4. GESTURE The wedding flowed into the reception party smoothly —4—proof of Alice's flawless planning. It was just twilight over the river; the ceremony had lasted exactly the right amount of time, allowing the sun to set behind the trees. The lights in the trees glimmered as Edward led me through the glass back doors, making the white flowers glow. There were another ten thousand flowers out here, serving as a fragrant, airy tent over the dance floor set up on the grass under two of the ancient cedars. Things slowed down, relaxed as the mellow August evening surrounded us. The little crowd spread out under the soft shine of the twinkle lights, and we were greeted again by the friends we'd just embraced. There was time to talk now, to laugh. "Congrats, guys," Seth Clearwater told us, ducking his head under the edge of a flower garland. His mother, Sue, was tight by his side, eyeing the guests with wary intensity. Her face was thin and fierce, an expression that was accented by her short, severe hairstyle; it was as short as her daughter Leah's ——I wondered if she'd cut it the same way in a show of solidarity. Billy Black, on Seth's other side, was not as tense as Sue. When I looked at Jacob's father, I always felt like I was seeing two people rather than just one. There was the old man in the wheelchair with the lined face and the white smile that everyone else saw. And then there was the direct descendant of a long line of powerful, magical chieftains, cloaked in the authority he'd been born with. Though the magic had ——in the absence of a catalyst——skipped his generation, Billy was still a part of the power and the legend. It flowed straight through him. It flowed to his son, the heir to the magic, who had turned his back on it. That left Sam Uley to act as the chief of legends and magic now___ Billy seemed oddly at ease considering the company and the event ——his black eyes sparkled like he'd just gotten some good news. I was impressed by his composure. This wedding must have seemed a very bad thing, the worst thing that could happen to his best friend's daughter, in Billy's eyes. I knew it wasn't easy for him to restrain his feelings, considering the challenge this event foreshadowed to the ancient treaty between the Cullens and the Quileutes ——the treaty that prohibited the Cullens from ever creating another vampire. The wolves knew a breach was coming, but the Cullens had no idea how they would react. Before the alliance, it would have meant an immediate attack. A war. But now that they knew each other better, would there be forgiveness instead? As if in response to that thought, Seth leaned toward Edward, arms extended. Edward returned the hug with his free arm. I saw Sue shudder delicately. "It's good to see things work out for you, man," Seth said. "I'm happy for you." "Thank you, Seth. That means a lot to me." Edward pulled away from Seth and looked at Sue and Billy. "Thank you, as well. For letting Seth come. For supporting Bella today." "You're welcome," Billy said in his deep, gravelly voice, and I was surprised at the optimism in his tone. Perhaps a stronger truce was on the horizon. A bit of a line was forming, so Seth waved goodbye and wheeled Billy toward the food. Sue kept one hand on each of them. Angela and Ben were the next to claim us, followed by Angela's parents and then Mike and Jessica ——who were, to my surprise, holding hands. I hadn't heard that they were together again. That was nice. Behind my human friends were my new cousins-in-law, the Denali vampire clan. I realized I was holding my breath as the vampire in front ——Tanya, I assumed from the strawberry tint in her blond curls——reached out to embrace Edward. Next to her, three other vampires with golden eyes stared at me with open curiosity. One woman had long, pale blond hair, straight as corn silk. The other woman and the man beside her were both black-haired, with a hint of an olive tone to their chalky complexions. And they were all four so beautiful that it made my stomach hurt. Tanya was still holding Edward. "Ah, Edward," she said. "I've missed you." Edward chuckled and deftly maneuvered out of the hug, placing his hand lightly on her shoulder and stepping back, as if to get a better look at her. "It's been too long, Tanya. You look well." "So do you." "Let me introduce you to my wife." It was the first time Edward had said that word since it was officially true; he seemed like he would explode with satisfaction saying it now. The Denalis all laughed lightly in response. "Tanya, this is my Bella." Tanya was every bit as lovely as my worst nightmares had predicted. She eyed me with a look that was much more speculative than it was resigned, and then reached out to take my hand. "Welcome to the family, Bella." She smiled, a little rueful. "We consider ourselves Carlisle's extended family, and I am sorry about the, er, recent incident when we did not behave as such. We should have met you sooner. Can you forgive us?" "Of course," I said breathlessly. "It's so nice to meet you." "The Cullens are all evened up in numbers now. Perhaps it will be our turn next, eh, Kate?" She grinned at the blonde. "Keep the dream alive," Kate said with a roll of her golden eyes. She took my hand from Tanya's and squeezed it gently. "Welcome, Bella." The dark-haired woman put her hand on top of Kate's. "I'm Carmen, this is Eleazar. We're all so very pleased to finally meet you." "M-me, too," I stuttered. Tanya glanced at the people waiting behind her ——Charlie's deputy, Mark, and his wife. Their eyes were huge as they took in the Denali clan. "We'll get to know each other later. We'll have eons of time for that!" Tanya laughed as she and her family moved on. All the standard traditions were kept. I was blinded by flashbulbs as we held the knife over a spectacular cake ——too grand, I thought, for our relatively intimate group of friends and family. We took turns shoving cake in each other's faces; Edward manfully swallowed his portion as I watched in disbelief. I threw my bouquet with atypical skill, right into Angela's surprised hands. Emmett and Jasper howled with laughter at my blush while Edward removed my borrowed garter——which I'd shimmied down nearly to my ankle——very carefully with his teeth. With a quick wink at me, he shot it straight into Mike Newton's face. And when the music started, Edward pulled me into his arms for the customary first dance; I went willingly, despite my fear of dancing ——especially dancing in front of an audience——just happy to have him holding me. He did all the work, and I twirled effortlessly under the glow of a canopy of lights and the bright flashes from the cameras. "Enjoying the party, Mrs. Cullen?" he whispered in my ear. I laughed. "That will take a while to get used to." "We have a while," he reminded me, his voice exultant, and he leaned down to kiss me while we danced. Cameras clicked feverishly. The music changed, and Charlie tapped on Edward's shoulder. It wasn't nearly as easy to dance with Charlie. He was no better at it than I was, so we moved safely from side to side in a tiny square formation. Edward and Esme spun around us like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. "I'm going to miss you at home, Bella. I'm already lonely." I spoke through a tight throat, trying to make a joke of it. "I feel just horrible, leaving you to cook for yourself ——it's practically criminal negligence. You could arrest me." He grinned. "I suppose I'll survive the food. Just call me whenever you can." "I promise." It seemed like I danced with everyone. It was good to see all my old friends, but I really wanted to be with Edward more than anything else. I was happy when he finally cut in, just half a minute after a new dance started. "Still not that fond of Mike, eh?" I commented as Edward whirled me away from him. "Not when I have to listen to his thoughts. He's lucky I didn't kick him out. Or worse." "Yeah, right." "Have you had a chance to look at yourself?" "Urn. No, I guess not. Why?" "Then I suppose you don't realize how utterly, heart-breakingly beautiful you are tonight. I'm not surprised Mike's having difficulty with improper thoughts about a married woman. I am disappointed that Alice didn't make sure you were forced to look in a mirror." "You are very biased, you know." He sighed and then paused and turned me around to face the house. The wall of glass reflected the party back like a long mirror. Edward pointed to the couple in the mirror directly across from us. "Biased, am I?" I caught just a glimpse of Edward's reflection —2—a perfect duplicate of his perfect face—2—with a dark-haired beauty at his side. Her skin was cream and roses, her eyes were huge with excitement and framed with thick lashes. The narrow sheath of the shimmering white dress flared out subtly at the train almost like an inverted calla lily, cut so skillfully that her body looked elegant and graceful——while it was motionless, at least. Before I could blink and make the beauty turn back into me, Edward suddenly stiffened and turned automatically in the other direction, as if someone had called his name. "Oh!" he said. His brow furrowed for an instant and then smoothed out just as quickly. Suddenly, he was smiling a brilliant smile. "What is it?" I asked. "A surprise wedding gift." "Huh?" He didn't answer; he just started dancing again, spinning me the opposite way we'd been headed before, away from the lights and then into the deep swath of night that ringed the luminous dance floor. He didn't pause until we reached the dark side of one of the huge cedars. Then Edward looked straight into the blackest shadow. "Thank you," Edward said to the darkness. "This is very... kind of you." "Kind is my middle name," a husky familiar voice answered from the black night. "Can i cut in?" My hand flew up to my throat, and if Edward hadn't been holding me I would have collapsed. "Jacob!" I choked as soon as I could breathe. "Jacob!" "Hey there, Bells." I stumbled toward the sound of his voice. Edward kept his grip under my elbow until another set of strong hands caught me in the darkness. The heat from Jacob's skin burned right through the thin satin dress as he pulled me close. He made no effort to dance; he just hugged me while I buried my face in his chest. He leaned down to press his cheek to the top of my head. "Rosalie won't forgive me if she doesn't get her official turn on the dance floor," Edward murmured, and I knew he was leaving us, giving me a gift of his own ——this moment with Jacob. "Oh, Jacob." I was crying now; I couldn't get the words out clearly. "Thank you." "Stop blubbering, Bella. You'll ruin your dress. It's just me." "Just? Oh, Jake! Everything is perfect now." He snorted. "Yeah ——the party can start. The best man finally made it." "Now everyone I love is here." I felt his lips brush my hair. "Sorry I'm late, honey." "I'm just so happy you came!" "That was the idea." I glanced toward the guests, but I couldn't see through the dancers to the spot where I'd last seen Jacob's father. I didn't know if he'd stayed. "Does Billy know you're here?" As soon as I asked, I knew that he must have ——it was the only way to explain his uplifted expression before. "I'm sure Sam's told him. I'll go see him when... when the party's over." "He'll be so glad you're home." Jacob pulled back a little bit and straightened up. He left one hand on the small of my back and grabbed my right hand with the other. He cradled our hands to his chest; I could feel his heart beat under my palm, and I guessed that he hadn't placed my hand there accidentally. "I don't know if I get more than just this one dance," he said, and he began pulling me around in a slow circle that didn't match the tempo of the music coming from behind us. "I'd better make the best of it." We moved to the rhythm of his heart under my hand. "I'm glad I came," Jacob said quietly after a moment. "I didn't think I would be. But it's good to see you... one more time. Not as sad as I'd thought it would be." "I don't want you to feel sad." "I know that. And I didn't come tonight to make you feel guilty." "No —2—it makes me very happy that you came. It's the best gift you could have given me." He laughed. "That's good, because I didn't have time to stop for a real present." My eyes were adjusting, and I could see his face now, higher up than I expected. Was it possible that he was still growing? He had to be closer to seven feet than to six. It was a relief to see his familiar features again after all this time ——his deep-set eyes shadowed under his shaggy black brows, his high cheekbones, his full lips stretched over his bright teeth in the sarcastic smile that matched his tone. His eyes were tight around the edges—2—careful; I could see that he was being very careful tonight. He was doing all he could to make me happy, to not slip and show how much this cost him. I'd never done anything good enough to deserve a friend like Jacob. "When did you decide to come back?" "Consciously or subconsciously?" He took a deep breath before he answered his own question. "I don't really know. I guess I've been wandering back this direction for a while, and maybe it's because I was headed here. But it wasn't until this morning that I really started running. I didn't know if I could make it." He laughed. "You wouldn't believe how weird this feels ——walking around on two legs again. And clothes! And then it's more bizarre because it feels weird. I didn't expect that. I'm out of practice with the whole human thing." We revolved steadily. "It would have been a shame to miss seeing you like this, though. That's worth the trip right there. You look unbelievable, Bella. So beautiful." "Alice invested a lot of time in me today. The dark helps, too." "It's not so dark for me, you know." "Right." Werewolf senses. It was easy to forget all the things he could do, he seemed so human. Especially right now. "You cut your hair," I noted. "Yeah. Easier, you know. Thought I'd better take advantage of the hands." "It looks good," I lied. He snorted. "Right. I did it myself, with rusty kitchen shears." He grinned widely for a moment, and then his smile faded. His expression turned serious. "Are you happy, Bella?" "Yes." "Okay." I felt his shoulders shrug. "That's the main thing, I guess." "How are you, Jacob? Really?" "I'm fine, Bella, really. You don't need to worry about me anymore. You can stop bugging Seth." "I'm not just bugging him because of you. I like Seth." "He's a good kid. Better company than some. I tell you, if I could get rid of the voices in my head, being a wolf would be about perfect." I laughed at the way it sounded. "Yeah, I can't get mine to shut up, either." "In your case, that would mean you're insane. Of course, I already knew that you were insane," he teased. "Thanks." "Insanity is probably easier than sharing a pack mind. Crazy people's voices don't send babysitters to watch them." "Huh?" "Sam's out there. And some of the others. Just in case, you know." "In case of what?" "In case I can't keep it together, something like that. In case I decide to trash the party." He flashed a quick smile at what was probably an appealing thought to him. "But I'm not here to ruin your wedding, Bella. I'm here to .. ." He trailed off. "To make it perfect." "That's a tall order." "Good thing you're so tall." He groaned at my bad joke and then sighed. "I'm just here to be your friend. Your best friend, one last time." "Sam should give you more credit." "Well, maybe I'm being oversensitive. Maybe they'd be here anyway, to keep an eye on Seth. There are a lot of vampires here. Seth doesn't take that as seriously as he should." "Seth knows that he's not in any danger. He understands the Cullens better than Sam does." "Sure, sure," Jacob said, making peace before it could turn into a fight. It was strange to have him being the diplomat. "Sorry about those voices," I said. "Wish I could make it better." In so many ways. "It's not that bad. I'm just whining a little." "You're... happy?" "Close enough. But enough about me. You're the star today." He chuckled. "I bet you're just loving that. Center of attention." "Yeah. Can't get enough attention." He laughed and then stared over my head. With pursed lips, he studied the shimmering glow of the reception party, the graceful whirl of the dancers, the fluttering petals falling from the garlands; I looked with him. It all seemed very distant from this black, quiet space. Almost like watching the white flurries swirling inside a snow globe. "I'll give them this much," he said. "They know how to throw a party." "Alice is an unstoppable force of nature." He sighed. "Song's over. Do you think 1 get another one? Or is that asking too much?" I tightened my hand around his. "You can have as many dances as you want." He laughed. "That would be interesting. I think I'd better stick with two, though. Don't want to start talk." We turned in another circle. "You'd think I'd be used to telling you goodbye by now," he murmured. I tried to swallow the lump in my throat, but I couldn't force it down. Jacob looked at me and frowned. He wiped his fingers across my cheek, catching the tears there. "You're not supposed to be the one crying, Bella." "Everyone cries at weddings," I said thickly. "This is what you want, right?" "Right." "Then smile." I tried. He laughed at my grimace. Tm going to try to remember you like this. Pretend that..." "That what? That I died?" He clenched his teeth. He was struggling with himself ——with his decision to make his presence here a gift and not a judgment. I could guess what he wanted to say. "No," he finally answered. "But I'll see you this way in my head. Pink cheeks. Heartbeat. Two left feet. All of that." I deliberately stomped on his foot as hard as I could. He smiled. "That's my girl." He started to say something else and then snapped his mouth closed. Struggling again, teeth gritted against the words he didn't want to say. My relationship with Jacob used to be so easy. Natural as breathing. But since Edward had come back into my life, it was a constant strain. Because —u—in Jacob's eyes——by choosing Edward, I was choosing a fate that was worse than death, or at least equivalent to it. "What is it, Jake? Just tell me. You can tell me anything." "I ——I... I don't have anything to tell you." "Oh please. Spit it out." "It's true. It's not... it's ——it's a question. It's something I want you to tell me" "Ask me." He struggled for another minute and then exhaled. "I shouldn't. It doesn't matter. I'm just morbidly curious." Because I knew him so well, I understood. "It's not tonight, Jacob," I whispered. Jacob was even more obsessed with my humanity than Edward. He treasured every one of my heartbeats, knowing that they were numbered. "Oh," he said, trying to smother his relief. "Oh." A new song started playing, but he didn't notice the change this time. "When?" he whispered. "I don't know for sure. A week or two, maybe." His voice changed, took on a defensive, mocking edge. "What's the holdup?" "I just didn't want to spend my honeymoon writhing in pain." "You'd rather spend it how? Playing checkers? Ha ha." "Very funny." "Kidding, Bells. But, honestly, I don't see the point. You can't have a real honeymoon with your vampire, so why go through the motions? Call a spade a spade. This isn't the first time you've put this off. That's a good thing, though," he said, suddenly earnest. "Don't be embarrassed about it." "I'm not putting anything off," I snapped. "And yes I can have a real honeymoon! I can do anything I want! Butt out!" He stopped our slow circling abruptly. For a moment, I wondered if he'd finally noticed the music change, and I scrambled in my head for a way to patch up our little tiff before he said goodbye to me. We shouldn't part on this note. And then his eyes bulged wide with a strange kind of confused horror. "What?" he gasped. "What did you say?" "About what... ? Jake? What's wrong?" "What do you mean? Have a real honeymoon? While you're still human? Are you kidding? That's a sick joke, Bella!" I glared at him. "I said butt out, Jake. This is so not your business. I shouldn't have... we shouldn't even be talking about this. It's private ——" His enormous hands gripped the tops of my arms, wrapping all the way around, fingers overlapping. "Ow, Jake! Let go!" He shook me. "Bella! Have you lost your mind? You can't be that stupid! Tell me you're joking!" He shook me again. His hands, tight as tourniquets, were quivering, sending vibrations deep into my bones. "Jake —2—stop!" The darkness was suddenly very crowded. "Take your hands off her!" Edward's voice was cold as ice, sharp as razors. Behind Jacob, there was a low snarl from the black night, and then another, overlapping the first. "Jake, bro, back away," I heard Seth Clearwater urge. "You're losing it." Jacob seemed frozen as he was, his horrified eyes wide and staring. "You'll hurt her," Seth whispered. "Let her go." "Now!" Edward snarled. Jacob's hands dropped to his sides, and the sudden gush of blood through my waiting veins was almost painful. Before I could register more than that, cold hands replaced the hot ones, and the air was suddenly whooshing past me. I blinked, and I was on my feet a half dozen feet away from where I'd been standing. Edward was tensed in front of me. There were two enormous wolves braced between him and Jacob, but they did not seem aggressive to me. More like they were trying to prevent the fight. And Seth —2—gangly, fifteen-year-old Seth——had his long arms around Jacob's shaking body, and he was tugging him away. If Jacob phased with Seth so close... "C'mon, Jake. Let's go." "I'll kill you," Jacob said, his voice so choked with rage that it was low as a whisper. His eyes, focused on Edward, burned with fury. "I'll kill you myself! I'll do it now!" He shuddered convulsively. The biggest wolf, the black one, growled sharply. "Seth, get out of the way," Edward hissed. Seth tugged on Jacob again. Jacob was so bewildered with rage that Seth was able to yank him a few feet farther back. "Don't do it, Jake. Walk away. C'mon." Sam —2—the bigger wolf, the black one—i—joined Seth then. He put his massive head against Jacob's chest and shoved. The three of them ——Seth towing, Jake trembling, Sam pushing—2—disappeared swiftly into the darkness. The other wolf stared after them. I wasn't sure, in the weak light, about the color of his fur ——chocolate brown, maybe? Was it Quil, then? Tm sorry," I whispered to the wolf. "It's all right now, Bella," Edward murmured. The wolf looked at Edward. His gaze was not friendly. Edward gave him one cold nod. The wolf huffed and then turned to follow the others, vanishing as they had. "All right," Edward said to himself, and then he looked at me. "Let's get back." "But Jake ——" "Sam has him in hand. He's gone." "Edward, I'm so sorry. I was stupid ——" "You did nothing wrong —2—" "I have such a big mouth! Why would I... I shouldn't have let him get to me like that. What was I thinking?" "Don't worry." He touched my face. "We need to get back to the reception before someone notices our absence." I shook my head, trying to reorient myself. Before someone noticed? Had anyone missedthat? Then, as I thought about it, I realized the confrontation that had seemed so catastrophic to me had, in reality, been very quiet and short here in the shadows. "Give me two seconds," I pleaded. My insides were chaotic with panic and grief, but that didn't matter —2—only the outside mattered right now. Putting on a good show was something I knew I had to master. "My dress?" "You look fine. Not a hair out of place." I took two deep breaths. "Okay. Let's go." He put his arms around me and led me back to the light. When we passed under the twinkle lights, he spun me gently onto the dance floor. We melted in with the other dancers as if our dance had never been interrupted. I glanced around at the guests, but no one seemed shocked or frightened. Only the very palest faces there showed any signs of stress, and they hid it well. Jasper and Emmett were on the edge of the floor, close together, and I guessed that they had been nearby during the confrontation. "Are you ——" Tm fine," I promised. "I can't believe I did that. What's wrong with me?" "Nothing is wrong with you" I'd been so glad to see Jacob here. I knew the sacrifice it had taken him. And then I'd ruined it, turned his gift into a disaster. I should be quarantined. But my idiocy would not ruin anything else tonight. I would put this away, shove it in a drawer and lock it up to deal with later. There would be plenty of time to flagellate myself for this, and nothing I could do now would help. "It's over," I said. "Let's not think of it again tonight." I expected a quick agreement from Edward, but he was silent. "Edward?" He closed his eyes and touched his forehead to mine. "Jacob is right," he whispered. "What am I thinking?" "He is not." I tried to keep my face smooth for the watching crowd of friends. "Jacob is way too prejudiced to see anything clearly." He mumbled something low that sounded almost like "should let him kill me for even thinking ..." "Stop it," I said fiercely. I grabbed his face in my hands and waited until he opened his eyes. "You and me. That's the only thing that matters. The only thing you're allowed to think about now. Do you hear me?" "Yes," he sighed. "Forget Jacob came." I could do that. I would 60 that. "For me. Promise that you'll let this go." He stared into my eyes for a moment before answering. "I promise." "Thank you. Edward, I'm not afraid." "I am," he whispered. "Don't be." I took deep breath and smiled. "By the way, I love you." He smiled just a little in return. "That's why we're here." "You're monopolizing the bride," Emmett said, coming up behind Edward's shoulder. "Let me dance with my little sister. This could be my last chance to make her blush." He laughed loudly, as unaffected as he usually was by any serious atmosphere. It turned out there were actually lots of people I hadn't danced with yet, and that gave me a chance to truly compose and resolve myself. When Edward claimed me again, I found that the Jacob-drawer was shut nice and tight. As he wrapped his arms around me, I was able to unearth my earlier sense of joy, my certainty that everything in my life was in the right place tonight. I smiled and laid my head against his chest. His arms tightened. "I could get used to this," I said. "Don't tell me you've gotten over your dancing issues?" "Dancing isn't so bad —u—with you. But I was thinking more of this,"——and I pressed myself to him even tighter—u—"of never having to let you go." "Never," he promised, and he leaned down to kiss me. It was a serious kind of kiss —u—intense, slow but building.... I'd pretty much forgotten where I was when I heard Alice call, "Bella! It's time!" I felt a brief flicker of irritation with my new sister for the interruption. Edward ignored her; his lips were hard against mine, more urgent than before. My heart broke into a sprint and my palms were slick against his marble neck. "Do you want to miss your plane?" Alice demanded, right next to me now. "I'm sure you'll have a lovely honeymoon camped out in the airport waiting for another flight." Edward turned his face slightly to murmur, "Go away, Alice," and then pressed his lips to mine again. "Bella, do you want to wear that dress on the airplane?" she demanded. I wasn't really paying much attention. At the moment, I simply didn't care. Alice growled quietly. "I'll tell her where you're taking her, Edward. So help me, I will." He froze. Then he lifted his face from mine and glared at his favorite sister. "You're awfully small to be so hugely irritating." "I didn't pick out the perfect going-away dress to have it wasted," she snapped back, taking my hand. "Come with me, Bella." I tugged against her hold, stretching up on my toes to kiss him one more time. She jerked my arm impatiently, hauling me away from him. There were a few chuckles from the watching guests. I gave up then and let her lead me into the empty house. She looked annoyed. "Sorry, Alice," I apologized. "I don't blame you, Bella." She sighed. "You don't seem to be able help yourself." I giggled at her martyred expression, and she scowled. "Thank you, Alice. It was the most beautiful wedding anyone ever had," I told her earnestly. "Everything was exactly right. You're the best, smartest, most talented sister in the whole world." That thawed her out; she smiled a huge smile. "I'm glad you liked it." Renee and Esme were waiting upstairs. The three of them quickly had me out of my dress and into Alice's deep blue going-away ensemble. I was grateful when someone pulled the pins out of my hair and let it fall loose down my back, wavy from the braids, saving me from a hairpin headache later. My mother's tears streamed without a break the entire time. "I'll call you when I know where I'm going," I promised as I hugged her goodbye. I knew the honeymoon secret was probably driving her crazy; my mother hated secrets, unless she was in on them. "I'll tell you as soon as she's safely away," Alice outdid me, smirking at my wounded expression. How unfair, for me to be the last to know. "You have to visit me and Phil very, very soon. It's your turn to go south —2—see the sun for once," Renee said. "It didn't rain today," I reminded her, avoiding her request "A miracle." "Everything's ready," Alice said. "Your suitcases are in the car —"—Jasper's bringing it around." She pulled me back toward the stairs with Renee following, still halfway embracing me. "I love you, Mom," I whispered as we descended. Tm so glad you have Phil. Take care of each other." "I love you, too, Bella, honey." "Goodbye, Mom. I love you," I said again, my throat thick. Edward was waiting at the bottom of the stairs. I took his outstretched hand but leaned away, scanning the little crowd that was waiting to see us off. "Dad?" I asked, my eyes searching. "Over here," Edward murmured. He pulled me through the guests; they made a pathway for us. We found Charlie leaning awkwardly against the wall behind everyone else, looking a little like he was hiding. The red rims around his eyes explained why. "Oh, Dad!" I hugged him around the waist, tears streaming again —h—I was crying so much tonight. He patted my back. "There, now. You don't want to miss your plane." It was hard to talk about love with Charlie —u—we were so much alike, always reverting to trivial things to avoid embarrassing emotional displays. But this was no time for being self-conscious. "I love you forever, Dad," I told him. "Don't forget that." "You, too, Bells. Always have, always will." I kissed his cheek at the same time that he kissed mine. "Call me," he said. "Soon," I promised, knowing this was all I could promise. Just a phone call. My father and my mother could not be allowed to see me again; I would be too different, and much, much too dangerous. "Go on, then," he said gruffly. "Don't want to be late." The guests made another aisle for us. Edward pulled me close to his side as we made our escape. "Are you ready?" he asked. "I am," I said, and I knew that it was true. Everyone applauded when Edward kissed me on the doorstep. Then he rushed me to the car as the rice storm began. Most of it went wide, but someone, probably Emmett, threw with uncanny precision, and I caught a lot of the ricochets off Edward's back. The car was decorated with more flowers that trailed in streamers along its length, and long gossamer ribbons that were tied to a dozen shoes ——designer shoes that looked brand-new—2—dangling behind the bumper. Edward shielded me from the rice while I climbed in, and then he was in and we were speeding away as I waved out the window and called "I love you" to the porch, where my families waved back. The last image I registered was one of my parents. Phil had both arms wrapped tenderly around Renee. She had one arm tight around his waist but had her free hand reached out to hold Charlie's. So many different kinds of love, harmonious in this one moment. It seemed a very hopeful picture to me. Edward squeezed my hand. "I love you," he said. I leaned my head against his arm. 'That's why we're here," I quoted him. He kissed my hair. As we turned onto the black highway and Edward really hit the accelerator, I heard a noise over the purr of the engine, coming from the forest behind us. If I could hear it, then he certainly could. But he said nothing as the sound slowly faded in the distance. I said nothing, either. The piercing, heartbroken howling grew fainter and then disappeared entirely.
5. ISLE ESME "Houston?" I asked, raising my eyebrows when we reached the gate in Seattle. "Just a stop along the way," Edward assured me with a grin. It felt like I'd barely fallen asleep when he woke me. I was groggy as he pulled me through the terminals, struggling to remember how to open my eyes after every blink. It took me a few minutes to catch up with what was going on when we stopped at the international counter to check in for our next flight. "Rio de Janeiro?" I asked with slightly more trepidation. "Another stop," he told me. The flight to South America was long but comfortable in the wide first-class seat, with Edward's arms cradled around me. I slept myself out and awoke unusually alert as we circled toward the airport with the light of the setting sun slanting through the plane's windows. We didn't stay in the airport to connect with another flight as I'd expected. Instead we took a taxi through the dark, teeming, living streets of Rio. Unable to understand a word of Edward's Portuguese instructions to the driver, I guessed that we were off to find a hotel before the next leg of our journey. A sharp twinge of something very close to stage fright twisted in the pit of my stomach as I considered that. The taxi continued through the swarming crowds until they thinned somewhat, and we appeared to be nearing the extreme western edge of the city, heading into the ocean. We stopped at the docks. Edward led the way down the long line of white yachts moored in the night-blackened water. The boat he stopped at was smaller than the others, sleeker, obviously built for speed instead of space. Still luxurious, though, and more graceful than the rest. He leaped in lightly, despite the heavy bags he carried. He dropped those on the deck and turned to help me carefully over the edge. I watched in silence while he prepared the boat for departure, surprised at how skilled and comfortable he seemed, because he'd never mentioned an interest in boating before. But then again, he was good at just about everything. As we headed due east into the open ocean, I reviewed basic geography in my head. As far as I could remember, there wasn't much east of Brazil... until you got to Africa. But Edward sped forward while the lights of Rio faded and ultimately disappeared behind us. On his face was a familiar exhilarated smile, the one produced by any form of speed. The boat plunged through the waves and I was showered with sea spray. Finally the curiosity I'd suppressed so long got the best of me. "Are we going much farther?" I asked. It wasn't like him to forget that I was human, but I wondered if he planned for us to live on this small craft for any length of time. "About another half hour." His eyes took in my hands, clenched on the seat, and he grinned. Oh well, I thought to myself. He was a vampire, after all. Maybe we were going to Atlantis. Twenty minutes later, he called my name over the roar of the engine. "Bella, look there." He pointed straight ahead. I saw only blackness at first, and the moon's white trail across the water. But I searched the space where he pointed until I found a low black shape breaking into the sheen of moonlight on the waves. As I squinted into the darkness, the silhouette became more detailed. The shape grew into a squat, irregular triangle, with one side trailing longer than the other before sinking into the waves. We drew closer, and I could see the outline was feathery, swaying to the light breeze. And then my eyes refocused and the pieces all made sense: a small island rose out of the water ahead of us, waving with palm fronds, a beach glowing pale in the light of the moon. "Where are we?" I murmured in wonder while he shifted course, heading around to the north end of the island. He heard me, despite the noise of the engine, and smiled a wide smile that gleamed in the moonlight. "This is Isle Esme." The boat slowed dramatically, drawing with precision into position against a short dock constructed of wooden planks, bleached into whiteness by the moon. The engine cut off, and the silence that followed was profound. There was nothing but the waves, slapping lightly against the boat, and the rustle of the breeze in the palms. The air was warm, moist, and fragrant —2—like the steam left behind after a hot shower. "Isle Esme?" My voice was low, but it still sounded too loud as it broke into the quiet night. "A gift from Carlisle ——Esme offered to let us borrow it." A gift. Who gives an island as a gift? I frowned. I hadn't realized that Edward's extreme generosity was a learned behavior. He placed the suitcases on the dock and then turned back, smiling his perfect smile as he reached for me. Instead of taking my hand, he pulled me right up into his arms. "Aren't you supposed to wait for the threshold?'71 asked, breathless, as he sprung lightly out of the boat. He grinned. "I'm nothing if not thorough." Gripping the handles of both huge steamer trunks in one hand and cradling me in the other arm, he carried me up the dock and onto a pale sand pathway through the dark vegetation. For a short while it was pitch black in the jungle-like growth, and then I could see a warm light ahead. It was about at the point when I realized the light was a house ——the two bright, perfect squares were wide windows framing a front door——that the stage fright attacked again, more forcefully than before, worse than when I'd thought we were headed for a hotel. My heart thudded audibly against my ribs, and my breath seemed to get stuck in my throat. I felt Edward's eyes on my face, but I refused to meet his gaze. I stared straight ahead, seeing nothing. He didn't ask what I was thinking, which was out of character for him. I guessed that meant that he was just as nervous as I suddenly was. He set the suitcases on the deep porch to open the doors ——they were unlocked. Edward looked down at me, waiting until I met his gaze before he stepped through the threshold. He carried me through the house, both of us very quiet, flipping on lights as he went. My vague impression of the house was that it was quite large for a tiny island, and oddly familiar. I'd gotten used to the pale-on-pale color scheme preferred by the Cullens; it felt like home. I couldn't focus on any specifics, though. The violent pulse beating behind my ears made everything a little blurry. Then Edward stopped and turned on the last light. The room was big and white, and the far wall was mostly glass ——standard decor for my vampires. Outside, the moon was bright on white sand and, just a few yards away from the house, glistening waves. But I barely noted that part. I was more focused on the absolutely huge white bed in the center of the room, hung with billowy clouds of mosquito netting. Edward set me on my feet. "I'll... go get the luggage." The room was too warm, stuffier than the tropical night outside. A bead of sweat dewed up on the nape of my neck. I walked slowly forward until I could reach out and touch the foamy netting. For some reason I felt the need to make sure everything was real. I didn't hear Edward return. Suddenly, his wintry finger caressed the back of my neck, wiping away the drop of perspiration. "It's a little hot here," he said apologetically. "I thought... that would be best." "Thorough," I murmured under my breath, and he chuckled. It was a nervous sound, rare for Edward. "I tried to think of everything that would make this... easier," he admitted. I swallowed loudly, still facing away from him. Had there ever been a honeymoon like this before? I knew the answer to that. No. There had not. "I was wondering,'7 Edward said slowly, "if... first... maybe you'd like to take a midnight swim with me?" He took a deep breath, and his voice was more at ease when he spoke again. "The water will be very warm. This is the kind of beach you approve of." "Sounds nice." My voice broke. "I'm sure you'd like a human minute or two.... It was a long journey." I nodded woodenly. I felt barely human; maybe a few minutes alone would help. His lips brushed against my throat, just below my ear. He chuckled once and his cool breath tickled my overheated skin. "Don't take too long, Mrs. Cullen." I jumped a little at the sound of my new name. His lips brushed down my neck to the tip of my shoulder. "I'll wait for you in the water." He walked past me to the French door that opened right onto the beach sand. On the way, he shrugged out of his shirt, dropping it on the floor, and then slipped through the door into the moonlit night. The sultry, salty air swirled into the room behind him. Did my skin burst into flames? I had to look down to check. Nope, nothing was burning. At least, not visibly. I reminded myself to breathe, and then I stumbled toward the giant suitcase that Edward had opened on top of a low white dresser. It must be mine, because my familiar bag of toiletries was right on top, and there was a lot of pink in there, but I didn't recognize even one article of clothing. As I pawed through the neatly folded piles —u—looking for something familiar and comfortable, a pair of old sweats maybe—u—it came to my attention that there was an awful lot of sheer lace and skimpy satin in my hands. Lingerie. Very lingerie-ish lingerie, with French tags. I didn't know how or when, but someday, Alice was going to pay for this. Giving up, I went to the bathroom and peeked out through the long windows that opened to the same beach as the French doors. I couldn't see him; I guessed he was there in the water, not bothering to come up for air. In the sky above, the moon was lopsided, almost full, and the sand was bright white under its shine. A small movement caught my eye ——draped over a bend in one of the palm trees that fringed the beach, the rest of his clothes were swaying in the light breeze. A rush of heat flashed across my skin again. I took a couple of deep breaths and then went to the mirrors above the long stretch of counters. I looked exactly like I'd been sleeping on a plane all day. I found my brush and yanked it harshly through the snarls on the back of my neck until they were smoothed out and the bristles were full of hair. I brushed my teeth meticulously, twice. Then I washed my face and splashed water on the back of my neck, which was feeling feverish. That felt so good that I washed my arms as well, and finally I decided to just give up and take the shower. I knew it was ridiculous to shower before swimming, but I needed to calm down, and hot water was one reliable way to do that. Also, shaving my legs again seemed like a pretty good idea. When I was done, I grabbed a huge white towel off the counter and wrapped it under my arms. Then I was faced with a dilemma I hadn't considered. What was I supposed to put on? Not a swimsuit, obviously. But it seemed silly to put my clothes back on, too. I didn't even want to think about the things Alice had packed for me. My breathing started to accelerate again and my hands trembled ——so much for the calming effects of the shower. I started to feel a little dizzy, apparently a full-scale panic attack on the way. I sat down on the cool tile floor in my big towel and put my head between my knees. I prayed he wouldn't decide to come look for me before I could pull myself together. I could imagine what he would think if he saw me going to pieces this way. It wouldn't be hard for him to convince himself that we were making a mistake. And I wasn't freaking out because I thought we were making a mistake. Not at all. I was freaking out because I had no idea how to do this, and I was afraid to walk out of this room and face the unknown. Especially in French lingerie. I knew I wasn't ready for that yet This felt exactly like having to walk out in front of a theater full of thousands with no idea what my lines were. How did people do this ——swallow all their fears and trust someone else so implicitly with every imperfection and fear they had——with less than the absolute commitment Edward had given me? if it weren't Edward out there, if I didn't know in every cell of my body that he loved me as much as I loved him——unconditionally and irrevocably and, to be honest, irrationally——I'd never be able to get up off this floor. But it was Edward out there, so I whispered the words "Don't be a coward" under my breath and scrambled to my feet. I hitched the towel tighter under my arms and marched determinedly from the bathroom. Past the suitcase full of lace and the big bed without looking at either. Out the open glass door onto the powder-fine sand. Everything was black-and-white, leached colorless by the moon. I walked slowly across the warm powder, pausing beside the curved tree where he had left his clothes. I laid my hand against the rough bark and checked my breathing to make sure it was even. Or even enough. I looked across the low ripples, black in the darkness, searching for him. He wasn't hard to find. He stood, his back to me, waist deep in the midnight water, staring up at the oval moon. The pallid light of the moon turned his skin a perfect white, like the sand, like the moon itself, and made his wet hair black as the ocean. He was motionless, his hands resting palms down against the water; the low waves broke around him as if he were a stone. I stared at the smooth lines of his back, his shoulders, his arms, his neck, the flawless shape of him.... The fire was no longer a flash burn across my skin ——it was slow and deep now; it smoldered away all my awkwardness, my shy uncertainty. I slipped the towel off without hesitation, leaving it on the tree with his clothes, and walked out into the white light; it made me pale as the snowy sand, too. I couldn't hear the sound of my footsteps as I walked to the water's edge, but I guessed that he could. Edward did not turn. I let the gentle swells break over my toes, and found that he'd been right about the temperature ——it was very warm, like bath water. I stepped in, walking carefully across the invisible ocean floor, but my care was unnecessary; the sand continued perfectly smooth, sloping gently toward Edward. I waded through the weightless current till I was at his side, and then I placed my hand lightly over his cool hand lying on the water. "Beautiful," I said, looking up at the moon, too. "It's all right," he answered, unimpressed. He turned slowly to face me; little waves rolled away from his movement and broke against my skin. His eyes looked silver in his ice-colored face. He twisted his hand up so that he could twine our fingers beneath the surface of the water. It was warm enough that his cool skin did not raise goose bumps on mine. "But I wouldn't use the word beautiful" he continued. "Not with you standing here in comparison." I half-smiled, then raised my free hand ——it didn't tremble now——and placed it over his heart. White on white; we matched, for once. He shuddered the tiniest bit at my warm touch. His breath came rougher now. "I promised we would try" he whispered, suddenly tense. "If... if I do something wrong, if I hurt you, you must tell me at once." I nodded solemnly, keeping my eyes on his. I took another step through the waves and leaned my head against his chest. "Don't be afraid," I murmured. "We belong together." I was abruptly overwhelmed by the truth of my own words. This moment was so perfect, so right, there was no way to doubt it. His arms wrapped around me, holding me against him, summer and winter. It felt like every nerve ending in my body was a live wire. "Forever," he agreed, and then pulled us gently into deeper water. The sun, hot on the bare skin of my back, woke me in the morning. Late morning, maybe afternoon, I wasn't sure. Everything besides the time was clear, though; I knew exactly where I was ——the bright room with the big white bed, brilliant sunlight streaming through the open doors. The clouds of netting would soften the shine. I didn't open my eyes. I was too happy to change anything, no matter how small. The only sounds were the waves outside, our breathing, my heartbeat... I was comfortable, even with the baking sun. His cool skin was the perfect antidote to the heat. Lying across his wintry chest, his arms wound around me, felt very easy and natural. I wondered idly what I'd been so panicky about last night. My fears all seemed silly now. His fingers softly trailed down the contours of my spine, and I knew that he knew I was awake. I kept my eyes shut and tightened my arms around his neck, holding myself closer to him. He didn't speak; his fingers moved up and down my back, barely touching it as he lightly traced patterns on my skin. I would have been happy to lie here forever, to never disturb this moment, but my body had other ideas. I laughed at my impatient stomach. It seemed sort of prosaic to be hungry after all that had passed last night. Like being brought back down to earth from some great height. "What's funny?" he murmured, still stroking my back. The sound of his voice, serious and husky, brought with it a deluge of memories from the night, and I felt a blush color my face and neck. To answer his question, my stomach growled. I laughed again. "You just can't escape being human for very long." I waited, but he did not laugh with me. Slowly, sinking through the many layers of bliss that clouded my head, came the realization of a different atmosphere outside my own glowing sphere of happiness. I opened my eyes; the first thing I saw was the pale, almost silvery skin of his throat, the arc of his chin above my face. His jaw was taut. I propped myself up on my elbow so I could see his face. He was staring at the frothy canopy above us, and he didn't look at me as I studied his grave features. His expression was a shock ——it sent a physical jolt through my body. "Edward," I said, a strange little catch in my throat, "what is it? What's wrong?" "You have to ask?" His voice was hard, cynical. My first instinct, the product of a lifetime of insecurities, was to wonder what I had done wrong. I thought through everything that had happened, but I couldn't find any sour note in the memory. It had all been simpler than I'd expected; we'd fit together like corresponding pieces, made to match up. This had given me a secret satisfaction —2—we were compatible physically, as well as all the other ways. Fire and ice, somehow existing together without destroying each other. More proof that I belonged with him. I couldn't think of any part that would make him look like this ——so severe and cold. What had I missed? His finger smoothed the worried lines on my forehead. "What are you thinking?" he whispered. "You're upset. I don't understand. Did I... ?" I couldn't finish. His eyes tightened. "How badly are you hurt, Bella? The truth ——don't try to downplay it." "Hurt?" I repeated; my voice came out higher than usual because the word took me so by surprise. He raised one eyebrow, his lips a tight line. I made a quick assessment, stretching my body automatically, tensing and flexing my muscles. There was stiffness, and a lot of soreness, too, it was true, but mostly there was the odd sensation that my bones all had become unhinged at the joints, and I had changed halfway into the consistency of a jellyfish. It was not an unpleasant feeling. And then I was a little angry, because he was darkening this most perfect of all mornings with his pessimistic assumptions. "Why would you jump to that conclusion? I've never been better than I am now." His eyes closed. "Stop that." "Stop what?" "Stop acting like I'm not a monster for having agreed to this." "Edward!'7 I whispered, really upset now. He was pulling my bright memory through the darkness, staining it. "Don't ever say that." He didn't open his eyes; it was like he didn't want to see me. "Look at yourself, Bella. Then tell me I'm not a monster." Wounded, shocked, I followed his instruction unthinkingly and then gasped. What had happened to me? I couldn't make sense of the fluffy white snow that clung to my skin. I shook my head, and a cascade of white drifted out of my hair. I pinched one soft white bit between my fingers. It was a piece of down. "Why am I covered in feathers?" I asked, confused. He exhaled impatiently. "I bit a pillow. Or two. That's not what I'm talking about." "You... bit a pillow? Why?" "Look, Bella!" he almost growled. He took my hand —2—very gingerly——and stretched my arm out. "Look at that" This time, I saw what he meant. Under the dusting of feathers, large purplish bruises were beginning to blossom across the pale skin of my arm. My eyes followed the trail they made up to my shoulder, and then down across my ribs. I pulled my hand free to poke at a discoloration on my left forearm, watching it fade where I touched and then reappear. It throbbed a little. So lightly that he was barely touching me, Edward placed his hand against the bruises on my arm, one at a time, matching his long fingers to the patterns. "Oh," I said. I tried to remember this ——to remember pain—u—but I couldn't. I couldn't recall a moment when his hold had been too tight, his hands too hard against me. I only remembered wanting him to hold me tighter, and being pleased when he did.... "I'm... so sorry, Bella," he whispered while I stared at the bruises. "I knew better than this. I should not have ——" He made a low, revolted sound in the back of his throat. "I am more sorry than I can tell you." He threw his arm over his face and became perfectly still. I sat for one long moment in total astonishment, trying to come to terms —u—now that I understood it——with his misery. It was so contrary to the way that I felt that it was difficult to process. The shock wore off slowly, leaving nothing in its absence. Emptiness. My mind was blank. I couldn't think of what to say. How could I explain it to him in the right way? How could I make him as happy as I was ——or as I had been, a moment ago? I touched his arm, and he didn't respond. I wrapped my fingers around his wrist and tried to pry his arm off his face, but I could have been yanking on a sculpture for all the good it did me. "Edward." He didn't move. "Edward?" Nothing. So, this would be a monologue, then. "I'm not sorry, Edward. I'm... I can't even tell you. I'm so happy. That doesn't cover it. Don't be angry. Don't. I'm really f ——" "Do not say the word fine." His voice was ice cold. "If you value my sanity, do not say that you are fine." "But I am: I whispered. "Bella," he almost moaned. "Don't." "No. You don't, Edward." He moved his arm; his gold eyes watched me warily. "Don't ruin this," I told him. "I. Am. Happy." "I've already ruined this," he whispered. "Cut it out," I snapped. I heard his teeth grind together. "Ugh!" I groaned. "Why can't you just read my mind already? It's so inconvenient to be a mental mute!" His eyes widened a little bit, distracted in spite of himself. "That's a new one. You love that I can't read your mind." "Not today." He stared at me. "Why?" I threw my hands up in frustration, feeling an ache in my shoulder that I ignored. My palms fell back against his chest with a sharp smack. "Because all this angst would be completely unnecessary if you could see how I feel right now! Or five minutes ago, anyway. I was perfectly happy. Totally and completely blissed out. Now ——well, I'm sort of pissed, actually." "You should be angry at me." "Well, I am. Does that make you feel better?" He sighed. "No. I don't think anything could make me feel better now." "T/?af," I snapped. "That right there is why I'm angry. You are killing my buzz, Edward." He rolled his eyes and shook his head. I took a deep breath. I was feeling more of the soreness now, but it wasn't that bad. Sort of like the day after lifting weights. I'd done that with Renee during one of her fitness obsessions. Sixty-five lunges with ten pounds in each hand. I couldn't walk the next day. This was not as painful as that had been by half. I swallowed my irritation and tried to make my voice soothing. "We knew this was going to be tricky. I thought that was assumed. And then —2—well, it was a lot easier than I thought it would be. And this is really nothing." I brushed my fingers along my arm. "I think for a first time, not knowing what to expect, we did amazing. With a little practice——" His expression was suddenly so livid that I broke off mid-sentence. "Assumed? Did you expect this, Bella? Were you anticipating that I would hurt you? Were you thinking it would be worse? Do you consider the experiment a success because you can walk away from it? No broken bones ——that equals a victory?" I waited, letting him get it all out. Then I waited some more while his breathing went back to normal. When his eyes were calm, I answered, speaking with slow precision. "I didn't know what to expect —u—but I definitely did not expect how... how... just wonderful and perfect it was." My voice dropped to a whisper, my eyes slipped from his face down to my hands. "I mean, I don't know how it was for you, but it was like that for me." A cool finger pulled my chin back up. "Is that what you're worried about?" he said through his teeth. "That I didn't enjoy myself?" My eyes stayed down. "I know it's not the same. You're not human. I just was trying to explain that, for a human, well, I can't imagine that life gets any better than that." He was quiet for so long that, finally, I had to look up. His face was softer now, thoughtful. "It seems that I have more to apologize for." He frowned. "I didn't dream that you would construe the way I feel about what I did to you to mean that last night wasn't... well, the best night of my existence. But I don't want to think of it that way, not when you were ..." My lips curved up a little at the edges. "Really? The best ever?" I asked in a small voice. He took my face between his hands, still introspective. "I spoke to Carlisle after you and I made our bargain, hoping he could help me. Of course he warned me that this would be very dangerous for you." A shadow crossed his expression. "He had faith in me, though —2—faith I didn't deserve." I started to protest, and he put two fingers over my lips before I could comment. "I also asked him what / should expect. I didn't know what it would be for me... what with my being a vampire." He smiled halfheartedly. "Carlisle told me it was a very powerful thing, like nothing else. He told me physical love was something I should not treat lightly. With our rarely changing temperaments, strong emotions can alter us in permanent ways. But he said I did not need to worry about that part —2—you had already altered me so completely." This time his smile was more genuine. "I spoke to my brothers, too. They told me it was a very great pleasure. Second only to drinking human blood." A line creased his brow. "But I've tasted your blood, and there could be no blood more potent than that... I don't think they were wrong, really. Just that it was different for us. Something more." "It was more. It was everything." "That doesn't change the fact that it was wrong. Even if it were possible that you really did feel that way." "What does that mean? Do you think I'm making this up? Why?" "To ease my guilt. I can't ignore the evidence, Bella. Or your history of trying to let me off the hook when I make mistakes." I grabbed his chin and leaned forward so that our faces were inches apart. "You listen to me, Edward Cullen. I am not pretending anything for your sake, okay? I didn't even know there was a reason to make you feel better until you started being all miserable. I've never been so happy in all my life ——I wasn't this happy when you decided that you loved me more than you wanted to kill me, or the first morning I woke up and you were there waiting for me.... Not when I heard your voice in the ballet studio" ——he flinched at the old memory of my close call with a hunting vampire, but I didn't pause—p—"or when you said i do' and I realized that, somehow, I get to keep you forever. Those are the happiest memories I have, and this is better than any of it. So just deal with it." He touched the frown line between my eyebrows. Tm making you unhappy now. I don't want to do that." "Then don't you be unhappy. That's the only thing that's wrong here." His eyes tightened, then he took a deep breath and nodded. "You're right. The past is past and I can't do anything to change it. There's no sense in letting my mood sour this time for you. HI do whatever I can to make you happy now." I examined his face suspiciously, and he gave me a serene smile. "Whatever makes me happy?" My stomach growled at the same time that I asked. "You're hungry," he said quickly. He was swiftly out of the bed, stirring up a cloud of feathers. Which reminded me. "So, why exactly did you decide to ruin Esme's pillows?" I asked, sitting up and shaking more down from my hair. He had already pulled on a pair of loose khaki pants, and he stood by the door, rumpling his hair, dislodging a few feathers of his own. "I don't know if I decided to do anything last night," he muttered. "We're just lucky it was the pillows and not you." He inhaled deeply and then shook his head, as if shaking off the dark thought. A very authentic-looking smile spread across his face, but I guessed it took a lot of work to put it there. I slid carefully off the high bed and stretched again, more aware, now, of the aches and sore spots. I heard him gasp. He turned away from me, and his hands balled up, knuckles white. "Do I look that hideous?" I asked, working to keep my tone light. His breath caught, but he didn't turn, probably to hide his expression from me. I walked to the bathroom to check for myself. I stared at my naked body in the full-length mirror behind the door. I'd definitely had worse. There was a faint shadow across one of my cheekbones, and my lips were a little swollen, but other than that, my face was fine. The rest of me was decorated with patches of blue and purple. I concentrated on the bruises that would be the hardest to hide —2—my arms and my shoulders. They weren't so bad. My skin marked up easily. By the time a bruise showed I'd usually forgotten how I'd come by it. Of course, these were just developing. I'd look even worse tomorrow. That would not make things any easier. I looked at my hair, then, and groaned. "Bella?" He was right there behind me as soon as I'd made a sound. "I'll never get this all out of my hair!" I pointed to my head, where it looked like a chicken was nesting. I started picking at the feathers. "You would be worried about your hair," he mumbled, but he came to stand behind me, pulling out the feathers much more quickly. "How did you keep from laughing at this? I look ridiculous." He didn't answer; he just kept plucking. And I knew the answer anyway —2—there was nothing that would be funny to him in this mood. 'This isn't going to work," I sighed after a minute. "It's all dried in. I'm going to have to try to wash it out." I turned around, wrapping my arms around his cool waist. "Do you want to help me?" Td better find some food for you," he said in a quiet voice, and he gently unwound my arms. I sighed as he disappeared, moving too fast. It looked like my honeymoon was over. The thought put a big lump in my throat. When I was mostly feather-free and dressed in an unfamiliar white cotton dress that concealed the worst of the violet blotches, I padded off barefoot to where the smell of eggs and bacon and Cheddar cheese was coming from. Edward stood in front of the stainless steel stove, sliding an omelet onto the light blue plate waiting on the counter. The scent of the food overwhelmed me. I felt like I could eat the plate and the frying pan, too; my stomach snarled. "Here," he said. He turned with a smile on his face and set the plate on a small tiled table. I sat in one of the two metal chairs and started snarfing down the hot eggs. They burned my throat, but I didn't care. He sat down across from me. "I'm not feeding you often enough." I swallowed and then reminded him, "I was asleep. This is really good, by the way. Impressive for someone who doesn't eat." "Food Network," he said, flashing my favorite crooked smile. I was happy to see it, happy that he seemed more like his normal self. "Where did the eggs come from?" "I asked the cleaning crew to stock the kitchen. A first, for this place. I'll have to ask them to deal with the feathers.... " He trailed off, his gaze fixed on a space above my head. I didn't respond, trying to avoid saying anything that would upset him again. I ate everything, though he'd made enough for two. "Thank you," I told him. I leaned across the table to kiss him. He kissed me back automatically, and then suddenly stiffened and leaned away. I gritted my teeth, and the question I meant to ask came out sounding like an accusation. "You aren't going to touch me again while we're here, are you?" He hesitated, then half-smiled and raised his hand to stroke my cheek. His fingers lingered softly on my skin, and I couldn't help leaning my face into his palm. "You know that's not what I meant." He sighed and dropped his hand. "I know. And you're right." He paused, lifting his chin slightly. And then he spoke again with firm conviction. "I will not make love with you until you've been changed. I will never hurt you again."
6. DISTRACTIONS My entertainment became the number-one priority on isle Esme. We snorkeled (well, I snorkeled while he flaunted his ability to go without oxygen indefinitely). We explored the small jungle that ringed the rocky little peak. We visited the parrots that lived in the canopy on the south end of the island. We watched the sunset from the rocky western cove. We swam with the porpoises that played in the warm, shallow waters there. Or at least I did; when Edward was in the water, the porpoises disappeared as if a shark was near. I knew what was going on. He was trying to keep me busy, distracted, so I that wouldn't continue badgering him about the sex thing. Whenever I tried to talk him into taking it easy with one of the million DVDs under the big-screen plasma TV, he would lure me out of the house with magic words like coral reefs and submerged caves and sea turtles. We were going, going, going all day, so that I found myself completely famished and exhausted when the sun eventually set. I drooped over my plate after I finished dinner every night; once I'd actually fallen asleep right at the table and he'd had to carry me to bed. Part of it was that Edward always made too much food for one, but I was so hungry after swimming and climbing all day that I ate most of it. Then, full and worn out, I could barely keep my eyes open. All part of the plan, no doubt. Exhaustion didn't help much with my attempts at persuasion. But I didn't give up. I tried reasoning, pleading, and grouching, all to no avail. I was usually unconscious before I could really press my case far. And then my dreams felt so real —2—nightmares mostly, made more vivid, I guessed, by the too-bright colors of the island—2—that I woke up tired no matter how long I slept. About a week or so after we'd gotten to the island, I decided to try compromise. It had worked for us in the past. I was sleeping in the blue room now. The cleaning crew wasn't due until the next day, and so the white room still had a snowy blanket of down. The blue room was smaller, the bed more reasonably proportioned. The walls were dark, paneled in teak, and the fittings were all luxurious blue silk. I'd taken to wearing some of Alice's lingerie collection to sleep in at night ——which weren't so revealing compared to the scanty bikinis she'd packed for me when it came right down to it. I wondered if she'd seen a vision of why I would want such things, and then shuddered, embarrassed by that thought. I'd started out slow with innocent ivory satins, worried that revealing more of my skin would be the opposite of helpful, but ready to try anything. Edward seemed to notice nothing, as if I were wearing the same ratty old sweats I wore at home. The bruises were much better now ——yellowing in some places and disappearing altogether in others——so tonight I pulled out one of the scarier pieces as I got ready in the paneled bathroom. It was black, lacy, and embarrassing to look at even when it wasn't on. I was careful not to look in the mirror before I went back to the bedroom. I didn't want to lose my nerve. I had the satisfaction of watching his eyes pop open wide for just a second before he controlled his expression. "What do you think?" I asked, pirouetting so that he could see every angle. He cleared his throat. "You look beautiful. You always do." "Thanks," I said a bit sourly. I was too tired to resist climbing quickly into the soft bed. He put his arms around me and pulled me against his chest, but this was routine ——it was too hot to sleep without his cool body close. "I'll make you a deal," I said sleepily. "I will not make any deals with you," he answered. "You haven't even heard what I'm offering." "It doesn't matter." I sighed. "Dang it. And I really wanted... Oh well." He rolled his eyes. I closed mine and let the bait sit there. I yawned. It took only a minute —o—not long enough for me to zonk out. "All right. What is it you want?" I gritted my teeth for a second, fighting a smile. If there was one thing he couldn't resist, it was an opportunity to give me something. "Well, I was thinking... I know that the whole Dartmouth thing was just supposed to be a cover story, but honestly, one semester of college probably wouldn't kill me," I said, echoing his words from long ago, when he'd tried to persuade me to put off becoming a vampire. "Charlie would get a thrill out of Dartmouth stories, I bet. Sure, it might be embarrassing if I can't keep up with all the brainiacs. Still... eighteen, nineteen. It's really not such a big difference. It's not like I'm going to get crow's feet in the next year." He was silent for a long moment. Then, in a low voice, he said, "You would wait. You would stay human." I held my tongue, letting the offer sink in. "Why are you doing this to me?" he said through his teeth, his tone suddenly angry. "Isn't it hard enough without all of this?" He grabbed a handful of lace that was ruffled on my thigh. For a moment, I thought he was going to rip it from the seam. Then his hand relaxed. "It doesn't matter. I won't make any deals with you." "I want to goto college." "No, you don't. And there is nothing that is worth risking your life again. That's worth hurting you." "But I do want to go. Well, it's not college as much as it's that I want ——I want to be human a little while longer." He closed his eyes and exhaled through his nose. "You are making me insane, Bella. Haven't we had this argument a million times, you always begging to be a vampire without delay?" "Yes, but... well, I have a reason to be human that I didn't have before." "What's that?" "Guess," I said, and I dragged myself off the pillows to kiss him. He kissed me back, but not in a way that made me think I was winning. It was more like he was being careful not to hurt my feelings; he was completely, maddeningly in control of himself. Gently, he pulled me away after a moment and cradled me against his chest. "You are so human, Bella. Ruled by your hormones." He chuckled. "That's the whole point, Edward. I like this part of being human. I don't want to give it up yet. I don't want to wait through years of being a blood-crazed newborn for some part of this to come back to me." I yawned, and he smiled. "You're tired. Sleep, love." He started humming the lullaby he'd composed for me when we first met. "I wonder why I'm so tired," I muttered sarcastically. "That couldn't be part of your scheme or anything." He just chuckled once and went back to humming. "For as tired as I've been, you'd think I'd sleep better." The song broke off. "You've been sleeping like the dead, Bella. You haven't said a word in your sleep since we got here. If it weren't for the snoring, I'd worry you were slipping into a coma." I ignored the snoring jibe; I didn't snore. "I haven't been tossing? That's weird. Usually I'm all over the bed when I'm having nightmares. And shouting." "You've been having nightmares?" "Vivid ones. They make me so tired." I yawned. "I can't believe I haven't been babbling about them all night." "What are they about?" "Different things —u—but the same, you know, because of the colors." "Colors?" "It's all so bright and real. Usually, when I'm dreaming, I know that I am. With these, I don't know I'm asleep. It makes them scarier." He sounded disturbed when he spoke again. "What is frightening you?" I shuddered slightly. "Mostly ..." I hesitated. "Mostly?" he prompted. I wasn't sure why, but I didn't want to tell him about the child in my recurring nightmare; there was something private about that particular horror. So, instead of giving him the full description, I gave him just one element. Certainly enough to frighten me or anyone else. "The Volturi," I whispered. He hugged me tighter. "They aren't going to bother us anymore. You'll be immortal soon, and they'll have no reason." I let him comfort me, feeling a little guilty that he'd misunderstood. The nightmares weren't like that, exactly. It wasn't that I was afraid for myself ——I was afraid for the boy. He wasn't the same boy as that first dream ——the vampire child with the bloodred eyes who sat on a pile of dead people I loved. This boy I'd dreamed of four times in the last week was definitely human; his cheeks were flushed and his wide eyes were a soft green. But just like the other child, he shook with fear and desperation as the Volturi closed in on us. In this dream that was both new and old, I simply had to protect the unknown child. There was no other option. At the same time, I knew that I would fail. He saw the desolation on my face. "What can I do to help?" I shook it off. "They're just dreams, Edward." "Do you want me to sing to you? Ill sing all night if it will keep the bad dreams away." "They're not all bad. Some are nice. So... colorful. Underwater, with the fish and the coral. It all seems like it's really happening ——I don't know that I'm dreaming. Maybe this island is the problem. It's really bright here." "Do you want to go home?" "No. No, not yet. Can't we stay awhile longer?" "We can stay as long as you want, Bella," he promised me. "When does the semester start? I wasn't paying attention before." He sighed. He may have started humming again, too, but I was under before I could be sure. Later, when I awoke in the dark, it was with shock. The dream had been so very real... so vivid, so sensory.... I gasped aloud, now, disoriented by the dark room. Only a second ago, it seemed, I had been under the brilliant sun. "Bella?" Edward whispered, his arms tight around me, shaking me gently. "Are you all right, sweetheart?" "Oh," I gasped again. Just a dream. Not real. To my utter astonishment, tears overflowed from my eyes without warning, gushing down my face. "Bella!" he said —2—louder, alarmed now. "What's wrong?" He wiped the tears from my hot cheeks with cold, frantic fingers, but others followed. "It was only a dream." I couldn't contain the low sob that broke in my voice. The senseless tears were disturbing, but I couldn't get control of the staggering grief that gripped me. I wanted so badly for the dream to be real. "It's okay, love, you're fine. I'm here." He rocked me back and forth, a little too fast to soothe. "Did you have another nightmare? It wasn't real, it wasn't real." "Not a nightmare." I shook my head, scrubbing the back of my hand against my eyes. "It was a good dream." My voice broke again. "Then why are you crying?" he asked, bewildered. "Because I woke up," I wailed, wrapping my arms around his neck in a chokehold and sobbing into his throat. He laughed once at my logic, but the sound was tense with concern. "Everything's all right, Bella. Take deep breaths." "It was so real," I cried. "I wanted it to be real." "Tell me about it," he urged. "Maybe that will help." "We were on the beach. ..." I trailed off, pulling back to look with tear-filled eyes at his anxious angel's face, dim in the darkness. I stared at him broodingly as the unreasonable grief began to ebb. "And?" he finally prompted. I blinked the tears out of my eyes, torn. "Oh, Edward ..." "Tell me, Bella," he pleaded, eyes wild with worry at the pain in my voice. But I couldn't. Instead I clutched my arms around his neck again and locked my mouth with his feverishly. It wasn't desire at all ——it was need, acute to the point of pain. His response was instant but quickly followed by his rebuff. He struggled with me as gently as he could in his surprise, holding me away, grasping my shoulders. "No, Bella," he insisted, looking at me as if he was worried that I'd lost my mind. My arms dropped, defeated, the bizarre tears spilling in a fresh torrent down my face, a new sob rising in my throat. He was right ——I must be crazy. He stared at me with confused, anguished eyes. "I'm s-s-s-orry," I mumbled. But he pulled me to him then, hugging me tightly to his marble chest. "I can't, Bella, I can't!" His moan was agonized. "Please," I said, my plea muffled against his skin. "Please, Edward?" I couldn't tell if he was moved by the tears trembling in my voice, or if he was unprepared to deal with the suddenness of my attack, or if his need was simply as unbearable in that moment as my own. But whatever the reason, he pulled my lips back to his, surrendering with a groan. And we began where my dream had left off. I stayed very still when I woke up in the morning and tried to keep my breathing even. I was afraid to open my eyes. I was lying across Edward's chest, but he was very still and his arms were not wrapped around me. That was a bad sign. I was afraid to admit I was awake and face his anger ——no matter whom it was directed at today. Carefully, I peeked through my eyelashes. He was staring up at the dark ceiling, his arms behind his head. I pulled myself up on my elbow so that I could see his face better. It was smooth, expressionless. "How much trouble am I in?" I asked in a small voice. "Heaps," he said, but turned his head and smirked at me. I breathed a sigh of relief. "I am sorry," I said. "I didn't mean... Well, I don't know exactly what that was last night." I shook my head at the memory of the irrational tears, the crushing grief. "You never did tell me what your dream was about." "I guess I didn't —4—but I sort of showed you what it was about." I laughed nervously. "Oh," he said. His eyes widened, and then he blinked. "Interesting." "It was a very good dream," I murmured. He didn't comment, so a few seconds later I asked, "Am I forgiven?" "I'm thinking about it." I sat up, planning to examine myself ——there didn't seem to be any feathers, at least. But as I moved, an odd wave of vertigo hit. I swayed and fell back against the pillows. "Whoa... head rush." His arms were around me then. "You slept for a long time. Twelve hours." "Twelve?" How strange. I gave myself a quick once-over while I spoke, trying to be inconspicuous about it. I looked fine. The bruises on my arms were still a week old, yellowing. I stretched experimentally. I felt fine, too. Well, better than fine, actually. "Is the inventory complete?" I nodded sheepishly. "The pillows all appear to have survived." "Unfortunately, I can't say the same for your, er, nightgown." He nodded toward the foot of the bed, where several scraps of black lace were strewn across the silk sheets. "That's too bad," I said. "I liked that one." "I did, too." "Were there any other casualties?" I asked timidly. "I'll have to buy Esme a new bed frame," he confessed, glancing over his shoulder. I followed his gaze and was shocked to see that large chunks of wood had apparently been gouged from the left side of the headboard. "Hmm." I frowned. "You'd think I would have heard that." "You seem to be extraordinarily unobservant when your attention is otherwise involved." "I was a bit absorbed," I admitted, blushing a deep red. He touched my burning cheek and sighed. "I'm really going to miss that." I stared at his face, searching for any signs of the anger or remorse I feared. He gazed back at me evenly, his expression calm but otherwise unreadable. "How are you feeling?'7 He laughed. "What?" I demanded. "You look so guilty —u—like you've committed a crime." "I feel guilty," I muttered. "So you seduced your all-too-willing husband. That's not a capital offense." He seemed to be teasing. My cheeks got hotter. "The word seduced implies a certain amount of premeditation." "Maybe that was the wrong word," he allowed. "You're not angry?" He smiled ruefully. Tm not angry." "Why not?" "Well. . ." He paused. "I didn't hurt you, for one thing. It was easier this time, to control myself, to channel the excesses." His eyes flickered to the damaged frame again. "Maybe because I had a better idea of what to expect." A hopeful smile started to spread across my face. "I told you that it was all about practice." He rolled his eyes. My stomach growled, and he laughed. "Breakfast time for the human?" he asked. "Please," I said, hopping out of bed. I moved too quickly, though, and had to stagger drunkenly to regain my balance. He caught me before I could stumble into the dresser. "Are you all right?" "If I don't have a better sense of equilibrium in my next life, I'm demanding a refund." I cooked this morning, frying up some eggs —2—too hungry to do anything more elaborate. Impatient, I flipped them onto a plate after just a few minutes. "Since when do you eat eggs sunny-side up?" he asked. "Since now." "Do you know how many eggs you've gone through in the last week?" He pulled the trash bin out from under the sink —2—it was full of empty blue cartons. "Weird," I said after swallowing a scorching bite. "This place is messing with my appetite." And my dreams, and my already dubious balance. "But I like it here. Well probably have to leave soon, though, won't we, to make it to Dartmouth in time? Wow, I guess we need to find a place to live and stuff, too." He sat down next to me. "You can give up the college pretense now ——you've gotten what you wanted. And we didn't agree to a deal, so there are no strings attached." I snorted. "It wasn't a pretense, Edward. I don't spend my free time plotting like some people do. What can we do to wear Bella out today?" I said in a poor impression of his voice. He laughed, unashamed. "I really do want a little more time being human." I leaned over to run my hand across his bare chest. "I have not had enough." He gave me a dubious look. "For this?" he asked, catching my hand as it moved down his stomach. "Sex was the key all along?" He rolled his eyes. "Why didn't i think of that?" he muttered sarcastically. "I could have saved myself a lot of arguments." I laughed. "Yeah, probably." "You are so human," he said again. "I know." A hint of a smile pulled at his lips. "We're going to Dartmouth? Really?" "I'll probably fail out in one semester." "I'll tutor you." The smile was wide now. "You're going to love college." "Do you think we can find an apartment this late?" He grimaced, looking guilty. "Well, we sort of already have a house there. You know, just in case." "You bought a house?" "Real estate is a good investment." I raised one eyebrow and then let it go. "So we're ready, then." "I'll have to see if we can keep your 'before' car for a little longer___" "Yes, heaven forbid I not be protected from tanks." He grinned. "How much longer can we stay?" I asked. "We're fine on time. A few more weeks, if you want. And then we can visit Charlie before we go to New Hampshire. We could spend Christmas with Renee___" His words painted a very happy immediate future, one free of pain for everyone involved. The Jacob-drawer, all but forgotten, rattled, and i amended the thought —u—for almost everyone. This wasn't getting any easier. Now that I'd discovered exactly how good being human could be, it was tempting to let my plans drift. Eighteen or nineteen, nineteen or twenty... Did it really matter? I wouldn't change so much in a year. And being human with Edward... The choice got trickier every day. "A few weeks," I agreed. And then, because there never seemed to be enough time, I added, "So I was thinking —2—you know what I was saying about practice before?" He laughed. "Can you hold on to that thought? I hear a boat. The cleaning crew must be here." He wanted me to hold on to that thought. So did that mean he was not going to give me any more trouble about practicing? I smiled. "Let me explain the mess in the white room to Gustavo, and then we can go out. There's a place in the jungle on the south —u—" "I don't want to go out. i am not hiking all over the island today. I want to stay here and watch a movie." He pursed his lips, trying not to laugh at my disgruntled tone. "All right, whatever you'd like. Why don't you pick one out while I get the door?" "I didn't hear a knock." He cocked his head to the side, listening. A half second later, a faint, timid rap on the door sounded. He grinned and turned for the hallway. I wandered over to the shelves under the big TV and started scanning through the titles. It was hard to decide where to begin. They had more DVDs than a rental store. I could hear Edward's low, velvet voice as he came back down the hall, conversing fluidly in what I assumed was perfect Portuguese. Another, harsher, human voice answered in the same tongue. Edward led them into the room, pointing toward the kitchen on his way. The two Brazilians looked incredibly short and dark next to him. One was a round man, the other a slight female, both their faces creased with lines. Edward gestured to me with a proud smile, and I heard my name mixed in with a flurry of unfamiliar words. I flushed a little as I thought of the downy mess in the white room, which they would soon encounter. The little man smiled at me politely. But the tiny coffee-skinned woman didn't smile. She stared at me with a mixture of shock, worry, and most of all, wide-eyed fear. Before I could react, Edward motioned for them to follow him toward the chicken coop, and they were gone. When he reappeared, he was alone. He walked swiftly to my side and wrapped his arms around me. "What's with her?" I whispered urgently, remembering her panicked expression. He shrugged, unperturbed. "Kaure's part Ticuna Indian. She was raised to be more superstitious ——or you could call it more aware—u—than those who live in the modern world. She suspects what I am, or close enough." He still didn't sound worried. "They have their own legends here. The Libishomen—2—a blood-drinking demon who preys exclusively on beautiful women." He leered at me. Beautiful women only? Well, that was kind of flattering. "She looked terrified," I said. "She is —u—but mostly she's worried about you." "Me?" "She's afraid of why I have you here, all alone." He chuckled darkly and then looked toward the wall of movies. "Oh well, why don't you choose something for us to watch? That's an acceptably human thing to do." "Yes, I'm sure a movie will convince her that you're human." I laughed and clasped my arms securely around his neck, stretching up on my tiptoes. He leaned down so that I could kiss him, and then his arms tightened around me, lifting me off the floor so he didn't have to bend. "Movie, schmovie," I muttered as his lips moved down my throat, twisting my fingers in his bronze hair. Then I heard a gasp, and he put me down abruptly. Kaure stood frozen in the hallway, feathers in her black hair, a large sack of more feathers in her arms, an expression of horror on her face. She stared at me, her eyes bugging out, as I blushed and looked down. Then she recovered herself and murmured something that, even in an unfamiliar language, was clearly an apology. Edward smiled and answered in a friendly tone. She turned her dark eyes away and continued down the hall. "She was thinking what I think she was thinking, wasn't she?" I muttered. He laughed at my convoluted sentence. "Yes." "Here," I said, reaching out at random and grabbing a movie. "Put this on and we can pretend to watch it." It was an old musical with smiling faces and fluffy dresses on the front. "Very honeymoonish," Edward approved. While actors on the screen danced their way through a perky introduction song, I lolled on the sofa, snuggled into Edward's arms. "Will we move back into the white room now?" I wondered idly. "I don't know.... I've already mangled the headboard in the other room beyond repair —i—maybe if we limit the destruction to one area of the house, Esme might invite us back someday." I smiled widely. "So there will be more destruction?" He laughed at my expression. "I think it might be safer if it's premeditated, rather than if I wait for you to assault me again." "It would only be a matter of time," I agreed casually, but my pulse was racing in my veins. "Is there something the matter with your heart?" "Nope. Healthy as a horse." I paused. "Did you want to go survey the demolition zone now?" "Maybe it would be more polite to wait until we're alone. You may not notice me tearing the furniture apart, but it would probably scare them." In truth, I'd already forgotten the people in the other room. "Right. Drat." Gustavo and Kaure moved quietly through the house while I waited impatiently for them to finish and tried to pay attention to the happily-ever-after on the screen. I was starting to get sleepy ——though, according to Edward, I'd slept half the day——when a rough voice startled me. Edward sat up, keeping me cradled against him, and answered Gustavo in flowing Portuguese. Gustavo nodded and walked quietly toward the front door. "They're finished," Edward told me. "So that would mean that we're alone now?" "How about lunch first?" he suggested. I bit my lip, torn by the dilemma. I was pretty hungry. With a smile, he took my hand and led me to the kitchen. He knew my face so well, it didn't matter that he couldn't read my mind. "This is getting out of hand," I complained when I finally felt full. "Do you want to swim with the dolphins this afternoon ——burn off the calories?" he asked. "Maybe later. I had another idea for burning calories." "And what was that?" "Well, there's an awful lot of headboard left ——" But I didn't finish. He'd already swept me up into his arms, and his lips silenced mine as he carried me with inhuman speed to the blue room.