Our lips separated. Our bodies did, too.
Edward had taken me by the waist and pushed me, gently, just a little, away from him.
And I was. I had caused him pain again. It was written all over his face.
"Don't be. I only need a moment."
That was a little encouraging, though his expression still had me concerned.
"Now I'm afraid."
Horror mixed with his anguish.
Shit! I hadn't meant to say that out loud!
"I'm not afraid of you," I added quickly. "I'm afraid of the pain I'm causing you. I'm afraid of losing you because of it."
His hand slipped into my hair, but it was consoling rather than exciting.
"Bella, do you not understand my feelings for you? You will never lose me. I will never leave you, unless you order me away."
"But, the pain—"
"Is manageable. And temporary. Acclimation," he added, then a slight smile tugged at his lips.
Okay, so, essentially, the only way to get him past the pain was to put him in pain in the first place. Adding to it a little at a time until it vanished altogether. Or at least decreased to an inconsequential level.
That probably should have eased my conscience, but it didn't. Inflicting pain on someone you love just by existing is not an easy thing to reconcile.
"Is there anything I can do to make it… more manageable?"
He gathered me to him then, and I melted. "No. I only request your patience."
I could of course give him that, but it seemed too little to give. I wanted to help him.
But then those thoughts flew out of my head as I felt his hands slide up my back. He was grasping at me, almost urgently, like he was starving for the physical contact. I could understand that. It felt like that to me, too.
I returned the embrace just as desperately, but that was all we did. For hours, it seemed, until my stomach growled.
"You need to eat."
I did, but I didn't want to leave. It felt too good being in his arms. In his lap. Still straddling him.
"A few minutes more?" I asked.
I heard him chuckle, and then he pulled away from me. Just enough so that he could initiate eye contact.
"My family will be leaving for a while tonight. Carlisle will be at the hospital. Esme and my siblings are going… out."
He hesitated before the word 'out', and a slight shift in his smile happened when he said it. Translated: My family is going hunting.
And the implication was clear. We would get alone time later. In his room. In his bed. My heart started racing over the possibilities.
I nodded, then allowed him to help me up off his lap, off the ground. We were flying towards his house less than a minute later.
I was starting to get a better sense of Alice, too, it seemed. She joined me and Edward while I ate, happy and chatting about what had happened at school earlier. She liked Angela, too. And I was of the distinct impression she felt the same way about Jessica that Edward did. The two siblings shared odd looks a few times whenever she was brought up.
I considered asking her about it, but decided against it. If it was important, I was sure she would share with me.
Then, as I was finishing up my meal of sweet and sour vegetables with wok-fried lomein noodles, when Alice mentioned her needing to leave in a bit, I caught her winking at Edward. His expression didn't change in response, but the gesture left me with little doubt. Alice knew something.
My initial thought was that I should be unnerved by her ability to see things. The moment Edward or I decided on anything, she would be able to see it play out before we even did it. She probably saw our first kiss before it happened. And our second kiss.
What had she seen about tonight, that would prompt her to wink at Edward like she had? It made me nervous to think about, so I pushed the thought from my mind.
"I think I'll shower early tonight," I mentioned as I cleared my place at the table. "Get it over with," I added. I was trying to sound casual, but I was sure I had failed in the attempt.
I wanted to get my shower out of the way for two reasons.
First, I felt like I had half the forest in my hair. I brushed it out twice before dinner, but some of the debris refused to dislodge.
And second, I wanted uninterrupted alone time with Edward, until I fell asleep in his arms.
As I raced through my getting ready for bed routine, I noticed that my nightclothes smelled freshly laundered. I could only assume Esme had washed them for me. I would have to make a point to thank her for all she had done for me during my stay. She was very mothering to me, more so than my own mom on some levels.
From the time I was old enough to reach the washing machine, I was laundering my own clothes.
I was nervous as I walked the hall towards Edward's room. I tried to listen for sounds downstairs, but with my frail human hearing, I couldn't be sure if anyone was still in the house or not. When did vampires usually go hunting?
I entered the room to find Edward, on the bed, just off the center to his left, sitting cross-legged and reading a book. His focus remained on the pages, but a tiny smile showed itself. He knew I was there – obviously; he probably heard me the moment I exited the shower – but he didn't draw attention to the fact.
I tossed my toiletry bag and dirty clothes next to my suitcase before plopping down on the edge of the bed. My back was to him, but I knew he had finally looked up from his book and was watching me. I could feel his eyes on me.
I wasn't sure what to do. It's one thing to have stuff just kind of spontaneously happen, it's another when trying to figure out how to start it off.
"Will you join me?"
I took in a steadying breath, gave a nod, then pushed myself to right beside him. Then I crossed my legs, imitating his stance, and stared blankly at the bedspread.
"What are you reading?" I asked. It was a lame question, really, but I had to find a breaking in point.
He moved it into my line of sight.
When I finally looked up at him, I saw that he was smiling.
"I hope you don't mind that I borrowed it."
Of course I didn't mind. His smile was so amazing right then, I would have signed it for him, too. Though why he would want my signature on a book I didn't write made no sense.
I shook my head. "Where are you at?"
"I finished it a while ago. I was just rereading the pages that have these little creases up in the corners."
He flicked at one of the dog-eared pages, then closed the book and set it aside.
"Do these pages include your favorite passages, or were you merely marking your place?"
"Both, I guess," I said with a shrug.
I wanted to find a machete and hack through the tension, it was that thick. This was not how I imagined our alone time would go. Actually, I didn't exactly have an image, but I didn't think it would be quite so awkward.
He sensed it, too. He wrapped his arms around my waist, clasped his hands, then settled his chin on my shoulder.
"What are you thinking?"
I couldn't tell him I was nervous. It felt like a ridiculous thing to be, and admitting to it was sure to be mortifying. I scrambled for any other thought. "Does Alice have visions about things we do together?"
A pointless question, really. I already knew the answer.
"Yes. Does that bother you?"
"No. Not really." Maybe it should have, but it really didn't. "It just takes some getting used to. She seems happy for us. Like she wanted this for us all along—" I startled. Hard. Puzzle pieces clicked into place in rapid succession. "Alice saw all of this coming, didn't she?"
Another pointless question. She had been playing matchmaker since day one.
The seriousness of his tone when he answered made me want to reanalyze everything, from the moment I had first set eyes on him until three seconds ago.
If she knew, he knew.
"What did she see exactly?"
"It would be difficult to remember those earlier visions now. Decisions have been made throughout the last eight days."
That made sense, since her visions were based off decisions. "Did she see us… as we are now? In a— In a… relationship?"
Why was it so hard to say the word? We were in a relationship.
"And what did you think of that?"
Was he freaked? Disbelieving? How weird was that for him, to see himself in a relationship with someone he hadn't even met yet?
Between the time I had asked the question and the time he answered, the seconds dragged on like hours.
"I was nervous to meet the woman I had waited my entire existence for."
My heart shuddered into a faster pace. "When did she have the first vision?"
He tightened his hold on me a little. Consolingly. "When Carlisle agreed to examine Waylon's body. The visions became clearer when the decision was made that you should stay with us while your parents were out of town."
"How was that decision even made? I mean, to have me stay here instead of, say, with Angela? I didn't know our dads were that close of friends."
"Carlisle was there when Charlie made the call to the Forge family. Charlie was trying to decide what would be best for you. Carlisle offered."
"Not that I'm not grateful, but why did your dad offer?"
He hesitated. "To allow your father some peace of mind while he grieved."
Yeah, there was more to it than that. "Edward?" I pitched my tone just right so that he would know I was calling him on it. He sighed in resignation.
"The nomads were still in the area at that time. I needed you to be where I could protect you."
I felt honored and humbled, all at once. Before I had even learned his name, this man cared for me. He had assigned himself as my keeper and great protector, all because of a dreamlike thought that wasn't even his.
A dreamlike thought that… "What was Alice's vision about tonight?" I asked suddenly. "I saw her wink at you."
I heard the faintest hint of a chuckle.
"Would you prefer I tell you, or show you?"
Oh, God. Neither would stop my racing heart, I was sure of that. If anything, the forewarning might actually make me more nervous.
I didn't answer him. I just shifted a little and stared up into his amazingly intense eyes. They were doing that smoldering thing again. Captivating me. Luring me.
I only realized it after I felt the bed beneath my back… he had guided me down with him.
He unclasped his hands from around my waist, then used his right to support his head at the temple as he propped himself up on his elbow. His left was resting on my hip. Not just resting, but caressing. It was an almost imperceptible movement, but I was so hyperaware of him then, I could feel every adjustment in touch.
His thumb brushed back and forth along the material of my pants. His fingers increased and decreased the applied pressure. His breathing was slow and rhythmic.
He was calming me down again.
And then we just stared at each other. Minutes were like decades.
"You fascinate me, Bella."
Any sense of calm I had started to feel flew out the window. He smiled at me apologetically, then fell silent.
But I wanted him to explain. "In what way?" I asked.
"In every way. I think it might take a lifetime to figure you out."
I hoped it would. He might be more apt to stay with me if I remained a mystery to him.
"You might need more than a lifetime, actually."
He hummed in response, and I instantly forgot what we were talking about. And then I forgot everything else. My name. His name. The year. Where I lived.
He left a trail of fiery cold kisses from my temple to my lips, effectively turning me into a flammable liquid again. What followed, I could only describe as a controlled franticness.
Hands were everywhere, except for anywhere that might be considered inappropriate. It seemed he was being very careful of that. Anytime he would come close to touching me in certain areas, his hand would slide away.
Okay, I guess I did remember his name, but it was a struggle to articulate.
And pleading with him had the exact opposite of the desired effect. He kissed my lips one last time, then settled his forehead against mine. His hands came to a stop, his left taking up residence on my hip again.
"I'm sorry, Bella."
So was I, but not for the same reason, it seemed.
"I wasn't asking you to stop," I whispered.
He needed more time to acclimate, I realized. I ran my fingers through his hair at the nape of his neck, soothingly, letting him know in that way that I understood.
Or maybe I didn't.
"You're so frail, Bella."
Okay. How did we get back on that subject again? "So you keep saying."
A sad, frustrated sigh escaped him. "You don't understand."
I honestly didn't. There was obviously a problem of some kind, but I had no idea what it was. "Then explain it to me," I asked of him.
He took a dozen years to answer. "You excite me, Bella. I would never intentionally hurt you, but intentions mean little when one isn't thinking clearly."
All considerations of any supposed problem flew out of my head. I excited him!
"You deserve every human experience, but this is one I just can't risk offering you."
Wait. What? Ever? I crashed back to reality fast. "You mean, we might not ever be able to...?"
He sighed again. It sounded even more heartwrenching than before. "I'm sorry. I can't be sure that I can control myself."
I was. I was sure he could, but my confidence in that aside…
He was far too protective of me to take the chance. And I certainly wasn't about to force him to be with me if he didn't want to be.
I fought to hide my disappointment. After all, I had considered that as a possibility. For different reasons, but still, the thought had crossed my mind that we might at least be limited in what we could do intimately.
Maybe in time…
But we could worry about that later.
"I'm still here," I whispered. And I meant that in every sense. I wasn't going anywhere, even if our relationship could never take that step forward. What we had was far too special to throw away.
He seemed both relieved and in agony, which just proved my previous assumption. He was capable of feeling many different emotions all at once.
"I'm not being fair to you, Bella. You deserve better than what I can give."
"Edward…" I sighed as I considered my words. "What you give me is more than you know. More than I could find anywhere else. Until you order me away, I'm staying."
"I'm too selfish to order you away."
"You're not being selfish," I insisted. "Or if you are, then so am I. We belong together, Edward. Maybe this is Mother Nature's idea of a joke, but we do."
And then my anxieties prickled and my insecurities niggled. I knew he cared for me, but until I heard it from him directly, my heart demanded I protect it. "At least it seems that way to me," I added.
A new form of pain settled into his expression then. There were no words to describe it. I wasn't even sure how to respond to it. So I just stroked his cheek.
He took my hand by the wrist, kissed my palm, then gathered me tightly to him. That alone told me all I needed to know. He loved me.
Mother Nature had a sick sense of humor, but the joke was on her. We would find a way. I was sure of it.
As I confidently mulled that thought over, a new one edged in. Alice's vision came to my mind once again. Had she seen that this was how our evening would go? If so, then why did she wink?
I had to ask. It was gnawing at me. "What was Alice's vision of tonight exactly?"
He kissed my hair before answering. "A decision was made that she did not foresee."
She had seen a different turn of events. He had changed his mind. That was a little disheartening.
"So, you were planning to…? But you changed your mind…? While…?"
"I'm so sorry. There was no way to know for certain."
Hello, I'm Bella Swan, and I'm a guinea pig. I couldn't be too upset about it, though. At least he tried. And his fear of hurting me wasn't the only obstacle he had faced when doing so.
Even a slight amount of intimacy with me caused him actual, physical pain. He might be able to acclimate eventually, but I doubted he had already. I couldn't even imagine the confliction he was going through.
We would stick with safe expressions of feelings for now. Forever, if need be. I settled in comfortably against his cool chest.
"You don't need to be sorry, Edward. I'm not. As long as you're in my life, I will never be sorry."
He held me tighter. "I only want for your happiness, Bella." He had said that to me once before, but then he added, "And I promise you, I will strive, every moment of the rest of your life, to give you that happiness, in any way that I can."
I almost began trembling. After knowing Edward for only eight days, we had just essentially committed ourselves to spending the rest of my life with each other.
Maybe I was crazy – maybe he was, too – but I didn't care. Nothing had ever felt so right in my life.
"Could you start by getting me a glass of water?"
Okay, stupid timing for a joke, but I had to do it. Not only was I dying of thirst – panting tends to do that – but I needed a break from the intensity.
I didn't hear him chuckle so much as feel it. He kissed my hair, and then he was gone. When he returned less than a minute later, instead of rejoining me, he extended his hand.
He led me over to the window wall, opened it, then encouraged me to sit with him at the ledge. Once we were settled, he handed me my glass of water.
"Thanks." I downed it in three long gulps before setting the glass aside.
It was a gorgeous night. Just the slightest chill in the air, and the moon shone in streams of light through the patches in the clouds.
I felt his arm slip around me, and then his hand came to rest on my waist as I snuggled against his side. I was so content, I almost zoned out.
"What are you thinking?"
I cracked a smile. "Sometimes, I wish you could read my mind. I know how frustrating it is for you that you can't."
I nodded, stalling for time so that I could decide how best to explain without embarrassing myself.
"My thoughts would probably annoy you after a while. I tend to over think things." Not to mention, as of late, they were almost constantly about him.
He was already too aware of my feelings. Of what he did to me just by being near me. For him to have free access to my brain...
"I doubt that, Bella. You could never annoy me."
I shrugged. "Maybe. But I'd rather not test the theory."
"You're afraid that my feelings for you would change, if I could read your mind?"
A little bit. I shrugged again.
"Bella, I love everything about you. My feelings for you will never change."
My body exploded with emotion. I almost started crying from the intensity of it.
Climbing into his lap, straddling him, I hid my face against his neck. I had to hide. I couldn't look at him when I said what I was about to say.
"I'm in love with you, Edward."
"I know," he whispered. There was a consoling quality to his tone, like he knew how hard that was for me to admit. "Angela remembers your conversation with her fondly. She is excited about being your Maid of Honor."
Oh, God. My heart threatened to kill me, the adrenalin was so extreme. He might not be able to read my thoughts, but he could read everyone else's. Why hadn't I thought of that? I knew it, but didn't connect the dots before opening my big mouth.
"I'm sorry for invading your privacy. It's not something I can turn off."
I nodded against him. It wasn't him who I was upset with. It was me. I would have to be careful of what I said to people in the future.
"Are you angry with me?"
Still hiding my face from him, I shook my head. "I'm just embarrassed."
"Please, don't be. I could barely contain my joy when learning that."
Apparently, kissing wasn't on the list of human experiences he felt he couldn't offer me.
His hand slid into my hair, prompting me to pull back enough to lock eyes with him. I could literally see the joy he had referred to, which made my heart race even faster than it had been. Then he leaned in, slowly, and touched his lips to mine.
It wasn't frantic. It was tender. Gentle. Adoring.
And he didn't seem to be in pain. Or at least not as much as before.
I forced myself to remain in control.
It was funny, in a non-humorous kind of way… he spoke of how he could never allow himself to lose control with me, yet it seemed I had a bigger problem with that than he did. Of course, if I were to lose control, it wouldn't injure or kill him.
As he stood from off the ground, in that effortless way that proved just how strong he was, he continued kissing me. I clung to him, my arms tighter around his neck, my legs wrapping around his waist.
I had a vague sense that he was pulling the blankets down, but didn't truly understand what was happening until I was flat on my back, on the bed, and he was tucking us both in.
Turning on my side, I inched closer him. And then he just stared at me for the longest time, as he brushed my hair back behind my ear.
He was breathing rhythmically again, but I didn't know why. I wasn't in need of calming. Or at least I didn't think I was. I seemed to be in some control of it, anyway. But then the reason why he was became clear.
"I love you, Bella."
It was an anticipatory move. He knew saying that to me would cause me to go into emotional overload.
He was right, but his preventative measures didn't help. My body went into self destruct mode. My lungs hurt and my head spun from the lack of oxygen. My heart sputtered about in an insanely fast and irregular rhythm. The blood in my body burned like fire.
I knew he loved me – or at least a part of me did – but to hear him actually say it…
When I finally did, it was erratic. I couldn't seem to regulate it, even with him attempting to guide me. The worry in his expression intensified.
I wanted to reassure him that I was okay, but I wasn't so certain that I was, and the ability to form words was lost.
It was only after he started humming my lullaby, after I began to calm down a little, that I realized I was also shaking.
I felt like the most pathetic person on the planet. These reactions couldn't possibly be normal, if couples in love in books and movies were any indication. Elinor Dashwood didn't react this way to Edward Ferrars in Sense and Sensibility, though in the movie version, she did have something of a panic attack when he told her that he hadn't gotten married to Lucy Steele. Funny that his name was Edward, too.
But that Edward wasn't a vampire. Maybe that was the difference. Everything seemed to be more intense with my Edward. The way he looked at me. His voice. When just holding his hand, it felt like my entire world was changing around me.
"It frightens me when you forget to breathe," he whispered. It brought me out of my thoughts and haze. "Did I upset you?"
"No," I said. My voice was shaky and distant. "I'm not upset." Just the opposite, but finding a way to explain that seemed an impossible task. Or maybe I could just say that. "I'm the opposite of upset."
That was explanation enough, apparently. His smile was both amused and relieved.
We barely spoke after that. We just stared at each other. I knew when his family had come home, but only because I heard the TV go on. Emmett laughed at something once or twice; Edward smirked slightly when he did. I didn't ask him what was so funny. By then, I was starting to feel sleepy.
I finally allowed my heavy lids to close.
To be continued…
Thanks so much for all the wonderful reviews! I'm glad everyone is continuing to enjoy the story. And thanks for having faith in me that Bella won't be too OOC by the end of this.
There are a few loyal reviewers I wish to thank…
ADarnell, SpunkyBookworm, jujubakiller, GoldenBeliever, Kristin04… and so many more of you who have consistently reviewed, letting me know that you're reading and enjoying. Your encouragement means a lot to me. Sincerely.
And, Brookieo… LOL! I adore you, kiddo! You always bring a smile to my face! Just FYI, but I'm 39 years old, I have written 'erotica' before (my novels are not, but they do have scenes above a PG-13 rating), I don't 'swing that way' but have zero issues with people swinging any which way they choose to, and where did you find the 'comma splice' in chapter twenty? To be fair, my beta had red marked the crap out of my excessive commas in that chapter, but I don't always take her advice if I think the comma looks good or seems right.
As for all the kissing scenes… I can tell you, their physical relationship is explored. A lot. Do they spend entire chapters doing nothing but kissing? No. But there are a lot of intimate scenes and moments throughout, until the very end. Hopefully, I've managed a good ratio of plot to romance.
And for those who have asked… MTLBYAKY = May The Lord Bless You And Keep You
I'm excited to share the next three chapters. Date night, but something significant happens before date night. I'm interested to see what people think. (smile)
Please keep the love and reviews coming! And MTLBYAKY
P.S. I'm still not smoking, even though I'd like to pull my own arm off and beat myself to death with it. (grin)