A/N:I should know better than to start a new ff right now. But I couldn't help it. Rockstar is almost doe, so posting this new story. Please leave me a line if you feel I should continue this one.
Disclaimer: Stephanie M may own the characters but I own this version...
The sun was rapidly approaching the horizon. The road stretched for endless miles ahead of her, skirting the rocky coastline. Ocean waves crashing in a deafening rhythm on the rocks hugging the tiny strip of asphalt. Late summer heat crashing down on her as she ran towards nothing. Music blared in her earphones. Keeping her in check. The beat of the drums keeping cadence for her stride. A few cars slowed down beside her, high school kids calling out things she couldn't make out, but then moved on towards their own journey. Other than that, she was solitary in her run.
The day had been hectic. Moving boxes from the rental to the small cottage, driving the rental back to the city, coming back on the bus, cleaning, storing, fixing. She was tired even before the start of her run... but it was a necessity she couldn't let go of... running to reach a void inside her head... running to forget all the voices, to make sense of all the chaos... The robotic voice in her earbuds announced the halfway of her goal, so she turned around and ran with the sun setting beside her. The music mellowed down and she slowed her pace to a light jog. It was getting darker. The sky a beautiful mix of indigo, rose and orange. Soon she could make out the frame of the cabin. A small dark triangle against the shrubby mountain, in the distance she could see the small twinkly lights that indicated the small town ahead. A small sliver of doubt settled in her heart. Could she make it out here? She shook her head and focused on her stride. Too soon she was standing in her own porch, stretching away the stress in her body. Her clothes were soaked and she felt her own musky scent showcasing too many hours of housework and a long run.
The house creaked as she sauntered up the steps to the bathroom... old houses, she smiled, they never seemed to stand still, to stand silent... always an opinion, a sound, a rustle... As she started the shower, the pipes hummed awake from their slumber. She removed her running shoes but stepped under the water still in her clothes. Old habits die hard. She waited until her clothes were soaking wet and then slowly began peeling away each layer. As her nurses had taught her, this trick minimised the itching from her wounds.
The shower itself was a punishment, drops of water that felt like pins and needles against her skin. No bathtub meant she would have to endure it every day. A pang of sadness darkened her heart. Just for a second. She found herself missing her room in the hospital, then she shook her head to clear it. Pain. She could deal with physical pain, but hated herself for missing stupid crazy comforts. Like a warm, long bath, a comfortable bed, suitable wound dressings.
After the shower began the nightly ordeal she knew all too well... Lotions and creams, dressings and bandages... Covering the skin on her back from her neck down... Sleeping gown she'd kept from the hospital. She found the generic fabric and oversized backless pattern, slightly comforting in all the chaos that her life had become.
The house creaked and complained again as she ran downstairs to make sure all doors were locked, windows shut, alarm set. And then ran back up with her tea and sandwich to lock herself in the bedroom.
Pain killers, sleeping pills. Tea. Half the sandwich. Hiding under the covers. Sleep finally claiming her before one terrifying last thought: would he find her out here?
Bella woke up just before dawn. The sky was still gray. She didn't feel rested. She felt every scar on her back, every wound on her chest and belly. Her leg hurt. Everything seemed to be spinning around her. She regretted her workout the day before. She pulled her weight off the bed and crawled into the bathroom. She emptied her stomach on the toilet. That immediately made her feel better, settled her spirit. So she brushed her teeth and pulled up her hair in a ponytail. Next she pulled on some old torn jeans, a white t-shirt and sneakers. Phone in one pocket, cash in the other, she stepped out into the cold wind. It was a long walk into town. She thought about buying a bicycle next time she went to the city but immediately gave up after wondering about bringing it on a bus.
It was a small town. Its buildings gathered around an intersection of two regional roads near a tiny bay. No tourists ever stopped here. It was clear to her the town folk didn't take kindly to strangers. Most of the people in town either worked at the lumber mill or made a living fishing. A small dock stretched right by the bay. Most houses skirted the opposite hill. There were a couple of bars along the main street, a small clinic with a drugstore/post office next to it, the fire station, the police station, and a general store doubling as a gas station, in which she stood right then. She'd rented one of the few cottages belonging to the owner. Hers was the only one farther away from town. She was aware of other people staring at her as she wandered the aisles. She felt like a shiny doll on display. People were whispering. No doubt wondering about the faint scarring still visible on the back of her neck.
"Ah! Ms. Swan, how's the cottage treating you?" Tanya, the owner, was at the check out. She was louder than usual as if addressing the whole store. As soon as she spoke, the other shoppers stopped staring. The large woman smiled at her brightly. She wasn't really friendly and genuinely concerned for her lodger. There was a story there, and Tanya wanted to get to the bottom of it. A young woman, alone, in this part of the world? The whole town was buzzing for gossip, and Tanya was intent on getting the story first, so she could make the appropriate changes if need be…
"I'm still getting used to it." Bella's voice was quiet. She was afraid of this woman. She could sense about her what she had sensed about women in general: there was pettiness there. A burning envy. Sick competition for attention.
"Let me know if you need to fix something up there... The pipes are ancient in that place..." Tanya registered Bella's items and placed them in two plastic bags. As Bella half lifted the heavy bags from the counter, Tanya dropped her smiling face just for a fraction, real concern creeping in around her eyes... Tanya might be a gossip, but the woman in front of her was clearly frail and Tanya was still a christian. Tanya scanned the store until she found who she was looking for. "Ah! Hey, Ed!" Tanya waved at someone behind Bella.
By this point Bella's heart was racing... She didn't want anyone to make a fuss... And she didn't want anyone's attention. All she wanted was to start moving uphill and get home. She moved closer to the exit but Tanya grabbed one of her bags and smiled at her. Bella was aware of a tall muscular person moving behind her, and she turned around gently. Blood pooled into her cheeks as she realised there was a man in beige uniform behind her.
"What can I do you for, Tanya?" The man had a gruff husky voice that matched his masculine exterior. Bella didn't dare look up to his face, her eyes carefully trained on his shirt's buttons.
"Sheriff Cullen, would you please give my lodger a ride out to Tempest Point? I'm afraid she hasn't got a car, and I'm sure it's about to start to rain..." Tanya batted her eyes at the officer, she was happily married but Sheriff Cullen always made her feel flirty. He was the most eligible bachelor in town and all the women had tried unsuccessfully to catch his attention. He was handsome, tall and strong. But Tanya had never seen him with anyone from town. He was the youngest sheriff in the state. A kid from the city. The story was he'd been a rising star straight out of the police academy, had been quickly promoted though the ranks to homicide detective, and then his first case had somehow changed his ambitions. When old Sheriff Cooper retired, he invited Cullen to run for the post. He'd kept his post as Sheriff for the past four years and everyone respected him, even if they thought he might be secretly gay.
Bella felt the heat burn her face, she didn't want a ride, she wanted to be left alone. She hated that Tanya had made the people in the store notice her. She didn't want to be a burden to this man, who clearly had more important things to do than give a stranger a ride home. "There's no need... I can walk home, there's no need to make a fuss..." She protested in a low whisper and tried to pull the bag away from Tanya's grasp, but the older woman's hand wouldn't budge.
She watched as he leant over her slowly. From behind his mirrored sunglasses, the Sheriff smiled. It was a frank open smile even though she couldn't assess his eyes. She felt her heart move to her throat. He gently removed her other bag from her hand, as well as taking the one Tanya held.
"Sure thing, I'll just pop these in my truck, while you grab me a cup of joe, Tanya!" He grinned at the large, blonde woman. He was angry. Bella knew he was angry even though he smiled at Tanya. His tone was sarcastic, but Tanya seemed oblivious to it. The woman beamed at him as he exited the store and placed the bags on the back seat of his pickup.
Bella had a sudden urge to run out of the store and uphill towards the cabin, she almost made a move but then remembered she actually needed all the supplies in the sheriff's car. She sighed and hung her shoulders, Tanya grinned at her. "Now, now, Ms. Swan, you're in for a treat, our Sheriff is a true charmer." There was an actual twinkle in the woman's eye as she turned to pour some coffee into two styrofoam cups. It was a lie. The Sheriff's temper had a fame of it's own in town, Bella had been told that by the pharmacist the day before. She had imagined an old grumpy character, not a young man who looked handsome enough to be in the cover of a fitness magazine. Tanya handed her the cups. "Here you go! Now get a move on because he's a very busy man!" Tanya smirked as she almost shoved her tenant out the door. She needed to make her calls, get the rumours started. Share the news. And these kinds of news where like gold nuggets. She trembled in anticipation of the fun she would have at the expense of both of them.
Bella looked on as the officer finished arranging some stuff on the back seat of his truck. He was tall, muscular but lean. His beige uniform was pressed hard against his body. His demeanour was rigid, formal. She couldn't make out the hue of his hair because it was hidden under his stetson. His eyes were also protected by his sunglasses. A hard jawline was traced under his stubble. It wasn't an actual beard, more like he'd foregone shaving for a few days.
She stepped towards the car and handed him both cups.
"I think one of those is for you." He smiled as he took one from her. Startled, she looked back at the store to see Tanya happily wave at them.
She didn't move. She was dreading having to be in the same car with him. Not that she was afraid of the police... Just men in general... And people... She wanted to be alone, couldn't Tanya just have left her alone?
Sensing her discomfort, he reached for the passenger door and opened it for her. He was taken aback by the scared expression in her brown eyes, was she on the brink of tears? "It's ok... I'll just drive you home to make sure you get home safe." He whispered and leaned over her removing his sunglasses, he smiled again. She looked like a scared deer stalked by headlights. There was a story there. This woman was running from something. He chastised himself mentally for not paying attention to the break room gossip the day before. This must be the girl his two deputies had been discussing the night before. But Edward abhorred gossip and the way this little coastal town had a tendency to crash and burn whenever someone new tried to move there.
She sucked in a breath, even if she distrusted men and avoided people, she had to admit his were the deepest green eyes she had ever seen, his face was completely transformed from the formal police officer mask to a concerned friendly face. He exuded power and calm, safety. He felt safe. She took the hand he offered.
"My name's Edward. Edward Cullen. Most people call me Ed... Or Sheriff." He chuckled and winked. Somehow the girl in front of him was affecting him in a weird way he couldn't quite place. He wanted to understand the fear behind those brown eyes. He wanted to somehow make the world safe enough for them to relax. A physical need to banish any danger from her way.
"Bella Swan." She whispered. He smiled again and put his glasses back on. He proceeded to help her climb the truck and shut the passenger door. She realised she still had the cup of coffee in her hand.
"Don't like coffee?" He asked before starting the car. She just shook her head. He grabbed the cup in her hand and placed it in the cupholder next to his. "What do you like?" She stared blankly at him. "It's just so I know what to get you next time…" Bella felt her cheek burn even hotter. What was he thinking? There wasn't going to be a next time. She would make sure of that. Her mind already thinking of ordering supplies online so she wouldn't have to run into him or Tanya.
Just then his radio buzzed and he answered it.
"Sheriff Cullen, there's a commotion over at O'Neal's, maybe you should check it out." A nasal woman announced. Bella hated the voice instantly.
"Can't Emmett or Jasper handle that? I'm sure it's just Paul drunk and stirring up a mess..." Edward barked at the radio. He was annoyed, Jessica knew better than to call him for a drunk and disorderly fuck up. It was as if she knew he was otherwise engaged.
"I'll take care of it, sir." Emmett's voice replied over the radio.
"Thank you, I have an errand to run."
He put the car in gear and made a u-turn towards the road getting out of town. He was angry, mostly at Jessica, but also at Tanya. He had a nagging feeling that Tanya had immediately began gossiping with Jessica about asking him to take this girl home. Tanya had wanted to pair him with Jessica forever... Edward had had to dance around all of Jessica's flirting, to the point that for the last six months he almost never came into the station when she was manning the dispatch. And asking him to drive the girl home was just a means for Tanya to get Jessica jealous. He cursed under his breath as he predicted Jessica would get more aggressive in her pursuit in the next few days.
Bella felt his anger roll off in waves. She couldn't understand why he was angry, other than having to take time from his day to drive her home. She didn't want to be any trouble. In fact she hadn't asked for any of it. If only her landlady had just let her be. She wanted to be left alone. She should just tell him so…
"You really can just drop me at the crossroads and I'll just walk the rest of the way... There's no need for you to..." He stopped the car and looked at her. He removed his sunglasses again. He looked... Concerned.
"I'm taking you home to make sure you're safe all the way out there by yourself. That's my job. Keeping you safe, do you understand?" His voice was soft. Edward could see she was scared and he didn't want to add to whatever had her looking like a jittery deer. "Even if Tanya hadn't asked me to take you, if I saw you walking up here alone, I'd have given you a lift. Tempest Point is nice but remote, there aren't many people living up there anymore." His green eyes bore down on her and she felt herself getting warm again. It was a strange feeling. One she hadn't had in a very long time, if ever. Looking at her like that, he appeared like the archetypical father, the protector, the police man. He projected safety, but she could still sense the danger about him, the edge.. It was drawing her in, like gravity pulling the earth around the sun… warm, but if she got too close, a killing fire. An the air around her was charged with kerosene.
"I like tea..." She whispered, more to diffuse the situation than anything else. He smiled again. She liked it when he smiled, he seemed more human then. Less the sun, more the man.
"Tea it is, Ms. Swan." He winked at her.
"Bella." She blushed. There it was again, that invisible force, drawing her in. Burning light. Killing fire.
"Bella." He smiled and started the car the hell was happening to him? He wanted to touch her so bad… why? why do I want to touch her? From the corner of his eye he scanned her appearance. He was sure she was hurt, bandages creeping from under her shirt. That only fuelled the anger that kept pulsing through him, compressing his back. Who would hurt her? Her boyfriend? A husband? He was suddenly determined to find out.
Just before the last curve to her house, he slowed down the car and pointed at a white two-story house standing alone on the coastal side of the road.
"That's my place, if you ever need anything…" What would she need? Somehow he knew down in his gut, whatever she asked, he would supply it. There was a certainty building in the pit of his gut… feeling his heart beat for the first time in eons… So this is how that feels like.
"You're my neighbour?" She was startled. She had noticed the house but had assumed it was empty. She distinctly remembered her landlady saying there was no one for miles. She realised now Tanya had lied. Of course she had lied, she had wanted to rent the derelict cottage. Bella felt conned. Even if her neighbour was this handsome specimen of a man. Where did that thought come from?
"There goes the neighbourhood, heh?" He chuckled. He stole a look at her and his humor died down, she looked terrified. "It's ok, Bella, breathe!" He said softly. "I just wanted to let you know you could count on me if something happens."
"What... What could happen?" Really, what could happen? All she had ever wanted was to be alone. But looking at the concerned look in his face, she felt that maybe that wasn't the best idea. Maybe this small town was dangerous. Maybe it was filled with criminals… Maybe he'll find me, and finally end it. Dread filled her.
"Well, like, right now, can you explain why your front door is ajar?" Confused she looked at where he pointed. He had stopped the car on her driveway and the front door was completely open. Her face drained of color. She inched closer to him and surprised him by grabbing his arm, she was shaking.
"Did you lock it?" She nodded. "Ok! Stay in the car... I need you to stay in the car and lock the doors after me. Can you do that?" She nodded again but didn't release his arm. He looked at her tiny white fingers against his tanned bicep and his heart beat faster, surprising him. She was small and helpless, alone and hiding from something, someone, and he wanted desperately to make the world safe for her. "I need you trust me, do you trust me, Bella?" She nodded. "I need you to say it..." He whispered in her ear, he knew he shouldn't but he couldn't resist inhaling her scent, she smelled of peaches. His heart almost burst in its cage.
"I trust you, Sheriff Cullen." Her voice was almost faint. She couldn't help it. Suddenly he smelled of sea and sweat and raw sex. And she was afraid of him. She could sense he was being tender, but there was a raw want in him as well. Too raw and she was afraid.
"Ed." He corrected gently. To own her heart. A dangerous thought. He needed to banish that thought from his being.
"I trust you, Edward." She couldn't bring herself to use the short form of his name. She had just met this man that was rapidly turning her thoughts into mush. She was already second guessing every decision that had brought her to this small cabin in the middle of nowhere.
He pried the fingers from his arm and made his way out of the car. He called out to whoever was in the house, his hand steady on the hilt of his gun. A few minutes later a fat blonde man came out of the door, raising his hands.
"Fuck, Mike! What the hell are you doing here?" Edward barked. "You gave us a scare!"
"My sister called me to make sure the pipes were working!" The fat guy chuckled.
"And you just let yourself in? Don't you know you can't do that while there's a tenant?"
"Hey, no biggie, just some crazy girl, she ain't even my type." With horror Bella saw the man paw his crotch.
"Give me your keys, Mike!" Edward just grabbed the keys from Mike's hand.
"Hey! Those are my sister's keys!"
"And she can have them back at the end of the lease."
"Come on, Ed! Don't be an asshole."
"It's Sheriff Cullen, while I'm on duty, Mike! And don't let me catch you anywhere near this place, while Ms. Swan is renting this place." Edward barked. His anger was rabid. Violence flowed from him in waves. Bella felt them, there was something animalistic about it. She hadn't felt anything like this before. A fever slowly rising from this man and infecting the air, blowing to her. A warm vibration making her scars sing in pain, she clutched the door handle for balance.
"What the fuck is your problem, I told you I came to fix the pipes."
"Do I make myself clear, Mike?"
"Crystal!" Mike mocked a salute.
"I'm going to let that slide because I'm in a good mood, but if I ever see you up here again, I will book you for trespassing…"
"Trespassing? This is my sister's place..." Mike snorted.
"While there's a tenant, you are trespassing."
"Now you're just making shit up." The fat man laughed. He found the sheriff too amusing. But Edward knew Mike was a coward at heart and all he had to do was show a little force.
"Try me, wise guy!" Edward bared his teeth. Mike was an asshole but he got the message.
"All right! I'm leaving! Just don't call me if a pipe bursts!" With that he got on his bike and sped downhill.
"Fucker!" Edward cursed under his breath. He went round the car and tried her door, it was open and he held it as she exited the car. "I thought I told you to lock the doors..." He sighed and shook his head.
"Sorry... I... Was too scared to move..." She whispered. Her foot caught on a rock and she stumbled, bracing herself for the fall, then tensed as she felt his hands on her back keeping her up, touching her through the fabric just were her injury was still tender. She flinched and shied away, grabbing the hood of the car for support. She gasped for air, she felt like she was drowning.
"Are you ok?" He took a step toward her and leaned in to look at her face, her breathing was erratic, her eyes unfocused. "Breathe in slowly, through your nose... That's it..." His voice was soft. "Breathe out through your mouth... Slowly... Slow..." She closed her eyes for a minute, he was too close, a strange energy seemed to flow from him, into her. She grabbed his arm to still the pain and felt his free hand cover hers. "You're doing fine. You're safe... Open your eyes..." He coaxed. "C'mon... Open your eyes, you're safe... I got you, honey... I got you."
Her eyes focused on the green ones looking back at her. His face was distorted into a worried expression. She gasped for another breath and he moved back, giving her space and releasing her. She was still grabbing the hood of the car.
"Sssorry.." She straightened her back. "Just... Panic attack..." She tried smiling and failed miserably. Edward offered his hand and motioned his head towards the house.
"Let me help you get inside..." He pulled her off the hood of the truck, Bella stumbled again and fell against his chest. It was like hitting a rock wall, underneath his uniform, he was rock solid.
His arms instinctively held her waist. Inside his brain was slowly turning to sand and he couldn't understand why. Sure, the girl was cute but she was tiny and pale and frail. He felt that if he shook her, she might shatter. Her nerves were on edge which made all his cop instincts awake with a vengeance. Underneath all her skittishness, she was beautiful, and his body was beginning to react to it. And her scent... Peaches, it had been slowly driving him mad ever since she had gotten into his truck.
"Are you ok?" He took a step back, letting his arms fall to his sides.
"I'm just dizzy, sorry... Can you help me inside, there's some medicine I need to take." She grabbed his arm for support. She hadn't planned on making any friends in this town, but Sheriff Cullen made her feel safe. And she desperately needed to feel safe and normal. She wondered if he was just being solicitous due to his sense of duty, but she would take even that kindness from a stranger. She watched him hesitate as if having a discussion on the merits of actually entering her house. "I do make a nice cup of tea, Sheriff Cullen." She straightened her ponytail and smiled, her nerves causing her to bite her lower lip.
"I do believe I'll have to take a rain check on that, I have to get back to town." He frowned and put his shades back on. He needed to get away from this girl, from her perfume, from her lost brown eyes... His hands wanted to feel her waist again. He cursed under his breath again. He helped her to the door but didn't go in, instead he went back to the truck, got her two bags and placed them on the doorstep. He was about to turn away when he saw her face. She was on the verge of tears. Had he been too rude? His brain was cursing at him. See, you made her cry, you moron! He reached into his front pocket and pulled out one of his business cards. "I'm on duty, I really have to get back... But if Mike comes back, give me a call, my cell's on there." His fingertips brushed hers as he gave her the card. A jolt of electricity flew between them. She didn't say anything and just nodded. Her sad eyes hid nothing from him, his heart broke a little realising he had hurt her.
"Thank you!" She stammered as he made his way to the car. It was all she could say as a sob was slowly building in her throat. She wanted to snap out of it but for some reason every fibre of her being wanted to hold on to his arms a bit longer. She shook her head, trying to clear her thoughts. Maybe she was missing comforts again. The comfort of having a friend, someone to talk to. "Snap out of it! People like you don't have friends!" She said to the air after she had locked the door behind her. She put her supplies away, sat on the couch and stared out the window to the green landscape outside, all she could think about was Edward's green eyes... She fell asleep thinking about them.