whenever he had the chance, his hands, lips or arms had been on me in one way or another. Whether it be a hand on the small of my back, his fingers affectionately massaging my tense shoulders, his arm around my waist or a kiss on the forehead, the contact was there and it was freaking delicious. It was almost as if he was claiming me without actually claiming me...if that made any sense.

"Oh! And when you were helping Jaymie with her gifts, where was he looking? Yup, right at you, sweetheart. So, I'm betting that if he's placed you in the 'friend-zone'," she made air quotations to emphasize her point, "I'm guessing it was accidental and he's now regretting it like a motherfucker. You haven't told me much about him, but I'm assuming he's been hurt or has some kind of past that's holding him back?"

I nodded mutely in response. I loved and trusted Mary with my life, but somehow I felt like I was betraying him if I told her about his past. Well, what I knew about it anyway. "Thought so; he has this guarded and haunted look about him-like he's unsure and a little scared. But that won't last forever. I think he's just a little inexperienced with relationships so he doesn't know what step to take next," she told me, wisely. Since when did she become an expert on human emotions?

"So what do I do?" I asked, quietly.

"Continue doing whatever it is you were doing, girl. Make him see what he'll miss if he doesn't grow some balls and man the fuck up."

A chuckle tumbled from my at her bluntness. Although, I really shouldn't expect anything less. "He kissed me last night," I told her, wistfully. Mary's eyes widened in shock and excitement, but quickly narrowed in confusion when she saw my hurt expression. "Why am I picking up bad vibes? Do I need to kick his ass?" She asked, rolling up her sleeves ready for a fight.

I chuckled and shook my head. "No, you don't have to kick his ass, but I was a little mad at him. I've never been kissed like that before, Pops," I turned to her, my voice clogging with emotion as tears stung my eyes. "He kissed me like I was his whole life-as if he needed my kisses to breath," I told her, my voice pained.

"That a good thing, honey!" She reassured me, squeezing my hand lovingly. "I'd give anything for someone to kiss me like that...and mean it."

I sighed. "I know, and it felt freaking amazing. But what he said after didn't," I finished, dryly.

"What did he say?" Mary asked quietly. Wincing at the memory I repeated his words, "It was my turn to save you, gorgeous. After all, what are friends for?" I'm not sure, but I think I may have pouted.

Mary looked at me, "He told you that? That he kissed you because he had too?"

I bit my lip before answering her, "Well, not in so many words, but he definitely implied it," I answered weakly, starting to second guess myself.

She laughed and shook her head. "Okay, I know you've been out of the dating game for a while, but come on. Friends! Freaking! Shmends! Nobody kisses someone because they have to, and he certainly wouldn't! Your guy's the kind of person to give orders, not obey them. Trust me. That man down there? He's an alpha. When he kisses you, it's because he wants to and don't let anybody tell you different."

I stood there here for a moment, watching how said man played and interacted with the children, then thought back to the night that we first met and he threatened to break the face of the guy who drunkenly hit on me and pushed me down. Maybe Mary was right? Maybe he had kissed me because he wanted to.

If that was the case, then I needed to hear it from his mouth before I forgave him. He might not have meant them, but his actions and words still hurt. "I hear you, girl, loud and clear." I pulled her into a hug. "I have to go see to Ethan, can you round up all the kids so Jaymie can blow out her candles?"

Mary gave me a quick squeeze before pulling back and making a salute sign with her hand. "On it. Don't worry about a thing." And with that she turned and headed down the wooden stairs that descended into the backyard. "Okay, kiddies! Time to head inside and sing Happy Birthday to my little Jay-Jay here." I couldn't help but laugh as I watched Mary run around the garden, chasing all of the kids; she'd be a fantastic mom.

Just before I turned to go inside, I glanced down to Jake and to my surprise, I found him staring back at me intensely, as if I were some precious treasure he needed to protect. Huh. I guess Mary was right after all. Offering him a small smile, my heart melted as he returned it and winked.

Beautiful. He was beautiful, and I didn't think I'd ever tire of looking into his deep brown eyes.

Inhaling deeply, I wrung my fingers together, still locking eyes with the man who seemed oblivious to my feelings, and eventually broke the spellbinding moment between us so I could check on the precious little boy sleeping in his room. As I made my way through the double doors and headed through the kitchen to Ethan's room, I whispered to myself, "At least one of the Black men wants me."

~UH~

Once I'd seen to Ethan, sung Happy Birthday to Jaymie and watched as she excitedly blew out the candles on her cake, Jake and I took the cake back into the kitchen and I began sliding the knife through the soft sponge and cutting small wedges of it for each child, while he quickly went back out into the party to take pictures.

Just as I placed the knife on the cake board, I felt my phone buzzing in my pocket. God...what now… Reaching into my pocket, I grabbed my cell and slowly unlocked the screen. Bracing myself for another jab, I opened the message from Alice.

Goodness, Bella. What kind of favors are you doing for this 'special friend' that would get him to agree to throwing a child's party? Whatever you're doing, clearly you aren't doing it well. Shame. I always knew you were desperate, I just didn't realize how much.

Just as I was about to reply to the text to tell her where she could stick her cruel words, the front door flew open and in walked the two people I now despised to my very core.

"Well, well, well," Alice mocked in a patronizing voice, "Looks like we're just in time!"

Dropping the knife on the counter, I slowly turned around locked eyes with the people who had no right to call themselves Jaymie's parents. Blood roared through my veins. I was pissed!

"What the hell are you two doing here?" I demanded in a whisper, conscious of the children playing on the other side of the wall.

"It's my daughter's birthday, Bella," Alice replied, curtly. "I have every right to be here." My eyes darted between hers and Jaspers in shocked amazement. I couldn't believe they were here.

"Not without asking me, you don't," Jake's deep, protective and authoritative voice boomed through the kitchen as he made his way through the door and straight to my side, placing a comforting hand on the small of my back. God, he had no idea how badly I needed that. Or maybe he did...

Rolling her eyes in a show of disinterest, she waved her hand dismissively at the man who'd all but made Jaymie's birthday. "Where is she?" said Alice. This woman was seriously pushing her luck.

Stepping back into Jake's soothing warmth, needing to feel him close, I bit out, "She's having cake with her friends." Alice's eyes widened in horror. "You're feeding my daughter sugar?"

Excuse me? She wasn't about to come in here and throw out judgments on how I care for my goddaughter, not when she has never once been present when Jaymie has blown out her candles! "It's her birthday, Alice! She's having some cake. You might know this is what happens every year on her birthday, had you been at any of them!"

"I don't care if it's her birthday! I do not want you feeding my child sugar!" Alice shrieked, indignantly. I couldn't help but laugh at her insanity. "Do you really think I give a crap what you think I should or should not do? When she's in my care, I will handle things as I see fit. You've never seemed to care before, so what's eating you now?" I yelled at the impossible woman before me. "Besides, it's not like she gets it at that prison you call a home!"

"Ugh!" Alice screamed, childishly. "You're infuriating! Why I ever asked you to be her godmother is beyond me! A rodent would do a better job!"

Say what? "Take it back!" I raged, my nostrils flared, as my face reddened in anger.

"Absolutely not!" Alice exclaimed, looking at me as if I were out of my mind.

"Enough," Jasper interjected, placing a hand on my shoulder. Okay, that hand needed to move, now.

As if sensing my sudden discomfort, in an instant Jake had moved me behind him and was standing face to face with Jasper. His stance was protective and dangerous. He was like a huge, intimidating wall of deliciously sexy and protective muscle. "Don't. Fucking. Touch her." Jake said firmly.

Eying Jake up and down in distaste, Alice snarled, "Ahhh, so this must be unfortunate sap you've latched yourself onto," while her eyes continued to roam over him in disgust. "Hmmm, seems I was wrong. Maybe you can keep him around. After all, dirt attracts dirt."

That was it. I'd had enough. Out the corner of my eye, I saw Mary lead the children outside, carrying a smiling Ethan securely in her arms. I placed my hand on Jake's firm stomach, and swiftly moved around him until I was nose to nose with the bitch who'd given birth to my goddaughter. "Don't fucking talk about him like that!" I roared.

My heart seemed to calm it's pace slightly as I felt Jake's large hand encircle my wrist. "S'okay, baby, don't listen to her; it doesn't bother me," Jake tried to soothe me, but I was so not having it.

Without moving my furious stare away from Alice, I replied, "Yeah? Well it sure as hell bothers me! She doesn't get to talk to you like that," I spat, continuing my staredown with the she-devil. "Who the hell do you think you are coming in here-uninvited-and crashing a little girl's birthday party?" I demanded and clenching my fists.

"I'm her mother!" Alice screeched, "and if I see fit, I will remove her from this pathetic excuse of a party, and there's nothing you can do about it!"

"The hell you will," Jake growled, protectively.

Alice's furious gaze snapped to his and pinned him with another of her signature murderous glares. "Keep your unsolicited thoughts to yourself! This has nothing to do with you!" she spat with such malice it had me fighting the urge to lunge forward and rip her worthless throat out.

Lacing my fingers through his to show him that I was by his side and he wasn't alone, I said, in a composed and casual chuckle while keeping my eyes trained firmly on the bitch before me, "Don't listen to her, babe; she won't take Jaymie away and I know why. See, Alice here is what some people might call a manipulative bitch, or perhaps a puppet master. She'll dangle something you want in front of you so you'll dance to her tune, and she'll tell you all kinds of lies that you'll foolishly believe...like threatening to take a child from her birthday party," I trapped her with a glare of my own. "But she won't actually do it, because that would mean she'd have to think about someone other than herself."

I then released Jake's hand and took a deliberate step towards a shifty looking Alice. "We both know why you're here, so stop playing these stupid little games. You can't stand the fact that I now have someone in my life who makes me smile-who makes me happy. It's screwed up your plans, and you can't stand it. Just like with Jaymie. When's the last time you actually gave a crap about your daughter, huh? When's the last time you spent some quality time with her or picked her up from kindergarten?" I fired my questions at her. I was tired of this. Tired of this bitch never putting Jaymie before anything else. "Never, that's when! Every single time I have her I make sure I plan something fun because her own parents can't be bothered to pull themselves away from their oh-so-busy schedules! Yet you have the nerve to stand there and tell me I'm not doing a good enough job?! Take a long, hard look in the mirror, honey! If anyone's doing a piss poor job of raising that child, it's you two!" I ranted. "So don't you dare come into this house and insult the man I care about! And don't you dare ruin your daughter's birthday!"

"Are you going to let her talk to me like that?!" Alice cried as she spun around and faced her husband. A sadistic grin colored my face, "What's the matter, Alice? Can't handle the truth?"

"Oh, so you want to talk about truth and honesty now, huh?" Alice laughed, evilly. "Okay, how's this for truth - the only reason I let you continue to see my child over the past four years was because I felt sorry for you. Poor little Bella, cheated on and verbally abused by the only man who'd even look your direction in college. What does that say about you, huh?"

I'd never experienced what a gunshot felt like, but right now, a bullet could slice through my skin and puncture my heart and I wouldn't have felt it. "H-How did you know about that?" I stammered. I'd never told anyone except Mary and Jake.

"Good news travels fast, darling." Alice smirked, cruelly.

I staggered back and before I could fall to the ground, Jake's arms caught me and pulled me into his safe embrace. Wrapping his arms around me, he cradled my head to his chest and softly kissed my forehead before unleashing his wrath on the two evil people behind me. "I've never hit a woman in my life and I don't intend to start now, but if you ever, ever talkto my girl like that again, then Jizzy behind you will feel the full force of my fist." Some part of my brain was acknowledging Jake's words: My girl. Holy cow, that sounded so good rolling off his tongue. Not the time, Bella, not the time.

"You don't know shit about what happened or what she went through, so keep your bitchy thoughts to yourself before I'm forced to make good on my threat, got me? Now, I suggest you get the fuck outta my house and off my property before I call the cops and have you locked up for disturbing the peace," Jake told her, grinning darkly. "I'm guessing that won't look so good on your squeaky clean records now, will it?" Gathering myself, I turned in Jake's arms and glowered at the two monsters before me.

Alice scowled at Jake before turning her gaze back onto me. "Well, isn't that just the sweetest thing? He's defending you now, Isabella, but that won't last long. Eventually he'll see the light like Gavin did and he'll kick you to the curb without a second thought," she sneered, stepping closer to us.

I wasn't scared of her in the slightest, but the fact that she'd known about Gavin threw me a little. However, that didn't mean I was willing to let her intimidate me or talk shit about the man who unknowingly held my heart. If she kept pushing I was going to give her pretty little face a set of matching shiners.

Alice continued, "You couldn't keep him, so what makes you think this one will stick around?"

And there it was.

Before I knew what was happening, I had launched out of Jake's grip and felt the palm of my hand connect with Alice's stone-like skin as I laid a slap on her that equalled the anger I felt bubbling deep within. "You're a nasty, vindictive bitch who doesn't deserve the love of that child, or any kind of happiness. Now get the hell out of this house and stay the fuck away from me!" With that I spun on my heel and ran out of the kitchen toward Jake's bedroom.

Inside, I collapsed on his bed, curled into a ball and cried. I cried in relief that I'd finally told that witch how I felt, and I cried in fear because for some reason her words had gotten to me, and I just prayed that in the end, I'd be enough for Jake.


I hope you enjoyed the update!

To all Arrow fans, do keep an eye out for my Roy and Thea one-shot!

Until the next time…