Bella made her way back from the bathroom, arm-in-arm with Rose as they chatted and laughed. Emerging from the passage on the far side of the café counter, they were at first oblivious to the events which were unfolding across the room.
Her head snapped around, wide eyes full of dread and fear.
“Jake?” she breathed.
Everything seemed to slow down. She watched as Edward stepped in front of her ex-boyfriend, placing a hand on the bigger man’s shoulder. Rose’s voice sounded behind her, but the words didn’t register, only Jake, as he smacked both hands into Edward’s chest, causing him to stumble backwards. Another arm flew out from somewhere to try and restrain Jake, but he was clearly a man on a mission and, she suspected, he was also drunk.
Barrelling through the assembled crowd, which parted like the Red Sea in surprise and confusion, he was suddenly in front of Bella, where she stood frozen to the spot. Scowling, he reached out and wrapped a big hand tightly around her upper arm, which finally shook her from her paralysis.
“Jake, what the hell are you doing here?” she hissed, trying unsuccessfully to wrench her arm free.
“Hey, shithead, get your hands off her!”
Jake glanced up and sneered when he saw who had spoken.
“Well, if it isn’t the tart with the frigid heart. Keep your nose out of this, bitch!” he snarled, pushing Bella backwards.
His other hand came up and encircled her neck, squeezing painfully.
“You think you can just walk out on me? You’d be nothing without me, just a cheap waitress, flashing your tits for bigger tips!”
A meaty hand clamped down on his shoulder, pulling him round and forcing him to let go of his prey.
“Let her go now and get out, before I make you. I don’t like men who lay hands on women, and I really don’t like it when they insult my woman.”
Jake tried to shrug out of Emmett’s iron grip, but then another hand landed on his other shoulder.
“Emmett, we need to get this fucker out of here now,” Edward urged, pulling Jake away from the two girls.
“Good idea. Let’s go, pal.” They manhandled a struggling Jake back the way he came, as he swore and yelled.
“BELLA! Bella, I love you… why are you doing this? You know I didn’t mean to hurt you… we can work this out!”
She watched in horrified silence, Rose’s arm around her shoulder, as their men dragged a voluble and protesting Jake towards the arch. He suddenly seemed to deflate, his shoulders dropping, and she finally turned away, finding comfort in her friend’s ample bosom. Thus, she missed the flare of heat in his eyes, as he suddenly made a break towards her.
Lulled into a false sense of control, Edward and Emmett had loosened their grip and were completely taken by surprise as their prisoner shoved them off and ran back towards Bella.
“You fucking bitch, you think you can humiliate me like this and get away with it?” he shouted, eliciting gasps from those around him.
Bella swung round, shock and fear painted across her pale features.
Jake was quick—quicker than Emmett. But Edward was faster. He lurched forward and grabbed the collar of Jake’s suit jacket, bringing him up short as the sound of material ripping filled the air.
He swung round, a murderous expression on his face.
“Get the fuck away from me, this is none of your business!” he snarled.
“Oh, it’s my business, all right. Bella’s my girlfriend, and you’re not welcome here!”
Jake sneered as he looked Edward up and down. “You? You have got to be kidding me! What, she’s spreading her legs for schoolboys now? She’s mine, and always will be!”
Edward clenched his jaw and his fists, desperately trying to maintain control. The last thing he wanted was for this to get any uglier and ruin Bella’s night more than it already had.
“You gave up any rights to that claim when you beat the shit out of her, you fucking coward!” He kept his voice low, but in the silence which had now descended, his words carried clearly.
With a snarl, Jake launched himself at Edward, Bella’s scream ringing in his ears.
He was a big man, and he was fit. He spent an hour a day in the gym doing weights and running on a treadmill. He had a good two inches and fifty pounds on Edward and, despite being nearly forty, he prided himself on being in superb physical condition. He had absolutely no doubt he could take down this skinny kid, and probably that muscle-bound oik as well. However, like many men of his ilk, who had spent a lifetime behind a desk just playing at being a hard man, he had no idea what real fighting was all about.
Edward had seen guys like him before—arrogant tossers* who thought all they needed to do was intimidate an opponent and land one good punch. But he had lived his entire adolescence on the street, defending himself against every kind of attack, and he only had contempt for this man, who used his strength and weight to beat up a woman less than half his size.
He sensed Emmett behind him and, without turning, held up his hand to forestall him.
“I’ve got this, mate.”
He heard Bella’s scream, but didn’t allow himself to lose focus as Jake swung a fist at his face. He knew that if the heavier man hit him, his superior weight and strength would render him insensible—but Jake had to make contact first. In a swift, fluid movement, he swerved to one side, allowing Jake’s fist to punch thin air. His failure to connect with Edward’s face meant that his weight—and inebriation—unbalanced him, and he stumbled forward, exposing his ribs.
Edward stepped in and, with the speed of a striking cobra, his elbow shot out, connecting hard with Jake’s kidney. He grunted and doubled over, and Edward pivoted as if he were on a turntable, grabbed the hair at the back of Jake’s head, and pushed it down hard on his rising knee. He felt the crunch of bone, just before blood exploded from the man’s nose, and Jake was seeing stars as he hit the floor.
The whole episode was over in less than thirty seconds.
Edward stood over Jake’s prone body for a moment, but the sound of his name on Bella’s lips snapped his head up in her direction.
“Oh, my God, Edward, are you all right?” She pulled away from Rose and hurled herself against his chest. She felt his arms wrap around her and immediately felt safe and calm. He kissed the top of her head, and then they both became aware of two sounds. The first was the swell of excited conversation in the room; the second was a police siren.
Two hours later, the police had left, taking a bleeding and protesting Jake away in handcuffs. Everyone questioned who had claimed to witness the fracas, insisted that he had burst into the event uninvited, attacked Bella and then Edward. They all said the same thing—that he had swung the first punch, Edward had moved out of the way, using his elbow to deflect Jake’s charge, and that he must have broken his nose when he stumbled and fell on his face. Alice had rushed Edward into the bathroom before the police arrived and washed the blood off his trousers, and once they saw the bruises around Bella’s neck and arm, they had no problem believing the stories of a dozen witnesses. This was made even easier by Jake’s drunken and aggressive behaviour.
It took very little persuasion for Bella and Edward to press charges for assault, and they quickly agreed to go into Cirencester police station the following morning to give full statements.
Once the police had left with Jake, all the guests drifted away, leaving just Bella and her friends, and Alice’s small team of willing staff, who set about cleaning up while she made coffee for those who wanted it. Carmen and Angela had apologised, saying they had to leave to get the late train back to London, as they both had commitments the following morning. They hugged Bella, telling her to call if she needed anything, before departing together in a taxi.
Edward walked over to the table where Bella was sitting with Rose and Esme. As he sat down next to her and put his arm around her shoulders, Alice set down hot drinks in front of them, along with platters of leftover hors d'oeuvres.
Bella looked up at her friend, her eyes red-rimmed and smudged with mascara.
“Alice, I am so, so sorry. Can you ever forgive me?” A fat tear slid down her cheek, and Edward reached over to wipe it away with his thumb.
Alice took the chair on the other side of her, and Edward sat back, letting his arm fall away in order to allow Alice to hug Bella.
“Shut up, you silly woman. There’s absolutely nothing to forgive—this is not your fault.”
She pulled back, taking both of Bella’s hands in hers.
“Besides, this town has never seen so much excitement—people will be talking about this for weeks… months… years, even. I just wish it didn’t have to involve you getting hurt.”
Bella gave her a small smile, but shook her head.
“I’m fine, Alice. It’s just a few bruises—they don’t even hurt. I’ve had a lot worse.”
Alice frowned and squeezed her hands. She glanced past Bella at Edward, who immediately put his arm back around the still somewhat weepy woman, pulling her in close so that her head rested on his shoulder.
Rose leaned across the table and smiled, a wicked glint in her eyes.
“Hey, cheer up, Bell. At least you’re here with your sexy as fuck new boyfriend, who will hopefully take you home shortly and roger you senseless, while that idiot ex of yours spends the night in a police cell. I know our bollocks-for-brains judiciary seem to actively condone violence against women, so he probably won’t do time, but he’ll get a record, which will likely mean he’ll lose his job. And, as a bonus, you’ll finally have grounds to get a restraining order against him. You’ve obviously made some good friends here, and Edward is clearly a lot more than just a pretty face, so it’s all good.”
She smirked mischievously, amused that the guy who had just laid out a much bigger and ostensibly stronger man was now blushing to his roots. She leaned back as Emmett walked over and stood behind her, putting his hands on her shoulders and gently kneading the muscles there.
“Having said that, I’d feel a lot happier if I could imagine Mr Blackhead banged up in a shitty prison cell with a hairy-arsed, tattooed lifer who wants to make him his bitch.”
Esme turned to look at Rose with a grimace. “Goodness, Rose, does that mean what I think it means?”
“Well, if you think it means Jake on his knees sucking cock, or taking it up the Gary Glitter* on a daily basis, then yes, that is what it means!”
There was a collective intake of breath as everyone looked from Rose to Esme.
“Oh, well, yes, that is what I thought. And I have to agree, that scenario would be remarkably satisfying.”
The astonished silence that followed Esme’s assertion lasted no more than a second or two, before it was broken by a loud snort of laughter from Bella.
“Oh, God, Rose… eloquent as ever, I see,” she gasped.
And just like that, all the tension, which had surrounded the friends like a poisonous miasma, completely dissipated, chased away by the gales of laughter that erupted around the table.
When, at last, they had calmed and gathered their wits, by unspoken agreement, they all stood and pitched in to help with the clearing up. Eventually, however, Alice insisted that they’d done enough. They were all exhausted after a long day, exacerbated by the emotions and tension caused by Jake, so they were keen to get to their beds.
Rose and Emmett were staying at The Blue Boar, a local pub with bed and breakfast rooms, and were driving back to London the following afternoon. Delighted, Bella invited them both for lunch the next day so they would have a proper chance to catch up. Shamelessly exploiting the trauma of the night’s events, she was able to persuade Carlisle to agree that Edward wouldn’t have to go into work until the dinner shift—although Edward laughed ruefully when it became clear this meant he would still be cooking lunch.
They finally parted ways with hugs and good luck wishes for the following morning at the police station, and Jasper led the way to his car.
Back at Ivy Cottage, Bella invited Alice and Jasper in for a nightcap, but couldn’t help feeling relieved when they declined, citing tiredness. Making their farewells, Edward unlocked the front door and led the way inside.
Bella took her coat off, hung it on a peg in the hallway and headed straight to the kitchen.
“God, I’m gasping for a cup of tea… do you want one?” she called over her shoulder.
“Yeah, that would be great. I’ll go fix the fire.”
Fifteen minutes later, the two of them sat on the sofa together, sipping hot tea. Edward had his legs stretched across the cushions in front of him with Bella lying between them, her back against his chest. He reached across and put his tea down on the coffee table, then took hers and set it down beside his. He wrapped his arms around her waist and kissed her softly on her bruised neck.
“Are you okay?” he murmured against her skin.
Bella placed her hands over his and let her head fall back against his shoulder, tilting it to give him better access.
“Mmmmh, I’m fine, just tired.”
They were quiet for a moment, and then Bella twisted round onto her knees, in order to look at Edward. She lifted a hand to stroke his cheek and pull him down for a kiss. Before it could escalate, however, Bella drew back, her eyes fixed on his.
“You were amazing tonight,” she told him.
He chuckled, shaking his head.
“Seriously, Edward. The way you just… dismissed Jake, I wanted to throw my arms around you and shout ‘my hero’!
A shadow fell across his features as his eyes darkened, and he frowned.
“I wanted to kill him, Bella,” he said lowly, the softness of his voice belying the violence behind his words. “I wanted to beat him to a pulp and kick his fucking head in. I’ve never felt so capable of murder in my life, not even with Paul or Tanya’s pimp. It fucking scared me.”
He tightened his arms around her waist and rested his head on her shoulder. In response, she put her hands around his neck and played with the soft hair at his nape.
“But that’s the difference between you and a man like Jake. He uses his anger and his fists to intimidate and control women.”
She pulled her right hand away from his neck and placed it over his heart, causing him to look up at her.
“Your anger comes from here, Edward. It comes from love and a need to protect, and because your heart is good, it allows you to control your anger. You truly were my hero in every sense tonight, and I’m incredibly proud of you.”
He smiled at last, leaning forward slightly to place a soft kiss on Bella’s mouth.
“Hero, eh? Does that make you a damsel in distress?”
Bella raised herself up on her knees and then lifted first one leg and then the other until she was straddling him. Then she eased herself down and started to move against him.
“Oh, yeah, I’m definitely in distress,” she said, grinding down on his hardening cock, as he groaned against her breasts. “I know it’s probably wrong, but seeing you beat up that tosser was just about the sexiest thing I’ve ever seen. I am so fucking horny right now.”
Edward lifted his head, his lips seeking hers. They kissed again, but this time there was no gentleness and little finesse. Teeth clashed and tongues tangled, as they both breathed loudly through their noses, taking their fill.
Breaking apart at last, they stared wordlessly at each other, even as they continued to move in perfect synchronicity. Then, as if by telepathic communication, Bella wrapped both her legs around Edward’s waist, as he swung his own legs off the sofa. Then, with her head buried in his neck, he clasped his hands under her bottom and stood up.
Without bothering to finish their tea or turn out the lights, Edward carried her upstairs and to the bedroom, where he set her down on her feet. Turning her round, he quickly unzipped her dress, while she kicked off her shoes. As she shimmied out of her underwear, he rapidly divested himself of his own clothes.
Within minutes they were naked and under the covers.
At the moment he pushed into her tight, wet heat, they probably would have both been surprised at the similarity of their thoughts.
The next morning found Bella and Edward in Cirencester, giving their statements, following which an officer took photos of her bruises. They were told that Jake had been held overnight in the cells and would be arraigned later that morning at the local Magistrate’s Court, where he was expected to plead not guilty and apply for police bail, which he would almost certainly be granted.
Bella was appalled at this news, but the officer assured her that all this meant was that the case would be sent to Crown Court. Based on Edward’s statement, and those of the other witnesses, Jake would be found guilty. He told them it was unlikely that, for a first offence, he would get a custodial sentence, but he would have to do community service and may well even have to wear an electronic tag. He advised her to talk to a solicitor about taking out a restraining order, which she agreed to do. Finally, he tried to put her mind at rest by saying they would make sure he left the area immediately, so she shouldn’t worry about him trying to see her.
Somewhat mollified, Edward and Bella returned home, determined to put it out of their minds, at least until after their lunch with Rose and Emmett.
Conversation and laughter ebbed and flowed effortlessly around the dining table later that day, as the four friends shared stories of their pasts over wonderful food, and talked about their lives now.
Earlier, Bella had watched Edward prepare lunch, and had been filled with awe at his skill. If he had been confident in the kitchen before, he was now master of his environment and, for the first time, she really understood and accepted what Carlisle had said.
She tried very hard not to dwell on what his future might hold.
Now that they were at the table, the compliments and appreciative noises of his companions made him blush with pleasure. Rose, in particular, insisted that he could get a job in a top London restaurant, and Bella had to mask her concern that she was right, that he would quickly move on… without her.
Desperate to change the subject, she asked Rose what she’d been doing since they last saw one another.
“Well, when you left Angelo’s, it kind of prompted me to sort out my shit. I signed up to do a marketing degree with the Open University,* and now I’m working for Onside, one of the country’s biggest sporting agencies. Actually, that’s how I met Emmett. He was playing rugby for a small south London team and approached us to handle his career.”
Emmett smiled adoringly at the beautiful blonde beside him. “Yeah, thanks to Onside, I got signed up by Leicester Tigers* on a really great deal. We’re currently third in the league with a good chance of winning it this season. I’m out with a shoulder injury right now, which is why I was able to come with Rose this weekend, but I should be back playing in a couple of weeks.”
Rose rubbed a hand up and down his bulging biceps and grinned up at him proudly.
“Emmett is a really talented flanker and is tipped to get picked to play for England in next season’s Six Nations campaign.”
Bella was delighted to see her friend so happy. Rose had always been a bit down on men, constantly insisting they were all wankers. She’d never seemed to find anyone who could see past her looks and love her for who she really was, someone who could challenge her, be her equal. From what she could see, Emmett ticked every box, and she already loved him for it.
All too soon, it was time for them to take their leave. Walking out to the car with Rose behind Emmett, the two friends promised to keep in better touch, and Rose elicited a promise from Bella that she and Edward would visit soon. They hugged, the deep affection they both felt for one another evident in the tightness of the embrace. Bella bit back tears, while Rose hid her emotions by ribbing Bella about being a wuss.
“I like Edward, he’s a great guy, Bell. You seem happy.”
“I am, Rose, I really am. I think… I mean, I know it’s been quick, but… I think he might be the one… you know?”
Rose glanced over to where Emmett waited for her by the car. “Yeah, I do, hun.”
“Emmett’s great, Rose. He clearly thinks the sun shines out of your admittedly-amazing arse. Do you think he might be your one?”
Rose laughed, but then let her face fall into a serious expression. “Yeah, maybe. We’ll see.”
Bella stood in the driveway as Emmett manoeuvred his car out onto the road, waving until it disappeared. She continued to stand outside long after they had gone, missing her friend already.
She was pulled from her melancholic thoughts by two strong arms wrapping themselves around her waist, as Edward moulded himself to her and kissed the top of her head.
“Penny for them?” he asked quietly.
“It’s nothing, I was just thinking how good it was to see Rose. I like Emmett—he’s good for her.”
She turned her head to peer up at him, smiling against his lips as he dipped his head to kiss her softly.
He stepped back and took her hand, leading her back inside the house. They went straight to the sitting room, where Edward guided her to the sofa. He put his arm round her and she curled into his side.
“Are you okay? You’re not worrying about your scumbag ex, are you? Because you know I’ll take care of you, don’t you?”
Bella nodded against his chest and then sat up a little.
“I’m not really worried. I’m mean, I’m still going to apply for a restraining order, but, having thought about it, I really can’t be bothered to waste any more time thinking about Jake. From what that policeman said, he’s shitting bricks about being convicted for assault—I’m pretty sure his company has a strict policy on that kind of thing, and they could fire him for gross misconduct, without any severance pay or a reference. I reckon he’s got more to worry about than me.”
She settled back in against him. It occurred to Edward that what Bella had said might well give Jake a very real motive for revenge. But he knew there was nothing to be gained by verbalising his concern, other than to upset her, so he chose to say no more on the subject. However, he suspected that there was more to Bella’s current introspective mood than just the departure of her friend.
Unfortunately, there was no time to get to the bottom of what was preoccupying her right now, as he had to get ready to go to work. He reached down and tipped her face up to him, leaning in to kiss her deeply. All too soon, however, he was pulling away.
“Shit, Bella, I really need to get moving, otherwise Carlisle will have my balls for starters.”
He stood, and Bella got to her feet as well. “I’ll give you a lift. I want to go see Alice, so we can stick your bike in the back of the car. Just give me ten minutes.”
After she had dropped Edward off at the restaurant, she walked down the High Street to ‘Wonderland’. Stepping through from the bookshop, she was astonished to see that the café was almost entirely restored to its former layout. Most of the shelving had been put back in place, although with marked differences. It was a little more spread out, with some units reduced in height.
In the spaces provided, Bella’s artwork continued to be hung, making a dazzling display. The pieces that had been auctioned had, of course, been taken down, but those that she had donated to the shop remained to great effect. Her three-part painting, ‘Where Roads Converge’, was still hanging over the fireplace, and there was a small group of people gathered in front of it, talking about it and pointing at various elements of the work.
“Every single person who’s come in here today has stood and stared at those paintings for an inordinate amount of time—it’s done wonders for coffee sales!”
Bella turned as Alice stepped up beside her.
“It’s a stunning piece, Bella, I’ll be sorry to see it come down.”
She turned back to look at the three canvases, remembering how the images had flowed out of her in a way she’d never experienced before. Last night had been such a whirl of people and conversation, followed by the drama of Jake’s unwelcome intrusion, so this was the first time she’d really had a chance to appreciate it as a mounted and displayed work. She walked further into the room so that she was dead in front of it, but several feet behind the group by the fire.
Alice followed her as she continued to gaze wordlessly at the images. She watched as myriad emotions flickered across Bella’s face, wondering what was going through her mind.
“Do you have somewhere to hang it?” she asked when Bella remained silent.
As if she had been dragged from somewhere far away, Bella shook her head and looked at Alice.
“Um, yes, I think it would look good over the fireplace in the sitting room, just like you have it here. I’m sorry I can’t let you keep it, Alice, it’s just too…”
“Personal? Don’t be silly, Bella, of course you must take it back. Besides, I don’t think I can afford a Swan original. And you’ve already been more than generous with the pictures you’ve loaned me.”
Bella frowned. “They’re not on loan, Alice—they’re yours to keep. It’s the least I can do, and don’t you dare try to give them back,” she told her emphatically.
“Bella, that’s too generous—”
“Stop, Alice, I won’t hear another word on the subject. Apart from the ridiculous amount of money your exhibition raised for Angela’s charity, have you got any idea how much interest I’ve received for my artwork? No, these belong here, and that’s that. If you could take down the snow scenes, I’ll collect them later this week and take them home.”
She smiled at Alice and, on impulse, pulled her into her arms, hugging her tightly.
Drawing apart, they smiled warmly at one another.
“Okay, fine… and thank you, Bella, that’s really kind of you. Of course, it means that all future cups of coffee are on the house… and that’s my final word on the subject.”
It was late when Edward got home, but Bella was sitting up reading on the sofa in front of a glowing fire.
Dropping down on the couch beside her, he pulled her into his arms, into which she willingly went.
“How was work?” she asked against his chest. He smelled of herbs and spices, but his essential scent was there, making her feel warm and safe.
“Good. Busy. How about you?” he replied, pressing his lips to the top of her head.
“Yeah, pretty good. I’ve worked through a lot of the changes on the book—it’s coming together really well.”
She offered to get him a drink, but he shook his head, tightening his hold on her.
“No, I’m fine. This is all I need, just being here with you.”
They continued to talk quietly for a while, happy to be together, alone, after the excitement and stress of the last couple of days. It would soon be Christmas, with Edward pulling long shifts and Bella preparing for their visitors.
But for now, it was just the two of them, and they revelled in it.
“Carlisle has agreed to incorporate a couple more of my recipes on the menu. God, I can’t believe how lucky I’ve been getting that job. He’s such a brilliant chef, and he’s just been so great.”
Bella pulled back so that she could look at his face, her brow arched.
“Maybe you were lucky to be in the right place at the right time, but you got that job because he saw the promise in you, the same as I did. You deserve his support and patronage. You’ve worked hard for it. I am so proud of you, my love,” she said, her voice low and full of the admiration she felt for him.
Edward’s lips parted and his eyes glittered like polished emeralds. “Am I?”
Bella frowned in confusion. “Are you what?”
“Am I your love?”
The look he gave her was so intense, that she felt compelled to sit back as she regarded him.
Glancing down, she took his right hand in both of hers, raising it to her mouth and placing a soft kiss on his palm.
Her eyes drifted back to his, meeting his gaze head-on.
“Do you know, I very much think you might be,” she said quietly, smiling as his eyes went wide.
And then she was in his arms, his mouth on hers, on her neck, her shoulder… everywhere he could reach. In between kisses, his words tumbled out like confetti from a box.
“Oh, God, Bella… I love you… so much… I know it’s too soon... but I don’t care… you’re it for me… I love you…”
Her heart soared, beating wildly inside her chest. “Edward, oh, Edward, I love you, too.”
They kissed for what seemed like hours, but it was Bella who pulled back first, all her old worries and insecurities racing back to the fore.
“What… what is it?” he asked, his eyes blazing.
“Oh, God, I don’t know… maybe we are moving too fast—”
His eyes widened in panic. “What? No! You don’t mean that—”
She pressed two fingers to his lips, cutting him off.
“Think about it, Edward. Carlisle has such high hopes for you. He’s pretty sure you won’t be stuck in a small town restaurant for the rest of your life. He says you could eventually work anywhere. It’s only a matter of time before you get itchy feet and want to spread your wings. And there’s no way I would ever stand in your way. You’re still so young—”
Now it was his turn to interrupt.
“Are you saying I’m too young for you? That you want to break up?” His voice cracked as he spoke, his eyes full of desperate fear.
“No! God, no, Edward. That’s the last thing I want. I… I love you. But if you got another job… if you wanted to leave…” She took a deep breath, trying to calm her trembling voice.
“Jesus, Bella, you scared me. First of all, I’ve got a long way to go before I finish learning my trade, and CQ is where I want to be to do that. Then… well, who knows what’s round the corner. I certainly never anticipated meeting a woman like you and ending up with an amazing career. But if—and that’s a big if—I ever wanted to move on from CQ, then I’d hope you would support me and… well, would it be impossible for you to come with me? This is where I live right now, but you… you’re my home, Bella. You always will be… if that’s what you want?”
He was asking her, and she knew, in that moment, that it was what she wanted… he was what she wanted.
“Yes, it’s what I want,” she breathed.
He closed his eyes, giving a silent prayer of thanks. When he opened them again, he saw a single tear track its way down Bella’s face, prompting him to reach out and gently wipe it away with the pad of his thumb.
“Fuck, Bella, don’t ever scare me like that again. I want to make this work, and I will never… never do anything to risk losing what we have. I love you. You’re everything to me. I wouldn’t even have a fucking career if it wasn’t for you! I’m in this for the long haul—surely you must know that by now?”
Still not daring to believe she could have everything she ever wanted—success, money, great friends, a beautiful home and the love of this perfect man—Bella still found herself questioning his motives.
“I don’t want you to stay with me out of gratitude, Edward,” she whispered, hardly able to say the words, for fear they might be true.
He threw himself against the back of the sofa, his hands desperately gripping his hair as his jaw clenched.
“Jesus Christ, Bella—you think I’m with you because I’m grateful? I… shit, what do I have to say to make you understand how I feel about you?”
He dropped his hands and stared at her.
She sighed and looked away for a moment, before letting her eyes drift back to his. The torment she saw there made her heart ache.
What the hell am I doing? I love him, and for some ridiculous reason, he apparently loves me.
She reached over, taking both his hands where they rested on his thighs, and holding them tightly.
“Nothing, Edward. You don’t have to say anything else. I’m an idiot, and I’m sorry. I… I suppose I was just afraid that you would… oh, I don’t know… find someone younger one day. Someone like Jessica—she’s so pretty and she’s your age—”
“And she’s an empty-headed little tart, who bores me to death. You honestly think I’d prefer to be with someone like her?”
Bella said nothing for a moment, then shook her head and dropped her gaze.
“No, I don’t… not in my heart of hearts. I’m a fool…” She looked up at him, letting go of his hands and raising them to cup his face. “I love you … I’ve never felt like this about anyone, and I want this… with you… so much. Please forgive me for doubting you?”
He covered her hands with his, sliding them down and holding them against his chest.
“I’ll forgive you, but only if you promise to stop obsessing about shit like our age difference. I know this has all happened really fast, but I’ve never been so sure of anything in my life. I just want you to give us a chance, Bella, that’s all.”
“Okay, I can do that,” she whispered.
He let go of her hands, and pulled her into his arms, kissing her softly. As soon as she felt his lips on hers she opened up to him, letting his tongue slip in and glide against hers. The kiss was slow and long, almost as though they were reconnecting after being apart for a long time—re-learning one another.
Soon after, their lovemaking was similarly exploratory. It was tender and gentle as they took their time to rediscover what they thought they were in danger of losing. Taking their time, when Edward finally entered Bella’s wet and welcoming body, their moans of pleasure were as much about relief as the passion they felt at their coming together. His thrusts were slow and deep, both of them wanting the moment to last. In perfect, synchronised harmony, they moved together, building to a climax of such intensity that when they crested the edge, Bella was incapable of holding back the tears that spilled down her face.
Finally stilling, Edward rolled onto his side, pulling Bella with him, and with whispered words of love, they fell asleep in each other’s arms—sated, replete, and totally secure, at last, in their feelings.
Tosser – same as wanker; Americans would say ‘jerk-off’ or similar
Gary Glitter – Disgraced British glam-rock pop star of the 1970s; now Cockney rhyming slang for ‘shitter’, which is hopefully self-explanatory!
Open University – This is for people who want to study part time, or as mature students who have opted for an academic career later in life. Courses are undertaken online and part-time at local universities.
Leicester Tigers – Premier League Rugby Union team