Okay, so apologies all around. I had an out of town friend staying with me unexpectedly so that she could attend a family funeral. Needless to say my attention was elsewhere and I wasn't able to update last week. I was also not able to respond to any reviews either – again I'm sorry. I do appreciate all the love this has been receiving. I understand the frustration some of you have with Edward and Bella, especially Edward, but they will figure it out.

I would like to address the Guest who expressed her disapproval of Bella's use of violence among other things in the previous. I would have responded privately but the Guest setting does not allow that so I will respond here. I understand what you are saying, but believe me, I would never condone kicking a man in the genitals in real life. No one should be abusing anyone regardless of gender. But this is not real life, it is fiction that is meant for entertainment. The M rating means it's for an adult audience who understands its intended purpose and would know better not use it as justification for inflicting violence. That being said, there are probably many women out there (me included) who at least once in their life envisioned kicking a guy in the balls but would never actually do it. This is just a story, please take it for what it's worth.

Now, on with the show. I apologize for any errors. They are all my own. And oh yeah, I do not own Twilight

Chapter 12

The Return of Bella

EPOV

Not gonna lie. Knowing that Bella was going to be in for her shift in T-minus fifteen minutes was stressing me the fuck out. I thought things had gone okay this morning, but the more time I had to think and perseverate on it the more unsure I became.

She did agree to come back to work.

Yeah, but who knows how it was going to go.

"Knock it off." I looked up to see my sister glaring at me from the other side of the bar. "I don't know what is going on with you but if you rearrange the cocktail napkins one more time they will become a permanent part of your anatomy." I looked down to see five perfectly stacked and fanned cocktail napkins. I hadn't even realized I was doing it.

"Fuck." I muttered as I gathered up three of the stacks and placed them under the bar. At that moment, Bella walked in with my name written across her chest. Yes, it was the standard shirt that we all wore while working but for some reason the sight of her in it caused my breath to hitch every goddamn time. I quickly picked up a rag and wiped down the bar, trying to look nonchalant. Alice's eyebrows rose to the top of her head.

"Bella's back? Someone must have done an awful lot of groveling." Alice chirped in a sing-song voice while giving me this all-knowing smirk. It fucking killed me to let her ride me that way without responding, but what was I to do? Bella was going to be over to the bar in less than thirty seconds. Torturing my sister would have to wait.

"Bella, your back! I'm so glad, this place hasn't been the same since you left." The two embraced.

"Thanks, Alice. It's really good to see you." She gave me a quick glance and I tried not to let it bother me that she didn't say it was good to be back, but it did. A little.

"Well, now that you're here I'm going to go do some paper work." I put the rag down and waited for Bella to make her way behind the bar. "Welcome back, Bella." I said quietly. She nodded and proceeded to get her self situated. As much as I wanted to stay and talk to her I knew that if I was ever to get back in her good graces I needed to give her the space I knew she wanted. Especially today.

It was the end of the month which meant double the amount of paperwork than usual. I engrossed myself in invoices, receipts, inventory, payroll and everything else that needed to be done. It was during these times that I was thankful I had gotten my business degree before trying to open Good Times. It allowed me to work through it with ease, but it still was time consuming. Two hours later my eyes felt like they were going to fall out of my head, but the accomplished feeling of knowing that it was done and everything was in order was more than worth it.

It didn't surprise me that the muffled noise outside my office had gotten progressively louder. It was the dinner hour which meant it was time for me to get out there and help Bella man the bar. Normally it was my favorite part of the day and I welcomed it enthusiastically, but all I could feel in that moment was trepidation.

I suddenly didn't know how to act.

I mean, this was Bella. Funny, smart mouthed, fun loving, sexy Bella. We had had so many good times behind that bar, we became friends and then for one wonderful moment, lovers. I craved her quick witted banter as much as I craved her body. Now we were supposed to just be employer and employee. I had no idea how to go about doing that. It was going to be awkward to say the least.

After stalling for as long as possible, I left my office and joined Bella. It wasn't swamped by any means, but I could tell just from the light sheen of sweat on her face that she had had a steady stream of customers for a while. It was good that I was here.

"Why don't you take your break? I'll be okay to cover this for awhile." I took a beer out of the cooler and removed the top for the guy in front of me. "Go ask Alec to make you something to eat. I don't know when you'll get another chance." It was true, Saturday nights were usually packed and sometimes breaks didn't happen later in the evening.

"Okay, thanks." She said quietly as she moved around me, careful to leave enough space between us to squeeze in a freight train.

God, this was fucking painful.

A half hour later Bella was back and we were working the bar together. I was thankful for the abundance of customers. It made it easy to work along side of her as we were just too busy to talk except for the occasional 'excuse me' when walking behind each other or inquiring if there were any more lemons slices cut up.

It made it all very professional. And completely not us.

But this is what she wanted and I was determined to make things as comfortable as possible for her. I was determined to stay out of her way.

And then my determination shifted somewhere else.

There was this idiot at her end of the bar that would just not leave. He had been there for over three hours ordering drink after drink. From what I could tell he came in alone as he hadn't talked to anyone except Bella the entire time he occupied the stool. The more he drank, the more friendly he became…with Bella.

I didn't like it. Not one bit. When I had a chance I asked her about it.

"Is that guy bothering you? I can ask him to leave, you know." She looked down to the end of the bar where he sat. His husky frame with his slightly oversized clothes and greasy comb over made him look a little creepy and a whole lot of pathetic.

"No, he's fine." That's it. That's all she had to say on the matter. And as I said before, my determination had shifted and I wasn't going to let it go.

"Are you sure? He seems to have taken a liking to you?"

"And what is wrong with that?" She snapped. After closing her eyes and taking a deep breath she started again. It looked like I wasn't the only one finding it difficult to be professional. "I mean, Fred just needs someone to talk to. That's it. I'm going to call him a cab soon."

Fred?

Feeling slightly appeased, I let the matter drop for the moment and relegated myself to my end of the bar. It didn't stop me from glancing at him every minute or so just to make sure he was keeping himself in line. For the most part he just drank and talked. As long as Bella was okay with that, I was fine too.

Of course, it didn't last. An hour later, Bella had let him know his cab was here and it was time for him to go home. He was three sheets to the wind but compliant as he stood up and pulled his wallet out to settle his tab. Fumbling a bit he pulled some cash out and placed it on the bar. When Bella tried to pick it up, he grabbed her wrist.

I saw red and was over there in three seconds flat.

"I'm sorry sir, but I cannot allow you to touch my bartender. Please remove your hand…immediately." My voice was steady and polite but I knew my eyes were seething. Fred let Bella's arm go immediately.

"Oh, I'm sorry. I just…" Bella started to comfort the startled man.

"It's fine, Fred. I know you didn't mean…" I didn't give her a chance to finish.

"Thank you. Now, I think it's time that you leave, sir." Fred expression sunk into one of defeat. Bella looked saddened.

"You're right. I hope I didn't offend you, Bella. Thank you for everything. Good night." He slowly made his way out of the bar and I felt relieved that this had ended rather easily.

"You asshole." What the fuck did I do now?

"What, Bella?

"You come over here with your 'I cannot allow you to touch my bartender' bullshit. Stop interfering in shit you know nothing about." Now I was starting to get frustrated.

"I know what I saw. He grabbed your wrist and he wasn't letting go."

"First of all, he did not grab my wrist. He took hold of it gently. And what you didn't hear, Edward, was that he was telling me I was a good listener and that I reminded him of his wife…who died a week ago." I felt the color drain from my face. Once again, I misread the situation.

Way to go there, fuck face.

"If I need your help I will let you know. But until then, trust me to handle things myself. I am not completely breakable. I do not need rescuing and certainly not by you."

Ouch…

Her words were like a knife in my heart. They rang in my head for the rest of the night. Bella didn't flat out ignore me the rest of her shift, but things were strained. And once again it was my fault.

When I got home later that night, I grabbed a beer from my fridge and contemplated everything that had happened with Bella from the first night I met her until the events of this evening. By the time the sun was rising I had yet to go to sleep but I had figured out a few things.

First, I realized that blaming Emmett and Rosalie for the so-called rules about not going after Bella were a cop out on my end. Sure they had reservations, but it was I who took them too far, using them as an excuse not to deal with the new feelings I had been experiencing.

Second, the way I had treated Bella the day after we had sex was inexcusable. I let my own insecurities get the best of me and as a result I disrespected her as a woman and as a friend. It should have never happened and if one day she was able to truly forgive me I would be a lucky man.

And finally, the one that takes the cake, the reason for all my fuck ups…I was in love with Bella. Completely and irrevocably in love with her. The realization hit me like a lightening bolt and in that moment, I felt my whole being shift. My life had new meaning and her not being in it was simply not a possibility. Succumbing to my true feelings had left me lighter and freer than I had been in a long time. I felt like a new man.

And yet I was afraid it would change nothing.

It's progress, people! Thanks for reading!