A huge thanks to you guys for the love you've given this story. It warms my heart, truly. I fucking love you.
Midnight Cougar graciously beta'd this. Joey and Mandi pre-read. I fucking love them, too.
"Are you going to tell me what we're doing later?" Bella asked around a mouthful of pancake. The two had been eating in companionable silence while sharing sweet smiles, both lost inside their own heads.
Edward still couldn't believe what had happened the night before and how everything had felt so natural with Bella. The connection they shared was beyond anything he had ever had with anyone, and he knew, without a doubt, that she was the one he was meant to be with. He was head over heels for her and would do anything to keep her by his side.
Bella's head was still reeling from her questions from earlier. She had gotten answers and felt relieved that his life hadn't been as sad as what she had originally thought.
"I want to show you something," he said cryptically and took a sip of orange juice. "If I tell you now, it's no use to show you later." He winked and tucked into his plate.
Bella smirked, narrowing her eyes. "Fine, just remember I've been living here practically my whole life. I may not know everyone, but I know the area pretty well."
Edward put his fork down and rubbed his hands together. "Oh, but this, my Bella, I know for sure that you don't know."
"It better be good, Cullen," she warned playfully.
Nodding, Edward shook his head and smirked. "I promise, you'll love it."
"Well, well, well, look what the cat dragged in," Mrs. Cope drawled as she stuck a lilac in to the funeral arrangement she was working on.
Edward squeezed Bella's hand, which he hadn't let go since they had left the diner, and gave the old lady his signature crooked grin. "Hey, Mrs. Cope."
"Just wanted to make sure everything was okay for tomorrow's delivery," Bella said, ignoring Mrs. Cope's playful stare and knowing smirk.
"Yes, everything will be fine, dear. I'm finishing Mr. Aro's bouquet right now, may he rest in peace, and I'll leave it in the fridge so that it can be delivered first thing in the morning."
Bella nodded, happy the job would be done. "I'll make sure Alistair gets it. I know how he is about these things. I can't blame him, though." Alistair was the funeral director at Forks Funerals. He was a rather creepy little man, standing at barely five feet; he also had a bad case of OCD and an even worse case of halitosis. He wasn't a bad man, per se, just very particular about what he liked, and what he liked was early deliveries to ensure his day ran smoothly.
"I'll come in tomorrow afternoon after I'm done my errands. If you have any last minute things you'd like to ask, now's the time to start thinking about them, dear, otherwise it'll be two weeks before you see this old, wrinkled mug." Mrs. Cope grinned exaggeratedly and winked in Edward's direction, making him chuckle as he stood back and watched the interaction between the two women.
"I'll do that," Bella confirmed. "Alice is coming in all week, right?"
"Yes," Mrs. Cope confirmed. "Don't get used to it, though. Come September, she'll be busy at school and won't be around as much. It's usually less busy then, anyway, with flowers being out of season and all."
Bella nodded. "I won't. I should have most of this down by then."
Mrs. Cope regarded Bella carefully. "Oh honey, you'll be fine. You're wonderful with the plants, and the arrangements always look fresh. You have a good eye for detail. Don't let your nerves get the better of you."
Bella smiled, grateful for Mrs. Cope's encouragement. "Thank you, Mrs. Cope. I'm just nervous about being here alone."
Edward squeezed her hand and Bella looked up to meet his eyes. What she saw there made her feel as though she was eight feet tall and bulletproof. "I can always help out," he offered.
Bella nodded, knowing he probably had a green thumb. After all, he was Esme's kid. "Thank you." She pushed herself up on her toes and kissed his cheek.
"Well, kids, I'm done here." Mrs. Cope took the bouquet and brought it into the giant walk-in refrigerator. She couldn't help the smile playing on her lips as she thought of what she'd just seen. "They'll be just fine," she told herself as she settled the arrangement on a shelf inside the fridge.
Once Mrs. Cope got back from putting away the bouquet, the trio said their goodbyes and went their separate ways.
"Where to?" Bella asked as she hopped inside Edward's car, not even waiting for him to open the door for her this time.
He shook his head, chuckling at her enthusiasm as he got into his car.
"The bookstore?" Bella looked around the parking lot wondering what the heck they were doing at the bookstore.
Edward shrugged and wordlessly exited the car, grinning as he rounded the front and opened the passenger door.
Bella looked up at him, unmoving. "What are we doing here, Edward?"
"Come on." He grabbed her hand and helped her out of the car. "You're being so difficult, Bella. Last time I checked, you loved reading. Or is that something that changed when I left Forks?"
He knew very well it wasn't, but he liked teasing her nonetheless.
She rolled her eyes and followed him into the store. "Of course not, I'm just confused. Wait, are you a writer now?" she asked excitedly.
He grinned. "Follow me."
"Oh, so that's it, huh? You're a writer. Oh, do you write porn, Edward? Are you, like, one of those raunchy story writers?" She giggled as his ears pinked in embarrassment.
"Woman, I'm sorry to disappoint you, but I'm not a writer ... of porn, or otherwise." He picked up a book and handed it to her. "But, you see this cover?" She nodded. "I designed it. That's what I do."
She looked at the book cover, examining the artwork in detail and turning it over in her hands. "So this is the big secret? You don't write the porn, you just make it look pretty?"
He chuckled at her amusement. "I don't just make it look pretty. I design websites for the authors and work closely with agents and publishers to make sure it's marketable."
She nodded. "That's actually pretty cool. Do you like what you do?"
"I love it. The people I work with are phenomenal and I couldn't ask for a better group of clients. The money's decent and I always get a printed copy of whatever they publish."
Bella read the synopsis on the back cover of the book she was holding in her hands. "So your house is full of bodice rippers, huh?"
"Yeah, well, let's just say that Mom gets a lot of entertainment out of my job." He winked and wiggled his eyebrows. "I don't keep all of them and they aren't all … bodice rippers." He laughed. "Some are mysteries and supernatural. I have a whole slew of genres to work with. It's never dull."
"I bet. So this was the big secret?" she teased, handing him back the book.
"It wasn't a big secret, but I figured this was the easiest way to tell you before I bring you to my house. A lot of the books end up at Mom's, but I do have a ton of them in my office and a few would probably leave you wondering about my preferences." Edward perused the shelves and took another book out, handing it to Bella. "I'm working on the sequel to this one right now."
Bella couldn't help the loud giggle that escaped her lips. "My, my, Edward, blindfolds and whips? I didn't think you had that in you." She grinned lasciviously.
He blushed, taking the book back and placing it on the shelf. "No, actually, I don't have that in me. I'm sorry, but I could barely get past the first few chapters of the first book. The author is great, though, but it's definitely not my cup of tea."
Bella nodded. "I can't tell you how truly happy I am to hear that."
He took her hand and led her down another aisle. "That's good. I'm glad we could get that awkward conversation out of the way." He squeezed her hand and kissed her forehead. "I also do some work for a children's book publisher." He held out a small, colorful book which Bella immediately picked up.
"Oh, my goodness," she gasped, examining the cover carefully. "How?"
"I have no idea, Bella. You mentioned it this morning, and I had to show you." He wrapped his arm around her shoulder and pulled her to his side as her eyes examined the classic literature in its new packaging.
"Wow … this is it. This is the story … The Man in the Moon … Nana's book was older and some of the pages were torn and yellowed. I don't even know what happened to it … but this …" Her words were soft as she struggled not to cry. It was all too perfect to be real. This couldn't be happening to her. Things simply were never that easy for Bella and she struggled to wrap her head around the fact that these coincidences were happening in such a way that had her wondering about her lucky streak and how wonderful it was that things were suddenly starting to look up for her.
"I have a copy of this one at home. It's yours, if you want it," he said, kissing her temple.
Bella opened the cover and looked at the acknowledgements. "E.M.C. Designs, that's you?"
"That's me. I stumbled into the business after I graduated college and haven't looked back. I love being able to work from home. I have a business trip in a few weeks, but other than that, I'm pretty much on my own," he explained.
Bella handed him the book, which he put back on its shelf. "I would never have expected this. I mean, I knew you liked to draw and I suspected that you did some web design stuff, but nothing like this. It's really cool, Edward."
Edward blushed at her praise and the pair wordlessly walked down the aisle.
"Oh, I forgot," Bella said, heading to the botanical section. "I Googled tropical plants and there's a book I need to find."
Edward followed her around the shop as they talked about random things. Their afternoon was off to a good start as the sparks between them intensified with each side eye and longing look.
"Nice place, Edward." Bella looked around the small entrance and liked what Edward had done to the older home.
The walls were a classic sea blue color, accented by some black and white frames and a black side table. The dark wood floors were obviously original to the house and added a touch of hominess to it. To the left was a large living room and Bella smiled as she recognized a few of Esme's hand me down pieces of furniture.
Edward looked around and then let his eyes wander to Bella, as she stood in the middle of his living room, all bare feet and hands clasped nervously together, chewing her bottom lip. "Yeah, so this is it," he said uneasily, rubbing the back of his neck. "It's not like Mom and Dad's house, that's for sure, but it's mine."
She smiled as her eyes met his. "I remember when we walked by here on the way to school. They had a dog, I think."
He nodded. "And pink shutters." He remembered how tacky everything seemed when he'd visited the house for the first time, but he saw its potential right from the first visit.
"And pink shutters," she repeated, giggling as she took a step toward the sofa, admiring the images hanging on the wall behind it.
Edward had worked hard when he'd bought the house. The entire thing hadn't been renovated since the late seventies and had needed extensive work to bring it into this century, but it had been well worth it. He was proud of how it had turned out and how his mother's vintage furniture now added a certain sense of style to the newly revived home.
Edward's hands itched to touch Bella. They were finally alone together again, something he was beginning to like, and after the intense night and morning they'd shared, it seemed as though his body craved more of her.
"Can I get you something to drink?" He shook himself out of those impure thoughts. The last thing he wanted was for her to think he'd brought her here to have his way with her, when all he wanted was to share more of himself with the girl he loved.
"No, I'm good." Bella took a deep breath to calm her rapidly beating heart. She'd be working tomorrow as well as the rest of the week and felt a little sad their time together would end soon.
She had enjoyed every second of being with Edward, and as odd as it was, she didn't really want to go back to her empty apartment.
Their eyes met, blazing with intensity and a powerful need to be together, and Edward took a few steps to close the distance between them.
Wordlessly, he took Bella's face between his palms and pressed a soft kiss to her lips.
Bella smiled against his warm lips and pulled back slightly only to wrap her arms around his neck and push herself up on her toes to kiss him back.
They were on the same page, again, as Edward fumbled to deepen their kiss while they moved to sit on the sofa.
"You know, we sort of skipped this part," Bella said between kisses.
Edward brushed Bella's hair away from her face. "Yeah, well, our entire relationship is unconventional, and sort of backwards, don't you think?"
She shrugged and kissed his lips, intensifying their kiss with a moan as his hand brushed up her thigh and settled on her hip.
Just as Bella leaned back into the seat cushion, cradling Edward between her parted thighs, Edward's cell phone rang from somewhere in his pocket. "Shit," he said with a sigh as he sat back, looking longingly at Bella while reaching inside his pocket for the damned contraption.
Sliding his fingers on the screen, he grinned when his mother's face looked up at him on the screen. She had impeccable timing.
"Hey, Mom." His eyes met Bella's and she giggled softly, taking the decorative cushion from the end of the sofa and placing it under her head with one of her legs resting over Edward's thighs while the other was bent at the knee and resting against the back of the couch.
Edward liked the view from this angle as his fingers tickled Bella's inner thigh.
Bella squirmed, trying to be as quiet as she could while giving Edward a stern look and mouthing, "Stop it!"
"Hi honey," Esme replied, excitedly. "I hope I'm not bothering you, I just wanted to know how things went last night."
"It went great, Mom." He rolled his eyes at his mother while teasing Bella. Who said men couldn't multitask?
"Is Bella with you? Oh, I'm so sorry for interrupting, honey!" Esme thrilled.
Edward felt bad for not giving her his full attention.
"Yeah, it's okay, Mom. Erm, I was just showing her my house. It went … better than I thought." Bella blushed as he winked at her and weaved his fingers through hers, resting their hands against her stomach.
"Oh honey, that's wonderful. Would you two like to join your father and me for dinner? I know it's late notice, but Carlisle would love to meet the girl who's gotten you this smitten."
Once Edward relayed the information to Bella, she accepted readily, and they all agreed to meet at the house later.
"Where were we?" Edward asked after telling his mother they'd be there on time and hanging up the phone.
Bella grinned as Edward leaned down and captured her lips with his, thoughts of Esme and a dinner invitation far from either of their minds.
"Hi, kids," Esme gushed as Edward came into view followed by a bashful looking Bella.
The pair were late for dinner, having lost track of time while they were busy making out like teenagers—and making up for lost time—on Edward's sofa.
Bella waved shyly at Esme, feeling Edward's hand tighten around hers in quiet support. She wanted to apologize, but wasn't exactly sure what to say.
I'm sorry we're late. I was busy giving your son an orgasm with my mouth, sounded a little crude. She rolled her eyes at herself and shook herself out of her inner thoughts.
"Oh, you're finally here." Carlisle rounded the corner from the hallway, a teasing smile on his lips.
Bella's cheeks reddened a shade darker as Esme giggled. "Carlisle, please, you're embarrassing the kids."
"Hey, you're only young once," he replied, walking over to Esme and kissing her cheek.
Edward introduced his new girlfriend to his father, hoping the older man wouldn't embarrass him in front of Bella, but knowing full well the chances of that happening would be slim to none.
Carlisle had a wonderful sense of humor and loved to tease the ones he loved. "Now, Bella, promise me you'll let us know if Edward here steps out of line. I've taught him to be a gentleman, after all."
Edward blanched slightly, remembering the events of the past twenty-four hours while Bella nodded and replied with a teasing, "Yes, sir."
Esme watched the interaction and couldn't help but feel content. It seemed as though everything was finally right in their world.
"Now that you two have come up for air—" Carlisle started, wiggling his eyebrows at the young couple, making Esme giggle, "—we can finally sit down and eat."
"Yes, please, good lord, let's eat," Edward mumbled only loud enough for Bella to hear.
"He's wonderful." Bella giggled as they followed Carlisle and Esme into the dining room.
The two couples sat down at the elegantly put together table setting and relaxed as they enjoyed their meal. Conversation flowed effortlessly as everybody got reacquainted.
Bella recounted how busy she was going to be during the following weeks, while Edward reminded his parents of his upcoming meeting.
Overall, dinner was a success, and by the time they were done eating, conversing and finally helping out in the kitchen drying dishes, it was as if Bella was already part of the family.
"You don't have to do that, dear," Esme admonished from her perch at the kitchen island. These days, she was more of an onlooker than a participant in the daily chores. She'd been able to help with some things during dinner preparation, but both Bella and Edward insisted on doing the dishes.
"It's no big deal, Esme. I'm happy to do it," Bella said as she handed a serving plate to Edward for him to dry.
"She's a keeper," Carlisle said in a sing-song voice while entering the kitchen from the dining room, carrying a tray full of dirty dinnerware.
"Carlisle." Esme clucked her tongue at her teasing husband.
"I mean it." Carlisle patted Edward's shoulder, giving him a squeeze. "She is a keeper, son." He winked and joined his wife across the kitchen island.
Bella kept quiet as she rinsed some dishes and loaded them into the dishwasher; her face warm and her heart overwhelmed from all the praise and love in the room.
Edward handed Bella a few dirty plates as he cleared the counter. When their eyes met, crinkling at the corners, Edward replied, "I know."
Bella couldn't help the face-splitting grin tugging at her lips as she turned and finished cleaning the kitchen.
By the time Edward dropped off Bella at her house for the evening, she was already wondering how soon was too soon to invite him over for another sleepover, while Edward, on the other hand, couldn't help the sudden feeling of loss in the pit of his stomach. She was going to be too far away for his liking and he promised himself, as he drove toward his house after kissing her goodnight by her front door, that he'd make sure to see her as often as he could.
He agreed wholeheartedly with his dad, Bella was a keeper, and he had no plans to let her get away, but plenty of plans to do just that ... and keep her ... forever.