Chapter Twenty Three

Edward phoned the next day. By that time, I was living in my own apartment just outside Haight-Ashbury. As much as I loved Eric, I preferred him as a friend rather than a roommate-his constant energy was a little too much for me to bear. Living on my own had other advantages, too. When he called, I didn't have to explain myself to anybody.

"Hey." Edward's voice was as warm as I remembered it. Like a symphony of emotions. "Did you get back from Wentworth okay?"

"Yeah. It's cold here, though." I shivered. My apartment didn't have the best heating system. "I swear it's more Alaska than California."

"You wouldn't like Alaska. Not a sunshine girl like you."

"You've been?" There was so much about him I had to re-learn. Though it felt like starting over again, I didn't mind it. I wanted to find out more. He intrigued me as much as ever. Neither of us was a totally open book.

"Last fall. I got some work for a travel magazine. It was beautiful." He sounded wistful. "Such a big state, some of it looks so untouched by man. I wonder if we ruin everything we inhabit."

My mind flashed back to Vietnam. I knew he'd never be able to forget what he'd seen there. Knowing Edward, he wouldn't want to. But he sounded stronger than I'd ever heard him. I liked that he was moving forward. We'd both grown so much since we'd been ripped apart. I wouldn't have given that up for the world.

"There's beauty in civilization, too."

"That's true."

There was silence for a few moments. The sound of his breathing told me he was still there. I didn't want to admit just how much it comforted me.

"Can I ask you something?" I inquired.

"Sure. Anything."

"Do you find it hard taking pictures with your injured hand?"

He laughed. "I wasn't expecting you to ask that."

"What were you expecting?"

"I don't know. Maybe questions about my recovery. Or whether I'm still drinking."

I twirled the cord around my finger. "I'm not sure I'm ready to ask those questions yet." Asking them would mean I was ready to hear the answers. Ready to accept them. I wanted to take this slowly, see where our friendship went. I wasn't brave enough to look for more right then.

"In that case, it's not so bad. I've learned how to hold the camera without shaking. Where possible I use a tripod."

It was on the tip of my tongue to ask if he regretted never becoming a doctor. I bit back the question, settling for inanities. "I'd like to see your photographs."

"You'll probably regret saying that. I seem to bore everybody rigid with them. Next time you're in Seattle, I'll give you a slideshow."

This time I laughed. I couldn't imagine anything boring about Edward. Just seeing the photographs, imagining what was going through his mind while he took them, would be fascinating. "I don't spend a lot of time in Seattle," I pointed out. I didn't need to tell him I hadn't been back since I visited him at his parents' house. We both knew that.

"Then the mountain will come to Mohammed."

"You call yourself a mountain, now?" I teased. "I knew you'd filled out a bit but …"

"Filled out a bit?" There was a teasing undertone to his voice.

"Yeah. Put on weight. Maybe built up a bit of muscle." He'd looked great at the wedding. Solid and strong. Not the thin, tortured boy who'd come back from Vietnam. He looked like a man.

"I didn't know you were looking so closely."

I was so glad he couldn't see my blush. "It was hard to ignore when you were pushing your body against me."

A small silence, followed by a chuckle. "I couldn't help myself."

A few weeks later he was in San Francisco for work. He dropped in to visit me, and we went to a tiny restaurant in Chinatown, squeezing ourselves in among the local population. I told him about the fortune cookie factory around the corner, promising to take him some time.

"I'm planning to go to China next summer," he told me. "I'm hoping to sell some pictures to National Geographic." His face lit up as he spoke, and it made my skin burn. Just watching him get excited by his work was touching me in places I wasn't willing to admit.

"Wow, China. That's amazing." I hadn't as much as stepped foot outside of the USA. I felt envious of his freedom. "Will they even let you in?"

He gave me a lopsided grin. "I'm working on it."

"It doesn't bother you, going back to Asia?"

He tipped his head to the side, considering my question. "No, I don't think so. Maybe it's something I need to do, kill some demons inside my head. It's a beautiful part of the world. I don't want my memories to be sullied by the thought of war."

The waitress brought over his Szechuan chicken and my Kung Po pork. I couldn't help laughing as I tried to use the wooden chopsticks, dropping more food than I managed to eat. Edward was having more trouble than me, but at least he had an excuse. Fine motor skills were impossible for him with his right hand.

When he took me home that night, he pressed a soft kiss to my cheek and promised to visit soon. I watched him leave with my fingers pressed to my face, my skin burning at the memory of his lips.

I lay awake long into the night, pulling the covers around me, wondering what the hell I was doing. It had taken me so long to get over him. I liked the person I'd become since I left him in Seattle. I liked him too, though. He was confident, strong. Happy. Was I ready to open myself up all over again? Looking back, I realized I'd somehow lost myself those years we were together. It wasn't his fault, it was mine. I had concentrated on our relationship so much, I had let my own hopes and needs disappear. That wasn't the basis for a healthy relationship.

There was an ache in my body that wouldn't disappear, and I knew it was down to him. Just being with him hollowed out my chest, making it hard to breathe. I was almost fighting against myself, my need to be strong versus my need to be with him again. It wasn't until dawn arrived that I figured out I could have both things. If he wanted me back, that was.

It was a few weeks before he visited again. This time he was in town for a meeting and he called me at work. We agreed to meet at my place after I'd finished at college, and at six in the evening I found myself rushing out of my building, heading to stock up on food at the local grocery store. Years spent living with my father had taught me to be an able cook, but I wanted to impress Edward with my choice of meal. A pot roast just wouldn't cut it.

When he knocked on the door, I was surprised to find him standing there in a dark suit, his normally-messy hair neatly tamed. His skin was freshly-shaved. He was holding a bunch of daisies, and it reminded me of that night back in '67 when he knocked at my father's door. The night we made love for the first time.

He brushed my cheek with his lips, and I led him through my apartment. It was bigger than the one we'd shared in Berkeley, but not by much. It felt crowded with him in there, too, but only in a good way. I was so attuned to him, I figured it would feel crowded even if we were in a huge space. He seemed larger than life.

"This is nice." He looked around the living room. I'd wallpapered it myself. The bright design made the room feel vibrant and alive. "Did you do this?"

I nodded. "Yeah, when I moved in it was all bright orange paint. I wanted a bit of pattern."

Later, we moved into my tiny kitchen. He stood with his jacket off and his tie loosened, watching me as I cooked Spaghetti Bolognese. His eyes followed my movements as he leaned back on the counter, drinking a soda. Every now and again I'd glance up from the pan and he'd catch my gaze, giving me a small smile. He made my heart race.

"Are you going to tell me you're visiting Italy soon?" My stomach dropped at the thought of his trip to China. I didn't want him to be going anywhere else; I wanted him here, in the US. Where I was.

He laughed. "No plans right now. I have always wanted to visit Rome, though."

"The city of love," I murmured.

"Yes." His voice was low. "It's not the sort place I'd want to go alone."

His words stole my breath, making it impossible to speak. It was so strange being alone with him, just being friends. I wanted more, or at least I thought I did, but I wasn't ready to rush into things. It was like he knew me, understood my reticence. He was willing to take things as slowly as I needed. It made me fall in love with him a little more.

After a fun, talkative dinner, he kissed me goodbye, and his lips touched the corner of my cheek, his fingers lingering on my jaw. I stood staring at the door for a long time after he left, wondering what I was doing, whether I was brave enough to give things a second chance. Not that my heart seemed to be giving me much choice.

In May he traveled back to Europe, sending me postcards from every city he visited. He called me one night, his voice sounding distant yet familiar, and I couldn't stop myself from smiling for the rest of the week. I didn't even like to think how much that twenty minute phone call must have cost him. To me, it was worth every single penny. I was aching for him to come back. His absence had only made me certain I was ready to make the next step. The way he talked, so gentle and kind, made me think he felt the same.

He visited as soon as he arrived back in the US. We drove down to the coast, having lunch in a small café he'd visited before, then sat on the beach, enjoying the first warmth of the summer. As the day wore on, and families left, we put on extra layers and watched the sun go down over the sea, the orange fire reflecting back from the water. When it got dark, we lay down with blankets covering us. He held my hand softly, his fingers curling around my palm.

"What are you thinking?" Edward rolled to his side and looked at me. I licked my dry lips, finding it hard to take in a breath.

"I wanted to ask you some questions." I could feel my chest fill up with emotion. In spite of all the turmoil, I was finally ready to open up to him, to let him open up to me. The way his face filled with hope told me he realized the significance of my sentence. Because after questions came answers. And then the future.

"Ask away." His voice was thick, as full of feeling as mine. He squeezed my hand tighter.

"What happened that night in Berkeley?" I was almost shaking. I knew we needed to talk, to get everything in the open. I was old enough to understand we couldn't move forward without burying the past. But it hurt just to remember those days.

Edward took a slow, deep breath. "I was at a bar I knew, trying to find some weed to buy. There was a guy I'd seen before, sitting at the counter, drinking beer after beer. Then these two kids came in, their hair all shaved like they'd just come out of basic training. He started to shout at them, call them baby-killers."

He paused for a moment, noticing my watery eyes. I nodded at him to go on.

"I was already drunk by that point. Falling down drunk, high on dope, ready to pick a fight with anybody who wanted one. There's no excuse for what I did. I was like a loaded gun back then. With a hair trigger."

"You were ready to self-destruct."

He nodded. "And you know what's crazy? Part of me is glad it happened like that. That I hit that dick instead of hurting somebody else. Maybe somebody I loved." His green eyes captured mine. I wanted to drown in them. The tears started to spill down my cheeks. He reached out to wipe them away. His warm palm cupped my cheek.

"I needed help. Lots of it. And I got it." He rubbed his thumb gently against my bottom lip.

"What happened in Switzerland?"

He shuffled closer to me. "They concentrated on talking therapy. I had individual sessions with a psychiatrist, group sessions with others. Not many soldiers, mostly people who had suffered losses, had breakdowns. We all talked through our problems, our self-hatred."

"Did they medicate you?"

He shook his head. "No, and I'm really glad they didn't. I think if I'd been sedated it would have taken much longer to come to terms with things. I spent a lot of time in the mountains, looking at the beauty of the snow. My psychiatrist encouraged me to take photos, that's where it all started."

I remembered the way he'd taken so many photos in Hawaii, but I didn't want to correct him. There was so much more I needed to know. "When did you come back?"

"To the States?"

I nodded.

"Last July. Just in time for Independence Day at the Cullens'. You can imagine how delightful that was." His voice took on a sardonic edge. "It took a while to adjust to being home. I found a good counsellor, and joined a group of vets who meet to talk every Wednesday."

"You still see them?"

He smiled gently. "Yes. Whenever I'm back home. You'd be amazed by some of them. They're resilient, in spite of their problems. Some of them have lost limbs, jobs, their families, because of the war. We try to support each other."

I liked the way he'd tackled his homecoming this time. He hadn't expected things to run smoothly, had realized that recovery took many forms. "Is that why you didn't call me as soon as you got back?"

"I thought about calling you. Every day. Then I spoke with Ben and he told me how well you were doing at college, and I hesitated. I'd nearly ruined everything for you before, I didn't want to do it again."

"You sent me letters …"

"I couldn't bring myself to let you go. Not completely. Then when Ben told me about the wedding, I knew I'd be seeing you again soon. I told myself I'd talk to you, see if there was any hope. If you were happier without me, I was going to walk away. I didn't want to ruin everything like I did last time."

I started sobbing. He pulled me against him, cradling my head in his hands. It felt good, all of it. The crying was cathartic. I was mourning a life we'd never been able to find.

"You didn't ruin anything. I managed to do that all by myself. We both made mistakes. I regret not making you get help," I sobbed into his shirt.

"Would you do it differently if you had the chance?"

I buried my face against his chest. "Yes. Everything. I'd do everything differently."

There was a smile in his voice. "Then it feels like we've both learned something."

It was past midnight when we got home. I wasn't ready to invite him in just then. I needed to think through everything that we'd talked about. I could tell he didn't want to come in, either. We were both so emotional-too emotional. But I knew that I could put the past behind me, enough to move forward with whatever was going to happen between us. I just hoped he felt the same.

He stood on the stoop, his arms around me, his forehead pressed against mine. "I'm not going to give up on you. On us."

I could feel his breath warm my face. "I don't want you to."

Summer break started the following week, and my duties at work lessened, enough for me to take a few days off. I traveled down to visit my father for a day, and he practically chased me out of the house, though not quick enough for me not to notice how sweet he was on his nurse. She looked pretty sweet on him too, and it warmed my heart to know second chances were bursting out all over. Even if he wasn't getting any better, I knew his days were as comfortable as possible. For that I was glad.

I went back to San Francisco at a loss of what to do, and called Edward on the off-chance.

"Hey." I could hear the smile in his voice as soon as I introduced myself. "How are you doing?"

I twirled the telephone cord in my fingers. "I'm bored. I have two weeks off and I'm already pulling my hair out."

His laugh was soft. "When did you turn into a workaholic?"

"Since I didn't have anything else to do."

"There's always something else to do. Drive down to Yosemite, or hang around at the beach." He cleared his throat. "Come visit with me."

"At your place?" I rolled my lip between my teeth. Edward was still based in Seattle, though he hardly ever seemed to be home.

"I was planning on camping at the weekend. Why don't you join me?"

"In a tent?" I was aware I sounded like an airhead. His shout of laughter only confirmed it.

"Yes, in a tent. With poles. And sleeping bags."

"Okay, smart guy. Were you intending on sharing your tent with me? Because I don't have one of my own." The corner of my lip twitched. There was nothing, absolutely nothing, I wanted to do more than go camping with Edward.

"I'll share my stuff with you. You'll just need to bring a sleeping bag." His tone turned teasing. "Unless you want to share that, as well."

There was a pause while I imagined doing just that. I wondered if the loaded silence on his end meant he was thinking the same. "Camping, then?" I said it just to break the quiet.

"Camping," he agreed.


Edward insisted on driving down to pick me up, loading up his truck with my bags, piling them on top of his own. Then he turned it around and drove back up to the north, heading for Redwood National Park.

It was one of those beautiful, clear blue days, the sky unhampered by clouds, the sun shining so bright it almost hurt my eyes. I sat back in the passenger seat and covered them with huge sunglasses, pleased to be able to stare at Edward without him knowing.

He was wearing aviators, and I caught his head inclined my way more than once. I liked that he was staring at me, too.

"You want to listen to music?" He gestured at the radio.

I shook my head. "I like the silence. The views are too pretty to set to music."

"They are." His voice was low. I caught him looking my way again.

It took us a couple hours to get to the park, and I grinned when I saw the huge trees, looming above us like a thousand giants. The canopies were thick, enough to block out the sun and create a haze beneath their cover. I started to wish I'd brought some warmer sweaters.

We parked up in the campground, next to a huge tree, the trunk so large you could stand inside it. Edward walked away from the car, counting under his breath, and I watched, fascinated, trying to work out what he was doing.

When he was over two hundred feet away, I couldn't hold it in any more. "Why the hell are you all the way over there?" The ground looked no different there than it was here. I couldn't work it out.

He put down the tent and walked back to me. Opening the tailgate, he lifted out a huge, metal box, with a rope attached to it. "This is our food. And this is where we're going to store it." He pointed up to a branch on the tree. I guessed I knew what the rope was for.

"And that is where we're going to pitch our tent." He pointed over at the spot he'd chosen.

"But why?" I felt like there was a secret he wasn't letting me in on.

"Animals." He was suppressing a smile.

"Oh, my God, you mean bears? There are bears here?" I sounded just like a girl. I didn't like it. I knew there were bears in the Park; I'd lived in California for long enough to know that. I just hadn't made the connection.

He smirked. "Don't worry, I'll protect you."

I stomped over to the car, grabbing my bags and throwing them over my shoulder. "I can look after myself."

He stood still for a moment, and a serious look transformed his features. "I know you can, Bella."

It didn't take too long to put up the tent, though I wasn't much help. In the end he directed me to stand inside and hold the ridge pole aloft, while he pulled the canvas over and pegged it out. When I crawled out through the door I realized just how small it was, especially for two people. The thought of a night in there with Edward sent a shiver down my spine.

When we finished setting up camp, he suggested a light hike. We walked through the trees, avoiding the giant roots, as Edward aimed his camera at whatever took his interest. A few times, I had to stop walking and go back for him, when I realized I'd lost him.

Occasionally, I noticed him pointing his camera at me. I shook my head and held up my hands and he laughed. "Just one little picture."

I tried not to roll my eyes. "I'm not exactly model material." I pointed at my cotton shirt, and cut-off jeans.

"You like fine to me."

It was like we both had permanent smiles attached to our faces. Our good moods held out through the afternoon and into the evening. When we got back to camp we moved over to the food area, and he pulled the metal box down from the trees. I gathered all the sticks and dry leaves I could find, watching as he piled them into a makeshift fire, lighting it with a struck match.

We cooked hot dogs over the flames, and I couldn't stop myself from moaning as I bit into them, the delicious taste teasing my tongue. Afterward, as the fire died down, we cooked s'mores, stuffing them between our lips.

"So what should I do if a bear tries to attack me?" I wiped my mouth, feeling sticky marshmallow coating my lips.

"You stand tall and put your arms over your head. Make yourself as big as you can and growl."

I laughed. "Seriously?"

He nodded. "The worst thing you can do is run away."

"But it would be my natural reaction." Big black bear versus Bella. There could only be one winner.

"Then I'd have to stop you." He was sitting so close to me I could almost feel his thigh touching mine.

"You'd stop me running?" I angled my head as I turned to look at him. There was a strange sensation in my stomach.

He stared at me, the dying flames of the fire dancing in his eyes. "I lost you once, Bella. I don't intend to do it again."

It was as if the butterflies exploded, my belly heating up at the sound of his words. My breath shortened and I swallowed hard. I wanted everything about this man.

He moved his face toward me, close enough that I could feel his breath bathe my skin. His thigh brushed against mine. "I love you Bella. I've loved you since we first met. Every day of my life I'll love you."

His words didn't sound cheesy, not the way they sounded in the movies. They were heartfelt and true. They about slayed me. "I love you, too. So much."

He hesitated for the longest time. I closed my eyes and let my face move forward, just enough so our lips were touching; softly, slowly, sweetly.

Then his mouth moved as he brushed it gently over my own, his hand curling around the nape of my neck as he angled my head just so.

He didn't kiss hard, didn't try to push his tongue inside my mouth. He just breathed, and touched and it was so hot I thought I was going to explode.

"We need to clear up this mess. You get rid of the food, and I'll dowse down the fire." His lips moved against mine as he spoke. I nodded my head and pulled away, suddenly desperate to get cleared up…

…and go to bed.

In our little teeny-tiny tent that barely fitted more than one person.

I couldn't stop grinning as we worked. I carried the scraps to a huge steel bin in the middle of the campground, closing the lid once I'd got rid of them all. Then I walked back, still smiling, piling the unused food into the metal canister.

"What are you smiling at?"

I turned to look at him. "Nothing."

He laughed. "Don't give me that. You've been smiling all night. So spill."

I bit my lip. "You really wanna know?"

Edward nodded his head. "I want to know everything about you." I loved his confidence, the way he was willing to be honest with me.

I stared at him, the grin still pulling up my cheeks. "You asked for it."

"I did."

"I'm smiling because this is the best time I think I've ever had. And I'm smiling because I'm falling in love with you all over again." His eyes turned soft as he stared at me, and it made my heart lurch. "And I'm smiling because I'm going to have sex with you. That makes me very happy." I did a little twirl, almost stumbling over my feet. He reached out his hands to steady me, curling them around my waist. I could feel the heat from his palms burning through the thin fabric of my shirt, scalding my skin like a hot mug of coffee.

"Christ, you're beautiful." He pulled me against him, until our bodies were touching from hip to chest. "Are you sure about this?"

I thought about his question as I stared at his face, my eyes following the line of his stubbled jaw, lingering on his swollen lips. I thought about the kids we'd been; how life had beaten us down until we had nothing to do but surrender. I then thought about the way we'd both picked ourselves up and dusted ourselves off. We'd managed to start again, both of us, and take life by the horns a second time around. And this time, everything was even sweeter. We knew what we had to lose, but we also knew if we lost it we'd survive anyway. We had a choice about whether we wanted to be together, and we were making the right one.

And I liked it. I liked him, and the way he attacked life like it was an adventure to be found. I liked myself and the way I didn't let anything get in my way. Most of all I liked us, the people we were when we were together. The people we'd made ourselves be.

I took his face in my hands, pulling him down until my lips were almost touching his. "I'm absolutely sure."

He didn't need telling twice. Grabbing my hand, he fell to his knees, pulling me down with him. We crawled through the entrance to the tent, neither of us able to stand up beneath the canvas. I started to giggle when he pulled me on top of him, our chests squashed together as I laughed hard.

"What?" There was laughter in his voice, too.

"It's crazy romantic. Making love in a tent, beneath the stars." I laughed harder and he ran his hands down my back, fingers lingering on my spine. I shivered, though I wasn't cold.

"You know that's what this is, right?" He kissed the skin just below my ear. Tiny nips of his teeth as he dragged them down my neck. "Love. Everything about it. About us. It's love."

I pulled at his t-shirt, encouraging him to yank it off. His skin below was warm and toned. I could feel every ridge of muscle as I dragged my palms down his chest. "It's always been about love."

He tried to unfasten my buttons, but his hand prevented him. I helped him, desperate to take my shirt off and feel our flesh touching. I shrugged it off, leaving my chest bare and exposed. I hadn't bothered wearing a bra in the heat.

"I wish there was more light. I want to see you." He lay back on his sleeping bag, pulling me on top of him until his lips tugged at my breast. I shuddered beneath his kiss. I sighed, grabbing at his hair, encouraging him on.

He helped me wriggle out of my shorts, and I flung them to the side of the tent, his jeans soon following. Then we were lying there; me in my panties, Edward in his shorts. I could feel the hard ridge of him beneath me, digging into my hip, and I wondered if he'd remembered protection.

I blushed as I asked. "Do you have anything?"

He kissed my neck again, his breath hot against my skin. "Yeah, I do."

"Good." I dragged my hand down his stomach, pushing inside his cotton shorts. His breath hitched as I curled my fingers around him.

We wriggled out of our underwear and lay there, naked. I watched as he rolled the condom down, my body aching for his to be inside me. Then, he crawled over me, caging my head with his hands as he leaned above me.

"I love you." His voice was a whisper as I felt him brush against me, holding himself up until he pushed inside.

My chest was full of every emotion I could think of, enough to steal my breath away, enough to make my heart race against my ribcage. "I love you."

He wrapped his arms around me, pulling me against his chest, laying over me until every inch of our bodies were pressed together as one. I squeezed my eyes shut and let him love me until both of us were breathless. And for the first time in a long while, I knew we'd found our way home.


When I woke the next morning, it wasn't because Edward's arms were curled around my chest, or because his body heat was making me feel warm and clammy. It was the birdsong that pierced my dreams; the high-pitched tweets of the jays forcing my eyelids up.

I groaned, rolling onto my side. Edward was still asleep, breathing softly, his fluttering lashes betraying his dream-like state. I reached out and traced along his eyelids, causing the trembling to increase.

A few moments later, his eyes met mine. "Hi."

"Morning, sleepyhead."

He grinned and pulled me against his chest. "I thought you might have been a dream."

"Not a nightmare, I hope?"

"No. Never a nightmare." He pressed his lips against my jaw. "Did you sleep well?"

I nodded. "Best night's sleep in forever. It's so dark here. And unless you count the birds, there're no noisy neighbors either."

"The perils of living in a big city."

"Tell me about it."

He stretched his arms up, the sleeping bag falling down to reveal his bare chest. I stared unabashedly at him.

"What do you want to do today?" He rested on his side, face propped on one hand. "I hear there's some good fishing nearby."

I groaned. "Don't tell me, steelhead?" I'd had enough of fishing to last me a lifetime.

He shrugged. "I have no idea. I wasn't planning on dragging you down to the water."

I pouted. "Why not?"

"I'm not sure I'm ever going to let you out of this tent." He shot me a wicked grin. "I may have to keep you in here forever."

"And that would be a problem because …" I let my voice trail off. I couldn't think of anywhere I'd rather be than imprisoned inside a tent with Edward Cullen.

"Because I like my balls and your father would cut them off. Oxygen tank or no oxygen tank."

I blushed at the talk of my father and Edward's anatomy. "He really would," I agreed. "He still has his guns." I liked the way Edward's face fell the tiniest bit. It was hard not to laugh.

"Let's hope he doesn't get them out when we go and see him."

I raised my brow up at this. "We?"

"Yeah. Now we're back together, I figure it's time I made amends with your dad. I owe him an explanation or two."

"You don't owe him anything." I reached out and curled my hand around his bicep. It was as hard as steel.

"I do." His face took on a serious expression. "I fucked up both our lives a few years ago. I can't believe he's going to be happy when he hears I'm back in yours again."

"He's mellowed. And he understands more than you know."

Edward reached out and cupped my head in his palms. "It doesn't matter. I want to do this right. I'm going to speak with your father and let him know my intentions."

I swallowed hard. For a modern man, he was sounding pretty old-fashioned. It made my heart clench with joy.

"And then," he leaned down until his lips brushed against my cheek, "I'm taking you up to Seattle and introducing you to my folks. As my girl."

He kissed me hard, stealing my breath away. I curled myself around him, needing him closer, clinging on to him like he was going to disappear. I pressed my mouth against his, feeling him open it slightly, dragging his tongue along my lip. My fingers curled in his hair as he rolled us over, my body lying on top of his.

"You know, staying here does seem like a pretty good idea." There was a smile in his voice.

"It does." I kissed him again, this time taking his face in my hands. And as we kissed, and whispered promises we both knew we would keep, I let the tiny seeds of joy burst forth in my heart. Because I knew, without a single doubt, we would make it this time.

And I would get my California dream.

A/N - The longest chapter yet! Probably because I didn't want this to end. I could write about these two quite happily for the rest of their lives. But I'm going to be a good writer and leave them alone.

Thank you to everybody who read this. Your kindness and support make me warm inside.

Lots of love to Fran, Pates and Sparrow for all their hard work. You ladies rock my world.

Finally, all my thanks to Mid. Without her, I wouldn't have started writing this story. She sent me a picture of a half-naked Edward, and the rest was history. I love you lady.

Take care, and Happy Thanksgiving to my friends in the USA.

Choc xoxo