Rating: Hard R, Eventually NC-17
Genre: Romance, Action/Adventure, Angst, Drama
Word Count: Approx. 7,000
Characters/Pairings: Edward/Bella, canon couples
Summary: Set post-Eclipse. Getting married without tripping her way down the aisle was supposed to be Bella’s biggest worry before she and Edward began eternity together. But the Volturi, an unforseen friend, and an unexpected enemy create more complications than even Alice could have predicted. Bella thought being dead would make things easier, but for once there’s more at stake than simply staying alive. And somehow, Forks is still at the heart of it all....
Warnings: Spoilers for Eclipse. Eventually graphic sex and violence; subsequent chapters will have more specific warnings when applicable.
Disclaimer: If I was Stephenie, this would be the plot of Breaking Dawn. Since I’m not, this fanfic is being posted without profit, but with smut. :)
Author's Notes: Title derived from Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, which I never really liked and has no bearing whatsoever on the plot of this fic. :)
“I like these,” Edward said, tapping the third cream-colored paper from the right. I looked over to the sample invitation that he’d indicated, and saw that it looked exactly like every other sheet of paper spread out on the table.
“Why?” I asked, half exasperated, half amused.
“It’s the closest to white,” he replied.
“So why don’t we just choose white instead of—” I flipped the paper over and read the label printed on the bottom: “eggshell?”
“White would be too stark against black ink,” Alice explained, setting aside the eggshell-colored paper and happily gathering the rest of the samples into a stack. For a brief, shining moment I thought we would be done for the day, but then Alice set a large leather-bound book in the invitations’ place. I stared at its thickness apprehensively; I didn’t think I could stand to look at any more cream-colored paper without threatening to call the whole wedding off, which might puncture Alice and Edward’s ballooning enthusiasm.
“Colors!” said Alice happily, jiggling in excitement—or, rather, doing miniature pirouettes of excitement. I couldn’t imagine Alice doing anything as ungraceful as jiggling.
“Colors? But I thought the invitations were supposed to be off-white?”
“They are,” said Edward, leaning over my shoulder. His hair tickled my neck and I squirmed in my seat, momentarily distracted by his proximity. “I think these are for the linens, flowers, and bridesmaids’ dresses?”
“Yes,” Alice answered as she skipped past the first section of the book, which featured only various shades of cream.
“Alice, can’t you just—figure out what I’d like now, so I don’t have to look through all of these?” I said, trying very hard to keep the whine from my voice. I don’t think I succeeded.
“I don’t know what you’ll decide until after you’ve seen the choices,” Alice said, grinning at the disappointed look on my face. “Come on, Bella, this is the fun part!”
In response to the doubtful look on my face, Edward kissed the top of my head and then whispered, “We’ll do something fun after this.” His tone of voice was completely innocent, but the trace of his tongue against my ear indicated something else entirely. My heartbeat quickened, and I felt his lips curve into a smile before he turned his attention back towards the book and started turning pages.
“What do you think of red?” Alice asked, halting Edward’s hand.
“Um, I don’t think so,” I said, staring at a sample swatch of material called “Blood Red.” Edward turned to me and saw the direction of my gaze, but merely raised his eyebrows before continuing to the next section. I actually loved that shade of red, but with vampires comprising half the wedding party it seemed to call attention to itself.
“Pale yellow might be nice,” Edward said thoughtfully, interrupting my thoughts.
“But for an August wedding?” Alice said doubtfully. “I don’t know… what do you think, Bella?”
“Yellow does seem like more of a spring color,” I answered, then shook my head in disgust; I was actually getting into this. The Cullens’ enthusiasm must be catching.
“And I suppose it would clash with Rosalie’s hair…” Alice murmured thoughtfully.
I couldn’t imagine any color that wouldn’t look stunning on Rosalie, but as she had only recently deigned to talk to me, I decided not to tempt fate by choosing a color for a bridesmaid dress that she could interpret as a slight. Privately, I knew it didn’t matter what color I ended up choosing—Alice and Rosalie would always outshine me, even if they were dressed in old dishrags.
Alice turned the book to the blue section, and a sudden stillness swept across her face. She stared blankly ahead for a few moments, then turned to me and smiled. “Navy blue it is!” she chirped, pointing to a rich blue color. “Very elegant… perfect for a classic wedding… white and green-foliage accents would work very well…”
I decided to interrupt her before her train of thought gathered any more speed. “Do you ever wonder if your visions are self-fulfilling prophecies?” I asked, thinking of Macbeth and the three witches. “I mean, what if you hadn’t told me you’d ‘seen’ Edward and me choose blue, and I had continued looking through the book. Is it possible I would have chosen lavender instead?”
Edward gave me a mischievous smile. “Are you saying you’d like to look through the rest of the colors?”
Alice, though, smiled somewhat ruefully. “Trust me, most days I think all my visions are self-fulfilling, which really makes me question how useful they are.”
“Oh no, Alice, I didn’t mean to offend you,” I said quickly, mentally kicking myself for my unintentional gaffe. “Your visions have saved my life so many times—it was stupid of me to say that.”
“No, it wasn’t,” Edward said, then looked at Alice and nodded—presumably in answer to her unspoken thoughts. “It’s a topic we’ve debated many times. Carlisle and I were proposing ways of testing the extent of her visions’ independence—if, for example, her not telling us the outcome of an event would alter our decisions, but eventually Jasper and Esme made us see sense—either way, her predictions are a part of her, and we just accept them.”
“Edward’s being too nice, as usual,” Alice said, giving her brother a small smile. “What he’s not telling you is how crazy it was driving me not being able to voice my visions aloud, and the constant doubt I felt about my ability. The emotional strain was just too much, and I decided it didn’t matter.”
“That makes sense,” I said. “And I’m glad you saw this—you’ve just saved me from actually looking through this huge book.”
“I think we’ll leave the flowers for another day,” Edward said to Alice, but just then, to my embarrassment, my stomach let out a growl.
“Bella, we have some food in the kitchen for you!” Esme called from the living room—of course, with her heightened senses, she could hear the evidence of my hunger from two rooms away.
Edward made to get up and join me in the kitchen but I stopped him. “I know you like looking through this stuff—you can’t fool me,” I said, grinning. “You can keep looking through it with Alice while I eat—then you can make good on your promise.” Edward kissed me on the cheek and gave me a wink before I turned to leave for the kitchen. Esme was already waiting for me, setting out bread and mustard.
“Carlisle remembered to pick some things up on his way home from the hospital yesterday,” she said, pulling down a plate as she spoke. “Edward said you liked roast beef and turkey, so we got some cold cuts and sandwich fixings for you.”
“Thank you,” I said, once again amazed at their thoughtfulness. In spite of my earlier reluctance to marry Edward, I couldn’t keep a thrill of happiness from going through me at the thought that I would soon be an official part of their family—Bella Cullen.
My heart rate must have picked up from my excitement; Esme was looking at me with concern. “Are you all right, Bella? Is there something wrong with the food? It’s been so long since I’ve prepared anything…”
“Oh, no! Nothing’s wrong—I was actually just thinking how nice it was for you to go through all this trouble for me…. You always make me feel so at home here.”
Esme’s kind face looked even lovelier as she gave me a huge smile. “I can’t tell you how happy we are about the wedding, and that you’ve decided to hold it in our home… I know a big ceremony isn’t exactly what you would have chosen, but we’re all having so much fun. Alice and Edward especially, I think.”
I grinned as I spread mustard over two slices of bread. “I know. It’s funny—I have the feeling most brides would kill for their—fiancée— to be so interested in the details.” I was proud of myself for saying the word aloud with only the slightest hesitancy, and none of the usual incredulousness.
“During Edward’s time weddings were very important public events,” Esme said thoughtfully. “I know he’s said before that his mother always wanted to see him married.”
“Did she?” I asked, looking down at the engagement ring on my left hand. It sparkled tremendously, even in the fluorescent kitchen lighting. Not for the first time I wondered about Edward’s mother—what she was like, how she had felt when she’d accepted this ring from Edward’s father, what she imagined life would be like for her son when he was born….
“Edward was her only child, and she wanted him to be happy,” Esme said softly. “I know I can never take the place of her in Edward’s heart, but I love Edward as if he was my own son, and I know that marrying you will ensure his happiness for eternity. And for that, I will be forever indebted to you.”
I didn’t quite know what to say; I knew that Edward could hear our entire conversation as clearly as if he was standing next to us, let alone the additional nuances he could pick up from Esme’s thoughts, but holding intensely private conversations about him without his presence made me feel slightly uncomfortable.
“I’m just as indebted to you and your family for my happiness,” I said finally, looking away from Esme’s intense gaze under the pretense of putting together my sandwich.
Esme touched her cold hand to my shoulder and left me to my thoughts.
I sat down at the kitchen table, looking at their sprawling backyard through the plate of glass that comprised the back walls of the house. I ate my lunch distractedly, my thoughts as thick and swirling as the dark clouds overhead. My conversation with Esme made me realize that there was so much about Edward’s past I didn’t know—basic details about his human life, as well as his early years as a vampire, were complete mysteries to me. Somehow, in all our time together, I still hadn’t asked so many important questions.
I was so engrossed in my thoughts that it took me a few moments to realize that I was no longer staring at the Cullens’ backyard, but rather at the reflection of a certain Cullen in the glass. The amber eyes were staring back.
“Edward!” I said, jumping a little as I realized he had been sitting silently next to me at the kitchen table. “I’m sorry, I was lost in thought….”
Edward studied my face, as though by memorizing the curve of my lips or the slope of my nose he could suddenly decipher my thoughts. There was something protective in the way he considered me, as though he was bracing himself to step between me and an oncoming truck—which, of course, he already had.
Guiltily, I realized he thought I was brooding over Jacob; I hadn’t seen Jake since news of the engagement went public, and although I missed him terribly, I had to believe that dropping out of Jake’s life completely was the only way I could be both loyal to Edward and kind to Jake.
I hadn’t cried again over the loss of my best friend, and the realization that I would survive losing Jake was a brutal confirmation of what I had known all along. There was never any choice; self-fulfilling or otherwise, Edward was my future.
Seeing Edward’s worried face pulled me instantly back to the present. I got up from my chair and sat in his lap, putting my arms loosely around his neck and giving him a smile. He smiled back and tugged me closer, the coolness of his body making me shiver only very slightly. I felt my heart rate increase, a response to both Edward’s attractiveness as well as my body’s way of increasing my internal temperature.
“Had fun with Alice?” I asked, trying very hard to feel interested in anything other than his body’s close proximity to mine.
“Yes,” he admitted, the sly grin on his face daring me to make fun of him for enjoying the deliberations over roses versus lilies or whatever flowers Alice had proposed.
“Good,” I murmured, deliberately shifting my weight so that my breasts were pushing against his body. My nipples hardened from the cold of his marble chest, and I felt myself blush; okay, so I was the world’s least subtle seductress, but I didn’t care. I was going to lose my virginity in less than one month—twenty-eight days, to be exact—and to say I was looking forward to the experience would be like saying vampires liked their meat undercooked. A gross distortion of the facts, or understatement to the point of slander.
Edward closed his eyes and leaned toward me, kissing my neck and tracing his fingertips along my collarbone. His touch left a sensation of pinpricks in its wake, as though snowflakes had fallen on my bare skin and were melting into pools of icy water. I shivered again, unconsciously grinding my hips into his lap. I had never so blatantly sought out the pressure from his erection, and the brazenness of my own actions momentarily stilled me; the thought that I was becoming seriously turned on in the Cullens’ kitchen filtered through the haze of my arousal, causing me to pull away. Vaguely, I wondered if Jasper was near enough that he could decipher my emotional state.
“Would you like to go to my room?” Edward said, correctly interpreting the reason for my sudden halt in the proceedings. His lips once again pressed against my ear, his tongue pleasantly cool against my overheated skin. “I did promise you some fun later.”
I buried my face in his neck and sighed, wishing I could take him up on his offer, but the thought of Charlie coming home was enough to clear my head completely. Fun would have to wait.
“I should be going,” I said reluctantly, getting up from Edward’s lap. “I wanted to make Charlie something nice for dinner…”
Edward nodded, and then moved faster than my eyes could follow; I blinked and he was standing in front of me again, my coat in one hand and his car keys in the other.
We were silent on the way back to my house, and I had a feeling we were both thinking about last week, when Edward had taken me home from the meadow with my engagement ring on display for the first time.
We had stood on my front porch, Edward holding me to his chest as I tried to gain some control over my breathing.
“I could go in by myself,” he said, rubbing my back in a soothing circular motion. “I should ask his permission.”
“Permission?” I said blankly, drawing back from him to look into his face. “Permission for what?”
Edward rolled his eyes at me. “To marry you, of course.”
My nervousness was quickly overshadowed by my indignation. I narrowed my eyes at him and drew away completely, crossing my arms over my chest. “I do not need anyone’s permission to do anything,” I hissed.
“It’s the gentlemanly thing to do,” Edward said, mimicking my stance. Somehow, he managed to look more stubborn than I did. It probably had to do with the fact that his crossed arms were stronger than a steel deadlock. Stupid vampire.
“How did you miss the women’s liberation movement?” I demanded, refusing to back down. “You were alive when it happened!”
“Technically, I wasn’t,” he said, smirking at me. “And the women’s lib movement described in your history textbook wasn’t just a bra-burning fit of pique. History is a much subtler progression, and I believe that the advances made in equality have no bearing on basic rules of etiquette. It is still considered a proper gesture for the man to ask permission for a lady’s hand.”
I gaped at him.
“You… you are anti-feminist!” I choked out, horrified that he was actually going to ask Charlie permission for me to marry him. “Ugh!”
Suddenly the front door flung open and the porch lights turned on; I blinked automatically, my eyes adjusting to the sudden brightness. Edward, of course, was unfazed.
“Good evening, Charlie,” he said warmly.
“Are you kids fighting?” Charlie asked, surprise evident in his voice. Before Jake’s ‘motorcycle’ accident Charlie would have sounded cheered by the prospect, but after seeing Edward’s concern for Jacob, his opinion of Edward had significantly improved.
And tonight, Edward was going to use that to his advantage.
“No, not at all,” Edward lied smoothly, wrapping his arm around my shoulder and subtly adjusting my body so that my left hand was angled away from Charlie’s line of sight. “Would it be all right if Bella and I spoke with you for a moment?”
“Sure,” Charlie said, surprised again; usually Edward and I just went to the kitchen to talk while Charlie watched whatever game was on TV. We would remain in the kitchen until the late hour meant Edward had to leave, at which time I inevitably went straight to bed, where we would resume our conversation until I fell asleep in his arms.
Edward and Charlie were smiling politely at each other as Edward escorted me into my own living room; I was scowling, and scrambling for a way to derail this conversation before it even started.
“Oh, are the Chiefs playing tonight?” I asked Charlie, digging into the recesses of my mind for a sports team he’d mentioned recently. Usually my brain discarded all sports-related trivia, but tonight I would have traded my passing grade on the calculus final for a few sports statistics I could use to distract my father. “I didn’t realize it was baseball season already,” I babbled on, looking at the television where two ESPN anchormen sat discussing the night’s game. “We should probably let you finish that, before halftime…”
“The Chiefs are a football team,” Charlie said, bemused. “Baseball season is just ending.”
“And there’s no halftime in baseball,” Edward added, smiling at me as though I had said something charming.
I fought the urge to stick my tongue out at him.
“So, what did you two need to talk to me about?” Charlie said, his voice suddenly wary.
The moment was here; Charlie had asked me to give him advance warning if I was about to do anything major, to at least give him a chance to hug me goodbye. I was going to do him one better; he could give me a hug and walk me down the aisle.
I was about to tell my father that I was engaged. To Edward. I took a deep breath, and steeled myself for his reaction.
“Mr. Swan,” Edward began formally, speaking before I had even finished opening my mouth. “I am sure you are aware of how strongly I feel about your daughter. Bella is everything to me. I am in love with her, and I want your permission to spend the rest of my life making her happy.”
It was as if I was frozen, trapped in the process of exhaling; air could no longer pass in or out of my lungs. I stared at Charlie, but he didn’t look at me; instead he was watching Edward, studying his face for—what? Signs of insincerity? Was he hoping this was a joke? Or was he deciding on the best way to drum up false charges against Edward so he could throw him into Forks’ single holding cell for the night?
Edward remained silent, not flinching away from Charlie’s steady gaze.
Somehow, my lungs started working again, and I was able to speak.
“Dad, I know this isn’t what you’d want for me,” I said. Neither of them turned to look at me, but I continued, my voice growing stronger. “I know you think I’m young and that I’ll regret it, but I won’t. I know myself and I know Edward, and us being married—it’s more than just right, Dad. It’s fate. And I’m going to do it, with or without your—blessing. But I’d much rather have it.” I whispered the last line, and Edward, his eyes still on Charlie, reached out and grasped my hand.
The movement caused my father to turn his gaze from Edward’s face to my hands, which were clearly visible. My engagement ring reflected the flickering light of the television.
Charlie looked away from my left hand, clearing his throat. Our eyes met, and in that moment I realized how much Charlie’s blessing would mean to me. I had really wanted to elope with Edward to Las Vegas, without my dad’s or anyone else’s knowledge (well, anyone except Alice’s). But, now that he knew, I was terrified I wouldn’t have his support—that he’d be too disappointed, too unhappy about my decision to celebrate with me.
Charlie finally returned his gaze to Edward. “I appreciate your candor,” he said gruffly. “And I know how Bella feels about you, and that there’s no stopping her when she’s made up her mind. But if you ever leave her—if you ever cause her pain or suffering again—I will not rest until I have used every means at my disposal to find you, and I will make sure you are not capable of setting foot near Forks again.”
Edward nodded gravely, as if Charlie’s threats against his person were plausible. “I understand. And I want you to know that Bella’s happiness is the only thing that matters to me; being Bella’s husband is the only thing that matters to me. I would rather die than leave her side.”
Charlie nodded, and stood up from the armchair, suddenly looking uncomfortable. “Well, congratulations, Bella,” he said finally.
“Oh, Dad!” I cried, launching myself off the couch and into his arms. I was so happy, so relieved, that I felt like crying; I scrunched my face into his shoulder and hugged him, thanking any god that might be listening.
He hugged me back, for once not patting me on my back and pulling away after a few seconds. Now he held onto me tightly, as if he knew this was going to be the last time he’d be able to hold his daughter this way. Then I really was crying as I realized that wasn’t far from the truth.
“I love you, Bella,” he said, squeezing me tight once more before letting me go.
“I love you too, Dad,” I said weakly, brushing away a few stray tears.
Edward held out a hand for Charlie to shake, and Charlie took his hand, then surprised me by pulling Edward into a brief one-armed hug.
“You take care of her, now,” Charlie ordered, his voice sounding gruff once more.
“I will,” Edward answered him, grave and solemn.
“I guess we’d better call your mom,” Charlie said, turning back to me. “I think I should be here to help break the news.”
“You’re probably right,” I agreed, my temporary high over Charlie’s reaction subsiding as the prospect of breaking the news to my mother loomed ahead. I tried to calm myself, preparing to tell Renee that her life-long lecture—“The Disastrous Consequences of Marrying Your High School Sweetheart and Why You Should Wait Until College”—had failed to take root, and that I was to be married to Edward on August 4th.
“On second thought,” Charlie said, as if he’d read my mind, “maybe we’d better let Edward do it.”
I shied away from remembering the rest of the night. Edward had talked to my mother, but she had said nothing to him except to demand to speak to me. The following fifteen minutes were explosive; Renee and I had never had a reason to argue before, and I was terrified that our first fight would be the last thing that happened between us before I got married and “moved north”—the euphemism I used when thinking about my impending transition to a vampire.
I was glad when Edward pulled into my driveway, effectively distracting me from thoughts of last week’s arguments. I noticed that the police cruiser wasn’t in the driveway yet, which meant I had time to cook Charlie something nice for dinner. I felt I owed him at least that much—a few final weeks of me taking care of him before I had to leave.
Edward opened my car door for me and walked with me inside, where I started pulling ingredients for chicken stir-fry out of the fridge.
“Do you think you’ll miss cooking?” Edward asked me as I picked up a knife, intending to begin slicing the vegetables. I blinked as I realized the onion I had meant to chop was gone, as was the knife I’d been holding. Instead, Edward was chopping it up on the counter beside me, completely immune to the onion’s effects on human tear ducts.
“I don’t know, it’s not like I’m doing much of it now,” I said sarcastically.
Edward immediately ceased dicing. “I’m sorry,” Edward said, setting the knife on the cutting board. “I thought you’d want to begin on the chicken. I was just trying to help.”
I sighed, annoyed with myself for getting annoyed with Edward. “No, I’m sorry, I’m being stupid. I thought you just didn’t want me handling a knife.”
“You are unusually dexterous in the kitchen,” Edward said, smiling at me as he resumed his chopping. “I don’t think knives pose any threat to you as long as it’s a vegetable on the receiving end.”
I smiled back, Edward’s casual joking easing me into a sense of normalcy. “Well, to answer your question, I think the answer will be yes… and no. I don’t think I’ll have to give it up completely. In a few years, I’ll be able to cook for Charlie again whenever we visit.”
I kept my voice light and easy, and neither of us mentioned the possibility that it may be more than a few years before I’d see Charlie again.
That night I woke suddenly, sitting up ramrod-straight in bed. I was panting as if I’d been running.
“Bella?” Edward said, touching my shoulder with his cold hand. “Are you all right? Did you have a bad dream?”
“I… I don’t know. Did I say anything?”
“No,” Edward said, stroking my hair. “You did start breathing a little fast right before you woke up, though.”
“Huh,” I said, unable to remember anything, which was odd because I typically had very vivid dreams. Unsettled, I glanced at my alarm clock, where the faint green light read 2 am.
“Are you anxious about anything?” Edward asked, sliding his hand up and down my back. “Are you nervous about the wedding?”
“I don’t think so,” I said, leaning into him. I knew he was trying to soothe me back to sleep, but I was wide awake. “Speaking of the wedding,” I said suddenly, remembering something I’d meant to ask earlier today, “how many invitations are you and Alice ordering, anyway?”
Edward smiled at me. “Don’t worry, I managed to reign in her enthusiasm. Outside our immediate families, we’re only inviting about 20 guests.”
“Twenty?” I said, astonished that Alice had agreed to such a low number.
“I think I was able to convince her to keep the number down for Jasper’s sake,” Edward said, giving me a sly look. “We invited a few of our friends from the coven in Denali, and a few of your friends from school. And I think Carlisle invited one or two coworkers he’s friendly with from the hospital.”
“Oh, that’s good,” I said, relieved that, since they were forcing me to have a traditional wedding, that at least it wouldn’t be gargantuan.
My mind strayed to my one friend that wouldn’t be on the guest list—the one face it might be impossible for me to ever see again. I tried to shove the thought away, but the image of Jacob lying on his bed, an unfathomable expression on his face, recovering from his wounds—the worst of which I’d inflicted—haunted me.
“What’s bothering you?” Edward asked me, pulling me against him. I was now using him like a giant body pillow—I nestled into his chest, wrapping my arms around him, my legs twining with his. He’d been thoughtful enough to wrap a few blankets over himself, so I was comfortably cool.
“I’m enjoying this,” I said, dodging his question. I didn’t want to blatantly lie to him, but I didn’t want to tell him that I’d been brooding about Jacob while lying next to him. I had already hurt Edward enough.
I focused on the slight rise and fall of Edward’s chest—a rhythm he maintained out of habit, not necessity. I raised my head slightly, placing a kiss at the hollow of his throat.
“I love you,” I said, apropos of nothing.
“I love you, too,” Edward murmured, running his fingertips through my hair. “Are you sure there’s nothing on your mind?”
“Well… I was wondering about something…” I said, thinking back to my conversation with Esme in the kitchen earlier that day. I had promised myself I would ask the important questions now, while I was still more interested in my relationship with Edward than with a potential relationship with the nearest tasty human.
I cleared my throat softly, and shifted my position so that I was lying on my side, facing Edward. I took his hand in mine and traced tiny circles on the back of his hand. “Would it be okay if I asked you something about your—human life?”
“You can ask me anything, although I can’t guarantee I’ll remember much. My memories of my human life aren’t particularly clear.”
“I was wondering about your mother, actually,” I said quietly. “What was she like?”
Edward was quiet for a minute, and his eyes became unfocused. After a few moments he spoke, though his expression remained as though he was staring at something I couldn’t see.
“Her name was Elizabeth Masen,” he began, and his voice sounded far away—like an echo of an echo. “She had green eyes, just a shade darker than mine… she was very beautiful, and I remember that she always wore a pair of white gloves whenever she went out. She wasn’t very political, but she was very well-informed. She used to discuss my father’s cases with him in the evenings…. Did I ever tell you my father was a lawyer? I’m named for him,” he said, turning back to me.
“I didn’t know that,” I answered, smiling. “What kind of lawyer?”
“Estate planning. Thanks to him I was able to claim my family’s assets after the epidemic. I was never interested in pursuing law as a career—I was much too eager to join the military to take my father up on his offer to join his firm—but my father encouraged me to read the books in his study, and I managed to pick up a few things.” Edward smiled suddenly. “I’d bet he’d be very amused to know it was his library that kept the government from appropriating our family estate.”
“You had a family estate?”
“I do have a family estate,” Edward corrected me. “The house in Chicago is still in my name—well, one of my names; I’ve had to forge a few wills over the years so that the government didn’t keep trying to take it over every time I died.”
“Oh,” I said, absorbing this. I realized that Edward was probably wealthier than I had ever guessed.
Edward saw the disconcerted look on my face and deduced exactly what I was thinking. “Would you like to know how much property you’ll be gaining by marrying me?” he said teasingly. “Perhaps we ought to get a prenuptial agreement, to make sure you get all my money if you ever try to leave me.”
“That doesn’t make sense,” I said, vaguely remembering celebrity horror stories of prenups gone wrong. “Isn’t the point of a prenup to protect the wealthier spouse?”
“That is usually the way it works,” Edward said. “But I know that, if I wanted to prevent you from leaving me, all I’d have to do is make sure you robbed me of every penny in case of a divorce.”
I laughed along with him, tucking my head in the curve between his shoulder and neck. His scent was stronger there, and I inhaled deeply, pressing the tip of my nose to his granite skin.
“Anything else you’d like to know?” he asked, and I could hear the smile in his voice. Now that he had control over his desire to drink my blood, he thought it was funny the way we both smelled so appealing to one another.
“What was it like, before WWI?” I asked, trying to picture Chicago nearly a century ago, on the brink of the First World War—the War to End All Wars, they’d called it…
“I don’t remember too much—flashes, really,” Edward said after a while. “My family was moderately wealthy, so we didn’t feel the effects of rationing. But my mother didn’t want me to join the army, and she kept me away from the recruitment stations. But she couldn’t keep me from the passage of time—I was just months away from turning 18, and then I’d be drafted. I was very excited about it; it was all my friends and I could talk about.”
“Did you have many friends who went to war?” I asked, suddenly worried that his past was even more tragic than I already knew.
“No, I was the oldest,” he answered me. “Though my friend William had an older brother who was drafted in August 1918—they had just lowered the draft to men eighteen years old. I don’t know what happened to either of them, though… the epidemic, and then Carlisle turning me, overshadows my memory of that time.”
“Did you ever try to find your friends?” I asked, trying to be nonchalant. I knew I didn’t fool him, though, because he tightened his arms around me, as if he could protect me from a truth I didn’t want to hear.
“No,” he admitted finally, still cradling me tightly to his chest. “By the time I had cultivated enough self-control to be around people comfortably, most of my friends would have been in their forties or fifties… I couldn’t visit them, not when I still looked like a seventeen-year-old. At best they would have thought I’d fathered an illegitimate son; at worst, they’d think I was a ghost or a demon—in other words, they’d see me for what I was.”
“Don’t say that,” I said, surprising us both with how angry my voice sounded. I was immediately remorseful for getting upset with him when he was sharing so much of his past with me; I had no right to be angry with him for the way he’d felt. Flushing slightly, I pressed my body against his deliberately, and kissed my way up to his ear.
“No ghost could feel as good as you do,” I mumbled, and, on an impulse, I licked along his jaw line. It was like tasting a very dry popsicle, except eating popsicles made me shiver with cold rather than pleasure, as I was doing now. My cheeks burned, and I wondered if I was making a complete fool of myself. Did men liked to be licked? Or was I being weird?
Edward, however, seemed to enjoy my attempts at intimacy; he pressed back against me, and gently turned me so that I was lying on my back. He lowered himself on top of me gently, supporting his weight with his forearms on either side of my head.
His eyes met mine and, very deliberately, he lowered his gaze from my eyes, to my lips, to my neck, to my chest…
I was wearing cotton pajama shorts and a white t-shirt, and suddenly I wished I was wearing something sexier. I thought again of my mother’s gift two Christmases ago, the Victoria’s Secret silk pajamas that were undoubtedly stuffed in a cardboard box, yet to be unpacked in Florida.
But Edward distracted me from mentally tallying my wardrobe’s deficiencies; in fact, I was quickly much more concerned with what I wasn’t wearing than with what I was.
Edward had moved so that one hand was resting on my collar bone. He was now balancing all his weight on a single forearm, and a small, slightly hysterical corner of my mind realized Edward would look amazing doing one-handed push-ups, military-style, with no shirt on…
Edward’s palm traced my collar bone and slowly slid over my chest, where it was extremely obvious that I wasn’t wearing a bra. I felt my nipples harden beneath the thin jersey-knit material, and my already flushed cheeks felt like they were on fire.
His eyes met mine as he cupped my left breast with his hand. I hadn’t expected this to feel so good—I had touched myself there plenty of times, and it felt no different than stroking my arm or leg or stomach. Now, though, the soft skin there felt electrified, and my heart was beating erratically. That same hysterical corner of my mind speculated that maybe only someone else could turn you on this way—like how it was impossible to tickle yourself…
Edward squeezed my breast gently, pressing his palm against my nipple, applying pressure in a slightly circular motion. To my extreme embarrassment I moaned, and instinctively pressed my hips up off the bed, seeking friction.
He stilled his movements, then swiftly rolled away so that he was lying beside me once more.
The sounds of my ragged breathing filled the silence. Edward had never touched me there—or anywhere else—with such deliberation; I wondered why he stopped—was my heart beating too fast, a temptation made even more impossible to resist by his proximity to my breasts? Or perhaps my breasts—which barely filled out a B-cup—weren’t enough to hold his interest…
Edward cleared his throat. “I hope you didn’t mind that…” he said, sounding very unsure of himself. It was so unlike him that I turned to face him, staring at him questioningly.
“I had to stop, for fear of losing control,” Edward explained, an apologetic frown on his lips.
I sighed, relieved that at least it wasn’t my lack of extraordinary breasts that had caused him to stop. “I’m sorry, I couldn’t stay calm enough… my heart just wanted to beat out of my chest…”
Edward looked confused for a fraction of a second before he gave a soft chuckle. “No, not that kind of control. I was worried that, if I continued, I would be tempted to take more liberties with your person than is entirely appropriate.”
“Oh, well if that’s all,” I said, grinning as I settled myself back on top of him.
Finally my heart slowed into its normal steady rhythm, and I let my eyes drift closed.
Edward heard the change. “You should sleep now, Bella,” he whispered, kissing me softly on top of my head. “I think Alice has a big day planned for you tomorrow.”
“Now I really will have nightmares,” I said, but there wasn’t any sourness in my voice; I was far too comfortable to be perturbed by Alice’s next torture.
And, just as suddenly as I’d been jostled from sleep, I felt myself sliding back into slumber.
End Part 1