Sunday, February 7, 2010

Amnesia, Chapter 10 - Revelation

A word of warning...mature content below. Not appropriate for the kiddies' eyes.


“Edward, you can’t tell Bella you’re a vampire.”

Emmett Cullen stared me down from his imposing stature, arms crossed, eyes piercing. I was ever so slightly taller than he was, and I didn’t back down.

“Trust me, I don’t want to, but I’m afraid she’s going to figure it out anyway. She’s already halfway there,” I sighed, wondering how I was going to handle our hike in the woods today. I knew I shouldn’t take her there, but part of me wanted her to see what really happened, and to see me for what I really was, in broad daylight. I was tired of hiding. She deserved better. She deserved at least as much truth as I could give her.

“Fine. If she figures it out, we’ll deal with it. But you can’t tell her outright. It’s against the rules,” Emmett said matter-of-factly.

“Rules?” I laughed at the notion. Who would make them, or enforce them? Weren‘t we all pretty much invincible? “What are you talking about?”

“There are others with greater powers than ours, my friend,” he replied. “Older, more powerful vampires in Europe. Friends of Carlisle’s. You don’t want to make them upset, trust me.”

I was intrigued. “So what are these rules, then?”

Emmett shrugged. “Mainly, just to keep our existence a secret. Always fly under the radar. Never make a spectacle of killing; never draw attention to ourselves. The minute you flaunt being a vampire, the Volturi will be on you like white on rice. And they can kill. I’ve heard about them ripping wayward vamps to shreds and burning the pieces.”

“’The Volturi,’ huh? Sounds like some made-up comic book coven,” I said with a laugh.

“I assure you, they’re not,” Carlisle’s voice sounded in my head before the words came out of his mouth. He descended the stairs and into the living room where Emmett and I faced off, giving me a concerned look. “You don’t want to provoke them. And I’m not sure telling Bella the truth is a good idea, even if you think she can be trusted. There are too many things that could go wrong. Her memories could return, or she might just put two and two together and figure out that you were her attacker, even if she never remembers it. Think long and hard about what you’re doing, Edward.”

I ran one hand through my hair in exasperation. “I feel like I’ve been doing nothing else for weeks now,” I complained. “I tried to stay away from her---I couldn’t do it. I’ve even tried to scare her off. I think it’s too late for that. She won’t back down.” I paused and added softly, “I don’t want her to.”

Carlisle frowned slightly and motioned to the couch. “Have a seat, Edward,” he instructed. I did as he requested, and he sat in the chair next to the couch. Emmett gave me a “good luck” look, excused himself and went up to his room.

“I can see that you and Bella have very strong feelings for each other,” Carlisle began. “What I’m wondering is, where do you see this going? What do you really want from her?”

“I…I’m not sure,” I said haltingly. “I guess I haven’t thought that far ahead. All I know is that no one else makes me the feel the way I feel when I’m with her. I can’t imagine existing without her. I wouldn’t want to live,” I said hollowly. “I know that sounds so melodramatic, but I can’t help it. Ever since that night when I--” I swallowed hard--“drank her blood, I’ve felt like she’s a part of me, and always will be. Deep inside. Like I’ll never be satisfied until she’s mine, in every way.” Carlisle regarded me quietly, and I dropped my gaze, embarrassed. “I’m terrified of hurting her. But I’m even more terrified of losing her.”

Carlisle sighed, shaking his head slightly. “I wish I had better advice for you, Edward, but there’s not much precedent for this kind of thing in the vampire world. Of course, vampires have been smitten with humans before, and vice versa. I’m sure you’ve observed how we very nearly cast a spell over humans. They find us very beautiful, very irresistible. But any attempts at a relationship never last for long. The vampire ends up either killing or turning the human. It’s too difficult to sustain such a partnership long term. For one thing, she’ll outgrow you as she ages.”

I nodded. “I’ve thought of that,” I admitted. “I don’t think it would bother me. I would still love her. She’d still be my Bella.” I looked into his empathetic eyes and knew that I could ask him anything and he’d be honest with me. “Carlisle, when you created your family…when you were drinking their blood…did you ever have a moment when you thought you wouldn’t be able to stop?”

Carlisle gave a small smile. “Yes. It’s always a risk. It’s a rush, feeding into the human life force. You feel at one with your victim when you’re claiming their blood as your own. Is that what you’re talking about?”

“Yes,” I admitted with relief. “I’ve never been able to forget that moment when it felt like Bella and I were joined together; like we had one heartbeat, one soul. It haunts me. I want to feel that with her again. But not in that way--not hurting her. I could never do that again, of that I’m sure,” I said emphatically. “I can‘t help but wonder…is there a way to…show her I love her, without hurting her?” I asked Carlisle, hoping he would get my meaning. I felt like a ridiculous pre-pubescent boy asking his dad about the birds and the bees. “Do you think it’s possible?”

Carlisle drew in a long breath. “Well, I don’t know, Edward. If you’re talking about sex, then yes, I think there’s a risk that you may lose control of your bloodlust or your strength and inadvertently hurt her,” he said gravely. He must have seen the look of desperation in my eyes because he smiled ruefully and added, “But if you love her like you say you do, I think that could override everything else. I’m a great believer in the power of the mind and the heart over the body. If I wasn’t, I wouldn’t be able to heal humans every day instead of hurting them,” he smiled.

I nodded, slightly relieved, but still worried. I could tell that Carlisle still didn’t approve of what I had in mind. But I knew that I wouldn’t be able to hold back much longer. I loved and desired Bella so much that it was becoming difficult to be around her without constantly wanting to be closer and show her how I felt. I had to believe that I was capable of the same kind of willpower that Carlisle possessed. He was proof that if you wanted something badly enough, you could achieve it.

“Just be cautious with Bella, son,” Carlisle advised me, giving my shoulder a reassuring squeeze. “Be careful what you reveal, and what you do. That’s all. I know you won’t allow anything to happen like it did before.”

“You’re right, I won’t,” I said grimly. “Thanks, Carlisle. I appreciate everything you’ve done for me. I mean that.”

He smiled and told me to go get ready for my date with Bella, which took all of ten minutes. I waited another twenty because it seemed too early to call, and then I nervously picked up the phone. I was hoping that she had changed her mind about hiking in the woods. Of course, she hadn't. She sounded more eager than ever to visit the tiny hovel where I'd discovered my freakish traits, probably hoping that either I would confess every awful truth to her, or that she would finally be able to put the puzzle pieces together herself. I couldn't decide whether I was fearful or hopeful that she would figure out what I was. It would certainly save me the agony of confessing that not only was I monster, but worse yet, I was the monster who had nearly ended her precious life. But it wouldn't save me the agony of her horror and rejection once she knew the truth. I lived in perpetual fear of her memories, and could only hope and pray that they never returned.

Alice let me borrow the Volvo for the day, since we both agreed that the most sedate of the Cullen vehicles would make the most favorable impression on Chief Swan. I parked in the drive behind Bella's beater truck, walked at a leisurely human pace to the door and waited apprehensively after ringing the bell. Bella's beaming face appeared at the door seconds later, and her smile put me at ease instantly. She invited me in and called to Charlie, who was apparently at the back of the house. I caught a vague feeling of animosity coming from the kitchen, and Bella's stern-faced father appeared soon after. His thoughts weren't as clear to me as other humans' were, but I could feel his general dislike of any male trying to insinuate himself into his daughter's life. I smiled as warmly as I could muster and stuck out my gloved hand in greeting.

"Good morning, Chief Swan," I said as smoothly as I could manage. "I've been looking forward to meeting you. I'm Edward Cullen."

The police chief shook my hand a bit reluctantly and answered, "Good to meet you, Edward. Bella tells me that you're the latest foster kid to be taken in by the doc. Carlisle Cullen is a good man."

"Yes, sir, the best," I agreed, giving Charlie's hand a firm squeeze before dropping it. "I'm very lucky that the Cullens were generous enough to offer me a place to stay after I lost my parents."

Charlie nodded appreciatively. "That’s a tough break, Edward. I guess we're all lucky to have the Cullens in Forks. If it weren't for Dr. Cullen, Bella wouldn't be standing here with us right now." I cringed at the image that popped into Chief Swan's head: his blood-soaked police uniform pressed against her neck, trying to stop the flow caused by the vicious wounds I had inflicted. I could feel his panic, his desperation. My stomach churned violently.

"Edward, are you all right?" Bella asked, touching my arm. I looked down into her concerned face, and I fought to smooth my features into a calm facade. "I'm fine, Bella," I assured her with a small smile. "I just hate the thought of what could have happened to you. I'm grateful that Carlisle was here to help you."

"So, Bella tells me that you want to take her hiking," Charlie said disapprovingly. "I don't want her going too deep in the woods, especially since we never caught the animal that attacked her. I'd appreciate it if you'd stick to the marked trails, and don't be gone too long."

I nodded and assured him, "I don't intend to take her anywhere dangerous, sir, you have my word. I'll have her back this afternoon. I have to be at work by three o'clock."

Charlie grunted a bit and told Bella to make sure her cell phone was fully charged and in her pocket. When he thought I couldn't hear, he slipped her a Swiss army knife and a can of pepper spray, which she accepted unwillingly and stuck in her jacket. I had to grin at his attempts to protect her. I knew I would have done the same if I’d been in his shoes.

“Sorry about that,” Bella apologized for her father’s actions as we left the house and headed for the Volvo. “Typical over-protective male.”

I grinned as I held the passenger door open for her. “Your dad’s not so bad,” I disagreed. “He’s just looking out for you. He doesn’t trust you with any other man than himself, which isn’t such a bad thing, actually. You’d do well to be a little more suspicious of people.”

“Should I be suspicious of you?” she asked me as I got in the car and revved the engine. “Maybe there’s something you’re not telling me.”

I kept my eyes on the road as we backed out and headed east, glad for the excuse to avoid looking at her. I decided to try to deflect her question with a little levity. “If I tell you everything, it’ll ruin the mystery. Where’s the fun in that?”

“That would be fine if this were a game we’re playing,” Bella answered soberly. “I hope there’s more going on here that that.”

My smile faded, and I was forced to admit that we had long passed the point of no return. “It’s not a game,” I agreed quietly. “And I’m deadly serious when I tell you there might be some things you’re better off not knowing.”

I glanced at her and caught the frown that creased her forehead. She said nothing as we drove to the outskirts of town, finally pulling up near the entrance of a trail I’d later discovered that would take us in the general direction of the cabin. I cut the engine and was opening her car door before she’d unbuckled her seatbelt. She still jumped in surprise even though she knew how fast I could move.

“I wish you would trust me,” she said as she took my hand and exited the car. “You know your secrets are safe with me, no matter what they are.”

I gave her a tight, quick smile. “I do trust you,” I assured her. “It’s myself I don’t trust.”

Her brow furrowed in confusion, but she let it go for the moment. We started down the beaten dirt path that snaked eastward into the Olympia Forest, our heavy silence interrupted only by the occasional sound of animals and birds scurrying out of our path. Most of the trees were stripped bare of their leaves, allowing the wind to whistle through them and sting our cheeks as we walked. I hoped Bella was dressed warmly enough, and I said as much.

“I’m fine,“ she insisted dismissively. “How far is it to the cabin?”

“A few more miles,” I replied a bit apologetically.

“Wow. You got quite a workout going back and forth to Forks from here every day,” she commented.

“Well, I was actually spending a lot more nights at the high school the past few weeks,” I admitted.

She didn’t look surprised. “I thought that might be why you had that big duffle bag with you in the band room that day.”

“You don’t miss much, do you?” I said with a short laugh.

“Not about you, I don’t,” she answered with her characteristic candor. “I didn’t think you’d stay out here when it’s been getting so cold at night.”

I made no reply as I kept my focus on the path ahead.

“Of course, maybe the weather doesn’t bother you,” she continued. “Being so cold-blooded yourself.”

The hairs on the back of my neck stood on end, and I wondered how to respond. “No, it doesn’t bother me much,” I finally admitted cautiously.

“And you could probably run from here all the way back to the car in about a minute, right? If you wanted to,” she pressed, feigning nonchalance.

I sighed and came to a halt, already tired of the subterfuge. “Less than a minute,” I corrected her. “Do you want to see for yourself?”

Her eyes widened in surprise that I’d given in so quickly. “Sure!” she agreed enthusiastically. “Show me what you’ve got.”

“Oh, I’ll do more than that,” I grinned. “Hop on.” I knelt down so that she could climb on my back. She folded her arms around my neck as I grasped the backs of her knees and hoisted her up, piggyback style. “Hang on tight,” I warned her simply, veering off the path and into the thicket, racing deeper into the forest to the spot where the dilapidated deer stand was located. I stopped and waited for her to dismount, but she clung tightly to me, panting frantically as if she were the one who’d been running.

“We’re here, Bella,” I announced, mildly amused. “You can let go now.” I dropped her knees from my hands, then gently pulled her tightly clasped hands from around my neck. I turned to find her shaking, her eyes round as saucers. “Did I scare you?” I asked, stroking her pale cheek with my thumb. “Just think of it as an amusement park ride. Scary, but fun.”

She blinked at me in disbelief. “I knew you were fast, but feeling it myself….” She shook her head. “That was like a runaway train or something. I was scared to hang on, but even more scared to let go.”

I smiled wryly at the analogy. “That’s how I feel about 99% of the time,” I said. “I don’t have any choice though. This is one ride I can’t get off of no matter what I do.”

Bella gave me a sympathetic smile, then began to look around. Her eyes stopped at the tiny cabin, her face filled with curiosity.

“So this is it, huh?” she asked, walking toward the worn oak door. “This is where you figured out that something weird had happened to you?”

I nodded and followed her as she swung the door open, letting the muted sunlight slant across the earthen floor. She looked around slowly, her face slightly awed, as if she were viewing a religious relic instead of a ramshackle hunting cabin. Her gaze stopped at the ruined countertop of the small storage cabinet. “Did you do this?” she asked me, running her fingers gingerly down the splintered crack in the wood.

“Yeah,” I answered somewhat guiltily. “I was trying to open a can of beans and sent it straight through the countertop. I drove my thumb right into the can, too. That’s when I realized what I was capable of.” Though it wasn’t even close to what I discovered when I met you, I added silently.

Bella gave me a sympathetic look. “You must have been so scared,” she said. “I get why you’ve been afraid to tell anyone what happened.”

I said nothing as she opened the doors of the cabinet and took in its meager contents. “At least you found some food and water here,” she observed. “No wonder you kept coming back here until you started making some money at Jake’s.”

I nodded slightly, in no hurry to correct her inferences. If she ever figured out that I couldn’t ingest human food or water, she’d put two and two together faster than I could carry her out of here and back to the car.

“So, how strong are you, exactly?” she queried, her expression warily curious.

“Strong enough,” I answered vaguely. Her look of frustration tickled me. “Do you want me to perform some circus tricks for you?” I joked.

Her face fell. “I didn’t mean it like that,” she apologized. “I know all of this bothers you. But, I mean, it’s sort of… cool, don’t you think?” she asked hesitantly.

“I guess so,” I admitted, opening the cabin door for her in a silent request for her to go outside. I followed her out the door, then led her over to where I’d smashed the boulder to bits weeks ago. “See these rocks?” I asked, kicking at the pile with my foot. “They used to look like this.” I hoisted a huge stone up from nearby with little effort, watching Bella’s face register surprise. Her surprise turned to shock as I drove my hands straight through the craggy surface of the rock, sending tiny shards raining down all around me and pulverizing what remained into sand between my clenched fists. Bella stared in awe as I opened my hands in front of her and let the wind blow the rock dust in billowing clouds through my fingers.

I rubbed my hands together to free them of the last remnants of powdered rock. “Now, do you understand how fragile you are to me?” I whispered, gently tracing the outline of her face with the tips of my fingers. “Why I worry so much about what’s happening between us? Why I tried to stay away from you?”

She slowly shook her head, her green eyes defiant. “You would never hurt me,” she stated.

I let out a bitter laugh. “Not intentionally,” I agreed.

“No, not ever, period. Intentionally or otherwise. You don’t have it in you,” she insisted.

I shook my head at her obstinacy. “You don’t know what I‘m capable of,” I muttered darkly, turning and walking toward the clearing in the trees up ahead, Bella close on my heels. “I’m afraid of us both finding out the hard way.”

I stopped when I reached a patch of sunlight filtering through the opening in the tree branches above us. I turned to face Bella, knowing how the sun’s rays would dance off of my skin. A knot formed in my stomach as I let her see this last, most freakish aspect of my transformation. Her expression was as stunned as I expected.

“Do you see?” I whispered, my vocal chords feeling pulled as tight as piano wires. “How can you know what I’m capable of, when you don’t even know what I am?”

She remained stock-still with shock, staring at me mutely for a long, agonizing minute. Then she slowly approached, raising her hand to touch my face. Her eyes were filled with wonder as her fingers slowly examined every inch of my sparkling skin. As much as I lived for her touch, I began to feel a bit like a circus sideshow act as she studied me intently.

I inhaled sharply as Bella’s small fingers unzipped my jacket and deftly undid several buttons on my shirt, pushing it open so that she could watch the light reflect off of my marble chest. She touched me again, her hands achingly hot in contrast to the cold wind against my naked skin.

“You’re so beautiful,” she whispered at last, raising her eyes to mine. “You’re the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.”

My lip curled in derision. “Thing is the operative word here, Bella,” I told her, taking a step back from her exploring fingers. She drifted toward me as if she were attached to me by an invisible string. I pulled the flannel fabric of my shirt together and buttoned it up again, shaking my head.

“You deserve better than this,” I said miserably. “I can’t even walk around in the daylight like a normal person. You deserve to be with someone who can give you all the things a normal guy can give you. You shouldn’t have to hide in the darkness with a monster who can’t even show himself in the sunlight.”

Her eyebrows furrowed and she grabbed for my hand. “Why do you call yourself a monster? You’re anything but. I don’t understand what happened to you any better than you do, but you’ve proven again and again that you have a heart of gold…even if the outside is made up of diamonds,” she finished with a small smile in spite of herself.

“I don’t deserve you,” I sighed, giving in and squeezing her bare hand in my gloved one. “But I’m grateful to have you. You don’t even know how much.”

She frowned and replied, “Seeing who you really are just makes me more confused than ever, though.”

“About what?” I asked cautiously, readying myself for the answer.

“Why you chose me. For every extraordinary trait you possess, I have only the most mundane things to offer you in return,” she said, looking down at the ground. “The fact that you’re so good at everything just points out more glaringly how completely average I am in every way.”

I sighed in a mixture of relief and annoyance. “I wish you’d stop putting yourself down,” I reprimanded. “I’m the freak here, and you’re worried that you can’t measure up?”

“Well, it’s true!” she exclaimed. “I get okay grades in school, I can barely walk and chew gum at the same time, I don’t even know what I want to do with my life after I graduate…I’m hopeless,” she sighed.

I laughed and pulled her close, giving her a kiss on the forehead. “You are smarter than you know. You’re the only one who even looked at me long enough to figure out that there was something strange about me. You could be a private investigator, or a scientist. You could study me and figure out what makes me tick. I wouldn’t even mind being your lab rat,” I grinned.

She laughed a little and admitted, “Well, I do like science class pretty well. And English. I love to read. I keep a journal too sometimes…just writing down my thoughts, and sometimes a poem or two,” she shrugged.

“You have a lot of gifts,” I assured her. “You just need to tap into them. I have faith that you can do whatever you set your mind to.” She had already proven it by getting much closer to me and to my secrets than was safe, and I had no doubt that eventually I would give into her completely, regardless of the consequences.

“Thanks,” she replied with a shy smile. I could tell that compliments made her uncomfortable. I vowed to keep giving them to her until she believed them and accepted them with grace.

“You look kind of cold,” I said, noting her ruddy cheeks. “Do you want to head back to your house?”

“I don’t know. I like being alone with you,” she said, drawing closer to me again. I thought of what Carlisle had said: that humans found us irresistible. Maybe her interest in me was merely biological; another way for me to snare my prey, as if I needed any help in that department.

“But I can’t warm you up,” I pointed out, feeling a pang of regret as I said it. “I don’t want you to get sick because of me.”

“You are worse than Charlie,” she said in an exasperated tone. “Fine, let’s go back and hang out with my dad. That’ll be a barrel of laughs, I’m sure.”

I grinned and took her hand as I led her away from the clearing and the deer stand, back in the direction of the trail. “I think your dad likes me. He’s warming up to me, I can tell.”

Bella laughed whole-heartedly then. “You do not know my father well at all, then,” she giggled.

“You’d be surprised. I read people pretty well, except for you. You’re the only one whose mind is a closed book to me,” I told her, subtly alluding to one of the last secrets between us.

She looked baffled. “What do you mean? You probably know me better than anyone else in my life, except my mom.”

I sighed and wondered how to explain. “No, when I say I can read people like a book, I mean that. Literally. I can see and hear their thoughts in my head as if they had said them out loud. Well, everyone’s thoughts except yours.”

Her face looked as shocked as it had when the sunlight first hit my skin. “You’re telling me you can read people’s minds?” she finally asked incredulously.

I nodded slowly in reply, watching her face carefully as she began to comprehend this last of my supernatural abilities. Finally understanding dawned, and she said, “Well, that explains why you’re so interested in me, then.” She actually looked a bit sad.

“What do you mean?” I demanded.

“Men love a mystery,” she said simply. “I’m the only one you can’t figure out…that’s why you keep coming back.”

“That’s not true,” I denied, though I realized that she might be partly correct. “Well, maybe a little. But I promise you, that’s only a fraction of the whole equation. I mean, I never even considered that before.”

She arched one eyebrow skeptically, then shrugged and admitted, “Well, I can’t really point the finger at you. I mean, I’ve been trying to discover all your secrets since the day we met.”

“So, once again, we seem to be on the same page,” I smiled. “I told you that solving all the mysteries spoils the fun.”

“I guess so,” she begrudgingly agreed. “I wonder why you can’t read my mind?” she mused, perplexed.

“I don’t know. I told you, you have a lot of gifts, more than you know.”

“I’m not sure being able to keep you out is a gift,” she argued. After a bit more thought, she said, “Then again, I think I might be completely freaked out if you could read every thought that goes through my head. In fact, I know I would.” She began to look relieved, and I suddenly realized that I would love nothing more than to see myself through her eyes, to understand what she really thought and how she really felt.

We pressed on through uneven terrain, still nowhere near the trail. She looked a little tired, but I didn’t want to suggest giving her another piggyback ride after seeing how shaken up she was after the first one. “So how far is it back to the trail?” she asked wearily.

“Probably another mile,” I answered evenly, suppressing a grin.

She sighed heavily. “Okay, I give in. You wanna give me a ride back to the car?”

I laughed out loud at that. “I thought you were scared of going too fast,” I teased her.

“I am,” she said. “But I think I’m ready to get on that ride with you anyway.”

I wanted to tell her how much I loved her, but the words seemed to get stuck in my throat. I gave her a tender kiss instead, then hoisted her up easily on my back and took off in the direction of the car. We arrived near the road moments later, Bella again more breathless than I was, and wobbly on her feet when I set her down. I put my arm around her to steady her as we walked to the car, suggesting that maybe she should close her eyes the next time.

“I did,” she complained with a rueful laugh.

“Tell you what, I’ll drive like Grandma Moses on the way home. You won’t even feel the car moving,” I promised. She gave me a playful shove, but gently, having learned her lesson concerning my impervious exterior.

When we pulled up to the Swan residence, we were surprised to find Charlie’s police cruiser absent from the driveway. Inside, Bella found a note on the kitchen table explaining that her father had been called in to the station and would be back soon.

“That’s weird, Dad having to go in on a Sunday,” Bella frowned. “I hope it’s not an emergency or anything.”

“He would have called your cell if it was anything for you to be concerned about, wouldn’t he?” I suggested, not wanting her to worry.

“I guess so,” she agreed. She got a glass of juice from the refrigerator and asked me if I wanted anything, but I told her I was fine. “Wow, you’d think you’d be thirsty after all that marathon sprinting,” she commented. I faked taking a sip of her juice to ward off any further speculation on her part.

“Hey,” she said, rinsing out her glass and putting it in the sink, “Now is a good time for you to see my room, since Charlie’s not here to have a conniption.”

“Sure,” I agreed, happy that Bella would be willing to share her private space with me. I followed her up the stairs to her room and pretended as if I’d never seen it before. It was nice to see its muted greens and purples in the daylight, and to peruse the photos tucked around her dresser mirror, of herself as a child with her mother.

“Look how cute you were,” I smiled at a photo of Bella in a pink leotard and tutu, posing like a little ballerina.

“I was the most uncoordinated ballet dancer ever,” she moaned. “But I had fun anyway. I finally dropped out when it became vividly clear that I would never make it in the world of dance.”

“You danced just fine last night,” I reminded her, pulling her close in a similar stance even though there was no music playing.

“I had you to lead me,” she answered, swaying with me in time to the imaginary beat.

I twirled her around and pulled her even closer, wrapping my arms around her tightly.

“You were by far the prettiest girl there last night,” I told her, reaching one hand up to comb through the tangled waves of her hair.

“Not nearly as pretty as you,” she laughed, reaching up to touch my face. “You are insanely handsome, you know. Everyone was staring.”

“They were staring at you as much as me,” I insisted, getting lost in her sea-green eyes as they devoured me in an unflinching gaze.

“They were just amazed that I had on a pair of high heels for almost an hour,” she whispered, pressing her body closer, standing on her toes and craning her neck up so that I could kiss her.

“They were amazed because you were so much prettier than they were, with so little effort,” I corrected her, giving in and pressing my lips to hers. Every time I kissed her I was amazed at the sensations that shot through my body, almost as if I had never kissed her before. I wondered if there would ever come a time when I didn’t feel that electric charge between us, connecting us, taking over and stripping me of every logical thought I’d ever had. My only impulse now was to push her gently back on the bed behind us and wrap her body around me. Before I could stop to think, that was exactly what I did.

Her eyes flew open briefly in surprise as her head hit the pillows, but they closed again and her neck arched as I planted soft kisses all along her jaw. My hand ran down the side of her body, over her hip and down her blue-jean covered thigh, pulling it up and around me. She raised her hips and rubbed her other thigh between my legs, moving rhythmically against me until my dick was hard, which took all of ten seconds at best. I pressed my body against hers, loving the feel of her beneath me, careful not to put my full weight on her and crush her. Her hands were all over me, leaving trails of warmth through the fabric of my clothes as she explored every bit of me she could reach. Our kisses grew frantic, hungrier, as Bella pulled impatiently at my flannel shirt, running her hands up my back. Just as I began to raise her thermal shirt up to expose the bare flesh of her torso, I was suddenly distracted by the faint rumblings of Charlie Swan’s thoughts, noting my Volvo parked outside and wondering what was going on between his daughter and that eerily pale kid inside his house.

“Your father’s here,” I whispered, giving Bella one last kiss before sitting up and straightening my clothes.

“What? I didn’t hear anything,” Bella began, when the sound of the front door opening met my preternatural ears.

“I’ll be in the kitchen,” I told her quickly. “I’ll take care of it.”

And with that, I raced down the stairs and was in the kitchen before Charlie had taken off his coat.

“Hello, Chief Swan,” I said smoothly, emerging from the back of the house to the living room. “We saw your note. I hope everything’s okay. Bella was a little worried.”

Charlie looked slightly startled to see me, then replied, “They called me in to look at some pictures. There was a similar case to Bella’s on the east side of the Olympia Forest, over in the Buckhorn area, near Quilcene. They wanted me to look at photos of the victim to compare them to what had happened to Bella,” he said grimly.

My heart thudded unevenly in my chest. Could there be other vampires in the area that the Cullens weren’t aware of? Wouldn’t Alice have seen them?

“So, what did you think?” I asked worriedly.

“Looked pretty damned similar,” the chief said soberly. “Most of the damage was right in the throat area. Only this kid wasn’t as lucky as Bella,” he sighed. “Only twenty years old. Was camping with his family. He disappeared from the trails and it took two days for the search teams to find him, he’d been dragged so deep in the woods. It was far too late by then.”

“Do they think it was a wolf attack again?” I asked, hoping that the case would be dismissed as such once more.

“Looks like it, but there’s so much blood loss; and yet the body wasn’t completely mangled like a pack of wolves would do. Makes me think there’s one rogue wolf, maybe rabid or something…I don’t know. It’s so far from here that I doubt it would be the same animal, but we haven’t ruled out anything.”

I nodded and said nothing, wondering what was going on. What if it were the same vampire who had attacked me? And if it were, why had it changed me but drained the other victim to death?

Bella came rushing down the stairs to join us, her hair freshly combed and some school books in her hand.

“Oh, hey dad, I didn’t hear you come in,” she said casually. “Edward was going to try to help me with my biology homework,” she said, holding up the textbook. I hid my grin at the irony of her cover story.

“I’m glad you’re back, Bella,” her father said. He looked at us both sternly and added, “I don’t want either of you hiking in that forest again, especially after what just happened.” He went on to tell Bella what he had just told me, and she commented empathetically about what had happened to the unknown boy whose life had just been lost.

“Don’t worry, Dad, I was completely safe with Edward,” Bella assured him, and I wished she didn’t sound so completely trusting of me. The weight of the truth that I kept from her seemed to grow more oppressive every day. “I won’t go back in the forest, though, I promise,” she told her father.

“Bella, I think I’ll have to help you with your homework another time,” I announced. She frowned slightly as I continued, “I forgot, I need to stop home and take care of a couple of things before I go to work.”

“Oh, okay,” she agreed glumly as she walked me to the door. “When will I see you again?” she whispered, looking up at me imploringly.

“Why don’t you come over to the house Thursday night?” I offered. “I think I might have a couple of surprises for you.”

Her face brightened considerably. “I think I’m starting to like your kind of surprises,” she admitted. I laughed a little and kissed her lightly on the forehead.

“I wouldn’t mind if you came to see me at the bar before then, either,” I suggested with a grin.

“Hmmm, I might be able to manage that,” she smiled.

“Good. I’ll see you soon,” I promised, rubbing her cheek with my thumb before heading out to retrieve Alice’s car. I raced back to the Cullen house, eager to pick Alice’s brain. If she had seen anything coming, she certainly hadn’t warned me about it. I found her in her room, making sketches of a dress she was going to make for home ec.

“What’s up, brother?” she asked with a grin. “Did you have a nice time with Bella?”

I stared at her a moment and her thoughts became clear. She had already seen a vision of Bella touching my alabaster skin in the sunlight.

“Obviously,” I replied in mild irritation. “Is there anything else you’d like to tell me?”

I picked her brain, but only saw visions of the dress she was creating, and the morning she’d spent in bed with Jasper, which I quickly ignored.

“What are you talking about, Edward?” she asked, growing concerned.

“It happened again,” I told her. “On the other side of the Olympia Forest. A young guy was killed, supposedly by an animal, but Chief Swan saw the photos and they matched what I did to Bella,” I said somberly. “What if the vamp who made me is back? What if he or she never left? Wouldn’t you have seen another vampire lurking around here?”

Alice looked shaken. “I don’t know, Edward. Usually I see things that pertain to all of us as a family…threats to our security. I don’t always get a sense of other vampires until they invade our territory, or draw attention to themselves. I’m sorry, Edward,” she said with a frown. “I wish it were more predictable. Believe me, I would have loved to have seen what happened with Bella in time to stop you. But it was so random, so sudden--- you had no premeditation. Sudden decisions are almost impossible for me to pick up on.”

I sighed and sank onto Alice’s bed. “I’ve been wondering lately, what if I wasn’t abandoned by whatever vampire made me? What if he or she planned to come back for me, and I was gone?”

“Well, I suppose it would be nice for you to know what happened. To figure out why you can’t remember your human life, and why your maker left you behind. Maybe it would be a good thing if that vamp came back to find you. You could get the answers that have been eluding you until now.”

“But what if my maker has… plans for me? Plans that I don’t want any part of?” I couldn’t shake the uneasy feeling that came over me when I thought of it. Something told me that if my maker ever found me, I wouldn’t like whatever I found out about him or her.

“Well, even if he or she does want something from you, it’s too late now,” Alice asserted. “You have free will and newborn vampire strength, which is unsurpassed, you know. It’s not like any other vamp can coerce you into doing anything you don’t want to. You’re a Cullen now,” she smiled. “I’m not giving up my new brother that easily. They’ll have to fight me for ya,” she laughed, putting up her dukes and throwing a play punch at my jaw. I pretended to fall back, wounded.

“You’re right, I know,” I smiled. “I just worry about anything happening to Bella. I’m so over-protective of her, it’s bordering on the ridiculous.”

“That’s just some well-placed guilt,” Alice sighed. “Which you need to get over, by the way. You’ve been Bella’s champion and protector enough times to even the score, I think.”

I let out a bitter laugh. “If only that were possible,” I wished aloud, getting off the bed. “Too bad you have to go to school tomorrow. I need to do some shopping and make my room look inhabitable. You know I’m hopeless when it comes to that stuff.”

Alice’s eyes began dancing, and her body followed suit. “Shopping? Oooh, I am your woman! I feel a very much needed skip day from school coming on,” she squealed, clapping her hands together. “Oh, we are sooo going to turn your bedroom into a Bella-seducing paradise!”

My jaw dropped in surprise. “That is not what I’m planning,” I lied, running my hand through my hair uncomfortably. “I just need some things…a cell phone, for one. I’d like to get a TV, and a sound system.”

“Yeah yeah, guy stuff,” she said with a wave of her hand. “You are fooling no one. I know exactly what you’re after---the same thing all 18-year-old boys are after. Lucky for you, I’m pretty sure Bella wants the same things you do. This is going to be so much fun! I will hook you up, Edward. You are so lucky to have me as a sister,” she grinned, giving me a hug.

“That much might be true,” I admitted. I was secretly glad that she was on to me. I had no idea how to make my room more inviting, but I was pretty sure that Alice would do a more than adequate job of that.

We headed for Port Angeles early the next day, and Alice proved to be a master of whirlwind, no-nonsense shopping, which was fine with me. In a few scant hours, we had managed to procure all the latest electronic gadgets that I was sorely in need of, as well as all sorts of seemingly pointless decorations, pillows, throws and scented candles. “Nothing too girly,” Alice had argued, “but female-friendly. That’s key.” By the time I went to work on Tuesday, I had a fully operational flat-screen HDTV affixed to the wall at the foot of the divan, which was now strewn with silk pillows and a satin quilt in shades of brown and muted turquoise. A couple of nice art pieces adorned the walls, and I had borrowed more of my favorite books from Carlisle’s library to fill the empty shelves.

The next two days passed blissfully, as Bella surprised me by showing up at Jake’s both nights. She brought Angela Weber with her each time, though on Tuesday Angela’s date was Ben Chaney, and on Wednesday she was escorted by Eric Yorkie. Bella explained in a low whisper that Angela was still “trying them both on for size.” When I asked Bella if that’s what she was doing with me and Mike Newton, she was not amused. But she got the last laugh when Lauren Mallory showed up later on and forced me to spend the better part of the night avoiding her blatant come-ons, thankfully escaping with Bella on my breaks for rounds of pool and darts. Bella was getting better at both games with practice, and a few pointers from me. I loved having her in the bar, and missed her terribly when she had to leave early each night to meet Charlie’s school night curfew. I asked her if she could get an extension for our Thursday night date, and she told me she’d try, though she wasn’t sure her father would go for it. I felt like a bit of a pervert hoping that she could stay out late. If I had to have her home by 10 p.m., it would put a serious damper on my hopes that something more intimate might happen between us.

After Bella left Jake‘s, Emmett razzed me mercilessly about my “master plan to get laid” on Thursday night. Though I bristled at his choice of words, I couldn’t deny them. The truth was that I wanted Bella badly. I already felt closer to her emotionally than anyone else in my small circle of friends, and I wanted to be closer to her in every other sense as well. All of the younger Cullens had figured out what was going on, and though they were all supportive on the surface, I saw that inwardly they were all worried about things going terribly wrong. Emmett was working and Rosalie was going to the movies with Carlisle and Esme, but Jasper and Alice planned to do homework and watch TV in the den. I knew they were afraid to leave me alone with Bella. And in some ways, I was relieved that someone would be close by, just in case the unthinkable happened. I just kept reminding myself what Carlisle had said. I had to believe that my love for Bella would prevent me from doing anything that could ever harm her.

I couldn’t seem to burn off enough nervous energy on Thursday. I traveled deep into the wilderness to hunt, tracking a mountain lion through miles of rocky terrain before attacking it with a vengeance. I let it fight back for awhile before feeding on its sleek, muscular form. When I got back to the Cullens, I cleaned the house, partly because Bella was coming over, and partly because I needed something else to keep me occupied. I played several video games with Jasper, who was kind enough to refrain from giving me grief about Bella, as Emmett no doubt would have done.

Finally the clock neared 7 p.m., and the blessed sound of the doorbell rang through the house. I ran to answer it, and the sight of Bella standing there instantly put me at ease. I couldn’t figure out why my nervousness faded when she was near, but it was as if all was right with the world when I was with her. A flash of lightning split the sky behind her, followed by a low rumble of thunder.

“I think it’s going to rain,” she said, her voice a little shaky. Could it be she was as nervous as I had been? Maybe she had the same thoughts about tonight that I did. I wished to God that I could get just one glimpse into her brain, but I was forced to wonder, as all humans were, what was going through the mind of their loved ones.

“It's a good night to stay in, then,” I said, taking her coat and hanging it in the entryway closet. My eyes traveled up and down her body, enjoying the view of her tight navy sweater and jeans that clung tenaciously to every curve. “You look nice,” I told her lamely.

“Thanks,” she replied, her cheeks coloring for no reason. The tension between us was so thick I could practically see it, stretching between us like guitar strings.

“Hi, Bella!” Alice’s voice rang from the den, blessedly cutting through the awkwardness. “You wanna come watch TV with us?”

I steered Bella into the next room so she could say hello to Alice and Jasper, who were sitting with school books, watching an episode of “Bones.”

“I thought maybe Bella might like to watch in my room, since I have my own TV now,” I reminded Alice with a meaningful look.

“Oh, yeah, of course! Go check it out, Bella! It’s awesome. I helped him pick out the home theater system,” she said.

“She’s such a liar,” I sighed as I guided Bella up the stairs and down the hall. She laughed and I continued, “I picked out all the electronics with very little input from her. The froufrou stuff is another story, though,” I admitted, opening the door to my room and letting Bella enter ahead of me.

“Wow,” Bella exclaimed as her eyes took in all the additions to my humble room. “This is nice. I can’t believe you did all this in the past few days. That TV is huge!”

I laughed a little. “Well, sometimes bigger is better,” I said, not really intending the innuendo, but not minding that it had slipped out, either. I loved seeing the delicate pink blush spread across her cheeks and chest, and I fought the desire to toss her onto the pillow-covered divan and kiss her. “Do you want to watch a movie or something?” I asked, since she was still eying the huge flat panel screen affixed to the wall.

“Sure, if you want to,” she answered unconvincingly. Did I dare ask her what she did want to do? I tried to gauge her thoughts but was denied access as always.

“Let me find the remote,” I stalled, making a show of looking for it. I knew it was in the nightstand at the head of the divan.

“These are nice,” Bella said, leaning over and inhaling the scent of a group of pillar candles I had set on the chest of drawers. Alice had picked them out, of course, and arranged them artfully on a rustic tray. “The perfect mood-setters,” she had dubbed them, insisting that candlelight was quite possibly the most important part of a romantic evening.

I opened the nightstand drawer and pulled out a box of matches, as well as the TV remote. I handed Bella the remote and then lit the candles. She tapped the device idly in her hands while she watched me light each wick, then she breathed deeply as the fragrance wafted up from the warm wax. I walked over to the doorway and closed it, then turned off the ceiling light. The flames cast flickering patterns of shadows and light across the room, bathing her in a sensuous, deep amber glow. Apparently, Alice had been right. I walked slowly toward Bella, my eyes fixed upon hers. She stared, unblinking, back at me.

When I stood in front of her, close enough to feel her breath tickle my neck, I asked, “Do you really want to watch TV?” My voice came out low and thick with desire.

She shook her head. “No,” she whispered. Her eyes were dark and watery in the candlelight, and seemed filled with longing. I hoped so. If she wanted me even half as much as I wanted her, I would be the luckiest creature on earth.

“Me neither,” I replied, taking the TV remote out of her hand and setting it next to the candles. I reached down and took her face in my hands, running my thumbs over her pink lips, studying them as a blind man would. I leaned in and kissed her slowly, savoring the feel of her soft, wet mouth against mine. I licked and tugged at her lips gently, playing with them before I teased her tongue with my own. She whimpered softly, a frustrated sound, which sent a small thrill straight down to my belly. I was going to savor every moment of being with her like this, and I wanted her to crave me as much as I did her at this moment.

Her hands roamed from my jaw down my neck to my chest, and she pushed my plaid shirt open, running her hands over the thin cotton of my t-shirt underneath. My fingers wound through her hair and gently tugged her head back as I deepened our kiss, caressing her mouth with my tongue, relishing the taste of her. Her hands slid down my stomach to the waistband of my jeans, and my cock stiffened at the nearness of her warm skin. I pulled her closer, my hands drifting down to the perfect round cheeks of her ass, squeezing them through her jeans, which drew another muffled moan from Bella. Her arms circled my neck as she pressed herself against me and kissed me passionately. I took the opportunity to gently push her back onto the sofa just as I had imagined doing moments ago, and she pulled me with her, her legs tangling with mine.

“Do you have any idea how much I want you?” I whispered gruffly, covering her face and neck with tiny kisses as my hand roamed down her sweater, exploring each curve along the way.

“I think so,” she replied, pushing my shirt impatiently off my shoulders. I propped myself up long enough to remove it entirely and toss it to the floor before falling on her again, pressing into her as much as I dared. Her hands slid under my t-shirt and up my back, leaving torturous firebrands everywhere they touched. I raised myself enough for her hands to repeat their journey up my front, pushing my shirt as they went. I helped her remove the tee and threw it aside, then lay on my side next to her, silently begging her hands to return and burn my flesh some more. She didn’t disappoint. I watched as her fingers began a slow descent down my chest, examining every muscle along the way, her eyes following them hungrily. When she traced the deep indentation of my hip down to the fly of my jeans, my breathing quickened and my cock twitched at the prospect of her touch. She hesitated, and I didn’t want to force her into anything she wasn‘t ready for.

I leaned in to kiss her gently on the cheek, and a flash of lightning illuminated her in its brilliance for a moment. Raindrops began splattering the windows, and the candlelight made the water dance in glistening patterns on the pane outside. Bella looked so beautiful against this backdrop that I stopped to gaze at her, letting my eyes and fingers slowly explore the soft curves of her face before they drifted down her neck to her chest. I undid the only two buttons of her v-necked pullover, pressing my lips against the pale skin between her breasts in slow, deliberate kisses. I reached down and worked my hand underneath the hem of her long sweater, slowly pushing it up over her jeans. When the soft flesh of her stomach appeared, I covered it with kisses as well, my lips leaving a trail up her belly as I pushed the sweater up over her bra. She reached down and pulled the v-neck over her head, dropping it on the floor next to my clothes, staring at me the entire time. She bit her lip anxiously, but her eyes were still dark with desire. I reached up and kissed her lips tenderly, letting my mouth lazily explore hers while my hand caressed the fabric of her pale polka-dotted bra, back and forth and around in circles, until her nipples hardened underneath. The front clasp of the bra taunted me, begged me to unsnap it. Had Bella worn it on purpose? Did girls really think like that? I held her gaze while my fingers unhooked the clasp and let the bra fall away from her small but perfect breasts. Her eyes were trusting, though her breathing was shallow and ragged with uncertainty. I continued to gently explore her breasts with my fingers, feeling the perfect roundness of them, rolling the taut pink nipples gently between my fingers. She moaned softly, and I leaned down to taste them, my tongue tickling the quivering knots of flesh until a louder cry of pleasure escaped her lips.

“Do you have any idea how beautiful you are?” I asked her softly, returning my mouth to hers, smothering her in kisses as I pressed my naked torso against hers.

“You make me feel beautiful,” she answered in between kisses, wrapping her arms around me. Her flesh seared me from my neck to my groin, and I wondered if I felt as cold to her as she felt hot to me. She didn’t seem to mind, wrapping her arms and legs around me and pulling me tighter, the rolling thunder outdoors a crescendo spurring me on. I kissed and caressed every inch of her: her shoulders and arms, her breasts, her stomach. Her scent was beginning to make me half-mad with desire, and it was no longer just her blood that tantalized my nose. I could smell her sex faintly through her jeans, and it made my mouth water and my cock stiffen. I unbuttoned and unzipped her pants swiftly, pulling them open and pressing my mouth to the soft skin above the edge of her panties. Her hands tugged at my hair and massaged my scalp, and I took it as a sign to continue. I pulled impatiently at her jeans, but they fit tightly and barely budged from her hips. I was afraid of tearing the fabric, or worse.

Once again, Bella Swan shocked me. She wriggled out from under me and stood up, pushing her pants down and letting them fall around her ankles. She stepped out of them and kicked them away, then stood looking at me, dressed in only her skimpy panties. We gazed at each other in silence, punctuated only by the staccato rhythm of the rain against the windowpanes and the low rumble of thunder in the distance. My eyes swept over her gorgeous form, admiring the way the flickering candlelight danced across her flawless skin.

I grasped her hips gently and pulled her to me, kissing her abdomen. I slowly ran my hands up and down the gentle curve of her hips, her thighs and her firm, round ass. Every inch of her was divine, and I sighed loudly into her stomach before kissing it once more. My mouth traveled up to taste her nipples again, while I worked one hand slowly between her thighs. Her hands gripped my shoulders and her breath came in short, shallow bursts. My eyes sought hers and held them in my gaze, silently asking permission as my hands slowly pushed her panties down her legs. She licked her lip, then bit it, as her underwear fell to the floor. My eyes still riveted to hers, I worked my fingers through the neatly trimmed curls of dark hair between her thighs, and she parted them slightly, letting me in. I stroked the soft folds of flesh there, back and forth, and her body quivered in response, a soft moan vibrating through her. I pressed my fingers back further and was pleasantly surprised to find her dripping wet with desire for me. She dug her short nails harmlessly into my shoulders as my fingers slid easily into her slick opening, my index finger working its way inside her. She groaned in response, her chest heaving, eyes closed as the sensations shook her. She felt so amazing that I thought I would come out of my skin just touching her.

I pushed my finger further inside her. She was incredibly tight, obviously a virgin; but so creamy wet that I had no trouble sliding my finger in as deep as it would go. She gripped my shoulders harder as I began to slowly pump my finger in and out of her, rubbing her swollen clit with the base of my thumb as I worked. Experimentally, I tried sliding a second finger into her, and she let out a low moan as I slowly pushed them deeper, my thumb continuing to stimulate the tender flesh outside.

“Oh, God, Edward,” she gasped; and to my amazement, she raised her leg and rested her foot beside my hip on the couch, opening herself up to me. The pungent, delicious smell of her sex assaulted me again, and before I could stop to think, my mouth was on her. I tickled her clit with my tongue, plunging both fingers in and out of her, stroking the sweet spot inside her and making her moan so loudly that my cock throbbed painfully at the glorious sight, taste and sound of her ecstasy. I removed my fingers and began using my tongue instead, flicking it back and forth quickly on her clit and then plunging it deep inside her, over and over, until she was gasping and shaking, clinging to me to keep herself standing upright.

“I want you inside me, Edward,” Bella pleaded, pulling herself away from my hungry mouth. “Now.”

I was sure sweeter words had never been uttered. I pulled her down next to me on the couch and she began working at the button and zipper of my jeans. As soon as they were undone, she slid her hand down my belly and under my boxer briefs until her fingers met the base of my rigid cock. She grasped it firmly in her scorching hand, and the intense pleasure obliterated the burning heat of her skin as she began stroking me, making me whimper like an animal. I yanked my jeans and underwear down, letting my erection spring free and into her waiting hand. She worked my shaft up and down, slowly at first and then faster, swirling her palm around my swollen head and lubricating me with the fluid she‘d milked out of the tip, then plunging down to massage my balls with her fingers at the base. If she didn’t stop, I was going to explode all over her hand instead of inside her delicious, wet pussy.

“Wait,” I gasped, pushing her back and shoving my hips firmly between her thighs. “I want to come inside you.” I stroked her hair out of her flushed face with my hand before leaning in for a punishing kiss, wanting to take her breath away and make her feel as out of control with love and lust as I did right now. I rubbed my cock back and forth between her legs, teasing her hot, wet opening with the head. I felt her hips begin to move in rhythm with mine, her legs wrapping around me. “I’ve never wanted anyone or anything as much as I want you right now, Bella,” I told her desperately.

“Neither have I,” she whispered, her hands grasping at me, her swollen red lips raining kisses along my jaw. “I’m yours, Edward.”

Suddenly, a bolt of lightning slashed through the night sky outside, striking Bella’s ethereal ivory skin in a burst of white-hot light. I stared down at her in wonder, stunned at the exquisite sight of her dark hair spilled over the pillows; her intoxicating green eyes gazing up at me with desire; and her slender, naked body beneath me, open to me, ready to let me inside and become a part of her.

“Beautiful,” I murmured as the thunder rolled ominously outside in accompaniment. I leaned down and brushed my lips against the scars on her neck, a silent covenant to her that I would never harm her again; that I would now replace the hurt with only love.

And with that reverent kiss, I sealed my fate.

A shrieking gasp flew abruptly from Bella’s lips and her body stiffened beneath me, suddenly ramrod straight. Confused, my eyes searched for hers in the flickering candlelight. And there I found the expression I’d dreaded since the first night that fate had brought us together in a thunderstorm just like this one, its lightning casting the glare of ugly truth over us both.


I was gutted. The bottom fell out of my world as I watched the gamut of emotions sweep over her face in rapid succession. Confusion. Disbelief. Shock. Hurt. And, finally, Fear.

“It was you,” she whispered hoarsely at last, her eyes enormous, terrified, accusing. “You did this to me.” Her hand instinctively raised to protect her throat.

I nodded imperceptibly, barely able to move. I was frozen in horror, hovering above her, waiting for the full force of her reaction. She cowered away from me, futilely pushing at the iron cage of my encircling arms and chest. I watched helplessly as she clawed at the quilt next to us and pulled it over her naked body, recoiling from me as I slowly released her and sat upright, my heart pounding like a wrecking ball against my ribs. I stared at Bella in mute terror, bracing myself.

“You lied to me this entire time,” she said quietly, her voice raspy, her eyes welling with tears. “You knew what you were…what you did…and yet you let me go on like a fool….” her voice trailed to a mere whisper and one tear rolled down her cheek.

“Please don’t cry, Bella,” I begged, reaching out to wipe the tear away.

“Don’t touch me!” she gasped, her words a dagger that plunged straight through my agonized heart. In my head I immediately heard the echo of her voice from less than a week ago: Don’t ever apologize for touching me. There was certainly no apology I could offer now to undo the damage I’d inflicted, but I couldn’t stop the urge to try. I cringed in anguish as a torrent of frantic explanations poured out of me.

“I didn’t know what I was when you ran into me in the rain that night,” I said in desperation. “I had no idea what was about to happen. I was wracked with hunger and thirst, but I didn’t know what my body was craving. I couldn’t eat any of that food in the cabin…couldn’t keep it down no matter how hard I tried. When I smelled your blood, I lost all control. I couldn’t think; I couldn’t stop. When I realized what I had done, I was horrified---disgusted with myself. I couldn’t rest until I knew you were okay. You have no idea how it’s haunted me…how much I wish I could take it all back; make it as if it never happened,” I finished miserably, searching her face for any hint of understanding or absolution, even though I deserved neither.

She stared vacantly in the vicinity of my chest for what felt like minutes. Finally she spoke.

“At least it makes sense now,” she said slowly, as if in a trance. “I could never figure out why, out of all the girls you could have had, you picked me. First there was the mind-reading thing…that explained it, a little. But now, I get it.” She lifted her tear-filled eyes to mine. “Guilt.”

I stared at her in stunned amazement for a moment. “No,” I protested loudly, wanting to reach out to her but afraid to move. “Maybe it was guilt at first,” I amended, trying to explain. “I couldn’t stand the possibility that I had ended your life. I had to make sure that you were okay. But after those nights I spent with you in the hospital, it felt like so much more. And then when we met in the store, I knew that what I felt for you was way beyond just easing my guilty conscience.”

Her eyes grew round in renewed outrage. “You were at the hospital?” she exclaimed. “You watched me while I slept?” She looked as if this were the most vile thing she had ever heard. Each new horrified reaction from Bella felt as if I were being stabbed; each wave of her disgust creating a fresh wound inside me. She shrank into the corner of the couch, clearly desperate to be as far away from me as she could get.

“I had to see for myself that you were okay,” I repeated, my voice ghostly quiet. “You were the only thing that mattered to me. You still are.”

She shook violently, pulling the quilt tightly around her, unable to look me in the eye. “You already knew who I was when you came to Newton’s,” she said, half to herself, as if she were working it all out in her mind. “You pretended you’d never met me before. And then at the party…you never paid attention to anyone but me…now I know why.” She lifted her eyes to mine, and her silent accusations chilled me to the bone more than any vampire’s bite ever could. “Of course it was guilt. Or maybe some twisted obsession with your first victim?” she guessed, her voice tinged with growing hysteria.

“That‘s not it,” I denied futilely. “It has nothing to do with that. You’re special to me in a way that I can never explain, in a way I don’t think you can ever understand. Your blood is like a drug to me… it sings to me like no other. There will never be another victim, because I will never let myself lose control like I did with you that night. I will never take a human life the way I almost took yours. And I will never desire another human the way I do you. You are everything to me, Bella. You’re my whole world.”

My words once again had the opposite of their intended effect and she recoiled further, her eyes wild with disbelief. “So my blood is like caviar, or something? Like some delicacy you get a craving for?” she snorted with a crazy-sounding laugh, reminiscent of the wild cackles I’d emitted at the beginning of my unbelievable journey. “Well, this is some seduction scene you had going here. It was really working. I was going to let you fuck me before you finish me off for good. You even had me begging for it!” Tears streamed down her face, and her words sickened me so much that I thought I might actually vomit.

“You know that I would never, ever harm you again,” I rasped, my voice quaking. “And you know I would never just ‘fuck’ you as if you meant nothing to me.” I grabbed her chin gently though she tried to shy away. “Look at me, Bella,” I demanded. She shifted her eyes angrily to mine. “I love you. I am in love with you. I wanted to make love to you tonight because I wanted to show you how much you mean to me instead of just telling you.” Her eyes softened momentarily, and a ray of hope lit my darkness. “I made a mistake by not telling you the truth, I know that,” I admitted. “I can’t even begin to tell you how sorry I am. I’ve struggled with this for so long, not knowing what would be best for you.”

“Best for me?” she spat, jerking her chin out of my hand. “This had nothing to do with me. You were trying to save your sorry self from having to tell me that you’re a---vampire.” She uttered the word like the curse it was. “And not just any vampire…the vampire who nearly bled me dry and left me to rot on the side of the road.”

“No,” I pleaded, feeling tears well in my eyes. I wasn’t even sure vampires could cry, but my eyes felt strange and full. “I never would have left you there. Your father arrived in the police car and I knew help was coming. I wanted you to live, Bella. I’ve never wanted anything so much in my life. I thank God every day for sparing you.”

“And alleviating your guilt in the process,” she added bitterly. “You don’t know what love is, Edward. If you did, you wouldn’t have lied to me all these weeks. You wouldn’t have let me act like some lovesick fool, ready to just blindly accept you with open arms, completely clueless about what you did to me. If you loved me, you would have told me what I was getting myself into. You would have trusted me with the truth.”

My face fell. I could argue with her no longer, because I knew she was right. I had failed her once again. And this time, I needed to accept it and let her go.

“Will you please leave now so I can get dressed?” Bella asked in a low, hollow voice.

I nodded slowly and rose from the couch, zipping my jeans and grabbling my clothes off of the floor. I picked hers up as well and laid them gently on the couch at her feet. I left the bedroom and closed the door behind me, staggering down the hall to the bathroom. When I caught sight of my face in the mirror, I was dumbstruck to see that the whites of my eyes were red, two scarlet streaks running from the corners of them down my stone cheeks. Blood tears. No wonder she had been nothing but repulsed at my attempts to explain myself and to apologize for my terrible lie. One look at me was proof enough that I was a monster that should be driven away at all costs.

I fell to my knees and vomited into the toilet, choked sobs racking my body. I wanted to die. I would make the Cullens tear me to pieces and burn me into cinders, and it would still be nothing to the torture that Bella’s devastated expression inflicted upon me.

I heard my bedroom door open and shut. I splashed water on my face, quickly pulled my t-shirt over my head and raced into the hall, nearly knocking Bella down as she hurried past me.

“Let me take you home,” I insisted, following her down the stairs. “You shouldn’t be driving like this.”

“I’m fine,” she lied, avoiding my concerned gaze. When she got to the landing, she stopped short and looked at Jasper and Alice, who were sitting on the couch talking. They looked up at us guiltily, and their thoughts belied that they already knew what had happened.

Suddenly Bella gasped, and I realized she was staring at the two vampires with comprehension for the first time. “Oh my God,” she sobbed. “All of you…you’re all….” She shook her head violently and ran to the front closet, quickly retrieving her coat and yanking the front door open. “How could I have been so stupid?”

“Bella, wait,” I called desperately after her.

Let her go, Alice admonished me silently. I turned and unleashed my fury upon her. “You knew this was going to happen. You knew, and you didn’t warn me! How the hell did you manage to keep it from me, anyway?”

Her face remained placid. “It needed to happen,” Alice said softly. “It was time.”

I blanched in disbelief, feeling completely betrayed. “Time for her to be blind-sided? When is it ever time for that?”

“It’s going to be all right, Edward,” Alice said calmly. “All of this will pass.”

I shook my head and let out a deranged laugh. “You and your visions are seriously fucked up. I’m going to make sure Bella gets home okay. I’ll deal with you later,” I threatened. She and Jasper looked singularly unimpressed.

Disgusted, I grabbed my winter coat, left the house and slammed the door behind me, knocking its hinges askew. I ran after Big Red as it trundled down the gravel road, hiding in the trees so that Bella wouldn’t see me trailing after her. I watched as she ran into the house, clutching her coat tightly around her, her face down. Climbing the tree outside her window, I observed her getting ready for bed, feeling guilty for being her voyeur once again, but desperate to see her and make sure she would be all right. I watched in agony as she curled up in bed, hugging her pillow to her, her face contorted in pain as tears streamed down her cheeks. I forced myself to watch, to feel just how badly I had hurt her, to know just how much impact my mistakes had made. Surely she must love me, or she wouldn’t have been so crushed. But that knowledge only made me more self-loathing than I had ever dreamed possible. I watched until her sobs subsided and a troubled sleep overtook her, and then I leaped down from my perch and was sick again, heaving nothing but thin, putrid bile from my empty stomach.

I wandered mindlessly through the woods near her house, wondering what on earth I could do to prevent myself from going mad. I finally decided to head to Jake’s, hoping that Emmett could somehow talk me down off the ledge. If not, he could probably kill me and save me from my self-made purgatory.

The crowd was thinning by the time I got to the bar, as it was near closing time. I wished like hell that I could get drunk and obliterate the last couple of hours from my mind. I couldn’t believe that I had gone from the most incredible experience of my existence to my worst nightmare realized in the space of a minute. I sat on an abandoned bar stool and buried my face in my hands, wishing I could erase Bella’s betrayed face from the backs of my eyelids.

“You look like hell,” Emmett’s voice met my ears as he leaned over the bar in front of me. “Do I have to ask what happened?”

I shook my head and managed to utter, “She remembered.”

Emmett sighed and said, “I wish I could give you a beer and make it better. But I guess you knew it was bound to happen, right?”

“I was hoping it never would,” I sighed. “I guess I was an idiot to think her amnesia was permanent. Unlike mine,” I added absently.

Emmett gave my forearm a quick squeeze in empathy. “I know it doesn’t seem like it now, but maybe it’s for the best. You would have gone on for who knows how long, living in fear that this day would come? Well, it came. It’s done. Now you can deal with it.”

“There’s nothing to deal with,” I said, my voice sounding as dead as my body was. “It’s over. She hates me. And she should.”

Emmett shook his head. “You don’t know that,” he told me quietly. “After she’s had time to think about everything, she might be able to forgive you. I mean, you explained to her that you didn’t even know you were a vampire, right? You had no idea what you were doing. She was in the wrong place at the wrong time. It was the worst possible circumstances all coming together at the same time.”

“She doesn’t care,” I contradicted him. “I think it was the lie that bothered her more than anything. She doesn’t trust me anymore. And she never should have,” I added darkly.

“Don’t do this to yourself, man,” Emmett advised. “There’s no use in beating yourself up over it. You’ve done everything you could. You have to try to give it some time. You might be surprised at how everything turns out. How many times has Alice told you that she’s seen the two of you together? You gotta put some faith in that.”

“Alice is full of shit,” I retorted. “She knew this was coming and she did nothing to warn me. And she never saw that vampire attack east of here. I’m beginning to think her so-called visions are worthless.”

“I’ve known her a lot longer than you have,” Emmett reminded me. “Long enough to believe her when she tells me something. You gotta hang onto that, or you’re going to drive yourself crazy. Don’t go down that road. Keep it together, man. Tomorrow’s another day, and all that.”

I laughed at his trite adage and slammed my hand on the bar as I got up from the stool. “Thanks for the advice, Emmett, but I think I’ll just deal with this my own way,” I announced, heading for the door.

“Ohmigod, Edward!” a familiar high-pitched squeal met my ears as I grabbed for the door handle. “Wait up!” I looked to find Lauren Mallory grabbing her coat off of a nearby chair and running after me. Just what I needed, her annoying yap assaulting me with her usual pointless chatter.

“Hey, Lauren,” I greeted her unenthusiastically. “What are you doing here so late on a school night?”

She pointed back to a table of some college kids playing drinking games. “My brother came back early for Thanksgiving break. He’s been sneaking me beers all night. Ssshhhh, don’t tell Emmett! I don’t wanna get kicked out for good!” she giggled, her beer breath an affront to my nostrils.

“Your secret is safe with me,” I told her, then laughed at how inconsequential her secret was compared to the one I had kept from Bella for so long.

“Are you really leaving already?” she whined, batting her mascara-laden eyelashes at me. “Can I come with you?”

“You can’t come where I’m going,” I told her bluntly. The truth was, I didn’t have a clue where I was going or how I planned to get through the night. “I’ll give you a ride home, though. You shouldn’t be driving if you’ve been drinking.”

“Would you? My car is here; you can drive it. Oh, but then how will you get home?” she babbled. Before I could answer, she turned and yelled over to her brother’s table, “Edward is giving me a ride home! See you tomorrow!” She waved and turned her excited face to mine. I tried to give her a brief smile in return, though being near her only turned my stomach. The smell of her thick perfume and the alcohol in her system fought with the pure, sweet scent of her blood, and my nose wrinkled in distaste.

She handed me the keys to her Honda Civic and gave me directions to her house, which was on the outskirts of town, not far from the forest where I’d spent a perfect morning with Bella mere days ago. I ignored Lauren’s inane prattle about how no one at school would believe how lucky she was to get a ride home from Edward Cullen tonight, and did I realize how hot I was? And how every girl was dying to date me?

Dying to date me, huh?” I repeated as I pulled up into the Mallory drive. “Truer words were never spoken,” I told her, laughing like a loon at my own sick joke.

“Come on, Edward,” Lauren cooed, pulling closer to me as I put the vehicle in park and turned off the engine. “You can have anyone you want. You can do so much better than Bella Swan.” She said the name as if Bella were inconsequential, unworthy. I felt prickles of indignation rise all over my skin.

“You think so, huh?” I asked her, not responding as she wrapped her fingers around the thick down of my coat sleeve. “So, I assume when you’re talking about someone ‘better’ than Bella, you’re talking about yourself?”

“Of course,” she grinned, pulling closer, her face inches from mine. “That uptight little virgin can never give you what you want.”

“But you can?” I countered, picking up the beat of her heart thumping rhythmically in her neck.

“You have no idea,” she purred, pulling at the collar of my jacket and beginning to kiss my jaw. “I can do things to you that will make your head spin.”

“I’ll bet you can,” I replied, fighting the urge to tell her what a sad, pathetic piece of work she was. She kept trying to turn my head to hers so that she could kiss me, but I was too repulsed to even consider it. Still, the beat of her heart thudded dully but insistently in my head, and the smell of her blood began to rise above the fake perfume and hairspray in which Lauren had doused herself.

“I have no idea what you ever saw in that mousey little dishrag,” Lauren continued in my ear, licking my earlobe and making me squirm uncomfortably. “She’s so plain, and she has no figure whatsoever.”

“Shut up,” I told Lauren quietly, her barbs directed at Bella pricking me instead.

“Oooh, are we gonna play like that, then?“ She laughed and scooted closer to me, throwing her leg over mine as she pulled herself around to face me, apparently determined to kiss me on the mouth. “I can’t believe you’d ever get upset over that little nothing of a girl,” she went on, running her hands down my face and rubbing her thumb over my bottom lip. I closed my eyes so that I wouldn‘t have to look at her painted face, which only made the scent of her blood sting my nostrils more potently.

Suddenly Lauren pressed her mouth to mine, and I grimaced at the feel of her sticky lip gloss coating my lips. Her heartbeat began to pound more loudly in my head, and I could feel the blood thirst rising, making me ignore the disgust I felt for the girl who was throwing herself at me so shamelessly.

Lauren tore her lips from mine and emitted one of her annoying giggles. “Loosen up, Edward! Honestly, I won’t bite,” she grinned, making me break out into a short hyena laugh of my own.

“But I will, if you don’t shut up," I warned her, giving her what she wanted, kissing her back. Her lips and tongue were alien, and I felt nothing but distaste as I plumbed her mouth with my tongue, kissing her hard, not stopping until she pulled away, gasping.

“God, I knew you’d be an animal!” she exclaimed, clearly turned on by my roughness. “No way could Bella Swan handle you. Not like I can,” she said smugly, and my hackles rose again at Lauren’s insults. She wrapped her arms around my neck and whispered in my ear, “When I’m through with you, you will see her for exactly the nobody she is.”

Lauren’s voice began to sound very far away as she went on with her little tirade, promising to be everything to me that Bella was not. How dare this nasty little shrew talk about my beautiful Bella as if she were dirt under Lauren’s shoe? My head pounded with fury as Lauren stuck her tongue in my ear, sending waves of revulsion down my spine. Her aorta was mere inches from my mouth, pulsing, throbbing, begging me to sink my teeth into it and end this worthless harpy’s life. She opened up her mouth to speak again, and I couldn’t stand the thought of listening to one more slanderous word about Bella fall from her lips.

“Shut up!” I screamed. The madness overtook me, and I dove straight for the pulse of her neck.



    Just, fuck. Hang on, need to gather my thoughts...

    OK, so were to begin...

    Really enjoyed all of the beginning stuff w/Charlie. The awkward sex convo w/Carlisle. Edward letting his guard down w/Bella and admitting all of his special "talents". Charlie being a cockblocker when they're in her bedroom.

    All of that was already so great and then you just raised the bar 100% with what happened next....

    Love the whole business of Edward setting up the seduction scene w/Alice's help. So cute with his awkwardness. And love how romantical it was w/the candles and the thunderstorm and lightening. I'll get back to that in a minute...

    First holy fucking hottness batman, such lemony goodness! *groans* Damn it, I want my own Edward.

    OK, so the lightening and the whole scene of course causes Bella to realize it was E that bit her, nicely done w/that. Was so heartbroken for him, for them both actually, but I'm glad your Bella isn't a pushover and didn't just say, "ok, good know. Continue with the sexing."

    Ugh, fucking Lauren. I hate that slore. Not gonna lie, I vomited in my mouth a little when he let her kiss him, and then I kinda wanted to punch him when he kissed her back. Part of me wouldn't mind if he killed her but I don't want him to deal w/the guilt. LOL

    So fucking good. Will be on pins and needles unitl the next chapter babe. You have seriously died me. RIP April.

  2. Leann *golf clap* Look at you growing up and giving us some real lemony goodness. I'm so proud of you. *sniff sniff* Now you're a full on FF author. Congrats bb.<3

    Now the plot was juicy. The lightening, seduction, and Bella's recognition.*high five* The plot twist with Lauren was brilliant. It set Edward up to look like the bad vamp that's going around now attacking and killing people in the woods. So not only would Bella be even more afraid of Edward she now would suspect only him. Which would drive her further away. Oh how I love angst. hahaha

  3. Cannot even begin to tell you how much I LOVE, LOVE, apsolutly LOVE this!!!!!!!! As I've said before .. girl you are one hell of a talented bunny! ;o)

    I died and went to heaven during the whole seduction part ... heart broke when she finally twiged to everything, and was literally gobsmacked when you threw the whole him kissing Lauren back shabang. Wow, you could take this part in so many different directions, and I for once cannot WAIT to read what happens next!

    I'm kinda wonderin if Edward will do the right thing (by not killing her that is), but screw up in another way which would be just as bad ..... Mmmhmmm, I'm guessin the next chapter will definitely be a nail biter ;o)

  4. Leann...thanks for this wonderful chapter! I'm totally hooked on your's imaginative, romantic, intriguing and heart rending, not to mention sooo sexeh!! Great cliffhanger. Can't wait for your updates. Thank you so much!! xxxoooo

  5. Sorry so late in commenting, but THANK YOU ALL SO MUCH for your kind comments, I really do appreciate them! I'm just glad you enjoy reading it since I have so much fun writing it. Hope you will like the next chapter, though I am just getting started on it...lots of Rob news this week kept me otherwise preoccupied!

  6. Oh, please, when will be next chapter?? I do like this FF. I like pour Edward, and I'm very curious !

  7. Thank you, glad you like! I am working on Chapter 11 but it's slow going...I keep getting distracted by all Rob's promotion for Remember Me, and of course annoying Real Life stuff like making a living! If I didn't have to work, I'd just write fic all day!

  8. Hi Leann, hop everything is ok,me: waiting for nex chapter patienty(?).