Midnight Sun (Twilight Continuation from Edward's POV)

Chapter 3: Confessions

When I entered the light my skin erupted in prisms. This was always the reaction when anyone of my kind encountered direct sunlight. With each methodical step, I believed, now, this is when she'll leave me forever.

Bella didn't run away. During that encapsulated moment, she didn't move. The heartbeat of the universe stilled in time to my lifeless heart. If it wasn't dead, it would have beat right out of my chest into my palm. Then as quick as everything screeched to a halt, everything cracked into motion.

Bella's mouth burst into the most exuberant smile. Her hand had remained outstretched enticing me to come closer. When I met her only a foot apart, her extended hand fell over her heart. Kaleidoscopes of color bounced and glinted off my skin to the trees, to the earth, and to Bella's smiling face.

"I don't scare you?" I lightheartedly inquired, but I seriously wanted to know what she was thinking about all this. Bella sat with her arms ringed around her legs. Her chin rested on her knees. I laid on my back enjoying the passing solar shafts holding up the sky.

She smirked, "No more than usual."

Resting on carpets of grass, I sang to myself in sheer tranquility forgetting that a second ago I was seeking an answer to something. Bella was here beside me, a fantasy unbelievably come to life. I was humming her lullaby when she asked me what I was saying. I couldn't image bliss like this ever being eclipsed… until I felt something like a firebrand flint against my skin. It was a lone finger tracing the back of my hand. My eyes flew open.

She sidled even closer, swaging her hair behind her ears. Then she reached out, and the tips of her fingers strayed along my forearm. My eyelids sank.

"Do you mind?" Bella asked in a low dulcet tone that drizzled down my spine.

Do I mind? "No." The word almost didn't make it past my lips as the cables of current that smoldered between us the past few days were now live wires.

"You can't imagine how that feels." I said helplessly.

Bella outlined the length of my arm lingering at the bend of my elbow. The heat of her hand telegraphed up my arm and through my shoulder, thawing my throat, radiating down into my abdomen.

When she moved across my chest so that her other hand reached my other side, my synapses went haywire.

Instead of pulling her down to me, as every part of me insisted I do, I flipped my palm over toward the sky. I was letting Bella know (and reminding myself) that she was in control. But my sudden action spooked her. She pulled back.

"Sorry." I tried shutting my eyes again. "It's too easy to be myself with you."

Bella took my hand closest to her. Due to her proximity and with her hands still on me, there was no way my eyelids would stay closed. So I watched entranced as Bella examined my hand, turning it over in hers.

Expecting to find goosebumps, I checked my arm for them but only found spangled skin. What does she make of this sideshow?

"Tell me what you're thinking." Bands of light danced across Bella's face when she lifted my hand for a closer inspection. My stare intensified commanding her mind to give up its thoughts. It remained impenetrable. "It's still so strange for me, not knowing."

"You know, the rest of us feel that way all the time."

"It's a hard life." I sighed then appealed to her again. "But you didn't tell me."

"I was wishing I could know what you were thinking…"

"And?" I probed.

"I was wishing that I could believe that you were real. And I was wishing that I wasn't afraid."

Those words activated that ping of sadness now ricocheting against the vacancy in my chest. "I don't want you to be afraid."

"Well, that's not exactly the fear I meant, though that's certainly something to think about." Bella's forehead furrowed.

Confused, I sat up to scrutinize her more closely like she had my hand moments ago. "What are you afraid of then?" Knowing full well what she should fear.

We were only inches apart that her body's warmth undulated against me. It reminded me that we were alone, apart from the protection of family and friends, away from the safety of witnesses.

Leaving no defensible space, Bella drew even nearer.

I let down my gaze. My vision was easily captivated by the hemoglobin coursing through the vessels and capillaries at her throat.

My tongue ran along my teeth. Closer. Come closer.

Soon after, Bella inhaled and then exhaled an unguarded seismic breath. Her scent swathed around my head. She smelled of green and flowering things, of youth, of beauty. A concentration of life. I was in trouble well before I knew what was coming.

So potent was the essence in her blood. The muscles in my neck constricted while venom splashed through my veins, feeding every eager molecule. Impulses began to sever its connection to morality. Her unanticipated action, the smell of her, disinterred a former identity.

My monster glowed inside me.

Wrenching myself away from her hands, without an instant to spare, I backed into the safety of the woods. After a moments search, Bella's sightline crossed mine. Her bereft expression pained me, but I was thoroughly discombobulated.

"I'm… sorry… Edward," she muttered and withdrew her open hands into her lap.

"Give me a moment," was the only reply I could give. After a few seconds, I cautiously treaded into the glen. My sight fixed on Bella yet I was watching her with all my senses. Halting a few paces away, I sunk into a sitting position and nabbed two breaths of her scent.

My monster sauntered forward.

"I am so very sorry," I blundered. "Would you understand what I meant if I said I was only human?" I offered a tepid smile not intending to make a joke. Bella nodded, but concern and confusion upset her features.

When I began my next sentence, Bella's pupils dilated. Comprehension passed through her eyes. I could scent adrenaline flooding her circulatory system. I could hear her heart palpitate. It made me instantly famished.

With a rueful smile, my lips moved as my monster spoke. "I'm the world's best predator, aren't I? Everything about me invites you in — my voice, my face, even my smell." Something moved inside me. I should have kept away.

All at once, the breeze conveyed Bella's adrenaline spiced scent to me, to my monster. Atavistic hunger was razoring my insides. And I knew nothing else but what I wanted. My vision targeted her throat.

"As if I need any of that!" I vaulted up, rounded the clearing, and hid in the shade I escaped to earlier. No more than a second passed. Bella looked at me awestruck as everything chaining my thirst came unhinged.

"As if you could outrun me," I sneered.

Grabbing one of the overhanging branches, I snapped it from its trunk. It seesawed on my finger before I impaled it into a tree yards away. Then in a split moment, I charged towards Bella stopping dead, feet from her.

Her face riddled with fear, but all I could see, all I desired was at her throat. Venom was rising behind my clenched teeth. The monster of my thirst demanded to be slaked. I was only too willing to pander to it.

We could almost taste her.

"As if you could fight me off." Our words were measured, deliberate.

Bella's stare was unblinking with terror; her countenance sallowed. My monster ogled her with an almost righteous gluttony. This is how it should be, how it was meant to be.

I flailed at the ledge of a final precipice into the opened-mouth gorge of my monster. All I had to do was to just let go…

.

.

.

Bella's eyes.

.

.

.

I saw Bella's eyes.

In an unexpected suspension of time, those chocolate brown eyes so very near to tears, quietly slipped the slimmest of ligatures around me.

As I teetered at the brink, another more tenable safety line, then another, followed by strands of others lashed my frame like a marionette. The imaginary strings from the grief of Bella's eyes bore the weight of my thirst and jolted me back to her.

As quick as it had risen, the pandemonium within me crested. When my senses became my own again, my vision fell upon Bella with crushing remorse and misery. What have I done? What might I've done?

Enraged, I seized the monster by its neck and hurled it back into its cage.

I didn't need to, but I wanted to breathe in relief. With the exception of her own hyperventilated breathing, Bella remained petrified.

"Don't be afraid." I pleaded.

"I promise…" All my good intentions, all my resolve, all my will finished reforming connectivity. "I swear I will not hurt you."

The monster was silent.

"Don't be afraid." My hands were up where Bella could see them when I sat down in front of her.

"Please forgive me." It was pitiful submission of an apology. "I can control myself. You caught me off guard. But I'm on my best behavior now."

Bella gaped at me. With the fright I just gave her, she was naturally shocked and unresponsive.

To fix the mess I made, I pledged, "I'm not thirsty today, honestly." I didn't know what to say, what to do. I followed this with an awkward wink and smile. Bella let out what sounded like a laugh. It was streaked with fear.

"Are you all right?" I desperately inquired.

Bella should be running away from me. But she didn't budge. Deeply ashamed, I fought the pressure to bolt if she wasn't going to. Yet, in trying to stay put, I ended up laying my hand in the warmth of her hands.

It was well within her prerogative to knock my hand away. Instead she considered it. Her eyes toiled as she prepared to tell me off.

Eventually her breathing stabilized. Bella straightened her carriage. She was going to cut me out of her life. I just knew it. Even though I didn't want to hear Bella say it, I owed it to her to remain where I was so she could tell me so to my face.

She looked at me — but there were no closed gates — astoundingly, I thought I found mercy in those eyes.

Bella's gaze returned to my hand, clasping it firmly in hers. That familiar crease emerged between her eyebrows. Without a word, she continued to study my hand. Then she squeezed it.

One would think it unperceivable against my flesh of stone, but clemency transferred from her hands to mine. She let me know at that moment it was alright. I was — forgiven?

It was singularly one of the most gracious gestures I had ever known.

I was done for. Bella just made everything joyously horribly worst. If she had only rebuked me right then, I might have grouped enough strength to disappear forever. But she was holding my hand.

There was no hope of me ever leaving her now.

I dearly wanted to repay her, to comfort her, to fix my mess. I wanted her in my arms. But I just remained there with my hand in hers entirely overawed.

Sitting crossed-legged facing each other, the fabric at our knees kissed. Like she had earlier, her fingertip patterned the lines in my palm as if to read my fortune. What did she see? In some strange work of magic, when she squeezed my hand, an act of consecration was committed: for bad and for worst, Edward Cullen bound eternally to Bella Swan.

She raised her face to mine and smiled.

"So where were we, before I behaved so rudely?" It was all I could think to say. I felt idiotic and off balance after my animalistic display.

"I honestly can't remember," she said still smiling. A faint dimple surfaced on her chin.

I grinned nearly not recalling myself. "I think we were talking about why you were afraid, besides the obvious reason." Seeing that I nearly made a meal out of my only purpose for existing, what more reasons were needed?

"Oh right."

"Well?"

Bella lowered her eyes to my hand again and resumed her scrawling. After a protracted minute, I teased, "How easily frustrated I am."

She spared me a glance, "I was afraid… because, for, well, obvious reasons, I can't stay with you. And I'm afraid that I'd like to stay with you, much more than I should." Bella's expression turned downcast as her prospect returned to my hand.

"Yes," I dismally acknowledged. "That is something to be afraid of, indeed. Wanting to be with me. That's really not in your best interest." After what just happened, this couldn't be more apparent. Her downcast face became morose. "I should have left long ago," I equivocated. "I should leave now. But I don't know if I can."

"I don't want you to leave."

"Which is exactly why I should," I sighed. "But don't worry. I'm essentially a selfish creature. I crave your company too much to do what I should."

"I'm glad."

"Don't be!" I detached my hand from hers. "It's not only your company I crave! Never forget that. Never forget I am more dangerous to you than I am to anyone else." I scanned the forest and felt the monster stir.

"I don't think I understand exactly what you mean — by that last part anyway."

"How do I explain?" Considering what Bella said, I was appreciative of her transparency. "And without frightening you again… hmmmm." My hand reached for hers, and she readily took it with both. The temperature from her touch sizzled through my skin. The effect was intoxicating. "That's amazingly pleasant, the warmth."

After regaining some sobriety, I began.

"You know how everyone enjoys different flavors?" I said. "Some people love chocolate ice cream, others prefer strawberry?" Bella nodded. "Sorry about the food analogy — I couldn't think of another way to explain." We exchanged grins.

"You see, every person smells different, has a different essence. If you lock an alcoholic in a room full of stale beer, he'd gladly drink it. But he could resist, if he wished to, if he were a recovering alcoholic. Now let's say you placed in that room a glass of hundred-year-brandy, the rarest, finest cognac — and filled the room with its warm aroma — how do you think he would fair then?"

Before she could answer, I spoke again. "Maybe it's not the right comparison. Maybe it would be too easy to turn down the brandy. Perhaps I should make our alcoholic a heroin addict instead." There simply wasn't a human equivalent. Besides, this poor explanation seemed inappropriate. I should still be apologizing for my earlier horrendous behavior. I was about to scrap the whole thing and start over.

Bella bit her lip. "So what you're saying is, I'm your brand of heroin?"

Not knowing it, her offhanded reply alleviated most of the remaining unpleasantness between us.

I smiled. "Yes, you are exactly my brand of heroin."

"Does that happen often?"

"I spoke to my brothers about it." Surveying the ring of trees that bordered our enclosure, I mulled over my response. "To Jasper, every one of you is much the same. He's the most recent to join our family. It's a struggle for him to abstain at all. He hasn't had time to grow sensitive to the differences in the smell, the flavor." Embarrassed at my lack of tact, I added, "Sorry."

"I don't mind. Please don't worry about offending me, or frightening me, or whichever. That's the way you think. I can understand, or I can try at least. Just explain however you can." Bella squared her shoulders and looked at me.

"So Jasper wasn't sure if he'd ever come across someone who as" — I fished for the appropriate term — "appealing as you are to me. Which makes me think not. Emmett has been on the wagon longer, so to speak, and he understood what I meant. He says twice, for him, once stronger than the other."

"And for you?"

"Never."

We were silent for a moment.

"What did Emmet do?"

I recalled my brother's offenses that laid unrestricted in his mind. It evoked thoughts of my own sins. Today's near catastrophe not excluded. This I could not share with Bella, not now, perhaps not ever. Repulsed with myself, I nearly pulled my balled up hand away from hers. Instead I diverted my gaze.

"I guess I know."

Few things I couldn't survive. Bella hating me was one of them. Seeking some kind of absolution, I said, "Even the strongest of us fall off the wagon, don't we?"

"What are you asking? My permission?"

My face fell at her reply.

Bella quickly adjusted the inflection in her voice, "I mean, is there no hope, then?"

"No, no!" I was emphatic. "Of course there's hope! I mean, of course I won't…" I watched Bella's changing countenance. "It's different for us. Emmett… these were strangers he happened across. It was a long time ago, and he wasn't as… practiced, as careful, as he is now."

"So if we'd met… oh, in a dark alley or something…"

"It took everything I had not to jump in the middle of that class full of children and —" My words splintered. I turned away from her. "When you walked past me, I could have ruined everything Carlisle has built for us, right then and there. If I hadn't been denying my thirst for the last, well, too many years, I wouldn't have been able to stop myself." I bit down on my lip. "You must have thought I was possessed."

"I couldn't understand why. How you could hate me so quickly…"

"To me, it was like you were some kind of demon, summoned straight from my own personal hell to ruin me. The fragrance coming off your skin… I thought it would make me deranged that first day. In that one hour, I thought of a hundred different ways to lure you from the room with me, to get you alone. And I fought them each back, thinking of my family, what I could do to them. I had to run out, to get away before I could speak the words that would make you follow…"

Bella's fragility was apparent now as the day I first battled her scent in that small classroom. I bore into her eyes that transformed from stupefied to spellbound. "You would have come."

"Without a doubt." Bella admitted. I broke off my stare.

"And then, as I tried to rearrange my schedule in a pointless attempt to avoid you, you were there — in that close, warm little room, the scent was maddening. I so very nearly took you then. There was only one other frail human there — so easily dealt with." When my gaze returned to her, Bella trembled. New understanding articulated in her reaction.

"But I resisted. I don't know how. I forced myself not to wait for you, not to follow you from school. It was easier outside, when I couldn't smell you anymore, to think clearly, to make the right decision. I left the others near home — I was too ashamed to tell them how weak I was, they only knew something was very wrong — and then I went straight to Carlisle, at the hospital, to tell him I was leaving." Bella stared at me and didn't speak.

"I traded cars with him — he had a full tank of gas and I didn't want to stop. I didn't dare go home, to face Esme. She wouldn't have let me go without a scene. She would have tried to convince me that it wasn't necessary…

"By the next morning I was in Alaska." Scoffing at the memories of my unsuccessful exile, I went on. "I spent two days there, with some old acquaintances … but I was homesick. I hated knowing I'd upset Esme, and the rest of them, my adopted family. In the pure air of the mountains it was hard to believe that you were so irresistible. I convinced myself it was weak to run away. I'd dealt with temptation before, not of this magnitude, not even close, but I was strong. Who were you, an insignificant little girl" — my lips curled into a smirk — "to chase me from the place I wanted to be? So I came back…" Bella remained speechless, and as I often found myself in her company, I couldn't stop talking.

"I took precautions, hunting, feeding more than usual before seeing you again. I was sure that I was strong enough to treat you like any other human. I was arrogant about it.

"It was unquestionably a complication that I couldn't simply read your thoughts to know what your reaction was to me. I wasn't used to having to go to such circuitous measures, listening to your words in Jessica's mind… her mind isn't very original, and it was annoying to have to stoop to that. And then I couldn't know if you really meant what you said. It was all extremely irritating." As I watched Bella take what I was saying in stride, I didn't hold anything back.

"I wanted you to forget my behavior that first day, if possible, so I tried to talk with you like I would with any person. I was eager actually, hoping to decipher some of your thoughts. But you were too interesting, I found myself caught up in your expressions… and every now and then you would stir the air with your hand or your hair, and the scent would stun me again…

"Of course, then you were nearly crushed to death in front of my eyes. Later I thought of a perfectly good excuse for why I acted at that moment — because if I hadn't saved you, if your blood had been spilled there in front of me, I don't think I could have stopped myself from exposing us for what we are. But I only thought of that excuse later. At the time, all I could think was, 'Not her.'"

My eyes clamped shut remembering that I had almost lost Bella. My instincts, always driven to kill her, saved her life that day and had just spared it once more. Bella's voice interrupted my thoughts.

"At the hospital?"

I wheeled my head towards her. "I was appalled. I couldn't believe I had put us in danger after all, put myself in your power — you of all people. As if I needed another motive to kill you." Simultaneously, we both flinched at my last statement. "I fought with Rosalie, Emmett, and Jasper when they suggested that now was the time… the worst fight we've ever had. Carlisle sided with me, and Alice." I shut off the memory of Alice's alternate endings horror show that wanted to run in my head. "Esme told me to do whatever I had to in order to stay.

"All that day I eavesdropped on the minds of everyone you spoke to, shocked that you kept your word. I didn't understand you at all. But I knew that I couldn't become more involved with you. I did my very best to stay as far from you as possible. And every day the perfume of your skin, your breath, your hair… it hit me as hard as the very first day." Our sightlines intersected, and in their union there was understanding.

"And for all that," I said gravely, "I'd have fared better if I had exposed us all at that first moment, than if now, here — with no witnesses and nothing to stop me — I were to hurt you."

"Why?"

"Isabella." In a casual gesture, I tousled her hair, but the mood remained staid.

"Bella, I couldn't live with myself if I ever hurt you. You don't know how it's tortured me." My eyes groped the ground for support for what I didn't want to imagine much less put into words. "The thought of you, still, white, cold… to never see you blush scarlet again, to never see that flash of intuition in your eyes when you see through my pretenses… it would be unendurable." If I had admitted this a day, even an hour ago, it would have been meaningless. Only at this very moment did I truly grasp what I was saying. I raised my head to meet her eyes.

"You are the most important thing to me now. The most important thing to me ever." For you see my Bella, I am incontrovertibly in love with you.

At my spoken and unspoken admission, she looked down at our braided fingers. "You already know how I feel, of course."

Bella continued after some time. "I'm here… which, roughly translated, means I would rather die than stay away from you." She pouted when she added. "I'm an idiot."

"You are an idiot," I teased. She joined me in laughter.

There was an enormous relief in being honest and still accepted. I felt embolden. "And so the lion fell in love with the lamb…"

"What a stupid lamb," she sighed.

"What a sick, masochistic lion." My stare disengaged from hers to skim our timbered fortress. There was going to be many hours, days, months, devoted to metabolizing what just happened.

"Why…?" Bella started.

"Yes?"

"Tell me why you ran from me before."

My mouth hung down. "You know why."

"No, I mean, exactly what did I do wrong? I'll have to be on my guard, you see, so I better start learning what I shouldn't do. This, for example" — she caressed the back of my hand — "seems to be all right."

"You didn't do anything wrong, Bella. It was my fault."

"But I want to help, if I can, to not make this harder for you."

"Well…" I thought, "It was how close you were. Most humans instinctively shy away from us, are repelled by our alienness… I wasn't expecting you to come so close. And the smell of your throat." My voice caught knowing I said more than I should.

"Okay, then," she lowered her chin to her chest, "No throat exposure."

I laughed. "No, really, it was more the surprise than anything else.

Disregarding my numerous rules, I sprung to my knees and held my hand to the succulent skin beneath Bella's ear. Blood hammered against my palm.

"You see," I contended. "Perfectly fine."

As Bella's pulse gathered speed, a soft burgundy flushed over her. "The blush on your cheeks is lovely." Withdrawing my other hand from hers, I raised both to frame Bella's face.

"Be very still." My eyes held her gaze as I angled myself closer. Owning to some undeniable gravitational force, I placed the side of my face against hers. Never have I been so close to Bella. I was dazed by the strength of her scent and at my own daring.

With a mind of their own, my fingers roamed down the curve of her neck. Bella shuddered. My hands continued to meander over her collarbones lastly resting on her shoulders. I held them securely. Then the tip of my nose traveled the same route of my hands luxuriating in Bella's fragrance. The heat of her skin furnaced my entire body.

Nudging the base of her neck, I then advanced southward until my cheek settled magnetically against her chest.

Her heart was galloping in a thunderous sequence. It was a sound I prized. "Ah," I sighed. Hypnotized by its tempo, I listened to her heartbeat eventually decelerate. I didn't want to let her go, but I inched myself upright. Only her gaze remained in my custody.

"It won't be so hard again," I affirmed with some certainty.

"Was that very hard for you?"

"Not nearly as bad as I imagined it would be. And you?" Once more I bungled my words. Before I could recant them she answered.

"No, it wasn't bad… for me."

My mouth turned up sheepishly.

"You know what I mean," she grinned.

"Here." I pressed her hand against my cheek still feeling the residual temperature from our contact. "Do you feel how warm it is?"

"Don't move." Bella breathed.

I obeyed and closed my eyes. Her hand quivered under mine; so, I let my hands fall at my side. With her hand now loose, she brushed my cheek with her thumb. Then her fingers grazed my lowered eyelids rounding in a circle under my eyes. A fingertip trailed the slope of my nose then outlined my mouth. She touched my face but every segment of my skin tingled.

My lips parted slightly, inhaling the perfume of blood issuing from her wrist. I was growing dizzy from the effect. Bella withdrew her hand. My eyes opened at the absence of her touch.

I was like waking from a coma. My long discarded humanity resuscitated under Bella's hand. I looked at her from my insatiability, longing, demanding more as her pulse sped again.

"I wish," I whispered, "I wish you could feel the… complexity… the confusion… I feel. That you could understand." I busied myself with a tendril of Bella's hair and stroked her face.

"Tell me," she encouraged.

"I don't think I can. I've told you, on the one hand, the hunger — the thirst — that, deplorable creature that I am, I feel for you. And I think you can understand that, to an extent. Though" — I grinned — "as you are not addicted to any illegal substances, you probably can't empathize completely."

My vision drifted to the divot just above her mouth. I felt compelled to do something wildly negligent… I wanted to know what it would be like… I wanted to… kiss her.

"But…" instead I bartered one transgression for another and touched her soft lips. "There are hungers. Hungers I don't understand, that are foreign to me."

"I may understand that better than you think." Bella argued.

"I'm not used to feeling so human. Is it always like this?

"For me?" She shook her head. "No, never. Never before this."

I took her hands. They were warm and vulnerable. "I don't know how to be close to you," I admitted. "I don't know if I can."

She gave me a stern look. Then very carefully, Bella leaned forward onto her knees and rested her head on my chest. I was staggered at her immediacy.

"This is enough," she whispered and closed her eyes as if to sleep.

Lost in her warmth and aroma, another desire once more outsized the range of my thirst. I encircled her in my arms and nestled my face in her hair.

"You're better at this than you give yourself credit for," Bella remarked charitably. Her arms that were propped on the ground twined around my waist. She drew her knees to the side, pressing the whole of her against me, enrobing me with her heat.

"I have human instincts — they may be buried deep, but they're there."

We held each other as the world outside our sanctum dissolved. But when the light dimmed elongating the shadows around us, Bella sighed in recognition that our afternoon was drawing to a close.

"You have to go." I conceded.

"I thought you couldn't read my mind."

A smile toyed with my mouth. "It's getting clearer."

Unwillingly, we both stood up. Bella had trouble regaining her balance, but she steadied herself before my hands could get to her. I didn't want this to end. There was the hike back to her pickup. My mind twiddled with a notion.

"Can I show you something?" I asked suddenly inspired.

"Show me what?"

That sounded like a "yes."

"I'll show you how I travel in the forest." Distress from this morning reappeared on Bella's face. "Don't worry, you'll be very safe, and we'll get to your truck must faster."

She cocked an eyebrow and shored her hands to her hips. "Will you turn into a bat?"

"Like I haven't heard that one before!" I said lapsing into a seizure of laughter.

"Right, I'm sure you get that all the time."

Still chuckling, I reached for her. "Come on, little coward, climb on my back."

Bella's blinking became exaggerated, but she didn't back away. When I took her hand, her heart performed a hyperactive drum roll. I then swung her on my back. As her arms and legs locked around me, my nerves reacted to the insulation generating the length of her body.

"I'm a bit heavier than your average backpack," Bella cautioned.

"Hah!" I rolled my eyes. Before we set off, I clinched one of her hands and held it against my cheek. Helping myself to a breath, tested once more the sturdiness of my resolve.

"Easier all the time." I reported both to myself and to Bella.

And then we flew…

At supersonic speed, I streaked over the undergrowth of the forest floor, leaping over felled trees and squatted boulders, maneuvering past the brush and vegetation in near levitation. A thousand thoughts zoomed through my mind. Foremost among them was my achievement.

In a low-down dirty match, I triumphed over the monster. It was not entirely vanquished, but I had proved the victor. And even though I was a bloody wreck inside, I gloried in my success.

The conquest gave me a share of confidence leading the way to all sorts of ideas — none of them good. With impatience, I blazed the last few hundred yards. In the next minute we arrived at Bella's truck.

"Exhilarating, isn't it?" I said slowing to a halt.

"Bella?"

"I think I need to lie down," she wheezed.

"Oh, sorry."

Bella remained clamped to my back. She was more than welcome to stay just where she was.

"I think I need help," she indicated.

With soundless snickering, I pried her arms and legs from my neck and waist and drew her around to face me. Carrying her in an embrace, I then lowered her to the spongy earth.

"How do you feel?"

"Dizzy, I think."

"Put you head between your knees." I guided Bella down to a sitting position and took a seat beside her.

Her breathing slowed. Then in due course she lifted her head. Her eyes, though, were scrunched closed.

"I guess that wasn't the best idea." I said.

"No, it was very interesting."

"Hah! You're as white as ghost — no, you're as white as me!"

"I think I should have closed my eyes."

"Remember that next time."

"Next time!" She made a squeamish face that sent me into chortles.

"Show off," she grumbled.

I stopped laughing and said softly, "Open your eyes, Bella." We were close enough that our noses could touch. Taking a breath, the slow burn in my throat distracted me to what I was about to do. "I was thinking, while I was running…"

"About not hitting the trees, I hope." she groused.

"Silly Bella," I leaned back feeling warm all of a sudden. I couldn't tell if the temperature change was coming from Bella or my overworking imagination. "Running is second nature to me, it's not something I have to think about." Good thing, because all I've been thinking about was my next move.

"Show off." Bella eased her eyelids apart to see me smiling impishly back at her.

"No," I muttered, "I was thinking that there was something I wanted to try."

As I took Bella's face between my hands, her expression questioned me. I bent my head forward and answered her by touching my lips to hers.

My plan to quickly release Bella disintegrated when I melted into the softness of her mouth. A fast fever struck my skin. And underneath my sweltering skin, my muscles couldn't decide whether to contract or slip off my bones.

The kiss that I meant so innocently, to my shock and confusion, became a pyrotechnical event.

Bella parted her lips and inhaled as if to extract the very life out of me. I was seeing stars as her scent ripened with the fresh strength of our first encounter. The slumbering monster roused. We may have been skirting the threshold of danger earlier. Now we were incensing it from its cage.

I fought my way through the fires, through the smoke and lights, and finally pulled Bella away from me.

Her eyes opened wide with penitence. "Oops."

"That's an understatement." I stared at her giving up on ever regaining my faculties.

Uhhhhhhhhhhhh… What.. just.. happened? I shook myself internally. Obviously, I knew what happened. But my brain was blitzed. My body blindsided.

"Should I…" She attempted to free herself from my grasp. I couldn't permit it.

"No, it's tolerable. Wait for a moment, please." As I held Bella's hot cheeks drinking in her scent, I saw that my resolve held.

"There," I said proudly.

"Tolerable?"

I laughed at my unexpected fortitude. "I'm stronger than I thought. It's nice to know."

"I wish I could say the same. I'm sorry."

"You are only human, after all." I was playing it off, but unbeknownst to Bella, her kiss was still detonating bombs in the fallow fields of my sexuality. Half of me, no, ninety percent of me was arranging a way to make it happen again and soon. While the other ten percent was waving me to slow down.

Bella's eyes rolled. "Thanks so much."

I jumped to my feet, this time helping Bella recover her balance as she stood up.

"Are you still faint from the run? Or was it my kissing expertise?" I said with a lot of bravado, which although I would never claim openly, I felt entitled to.

"I can't be sure, I'm still woozy," she murmured, "I think it's some of both, though."

"Maybe you should let me drive."

Bella immediately sobered up. "Are you insane?"

"I can drive better than you on your best day," I rebutted, "You have much slower reflexes."

"I'm sure that's true, but I don't think my nerves, or my truck, could take it."

"Some trust, please, Bella."

I spied her fondling the key in her pocket. She nibbled her lower lip weighing the options then shook her head. "Nope, not a chance."

My eyebrows spanned out at her stubbornness. Bella then made a move to pass me nearly taking a fall at the attempt. I roped her by the midsection. With the height difference, the top of her head pieced perfectly under my chin. When I took several breathfuls of her fragrance, I too became woozy.

"Bella, I've already expended a great deal of personal effort at this point to keep you alive. I'm not about to let you behind the wheel of a vehicle when you can't even walk straight. Besides, friends don't let friends drive drunk." There was no chance she was driving, but I was hoping she'd challenge me a second time.

"Drunk?" she disputed.

"You're intoxicated by my very presence." I said conceitly.

"I can't argue with that." Finally, she raised the key above her head then released it. I caught it and was already unlocking her pickup before she lowered her hand.

"Take it easy — my truck is a senior citizen."

"Very sensible."

"And are you not affected at all?" There was annoyance in her tone. "By my presence?"

My arrogance dissolved at her sincere agitation. I lowered my face to hers. After a spell of several seconds disarming the doubt in her eyes, I left a trail of kisses from her ear to her chin and back again. I was getting the hang of this.

Bella shivered beneath me.

"Regardless," I whispered belatedly, "I have better reflexes.

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