A/N: this chapter took lots and lots of editting before i was happy with it, the kids at work got me sick, and i've been absolutely swamped with school work. seriously, why do teachers assign papers the week before finals? to be like "wake up, finals are next week!" or something? seriously? oh and giving a five - ten minute speech with a fever... hey, those are good times right there. for sure. on top of everything (and here's a nice illustration of my busy life right now), i finished the chapter on thursday, uploaded it, began my note, went to class, and now here i am, FINALLY answering my reviews then posting it. oh and finals are next week... we'll see what goes down. for now, i give you this... enjoy!

PS if you get another alert saying i have a new chapter up, this is the only one. i noticed a typo, irritatingly enough, that was big enough for me to reload the chapter. sorry... i'm human, hahaha...

Chapter 65

I pushed aside the curtain mechanically and looked outside, not eager to look at him again since I still had no idea how I was supposed to be acting.

"Isabella." James's voice was suddenly deeper and softer, not to mention closer. I felt a chill run down my spine and could feel him slowly closing the distance between us. He knew me well enough to know not to crash into my personal space and freak me out.

Do it, Isabella. Face him like the brave, fearless woman that you are. I forced myself to turn around, still holding the curtain in my hand, and gazed up at him as he closed the space between. I could have easily reached out and touched his hand or chest but I didn't… something was still holding me back. Uncertainty…

It was amazing, really… I could be self-assured, charming, a complete flirt with most guys, but with James… with James, I was drawing a complete blank.

"I'm sorry I haven't called you all day, I had to meet with my lawyer again before I left Massachusetts," he said softly, looking like he wanted to reach for me but was unsure whether or not he should, given my deer in the headlights expression. "I took the last flight out and couldn't find the time to call you since I went from the airport to get fitted to my tux to here. I told my mother to make excuses for me… but she obviously didn't follow through," he assessed after a look at my face.

I shook my head jerkily again and looked down at his chest. "I asked where you were and she said you were around somewhere." I told his tie and then slowly looked up to meet his eye for a second and then looked away. I was acting skittish and it was absolutely ridiculous.

Someone had to make the first move. And, surprising given my usual boldness but unsurprising given my current edginess since he had entered, it turned out to be he who did so. "I would have come sooner if I hadn't been held up," he touched my back and then, when I didn't pull away, slid his hand around. "A lot sooner," he added softly. I could feel his warm hand through my dress and swallowed hard.

I felt my fingers with the curtain in my hand tighten as I slowly looked up at him. His lips twitched, like he wanted to smile or smirk, but his features were kind… I swallowed hard again and then fixed my gaze on his tie again.

I felt his mood change as his attitude did as well. "I've never seen this side of you before," he said quietly, slightly teasing, as he slid his other hand around my waist to meet the one innocently resting on my back. There I was, I was in the circle of his arms, and I was tense beyond belief.

I realized it was time I spoke. "What side is that?" I asked softly, darting my eyes up to meet his… chin and then looked back down at his silver tie.

"This nervous, shy side of you… I'm used to balls out Isabella," he answered me in a matter of fact tone of voice.

"I'm not shy!" I exclaimed suddenly with my usual vigor, looking him directly in the eye to prove it.

"Oh really…" he was gently pulling my closer.

Uh… I swallowed harder then ever and looked down again. I could smell his cologne now and it was driving me wild.

I glanced up, met, and held his eyes for the first time since he had entered the room. There was something in them, something I had never seen before, something that he wanted to say. Say it, James… tell me. He finally opened his mouth: "Let go of the curtain," he prodded me gently.

Oh. Whoops. I smiled sheepishly and, with that, felt some tension release from me. I slowly loosened my fingers and dropped the curtain, studying his jacket, following the clean lines only Armani could master. That's when his fingers began to slowly rub my back, coursing through my dress. Heat ran from the pit of my stomach out into my arms. I swallowed hard.

"I've meant what I been saying to you on the phone," he said quietly. His breath smelled minty, like he had just popped a breath mint a minute ago, right before he came in here. We could touch noses, we were so close now. I forced myself to look up into his eyes and found it easy to lock eyes with him now. For the first time since he had entered, I knew what I wanted… he smiled softly when the tension slid from my body. "I know you know that," he said softly. "I was just reminding you… in case, you know, you forgot," he added with a small smirk.

"James-" I half snorted, tilting my head back to look at the ceiling, grabbing the lapels of his jacket, at ease now.

"Isabella," he cut me off, voice full of meaning.

I brought my eyes back down and back to his eyes then saw the look in his eyes. "James…" I whispered softly, not breaking eye contact, fingers tightening around his lapels.

It was time. I wanted this kiss, needed it… a kiss that had been weeks in the making.

Kiss me, James. I saw his eyes dart down to my lips and then back up to my eyes. Just do it.

But when he didn't, I took the initiative and leaned in myself. Just before I kissed him, I heard him whisper tenderly, "Izzy…" before tightening his arms around my waist, drawing me close as our lips finally (finally!) touched.

And for the first time, it wasn't a mistake to kiss him. In fact, it felt pretty damn good.

I tilted my head a little more to the side and slid my hands up to his shoulders, wrapping my arms around his neck as we kissed. He pulled me closer still so that we were pressed together. His jacket was stiff under my arms… I slid my hand up into his short hair and ran my fingers through it.

He slid a hand up my back to wind it in my hair, pulling it all to the back of my head so he could press his lips harder to mine. I could feel it, in my bones, that he really meant it.

In the back of my head, as I kissed James, I could hear a familiar sound… growing closer… passing by… it stopped… and then the doors flew open.

James and I jumped apart in surprise, totally dazed, as Ana came running in, mouth open, looking frantic, but had the decency to freeze, and turn red in embarrassment from what she had walked in on. "Oh shit," she muttered.

Andrew ran in behind her. "Isabella, get out here," he ordered and then took in my mussed hair and James's disheveled tux. "Uh… now," he blushed too.

Cranky that we had been interrupted, I began as I fixed my hair and James straightened his tux, "Oh please, like I've never walked in on you and…" but then suddenly realized that I could hear shouting and no music from the other room… I stopped. "What's going on?" I asked, alarmed.

"Get out here." Andrew ordered me instead. I noticed he didn't answer my question.

I glanced at James and hurried across the room, following Andrew and Ana down the hall.

"…you don't like it, you can leave!" I heard my mother, of all people, shout.

We ran into the room to find the guests forming a circle around my mom, whom Charlie was restraining, and… I couldn't see. "Excuse me." I said pointedly as I threaded my way through the crowd.

"You think your daughter is such a perfect little angel!" my blood ran cold at the familiar voice. I had only heard that shouting once… and that was Shelia Connors, who was behind restrained by her husband, as she continued shouting, "She ruins my son's stable relationship with his girlfriend of almost two years only for her benefit!"

I stopped dead in my tracks at the front of the crowd. Everyone darted their eyes to me but back to Mom and Mrs. Connors, who was fighting Mr. Connors to get Mom. "Shelia, I must assure you that I know nothing-" Mom began calmly. I realized that Charlie wasn't actually holding Mom back; he was probably just there for moral support.

"She's nothing more then Cole Thomas's leftovers!" Mrs. Connors interrupted vehemently. James's hand tightened around my arm. "Don't act like you don't know about the Cole Thomas relationship!" she shouted at Mom, who had gone stiff. "She jumps from one boy to the next, it'll only be a matter of time before she jumps from him to someone else," she hissed and then her eyes fell on me. She didn't even pretended to be abashed at finding me in the crowd; her eyes only narrowed with what one could call malicious glee. "Do you have anything to say for yourself, Isabella?" she asked me softly.

I felt James's hand tighten around my arm even more as Ana grabbed my other one. I stood strong though, calmly staring her down, not about to be the one to blink first. "I cannot profess innocence as to what you're talking about, Mrs. Connors." I said calmly, glad my voice didn't shake with the rage I felt inside. "Clearly you are upset because James broke up with his girlfriend, whom you obviously liked very much." I continued in the same calm voice. "However, to stand there, berating my mother, and embarrassing yourself in front of this crowd of innocent bystanders, is illogical and depicts you as, and allow me to be frank here, a little crazy."

Her face twisted into a nasty snarl. "I'm not crazy-" she began to snarl.

"Shelia, let it go!" Mr. Connors hissed, pulling on her arm like a pathetic child.

"For you to accuse me of stealing your son from his ex-girlfriend, whom he, by the way, grew apart from and was not stolen from, it might be a nice touch to check with your son before valiantly "standing up" for his ex-"I couldn't help but somewhat sarcastically add, though her expression was positively murderous now. "-is absolutely incorrect and I believe that I, along with my family and the rest of our innocent guests, will now ask you to leave."

Her mouth dropped open. "You-" she began furiously.

"You have insulted me in every possible way and you are no longer welcome in our home." I interrupted her flatly. "Please leave or I will have you forcibly removed from our property."

Mom stared at me but didn't say a word, essentially backing me up on my statement. All eyes shifted to see Mrs. Connors' reaction to my words. In the absence of all eyes on me, I felt a smirk tug at my lips. I had just socially annihilated Mrs. Connors and life had never felt so sweet. How could she even think for one second that coming in here and accusing my mother of allowing me to steal away James would go over well? She deserved everything she got.

"I've never been more humiliated in my life!" she exploded in clichéd fashion, turning on two thousand dollar heels, and stomping to the door, her husband weakly following her. "Of all the insulting things I've ever heard, I've never been more offended and… and…" she stopped at the door and turned around to scream, "JAMES?"

James didn't answer but didn't move, hand still on my arm.

"NOW, JAMES," she shouted, staring at him. I didn't dare look up at him as I stared right back at her, fearing that she would construe any look up at him as me making him stay. He didn't move and didn't let go of my arm. She let out an exasperated screech, whirled around, and threw herself out of the house. Mr. Connors followed meekly, clearly embarrassed.

The music started again after a short silence, probably at my mother's urging. The crowd slowly dispersed, undoubtedly gossiping about Mrs. Connors' fall from proper society.

"Let's go." James finally muttered, grabbing my hand.

"We're going to get some air." I muttered to Ana, who nodded, staring at me, clearly worried, but let go of my arm. James and I both ducked our heads so that no one could catch our eye and start asking questions as we threaded our way through the crowd.

James led me down the hallway to the library, opening the door, and walked in, waiting for me to come in before shutting the door behind us. I waited by the door as my eyes acclimated to the dark while I heard James cross the room and stand next to the window. I watched his silhouetted form reach up and dig his hands into his hair, exhaling sharply. "And that's how the Connors family was destroyed," he muttered.

I wasn't sure if he was talking to me or himself but I walked over anyway. "It's not your fault." I said quietly behind him.

He let go of his hair and turned to me, reaching out, and taking my hands. "It's been a long time coming," he said quietly. "This family has been over since… since we went to Massachusetts last week."

"What are you going to do now?" I asked him quietly, still wondering what happened in Massachusetts.

"Don't know… I want to but I don't know if I can move out," he shrugged, studying my hands in his. "Everything with Jonathan…" he began quietly and then shook his head, stopping as he looked up, letting go of my hands, and sliding his arms around my waist.

My hands went comfortably to his chest as he pulled me closer. "James…" I began as I tried to think of words to comfort him, tried to think of something to say.

"You mean so much to me," he said quietly then leaned in and kissed me softly, slowly… perfectly…

The kiss couldn't rid him of his problems but I knew it made him feel better and it certainly made me feel good… so I allowed myself to let go of the tension and lose myself in our kiss.

A/N: more to come...

jmu: i realized how much i missed erik and jake so i had them stop by. and yes, izzy wasn't her usual gutsy self... wonders, isn't it? my mom was allllll up in my grill the first time i went on a date with my boyfriend. she was like "who is he, how do you know him, what does he do, how old is he?" it didn't go over QUITE as well as i would have liked because he's kinda 23 and i'm 19... no big really, except, you know... yeah. hahaha. it's not a big deal now. and i don't think izzy and mrs connors were quite as subtle this chapter, hmm? hahaha... though you can't say the woman didn't deserve it. kevin... how wrong he is. oh well. kevin needs to learn what most people call "tact." well i guess she figured out what to do with james, hahaha... and yes, james renders her nuts... true story, i'm kinda like izzy, i know how to flirt and smile and say all the right things with guys but when i met my (now) boyfriend, i had noooooooo idea what to do, hahaha. it was like it was my first crush all over again... i spent most of my time calling my best friend panicking because i had no idea what the hell to say or do... i think you only get that way when you really like someone. and i really like my boyfriend. and izzy really likes james hahahaha... hahaha attorney-client privilege... i'm going to use that the next time a reviewer asks what's going to happen next. "i'd tell you... but that's attorney-client privilege." hahaha.

green-nailpolish: kevin's kinda always an ass, hahaha. yes, it's nice to see her flustered, huh? instead of her charming, self assured self.

Gigi: yeah, kevin really is jaded.

QuOtAtA: kevin is what you could call a piece of work...

ok, back to more studying... i figured i'd take a study break / break before i go shopping with my friend. christmas shopping. at the mall. on a saturday. and it's what... two? weeks before christmas. stab me in the face... this is going to be hell. ugh. of course, i have to shop for my parents, my cousin, my brother, my friend, and, hardest of all, my boyfriend. at least i have an idea for the first five... ugh. anyway.

until next time,

a smile that explodes