The Count of Tuscany

Chapter 10

Five months later – May

When cold hands and stone arms had seized her in the parking lot of the Thriftway, for a few overwhelming, heart-burstingly joyful moments Bella had thought it was Edward come back for her. Then she'd realized the scent was wrong, and the eyes were red instead of gold. She felt so crushed by disappointment that it overrode fear. That didn't last long.

The two vampires who'd abducted her, Heidi and Demetri, had given her one warning: cooperate or they'd kill every human they met, starting with a side-trip to the police station. Knowing the power and quickness of vampires firsthand, she'd nodded jerkily and silently gone along with them.

Other than frightening her, they hadn't mistreated her. On the contrary, they'd been coolly polite, making sure she was comfortable in her well-padded seat in the private plane, offering her any kind of food and drink she could want. As if she could have eaten anything.

The vampires had made no secret of their destination, Volterra, and Bella had kept quiet, not sure what they knew. They'd told her Aro had asked to make her acquaintance, and she shouldn't worry; he had no wish to frighten her. It was only when she'd asked about the Cullens that they had refused to answer her questions.

Now she stood before Aro, trembling and with unnoticed tears on her cheeks; he took her clammy hand in his cold one, speaking softly to her, and then looking at her closely. His welcoming smile briefly turned into a frown, but then it cleared again and he seemed almost amused. Then he stroked the back of her hand in what she assumed he thought to be a kindly way and said, "My sweet Bella, neither I nor any of my Court will harm you. Nevertheless, I must be sure you fully appreciate your responsibilities."

She had no idea what that meant, but nodded anyway. At least they said they wouldn't hurt her.

"You must be tired after your long journey. I have arranged for accommodations tailored especially to your circumstances. Let us settle you in, my dear." Then he lowered his voice and said, "I'm sure you'll find your stay," he paused, "educational."

.oo0oo..oo0oo..oo0oo.

"This room is for you," Aro said, ushering Bella past him. Tentatively she looked from Aro's face, to the room, and then back to him again. He was still smiling. He'd smiled at her almost non-stop since she'd arrived, as though to reassure her. It wasn't doing any good. In fact, she was so frightened she could barely think, waiting to be told what to do and trying not to move, not to make any sound.

The room was unexpectedly bright and sunny. On either side the walls curved away. She assumed this was one of the castle turrets, and judging by the glimpse of sky and rooftops she could see through the open French doors, very high up.

"Make yourself comfortable."

She turned to look at Aro, and the door beside which he stood. It was thick oak with old-fashioned cast-iron hinges. Once locked, it would certainly keep her in, but she didn't expect it would keep any of them out. For the umpteenth time since her abduction, her heart rate suddenly sped up and her breathing grew ragged.

The apartment smelled like a new building, which seemed odd in a castle turret. When Charlie had poured concrete for the new carport for her truck, the smell was similar: sharp and clean. What had Aro meant when he said the room was tailored for her circumstances? Surely they hadn't done this just for her.

The walls of the room were naked stone, a soft honey color, and it all seemed surreal, clashing with her fear and confusion.

Through the open windows Bella could hear the city traffic, but other than the soft swish of the curtains, the room itself was silent. Her breathing sounded loud and raucous in her ears, and she stood still, trying to control her rising panic and take it all in. For some reason she noticed there were fashion magazines on the coffee table, and a thought seeped into her terrified mind that Alice would have approved of this added touch.

Over by one wall was a bar alongside a huge flatscreen TV with satellite and other gadgets. On the shelves were rows of DVDs and CDs.

To Bella's left, she could see a doorway to what was clearly a kitchen with a black slate tiled floor and new appliances

Somehow she found the newness of it all more intimidating and sinister than if it had been a dungeon.

To her right, another doorway led to the bedroom.

"Look around, my dear."

Taking this as an order even though she wanted to stay by the wall, Bella tiptoed forward and looked around, wondering what Aro wanted from her. Why was he hanging around?

Slowly, she crossed to the French doors. The scene was bright and cheerful, the surrounding countryside beautiful and green. The balcony overlooked a courtyard in the center of the castle, five floors below. There was no one in sight. Another tower jutted up to her left. Bending over, Bella could see that there were no other balconies below her. The tower fell sheer to the courtyard.

Once again Bella panicked. This must have to do - with - Him - but why had it taken this long for the Volturi to send for her? They could have come for her at any time. Why now? Why at all? They could have silenced her in an instant back in Forks without any of this.

What did they want with her?

Turning away from the bright cityscape, she went back into the apartment to find Aro still standing there, smiling.

"It - it's all very b-beautiful." She was trying to be polite, still not knowing what he wanted from her. Then Aro inclined his head, but seemed to be looking past her, toward the far sofa. Bella turned to follow his gaze.

It was then that she saw something on the floor. It was grey and dusty, like rough-cut stone. Her eyes narrowed as she tilted her head from side to side, trying to make it out. It seemed out of place in this pristine set-up.

Glancing at Aro and then back again, she took a step forward. As she got closer she could see what looked like the back of a half-worked statue on its side. It seemed well-proportioned with broad, square shoulders and long, lean back-muscles, but it was far from complete. It looked like the sculptor had tried to smooth and polish it, but left other areas unfinished and chipped, covered in gritty gray dust.

Then she saw the back of the statue's head. There was a wild shock of hair… a long, elegant neck … and as she stared, a breeze made the statue's hair move, shaking off some of the gray dust. She didn't need to see the bronze to know she'd run her hands through that hair a thousand times. Didn't need to look twice to know it was the neck she'd kissed, and that those broad shoulders were attached to muscular arms that had held her as though he would never let her go.

Time came to a halt as Bella stood, trying to take it in, a roaring sound in her ears, her heart pounding, her breathing becoming ragged.

Edward lay on the floor, covered in gritty dust and what appeared to be stone chips. What little remained of his clothes was torn, creased, and stained with something that looked like rust.

"Edward?" Her voice was a hoarse whisper.

He didn't move. No sound.

Bella took another step, calling his name again.

Still no reaction.

She'd completely forgotten Aro. All she could see was him. He was still, his eyes closed, giving no sign of having heard her. She was confused. Vampires didn't sleep, so what was this? He couldn't be – be – dead. She knew what it took to "kill" a vampire. His head, thank God, was still attached, and he wasn't burned.

Bella stared, drinking in every tiny detail, yet not understanding what she was seeing. He was disheveled and dirty, but seeing his high cheekbones and low-bridged nose reminded her of his beauty, and she ached for him.

She knelt beside him and gingerly touched his shoulder. "Edward? Can you hear me?"

Slowly he opened his eyes, turning his head in her direction, and she slid her hand under his cheek to turn his head. Her heart thudded as her breath came in gasps, the realization sinking in that he was real; really here with her in this bizarre setting that made no sense. If she'd ever allowed herself to daydream that she might see him again, she would never have imagined a circumstance like this. Her brain could only acknowledge that he was here. Here. She couldn't think past that, although fear wasn't far away.

She turned his head more and he looked at her now. Bella had never seen his eyes so black. They were like two holes bored into his head. Around his eyes the circles were deep purple, almost black themselves. His skin, normally translucent white, had a gray tinge. He appeared thinner, wasted somehow. Even his eyelashes were coated in the light powder that covered him, whitening them. She could smell it on him now. The smell of a new building. The powder dusted the floor around him and felt rough against her palm. As she moved him, she heard the loose chips pattering onto the floor.

"Edward, what happened to you?"

He slowly lifted his arm, gently taking her hand and cradling it. Still moving slowly, so slowly, he moved her hand up to, and across his face, running his nose along her wrist. The gesture was so familiar it tore at her heart. He breathed in deep, closing his eyes.

"Ohhh." His whispered breath was long and low as he moved his head back and forth across her wrist.

Edward opened his eyes again and looked up at her with a small smile. Bella smiled back, joy welling up in her. Just seeing him, seeing his angel's face, the familiar grace and beauty of his movements, almost hurt her with their familiarity, but she wanted this. Needed this. It didn't matter that he'd left her, that he didn't love her. He was here. That was all that mattered, never mind the surreal circumstances.

She smiled wider, but then she looked into his eyes and felt a rush of coldness as sweat broke out on her forehead. His eyes held no recognition, no coherence, no awareness; just blank madness. Then his lips drew as he smiled up at her.

That's when he struck.

In the unreality of the situation it seemed to happen in slow motion and it was almost sensual the way he opened his mouth and sank his teeth into her right wrist, the universe contracting to the point where his lips met her arm. She watched, eyes wide, for what seemed like minutes, unable to process what was happening. Then the world crashed in on her and time sped back up. For a second she felt the burn of his venom and screamed in shock, automatically trying to jerk her wrist away. She was partially successful before he used his razor-sharp nails, raking the skin from her forearm as he clawed her wrist back to his mouth, the pain of tearing flesh replacing the burn.

She could feel the drag of his icy lips and tongue. "Edward!" she screamed, still struggling. Again, she nearly freed her arm, only to gain more tears to her wrist. She beat at him, bruising her fingers as waves of nausea shot through her from the cold, sickening, sucking feeling of him drinking from her more and more urgently.

"Stop! Please, stop!" was all she could scream, time and again. If he heard, he gave no sign.

In her panic and from the loss of blood, the room spun, and she could see nothing other than her arm, his face, blood, and shredded skin. Behind her was a gleeful cackling that she barely registered. Against her arm, Edward was laughing happily, a carefree sound that only added to her confusion. She pushed and tugged wildly, but he just swatted at her.

When a blow from his flailing fist connected with her temple, she'd never seen it coming. Just a momentary flash of white, and then she began to drift into unconsciousness.

The cackling continued, clashing in her head. Nearby there was a sudden noise, a rough screeching roar, but she didn't care. She was tumbling, whirling, falling over and over, lost in a roiling ocean. The world lost its gravity and spun round her. The laughter stopped and now she heard voices, how many she didn't know. There were musical tones and hard, deep, guttural ones; a sea of angry or fearful voices. Her body seemed to be moving without any will, twisting and rolling, just like the spinning in her mind.

0O0O0O0O0O0O0O0

Edward had always loved the sound of the sea.

Although it was far away, indistinct, he heard it now as he lay on the dark shore, its steady tempo soothing him. He was content to lie here, forever bathing in its sound, getting louder as the tide came in, filling his whole being.

He luxuriated in it until it saturated his every cell and his body resonated with its beat.

And then the melody began.

He searched for her, breathing in deep. Instead of the fresh tang of the sea, the scent of flowers hung heavy in the air. He lay in her arms in his meadow – their meadow - in full bloom as the sweet air filled his lungs. He sighed. He'd been ill, he knew. Maybe it was the influenza that was affecting so many people. He wasn't sure and it didn't matter. He would be all right now. She would make him whole and strong.

She heard him and murmured to him, words he couldn't understand. She fed him. Delicious nectar, ambrosia, pure life filled his mouth, and he gulped eagerly. There was light around him, bright and golden. The Siren song filled his head with fireworks and rainbows, flowing out into the universe to become the symphonies of the stars, novae and galaxies. Her essence thrilled through his body and still she fed him. His strength was building; he was no longer helpless. Greedily, he absorbed the life-force and a wave of comfort flowed over him. He laughed. He was home, and he could lie in her arms forever, content simply to be with her, here in his meadow.

He wasn't the only one happy. There was mirth around him, but it sounded a little different. Happy, but … mocking somehow.

The laughter jarred with the harmonies of Her song, so he tried not to hear it. Then a room came into his vision, but it was not his meadow, so he tried not to see it. He wanted to lie there forever, but the picture of the room was intruding, growing stronger. Colors were bright. There was a voice; he wasn't sure where it came from. It sounded gleeful but cruel. "Her fate rested in your hands, Edward."

Irritation crept in. She was all he needed. She was beautiful and life-giving and he reveled in her presence.

The mocking laughter clashed in his head.

Again he drank the elixir of life, turning his head as the angle of the source shifted.

In the picture of the room he saw movement. A head turned. Then there was a weight across his body; something silken sweeping across his face. The flowers, beautifully fragrant freesia, poured out their scent.

The world twisted and the two viewpoints suddenly aligned. The fantasy faded away and he knew exactly where he was. Aro's mind was openly gloating that his punishment of Edward was almost complete and it was even better than he had imagined. He would soon drain the human and then beg for destruction when he realized what he'd done. Maybe, Aro thought, he would take pity and grant the request.

Human?

I'm a vampire, drinking blood.

It's not nectar, it's blood.

It's not music, it's blood.

It's HER. BELLA!

He screamed, a choking sound, and the laughter stopped.

ooo0ooo0ooo0ooo


Continue Reading Next Chapter

About Us

Inkitt is the world’s first reader-powered book publisher, offering an online community for talented authors and book lovers. Write captivating stories, read enchanting novels, and we’ll publish the books you love the most based on crowd wisdom.