Chapter Eleven: Visitors

A week had passed since the meeting with the wolves, and I had finally decided to pack up my room and my life. Of course, it wasn’t going to take very long, it never did. The problem was that I loved it here in Washington. It had always been what I considered my real home. I wasn’t interested in packing up everything once again and leaving, especially because everything seemed to be hanging in the balance, and I wasn’t just thinking about the wolves.

Worried about the treaty and about an uncertain future with Bella, I packed my room up as quickly as I could. My collection of books and the CD’s were quickly sorted and put into labeled boxes. I moved from one end of the room to the other, leaving only empty space where once were my prized possessions.

I reached the closet and began digging through clothing and assorted knick-knacks when I came across a small oak box, inlaid with mother-of-pearl. I paused for the first time since I started packing and brought the box to the sofa with me, setting it down and opening the top with loving care. The insides of the box were of a faded blue velvet, and a small antique mirror was attached to the underside of the lid. This was my mother's jewelry box, and I knew each and every piece by heart.

I picked up a five carat diamond heart, remembering that it had hung on a favorite necklace of my mother’s. There was another charm, a small ruby butterfly. My father had given it to my mother on their anniversary when I was eight. There were so many memories in that box, some that I had shared with Alice and Esme, but most that I had kept for myself in the hopes that I could give them to my wife someday. Honestly, I had almost given up hope on that dream until I had met Bella. Now I was hopeful again. When my eyes fell on the single most important item in the jewelry box, my chest tightened.

In the middle of the box, in a place of honor, was my mother’s antique wedding ring nestled in blue velvet.

I picked up the small bit of metal in my fingers and looked at the perfect rows of delicate diamonds set in an oval face. My mother had worn it until she had passed away, and I had always intended to give it to my future wife. I could imagine how beautiful it would look on Bella’s finger as I promised to love her for the rest of eternity.

If she would accept it, that is.

I slipped the ring into my pocket, certain that if I was alive my heart would be pounding furiously. Instead, I felt my mouth run dry at the thought of asking Bella to be my wife. I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that she was all I wanted for eternity, and after our discussion a few days earlier, I believed that she wanted the same of me. I knew it was early; we had only known each other for a few months, but those months had been an eye opener for me. She was everything I could have ever dreamed of having, and, more than anything, I wanted a formal claim on her and her affections.

Without pausing to think of whether what I was doing was wrong or right, I left my room and walked down the hall to Alice and Jasper’s room where I knew Bella was chatting with Alice. I was about ten feet from the door when I heard Alice speaking with Bella and I instantly froze, my whole being focused on the conversation.

“Are you sure that you really want to go back to Alaska?” Alice asked her. “The issue with Tanya isn’t going to go away anytime soon.”

“I know,” Bella responded, “but I already miss Carmen and Kate. They are the only family I have right now. Besides, I don’t have anywhere else to go.”

Her casual remark made my insides clench painfully. Had she really just said that she didn’t have anywhere to go? What did that say about our future together? Would she go to Alaska without me if I decided to go to New York with Carlisle and Esme? Could I really just leave my family forever just to follow a girl who I wasn’t even sure actually loved me?

“So, you think of Denali as your home? You wouldn’t imagine living anywhere else?” Alice asked casually. My head perked up, and I listened intently. The answer was more important to me given the fact that I had my mother’s ring in my pocket.

“Like where?” Bella asked, her voice full of curiosity. I was good at reading her moods now. I had to learn how when I realized her thoughts were forever shielded from me.

“Well,” Alice said cautiously, her thoughts focused on helping me. I really loved my sister in that moment. “You could come with our family to New York. I mean, Jasper and I absolutely adore you. And Edward, well, you know how much he loves you.”

Bella was quiet for a long moment, long enough to make me uncomfortable as I held my breath. “I don’t even know the rest of your family. Carlisle and Esme are nice, but why would I choose to move somewhere with them?”

“Because they are Edward’s parents,” Alice argued, “and we are happier when we are together as a family.”

“I don’t see why this is a big deal. It isn’t like I have to settle down anywhere. Didn’t you say that once I’m in control of myself that I could travel?” Bella asked.

“Are you planning to go alone? I thought you wanted to take a trip with all of us,” Alice said, her voice growing low and hurt. I knew how she was feeling, because my chest was tightening with the same kind of pain.

“Who says the trip across Europe has to be the end of my traveling? I’ve never seen much of the world and I finally have the time to explore everything I want to see. I don’t really want to settle down,” Bella explained.

I stepped away from the room then, unable to listen to another word. I was going back to my room to put the ring back in the jewelry box where it belonged. It obviously wasn’t the right time yet. I just hoped that someday she would be ready to settle down, both with me and the life I could give her.

Damn, why did it have to hurt so badly?

I was finishing up packing the last few boxes when I smelled Bella walk into my doorway.

“Edward, can we talk?” she asked, her voice filled with sadness and worry.

I turned to her, taking in the face that was more familiar to me, more dear to me, than any other. I couldn’t help but think of the conversation that I had overheard, and the fact that it seemed to prove that Alice’s vision of Bella always running away from me was coming true. Without even realizing it, this girl in front of me was destroying me in ways I had never imagined would be possible.

I turned back to the boxes in front of me, taping them up securely for the move. It was stupid, but I couldn’t look at her anymore. It just hurt too much. “Was there something specific on your mind?” I asked lightly, not wanting her to know that I had overheard her private conversation with Alice.

She stepped into the room, wrapping her arms around my waist from behind and laying her cheek on my back. I froze, completely taken off guard by the affectionate action. This was not what I had been expecting when she said she wanted to talk. I moved my hands to hers, threading our fingers together and pulling her tight against me. She made a soft noise of approval and nuzzled her face into my sweater.

“We haven’t had any time alone together since we came back to Forks,” Bella said softly, her voice wistful and yet still laced with the sadness and worry I had heard in her voice when she first walked in.

“We spend hours alone in my room every night,” I pointed out, turning so that I could sit on the sofa and pull her into my lap. She immediately curled up into my arms as though it was the only place in the world she wanted to be. She buried her face in my neck, placing tiny kisses on my skin. It felt nice, better than nice, but I still couldn’t forget what she had told Alice. She wasn’t interested in settling down, and I wasn’t sure where that left me. Was this all just a distraction for her until she got things under control? Did she really love me, or was this attraction between us all in my head? It was so painful not being able to read her thoughts. It would make all of this so much easier.

“Mmm,” Bella agreed, her thoughts most likely on the enjoyable hours we had spent in this very room in the past week. “That’s true, but there is always someone else in the house, close enough to hear every word we say and sound we make,” she reminded me.

“So, what did you have in mind?” I asked, playing with a curl of her hair, twisting it between my fingers and enjoying the silky feel of it.

“I’d like to take a walk with you in the woods, maybe do some hunting, talk about some things that have been on my mind,” she said seriously, looking up into my eyes. I took notice of the fact that her eyes were finally turning a soft golden color instead of the red-amber they had been the past few months. The change in color didn’t change the depth to them though; they were still filled with mysteries and secrets that I might never know. It was one of the things that attracted me to her in the first place. Though now, it seemed like everything about her just pulled me in more and more. I was so in love with her that I could barely contain it. I just wished I knew if she felt the same. Damn, why couldn’t I concentrate on what we had now instead of obsessing over the future? My curse, I guess.

“Is everything all right, Bella?” I asked, brushing her hair off her face and behind her shoulder in a comforting sort of gesture. I tried to push my doubts away and focus on her. If she did leave, these would be the only memories I would have of her. I needed to hold onto them, and her, while I could. “Love, is everything okay?”

She nibbled her lower lips gently, so as not to hurt herself. “Can’t I just want to be alone with you for a little while?” she asked, totally unconvincingly.

I laughed and pressed a kiss to her forehead. “You are not a good liar, my love. But if you want, I’ll take a walk with you. I’ll admit that I’m intrigued by your sudden need for privacy.”

A smile blossomed on her lips, but it didn’t quite reach her eyes. Instead of answering me, she took my hand and stood up, pulling me along with her. We didn’t speak as we left my room, made our way down the stairs and then left out the front door. There was purpose in her walk, in the way she tugged at me to hurry up even though I was practically running to keep up with her. Whatever it was that she wanted to talk about, it was obviously important to her, weighing heavily on her mind. If there was anything I could do to help her, I would do it. Even if it hurt me, I wanted her to be happy. I loved her that much.

We were fairly far into the forest when she finally stopped by the river. She dropped my hand and walked toward a large boulder, climbing atop it with ease and sitting upon it, looking for all the world like a Queen surveying her court. I couldn’t help but think once again about how beautiful she was, how much I wished I had a claim on her. “There’s room for one more,” she called down to me, a soft laugh in the words.

I smiled and bounded up the side of the rock, settling in beside her but not touching her. If she was going to break my heart, I couldn’t let myself be too close. It would make the pain even worse. “So, what did you want to talk about so privately?” I asked, trying to keep a light note of teasing in my tone. It was the only way I could hold onto my self control and not just shake her and ask her if she was planning to leave me.

Bella looked down at her hands, her lovely perfect hands, and then began to twist them, her fingers fiddling together. Vampires can sit for hours or even days without moving, so I knew that she had a need to move, to be restless. She was worried about something and she had to know that I knew it. For several impossibly long minutes we sat in silence, Bella trying to muster up the nerve to say what was on her mind, and me trying desperately not to overreact to her worry. Finally, she looked up from her hands, gazing into my eyes. “Edward, do you think that the wolves are going to kill us tonight?”

That was so far from what I was expecting that I just stared at her for a moment, my eyes wide and surprised. “Is that what you have been worried about today?” I asked, the breath releasing from me in a rush of air. So, she obviously hadn’t been thinking about her conversation with Alice the way I had. I wasn’t sure if that was a good thing or not, but I wasn’t going to push anything. If she needed me to console her about the meeting with the wolves, I would do that and with great pleasure. I moved closer to her, wrapping an arm around her shoulders and pulling her into me so I could bury my face in her fragrant hair.

Bella nodded against my chest, her shoulders heaving with sobs that she couldn’t release. “I’m so scared,” she whispered, grasping for my hand. I let her have what she wanted, and then I winced at her grip. No matter how good her self control was, she was still a newborn and she was stronger than me. I didn’t complain though. I could tell she was terrified and I wanted to ease her fears.

“Bella, sweetheart, I will never let anyone hurt you again,” I promised, putting a hand under her chin and forcing her to look me in the eyes, “Did you believe me when I told you that I love you?”

Her lips quivered, but she nodded. “Of course I did, and I love you too. The thing is, love isn’t going to stop the wolves from attacking if they think that you broke the treaty. I can’t bear the thought that someone might hurt you, that you might not...” she broke off, her shoulder shaking with tearless sobs yet again.

My heart clenched in my chest at her words. I couldn’t reconcile her conversation with Alice earlier to the words she had just said, but I didn’t want to think about that now. What mattered right now was the girl in my arms and how upset she was. “No one is going to hurt me,” I whispered, stroking her hair as I comforted her. “Honestly, from the thoughts that I gathered at the meeting last week they were impressed by you; surprised by your story, of course, but all of them wondered if they had misjudged us. I don’t think that they are going to attack.”

“Do you really think that, or are you just trying to make me feel better?” Bella asked, a half smile on her lips as though she knew the answer and was grateful that I was lying to her.

“I really believe that,” I said honestly, pressing a kiss to her forehead. It felt so nice that I decided to kiss her again, this time on her perfectly formed lips. She seemed surprised at first, but only for a moment, then she eagerly threw herself into the kiss.

“Edward,” she breathed, my name sounding like candy on her lips.

My response was to pull her into my lap, like I had on the sofa in my room. No words I could speak could show her how very much I love her, so I would let my actions speak for me. I cradled her face in my hands, kissing her lips as gently, as lovingly, as I could manage. She was my world, my life, my everything. The thought that I might lose her, ever, was more painful to me than death.

“I love you,” I whispered against her lips, needing to say the words I was feeling so strongly. I knew that she said she knew, but I didn’t want her to ever doubt the truth of that fact. It was the most important truth in my world, the only thing that really mattered. I loved this girl, this beautiful, wonderful, brave girl. Whether or not she truly loved me back, at the moment it didn’t matter. She needed me and I was never going to leave her wanting or needing while I could help it.

She pulled me back against her, pressing her lips once more against mine. It was a desperate sort of kiss, full of passion but also an intensity that wasn’t normal for Bella. When she finally pulled away, both of us breathing hard from our shared desire, her lips had a determined set to them. “Edward, make love to me,” she whispered. She was not begging though, more like demanding it of me.

“Bella, no,” I said gently, moving her hands from my neck. This was something that we had discussed at least once a night since arriving back in Forks. I had tried to explain to her that I didn’t want to rush things: I wanted to let our relationship take its natural course. I also reminded her that I was old fashioned, but apparently she liked to ignore that fact. Every night in the past week she had pushed me further and further, until I was dying inside with the need to have her. I was determined to keep my promise to myself, but she was making it so difficult.

She looked disappointed, but not completely put off. “Why not? What if something does happen tonight? Don’t you want to know that we shared everything? That we were everything to each other?”

I smiled and kissed her hands that were still clutched within mine. “You already are everything to me. I don’t need anything more to prove to me that you are the love of my life, the love I will take with me until the end of time. Besides, I already told you that I’m not worried about the meeting with the wolves tonight. I don’t think they are going to attack,” I said tenderly, punctuating my sentences with a kiss to each of her fingers.

A slow smile crept onto her lips as she pulled her fingers away from mine and instead snaked her arms around my neck. “Yes, but Edward,” she said softly, kissing her way from my chin to my lips, “you have forgotten one very important detail.”

“Oh, and what is that?” I asked, bemused by this attempt at seduction.

“I’m a lot stronger than you are,” she whispered and pulled us off the boulder onto the ground where she both straddled me and pinned my hands above my head.

I couldn’t help but be impressed with her. My Bella was not afraid of going after what she wanted, and I supposed that right now the thing she wanted most was me. It was both flattering and arousing, and my body responded to her fierce possessiveness.

“Well,” I said as calmly as I could with my body reacting to her nearness, “now that you have me, what are you going to do with me?” I had no intention of giving up my morals so easily, but I was curious to know what her plan was. I apparently enjoyed tormenting myself.

Bella grinned and it had a feral feeling to it. She was acting on pure instinct now, her animalistic tendencies bleeding through the civilized facade. It aroused me even more, and I knew that she was pushing me toward a line that I wasn’t ready to cross. Before I could protest she leaned down, capturing my lips in a kiss so hot that I feared my body would catch fire. I wasn’t sure where she had learned to kiss this way, but the way her tongue explored my mouth was a carnal delight. I moaned, pressing both my groin and my lips against her. All of my self restraint seemed to bleed away as her body pressed against mine, writhing, grinding, maddening. If she didn’t stop soon, I might not be able to hold out.

“You want me, almost as much as I want you,” she whispered, nipping gently at my lower lip and drawing another moan from my body.

“Bella, we have to stop right now,” I told her, trying to pull my wrists free of her grip but failing, “if we don’t stop now we won’t be able to.”

“I don’t want to stop. I told you that I want to make love to you,” she said softly, a wicked smile in her eyes, “and I’m pretty sure you want exactly the same thing.”

“I want you,” I admitted, “but I’m not sure right now is the best time.”

“Why? What’s wrong with now?” she asked, teasing me and she ground our groins together, “You seem just as into it as I am.”

I wanted to tell her that the sanctity of marriage was important to me, that when we made love for the first time, it should be on our wedding night. I wanted to say that once we were married I would find some remote cabin with her and we would make love until we could no longer tell where one of us ended and the other began. All of these words and more filled my head as I tried to figure out the right way to say it all without rejecting her.

“Bella, I love you,” I said seriously, “but this isn’t the right time for us. I don’t want to rush a physical relationship.”

She pulled back, but it wasn’t acceptance in her eyes: it was rejection. I had once again failed to say what I meant and had hurt her. “You don’t want me,” she said unhappily, moving away from me with hurt in her eyes.

I scrambled to my feet, reaching for her arm and yanking her into my embrace. I buried my face in her hair and held her as tightly as I was able. “Don’t you dare walk away from me,” I whispered, “can’t you tell how badly I want you?”

“If you want me, why won’t you take what I’m offering?” she asked, trying to push me away, “I just want us to be together in every way possible. Why is that wrong?”

All of the reasons I had thought about before raced through my head. I didn’t want to scare her off. I didn’t want her to think that I wasn’t interested in exploring every nook and crevice of her delectable body. But how in the hell was I supposed to explain both things? “I want to make love to you until we are both so exhausted, so satiated, so filled with pleasure that we know each other’s bodies better than we know our own,” I admitted, cupping her face and forcing her to look into my eyes. “I want to touch and taste every inch of you until you are hoarse from screaming. I’ve thought of little else for months.”

“Months?” she asked, her eyes growing round with surprise, “but you didn’t even kiss me until last week!”

I laughed, leaning down to press a light kiss to her lips. “That doesn’t mean that I hadn’t been thinking about that first kiss and much more for a long time before it happened,” I teased.

“So, you really do want me?” she asked, her eyes still showing uncertainty.

“More than you will ever know,” I told her honestly, “but this isn’t the right time. Trust me, when the time comes, the right time, you won’t be able to stop me from making love to you for weeks on end.”

A small smile touched her lips. “I’ll hold you to that,” she said quietly.

“I hope you will,” I said, pulling her back into my arms so that I could kiss her again. “But for now, we should probably go back to the house. Alice is bound to come looking for us if we don’t head back.”

Bella made a face and sighed. “All right, I did promise her that I would help her with something this afternoon.”

I laughed and slung an arm around her shoulder, gently pulling her back toward the house. “Well, I would hate to keep Alice waiting. She is a frightening little monster sometimes.”

Bella laughed all the way back toward the house.

I was whistling to myself as I walked up to my room after parting with Bella in the foyer. She had even paused to give me a kiss goodbye. It had been a nice kiss, full of the promise of longer, deeper and much more passionate ones in the future. All in all, I felt much better about our future than I had when the two of us had left the house an hour or so before.

It was probably this lightheartedness that distracted me as I made my way to my door on the second floor. The house was nearly empty, as Carlisle and Esme were taking care of last minute arrangements in town but I could smell something strange, something that didn’t quite belong to Forks. I was still trying to place the smell when I walked into my room and saw Tanya sprawled out on my black leather sofa, looking for all the world as though she thought she belonged there.

“What in the hell are you doing here?” I demanded, surprise and a lingering anger at her much earlier actions coloring my tone. I closed the door quickly behind me, hoping against hope that Bella hadn’t heard my angry words. After everything that had happened between us today, seeing Tanya wasn’t exactly going to help her state of mind.

Tanya clucked her tongue and shook her head in disapproval as she gracefully peeled herself off the couch and sauntered toward where I was still standing by the door. “That isn’t a very polite welcome, Edward,” she said softly, her accent giving the words a sensual purr. “I thought you might have missed me by now.”

I clenched my jaw, grinding my teeth in frustration. All I wanted to do was take her by the neck and toss her out my window, but I was too much of a gentleman for that. “I suppose ‘what’ was the wrong word,” I amended. “ I meant why. Why in the hell are you here instead of on an extended hunting trip with your sisters and Carmen and Eleazar?”

Tanya pouted, her lower lip jutting out in a petulant way. “Irina and I got back to the house early. When we found your note about Bella’s father, why, we couldn’t just wait around. We had to come and see if we could help. Besides, I wanted to apologize to you in private without everyone looking in on us,” she said softly, putting her hands on my collar and drawing herself against my chest.

I stepped to the side, letting her hands drop from my neck. “What is it exactly that you want to apologize for?” I asked stiffly, sensing no real contrition in her. She was up to something and I wasn’t interested in falling for it as I had in the past.

Tanya sighed dramatically. Her thoughts were so obvious and forced that I could tell this was a front. “I can tell you don’t want me around, so I’ll just skip to the point,” she said with another forced sigh.

I crossed my arms in front of my chest and leaned back against the door, generating an air of boredom and dismissal. “I would appreciate it,” I told her honestly.

The first flash of anger passed through her mind and across her face, but she suppressed it quickly. She was definitely good, I had to give her that. Unfortunately for her, the one man she really wanted (namely me) could read her mind and, therefore, her true intentions. It made it much more difficult for her to charm me. “I’m sorry that I wasn’t more helpful with easing Bella into this life. Maybe if I had helped, if I had been around you both more, you would have seen the good in me instead of the bad. Maybe you would have fallen in love with me instead of her,” she said seriously.

The sad thing was that I could tell this was the truth, or at least partial truth. It wasn’t really an apology though, it was just another pathetic attempt at winning me over. It was never going to happen, so I was going to give her one final chance to listen to me before I shut her out of my life forever.

I put my hands on her shoulders, squeezing them firmly. “Tanya, it was never going to happen between us. Bella was always meant to be the one for me. I have always and will always love her, there was never any other option for me. Do you understand this?”

Tanya’s face crumpled and she threw her arms around my neck, clinging to me. With one hard jerk, she pulled me down onto the ground where she tangled herself around me, our limbs entwining, her fingers digging into my hair and dragging my mouth to hers for a hot open mouthed kiss. I was so stunned that by the time her true intentions had been made known, I was already wrapped in her arms and being sexually assaulted by her. I was trying to pry myself from her arms (she was surprisingly strong when she wanted something) when I heard the door swing open, followed by a gasp of horror.

I mustered up every bit of strength I had and wrenched myself out of Tanya’s grasp, turning toward the door just in time to see Bella taking a step backward into the hall. “Bella, this isn’t what it looks like,” I cried out, reaching out a hand toward her.

“I can’t believe...” she sobbed, wrapping her arms around her stomach, as though trying to keep herself from flying apart, “I actually started to think you were telling me the truth. I thought you wanted to wait to... and you never really wanted me at all! Irina was right about you.”

“No! She attacked me!” I said, getting to my feet and trying to grab her. She was too fast. Before I could reach her, she took off down the stairs. I followed after her, leaving Tanya and her victorious thoughts in the room behind me as I chased after the one thing in my life that I couldn’t lose. “Bella, don’t go, please!” I called after her.

“Stay away from me!” she screamed, covering her ears with her hands. “I don’t want to hear any more of your lies!”

She ran out the front door, heading for the forest, but I was unable to follow her. A strong arm came around me, restraining me from running out of the house. I spun to look at my brother, Jasper, my fury causing me to throw a punch at him. He caught it easily and held my fist in his hand, holding me captive. “What in the hell are you doing? I need to go after her!” I yelled at him.

Alice stepped around him then, her face drawn into a miserable frown. “You can’t go after her. It would just make things worse,” she said seriously. Her arms were wrapped around her body as if by doing so she could keep the pain of Bella leaving from ripping her apart. She looked so horrified, so miserable that I found myself torn between wanting to comfort her and running after Bella. “I’ve already run through all the possible scenarios and every time one of us goes after her, no matter what we say, she either attacks us or just plain ignores us. Right now she isn’t in the mood to listen to anyone: she doesn’t trust any of us.”

“What am I supposed to do? Let the only thing I really care about walk right out of my life?” I asked, clenching my fists as I tried to escape Jasper’s firm grip on me.

Alice sent Jasper a desperate look, her thoughts asking for him to calm me down. I wanted to resist, but Jasper’s gift was strong and I felt myself relaxing, the worry of Bella seeming to drain from me even as I tried to hold onto it.

“Edward, she is going to wander for a few hours, but then she is going to head to Alaska to talk to Carmen. It is the best thing that she can do right now. If you go after her, she is just going to think that you are following her out of guilt and not love. You need to give her time to think and cool off. In the meantime, I’ll call Kate and tell her to meet Bella halfway. In Bella’s state of mind, I don’t know what she is capable of. Thankfully Kate is quite fast and if she knows Bella needs her, she will find her before she goes too far.”

I knew that what she was saying was true, and was even a little grateful that she would have the idea to call Kate, but that didn’t make me feel any less miserable. In a moment of sudden clarity I realized that Alice’s vision regarding the two of us had come true. I had poured out my heart to Bella... and she had run away from me looking for all the world as if she had seen a monster. Earlier in the day, I hadn’t thought that anything could be worse than Bella roaming the world without me. But watching her go with that horrified and heartbroken look on her face had been much, much worse.

“Dammit, Alice!” I groaned, straining against Jasper again as the reminder of my earlier fear washed over me. “What about that conversation you had with Bella this afternoon? She was going to leave me anyway, right? Is that the real reason you don’t think I should go after her? Is this an easier way to lose her than the alternative?”

Alice took a step back from me, hurt coloring her eyes. “Edward, you have no idea what you are saying,” she whispered.

“No?” I asked, pointing to the doorway which Bella had run through only moments before. “Are you saying that Bella wasn’t telling you that she doesn’t want to be tied down, that she wants to travel alone?”

“You left before the good part, you idiot!” she shouted at me, her worry for Bella etched into every anguished line of her face. She took a step toward me, pointing a finger in my chest. “She was never planning to go without you! She said that a permanent home meant nothing to her because she would be with you! Does that sound like someone who was planning to leave you at the first opportunity? Dammit, Edward, you are usually so much smarter than this. Why does anything having to do with Bella make you act so stupid?”

I flinched away from her, the anger draining from me. I had been so quick to believe the worst of Bella, to believe that the feelings were entirely one sided. I had doubted both Bella and Alice. “I’m sorry... I just... I feel so useless. I need to go after her, don’t you understand? She ran away from me and here you are telling me that not only can I not go after her, I would be hurting both her and myself if I did. You might as well kill me now.”

Alice sighed and punched my shoulder lightly. “Stop being so melodramatic. We have a lot of things to worry about right now, all right? You need to deal with Tanya and Irina, and I need to call Kate. The sooner she gets out the door the better. Bella needs someone and it can’t be one of us.”

I knew she was right, I knew I was wasting time, but my emotions weren’t entirely under my control. Watching the only person you will ever love run away from you can have that effect on a man. “I guess your visions are always right, Alice,” I said miserably as I dropped my chin to my chest and felt the misery, the hopelessness and the devastation of my inability to fix what had happened.

“There is always hope,” Jasper told me, “Nothing is ever set in stone.”

“Will she forgive me?” I asked, wondering if I actually wanted to know the answer.

Alice took my hand in hers, squeezing it tight. “She loves you,” she told me as a response. It wasn’t an answer, but it was definitely a place to start.

When I got back upstairs to my room, Tanya and Irina were both sitting on my sofa, looking thoroughly pleased that their plan had worked. It was only due to Jasper’s continued presence at my side that I didn’t storm in and begin tearing them apart limb from limb. I was already out of my mind with worry about Bella and the trouble she could get into, I didn’t particularly need to deal with the kind of crap Tanya and Irina were sending my way as well. Instead of attacking them like I wanted, I walked inside the doorway and just stood completely still, my arms folded across my chest so that I wouldn’t feel the urge to snap one of their necks.

“So,” I said stiffly, “I suppose the two of you are proud of yourselves?”

Irina’s thoughts flashed back to her part in the plan, a part I had not understood until it unfolded in her mind. Apparently, while I had been listening to Tanya’s false apology, Irina had waylaid Bella on her way to speak to Alice. Unbeknownst to Irina, Bella was already fragile because of my plea to wait on our physical relationship and the fact that we had kept the treaty with the wolves a secret from her. It made her easy pickings for a few whispers concerning my trustworthiness. It had been dumb luck that Bella’s state of mind had fit so perfectly into their plan. They couldn’t have known it when they set everything in motion, but unfortunately for me it had all worked out to their advantage.

Irina had told Bella that she wasn’t the first girl I had wooed this way and that after each one I went back to Tanya. Bella had run to talk to me, to convince herself that Irina had been lying. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect on Tanya’s part. When Bella had seen the “proof” that Irina had been telling the truth, her newborn side, her irrational and emotional side, had taken over and she had fled. She was literally running for her life, trying to hold herself together while the world around her fell apart. Honestly, if I pulled these two females apart limb from limb and slowly set fire to them while they watched, it would be too good a death for them.

“If she was so easily swayed, she obviously doesn’t deserve you,” Tanya said with a toss of her hair. “If you were mine and I had seen you with another girl, I wouldn’t have gotten angry, I would have joined the party.”

I bit my tongue, wanting to argue that she had done exactly the opposite. When she had seen that I was falling in love with Bella, Tanya had done everything in her power to get rid of her competition. That wasn’t exactly fitting with the picture she had just painted. “But I don’t belong to you do I?” I snapped at her, “so it doesn’t matter what you would have done.”

“I did her a favor,” Irina said angrily, getting to her feet and pointing an accusing finger at me.

“Oh, by breaking her heart and destroying everything she believed? Is that the kind of favors you do for people?” I asked coolly, forcing myself to remain calm. “If so, remind me to never accept any favors from you.”

Her eyes flashed and she gestured to Tanya who was still sitting on the sofa. “You have strung Tanya along for years, letting her believe that someday the two of you could be together. It wasn’t fair to Tanya to watch you do it to someone else right under her nose. I was just letting Bella know what kind of man you really were.”

I stepped forward then, coming face to face with a furious Irina. “For your information, it was Tanya that has been chasing after me for the past fifty years. For another thing, I am in love with Bella. I want to spent the rest of my life with her. Just this morning I planned to propose to her. If you think for one second that I will not destroy you for what you have put her through today, you are wrong.”

Irina blanched then, stepping away from me with genuine fear in her eyes. “You wouldn’t touch me. I’m part of your family! We go back for decades!”

“Just try me,” I said coldly. “You might have cost me the most important thing in my life. Family doesn’t do that. As far as I’m concerned, you mean absolutely nothing to me. I’m doing you a favor by offering you a way out. I could kill you right now and only regret the pain it would cause Carmen and Eleazar. If I were you, I would run somewhere far away where you will never come across me again.”

“She’s just another female!” Tanya said, fear sparking her eyes for the first time since I had come back to the room. “Why do you care so much about her?”

“If you have to ask, you have never been in love,” I said softly and then turned away, planning to head out the door where Jasper stood waiting for me. “By the way, if the two of you aren’t gone in the next five minutes, I won’t hesitate to inflict every bit of pain that I saw in Bella’s eyes on each of you.”

Without another hesitation I exited the room, leaving Jasper to make sure Tanya and Irina were properly escorted from the house. I just couldn’t stomach looking at either of them any longer.
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