Thursday, August 8, 2013 | By: Drotuno

Pieces of You Chapter 16 & Pics

Chapter 16 – You and I
Cedar Key, FL – August
To see the childlike excitement on Sunshine's face as she caught sight of her mother was worth the stress of keeping a secret from her. I didn't like lying to her; we'd worked damn hard at our communication, and even though it was a good surprise, it still had bugged the piss out of me to hide it from her.
Bella knew that Mrs. Cope and I had set up a signing day for the book's release date. She also knew that Jasper and Peter wanted the celebration afterward at Joe's. What Bella didn't know was that she had a rather large support group, that my family and friends had grown to truly love her. The only one that couldn't make it was her friend Angela, who was still covering Marcus for the Sun-Times.
Bella also didn't know that her mother, Renee, had put me through the fucking ringer the first time I'd called. I'd been interrogated like a prisoner of war. Apparently, I'd passed. As Bella hugged the woman that looked so much like her, I smiled at my family walking my way. They were giving my girl space.

“Well, that was worth it,” Rose chortled, glancing at Bella and Renee before she hugged me.
“Jesus fucking Christ, is it always this damn hot?” Tanya grumped.
“Yes,” I stated firmly, laughing and getting hugs and back pats from everyone. “I'm glad you guys could come.”
“It's kind of a big deal being published, Edward,” my mother said, cupping my face. “This'll open up so many doors for Bella.”
Grinning, I nodded. “It already has, but she's happy picking and choosing what she wants to do.”
“That's the way it should be, Eddie.” Garrett nodded once. “You start doing shit you aren't excited about, and suddenly, what you love to do becomes a” He grinned, shooting a wink my way when I shot him a glare at the nickname, but in reality, he would know all about simply doing what you love. He chose his roles very carefully.
Bella and Renee joined us hand in hand. “I guess you guys talked on the phone, but Edward, this is my mom, Renee Dwyer.”
Smiling, I held out my hand to her. “It's nice to finally meet you in person.”
“You, too, Edward.” She smirked, because like me, the heavy questions she'd hit me with were most likely going through her mind, too.
Once Bella had been greeted, hugged, kissed, and teased by my family, I pulled her to me.
“You ready?” I asked with a smile.
“Yeah,” she said with a beautiful blush and a nod. “Plus, I'd better check on Jessica. She's kind of alone in this. She was a wreck when I picked her up.”
That statement alone told what kind of person Bella was. She could've been eating up the small amount of fame, but she was more worried about her friend. Bella didn't want fame. She didn't want to be in anyone's face, or make a shit-load of money, or even overshadow Jessica. She just wanted to do what she loved to do – everything else was just a part of the job.
Once we were all inside, Mrs. Cope snatched Bella from me, putting her at the table next to Jess. We'd worked really hard changing Sea Breeze into something completely different from the store I'd walked into for the first time back in December. What was once a tiny little tourist trap that sold more souvenirs than art, now housed some of the best local artists, writers, and sculptors. All of the art was now on display up front and center. All of the touristy shit was in the back. The newer addition to the building was almost complete, and classes would start soon.
After long, detailed discussions with Mrs. Cope, we'd decided that we'd do more than teach kids how to paint or draw or sculpt. We were going to bring in guest artists to teach anyone that wanted to learn. It would give the part-time residents something to do during the winter, the kids something to do in the summer, and it would boost the sales of that particular artist. Mrs. Cope, however, had begged me to teach the children's classes. I couldn't turn her down; I'd missed teaching. My first class started in just a few weeks. What we both wanted was Bella to teach a class on basic photography, but my girl hadn’t given us an answer quite yet.
As the signing got underway, I leaned back against the wall. Emmett joined me, both of us quiet as we tried to not get in the way.
“This place suits you,” he said as Mrs. Cope rang up book after book, not to mention a few art pieces that Tanya and Rose had fallen in love with. When I snorted and glanced over at him, he nodded. “I'm serious, man. You just fit here.”
“I do.” I sighed contentedly, my eyes locking on Bella from across the showroom, but then I turned to face him. “These are good people. Real people. What you see is what you get. It's fucking refreshing after Chicago, where everyone had a hidden fucking agenda. I don't miss that shit. I don't miss the society pages, the country club, or the cocktail parties. I don't miss putting on a show for people I don't know or care about. And they sure as shit never gave a flying fuck about me.”
“Do they know about you two here?” he asked with a grin.
“The ones that count.”
He nodded, shoving his hands into the front pockets of his jeans. “That's good.” A wicked smile crawled up his face, and he pointed toward Bella. “Now...I'm gonna go see Bella. Think she'll take naked pictures of me for Rosie for our anniversary?”
I laughed, doubling over. “No, probably not. But you can ask.”
I knew the moment he'd asked her when a squeaking, “No, Emmett!” echoed through the room, along with the sound of him being smacked.
“Are you serious?” Renee gasped to my mother. “Sure I know Liam. We went to high school together! He was my realtor when I sold the house in Chicago.”
“What a small world!” my mother practically squealed. “I have friends that went to Magnet High!”
“Oh, damn,” Bella and I muttered at the same time, our eyes meeting in a sideways glance at the bar.
“Did you know that, kinda, sorta knew each other in a roundabout way?” I asked her.
“No.” She cracked the fuck up, leaning into me. “But that really calls for another drink.”
Laughing, I kissed her temple. “No shit.”
Giving Joe's another glance, I smiled at the meshing of two completely different lives. Emmett, Rose, and Tanya were chatting animatedly with Jasper and Alice. All of them seemed to be getting along really well. Garrett was entertaining Alec and Paul with stories from Hollywood – who was cool, who wasn't cool, and what it was like to film a fight scene. The boys were eating it up.
Peter set two more mugs of beer down in front of us, but barely gave us a second glance when Jessica came to sit next to Bella. Jessica’s eyes followed Peter’s every move, but it was Bella’s wicked observant smirk that made me shake my head.
Picking up my mug, I kissed Bella's head. “Sunshine, I'm gonna go talk to my dad.”
Bella turned to look at me, followed my pointing finger to the man pacing outside on his phone, and kissed me one more time. “Okay, baby.”
Before I left her, I whispered in her ear. “If you're gonna play matchmaker, sweetheart, you've got a tough road ahead of you. They're both too damn shy. They're not like us. We couldn't stop ourselves.”
Her giggle was priceless, especially when I raised a knowing eyebrow at her.
“I know what you're doing.” I wiggled a finger at her, smirking when she laughed even harder. “Good luck, though.” I dropped a kiss to her cheek. “I won't be long, baby. And the first fucking chance we get, we're going home to celebrate the right way. Got me?” I hissed in her ear.
Her face flushed, but she nodded. “What about my mom?”
“I offered her the house, but she said no. She's staying at the bed and breakfast at the other end of the beach,” I explained, shrugging a shoulder.
I stepped out onto the back deck of Joe's, leaning against the rail as my father paced on his cell phone. The sound of the waves hitting the shore was soothing, calming, despite the balmy night air. Smiling at the shuffling of webbed feet, I glanced over on the rail to see Bob just hanging out in his usual silent way.
“Hey, Bob,” I muttered, taking a drink of my beer. “How’s it hangin’?”
The big guy grumbled a little, ruffling his feathers and snapping his big beak together, only to stretch for a second. I had to chuckle, because Bella was right. He totally looked like he shrugged when you asked him something. My dad pocketed his phone once he was finished with his call, leaning next to me.
“You've come a long way, Edward,” he stated after a moment. He leaned to the side, facing me. “This place...these people... It suits you.”
“Emmett said the same thing.” I laughed softly, turning around so my back was on the railing, but my view was much more beautiful than the ocean at night. Bella was laughing and talking with her mother and mine. Her gaze caught mine, and I couldn’t stop myself from mouthing the words, “I love you,” simply because her reaction to it was the same every damn time.
She blushed, glancing around a bit, but smiled a smile that was mine and mine only. It was secretive and so very sexy. She’d reacted the same way the night of that fateful art show so long ago, only this time, she didn’t have her camera to hide it all behind. Suddenly, I realized I had one more promise to keep, but it would have to wait for the moment, because my dad chuckled next to me.
He shook his head slowly, his gaze flickering from inside Joe’s to me. “What are your plans with her, son?” he asked, stepping between me and the windows in order to gain my full attention.
“Everything.” It was the easiest and most informative answer I could give him without sounding like a pussy. “I mean it. Everything.”
“Marriage? Kids?”
I nodded. “Yeah, when the timing’s right. When we’re ready.” My eyes locked onto his and narrowed at his expression. Before he could say anything, I tacked on, “And no, no pre-nup this time. Money doesn’t matter to Bella, but if we don’t make it, then I’ll be ruined far beyond what money could fix.”
That statement hung between us for a moment, but he nodded with a small smile on his face. “No, I imagine it’s not needed for her. She’s not Jane.”
“Thank God,” I sighed, smirking when he chuckled again. My smile fell quickly at the thought of my ex. “How is she?”
He sighed, sobering a little. “About as expected. She came to Eleazar and me a few weeks ago. She wants to sever ties with both her mother and father. She has to testify, of course, but she wanted to completely remove her name from anything connected to Marcus.”
“Sterling Gallery,” I surmised.
“Mmhm,” my dad hummed. “She told me to give you a message.” When my eyes shot to his, he said, “She wanted me to tell you she’s sorry. That…well, some of it was Marcus’s doing – I suspect he threatened her quite a bit – while some of it, she’s admitting was her fault. She said losing Sterling Gallery seemed to bring that realization to the forefront. She said you worked very hard to make it what it was. It wasn’t fair how it all ended. It was Marcus that made her fight so hard during the divorce. He sort of took control of the lawyers.” He grimaced, looking up to me. “You know, I think she gave up that baby as some sort of ‘good deed’ that she needed to do?”
“She never wanted kids, Dad,” I explained, grimacing a little. “I wasn’t happy about that, but I’d learned to accept it.”
“Well, I think she cares about her son, but I don’t think she knows how to care for him. It’s not like she had great examples growing up,” he countered sadly. “Marcus was always scheming, and May was…not exactly hugs and cookies and bedtime stories, you know?”
I snorted, but nodded once, sighing deeply. “The blame falls to Marcus the most. I should never have accepted anything from him. He offered the building Sterling was in as a wedding present, not to mention the backing from all of you.” I shrugged a shoulder. “Had I continued down that path, I’d have ended up just as scheming as he is. My ambition would’ve ruined me. I should’ve just done it all myself, with my own money, but I took the easy way.”
“Maybe, but I think you were looking for an escape earlier than that, Edward,” Dad argued, shaking his head. “Your mother and I noticed you weren’t happy for quite a bit after the wedding. Starting the art classes helped, or maybe they showed you what you were truly meant to do. That’ s not ambition, son, that’s a calling. But Jane didn’t grow with you because she was fighting her own battles.” He smiled, shooting a look into Joe’s to Bella. “You just needed someone to show you the way.” He looked back to me, placing a hand on my shoulder. “Despite how I didn’t exactly approve of how you two started, I can say that I’m proud of where you are now. She’s a beautiful, intelligent, sweet girl, Edward, and if either of you need anything, let me know.”
“Thanks, Dad,” I murmured softly, having not expected his approval to be offered so freely.
We were interrupted by the sound of a loud group of people joining us on the deck. Tanya, Rose, Emmett, and Alice were laughing, shooting glances toward Garrett and Kate. Bella looked shocked, but simply shook her head. Once Renee and my mother stepped outside, along with Jasper and Peter, I finally caught what Garrett was going on about.
“No! I don’t need everyone to know where the hell I am twenty-four-seven, Katie. Can’t we just let one event go without taking some random cell phone picture?” he grumbled, giving her his best pout, which didn’t always work, and it wasn’t working this time, either.
“Garrett,” she seethed, pointing his way, “you can’t fight this. You’ve got a new movie coming out in a month, your publicist told you to get out in the public, and this isn’t a paparazzi thing. Just…shut up and do it.”
He huffed a deep breath. “Fine, but Bella takes the pictures.” He pointed to my girl, who suddenly looked like a deer in headlights. “The last time you did this, I looked like a homeless person, ’cause we were on vacation and I hadn’t shaved in a week.”
The two ignored the chuckles around them, but Kate rolled her eyes, turned to Bella, and asked, “Do you mind? It’s just a few random pictures of him on the beach tomorrow.”
“And?” Garrett urged, giving Kate a pointed glare.
Kate sighed frustratedly, but spoke to Bella again. “And…Garrett would like you to do the photo shoot for his Vanity Fair interview. He’s already given the interview, but hasn’t committed to the pictures.”
Bella giggled, looking to me, but then said, “Okay.”
“Yeah?” Garrett beamed, pointing my way. “I told you we were keeping her! I hate those foo-foo photographers. They put me in the weirdest clothes, man.”
Kate gave me a dead-panned look, but thanked Bella once Garrett had hugged the shit out of her.
“Garrett, we could do it all here,” Bella stated, pointing toward the beach.
“Fine by me, sweetie!” he chirped, completely happy that he’d gotten his way.
“Oh, this I have to fucking see,” Tanya muttered sarcastically. “What time we startin’ this shit in the morning?”
As times – and clothes – were discussed, I turned to Jasper. “Can you make sure everyone has a drink?” I asked him, gesturing to the lot of us on the deck.
“Yep, sure thing,” he agreed with a smile, heading back inside. He returned a few moments later with several beers and a couple of sodas for the kids, passing them all around.
“Can I have everyone’s attention, please?” I called out, placing a hand on Bella’s shoulder.
“What are you doing, Edward?” she muttered up at me, her eyes narrowing.
Grinning, I said, “You’ll see.” I turned to Jessica, who'd been silently enjoying the lighthearted atmosphere. “First, I’d like to give a toast to Jessica for her hard work and perseverance. Congratulations.”
Cheers and the clinking of glasses and bottles resounded on the deck, but I lightly gripped Bella’s shoulder so she wouldn't leave my side. “Don’t go anywhere,” I hissed softly in her ear. “I’m not done.”
“Edward, what are you—”
“Keeping a promise,” I stated, lifting my beer bottle. “Another toast,” I said to the crowd, waiting until everyone’s drink was in the air. “Bella did an amazing job on Jess’s book—”
“Hear, hear!” a few voices rang out, but I held up my hand.
“—but this isn’t about that. I’ve made a lot of mistakes, and some have been rectified, but I have a promise to keep to Bella. See, there was a time when I said things rashly, or maybe I was…I dunno…desperate to hold onto something really special, despite how I was in no position to ask anything of her.” I looked to Bella, whose eyes were already filling with tears. “But now I can.” Looking back at the deck full of people, I said, “I promised her once that one day, I’d tell the world that she owned me, heart, body, and soul. I don’t know about the world, but this is pretty damn close, so…” I raised my beer higher. “To Bella!”
More cheers and glasses clinking rang out, and after I took a drink, I turned to Bella, dropping my forehead down to hers. We’d been through it all, but that was one promise I’d intended to keep, never mind that we’d been out on dates, traveled back to Chicago and faced our past head-on, and were living together. Not a bit of that mattered.
“I owed you that one, Sunshine,” I whispered to her, cupping her face and wiping away a few tears that had spilled down her cheeks.
“I love you,” she stated back, and I chuckled at the oohs and ahhs that crooned around us, but I didn’t give a shit, not when she was looking at me the way she was right then. “So much.”
“Love you, too, baby,” I whispered only to her, brushing my lips across hers. “Can we celebrate our way now?”
Her grin was adorable, as was her blush, but she simply giggled and shook her head. “Soon, Edward. I promise.”
“Good,” I said with a chuckle. “Do we have anything to do in the darkroom?” I asked with a salaciously crooked grin.
Her laugh was loud, but she stood up on her toes to kiss my lips. “Maybe…if you behave.”
I nodded like a child, but my tone, my thoughts, and my smirk were far from innocent. “Oh, Sunshine, I can be really good.”
There it was. I knew I had her when her eyes darkened, her cheeks flushed, and her own smile was wicked. “Believe me. I know, handsome.”
I couldn’t help the hum of want that practically growled out of me against her lips, but I swallowed it all down, gave her another quick kiss, and turned to force myself to enjoy the rest of the party.
It took an hour and nine minutes for the parents among us to call an end to the night. It took about five minutes for Peter to close up Joe’s and agree to take Jessica home, another five for hugs and more praise when it came time for everyone to leave. It took another twelve minutes for Bella and me to take Renee down to the little bed and breakfast, promising to see her the next day, but she insisted on chatting about how the house was still ours, to enjoy it, and to have a good night. However, it took just a little over three minutes to get back home, park my car, and get inside the house before I had Bella wrapped around me and pressed into the front door.
“Darkroom?” she asked, her head falling back to the wood with her sexy-as-hell giggle.
“Fuck the darkroom,” I moaned against her throat, finally giving into everything that I’d been feeling all damn day – pride, want, need, love. It was all boiling up and out of me undeterred. “I want you…here. Right here.”
The whimper she let out at the same time that she grasped my face was all it took to unleash us from fighting it. We’d never fought it very well from get-go, and for a moment, I hoped to God or whoever was listening that we’d always have this fire, this burning, this electrical pull to be together. It had always felt so fucking wrong to fight it, to not just give in.
We kissed deeply, moans pushing out against cheeks. My hands cupped her sweet ass, but my whole body surged forward for closer, more, anything. We pulled and tugged at each other's clothes, but nothing really got removed, which was frustrating me to no fucking end. I needed her naked ASAP.
Bracing one hand on the door by her head, I pulled back, panting as my forehead met hers. My eyes squeezed closed. “Bella, baby…I can’t…I want…I really, really don’t wanna stop,” I finally sputtered out.
She ran her fingers through my hair gently until I opened my eyes to warm, comforting brown gazing lovingly back at me. “We never have to stop, Edward,” she finally said, her tone telling me more than just for that moment. “We can do whatever we want, whenever we want.”
“I know, Sunshine,” I sighed, smiling at her before slowing myself down at bit. It had taken quite a while to earn her trust, to allow ourselves to believe in us. But we’d proven that our love was strong, real, and more than just two people giving into lust like when we'd first started. “What do you want, sweetheart?” I asked her, because in reality, the night was hers, and I’d hand her the world if she asked me for it.
“You, in bed. All night,” she said with a sweet giggle.
“Done.” I yanked her off the door and walked her down the hallway, only to drop her into the middle of our bed. “On one condition,” I told her, crawling up to brace myself over her.
“What’s that?”
Grinning, I dragged my tongue along my bottom lip. “I wanna take my time, Bella. Show you how proud I am of you,” I purred, leaning down to kiss her lips, her neck, and the sweet spot below her ear. When she whimpered a little, I nipped lightly at her skin. “I want to…praise every inch of you. Can I do that, Sunshine?”
She didn’t answer me. Not with words, anyway. But I smiled against her skin when her arms and legs wrapped around me, pulling me to her.
“Aw, Bella…really?” Garrett whined, looking like a child as he stomped up the beach a little.
“Humor me, Garrett,” she sighed, and I chuckled at the expression I knew better than anyone. Sunshine was trying to find her patience, but Garrett was pushing it to the limit. I’d been there, done that – more times than I could count.
“Just do it, or you’ll end up with a photographer that does something stupid, like making you pose with…I dunno…corn on the cob or some shit.”
He grinned her way, but pulled the hat on that Bella and Katie had forced on him. He was in a rumpled tux – pant legs rolled up, barefoot, jacket slung over his shoulder, and bowtie undone. They apparently were feeding on his next role where he was playing some rogue playboy.
We’d all met at the beach the morning after the book release. Emmett was currently swimming with Alec and Paul, a tiny Irina in his large arms as she squealed every time a wave washed up over her. Rose, Kate, and Tanya were sitting with me on Bella’s and my balcony. Renee and my parents were next door at Joe’s having breakfast on the deck with Alice and Jasper. It was a lazy feel to the day, despite the work Bella and Garrett needed to get done.
“She has the patience of Job,” Kate muttered, coming to stand beside me. “I’ve seen him whine his way out of a shoot before.”
Snickering, I nodded. “That won’t work with her. She’s as stubborn as the day is long. She’ll basically tell him to ‘suck it up, buttercup.’”
“Good to know. Maybe we’ll use her again. I have no doubt that these will be stunning,” she said softly, wearing a small smile. “She’s really good. Her web site is gaining popularity, and I suspect that’ll increase now that the book is out. This spread will put her on the map.” Kate gestured toward the beach, where Garrett was going through the motions that Bella was requesting.
“I know,” I sighed forlornly. “I’ll have to monitor what comes her way. She likes her quiet, her anonymity. It’s probably why she came here in the first place.”
“No,” Tanya said with a laugh. “She came here to get away from you, stalker. So much for that working.” She shoved me a little when I cracked up.
“She blossomed here, though,” Rose countered, shrugging a shoulder. Her face was somber enough to cause the rest of us to stop laughing. “I mean, I’d only met her the one time at the art show, but when I showed up here to talk to her, the difference was amazing.”
Blinking back my emotions, I waited for Rose to continue.
“At the art show, she was…withdrawn, almost timid. When I got here, she was miserable, but she was fierce, you know? She was trying her fucking best to make a go, but…” Rose smiled sadly my way. “God, she missed you.”
My eyes drifted across the beach to Bella. She was using both digital and film for this shoot. She was beautiful and confident, not to mention so fucking sexy in a pair of shorts and her swimsuit top. Her long hair was swept back into a ponytail that fluttered in the breeze coming off the Gulf.
“That’s my fault,” I admitted softly, tearing my gaze away from Bella to meet Rose’s ice blue eyes. “Before. It’s my fault she was like that, because everything about us had to remain a secret.”
“You were both adults, Edward,” Tanya scoffed, rolling her eyes. “You both made the decision to have an affair while you were still married to that—”
“Tanya!” Rose and Katie scolded exasperatedly.
She grinned, shrugging, but went on. “Neither of you were innocent.”
“No, that’s true,” I conceded, “but she’d have never, ever become…this while in Chicago.” I pointed toward the beach as Bella expertly positioned Garrett where she wanted him. “She never took pictures for herself there. Not back then. She just took them for the Tribune. And she’d have lost that job had she stayed through the divorce. Marcus would’ve seen to it. So coming here was the best thing. For both of us. Stalker or not, Tanya.”
“Ugh,” she groaned, rolling her eyes again. “There’s that obnoxiously happy shit again. Go away.”
We all laughed because deep down, we knew Tanya was happy for us, despite her teasing. If she didn’t like Bella, the whole damn world would’ve known it.
Still chuckling, I stood up from the deck chair and made my way down the steps to the sand. Bob glanced up at me. He’d been watching Bella silently for some time, but hadn’t waddled his way out to her.
“C’mon, Bob. We’ll go see her,” I told him.
He rumbled something back at me, but stayed by my side the whole way out to the beach.
I had a theory on the old pelican. He seemed extraordinarily attached to Bella. I’d been living in Florida for a solid seven months, and he seemed to adore her. My theory was that when she’d first arrived, he’d seen someone that was just as damaged as he was, so he watched over her. Whereas his damage was physical, hers had been an emotional wound, but they kept each other company. He still did. My other guess was that she simply gave him someone quiet and calm to hang around. More than one time had I caught them simply sitting on the balcony together in a comfortable silence.
When Bella caught sight of us, she smiled, raising her camera to snap a few shots of us. “My handsome boys,” she crooned, kneeling down to take a few pictures of Bob as he waddled closer to her, but he eyed Garrett warily.
“You know, one day, Sunshine, I’m just gonna snatch that camera of yours and snap as many shots as I can of you,” I warned her when she finally stood back up.
Grinning, she shrugged a shoulder. “I don’t think so.”
“Hmm, we’ll see. If my body is now all over the internet, yours would be a piece of art,” I crooned in her ear. “Millions would buy it, baby.”
She flushed, but both of us glanced up when Garrett huffed.
“Come on, guys!” he whined. “Like I need to be in this monkey suit in this fucking heat!”
“Want me to toss him in the water?” I asked loudly enough for Garrett to hear. “He’s never been athletic. While Emmett and I played sports, Garrett was in…drama.”
Garrett grinned, but shook his head slowly. “Whatever, Eddie. I’ve taken martial arts now, asshole.”
Snorting, I rolled my eyes, but turned to Bella. “How much longer are you with whiny over there, Sunshine?”
“Not long, baby,” she promised, kissing my lips. “A few more, and I’m all yours.”
“Mm, likin’ the sound of that,” I hummed against her mouth, toying with the string of her swimsuit top. “Carry on, then.”
As I backed away, I had to laugh when I heard, “Okay, Garrett, come meet Bob. He’ll pose with you.”
Cedar Key, FL – September
I closed my laptop, rubbing my face and sighing wearily.
“Think it’ll work?” Mrs. Cope asked from office doorway.
“I know it will,” I mumbled around my hands, but then I pressed the heels of my hands into my eyes. “It’ll take a fair amount of advertising, though. That shit’s expensive.”
“But the result?”
Smiling, I stood up and stretched. “The result would be…profitable. For the whole town.”
It wouldn’t be the first time Cedar Key had put on an art festival. But this time, Mrs. Cope and I wanted bigger, better, and a little more. It would bring in artists from not only local cities, but from all over the state. It would also bring in money via food, games, and lodging. Small towns put these on all over, so it wasn’t unheard of, but we were hoping to make it something we could pursue on an annual basis. And we’d really need to get to work if we were going to have it by the next spring.
The older woman studied my face for a moment. “Work the numbers up for us. Tell me what we’ll need and when we’d need to start, Edward.”
“Yes, ma’am,” I agreed with a nod. “Soon, for sure. I’ll let you know.”
“I’d be willing to bet that Victoria at the paper will help us with getting the word out,” Mrs. Cope surmised softly.
“I won’t count on it when I work the numbers, okay? That’ll just be a bonus if she does.” I stepped out into the hallway, noting that Sea Breeze had been quiet the last day or two, but the bell on the door jingled. “I should check on Bella,” I said softly, wearing a smirk.
“Oh,” she groaned, shaking her head. “If she backs out, I don’t know what we’ll do.”
“She won’t.” I chuckled, turning toward the new back classroom. “She may panic, but she won’t back out.”
The room was light and airy. Mrs. Cope and most of the artists that had agreed to teach a class had said that lots of natural light was needed, so the room was mostly windows, and the whole thing was built under the shade of an oak tree that I’d swear was a thousand years old. The room stayed cool, comfortable, and bright. All the easels from the last class where I’d taught an elementary painting class were stacked in the storage room, and four long tables had been set out in their place. On each table were two 35mm cameras. Bella had insisted on teaching with film instead of digital, though she’d said they’d touch on it before the three-week class was over.
I found Sunshine leaning in the back doorway, her own camera in hand – something way more expensive than what was currently going to be used by her students. I should know; I'd had to replace her old one, considering we’d dropped it to the tile floor of the darkroom not too long ago. It had been my fault. I’d accidently knocked it off the counter when I set her sweet ass up there. I was now on darkroom restrictions, but Bella had gotten a new camera for her birthday.
“Mrs. Cope’s afraid you’re a flight risk,” I stated from the front table, toying with one of the cameras.
Bella giggled, turning to face me. She looked nervous, but beautiful. She was wearing khaki cargo shorts that showed off her long legs and a baby blue tank top. Her hair was pulled half up and away from her face, but the rest cascaded down her back in long, dark curls.
“And just what did you tell her?” she asked me, leaning on the other side of the table.
“That you wouldn’t run, but you were probably freaking out.”
“I am freaking out!” Bella laughed, but set her camera down as I chuckled at her. “I’ve never taught anything.”
“You taught me.”
“No, I didn’t. You just have some darkroom fetish,” she murmured with narrowed eyes, snorting when I grinned like the Cheshire cat. “You’re still banned…new toy or not!” she chastised, pointing to her camera.
Stepping around the table, I leaned my back against it, pulling her flush to me. “Sunshine, you’ll do great. It’s not about knowing how to teach, but showing others why you love what you do. And I wasn’t talking about the darkroom, naughty girl. Hmm,” I hummed, dropping a light kiss to her lips. “Maybe I’m not the only one that has a fetish.”
She flushed, but laughed softly.
I pushed us away from the table and spun her around to face her empty classroom. “Look, Sunshine. It’s only seven people. People that paid a damn fine price to listen to you.”
That was the fucking truth. Since her photo shoot with Garrett, Bella’s name had become pretty damn popular in photojournalism. However, she still was very quiet and very picky about what jobs she took. So far, she was comfortable and happy with staying low. And I wasn’t sure that would ever change. But her class had ended up on high demand. Knowing my girl the way I did, I didn’t cram her classroom, though. I kept her first class simple, easy, small.
“Plus, you know almost half of them,” I said with a chuckle. “Alice and Rose are both taking this class with you, not to mention Jessica and Tanya. Hell, you know more than half, so…” I kissed her neck softly, slowly until I felt her muscles relax beneath my hands.
She sighed softly and nodded. “I’m glad Rose and Tanya came down early.”
Smiling against her neck, I hummed in agreement. “Yeah, Emmett will be here hopefully by the end of the week once his case is over.”
Both Rose and Tanya had fallen in love with Cedar Key. When they’d come down the month before for the book release, they’d begged Emmett to come back sooner. Kate, Irina, and Garrett had wanted to come with them, but Garrett was off in Toronto filming a new movie, and his small family had gone with him. My parents were coming back for Christmas, as were Bella’s mother and Phil. Our family and friends had found a new vacation destination.
Turning her around, I cupped her face. “You’ll knock this shit out of the park, Sunshine. I promise. I have all the faith that you can do this.”
She smiled. “Thanks, Edward.”
“You’re most welcome.” I kissed her lips roughly. “Just talk to them like you’re telling them why you love what you do. The rest will flow.” When she finally nodded, I asked, “Now, is there anything you need before you start? ’Cause you got about five minutes before people will start to show.”
She shook her head, so I stepped away from her and reached for one of the classroom cameras. She picked up her own and fiddled with it, her head suddenly snapping up.
“Edward, can you…I mean, would you…stay? Like, help me if I fuck up?” she asked nervously, and I smiled, dragging my tongue along my bottom lip.
I wanted to tease her, give her a little bit of trouble, but I could tell that it wouldn’t be well received at the moment. She was desperately nervous. And I knew if I teased, she’d cry, and I never, ever wanted to fucking see her cry again. I’d seen enough of that shit to last me a goddamn lifetime.
Huffing a small laugh through my nose, I tapped the table top. “I’m the seventh student, Sunshine.”
“Yes.” I laughed loud because that looked like it had made her day. Lifting the camera up, I couldn’t resist snapping one picture of her sweet, beautiful smiling face. “Finally! Revenge. I’m framing that shit right there.”
She giggled again, setting her camera down and tugging the one in my hands away. “Don’t waste shots,” she chided softly and halfheartedly, but kissed me sweetly. “Thank you,” she whispered against my lips.
I took her chin between my forefinger and thumb. “Don’t.” I shook my head. “Don’t ever think you can’t ask me to be here for you. Ever. I’ll always be here, Sunshine. Whether I’d have taken this class with you or simply stood in the back of the room, I’d have…stayed. Got me?”
I wasn’t sure I wasn’t talking about more than just that moment, but I meant it. For so damn long, she’d asked so very little of me, because she felt she couldn’t. She’d only wanted me – us – and being able to hand that to her was a humbling and powerful feeling, even if it was merely cheering her on as she taught a simple photography class as a favor to me. Raising an eyebrow at her, I waited until she nodded.
“Good,” I sighed, unable to not kiss her one more time before I heard the jingling of the bell out front and the sound of female laughter. It was easily recognizable as our friends…and the girls taking Bella’s class. I took my spot – front and center – giving her a wink. “Ready?”
She smiled, glancing up when a chattering group of girls walked into the classroom. She looked to me and nodded. “Yeah, Edward. I’m ready.”


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