A/N: Hey there! I've missed you all, and I'm so excited to share this piece with you. It was my contribution to the Fandom for Mental Health Awareness compilation, so those of you who donated might've read this already. To all the new readers, welcome aboard!

Immense thanks to Ninkita and pixiekat7 for their impeccable editing skills. Big hugs to Pamela (drivingedward) for always cheering me on.
Also, a note of thanks to
purpleC305 for her valuable feedback.

All remaining mistakes are mine.

Fallingsnow Winter (Jennifer Jennings) created the lovely banner to go along with this story. Thank you, hon!

DISCLAIMER – All publicly recognizable entities belong to their respective owners. No copyright infringement is intended. The plot belongs to the author.

Alright, let's get on with it now.


I looked at the clock sitting innocuously on my table and nibbled on my fingernail.

Five hours to go.

I shuffled the papers in front of me, trying to immerse myself in the legal jargon I was paid to make sense of, but the words flew right over my head, cramped as it was with the hundred scenarios that could play out this evening.

"Hey, Bella?"

I looked up to find my boss pushing open the door to my office.

"Lauren," I greeted her brightly to hide my nerves. Judging by the way she stopped short, I probably overdid the cheerfulness. Moderating my tone to something hopefully closer to normal, I continued, "Did it go well with the Claytons?"

She grinned, flicking her blond hair back with a satisfied flourish. "It went perfectly well. The terms were negotiated to our liking. All that's left for you to do is draw up the revised papers on Monday, and we'll be closing the deal latest by Friday."

My eyebrows rose. "Monday? I can finish it right now."

Lauren's brow puckered for a moment, but she immediately smoothed her hand over it. I'd known her long enough to know that this was something she did in hopes of avoiding wrinkles. The woman was a force to be reckoned with in board meetings, but she was as vain as they came. She was kind and understanding toward her employees, though, and that was all that mattered to me. The fact that she reapplied her mascara every couple of hours and coated her face with enough foundation to build up a whole new layer of skin were minor details.

"Mr. Clayton isn't going to be available again before Tuesday, so we're not going to need the final draft before that," she assured me, or rather, thought that she was assuring me. She didn't know that my stomach was twisting into knots at her words and their implication.

"You've worked your ass off this week, Bella. Take the rest of the day off. Maybe you should go pamper yourself at a salon." She reached out to grab my hand and inspected my nails. The state of my cuticles had her clucking in disapproval. "You're in desperate need of a manicure!"

I snatched my hand back as blood rushed to my cheeks. "Are you sure? I don't need to leave early an—"

"It's Friday, Bella! Go out, have fun, but before any of that, for God's sake, invest in some French tips." She looked toward my hand and shuddered.

I'd been on the receiving end of Lauren's advice to go to a salon several times in the past.

This was the first time I actually planned on taking it.

I needed all the confidence in the world for what was to happen tonight. Maybe a little self-pampering would do me some good in that regard.

"Alright," I sighed, grabbing my cell and placing it in my handbag.

Lauren threw me a beaming grin. "Excellent," she exclaimed, sounding extremely pleased about sending me home early, no matter how I felt about it.

My dejected expression was not enough to bring her down from her high.

Lauren thought she was doing me a favor, when the truth was that she just took away the one distraction I was relying on to keep my mind away from what was coming.

Four hours and forty minutes to go.


"French tips, ma'am?" the perky girl before me asked, her lips stretching into a well-rehearsed, polite grin.

"Yes, please."

She grabbed a nail file and set to work.

I placed my head back against the soft cushion affixed at the top of the chair and closed my eyes. Another thought popped into my head, prompting me to make a second request of Miss Perma-grin.

"Maybe . . . I should get a pedicure, too."

Her heavily made-up face retained its cheeriness. If anything, her smile just turned brighter. "Sure, we can do that, ma'am. We have Wendy who's a specialist at pedis."

Specialist at filing toenails?

I kept my opinions to myself, though. As was the norm, I shot Wendy a polite smile as she walked over to us and kneeled next to my chair, reaching for my feet.

I looked around the salon, perusing the various services they had on offer. Probably sensing my hesitation, Perma-grin went in for the kill.

"Would you like to get something else done, Miss Swan?" she suggested. "We offer excellent facials to enhance your complexion, protein packs for your lovely hair, as well as waxing services. There's also a tanning booth in the back room."

I took another look around the large room, ladies in various stages of pampering obviously relaxing while using the services Perma-grin had mentioned.

Just because I didn't do this often didn't mean that I couldn't, right?

I needed to be as perfect as I could be for tonight.

It's not like she was going to ask me to get a massage. I could handle all the things she'd mentioned.

"Alright," I allowed, albeit a little nervously. "I don't need to get tanned, but I think I'd like to go for all the other services you mentioned."

She nodded, somehow still keeping the smile affixed on her face. "Excellent, ma'am."

She released my hand once she was done and left to secure a spot for me at each pampering station.

I closed my eyes, willing my body to relax as they worked over me. Unbidden, the images from the dream I'd had this morning swirled in my mind.

You know how sometimes you have such a beautiful dream that, when you're about to wake, you cling to the fading remnants of unconsciousness, just so that you could stay in that world for a little while longer . . . how you try to linger in that mysterious state between sleep and wakefulness for a few more minutes to hold on to those wonderful figments of your imagination . . . and how, even once you're awake, you close your eyes and lie in bed, unable to let those images go so soon?

That's what'd happened to me.

I was lying in Edward's arms, the heat of his naked body seeping into mine and his sandalwood scent mingling with my own to create a heady aroma that I knew I could never tire of. All I wanted in that moment was to stay there forever.

But was it all too good to be true?

Could I ever have that with him . . . with anyone?

I opened my eyes with a sigh, dismissing my dream world and picked up my phone to peek at the display.

Three hours and thirty minutes to go.


I pushed the door open with a frustrated bang, taking care not to ruin my just-manicured nails.

"Hey, Bel—" Rosalie, my roommate, stopped short at the sight of me, cocking her head to one side as she took in my appearance from head to toe. "What the fuck?"

Yeah, she was not one to mince words.

I rolled my eyes at her. "I believe I look much too put together to warrant those words."

"Don't even . . . You look different, Swan and that's the point!" she exclaimed, brushing a hand over my cheeks and scrutinizing me through narrowed eyes. "Hair's done perfectly; you've obviously had a facial. Wait a sec . . . eyebrows, too?" Her own eyebrows rose to her hairline at that observation. "You hate getting your eyebrows done!" I watched in defeat as realization dawned on her face. "Is tonight the night with Edward?" she almost squealed.

I sighed, throwing myself onto the couch. "I guess," I mumbled uncertainly, making my best friend frown.

"Why so dejected?" She took a seat beside me and touched my arm. "I thought you liked him."

"I do, Rose," I insisted. "That's why I'm worried! You know my problem."

"Bella," she sighed. "You told me that your first date with this guy was the best one you'd ever had."

"It was," I admitted. "He was so caring, so attentive. He listened to what I had to say, had the true manners and chivalry of a gentleman, and he talked so passionately about his job. The entire evening was like a lovely dream."

"Plus, he's gorgeous as hell," she threw in with a wink. "That helps, too."

I shot her a frustrated look, but then nodded. "That's just the icing on the cake, though. His voice, his eyes, his gentle manner of speaking . . ." I smiled to myself, thinking of that first evening I'd spent with Edward.

"Whoa there!" Rosalie waved a hand before my eyes. "So, this guy is obviously a great listener and he's interested in you. I bet that if you tell him about your . . . issue, he'll understand, and the two of you could work it out."

I rolled my eyes again. "Like it worked out so well with all my past boyfriends?"

My thoughts went back in time, pondering the measly number of relationships I'd had. I was 26 years old, and you could count the number of men I'd had sex with on one hand.

First, there was Mike Newton in my first year of college. He'd followed me around like a lost puppy, but as soon as we'd started to get hot and heavy, I'd flinched away from his wandering fingers, and he'd bailed on me soon after.

After him came Tyler Crowley. Another one who'd persisted for a while until I'd accepted the offer of having drinks with him. Two weeks later, he had no idea how to deal with me laughing in the middle of sex. He started ignoring me and needed to get off so badly that he'd weaseled his way into my friend, Angela's bed soon after he found out about my . . . well, weakness was what I called it in my head.

The three other guys who rounded out my list of sexual partners were much the same.

And now . . . Edward Cullen had come along. He'd walked into my life just over two weeks ago. Our first meeting had been simple enough; we'd crashed into each other at a club I frequented with my friends, got to talking, and he'd asked for my phone number within an hour.

Two days after that, we had been our first date in a cozy little restaurant, and Edward had kept me engrossed and intrigued throughout the meal. We'd spent more than a couple of hours in each other's company, only leaving when the waitress pointed out that it was past the closing time for the restaurant. I recalled the near-disaster that'd happened as we'd walked out toward his car . . .

My hair fell over my face, dancing wildly in the blowing wind. I tucked the long strands behind my ear just as Edward reached out to take my other hand in his. His fingers entangled with mine softly.

"I had a great time tonight, Bella," he murmured with a crooked smile that set my heart racing.

"Me too," I responded. The breathy note in my voice surprised me, but that had happened quite a few times this evening. There was something about this guy that rendered me speechless sometimes and converted my independent adult self into a giggling teenager at other times.

He squeezed my hand and granted me another one of his beautiful smiles before holding the passenger door of the car open. Just as I took a step forward, I felt his hand rest against the small of my back to guide me inside.

Before I could even think about it, my body had flinched away from his hand, leaving him frowning in concern.

"Bella?"

I drew in a deep breath, holding it in for a few seconds before releasing it slowly, allowing me a little time to calm myself and push back the familiar hints of frustration. "I'm okay," I assured him, scrambling to think of a plausible explanation for my not-so-normal behavior. "Just a little unsteady in these heels," I managed.

"Oh, okay," he said, though his eyes betrayed his confusion.

It was valid, too. All night, I'd had no trouble in these shoes. I'd walked along the same path without any difficulty when we'd arrived at the restaurant.

However, it was the best lie I could come up with in the matter of those short seconds. When I'd settled into my seat and Edward shut the door after me, I realized that he wasn't going to push me on the matter and sighed in relief.

Our second date was at a park, and he'd packed a cute little picnic basket for us. We'd spent the day people watching and binging on junk food, once again losing ourselves in our conversation until the world blurred away into an unimportant jumble. The searing kiss we'd shared that night still gave me goosebumps every time I thought about it.

The only little dark spot sullying that memory was when, once again, his hand had landed gently on my waist, and I was helpless to control my reaction.

"I'm sorry. Did I do something wrong?" Edward asked, backing away immediately as I jerked away from his touch.

"No, no," I rushed to reassure him. "I just . . . If we'd gone on for another moment, I would've lost my self-control and tackled you right here," I blurted, unable to come up with anything else.

I was mortified as soon as the words had left my mouth. I blushed furiously, averting my eyes from his shocked face.

He recovered quickly, though, once again accepting my justification, and chuckled heartily. Leaning in, he placed a soft kiss on my forehead and pulled me close to his chest. I nearly collapsed in relief when his hands encircled my upper back this time.

"That wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing, would it?" he whispered, and my breath hitched.

I bit my lip and shook my head. "We aren't supposed to do anything of the sort before the third date, you know. This is it until then," I replied and kissed him once before pulling away with a coy smile.

"Third date, huh? I guess I'll manage to bide my time until I get to see you again. It'll be really difficult, though." He winked, making me forget my apprehension as I grinned.

The weekend after that, we were supposed to meet up for dinner, but I had to opt out, owing to the flu I'd caught from one of my co-workers who'd been sneezing right, left, and center for all of the previous week.

Edward had been extremely considerate. He'd even paid me an unexpected home visit and had brought me soup, à la Tom Hanks. The gesture had brought tears to my eyes. After melting into a puddle at the adoring manner in which way he kissed them away, I knew I'd soon find myself happily taking our relationship to the next level.

That was when my anxiety made its appearance known.

"Bella!" Rose snapped her fingers before my eyes. "Where did you go?"

I forced myself to focus on our current conversation.

What had Rose said last?

Oh, yes!

"As far as talking about it goes, I, uh, I already told him," I muttered, fidgeting with the strap of my handbag.

"What?" she gasped immediately. "When did you tell him? Why didn't you tell me you told him? What was his reaction?" The questions flew from her mouth one after the other, so I halted her words with a wave of my hand.

I sighed, thinking about the date we'd had two night ago . . . sort of a do-over for our actual third date, which I'd lovingly termed 'The One Ruined by Rhinovirus.'

The memories from that evening filled my mind easily as I recalled them to answer Rosalie's question.

I moaned, shifting on his lap as he pressed his lips to mine. Edward's arms were wrapped around my back, with one of his palms pressed between my shoulder blades and the other threaded into my hair at the nape of my neck. His long fingers tugged gently at the strands, as he teased, licked, and suckled each of my lips between his.

I'd been lost in the taste of his tongue and the sandalwood scent of his skin surrounding and consuming me, but not enough to take it in stride when his hands started to dip lower. I flinched as soon as his hands reached the top of my waist, but managed to cover it up by rubbing my tongue against his.

He groaned, tightening his arms around me, and I relaxed.

Until I felt his fingers caress my sides with a gentle brush of his fingertips.

A startled sound left my throat and I pulled away from his lips before I even knew what I was doing. When rationality dawned on me, I gasped in horror and jumped to my feet.

"Bella?" Edward's voice was alarmed. "What's wrong?" Fear swam in his emerald irises, and I cursed my weakness for putting him through this.

Rosalie was looking at me with curiosity evident in her features. "What did you say to him?"

"The next ten minutes were a mess, with me trying to avoid his questions and get us back to where we were, but he saw that something was obviously wrong. He was so worried, Rose," I whispered, recalling Edward's stricken expression. "He thought he might've pushed me for something I wasn't ready to give him, and he just wouldn't stop apologizing."

"Aww." Rose pushed her lips into a pout. "He sounds so sweet. I've got to meet this guy, pronto!"

"Can we focus on the problem here?" I begged. "I might just chase him off before 9 p.m. tonight, so don't go on and make any plans farther into the future than that."

She shook her head, clearly exasperated. "Just continue with what happened after that."

"Fine!"

"Bella, please, tell me what's wrong," Edward beseeched, and my eyes welled up. "I know I've hurt you somehow, I just don't know what I did wrong! I did it earlier, too, didn't I?" he asked, realization dawning on his face. "All those times you cringed away from me, it was for a reason, which you're not revealing. If you talk to me, maybe I could correct my mistake. I don't . . . I don't want to lose you."

I swallowed down the lump in my throat and looked away. The pain in his eyes was too much for me to bear.

I shuddered when I felt his hand grasp my chin. He turned my face toward him, asking me once again to tell him what was wrong.

This time, I simply couldn't hold it in. Maybe it was the way his fingertips were ghosting over my cheeks, or the way his eyes bore helplessly into mine, or the shaky note in his voice, signaling that this was truly hurting him.

I was hurting him.

"I'm ticklish," I blurted without a second thought.

His eyes widened in disbelief. "Wha- What?"

"I'm very ticklish . . . over my waist, and also on my . . ." I paused and exhaled sharply, feeling my cheeks blaze in embarrassment. "My . . . my thighs," I finished weakly. "I tend to jump a mile away if someone touches me there."

Edward still had a flabbergasted look on his face. "That's what has gotten you so upset?"

I sighed, pulling his hand away from my face, but keeping a hold on it between both of mine. I played with his fingers as I told him about all my past relationships and how disappointed each guy had been when I'd flinch away from their wandering fingers.

"You . . . you mean a lot to me," I admitted quietly. My reasoning was — since I'd already made a mess of whatever was blooming between Edward and me, I might as well do it thoroughly. "Despite the fact that we've only known each other for a week and a half, I . . . I've never felt so . . ."

"I know exactly what you mean," he interrupted me in a whisper, squeezing my hand tightly. "I don't care what the social calendar says, Bella. No one but I decide how I feel about you, and whether it's ten days or ten months, I won't suppress or deny my feelings," he said, sounding so sure of himself . . . the exact opposite of me. "I really think that this . . . you and me . . . we've found something special, baby. I'm not letting you go so easily."

"What if you're disappointed when we . . ." I trailed off in despair.

"Is that what you're afraid of?" he murmured, cupping my cheek in his palm. "Well, I'm not. I could never be disappointed with you. You've trusted me so far, Bella. Trust me, now. You said that I mean a lot to you. Then trust me when I say that we'll be amazing together."

The conviction in his eyes as he said that hit home somewhere deep inside my heart. The hopelessly romantic girl residing in my soul chided me for my cynicism.

Isn't this what I'd always wanted?

A guy . . . a handsome, charming, kind guy was telling me that we could make this work.

Why in the world wouldn't I believe him?

If I held on to my fear, never taking that leap of faith, how would I know what lay on the other side of the fence?

I looked up into Edward's eyes, steely determination taking the place of some of the anxiety in my head, though a lot of it was still deep-seated.

"Okay."

"Okay? That's all you said?" Rosalie scowled. "What happened then?"

I shrugged, trying, but failing to appear casual. "Well, I'm meeting him again tonight . . . at his place."

Rose's eyes bugged out. "Seriously?"

I blew out a slow, uncertain gush of air. "Yep. He's making me dinner."

"Oh, honey, then it's definitely going to happen tonight."

"Yep," I repeated.

"But only if that's what you want, too, of course!" she emphasized. "Bella, no matter how hot this guy is, you know you don't have to take that step if you don't want to."

"I know, Rose," I replied. "I know that. But the thing is, I do want to be with him in every way. The few times he has kissed me . . ." I shook my head. "God, he sets my body on fire with just his lips."

Rose smirked, holding out her fist, and I rolled my eyes before meeting it with my own. "Way to go, girl!"

"Shut up!" I snorted. "The point is . . . I'm just afraid . . . afraid of losing him. I know the longer I can postpone the . . . disaster, the longer I can keep him in my life. On the other hand, I don't know if any guy would really stick around without . . ." I shrugged. "I feel like I'm doomed either way."

"Hey, now," she cautioned me with a frown. "You told me, not fifteen minutes ago, what a great guy he is. Do you really think he's just like the hornballs you've dated in the past? Now, this might be cheesy as hell, but Bella, what does your heart tell you? What do your instincts say about Edward Cullen?"

I grimaced. "That he's a good guy."

"Just keep that in mind for tonight," she advised. "If he does act like a douche, well, then he never deserved you in the first place." She crossed her arms over her chest, decisive. "Get the hell out of there the minute he does something stupid. Actually, better yet, call me. I'll make sure he pays for it."

I smiled at her, squeezing her hand gratefully. "Thanks a lot, Rose. I don't know what I would've done without your pep talk."

"We haven't gotten around to the best part, yet!" Her eyes sparkled with mirth now, ever so mercurial. It made me nervous about what she had in store for me. "What are you going to wear?"

"I was thinking about the silver blouse that buttons up on my back."

Rosalie nodded in approval. "A little dressy, but not too jazzy. Perfect, but that's not what I was asking."

I frowned in confusion, and she winked.

"I was thinking about the most important part . . . Lingerie, of course!" She chuckled when I groaned. "How about that navy blue set you bought the last time we went shopping? Sexy lace in a dark shade against your skin tone might just be what you need to make Mr. Cullen fall at your feet."

I sighed as she proceeded to head into my bedroom. "You've given this too much thought. It's not normal!" I yelled after her, but she paid me no mind.

One hour and fifteen minutes to go.


"Hey, beautiful," Edward greeted me with a beaming smile. One side of his lips quirked up a tiny bit higher than the other, giving his grin a crooked look and making my heart flutter.

He held out his arms, and I stepped into them happily. After placing a soft, welcoming kiss on my lips, he leaned in to peck my forehead, allowing me to take a moment to observe the beauty that was Edward Cullen.

His hair was something that'd attracted my attention the first night I met him, even before I'd crashed into him. Among the sea of closely packed bodies on the dance floor, his riotous hair had shone with a strange mix of shades of brown, hazel, and even some red, under the lights. Owing to the uniqueness of the colors as well as the soft appearance of the strands, I'd spent quite a while thinking about how good it'd feel to run my fingers through them. When I'd finally gotten the chance to fulfill my wish, it'd been just as perfect an experience as I'd expected.

Edward laced our fingers together and tugged at my hand, bringing me back to the present. He brought me straight to the dining room, where the table had been set for a cozy meal for the two of us.

"Wow!"

He smiled at my surprised, yet pleased exclamation. "I hope you like it."

My stomach rumbled, blatantly declaring its own appreciation for the meal set before us. Edward chuckled at the sound.

"I guess we should get right to the food, then?"

"I won't be complaining. I haven't had anything to eat all day," I announced without thinking.

"What, why?" he frowned, pulling a chair out for me to sit. "Are you feeling okay?"

I waved off his concern. "Of course, I'm perfectly healthy." And terrified of what was to come.

Dinner passed in a flurry of easy conversation over delicious food. Edward had told me earlier that he enjoyed cooking, but it was only now that I had seen and devoured his dishes that I realized how much he truly liked it.

"My mom taught me all I know about food," he told me, polishing off the last of his wine. He offered me some more, but I declined, enjoying the little buzz my two glasses had given me, but wanting to be able to focus on what he was saying. "She always says that impressive cooking skills are more of a chick magnet than muscles."

I giggled. "Chick magnet? Your mother sounds fun."

Edward agreed, and we went on to share stories of our families and our childhoods. He had me in stitches when he described, in great detail, what sorts of havoc his brother and he used to create with people's shoelaces.

I almost forgot my anxiety as we continued to enjoy our natural camaraderie after we'd finished dinner. Edward brought out two bowls of ice cream, but I was too full to enjoy it at the moment. He placed it aside for later, and suggested that we put on a movie, to which I happily agreed. We snuggled on the couch, enjoying the warmth of a blanket draped over us once he located and loaded a disc into the DVD player. He took my hand in his, and played with my fingers. I was extremely grateful that I wasn't ticklish over my hands, because the feel of his long fingers sliding between mine and gently caressing my palm was nothing short of heavenly.

All too soon, the feel of his arms wrapped around me, the soft whoosh of his breath sending tingles over my neck, and the heat coursing through his fingertips caressing my arm gave way to my desire to latch my lips on to his, to feel the hardness of his chest press against my softer one, to feel his muscular thigh create the most tantalizing friction between both of mine.

I turned my head to sneak a peek at him, just like I had several times in the past hour, but this moment was different.

It was different because this time . . . this time I looked straight into his green irises.

They burned with want and need as they raked over my face. His tongue darted out to lick his lips slowly, stealing my attention away from his eyes. I exhaled slowly, already recalling the smoothness of his lips as they'd moved in harmony with mine and wanting nothing more than to relive those precious moments.

The worries that'd escaped and spared me during dinner returned in full force, plaguing me once more, but I struggled to keep Rosalie's words firmly embedded in my mind.

Edward already knew about the most vulnerable part of me.

He knew, and he was still here.

As if he'd heard the doubtful thoughts tormenting me, Edward moved in until our lips were no more than a couple of inches apart and stared right into my eyes, right into my soul.

"Trust me, Bella," he whispered, his sweet breath wafting over my lips. Reflexively, I poked out my tongue to taste the flavor of him over my soft flesh.

His arms doubled their hold on me, crushing me to his chest. His eyes weren't afraid or wary; they smoldered with resolve, with promises of giving me what I'd never had before, with the possibilities of being with someone in the most intimate way without chasing them away.

He moved closer until his lips brushed mine and paused, giving me ample time to pull away, if that was what I wanted.

I wouldn't . . . couldn't have backed away . . . not for anything in the world.

I wanted to place my trust in him.

I wanted to believe that he knew what he was doing.

I wanted to surrender myself to him, to explore the possibility of us, leaving my doubts behind for the time being.

Assured of my decision, he finally closed the few centimeters of distance between us and kissed me.

Every cell of my body came alive the moment he pulled my lower lip captive between both of his and teased it with light flicks of his tongue.

Sparks flew behind my eyelids as our tongues met, gliding, stroking, rubbing as though they were just meant to do this forever.

I didn't know when or how my hands wandered over his chest, but somehow, I felt the hem of his shirt clasped in my fist. I tugged at the fabric, and Edward helped me pull it off quickly.

My mouth fell open in a gasp at the sight of his toned chest. My fingers itched to feel the warmth of his bare skin. I braced my hands against his wide shoulders, before brushing them down the well-defined ridges of his pecs and his abdomen. I traced the light smattering of hair over his chest, its soft texture in contrast to the firmness of his muscles underneath.

Unwilling to waste a moment more than necessary, our lips molded back hungrily into a kiss, while Edward pulled me onto his lap. His hands remained on safer territories — my arms, my upper back, and even my hair — carefully avoiding my waist.

When I felt his fingers curve around my ass, cupping my cheeks tightly, I gasped into his mouth. Taking advantage of my fuddled state, he hefted me right off his lap and stood, carrying us both into his bedroom while still keeping his mouth fused to mine. Some part of my brain, the tiny one that could concentrate on something other than Edward's lips, was impressed at the way he managed to bring us to his room without crashing into a single piece of furniture.

Depositing us both on his bed, Edward shifted his mouth from mine and moved down to my neck, peppering kisses all over the sensitive skin.

Now that we were closer to our . . . final destination, I felt my mind cloud with all the thoughts that'd haunted me since morning, or rather, since the day we decided to meet at his place for this date. I tried not to let my distraction become evident, but Edward must've felt my muscles tense up.

"Relax," he whispered, returning his lips to mine in a kiss so soft and yet so fierce that I felt my entire body yearn for more of it.

I stiffened when I felt his mouth leave mine and travel south. Edward's arms reached out to wrap around my body and pull me firmly against his muscular chest. My nipples tingled and tightened at the contact, the heat of his skin seeping into mine through the thin material of my blouse. His tongue traced the line of my jaw with languorous strokes that made me curl my fingers tighter in his tousled hair.

I gasped as I felt Edward pull my earlobe between his teeth, sucking the delicate skin and tickling it with his tongue, before giving it a playful nip. His hands wandered over my back and pulled the buttons open with a quick, easy tug.

A whimper of protest left my mouth when he pulled back, morphing into a groan when I felt his fingers ghosting down the sides my blouse until he reached the hem. His emerald eyes blazed into mine, lust and longing apparent in their depths, while he deftly rid me of my top.

The sight of my breasts covered in the navy blue bra I'd chosen specially for this moment had him hissing through his teeth.

"Jesus, Bella," he exclaimed quietly, raising his hands to caress the top of my mounds as though he simply couldn't help himself. "You're . . . you're exquisite."

The ever-so-slight darkening of his eyes, the way his mouth fell open with heavy breaths, and the gasp with which my name tumbled from his lips made the half-an-hour Rose and I had spent debating this particular set of lingerie totally worth it.

All thoughts of smugness flew from my mind the moment Edward crashed his lips back to mine. Hot and demanding, his tongue sought and stroked mine, sending shivers of sublime desire down my spine. Before I knew it, the remaining scraps of fabric covering my body had been removed and tossed aside.

His warm mouth explored the curve of my neck, the dip over my collarbones, and the smooth edges of my straining muscles until I was reduced to a writhing, moaning mess in his arms, craving for more, more, more of him . . . all of him.

He'd managed to distract me from what was coming next, but when he started to kiss his way down my neck, my body locked into place out of both habit and anxiety.

"Relax, Bella," he repeated, looking intently into my eyes, before dipping his head to capture my nipple between his teeth. "You're gorgeous, baby," he said, his throaty voice chasing some of my tension away. "So beautiful."

I choked out a groan, my head thrashing from side to side in wild abandon, as he proceeded to alternatively nip and lick the tightened bud, while ghosting his fingers in gentle circles around the other nipple. Shifting sides, his hot mouth languidly lavished equal attention to both my breasts, driving me closer and closer to the edge of the precipice that was already blooming in the pit of my abdomen.

My back arched off the bed when I felt Edward's hands curl around my waist and grab it on both sides. Before I could worry about anything, he squeezed my sides, applying just enough pressure that had me forget all about tickles and concentrate on nothing but the feeling of his touch searing into my sensitive skin. He let go for just a second before he dug his fingertips into my skin again, using a little more pressure, while he planted feathery kisses on the valley between my breasts. His hands didn't leave their place, fingers grabbing, but unmoving, as his mouth travelled downward.

"Are you okay?" he murmured breathlessly against the dip of my waist, placing his lips in an open-mouthed kiss over my navel.

My hips rose, but this time, the movement had nothing to do with me being ticklish and everything to do with my burning need to feel all of Edward's body against mine.

Maybe we could do this after all.

"God, I'm so much better than just okay," I managed to gasp. My hands grasped his shoulders, pressing hard into his skin as I saw his lips curve up into his deliciously crooked smile.

"You're so beautiful," he whispered again, looking straight into my eyes for one endless moment. "The sight of you writhing and moaning in pleasure from my touch . . . Fuck, baby, I can't begin to explain what that does to me."

A shuddering breath escaped my lips when he raked his heated eyes down my body and started to move his hands.

I almost whimpered in defeat when I felt my skin tingle in that frustratingly familiar way, but before I could flinch, Edward again pressed his fingertips firmly against my body, chasing the ticklish sensation away.

My fingers threaded in his hair as he lowered his head once more. From one hip bone to the other, his lips showered hot, wet kisses onto my skin, setting my nerves on fire in a way that I'd never felt before. His hands remained firmly glued to my sides. They didn't caress or stroke, only moved as a whole, using firm, yet gentle pressure all the way so that I never felt the need to back away from his touch.

"I want to taste you," he groaned roughly when his lips reached the apex of my thighs.

In an act of pure instinct, I felt my legs clamp together to avoid what I knew would happen if he decided to act upon his desire.

"Edward . . ." His name slipped past my throat in an involuntary cry of frustration. I felt the waves of familiar failure wash over me, so much more intense than ever before because this was Edward.

"Shh, Bella," he whispered, bracing himself by placing his palms flat on the bed. He lowered his head to brush his mouth against mine, coaxing me to give in to the softest, most adoring kiss I'd ever experienced in my life.

"You know I would never ask you to do anything you don't want to," he assured me softly.

"I know," I admitted, framing his beautiful face in my hands and loving the gentle prickle of his stubble against my palm. "I just don't want to disappoint you."

"You won't. You can't ever disappoint me," he replied, no hint of doubt in his silken voice. It wrapped around my mind like a soft, comforting blanket, inviting me into its embrace, promising me warmth and comfort like I'd never felt before. "You're the most amazing woman I've ever met. Being with you . . . whatever you're willing to give me, I'll gladly take it. If you want me to stop, I will."

I shook my head quickly. "I don't want you to stop. I want you."

"Then, let me . . . I'll make you feel good, Bella," he promised, his voice slipping into a husky timbre.

"I want you," I repeated softly, feeling the heat of my blood rushing to my cheeks. "I'm not ready for . . . that, but I want all of you . . . inside me," I whispered.

Edward's eyes widened at my response. He exhaled a faltering breath, and I shivered as I felt it over my lips. His fingers were light and gentle as a feather as he reached out to brush them over my flushed cheeks, trailing them down my neck to my heaving chest and sending sparks of unbridled, unfamiliar pleasure through my nerves.

"You want this?" he asked again, eyes shining with so much emotion that I was nothing but a helpless captive in his gaze.

A breathless "Yes," was all I could whisper through the spell that his warm scent, his velvet voice, and his exhilarating touch cast over my mind and my heart.

"I want you, too," he murmured earnestly. "So much, Bella."

Desire resonated loud and clear in his voice as he said the last three words. They sparked a hint of impatience in my consciousness, growing, building into much, much more when his hands proceeded to follow their earlier path down my body.

He shifted to grab a condom from the bedside table, pushing down his pants and boxers in one quick, fluid motion, before grabbing hold of his hardened length in his palm. The sight of him, hot, hard, and heavenly, had me licking my lower lip instinctively. He moaned quietly as he followed the motion of my tongue, never taking his eyes off my face as he tore the foil packet open with his teeth.

"Touch yourself," he ordered huskily, sitting back slightly to watch me with an expectant look filling his green eyes.

"Wha-What?" I gasped, shocked, even though a thrill shot through my senses at his words.

"Touch yourself for me, Bella." He took my hand in his and proceeded to slowly suck each of my fingertips into his mouth, before guiding my hand to my pussy.

As soon as my fingers encountered the wetness coating my lips, I couldn't help the shiver that rushed through my body. Edward squeezed my hand, making my fingers press against my clit in the most wondrous manner and causing my hips to buck up in response.

The promise of sublime pleasure overrode any self-conscious thoughts that were attempting to invade my mind. I couldn't help but stroke my outer lips and then move up to rub slow circles over my sensitive nub. My head fell back against the pillow, my eyes widening as I watched Edward roll the condom onto himself. He leaned down to clamp his lips over my breast.

His tongue swirled around my nipple in a deliciously tortuous rhythm. My fingers automatically mimicked the movement over my clit. My lips parted, but no sound could come out of my mouth as I felt the zings of warm pleasure shoot across my body.

Suddenly, I felt his hand take mine away from my pussy, interlacing our fingers in a tight hold next to my head. Before I could even make sense of what was happening, Edward slid inside me with one smooth, hard thrust and let out a heady groan that was almost enough to make me explode.

My answering gasp reverberated loudly in the room, and I lost all coherent thoughts at the feeling of his impressive length stretching my walls in the most spectacular way possible.

Edward's chest rose and fell with heavy breaths as he loomed over me, searching my eyes for any signs of discomfort. I responded to his wordless query with a smile, and he returned it briefly.

He pulled back slowly, only to thrust into me hard, making us moan synchronously at the sensations we were evoking in each other.

The bed rocked as he picked up pace, setting up a rhythm that drove the headboard into the wall and drove my mind into a lustful frenzy I'd never felt before.

Edward kept his hands tightly laced with mine, only letting his lips graze my forehead, my neck, and my mouth, and allowing me to focus solely on the way his thrusts were pushing me closer and closer to what would undoubtedly be the most intense orgasm I'd ever had.

"Fuck, Bella," his throaty voice groaned in my ear.

He let go of my hands to grab my hips, and I took the opportunity to tangle my fingers in his hair. My other hand slipped down to grasp at his shoulder, making him hiss as my nails dug into his skin. The taut muscles of his back rippled under my touch, and my mouth fell open in a garbled cry.

Edward pulled back slightly to look into my eyes, pressing his forehead against mine as he pushed harder and drove me closer and closer to the brink of pleasure. The way his warm breath left his mouth in short pants, mingling deliciously with my own, told me that he was almost there, too.

My nipples brushed his chest when he leaned in to kiss me. The contrasting textures — his hard muscles rubbing against my tightened buds and his soft, full lips gliding against mine — made my heart pound harder and faster.

"Fuck," he moaned, kissing me one last time before leaning back. His hands suddenly landed on my thighs and clasped the flesh firmly, making me gasp in surprise more than anything else. Once again, his secure grasp kept all my ticklish sensations at bay. He lifted my legs a bit, and I caught on quickly, wrapping them around his waist.

"Hold on to me, beautiful," he murmured, as he thrust into me with one hard push, and set up a rhythm faster than before.

I let go of all my inhibitions, my worries, even my thoughts, as I surrendered to the feelings coursing through my entire being. The threads of pleasure seemed to bloom from my pussy and ripple away in flashes of divine heat to the rest of my body. My head thrashed from side to side as I felt the coil grow tighter and sharper in my belly, until Edward's hand touched my breast.

His fingers deftly pinched my taut nipple, and that was all it took. I screamed as I finally fell off the cliff, shuddering, floating with the waves of pleasure that were inching their way through every cell of my body.

Rapid bursts of heat shot out from my abdomen and for a moment, I couldn't see, couldn't breathe, could do nothing but feel myself drifting along with the explosion that had consumed me, burned me, and then brought me back to life.

My limbs stiffened and then relaxed in the wake of the wondrous feelings I'd never experienced before.

My eyes squeezed shut and then opened greedily to find Edward's hooded ones as he found his own release and surrendered to the heady sensations with a groan.

My fingers curled and then explored, caressed, and roamed over every inch of his skin I could reach, unable to stay away even though we'd just connected with each other in the most intimate manner possible.

Edward's warm weight gently fell on top of me. His trembling frame slowly relaxed with a deep sigh, the gush of his breath making my hair dance lightly over my skin. The soft ends teased and tickled my flushed cheeks, causing a giggle to bubble up to my lips.

"Why are you laughing?" he mumbled against my skin, placing a couple of sweet kisses on the corner of my mouth before pulling back.

"My hair . . . It just tickled my cheeks," I admitted, biting my lip. It was ridiculous how admitting to a simple thought made me feel shy despite what we'd just done. Edward easily countered my mortification with a light chuckle while he pulled away to dispose of the condom.

He returned quickly and shifted to lie beside me, turning his head to look into my eyes.

"Well, tickles are okay now, right?" He pinched a lock of my hair between his thumb and forefinger, ghosting the end over my cheek, which made me grin. "I love to hear your sweet laugh, so, in fact, they could be fun."

"Absolutely," I sighed happily.

Unable to keep away any longer, I rolled onto my side and snuggled into his chest. The warmth of his skin made me sigh again, utterly blissful now that I could put an end to all the fretting I'd been doing today, thanks to the . . . well, the earth-shattering, mind-numbing orgasm I'd just experienced.

Edward nudged my shoulder and I lifted my head, allowing him to slip his arm around me. He placed his hand firmly over my upper arm before moving it down, squeezing my waist without stroking his fingers over it. The simple action was enough to express how mindful he was of my weakness even now, taking care to put my comfort before his own habit of caressing my skin.

I placed my hand over his heart, thinking about how wonderful the entire evening had been. We were both silent for a moment, breathing in the perfection of what we'd just shared. My thoughts wandered over to my past sexual experiences, unable to stop ruminating about how they didn't hold a candle to what had transpired between Edward and me today. I could only hope that he felt the same.

"How'd you know just what to do to get me to relax?" I whispered, finally voicing the question that'd hovered in my mind from the first moment I'd realized he'd put in an effort to plan his . . . moves tonight.

I felt his chest rise and fall with a deep breath, followed by a light shrug.

"I did some research," he admitted quietly, placing a kiss on the crown of my head where it was tucked comfortably beneath his chin. "Google is a very helpful friend, philosopher, and guide."

I snorted, placing a light kiss on his chest, appreciative of whatever thought he'd put into it.

"Also . . ." he continued, his voice strangely hesitant. "I- I might have some personal experience."

The words stabbed into my consciousness and jarred my thoughts.

We'd had the dreaded 'exes' conversation last time. I knew how many women he'd been with, and it wasn't a large number. In fact, it was quite reasonable. Yet, after what we'd just shared, the thought of him having done this, having made an effort to please another woman despite her ticklish tendencies almost broke my heart. It might've been an irrational thought, considering that whatever happened had been over before he'd met me, but rationality wasn't my strong suit during an emotional moment.

"You- you were with someone else who was also. . ." I choked out each word through the lump of despair in my throat.

"No, no, Bella," Edward urged insistently, placing a hand under my chin. His eyes were wide with panic. "I didn't mean that. I've never been with another girl who . . . you're the only one who has . . . Fuck!" he exclaimed, obviously frustrated. He collected his thought with a pause before continuing. "I just meant I feel it too, you know. I always have."

"Feel what?" I muttered.

He drew in a deep breath and released it slowly before answering my question. "The tickling thing," he murmured, looking away warily. "I've always had really ticklish legs. I discovered it when my friends tried to grab me playfully when we were four or five years old. If someone caught hold of my legs, I'd scream like a banshee and kick them wildly in order to free myself as quickly as possible. My mother had to make many apologies on my behalf during those days."

I gaped at him, and my expression would probably have been comical to a third party observing this entire exchange. Edward's features shifted into a look of unease at my continued silence, but I simply couldn't gather my thoughts with enough clarity to speak in light of this huge shock.

"You . . ." I finally started, but my voice cracked, prompting me to clear my throat, while Edward looked on cautiously. "I've been so worried about embarrassing myself when I'm with you, and you never thought of mentioning that you suffer from the same affliction?" The pitch of my voice had climbed up a couple of octaves by the end of my statement, in direct proportion to my annoyance.

Edward held his hand up guiltily. "I'm sorry, okay? To be honest, I was so worried after you freaked out on me last time. You were obviously worried, and your anxiety left my stomach in knots. I just thought you needed me to . . ." He paused, eying me carefully before continuing. "Don't take this the wrong way, Bella, but it felt like you were hoping I would take . . . well, take control of the situation. It seemed like if I made one wrong move, you'd bolt out the door, taking all your insecurities with you. I didn't want that," he admitted in a whisper, and I couldn't deny that his sincerity was evident in his voice. "I thought that if I admitted my . . . affliction, as you put it, you'd probably consider me unable to help you deal with it and wouldn't want to be with me."

"So you lied to get me to come back here tonight?" I asked timidly.

"I didn't lie. I withheld the truth," he corrected me. "I meant what I said to you earlier. Social timelines don't matter to me, Bella. I knew the moment I dropped you home after our first date that I wanted more with you, and that this thing between us was something not everyone is lucky enough to find. I knew I'd do anything to keep you with me and see where this could lead. Your ticklishness . . . gosh, this was nothing, baby. Just a little hurdle, easily tackled." His eyes revealed his earnestness as they peered into mine. "I knew that no matter what it took to make this work, you are worth it. We're worth it. I decided I wouldn't let it deter me, or us, from getting what we both wanted. You, however, made quite a big deal out of it, and I had no plans of making light of something that has obviously bothered you for a long time."

I looked down at my hands and shrugged slightly. "No guy has been able to tackle it before," I mumbled. "They'd get frustrated with my inability to lose myself in the moment."

I felt his fingers stroke my chin before pulling it up gently. My wary brown orbs met his supportive green ones, and the knot that'd formed in my chest at the beginning of this conversation began to loosen.

"It's like a dance, beautiful," he whispered, placing a soft kiss on my lips. "It's all in the leading. Their loss is my gain. I knew all I had to do was distract you enough to make you forget about your anxiety. If you were lost in the . . . uh, throes of passion, you wouldn't concentrate on the tickling."

"Throes of passion?" I repeated with a giggle. "When did we step into a mommy porn novel?"

He chuckled and shook his head. "Am I forgiven for my little deception?" he asked me with a smile, but I could see the uncertainty lingering in his eyes.

I pursed my lips to hide my smile, and it seemed to work, because Edward's face grew more worried. "I might have to punish you first," I told him seriously.

Edward's eyes widened, and he gulped. I gave myself a mental pat on the back for my acting skills.

"What do you mean?" he asked me guardedly.

The only answer I gave him was to raise my foot and run it over his leg.

I found that he had been quite accurate in his description earlier. Banshees had nothing on the shriek that left Edward's mouth. It made me laugh, but I didn't stop, stroking my toes all over his leg and loving the way he jerked away from my touch.

I was doing quite well until he used his extra weight to pin me underneath his body, trapping my legs tightly between both of his and wrapping his arms around mine at my sides.

"You're such a minx," he growled in my ear, the husky sound of his voice reminding me of the things he'd said to me while we were . . . in the throes of passion, sending shiver down my spine.

I laughed as I felt his nose nuzzle my neck and the spot behind my ear and squirmed, which did nothing but rub my body against his. The feel of his warm skin and taut sinews against my own sent renewed prickles of want tingling along my nerves.

Soon enough, I felt the growing evidence of his need nudge my thigh insistently, and I was helpless to do anything but part my legs in invitation.

"You know, they say that the best kind of sex is the one where you can laugh through it together," he told me.

I smiled, threading my fingers in his tousled hair as he pulled back to meet my eyes.

"With your legs and my waist, I think we'll be aiming for the best kind of sex quite often, then," I suggested, feeling my lips stretch into a wide smile at the way his face lit up at my words.

He leaned in to press a kiss on my nose. "Are you saying we'll be doing this often, Miss Swan?" he murmured.

"Well, it would be a shame to miss out on the best kind of sex, wouldn't it? I mean, have you ever had this with someone before?" The words flew from my mouth without a second thought, and I was taken aback by my own bravado. Edward, however, was perfectly relaxed.

He shook his head. "Absolutely not. Nothing compares to you, to us."

I smiled. "Then you have your answer." Our lips met in a deep kiss, and the sweet taste of his tongue stroking mine reminded me of something. I retracted quickly. "Oh! Did we leave the ice cream out on the table? It must've melted by now."

Edward's eyes narrowed impishly as he leered at me. "Well, I'm not concerned about that. I found myself something much better for dessert, after all."

I chuckled, smacking his shoulder. "You're so full of cheesy lines tonight."

"Are you telling me that, if I offer you a second round of this dessert, you'll refuse?"

I tapped a finger on my chin, pretending to think about it. His eyebrows rose expectantly, and I couldn't hold back my grin any longer.

"Hell, no," I whispered in his ear, flicking the soft lobe with my tongue and making him groan.

Edward rolled onto his back, taking me along with him, and as I placed my mouth over his, I knew we wouldn't be going anywhere outside of this room for a long time.

Hours later, as I lay on his bed, with his arms wrapped carefully around mine instead of encircling my waist, I closed my eyes and sighed in contentment.

You know how sometimes you have such a beautiful dream that, when you're about to wake, you cling to the fading remnants of unconsciousness, just so that you could stay in that world for a little while longer . . . how you try to linger in that mysterious state between sleep and wakefulness for a few more minutes to hold on to those wonderful figments of your imagination . . . and how, even once you're awake, you close your eyes and lie in bed, unable to let those images go so soon?

As I felt Edward's lips brush over my forehead and heard his low, rumbling voice whisper my name in his sleep, I smiled and happily succumbed to the calling slumber, knowing that this time, I'd be dreaming of the wonderful man beside me.

And when I'd wake up in his arms, I'd be able to live out the rest of my dreams in my reality.


A/N: Regarding continuation – No, sorry. No such plans for this one. I'm currently working on a mystery fic and will continue to focus solely on getting that ready for posting. I'm four chapters in, so I've got my fingers crossed for more writing time after my exams.

I truly hope that I'm leaving you with a smile on your face. Whether you read this for the first time today or you had a chance to do so in the compilation, I'd love to hear what you thought of the story. :)