My entry for the Control. Possess. Seduce. contest. Winner of 2 judges choice awards, 3rd place overall judge's choice, Best Possessive Edward, and best Spirit of the Contest. Thank you to those who read and voted and all the hard working people behind the contest.

Many thanks to my lovely beta Midnight Cougar for all her work on this and my prereaders who encouraged me to submit.

Disclaimer: The author does not own any publicly recognizable characters herein. No copyright infringement is intended.

~o0o~

Some people fear the dark. The myths and legends of their childhood linger in the recesses of their mind. The monsters that lurk in the closet. The ones that hide in the corners, under the bed. Even as childhood is left behind, the fear never really goes away. They tell themselves monsters don't exist. Still, they welcome the brightness of the day, relieved in the knowledge the darkness has been expelled and light abounds. They laugh quietly at their fears.

Because with the light there is safety.

But they are wrong.

Because monsters do exist.

And we don't only exist in the dark. In fact, some of us seek the light.

We're right where you least expect it—right in front of you.

~o0o~

Edward

The morning was crisp and cool, the breeze moving the trees in a graceful rhythm. It was going to be another dreary day in the small town of Forks where I lived. I reclined on my porch rocker, pushing with my foot, slowly moving back and forth.

Silence.

Something so rare, that when it happened it was a gift. Normally, my head was filled with the annoying thoughts of hundreds of strangers, but here, in the early hours of the morning, and in the privacy of this setting, I could find peace.

My sharp hearing picked up the sound of a car in the distance. Rumbling, badly in need of a tune up, it approached. The shocks on it needed replacing, as did the squeaky breaks. Frowning, I glanced toward the sound. It was coming closer and had, in fact, turned down the long street, heading this way.

There were only three houses on this street. It was one of the reasons I chose to live here. One much farther up the road, mine, and a small, rundown place across the street. No one had lived there the past year—the occupant having died. Aside from a wave a few times, when I came to check on the progress of my house while it was being built, I had never met the man. I kept waiting for the house to go up for sale, and I planned on buying it to ensure my continued privacy, but so far it hadn't gone on the market.

The vehicle advanced, close enough I could see it wasn't a car, but an old truck. Rusted and worn, it was a dull red in color, loud in its approach. I sat forward, resting my arms on my thighs, stifling down my impatience. They had to be lost to come to this part of town. I'd give them directions, and send them away. I listened for the confused thoughts of the driver, only to be met with an odd sort of static.

The truck lurched, rolling into the overgrown driveway of the house across the street. I expected it to turn around and leave, but was surprised when the brake lights flashed, the engine died, and after a few moments, the driver's side door opened on squeaky hinges.

A girl slipped out of the vehicle, her feet hitting the ground with leaden thumps. She stretched, raising her arms over her head then bending backward; so low her long dark hair brushed against the ground. Our eyes met, upside down—tired brown meeting startled, narrowed dark.

Two things happened at once.

My body stirred at the sight of her, and the breeze drifted across the street, bringing with it her intoxicating scent which slammed into me, causing a low growl to emit from my chest.

I was a blur. Moving too fast for her human eyes to track, I was inside, the door bolted as I leaned on my arms, trapping myself inside my house. I was panting, struggling with everything in me not to rip the door back open and appear by her side, tear off her clothes, bury myself inside her and sink my teeth into her pale skin.

One thought echoed on repeat in my head.

Mine.

Bella

I pulled up in front of the house, grateful my truck had made it all this way, then sat looking, trying to take in what I saw before me.

The house was never fancy—a small two-story house, but my father had taken good care of it the short time I had lived with him. Now it stood, rundown and decrepit. The porch sagged, the roof was in need of repair, and the lawn my dad had kept neat and trimmed was overgrown and filled with waist-high weeds.

I climbed out of my truck, my back protesting. I stretched out my sore arms, then carefully bent backward, desperate to ease the ache. I opened my eyes, the world looking quite different upside down, and I saw him. Or, at least I thought I did. Across the street, a man was sitting on his porch watching me, but I blinked, and he was gone.

I straightened up and turned around, confused. I could have sworn I noticed someone in the shadowy overhang of the porch as I drove up, and again when I stretched. A flash of white and bronze went through my head. I was certain of it. But the only thing on the porch was an empty swing, moving in the breeze.

I must be more exhausted than I thought. Now I was imagining people who weren't there. I shook my head, leaned in the truck, and grabbed my small overnight bag. Sighing, I slammed the door shut. The rest would have to wait until later.

~o0o~

The door creaked in protest after I finally got the key to work. It gave suddenly, sending me sprawling into the house, landing hard on my hands and knees. With a groan, I looked at my torn jeans, bloodied knees, and scraped palms, then around the room. The furniture was covered with dust covers, and they were, indeed, covered in dust. So was the floor and everything else. I could see a lot of cleaning in my future. But first, I needed sleep.

Standing up, I managed to get the door shut and locked. Ignoring the mess in the rooms, I trudged upstairs. I paused in the doorway of my old room, memories flooding my head. The walls were still pale purple, the silhouettes of the pictures and shelves long gone, casting shadows where they had once been.

The room was empty except for my old bed, draped in a dust cloth. I pulled it back, sighing when I saw my old comforter still on it. I rolled up the dust cover and tossed it in the corner. With a small prayer, I flicked on the light switch, breathing another sigh of relief when the overhead light flickered and illuminated. In the bathroom, I ran the tap, waiting until the rusty water ran clean. The solicitor must have got my emails and turned on the utilities. Looking around at the dirt, I grimaced. I should also have asked for the house to be cleaned.

I opened the medicine cabinet, but it was empty. Expecting to see the same bare shelves in the linen closet, I was pleased to find a couple towels, some toilet paper, and some unwrapped soap. At least I could have a shower later.

Wearily, I pulled off my jeans and jacket, leaving on my long-sleeved shirt. My knees were skinned and sore, but the bleeding had mostly stopped. I soaked the edge of a towel, cleaned the torn skin as best I could, and washed my grazed hands under the cool water. I'd have to get some Polysporin later. Ignoring the musty smell of the bedding, I pulled up the comforter to my neck, and in minutes I was asleep.

Edward

I heard her fall, listened to her gasp of pain, clutching the wood trim of my door, fighting the need I was feeling. I tracked her movements in the house, until they ceased. In an instant, I was across the street and through the back door. It took me all of two seconds to twist the knob; the old metal and ineffectual lock crushed in my palm. I planned on replacing it later. I looked around with distaste. The house showed its disuse. Dust was everywhere, the smell of must and mildew heavy. But still, I could smell her. Sense her. I moved carefully, silently searching. The stairs were mute under my feet as I climbed upward, her blood singing its song— beckoning, her quiet heartbeat calling my name.

Ed-ward. Ed-ward. Ed-ward.

It grew stronger, drawing me to it, until I was by her sleeping form. Asleep she was an angel—dark hair slipping over dusty sheets, long eyelashes rested on her cheeks, mouth open, and her pink tongue resting against the plump flesh. Her hands were fisted in the old comforter, her fingers restless. She turned her head, the pulse beating at the base of her neck, the blood pumping fast under the transparent layer of pale skin. I inhaled sharply. Her blood was too rich, too pungent. She had hurt herself when she fell, but the question was: How bad were her injuries?

I dropped to my knees beside her, easing back the barrier covering her from my eyes. Shapely, smooth calves met my hungry gaze—my cock began to stir. Unable to resist, I ran a finger over the warm, supple flesh—desperate to touch, to feel. With the sensation, she whimpered, rolling my way, exposing her torn skin. I locked down, shutting my eyes, swallowing venom, gathering my control. I peeled open my eyes, stifling my gasp. Her shirt had ridden up, exposing her flat stomach, the lace of her panties feminine and alluring. Her knees were scratched, the blood still wet and smeared. A minute amount, barely enough to wet the inside of a Band-Aid, but enough to create a war within me.

My gaze bounced between the two extremes of my desire: her body and her blood. I wanted both. She whimpered again, flexing her legs, and I frowned. She was in pain. Cautiously, I laid my hands over her knees, allowing the cold of my skin to sink into her warmth, easing the sting. She sighed, her body loosening as she slipped into a deeper slumber, releasing her grip on the comforter. With her hands relaxed, I could see the irritated palms, her skin swollen, but not broken.

After a few minutes, I lifted my hands, pleased to see the cold had helped the redness of her knees. Moving to provide the same relief to her hands, I froze, looking at my palm that now bore traces of her blood. Before I could stop myself, I licked at the red lines, my eyes rolling back in my head as pleasure screamed down my spine, snapping and twisting, and my cock aching with need. It was all I could do not to mount and claim her right there, right now. Fuck her until she cried out her release. Another swipe of my tongue and I orgasmed—my cock throbbed, spasming as I came, then fell to the floor, my body shuddering as the intense pleasure tore through me.

I lay panting, overcome, and confused. Shoving my fist into my mouth, I bit down, the sting of my venom killing the fog of lust. I pushed myself up, staring at the woman asleep in her bed, oblivious to what had just happened.

What. The. Fuck.

~o0o~

I couldn't leave her alone. I had no idea what I experienced. Nor understood my strange reactions to this small human from the moment I first saw her, but I knew I couldn't begin to fight it. I needed to be beside her. I was home, changed and back in less than twenty seconds. I lowered myself next to her bed, watching her slumber. Her brow furrowed as she shifted, her knees and hands flexing and bending in discomfort.

Taking her hands in mine, I lapped at her bruised palms, knowing my venom would help to heal the soreness fast. I shuddered at the sweetness of her skin, allowing my tongue to drag up her wrist. The taste of her flesh alone made my cock swell and harden. It took every ounce of my control not to sink my teeth into the tender area of her wrist and drink—but I held back.

She sighed in her sleep, hands now still, the pain gone.

I steeled myself as I lowered my mouth to her knees. The instant my lips touched her torn skin, the tiny amount of blood still lingering exploded in my throat, sending shards of pleasure coursing through my body, and my cock flexed with need. My fingers dug into the mattress, and I locked my body down, focusing on healing and helping her—so she could rest. Methodically, I swirled my tongue, feeling the flesh begin to knit and heal. I dropped to the floor, feeling almost fatigued. My body raged between need and want, neither side giving an inch.

She sighed and relaxed; her body now at peace. The odd static I picked up from her mind became silent.

I bowed my head, reveling in the quiet, still mystified.

Who was she? Why was she here? And most importantly why was her presence affecting me so greatly? Her mind was silent to me—a first. She stirred within me a war of epic proportions. Want, need, lust and desire for everything she was—her pliant, warm body, and her rich, decadent blood. I had never wanted a human's blood so much in my life. I had never wanted to possess someone this way. Every molecule in my body screamed she was mine.

But how?

Then, clear as a bell, she spoke. "Please."

My head snapped up, expecting to meet her gaze, but she remained asleep. Fractured images, distorted feelings, most of them drenched in sadness and heavy with despair, drifted through my mind, still fuzzy, but clearer.

My little human was dreaming. As closed off as her mind was awake, asleep, it was more open to me.

Except her dreams weren't ones of fantasy or wants. They were fragments of memories. Her memories. Bits and pieces of her life she relived while she slept. Small bursts of pictures and voices were followed by silence, only to restart. Her brow furrowed, legs moved, and her fingers clenched and unclenched.

I crawled closer, aching to touch. I slid my hand over hers, shocked when she flipped her palm and gripped mine. Two things happened: she relaxed, slipping deeper into sleep, and the images changed—they became sharp, crystal clear. I could feel everything she was feeling.

It was extraordinary.

With a sigh, I shut my eyes, bent my head, resting it by her sleeping form, and let her wash over me. As I soaked up her memories, I began to learn about the woman who now consumed me.

The one I would claim as mine.

Bella

I woke up, feeling strange. I had slept better than I thought I would, yet I was restless.

Longing.

For what—I didn't know.

I stretched, throwing back the covers. I inspected my knees, surprised to see how well they looked. They were almost healed. I examined my hands. The scraps were barely visible. How odd.

In my exhausted state of mind, I must have thought they looked worse than they did.

I shuffled to the bathroom, dug in my toiletry bag for some shampoo, and had a shower. The room smelled musty, but I hoped, after some hard work, it would be better.

I dressed in my jeans and a fresh shirt, then went downstairs. I found the notebook I always carried with me, and jotted down a list of things I would need; the first being coffee.

My heart broke a little as I went through the cupboards. Nothing had changed since I lived here. The old dishes and pots were still in the same place. I didn't find a coffee maker, and I remembered Charlie always drank instant. I shuddered. I hated the stuff, so I added a coffee maker to my list. I said a little prayer as I plugged in the ancient fridge, pleased when it rattled to life.

Walking around, I struggled to open windows, hoping the crisp fall air would help clear out the stale odor. Most were stuck so tight I couldn't budge them, but I did get a couple open.

I needed coffee. I had dreamed of a hot coffee last night—and a bagel loaded with cream cheese. I would find those first, then get some supplies. It was not surprising when I found very few cleaning products in the house. Charlie was never the best at keeping those on hand. To him, there was nothing that couldn't be cleaned with some soap and water, or a dry towel.

Outside, I looked around. It was still a quiet street. There was only one house way down the road I remembered, and the new one across the street.

Large and modern, it should have looked out of place, but instead, the way it was built it blended in well with the forest behind it. All stone and wood it was striking. I remembered Charlie had said a young business owner lived there. He had laughed, wondering why a single man would have a business and a home in Forks, of all places, and assumed it wouldn't last long. I wasn't sure if it was even the same person living there, but figured I would eventually find out. With one last glance, I hopped into my truck and backed out of the driveway.

An hour later I pulled back in, feeling weary. I had forgotten how small a town this was. The diner was closed, for some reason, and being Sunday, the only store didn't open until noon. I had waited and purchased some cleaning supplies, a few food items, but had struck out on the coffee and bagel. I would have to go into Port Angeles tomorrow and get more things. I was too tired to drive today. I wasn't sure I could even face another outing tomorrow.

I clambered out of the truck, discouraged. I decided to bring in my few boxes, then the grocery bags. I would have a sandwich, and start to clean. I reached in the back to grab a box, when a voice startled me.

"Hello."

Edward

She turned at the sound of my voice, obviously alarmed. In the daylight, I could see the fatigue etched into her skin, and the sadness in her dark eyes. Skin like porcelain was stretched tight over her bones, highlighting her cheekbones and jawline. She was far too thin.

I stepped forward, the weight of her exhaustion hitting me like a bag of sand. It wasn't the weariness that lingered from a long drive, which you could recover from after a couple nights' rest. It lived in her bones, seeped from her pores and poured from her eyes. Sadness wrapped around her like a gray mist. Her need was so vivid that my own chest ached with it.

I had never felt such an intense connection with anything or anyone—human or vampire. Her pain seared my soul, and I wanted, no, needed to soothe it. I was the one she needed. No one and nothing else on this Earth would be able to help her the way I could.

Because she belonged with me. To me.

Her eyes widened when I moved, and the box she clutched slipped from her fingers as she lost her footing. I lunged forward, grabbing both her and the box, before either hit the hard ground. In one move, I had her tight to my chest, the box already back on the seat.

Her heartbeat was wild, her warmth shocking against my cold skin. Unable to resist, I buried my hand in her hair, pressing her face to my shoulder. The way she melted into me was utter perfection. For a brief moment we were still, locked together in an embrace we both needed, even more than the air she breathed. Then, her instincts and awareness kicked in and she pulled back, her cheeks flooding with color.

"I'm sorry," she spoke, the sound soft as a summer's breeze. "You surprised me."

I wanted to laugh. I had purposely stomped as I approached her, but my little human was quite unobservant at times, it would appear.

"I apologize for startling you. I live across the street. I came over to introduce myself and offer you some assistance."

She blinked and bit her lip. "You're very fast. You caught me before I fell."

Not as unobservant as I thought.

"I was close by." I held out my hand. "I'm Edward Cullen."

She slipped her hand in mine. I stared down at our clasped fingers. Her hand disappeared, safely ensconced within mine. Exactly how she would be from now on. Ensconced by me.

"Bella Swan," she murmured, staring down at our hands. I wondered if she felt what I was feeling.

I had to resist pulling her back to me.

I dropped my hand, stepping back. She smelled so good. Sunshine, flowers, and spun sugar. And her blood.

God, her blood.

It called and beckoned as it flowed through her veins. My mind was filled with whispered memories of the pleasure I felt with the smallest of tastes. It goaded me—reminding me of how great the euphoria would be if I could fill my mouth and let it slide gradually down my throat, coating my insides with her ambrosia as I fucked her.

I swallowed down my pooling venom. "I'll carry in your bags and help you unpack."

"You don't have to do that."

Oh, my little human—I do. I have to do that and so much more.

"Of course. I insist." Then I threw out my ace in the hole. "I have fresh coffee and I picked up some bagels earlier. You can join me for a late breakfast."

I hid my smirk when her eyes widened. As she was waking earlier, before I had to leave her, one clear thought had drifted through her mind that was not part of her dreams: the need for coffee and a bagel. I knew she wouldn't find either while she was out, so I got them. I was far faster than any car, and Port Angeles had been a quick trip.

"Oh, I…"

I leaned past her, making sure our bodies touched. "Don't argue with me. You won't win." I picked up the bags off her seat. "It's my pleasure, Bella."

With a sigh, she gave in—exactly as I knew she would. "Okay."

I swept out my arm. "Lead the way."

~o0o~

I made short work of carrying in the boxes from Bella's truck. Although I moved at a human pace, I did lift more than one at a time and transported them with ease. Three trips and it was done. I glanced around the room. "Did you want those windows open?"

She frowned at the boxes I had piled up. "You must be very strong."

I shrugged. "The boxes weren't heavy. I work out." Then to redirect her thinking, I repeated myself. "The windows?"

"Oh—I tried. I think they're stuck."

I hid my smile, pretending to have to yank hard on them. She clapped her hands in glee when they gave easily under my hands and the fresh air blew in. "Thank you!"

"What about upstairs?"

"I haven't tried those."

"I'll do that. Put away your perishables, then we can have coffee."

"All right."

Upstairs, I opened them all with no effort. Returning downstairs, she was in the kitchen, looking around. She was overwhelmed and needed out of this house. I held out my hand. "Come with me, Bella."

She didn't hesitate. Her hand slipped into mine, and I led her away from the pain that house made her feel, and I escorted her to my place. The thought of her being there, her scent filling the air, her heartbeat echoing through the emptiness of the rooms, made me pull her along faster. I wanted it now.

And I always got what I wanted.

~o0o~

My little human was fastidious. Watching her eat was almost erotic—the way her small teeth bit into the dense bread, her neck muscles stretching as she chewed and swallowed. Her hunger was almost as great as her exhaustion, and she was too shy to admit to either. When I put another bagel in front of her she eyed it, but made no move to eat it. I pushed her plate closer. "Tuck in, Bella."

"You haven't eaten," she pointed out.

I lifted my mug, regarding her over the rim. "I'm on a special diet."

"Oh?"

"Yeah, I'm lactose intolerant, and I can't handle gluten."

"Oh, Celiac disease?"

"Yes."

"Why do you have bagels then?"

"I bought them for you."

"Me?"

"I know the house has been empty for a while. You arrived so early this morning I knew there'd be no food in the house and the store here is rather…limited."

"You saw me arrive?"

Damn it, I let that slip.

"I saw your truck in the driveway when I woke up. It wasn't there when I retired, so I assumed." I shrugged. "I was trying to be neighborly."

She studied me over the rim of her mug.

"More coffee?" I hoped to distract her.

"Please."

I filled our mugs, pleased when I saw her chewing on the other bagel I had toasted. I was grateful I knew how to do some of these mundane human tasks.

"You're right about the store here. It's terrible. I'm going to go into Port Angeles tomorrow."

I wasn't allowing her to drive that death trap anymore. I already had plans for its demise.

"I'll drive you."

"I'm perfectly capable—"

I held up my hand, cutting her off. "I have to go in tomorrow myself. Why should we take two vehicles?"

"Maybe I'll hold you up."

"Not an issue. How about ten?"

"Don't you have to work?"

"I own my own business. I make my own hours."

"My dad mentioned that."

"Did he?"

"He was surprised someone as young as you would run a business and live in Forks."

"I like small towns. Big cities aren't for me. If I need a dose of one, Seattle is close enough."

"What business do you own, Edward?"

"A few actually. I also work with the money market. From home." I lifted my mug to my lips. "What about you, Bella?"

I felt a wave of sadness and worry swamp her emotions. She pushed away her plate, her bagel only half-done. "Once I'm settled, I have to look for a job. I noticed a new bar when I was driving around. Maybe I'll apply there."

"Do you have experience?"

"A little. I have a partially done accounting degree with some English courses I never finished. I somehow doubt anyone is looking to hire a bookkeeper with good grammar skills. So I'll work and save, then go back to school and finish my degree." She sighed, looking out the window. "I'll find something."

"Ask for Riley at the bar. Tell him Edward sent you."

"A regular customer, are you? You have influence?"

"Something like that."

She stood up. "I should go. I have a lot of cleaning to do, and I've taken up enough of your time."

I stood up as well. "Let me help."

"You don't have to do that."

"I want to." I inhaled deeply. She smelled so damn good. "Those dust covers are heavy. I can remove them and you can work on something else."

She hesitated, and I stepped closer. "Let me. I insist."

"Thank you."

Unable to resist, I ran a finger down her cheek, the skin soft and warm under my touch. "Anything, Bella. You only have to ask."

She blinked, momentarily stunned. Then she smiled—a shy, but wonderful smile. It transformed her face, changing it from merely pretty to beautiful. Even tired, there was no denying how attractive I found her.

I disliked how tired she looked, though. It was unacceptable. Before I could comment, she yawned, clapping her hand over her mouth in embarrassment. She gazed over my shoulder, and I knew she was looking at the large sofa in my living room. Inspiration struck, and I held out my hand.

"Come with me. I'm going to show you my house."

"Oh, um…"

"It will only take a few minutes. The dust covers will still be there. I insist."

She accepted my hand and followed me. As I suspected, when she saw my piano, her eyes widened.

"Oh—do you play?" She giggled self-consciously. "Of course you do—why else would you have a piano? You must get tired of your guests asking you that."

I didn't tell her she was the first guest I ever had in my home.

"Would you like to hear me play something?"

"Oh, please!"

I escorted her to the couch, encouraging her to get comfortable. She curled up in the corner, the huge sofa almost swallowing her up.

I sat down at the piano and started to play—the softest, most calming music I knew. I felt the weariness bearing down on her, and I glanced behind to see her head lowering. I continued to play until the soft static gave way to images, and I knew she was asleep. I reached in my pocket for my phone, scrolling to one of my favorite playlists. I hit play, letting the classical music fill the room.

That would keep her asleep.

In seconds, I was in her house. Five minutes later, all the dust covers were removed, shaken, and folded. I took some time to look around the house well. It was in need of a lot of repairs. I could smell the rot of wood and the odor of decay. There was too much mold and years of dirt built into the walls.

I didn't want her here any longer than she had to be. She would be far safer with me.

I had only to convince her of that fact—a challenge I planned to win.

~o0o~

She was restless when I slipped into her room later that night. The static was gone, her mind working overtime, memories flooding her brain. She had been embarrassed when she woke up to find me sitting across from her, a book in my lap. It was a prop, since I had been watching her the whole time. When she jerked awake and scrambled up, declaring she had too much work to do to be sleeping, I informed her I had removed the dust covers and also discovered her back door lock was broken. I assured her I would fix it, and had to hold back my smile as she huffed out a "thank you for your unnecessary help," and an "I promise to make it up to you, Edward." Stubborn little kitten. She had no idea how she'd be making it up, but I was anticipating the pleasure.

I laid my hand on her arm, the connection bringing her riotous dreams and emotions to life in my head. Her life had been one upheaval after another. The one time she had felt safe, settled, was when she lived here for a short time with her father. I had no idea what had drawn her away, but the overall sadness permeated her sleeping mind. One theme ran through every image: the weariness of unending responsibility, and the desperate wish to be free of the constant demands on her.

I took her small hand in mine; instantly her body eased. Her mind grew peaceful and she fell into a healing, restful slumber. She sighed in relief, the word "yes" falling from her lips. Unable to resist, I bowed my head over her hand, my mouth ghosting the almost translucent skin inside of her wrist. Her blood rushed freely: rich, dark, red, and calling to me. I ran my teeth over her skin, gently enough it didn't hurt her, but hard enough to tease my desire, fanning the flames that burned bright within me.

Images of her under me, my cock buried in her fiery heat, my teeth slicing through her neck filled my head. I pressed my teeth harder, causing a tiny bead of blood to bubble up, glistening in the dark, beckoning—demanding my tongue. I shuddered, unable to resist, and lapped at the ambrosia. My eyes rolled back in my head as, once again, an orgasm shot through me, blasting like fireworks on the fourth of July. It caused my body to tighten, a low growl tearing from my chest as I shook with the intensity. Another swipe of my tongue closed the tiny hole, and afforded me one more taste of her essence.

I lifted my head off the edge of the mattress, staring at Bella. The unknown power she held over me was a mystery. How I would survive more than a taste, I had no idea.

But I planned to find out.

~o0o~

She was more rested the next morning. I waited for her by my car, hiding my smirk at the dirty look she threw it as she approached.

"My car offends you?"

"No, just the reason I'm in it." She huffed. "I can take care of myself."

"That's my job now."

I opened her door, ending the discussion. "Get in Bella." I took her elbow to make sure she was comfortable, bending down to help fasten her seat belt.

"I can do it."

"I'm sure you can." I grinned. "But then, I couldn't do this." I pressed my lips to her warm cheek, enjoying the feel of her silky skin. Unable to resist, I darted my tongue out and tasted the sweetness. "Good morning, kitten," I murmured, drew back, then walked to the driver's side, sliding in.

"Kitten?" she whispered.

"My mother had a picture I looked at a lot when I was a child. It was a kitten staring in a mirror, seeing its reflection back. But it wasn't a kitten it saw—it was a lion," I explained. "I think that's how you see yourself—a lion."

"But you see a kitten?"

"I do. One that needs a little care."

She inhaled, then bit her lip, drawing her blood tantalizingly up to the surface. Remembering my orgasm last night—and the thought of how easy it would be to lean over and run my tongue along that plump lip as I used my teeth to pierce the thin skin—made me growl.

"Stop."

She froze, her eyes widening.

"You have no idea how sexy it is when you do that."

She blinked. "Do what?"

"Bite your lip."

"I don't even realize I'm doing it," she confessed.

"It makes me want to kiss you. And bite it." I bent closer, tracing my finger over her bottom lip. I slipped my finger inside, stroking the burning heat of her mouth. The soft skin was satin, her wet heat encasing my finger the way her pussy would clutch at my cock—soon. "I want to see if your mouth tastes as sweet as I think it does."

"You…you do?"

The static in her head reached epic proportions. Her gaze bounced between my mouth, eyes, and everywhere in between.

Then I smelled it.

My words aroused her. Her body was tight, her hands clenched on the thin coat she wore. She swallowed deeply, the action causing her throat to contract. Her scents—all of them—swirled within the confines of my car. Her blood, her skin, her desire. My vision became cloudy as need began pulsating through my body.

Need to take, claim, possess her—in every way.

I slammed my finger down on the automatic window opener, the cold air rushing in. I shook my head to clear it, punching the car into reverse.

"Drink your coffee, Bella."

She didn't move for a moment. I grabbed her cup, holding it out for her.

"We'll continue this conversation later. Otherwise, the only place we'll be going is upstairs to my bedroom, and none of your errands will happen today. Tomorrow either."

Her hand was shaking when she took the cup.

She didn't object to my words, though, or the implied promise.

~o0o~

It looked as if the sun was actually going to come out, so I parked the car in the back corner of the lot, under the overhang of trees. After my one brief stop, I'd come back and wait in the dense woods. Maybe I'd even grab a snack.

"What are you going to do while I shop, Edward?" she asked.

"I have my own errands," I lied smoothly. "How long do you need?"

"Oh, ah, an hour?"

"Fine. We can meet right back here."

"Okay."

She walked away, glancing over her shoulder a couple times. When she entered the store, I leaned back against the car. I had only one errand, which was to buy her a new lock for her back door. I had already decided to also replace the front one and have keys cut to fit them both—with the addition of one for myself. Otherwise, I'd either be replacing the lock daily, or climbing through her window—and that was for juveniles. I listened carefully, pleased when I realized I could pick out her heartbeat, even with the distance between us. It was calm; the static a low hum in her head. I pushed off the car, deciding on another errand. I'd be back in plenty of time to help her with her groceries.

~o0o~

Satisfied with my purchases, I headed back to the car, freezing in place as I came around the corner and inarticulate, evil thoughts pierced my brain. Bella was done, and by the car, but she wasn't alone. A large, imposing man was in front of her, his arms braced on the car, caging her in. The vile thoughts were emanating from him. Her heartbeat was fast and erratic. The static was so loud it reverberated in my mind. She was shaking her head, her low words frantic, pleading. Her gaze swung my way, and I saw the panic in her eyes. Without even checking if I was being watched, I blurred across the lot, beside her in less than it would take a human to blink. With a low growl, I grabbed the stranger's arm, spinning him away, stepping in front of her protectively.

"Back off," I snarled. "The lady doesn't want your attention."

He sneered at me. "And who the fuck are you?"

I stepped forward, allowing my anger to show in full. "She is under my protection, so therefore, I'm your worst—fucking—nightmare."

He faltered; his bravado slipping as he took in my murderous expression. I saw the images in his head of him talking to Bella in the store and following her back here, intent on dragging her into the woods and raping her. A red haze covered my vision. It was only the feel of Bella's shaking body that stopped me from dragging him into the woods and removing his limbs one by one as he begged for mercy. Before I spoke again, I searched his mind, getting his name and address. He would pay for this—just not now.

"I suggest you move along, before I do something we both regret."

He began to open his mouth, but I seized his arm, whispering low. "You have five seconds to move, or die. Your choice. If you think I'm kidding, look into my eyes." I squeezed his bicep, feeling the muscle and cartridge collapse. He groaned loudly, and I pushed his foul-smelling form away. "Five seconds," I repeated, loud enough Bella could hear.

This time he didn't hesitate. Clutching his arm, he turned, hurrying to get away.

He could run as far as he wanted. Today would be his last day on this Earth. Tonight he would understand you never touched something that belonged to me.

I made sure he was far enough away, then I turned to Bella. She was still shaking, and I ran my hands down her arms. "Are you all right?"

"He…he just showed up," she rambled, her voice stressed. "I was waiting for you, and I dropped my purse. I bent down to get it, and he was there. He asked me some stupid questions in the store, and I walked away. I had no idea…" She shook her head. "He…he scared me. He said things…"

I knew exactly what he had said; what depraved thoughts had filled his head.

"Did he touch you? Tell me. "

"No." Her teeth began to chatter, and I knew she was going into shock. I reached over, grabbing a bottle of pop from her bag and opened it, pressing it to her lips. "Drink. You need the sugar."

She swallowed a few times, her eyes never leaving mine. Satisfied she had enough, I screwed the cap back on and gave into my need, pulling her into my arms, cradling her face to my chest. "I should have given you the keys," I murmured. "I would never have forgiven myself if he had hurt you."

"I'm…I'm sure he was harmless. He was just trying to scare me."

I let her think that way. She didn't have to know. He wouldn't exist after tonight. He would never bother anyone else.

"I have you now, you're safe."

With a large exhale, she melted into my embrace, allowing my comfort. Her heart rate steadied, and the static eased. I stroked her silky hair, keeping one hand on her back, pressed tight to me.

"You got here so fast. You were over by the store, then you were in front of me. How did you do that?"

I drew back, gazing down into her eyes. "I'll explain later."

"But you…"

"Later. Do you need to go anywhere else?"

"No. Can we just go home?"

"Of course," I soothed her.

"Okay." She bit her lip again. "Quinoa," she blurted out.

"What?"

"I bought quinoa to make you dinner. To say thank you. Will you come for dinner tomorrow?"

I remembered my fast improvisation as to why I didn't eat a bagel with her. She remembered and wanted to make me something she thought I could eat. She wanted to do something for me.

Quinoa. I was sure I'd eaten worse things.

I pulled her head back to my chest.

"Yes."

~o0o~

The drive back was quiet. Bella huddled against the door of the car, her heart alternately steady, then flying rapidly like a bird's wings fluttering against a cage, desperate to escape. Silently, I offered her my hand, which she clasped, then shut her eyes and relaxed a little. I concentrated on the road, tracking her heart rate and getting her home as fast as possible. As long I kept physical contract with her, she remained calm. At her house, while she unpacked her groceries, I changed the locks; glad I had gone with the more elaborate type. She looked relieved when I explained how much safer they were than normal locks. I knew she was worried about the stranger from the parking lot.

Later, I sat next to her after she finally fell into a restless sleep, his face playing on a loop in her mind. She would only calm when I touched her, and I leaned close, whispering low into her ear that she was safe and nothing would harm her. When I felt she would sleep without me there, I left to clean the Earth of the scum that had caused her fear.

James Trailer met his end at my hand. As soon as he saw me waiting for him, he knew. Every vile act he had ever committed flitted through his sick, twisted mind, and when I was done with him, there was nothing left for anyone to find, except for the hand I saved. That I planned to send to the police with the list of names I had plucked from his head so the families of his victims would have some closure. I wasn't even tempted to drink from him. I wanted nothing so evil entering my body.

Still, the frenzy of my hatred left me too keyed up to be with Bella, and I passed the night deep in the forest, sating my thirst and hating the fact I wasn't by her side, watching over her. Having neglected my businesses since she'd showed up, I kept busy all day working and making sure I finished what I started the previous night. I could hear her heartbeat and static in her house, so I knew she was home and safe.

Mid-afternoon, the phone rang, and I glanced at the number, somehow not surprised to see who was calling.

"Hello."

"Hello, my son."

"How are you, Carlisle?" I had stopped calling him father a long time ago, when we both looked the same age. At times, it slipped out, but he was fine with me calling him by his given name.

"I am well. Your mother, however, is not."

I sighed. "I'm fine. Please tell her not to worry."

It was his turn to sigh. "Edward, I've explained this to you. Your mother has a very strong connection to you. When you're in turmoil or upset she feels it. And she's felt it strongly these past few days."

I sat down, running my hand over my face. "I'm fine."

"Edward…"

I let my head fall back with a groan. I could lie to everyone else, but not to my mother. Carlisle was right, the bond between Esme and I was strong.

"I have a new neighbor."

"And?"

I leaned forward, resting my elbows on my thighs as I stared across the street. "There's something about her."

"Tell me."

I told him how Bella's appearance had thrown me. About the odd feelings and strange need to protect her. Claim her. Possess her—only for myself. How her blood sang to me, and the way her mind projected static, until she slept, and her thoughts and emotions became so clear to me.

He was silent for a moment.

"She's your mate, Edward."

I gaped into the phone. "That's vampire folklore."

"No. It's real. Your mother is my mate—that's why I had to change her. I couldn't be without her." He lowered his voice. "What does the thought of being without Bella make you feel?"

"As if I was being swallowed by a black hole." My fist clenched on my thigh. "The thought of her being anywhere but here makes me crazy… insane."

"You would do anything to protect her?"

"Yes," I breathed out, guilt-ridden. "I would. I have already."

"What?"

After I confessed to what I had done to James, Carlisle was again silent. "You know how I feel about taking human lives, Edward. However, I can't say if faced with the same situation, I wouldn't have done something similar to protect Esme. Although," he added, "perhaps not so graphically."

"He deserved it. What he wanted to do to her?" I growled. "He wasn't going to stop until he got to her. I could see it. I saw what he did to those four other women. I had to stop him."

"I understand." He paused. "Have you told her?"

"No."

"You have to be honest. She is your mate."

He was right—he was always right. I sighed. "I know."

"Given what you have told me, I'm sure she feels the same for you."

I snorted. "I'm sure she'll be thrilled to find out she's fallen for a monster."

His voice was patient. "You aren't a monster. You need to stop seeing yourself that way."

I rolled my eyes. We'd had this conversation countless times. "Carlisle, because of me—"

He interrupted me. "—because of you, my life became complete, Edward. Nothing else matters. You are my son."

I could offer nothing. I knew how fervently he felt. I was equally strong in my belief and we would never agree.

"Thank you."

"Do you, ah, need us? We can come to you."

"No." I replied—too rapidly from the sound of sadness in his voice when he assured me he understood.

"Maybe in a while," I added. "When I figure out what's happening."

"Tell her," he urged. "Let her see you and you will know. Let her see how you feel."

"I will."

I hung up, wondering how quickly Bella would run once I did tell her all about me.

I shook my head, knowing wherever she ran, I would follow.

~o0o~

Later, when she opened the door, I knew I was right to be worried. The fatigue was back in full force, the power of it weighing her down, and with a low curse, I tugged her into my arms. She came easily, her head naturally tucking under my chin. I breathed her in, her scent wrapping around me.

"You didn't sleep well."

"I had nightmares."

"I should have stayed with you."

She sighed, stepping back. "And have done what, Edward? Sat beside my bed and held my hand?"

I cupped her chin, making her meet my eyes. "Yes."

She inhaled sharply.

"You would do that, wouldn't you?"

She had no idea I already had.

"Yes." I leaned down, brushing my lips to hers. "I would do it if I knew it brought you comfort."

Her warm breath tickled my mouth. It took all my strength not to kiss her right there. Kiss her until she begged me for more. Until I was buried inside her.

"How is it possible I feel this way about you?" she murmured. "How do you make me feel so safe?"

"Only safe? Is that all I make you feel?"

"No," she admitted. "I feel…so much more, Edward. I don't understand it, but I feel it."

Relief at her quiet words washed over me. She felt it too. I pressed a kiss to her head. "As odd as it sounds, I feel very strongly about you, Bella. I need you to know that."

She leaned even closer, her body flush with mine, ranking up my lust for her.

I stepped back before I could act on my desire. I handed her the bottle of wine I brought. "For the quinoa."

"Oh, thank you." She shook her head as if to clear it. "Dinner is almost ready."

"Excellent."

~o0o~

Dinner was beyond terrible. The texture of the quinoa in my mouth was like a thick, wet paste. My sharp teeth slid through the kernels and the overcooked vegetables she had combined with the grains. It took everything in me to swallow and not actually choke as the sludge moved its way down my throat. I reached for my wine glass, grateful I had brought my favorite label, letting it wash away the insipid flavor of the dinner Bella had made.

I glanced her way to see her watching me. I offered her a weak smile.

"This is awful." She grimaced. "How do you eat this all the time?"

"I don't." I was honest. "It is terrible."

"Do you have a better recipe?"

"No. I've never had quinoa."

"Oh, it was the most recommended for vegans on the sites I looked at."

I pushed my plate away. She had gone to a lot of trouble to make this offering, but not even for her could I swallow another mouthful. I had a feeling she would keep trying to find something she could cook for me I would like. I filled both our glasses, then stood up, lifting my plate.

"Are you going to eat that?" I asked, indicating her plate.

"No."

I added hers to mine and carried it to the kitchen. Even the scent of the "salad" turned my stomach. I hesitated a moment, then returned to her side, sitting down, reaching for her hand.

"I'm sorry. I never made anything gluten and lactose free. I'll try again."

"I'd prefer you not to."

"I want to."

I shook my head, staring intently at her. "I won't eat it."

"Why?" she whispered.

This was it. I could give her a story. I could lie and convince her I was so picky, I only ate food I cooked myself. Carlisle was right, though. I had to tell her and see how she would react.

"I don't eat…food…the way you do, Bella."

"I don't understand."

"I don't need it the way you do. I get my sustenance other ways."

She blinked, biting her lip, staying silent.

"There are many things about me that are…different."

She looked down at our linked hands. "Like your speed? And how cold your hands are?" she whispered. "Or the way you calm me when you're close?"

"Yes." I tightened my grip on her hand, drawing it to my chest and placing it over my heart. My heartbeat that was so sluggish it barely registered on a medical machine. Her eyes grew wide, and her own heart rate increased.

"What are you saying?"

"Nothing you haven't already suspected. I'm not…human, exactly."

"Exactly what are you?"

I drew in a deep breath. "My father is a vampire. He impregnated my mother, who was human. I'm a hybrid."

"Vampire?" she repeated. The static in her head was almost explosive it was so loud. I felt fear and confusion pouring off her body as she folded in on herself, pulling back her hand. "Are you going to hurt me?"

"No, Bella," I assured her. "Just the opposite. I will do everything to protect you. I meant what I said earlier. My feelings for you are incredibly strong." I let her absorb what I had just said; relieved when the static became more the dull noise I was used to. "Would you like to ask me some questions?"

"Yes."

I leaned back, forcing myself to appear relaxed and at ease. "I'll answer anything you want to know."

The static returned, and I knew she was overwhelmed and unsure where to start, so I did it for her.

"Before he was turned, my father was a compassionate being—extremely empathic to all those around him. He holds many degrees in the medical field, including psychiatry. He is brilliant."

"Turned?" she asked.

"He was bitten by a vampire. The venom turned him into one also."

"But you…"

"I was born—carried by a human mother. My parents didn't even know it was possible—they had fallen in love and only later found out she was pregnant. They had no idea what to do or how to handle it, but my father figured it out and made sure I was delivered safely, before he turned my mother."

"Your mother is a vampire too?"

"She is now. It was either lose her, or change her, and my father couldn't exist without her. It was her wish to be changed." I leaned forward. "She's my father's mate. His other half. He is hers. They belong to each other."

"Oh."

There was a lot more I wanted to tell her, but I decided to wait and continued with my story.

"I grew at such a fast rate—by the time I was a year old, I looked seven or eight. They feared I would die at a very young age and they began searching for answers. They found another being like me who was able to answer their questions, and alleviate some of their fears."

"How old are you?"

"To humans, I am twenty-eight."

"In reality?"

"Almost one hundred. I stopped aging at all when I turned twenty–five."

"How old was the other…one like you?"

"Almost a thousand years old. And that was over ninety years ago. We keep in sporadic touch. There are actually a few of us around."

Her eyes grew huge. "Are your parents…?"

I nodded. "They are alive and living in Europe. They are infinite, Bella—immortal. I have hundreds, thousands of years, maybe more, but eventually, I will die." I reached for her hand, needing to feel a small connection with her, and felt pleased when she allowed me to grasp her fingers. "We remain close, but I have my lifestyle, they have theirs."

"Meaning?"

"As I said, my father is a compassionate man. He fought against the vampire lust for blood. He discovered he could exist on the blood of animals. He and my mother both sustain that diet."

"But you don't?" she asked, her voice quivery.

"I'm a mixture of both. I require blood and human food to survive." I waved my hand toward the back of my house. "I live near the forest so I have access to wildlife. I drink their blood to help sustain me."

"So you don't kill humans?"

I had to move. I got up and paced, turning to face her. "Make no mistake, Bella. I am a monster. Something in my DNA requires that I have some human blood. Without it, I grow weak and unable to function properly. So to answer your question, I don't kill them, but I do drink from them."

"How…"

"Sometimes vampires bring a gift with them from their human life. My father's compassion came with him and he developed a rather unique gift, which he passed on to me. His venom can be used to not only kill or paralyze, but heal."

Her brow furrowed.

"Your knees and hands. The first night when you fell. Do you remember?"

"They were skinned and sore. They next morning they were fine. I couldn't see where I had been hurt. When I went to bed that second night it was as if I hadn't even fallen!" Her panic increased again. "You…you were in my room that first night?" Her voice rose. "You were there?"

"Yes. I came to you that night—I was drawn to you. You were hurt and restless. I used my venom to stop the pain and ease your suffering. I've come to you every night since then—you rest easier when I'm with you."

She didn't say anything, her heartbeat rapid.

I sat next to her. "I had to come to you, Bella. You called to me. Your…blood called to me."

"You want my blood?"

I sighed. "Yes, but not the way you think."

"You need blood to survive? You want my blood to survive?"

"No," I said softly. "I want your blood because it sings to me, and I need you in order to survive."

"I don't understand. You just said…"

"I drink from humans—I only need a few mouthfuls—less than a person would give for a blood donation. I use my venom to seal the marks so they can't see them."

"Don't they remember you sucking on their neck?' she asked. There was a slight sarcastic, hysterical edge to her voice.

"I never drink from their neck. Ever. It's too personal. Usually their wrist. And they don't remember because I fog their memory. All they remember is meeting someone and having a conversation. My face is blank, and they can't recall anything else."

She shook her head, the static growing in its ferocity.

I took her hand again. "I know it's a lot to absorb, Bella, but you need to know. I am different than you."

"That's why your hands are cold."

I nodded. "I run at a much lower temperature than a human, but I'm warmer than a vampire. My hands are the coldest part of me. I can blame it on poor circulation if anyone comments."

"You don't eat much."

"Like human blood, I don't require much food to survive. I like things with particularly strong tastes, like ginger and jalapenos. I like things with texture. I eat my meat blood rare. I like very strong coffee, rich red wine, and extremely expensive brandy." I winked at her, hoping to calm her down. "I may be the only vampire in history addicted to caffeine."

Her shoulders eased a little, encouraging me.

"So garlic doesn't hurt you?"

"Very little hurts me. I like garlic. I don't think, however, I like quinoa."

A ghost of a smile curled the corners of her mouth.

"Sunlight?"

"I can't handle much of it. It depletes my strength, but I don't burst into flames"—I grimaced—"or sparkle. That's one reason I like it here. It rains a lot and the sun is so infrequent I don't have much trouble avoiding it. Working at night helps. People assume I'm sleeping in the day."

"Do you sleep?"

"My human side needs the rest. My body relaxes and sleeps, I suppose. My brain remains active."

"Do you, ah, have bodily functions?"

I burst out laughing. "Not the same as you. What my body doesn't need is shed, but in a different way than yours. "

"I don't think I want to know."

"Probably best."

She was quiet for a moment. "You said I was…different."

"You are. Your blood…calls to me for lack of a better word."

"You want to drink from me?" She asked the question so innocently, so naturally, I had to fight back the groan of desire caused by her words.

"I want your blood, yes. I want your body too, Bella." I inhaled her scent. "I want all of you. I want to make you mine. To possess you like no one else has…or ever will again."

Her eyes couldn't possibly get any larger. I gathered her hands in mine. "Like my father, Bella, I have found my mate. You. You belong to me."

She gasped.

"When I…when I healed your cuts, I tasted your blood."

"You liked it?" she whispered.

"Like isn't the right word. It caused a reaction I've never experienced until that moment."

"What?"

I pulled her to me, my mouth right at her ear. "One small taste of your blood and I came so hard, I thought I would pass out."

She squeaked. A small, high-pitched sound that went straight to my groin.

I wrapped an arm around her waist, holding her to me. "I can only imagine what reaction I'll have when I can swallow you down my throat. Feel you coating me inside. Rich, thick, red, Bella. Like the rarest of wines—perfect."

"Oh, God," she whimpered.

"I want you." I pulled her closer. "I want you so fucking much."

"My body or my blood?"

"Both."

A shiver ran through her and I groaned, burying my face into her neck, inhaling her rich bouquet. "Jesus, Bella. I can smell you." I trailed my mouth up her neck, ghosting over her cheek to the edge of her mouth. "You want me too."

Her hands tightened on my arms, her fingernails ineffectually digging into my skin. "I don't know what I want."

"Yes, you do." I ran my finger over her cheek. "But you're so tired, kitten."

"If I rest better when you're near, why am I so tired today? Were you here last night?"

"Only for a short time."

"Why?"

"I had something I had to take care of."

"What could you have to do in the middle of the night? Drink from someone else?"

I narrowed my eyes. "No."

"What then? If I'm so important you break into my house to see me, what were you doing?"

She wasn't going to let it go. She was upset and pushing—and making me angry. I didn't want to discuss this. I glared down at her. "I was still looking after you, Bella. That man who frightened you yesterday? You should have been frightened. I read his mind. He planned on finding you…hurting you."

She paled. "What? You read his mind?"

I laughed. "I forgot to mention that little piece of information, didn't I? Yes, I can read minds. Except yours. From you I get static. I read his, however, and what he planned to do. What he had done to other women. I tracked him down and…took care of him. He won't be bothering you anymore."

"You…'took care' of him?"

"He's dead, Bella. Gone. He won't hurt anyone else. Ever."

"You killed him?"

"Yes."

"How?"

I held up my hands. "I told you I'm a monster. I used these." I shook my head. "You were in danger. I eliminated it."

She became so white, I feared she would faint. I moved closer, intent on catching her if she did, but she shook her head rapidly, stepping back.

"You have to go."

I frowned. "What?"

"You have to go. I have to think. I can't do that with you here." She waved her hands around wildly. "You cloud my mind…I can't think."

I stood up, drawing myself to my full height. I towered over her, locking our gaze, not allowing her to look away. "Are you certain that's what you want?"

Her lips trembled, her eyes filled with tears as a shudder ran down her spine. "Y…yes."

Her tears hit me hard. I felt the overwhelming chaos in her mind, threatening to engulf her. I nodded—but I couldn't leave her this way. I didn't want her to fear me—I only wanted to tell her the truth. With measured steps, I closed the distance between us, sliding my hand around the base of her neck, drawing her close as I ducked my head.

"I won't hurt you, Bella," I breathed out. "I had to protect you. I will always protect you."

Tenderly, I traced the tracks of her tears with my lips, tasting her fear and sadness. I ghosted my mouth over her face, dropping light kisses to her skin, over her eyes, and finally touched her trembling lips to mine.

"You're safe with me. Always safe," I promised.

Her warm breath kissed my mouth as I pressed harder, melding our lips as she let me gather her tight. I kept my caresses indulgent and soft—our mouths moving together with sweeping passes of my tongue, groaning when she responded. Regretfully, I pulled back, dragging air into my lungs.

"I'll go, Bella. But I'll be close. All you have to do is say my name, and I'll be here."

Her eyes opened, wide and dark with desire. Her body hummed with it, her blood drumming and wild under her skin. I ran my finger over her cheek.

"Just say my name."

~o0o~

I spent the night pacing. When the walls became too close, I went outside. I circled her house, watching, listening. She stayed in her room, her heartbeat often frantic, the static loud, and her fatigue growing. It was all I could do to stay away. Never before had I wanted to hear someone's thoughts as desperately as I wanted to hear hers. Never had I been so anxious to hear my name.

But it was never spoken.

The next day, I went into town to spend some time checking on my various businesses. Mid-afternoon, I sat in the back booth of my bar, with my gaze already trained on the door when she walked in—by now so attuned to her heartbeat I knew she was there before I saw her. She approached the bar, asking Riley in her polite, quiet way if we were hiring. He shook his head, telling her not at the moment, and she began to walk away, only to turn back.

"If I said Edward sent me, would that make a difference?"

"Are you Bella?"

She nodded.

He reached under the bar and handed her a standard employee form. "Fill this in and you can start at your earliest convenience."

She sighed heavily, but took the paper.

"Is he here?"

He pointed to the booth and she walked over, standing beside me. I indicated the bench. "Sit, before you fall down, Bella."

She opened her mouth and I stood up, taking her arm. "Sit."

I slid across from her. "You're exhausted."

She ignored me, her hands clenched on the table. "I've been to the new laundromat, the drug store, and now the bar. No jobs anywhere until I mention your name. The only places I haven't been are the bank and the Thriftway. Should I bother, or is it simply a given that no matter where I go, I'll end up working for you?"

"I don't own either—or the funeral parlor, if working for me is so distasteful to you." I leaned over the table, covering her hands. "Ask my employees. I'm a good boss. I pay well and I take care of them."

"You don't seem the type to own laundromats or something as insignificant as a local bar."

I sat back, lifting my mug. "Small towns need trades too. It's the people of this town who keep my businesses running well. They are the ones who do the cleaning, eating, and drinking. My employees are their family and friends—I reward them." Then, I flashed her a smile. "I own the local home service contractor's center as well. You can answer the phones, if you prefer."

"Why?"

I shrugged. "Since I somehow doubt you'll let me do what I want to do, I'll make sure you get a local job where you can be nearby and safe."

"And what do you want to do?"

I stood up, sliding into the booth beside her. She slid farther away until her back hit the wall. I followed until we were almost nose to nose. "I want to take your possessions, move them, and you, into my home, and look after you. I want to make you mine. I want to fuck you every day, mark you as taken, and taste you every chance I get. I want to play piano for you and watch you sleep on my sofa. I want to carry you to my bed and lay with you so you sleep. I want to fill your world with me. Only me." I paused, inhaling her spun sugar scent. "However, knowing your independent streak, I'll settle for watching over you while you work—until you're ready for the rest of it to happen."

The color on her face was high, her breathing shallow. She gathered her strength and tossed me a challenge. "And you're so sure it will?"

I laughed lowly, resting my forehead to hers. "Ah, kitten. I know it will. I feel how I affect you." I dropped my mouth to her ear. "I smell how much I affect you." I traced the shell of her ear with my tongue, smiling at her shiver. "You sleep well when I'm close. You relax when I'm beside you. You want my touch. You want me as much as I want you. And when you're ready, I'm here." I pulled back and stood up. "I'm going to get you lunch. Fill out the form, Bella. I won't bother you or treat you any different than my other employees. There's a great bunch of people here, and I know you'll fit in."

She stared up at me, chest heaving, cheeks blazing, and her rich blood pounding and racing in her veins.

"Do you need a pen?"

She nodded.

Reaching across the table, I grabbed the one I was using. "Take mine. Like everything else I have, it's yours."

Leaving her gaping, I walked away.

~o0o~

It was deep into the night when the word I had been waiting to hear was whispered: Edward. The quiet sound rang out with a clarity only I could hear, and seconds after it was uttered, I was standing in her living room. Bella was curled up on the sofa, clutching a blanket. Her exhaustion was written on her face. I sat down on the old coffee table, reaching for her hands.

"Give in, kitten. Stop fighting what you feel, what you need. Stop fighting me." I brushed a long tendril back from her face.

"You killed someone."

"He wasn't the first, and I doubt he'll be the last."

She tugged on her hand, but I refused to release it. "I'm not like you, Bella. I'm not human. I'm a monster." I inhaled a long, slow breath, letting her scent soak into my lungs. "But the human part of me feels for you, and the vampire part recognizes you as my mate. They override the monster."

"Why do you call yourself a monster? Because you killed that man?"

"I don't belong anywhere, Bella. To the vampire world, I'm an oddity—a freak of nature that should never have been allowed to live. My father chose me over his world and he and mother were outcasts—he ran with us to keep us safe. He lost everything and had to rebuild his life. To this day, he looks over his shoulder. To humans, I'm different. They don't know why, but they sense I'm dangerous. All my life I struggled with the two sides of myself. The vampire side that wanted blood – human blood—and the human side of me that wanted to protect life."

I stood up, straightening my shoulders. "I rebelled when I was older. I ran from my parents and the diet my father imposed on me. I lived on my own, and for a while—entirely on human blood. I forsook human food and animals." I stared at her. "I killed people. I used my talent, found the lowest of humans and dealt my own brand of justice. I drained them and put an end to their crimes."

"Why did you stop?"

I sat back down, needing to be close to her. "The blood—it affected me. My system couldn't handle so much human blood. I was literally going insane, losing myself, and in a moment of clarity, called my father. He came, took me home, and helped me find what worked for me. Even with a diet of human food and animal blood, I was still weak, but once I added some human blood, and found my balance, I was fine. I also discovered I had my father's gift of healing venom, and I was able to drink and not kill."

"I still don't see the monster, Edward," she stated. "You killed people who hurt others. You killed that man to save me."

"I fight to not be a monster every day, Bella. I was losing myself, but I loved the feeling. The euphoria the blood brought me. The inane strength and power in my body. I'm like a recovering alcoholic. I will never be totally cured." I exhaled heavily. "All I can do is try."

"Are you tempted all the time?"

"No. There are times that are more difficult than others, but I have learned I am stronger than I thought."

"You want my blood..."

"I want you." I stressed. "I want all of you."

She didn't say anything for a minute, her fingers playing with the blanket she had draped over her knees.

"I can't have children," she blurted out.

I frowned. I hadn't expected that. "I'm sorry."

"It's a long story…but I thought you would want to know, because of your, ah, mother and father…you don't have to worry about that."

"What are you saying?"

She lifted her gaze to mine. "I don't think you're a monster, Edward. I think you're beautiful."

"Give yourself to me," I commanded lowly. "Let me show you how beautiful you are."

"Yes," she breathed.

She was in my embrace in an instant. All control vanished as soon as my mouth met hers. The taste of her exploded under my tongue, and I knew there was no way I would be able to stop. I swept her up into my arms, and faster than she could blink, I had her in my bedroom.

She looked around, confused. "Why?"

I lowered her to my bed, following her down, hovering over her waiting body. "I won't make you mine in a house filled with sadness and regret. I want your memories of tonight to be of nothing but me. The pleasure I give you. That we give each other." I kissed her deeply. "You don't belong there, Bella. You belong here with me. This is where you were meant to be."

She moaned; low and pleading. "Edward—"

"I smell you." I growled against her throat, licking at the fragrant skin. "I smell how much you want me." I slipped my hand down under the waistband of her pants, sliding through the silky curls, cupping her possessively. I groaned as my fingers explored, coating themselves in her desire. The heat and wet of her made me harder, knowing she wanted me as much as I wanted her.

I pressed my mouth to her ear. "This…this is mine, Bella. Your pretty little cunt belongs to me. I own it—I own you." I let my teeth graze the tender flesh of her neck, sucking at the juncture of her shoulder. "I'm going to feast on it, and then I'm going to fuck you. I'm going to bury myself so deep inside you, you'll feel me for days."

She shivered at my declaration, her pussy twitching at my dirty words. I slid two fingers inside, massaging her walls. She gasped, her head falling back as she arched into my touch.

"You like that, kitten? You like feeling my fingers inside you?"

"Y…yes," she panted.

"What else do you want?"

She whimpered, pushing herself harder onto my fingers. I stilled them.

"Tell me what you want."

"You! I want you, Edward!"

"What do you want me to do?"

She covered my hand with hers. "Make me come. Please. Make me yours."

"With my hand?"

"Your hand—your mouth—your cock," she pleaded.

I added my thumb, pressing on her clit, teasing the bundle of nerves. "All of them?"

"Yes! Oh God…Yes!"

Before she could blink, I had her naked, her clothes a pile of shredded fabric around us. She pushed at my waist, and I sat back, pulling my shirt over my head, and moving my hand to the waistband of my pants. "Tell me."

"Take them off. I want to see you. Feel you."

One flick of my wrist and there was nothing between us except my aching cock that jutted out, desperate to be inside her. I slid down, burying my face between her legs, teasing and tasting her with my tongue. She was so ready, that her orgasm hit her almost instantly. I rode it out, sliding my fingers back into her tight pussy, working her more as she gasped and writhed around me. Her taste—musky, rich, and all Bella, exploded in my mouth—I growled in pleasure. I lapped and teased, wanting her to come again; wanting more of her. Pushing her legs wider, I plunged deeper, my teeth grazing the soft skin. Her blood welled under my tongue mixing with her honey. My body locked down as the intense bliss racked my form. My body thrashed, needles of rapture digging under my skin as I feasted on her, needing more—needing everything she could give me.

I sat up, still rock-hard, and thrust into her, echoing her cries of need. I slammed into her over and again—hard—aching and yearning until she was screaming and climaxing around me. She grasped my head, pulling me to her neck.

"All of me," she gasped. "Take all of me."

Opening my mouth, I bit down, holding her essence in my mouth, then licking her wound shut. I swallowed her decadent offering, her blood coating my throat—rich, thick, and mine.

She was all mine.

Ecstasy tore through every molecule of my body. I roared in elation as my orgasm grew. The intensity was so great, I became frenzied. I held Bella tight as I emptied into her, lost in the euphoria as I hissed, growled, and snarled—claiming her body and soul. My body became liquid heat, burning and melting, the colors behind my eyes like bursts of multi-prismed sunlight, each one brighter than before. Time ceased to exist, so lost to the depth of my rapture. My heart, which normally beat a slow, almost undetectable rhythm, sped up, the sound reverberating in my head. I shuddered, and with one long shout, collapsed, my world going black and peaceful.

~o0o~

Consciousness came slowly. Lifting my head, I stared down at Bella. She smiled up at me, looking shy.

"Hi."

"What happened?"

She bit her lip, holding back a laugh. "I think your human side took over. You, ah, finished, and fell asleep."

"I slept?"

"I think you'd call it that."

"I've never slept. Not like that. My mind…it was silent," I stated in wonder. "I truly slept."

"I guess you wore yourself out."

I kissed her. "You did that for me."

Realizing I was laying on top of her, wrapped completely around her torso, I shifted. "I must be crushing you."

"I liked it."

"Did I hurt you?"

"I'm fine."

I sat up, taking in her appearance. She was disheveled—her lips swollen, breasts and neck showing signs of my desire, and a few bruises already appearing on her hips. I traced the marks with my fingers. "I lost control. Did I take too much?"

"I'm fine," she insisted.

I raised my eyes to meet her gaze. Aside from the few marks, she looked fine. In fact, she looked more than fine.

"I like you looking like this."

She tilted her head. "Like this how?"

I wrapped my hand around her neck, drawing her face close. "Thoroughly fucked—by me."

"I was."

"And you will be again."

She arched an eyebrow at me. "Is that a threat or a promise?"

I threw back my head in laughter. "Oh, kitten. It depends on the day." Then I stood, lifting her into my arms. "But for now, I'm going to pour you a bath to soak in." I grinned down at her. "With me, of course."

~o0o~

It was late the next day when I allowed her to leave my bed, and only because I knew she had to eat. She had to keep up her strength—I wasn't finished with her yet. I hadn't taken any more blood from her; the effects of what I had taken, still lingering in my body. I felt stronger, clearer, and more in command than I had my entire existence. Somehow her blood's potency and the addition of complete sleep it had afforded me was a powerful combination. I didn't want to deplete her, or test how far I could take this newfound gift.

I watched her affectionately as she attacked her beloved bagel, smothered in cream cheese, trying not to grimace as I thought of how it tasted. Instead, I sipped my coffee, grateful for the bitter brew. She glanced up, meeting my gaze, a blush blooming under her skin.

"What?" she mumbled.

"Nothing. I like watching you."

"Aren't you going to eat?"

"No. It isn't needed."

With a small smirk, she held out her wrist. "Not even a snack?"

With a grin, I leaned forward, taking her proffered hand. Her eyes widened as I lifted it to my mouth, running my teeth along the thin skin. Her pulse rate quickened, her heart beat skyrocketing as I closed my mouth around the softness. I kissed the pulse point, then pressed her hand to my cheek.

"Your blood will never be a snack, Bella. It is far too potent and precious for that." Turning my face, I kissed her palm, then laid her hand on my chest. "And drinking from you is personal to me. Very personal. I prefer it from a far more…intimate area."

Her reaction was instant. Blood pooled under her cheeks, the stain of embarrassment racing down her neck and blooming across her chest. I laughed quietly.

"Eat your breakfast, kitten."

"It's more like lunch."

"Whatever it is, eat it. You need your strength."

She chewed her bagel, lost in thought. I sat back, enjoying the peace that permeated the air.

Until her phone buzzed.

I leaned behind me, picking it up, intent on handing it to her, when the words on the screen caught my eye, piquing my ire.

My head shot up. "Why would someone named Sarah be sending you a schedule for hours at the Thriftway, Bella? You're working for me, at the bar."

"No, I'm not."

"What?" I growled. "We already settled this."

She sighed. "I can't be in a relationship with you and work for you, Edward. It's too much."

"You aren't working as a cashier. I won't allow it."

"You have no say."

I stood up. "I have every say."

She stood as well. "I don't think so. It's my life. I'll make the decisions. I have to work, and since I have no banking experience and zero interest in the funeral parlor, the Thriftway is my only choice."

"You work for me. Or you don't work at all. Case closed. You are not going to be a cashier."

She threw up her hands. "Why, Edward? Why is being a barmaid so different than being a cashier?"

"Because in the bar, I can make sure you're safe. I can't control what happens at the Thriftway. I won't allow it."

She tilted her head. "Can't control what happens or can't control me?"

"Both. It's safer for you at the bar. I'm there."

"I want…"

"What do you want?"

"I want to control my own life."

I laughed. "No, you don't. You have longed for someone to take control. To make the decisions you struggled with for so long. I'm that someone. You know it—somewhere deep in that stubborn, independent head of yours, you know it."

Her shoulders slumped, and I knew I had won.

"I'm not having this conversation with you."

"Fine—we'll discuss this another day." I held out her phone. "Text Sarah back and tell her you accepted another job."

She grabbed her phone, punching the keys angrily, then tossed it on the counter, turning her back to me. I held back my smile at her kittenish temper.

She absently rubbed a mark on her neck I had purposefully left. I could feel her gearing up for another argument, still smarting over giving in a moment ago.

"You gave me a hickey."

"Several actually. I like the taste of your skin."

"People will see it."

"I'm sure they will."

"Staking your claim, Edward?"

I laughed at her annoyed tone. "You can cover it up if you want. However, you are clearly marked. More so to some species than others, but marked nonetheless."

"I thought you said your venom heals the wounds so they become invisible."

"I did."

"Then how exactly have you marked me, Edward? Did you sign your name somewhere so only other vampires can see?" Her voice was snarky in its displeasure.

"Oh, kitten." I grinned darkly. "What an imagination you have. My signature, as you so elegantly phrase it, is invisible yet highly effective."

"What are you talking about?"

I pulled her to me, her futile resistance easy to break through. "I'm all over you, Bella. I've marked you with my scent. My come is so deep inside your body, it will never fade. Your molecules are saturated with me. My scent is infused into your pores. Your hickey will fade, but my teeth marks are visible to another vampire. Any of my kind comes within a hundred feet of you and they will know you are taken. That you're mine. You never approach another vampire's mate without the threat of death."

She shivered.

"And what about some poor unsuspecting human?"

I laughed without humor. "I can mark you in the traditional way if you like. You can wear my ring to show other humans you are taken. However, if one chooses to ignore that, God help him. I'll show no mercy." I tightened my arms. "No one touches you but me. You are mine. All mine."

Her eyes narrowed, and her frame stiffened. She was digging in for a fight—one she would lose, but felt she had to push anyway.

"What if I wanted that human's attention?"

My voice dropped to a dangerous low. "And why would you, Bella? Did I not satisfy you?" I rested my mouth against her ear. "Was coming four times on my cock not enough for you last night? Or the twice I brought you to ecstasy with my mouth not doing it for you?" I sucked in her lobe between my lips, rubbing my teeth lightly on the surface, not breaking the skin, but hard enough she whimpered. "You think a human could satisfy you more than I did? Could fuck you better?"

"No," she breathed out, her body softening.

"Do you want someone else?" I demanded.

"No."

"Yet you defy me. Push me."

"I'm frightened."

My anger drained away. "You have nothing to fear from me. I told you that. I only want you safe."

"I worry I'll lose myself with you."

I dropped my head to her neck, breathing her in. "I'll help you find yourself, Bella. Let go. Let me in, and stop fighting me. I have to take care of you. The vampire part of me needs it."

"And the human part?"

I didn't hesitate. "He is falling in love with you."

"You're so…bossy. Some would say possessive."

"I know. I can't change, Bella. This is me. I want all of you—mind, body and soul—but I promise I will make your life phenomenal. I'll be the one you can depend on. Always. Let me." I drew in a deep breath and uttered a word I rarely used. "Please."

She met my gaze. A silent conversation passed between us—promises made and trust given.

She laid her palm on my chest, leaned over and placed a kiss over my heart. "Okay."

I smiled.

Mine.


So that is the first part. There will be more, at some point... again, please be patient.

Thank you for reading. I hope you enjoyed my hybrid.