Disclaimer: All things Twilight belong to Stephenie Meyer. No copyright infringement is intended.
Sincere apologies for the long wait on this chapter.
The Cullens and McCarty's are all at Edward's beachside house.
The crisis with the Volturi is over.
Heidi and Marc got away and when Edward hacked the airport manifest, discovered they were headed to Alaska.
At the end of the last chapter, Max nearly spoiled Bella's Christmas surprise from Edward and Jasper told an embarrassing story about Edward and some nipple clamps.
Morning sun fell over the bed, casting a delicate pattern of light across the sheets, and a rainbow on the wall.
I yawned and stretched and smiled at the rainbow. It was a good sign, I thought. If yesterday I'd woken with relief, today it was with optimism.
I wondered for a moment what day it was, the last few had sort of blurred together. Should I be getting up for work? Was I already late?
"Saturday," I murmured, relaxing into the mattress, wondering how it only been two days since the Volturi had gone up in smoke.
It felt so long ago, now that I was laying here, safe and snug in bed.
I turned my smile on the man who lay sprawled next to me, snoring.
Edward was on his stomach, arms folded beneath his head, hair sleep-tousled and falling over his face.
It was a beautiful face, even when it was smushed against a pillow.
I touched his cheek, feeling the warmth of his skin through the rough stubble that shadowed his jaw.
He didn't react.
From the hallway came the sound of giggles and Emmett begging for quiet.
"Ssh, keep it down, you'll wake Mum, and Uncle Ned..."
"Uncle Nedwood can come to the beach, too!"
"Maybe later, when he's not sleeping. C'mon. Ssh..."
I heard the soft rumble of the sliding door opening, and then the slap of flip flops on the stairs. Excited squeals, and Emmett's booming "Woo hoo! Race you to the wet stuff!" told me when they all hit the sand.
As their voices grew fainter, I turned my attention back to Edward.
He was still snoring.
"You really do sleep like the dead," I whispered and for some reason, seeing him so peaceful, so unguarded, made my heart swell.
The sheet was rumpled round his hips. Propped up on my elbow, I studied him – a sort of visual appreciation.
I started with the hair that curled against his neck, and the faint dusting of salt and pepper freckles on his shoulders.
I loved those tiny freckles. They were like little tributes to the sun. To his new life. I traced my finger over them, back and forth, wondering how long they'd been there. Was it since he'd been in Australia? Or had the collection begun somewhere else?
I changed direction, my touch spiralling lightly down his bare back now, slowly appreciating each bump of his spine.
He had a beautiful back. Toned and well-muscled. Like a Greek statue. His skin had been bronzed by the sun, but the colour faded at his hips, where his board shorts would hang low in that way that made my heart skip a beat.
I nudged the sheet away, just a little, so I could trace the curve of his beautiful backside, a couple of shades lighter than his back. Still, he didn't wake.
I followed his tattoo, my finger climbing the miniature Mt Everest and then sliding down the other side. Then I lowered my face and kissed his shoulder. He sniffed, but stayed asleep.
My gaze wandered to the nightstand, and his reading glasses that sat beside his watch and the glass of water he always brought to bed.
Although, unlike a lot of humans, there was no phone on the nightstand. He kept that in the top drawer each night, on silent. He'd told me once, as he'd undressed me slowly, kissing his way over my neck and shoulder, that his bed was no place for the outside world. Then he'd proceeded to make me forget my own name, never mind the world beyond his sheets.
"You awake?" I whispered, lighly kissing his ear, wondering if we might forget again.
I was answered by a soft snore that made me giggle.
"Real smooth, Edward."
I reached for the glass of water, thirsty now, and noticed the middle drawer was open slightly. The Scooby Doo sock that held my Christmas present, was just visible.
I pulled the drawer open a little, and poked Scooby hesitantly on the nose. There was something hard inside. Something hard, with corners.
A little box?
"Well, I know it's not nipple clamps," I muttered, grinning, remembering Jasper's revelation and Edward's embarrassment. "But what?"
Those mini earphones I'd mentioned?
"Or that keyring."
He'd pointed it out as we'd walked past a jeweller's one afternoon. A crystal swan with a tiny sapphire eye.
I poked the sock again, and squeezed it a little. My curiosity was piqued and I stole a quick look at Edward and his sleep-creased face buried in the pillow.
He wouldn't be surfacing soon.
I opened the drawer wider and took out the sock, and while I had no intention of opening my gift, I thought it couldn't hurt to peek inside. It was only human to be so curious, especially as this was Edward's very first gift to me.
His first gift.
But not really. He'd given me a CD of his muisc, my lullaby, back in Forks. Dear God, he'd been so wary as he'd handed it to me, such uncertainty in his eyes, and I tried not to remember how stupid I'd been back then. How I'd been so insistent that he not give me presents. How my rejection of his generous nature must have hurt him.
I shook my head, chasing those memories away. Things were different now. Way different. I was excited. And I wanted to know what he'd got me.
Keeping my back to Edward, I began to reach inside the sock, my fingers disappearing out of sight, and was startled when Edward's hand came from nowhere, his long fingers gently touching my wrist.
"Wha..." I gasped and dropped the sock back in my lap as I twisted round to face him.
Propped up on his elbow, he smiled a sleepy lop-sided smile before blowing some hair out of his eyes. My cheeks heated as I stammered incoherent explanations.
"I wasnt...I just...I thought I...um..."
Edward's smile became a smirk.
"Bella, I think the word you're looking for is busted."
"No, I...was thirsty." I waved vaguely at the glass of water.
He cocked a skeptical brow and I sighed. He was right, I was busted.
"Okay, okay, I was curious about my present."
"Curious?" He sat up properly, his eyes very warm. "I like that."
He lifted my hand, kissed it, then flopped back on the pillows, smiling that heart-stopping smile of his. "So, are you going to look?"
"Um..." I glanced at my lap where Scooby Doo stared up at me. "You don't mind?"
"Not as long as you don't mind putting it back after you look."
"I wouldn't get to keep it? Whatever it is?"
"It isn't Christmas, so no, you couldn't keep it. Not yet."
"Hmm...I should probably wait."
Edward nodded. He picked up the sock and leant across me as he placed it carefully back in the drawer. He slid the drawer closed before turning and lying his head in my lap.
"I'll find a new hiding place later," he said, grinning up at me. "Just in case."
I poked out my tongue. He laughed.
"It's probably expensive, isn't it?"
"Yes," he said.
"You're still wealthy, aren't you?"
"And you like that I'm not throwing a fit about you spending money on me."
"I'm loving it."
I chuckled and shook my head.
"So, is there something you'd like for Christmas, Edward?" There was no way I could afford to match whatever was in the sock, but I knew that didn't matter. "You might have your shopping done in November, but I'm not so organised."
"Surprise me," he said. The excitement in his eyes was wonderful to see and it filled my heart so much it almost hurt.
He nodded vigorously.
"Okay, well..." I bit back a giggle. "How about a new tie, then?"
"Now you've spoiled the surprise."
"Then I'll have to think of something else. Maybe a box of chocolates."
"You really don't get the concept of surprise, do you?"
I laughed and glanced back at the drawer.
"Honestly Bella, if you want to look..."
"Do you want me to look?"
He was trying not to smile. "Do you want to look?"
I exhaled. "Maybe a clue?"
"Okay." He shifted from lap, laying back on the pillows, arms folded behind his head as he stared up at the ceiling.
He frowned. "Well, it's small," he said.
"And it's portable."
"And I hope you like it." His voice was soft, his eyes shy and full of love. I swallowed past the sudden lump in my throat.
"I'm sure I will." I glanced again at the drawer. "So, not nipple clamps then."
He laughed, then groaned, fresh embarrassment in his voice. "Er, no. Not my thing."
I nodded, smiling again at last night's story.
"So, um, why did your roommate want you to hide them? Couldn't he have hidden them in his own room?"
"His mother was inquisitve."
I blinked. "What, she'd actually go through his drawers and things?"
"Apparently. I ended up hiding a lot of things whenever she came to visit. Political books. Bottles of alcohol. A Monty Python poster."
"The parrot sketch annoyed her."
"Oh." I snorted a laugh. "Did it bother you?"
"What? The hiding, or that he had some exotic tastes?" He wriggled his eyebrows. "Or do you mean the parrot sketch?"
"The exotic tastes." I giggled. "I'm pretty sure you were used to hiding secrets. And I know you enjoy Monthy Python."
"So? Did it bother you?"
"Not really." He shook his head. "What he and his girlfriend did in his room was their business and I've seen enough that nothing surprises me." He tapped his temple.
"Yeah, I imagine you've seen a lot."
My mind wandered, thinking now about what he might have seen in the thoughts of others over so many years. Fantasies. Desires.
It made me wonder about his fantasies, if he had any, and a delicious curiosity began to burn inside me.
"I was just thinking...oh..." I stopped and looked towards the door.
"Your family..." I suddenly realised they'd probably hear every word.
"Not here," he said. "Carlisle and Esme, Jasper and Alice, they booked a hotel last night. They'll spend the day there and be back tonight." He winked. "They like their privacy too."
"And Rose is fast asleep. Emmett and the kids are probably still in the kombi."
"No, they went to the beach a while ago. I heard them go."
A slow smile curved on Edward's lips.
"Then we're effectively alone," he said. "What were you going to ask me?"
I cleared my throat. "Okay, um, I know it's none of my business, and of course you don't have to answer..."
"Okay...where is this going, Bella?"
"Hold on, I'm getting there." I took a breath. "You said nipple clamps aren't your thing..."
I plucked at the sheet. My heart picked up.
"So, what is your thing? I mean, do you have a...a fantasy?"
There was a sudden wariness in his eyes, before he quickly dropped his gaze. Shit. What did that mean?
"You don't have to tell me," I said. "I mean, I know it's a personal question." Even between lovers. And maybe sometimes it's better left unasked.
"No, it's okay." He smiled softly to himself as he gently took my hand. "You've already fulfilled one of them."
He nodded. "Outisde, in the open. In the sun."
My own smile became a grin as I remembered the morning at the lighthouse. That afternoon by the creek. And yesterday in the ocean.
"No," he answered. "Only with you."
I felt suddenly shy, and plucked at the sheet again. But feeling buoyed by his answer, I asked for more.
"You said one of them. Is there something else?"
When the silence stretched, I glanced up to see Edward looking out towards the sea.
"There's a car I've been thinking about buying," he said softly. "A 1950 Jaguar Roadster, XK120. I've tracked one down at a specialist dealership in Melbourne."
It wasn't exactly what I'd been expecting.
"A car?" Okay, that's fine. "You fantasise about driving this car?"
"I want to drive it very much, but that's not the fantasy, no."
The arching of his brow was slight and subtle, and enough to make me catch his meaning.
I bit back a smile. "Back seat?"
Slowly, Edward shook his head. "On the hood."
My jaw dropped.
"Not in public, I assume."
"Not where anyone would see," he clarified. "There's a very quiet stretch of road in the Blue Mountains. Stunning views, and an old, secluded look-out where nobody goes. The stars look amazing over the valley at night."
My body tingled as he spoke. I laid down beside him, twisting my legs in the sheets as I let his words paint a picture in my mind.
I liked what I saw and a slow smile spread across my face.
"You've thought about this."
"Every detail." He cocked his head. "But it's just a fantasy. It doesn't mean I expect...unless..." He swallowed. "What do you think?"
"I think you should buy this car, Edward."
A flicker of suprise lit up his face, and he chuckled softly, a low rumble deep in his chest.
"But..." I said. "What if the fantasy doesn't live up to the reality?"
"Oh the reality will suprass the fantasy," he said. "I know that."
He extended his leg, and nudged the sheet away from me with his foot, exposing my body completely to him. I arched my back in response. Edward bit his lip as his eyes travelled over me.
"When are you going to buy this car?" I whispered.
I rolled onto my stomach.
"I'll place the order this afternoon."
A giggle escaped me. "Gets cold in the Blue Mountains."
"It's almost summer. And I have a very good blanket."
"Purple cashmere," he said. "I won't let you be cold."
He came closer, straddling my backside so he could brush kisses down my spine. The stubble on his chin tickled and I pressed my backside into him. I heard his breath catch.
"What about you?" he murmured against my skin. "Any fantasies I can help fulfil?"
"Um..." I tried to think, but it wasn't easy with Edward's lips on my skin and his growing hardness pressing against the back of my thigh.
Truthfully, my biggest fantasy was making love with him, and he'd ticked that box over and over again.
"I don't think so," I said. "Not really. Unless..."
My mind went back several weeks.
"That night you were waiting for me at my flat...when I came back from the museum..."
He stopped kissing and I looked at him over my shoulder.
"You were mad at me," he said, clearly puzzled.
"I was. Really mad. But the tuxedo was...well, you looked good. Really good. I thought about it later. Much later. When I'd stopped being mad."
"A tuxedo, huh?"
He smiled, a slow sexy smile.
"I'll see what I can manage," he said. "Now, where was I?" His attention returned to my back. He started at the top this time, moving my hair away from my neck, and kissing his way slowly across my shoulders.
"So," I murmured, smiling as I stared out at the sea, imagining Edward in his tuxedo. "The sun, and the Jaguar. Anything else on your list?"
He paused, a faint hesitation between kisses. I looked over my shoulder again.
"I don't know if it's a fantasy, exactly," he said. "Perhaps it's more of a craving...
And now there was something his eyes, and the tilt of his head, that reminded me of long ago and made my skin tingle.
My heart picked up, doubling its pace.
"What?" I whispered. "What do you crave?"
He sighed softly, rolled off me and onto his back. He laid there, blinking up at the ceiling.
"I wonder what you'll think..."
I sat up, crossed legged, and watched him.
"Try me," I said.
He turned his head, his gaze travelling slowly to my neck. I gasped softly, touching my fingers to my throat as understanding dawned.
"It's not like before," Edward said. "I don't...want your blood." He frowned softly, briefly – a faint crease between his brows that was quickly gone. "But to have my mouth on your throat while your body yields to mine...that would be..." He closed his eyes and sighed. "So incredibly initimate to me."
And so incredibly erotic, I thought, as desire pooled deep in my belly.
Edward opened his eyes. "Is it strange?" he whispered. "I don't want to scare you."
"No," I whispered back, realising how much I wanted this too. "I don't think it's strange. And I'm not scared. Just the opposite." I smiled, letting him see the truth in my eyes. "You don't have to hold back with me."
He smiled too.
"Why haven't you told me?" I asked. "Because of your past?
He nodded slowly and reached for my hand, gently sliding his fingers back and forth between mine.
"And because it shocked me," he said. "The first time I felt it. When we were in Queensland, by the creek."
My eyes fluttered as I remembered that afternoon. The growl that had ripped from his chest that day had seemed so other-worldly. So raw and primal. Now I understood why.
Edward's eyes were dark with want, bright with need, as I leant in and grazed my teeth over his throat.
He gasped and growled, his body bucking as he clutched me tight.
"Bella..." He hissed. Then he rolled me over, swiftly, smoothly, so he was braced above me, the muscles of his arms hard and taught.
My heart pounded, my blood roaring through my veins as he took his place between my thighs.
He watched me closely through heavy-lidded eyes.
"All of me," I whispered. "Take all of me."
With one stroke, he sheathed himself inside me.
He began to move and there was nothing slow or gentle about him. This was different. There was an urgency about him; a hunger that was wild and thrilling.
"Yes," I moaned. My hips answered his, stroke for stroke and Edward's eyes gleamed, a dark flashing emerald.
His lips parted as I arched my neck, turning my head for him, just as Emmett came roaring into the house.
"Hey! Who wants coco pops!"
Two little voices yelled, "Me! Me!" and then there were hurried footsteps coming closer, and a knock at the door.
"Uncle Nedwood? Uncle Nedwood?" Max sounded so hopeful. "You want coco pups?"
Edward stilled. His breath was harsh and ragged as he squeezed his eyes shut, and clenched his teeth. I lay beneath him, panting, on the edge of a precipice, my body coiled so tight it almost hurt.
"Don't stop," I whispered.
He pressed his forehead to mine. I gave him an internal squeeze that made him moan softly, under his breath. And we waited.
The knocking continued. I could faintly hear Emmett laughing in the background.
"Leave them alone," he said. "It's too early for Nedwood and Bella, and Mum's still out like a light. We'll grab breakfast and eat on the beach."
There was one last knock. I made a mental note not to have kids until I was forty, and then the footsteps padded back up the hall.
Edward stayed very still, though his chest heaved and his arms trembled.
"This can't be good for the heart," he muttered. "Being snatched back from the edge like that."
"No," I whispered between jagged breaths.
We heard Emmett and the kids leave, and Edward kissed me softly. A gentle press of his lips to mine.
He rolled his hips a little.
"You still with me?" he asked.
He picked up the rhythm again.
He started slowly, his body taking time, building a delicious cadence that climbed and soared, until he'd brought us back to that trembling, frantic edge. Until I was consumed once more by a need that was almost painful.
Edward's lips worshipped at my neck, his tongue swirled over my throat, down to my collarbone as his hands fisted in the sheets.
I could feel myself ready to explode.
I pushed my head back in the pillow, exposing my neck, and felt the sting of Edward's teeth.
It was like being shot through with lightning.
I gasped. My eyes shot open, wide. "Oh God, yes...yes..."
This was everything. He was everything.
Edward rose up, bringing me with him, and I clung to him, wrapping my legs round his hips, digging my fingers into his warm, hard flesh as I shattered, crying his name.
His body shuddered hard, pulsing into mine while his mouth worked and his growl burned against my skin.
Then he pulled back, eyes dark and wild as they searched mine.
My name broke on his lips, almost a sob, as he gathered me close and we collapsed in each other's arms.
He barely left a mark.
He didn't break the skin. He hadn't drawn blood.
Staring naked into the bathroom mirror, I gently touched the faintly purple crescent beneath my ear.
My skin still tingled with the memory of him.
"You alright?" Edward asked as he came up behind me. He wrapped his arms around me waist, pulling me close against his bare chest.
"Mm...boneless." I giggled.
"Me too." Edward smiled.
"Boneless. Satisfied. And...I don't know..."
The mirror reflected his loving, gentle eyes.
"Yeah," I whispered.
"Me too," he whispered back.
I leant my head back against his shoulder and he shifted my hair. He tenderly grazed the mark he'd left. A light layer of make-up would cover it. Leaving my hair down would work, too.
"I didn't realise how much I wanted it," I said. "I mean, I know a lot of people enjoy biting during sex, but I've never..."
"It's new for me too." Edward nuzzled my cheek with his nose.
I turned in his arms, placing my hands on his chest.
"So, just me, huh?"
I thought back over our past weeks together, the way he'd kiss over my throat and down to my shoulder.
My neck was often his first port-of-call
"I bring out the beast in you."
He considered, a wry smile on his lips.
"Perhaps," he said, lifting me and sitting me on the vanity. He settled himself between my legs and linked his hands with mine. "There's obviously some dark instinct still deep at play." He paused, his face thoughtful. "We bring some of our human nature with us when we become vampires. It makes sense that it would work in reverse."
I placed my hand on his chest, over his heart.
"So your vampire nature is still in there?"
He nodded slowly. "Somewhere. Sometimes."
I leant against him, breathing him in, kissing the curve where his neck meets his shoulder.
"If you'd been a vampire when we made love..."
He shut his eyes and touched his head to mine. "You wouldn't have survived."
I stroked the back of his neck and he sighed softly.
"You barely left a mark," I said and his lips twitched.
"Technique," he said. "I'd never be so crude as to leave you with a hickey. I'm not seventeen."
"No." I grinned. "You're definitely not."
A beam of sunlight caught the stubble on his jaw and I let go of his hand to rub my fingers over the roughness.
"I see it sometimes," I said. "The vampire. In your eyes. The turn of your head. The way you move."
"The way I move?" He smirked. "You mean when I bump into the furniture or stumble over your shoes that you've left lying at the foot of the bed?"
I rolled my eyes. "You've only tripped over my shoes twice."
"That you know about. Why can't you leave them over your side?"
"Why can't you watch where you're walking? You have eyes, Edward."
"And you have a shoe rack, Bella."
I giggled and he grinned.
"Shower?" he said.
He carried me in, still wrapped round his hips, and licked at the water as it ran down my neck.
"Is it like that every time for you? Have you been holding back?" I asked, untangling myself from him so I could reach the shampoo. It came out in a whoosh, spilling out of my hand and onto the floor so it foamed and frothed.
"It's not every time," he said. "It seems to be a sometimes thing." He scoffed a laugh. "I don't think I'd have the energy, anyway."
He braced his hands against the tiled wall and bowed his head beneath the water stream. "But it doesn't mean the other times are less." He turned his head and looked at me through his dripping hair. "Not at all. Every time with you is...oh!"
His feet went from under him on the slippery tiles. He crashed into the glass door which flew open, spilling him onto the bathroom floor.
I turned off the taps and then crouched down beside him. He sat there, rubbing his head. And then he winked.
"Gotta love some vampire-smooth moves, huh? Grr..."
Twenty minutes later I was dressed and blow-drying my hair while Edward made breakfast. Although it was closer to brunch now, probably.
There was still no signs of life from Rosalie, and I wondered if it was the pregnancy that made her sleep so long. Or if she was simply enjoying the opportunity to lie in bed longer than normal. Maybe she'd played possum so Emmett would take the kids out.
Or maybe she slept like the dead. Like Edward.
My phone beeped, interrupting my thoughts, and I smiled when Rachel's name flashed up on the screen.
I'd spoken to her yesterday, letting her know about the fire, so I guessed she was probably checking up on me.
"You still okay?" she asked, confirming my guess. "No nasty delayed after-effects?"
"All good," I said.
She sighed. "I still can't believe what happened. I loved your flat."
"Well, it's still standing. It can be repaired, but I won't be moving back in."
There was a pause at the other end of the line.
"Oh? So, you and Edward? You're living together?"
"Actually, we're engaged."
She'd been so vocal about Edward when we'd first started seeing each other again. She'd softened a little, but still, I waited for her to tell me it was too soon. I was surprised when she didn't.
"You're happy?" she asked tentatively.
"Very. Extremely. Beyond happy."
"Then, oh my gosh, that's so exciting! Congratulations!"
"You're not going to lecture me?"
"Bella, I'm just so glad you're okay, and happy, and any guy that saves you from a burning building is a keeper. Why wait?"
I grinned. "That's true."
"Do you have a ring?" she asked. "Was it a romantic proposal? Did he get down on one knee? Oh, my gosh, I know the perfect place for a wedding, there's this gorgeous little chapel in the Blue Mountains..."
"Sorry," she said. "I'm getting carried away, aren't I?"
"Little bit." But I thought how well she and Alice would get on.
"So the ring?"
"Sapphire and diamonds."
"Nice. And the proposal?"
"Very romantic." Both of them. "But no bended knee."
I could practically hear Rachel smiling.
"I can't wait to hear the details. Will you get married here? Or in America?"
"Oh, um, we haven't really worked that out yet. We haven't even decided on when. But I think it'll be soon." I didn't want to wait, and I didn't think Edward did either. "I'll keep you posted."
"Good," Rachel said. "So, are you at work tomorrow?"
"I've got a doctor's certificate for the next couple of days," I said. "But I feel fine so I'll probably go in."
"I wouldn't bother," she said. "Take your time. We've submitted the grant application and everything else winds down now for the rest of the year. It'll be quiet now until the end of January."
In Australia the academic year ran from February to November. The students had already finished and the campus had felt empty last week.
"Seriously Bella," Rachel went on. "The next big thing will be the staff Christmas party. I think it's a harbour cruise this year. You could bring Edward."
We talked a little more, about general things. Work. The movie Rachel had seen with Steve the night before. The shoes she'd bought on Friday during her lunch break. Normal things. And it felt so good to have such a regular, everyday conversation.
When I finally came out of the bedroom, Edward was in the kitchen, leaning against the sink while he talked on the phone. In his other hand he held a bottle of apple and guava juice, but he seemed to have forgotten he was holding it. His face was creased with a deep frown and from what he was saying, I assumed it was Carlisle on the other end of the line, and the conversation had something to do with Marc and Heidi.
It seemed that normal and everyday had just gone out the window and I could feel that familiar whiplash again.
"Where did they actually land?...And the authorities in Fairbanks?...I see..."
His voice was low, serious. I pulled up a stool and listened.
"How is she coping?...I can imagine." He winced. "It's a good thing they found her when they did...well, Kate will be able to help with that..." There was a long silence, then he glanced up at me.
"She's right here," he said. "I'll tell her now, and we'll be ready. Thanks Carlisle."
Edward ended the call, and set the juice bottle down on the counter.
"Marc and Heidi?" I guessed. "They're in Alaska?"
"They made it there, yes."
"And what do we have to be ready for?"
"The police. They might want to talk to us again." He took a slow breath and opened his arms and when I went to him he folded me in, close. "Given how we've just spent this morning, this isn't something I want to discuss now..."
"But we need to?"
"We do, I'm sorry." He paused. "Bella, things have gone badly for Marc."
Edward's voice was flat now, almost hard. I pulled back, looking up into his impassive face.
"Heidi didn't want any official record of them landing at Fairbanks so she convinced the pilot to land in a forest clearing about sixty miles away."
"The pilot was the Marco Maretti guy, wasn't it?"
Edward nodded. "He wasn't experienced enough to try something like that though, and he was killed when the plane crashed into some trees. Marc was injured and apparently begged Heidi to change him then and there. She tried, but she lost control."
"Lost control. You're saying she killed him?"
"Oh...um...okay. That's...um...a shock."
Although it shouldn't be. I'd kind of assumed Marc's life would be short in the company of vampires – one way or another. But even so my stomach dropped, and I wasn't sure how to feel. Dozens of memories flickered through my mind as I stepped out of Edward's embrace.
I stared down at the countertop and vaguely traced a pattern in the marble.
I hated Marc for what he'd done, but my thoughts took a surprisingly different turn, now.
I wouldn't hear his laugh again. No more texts suggesting pizza and a movie. Not that I wanted any of that, or to ever hear from him again, but for a moment I was caught up remembering the friend I'd thought I'd had.
"He never ate the pizza crust," I murmured, wondering why that was my stand-out memory. "He always cut them off his slices because he didn't like the texture."
"Well, that was a red flag right there," Edward muttered.
His dark joke and lack of sympathy were understandable but I felt an unexpected stab of sadness for my friend. The emotion was fleeting though, fading quickly as I reminded myself that that friend had never really existed.
The memories of him took on a different feeling now because I knew that every laugh we'd shared, every pizza night and movie marathon, had been just another step in a self-serving plan that would have had me killed. And Edward, too.
Marc's friendship had been an illusion, a cruel facade, so no, I wouldn't be grieving for him.
I shook myself and tucked my hair behind my ears.
"Yeah, big red flag," I agreed. "And he wanted to hang out with the wrong sort of vampires, so, you know..." I shrugged. "He made his choices."
"You tried to warn him." Edward's voice was gentler now.
"Yeah, I did. I really did."
"And it was more than he deserved, Bella."
Edward pulled me into his arms again. His hug was warm and strong and I felt safe and calm. I rested my head on his bicep, nuzzling my cheek against the soft cotton of his t-shirt, and reminded myself that this was my reality; here and now in Edward's arms.
"I'm okay," I said.
"Yeah, I'm good."
Edward kissed the top of my head.
"So, how does Carlisle know all this?" I asked. "Who's Kate?"
My stomach rumbled as I spoke and Edward immediately let me go and headed for the fridge.
"Kate is one of our Denali cousins." He took out the eggs and a packet of grated cheese. "Once we knew the plane was headed for Alaska, Carlisle contacted them and asked them to be on the look out. They found the plane, and Heidi, easily enough. She's with them now."
"It's lucky that she..." I paused. "Was it luck that she ended up in Alaska near your, er, cousins?"
"No, as it turns out." Edward cracked some eggs into a bowl, added milk, and began to whisk. "Everyone in Volterra knew about the Denalis, just like they knew about Carlisle. Vegetarian vampires, we were a curiosity to them. Freaks. But after the fire Heidi decided to seek them out. Her experiences with Aro have left her, uh, disenchanted I suppose you'd say. She wants to try a new life, I guess." He shrugged. "Marc wanted to be with her."
"So they really loved each other?"
Edward wrinkled his nose as he thought. "I think he was infatuated with her, and no doubt some of that infatuation was due to her gift. And for her, well, according to Kate, Heidi is distressed by his death, but not distraught, so clearly, he wasn't her mate. I suspect he was a novelty – the only human she'd ever had contact with for more than an hour and who didn't end up as dinner. Anyway, Carlisle and Esme will be on their way there, soon. I'm sure we'll hear more."
"They're leaving already? When?"
"Tonight." He grabbed a pan from the cupboard and fired up the stove. "They're on a ten o'clock flight."
"But why so soon? We've hardly had time to catch up!"
Edward paused, frowning down at the pan as he considered.
"When you're a Cullen, duty comes first." He spoke slowly, softly, almost as if to himself. "Heidi's a former Volturi guard with the gift to beguile..." He glanced up. "Without the strict rules of Volterra binding her, it'll be like going from centuries of a set menu to an all-you-can-eat buffet. And Carlisle can't ask the Denalis to get involved and then stay here to visit with us." He offered me a small, apologetic smile. "Jasper and Alice will go tonight, too."
"It'll take everyone to keep her under control?"
"Initially, yes. Jasper's gift will be important, and Kate's gift is psychic electrokinesis, so...
"She can project an electric-like jolt through another person by touching them. So if it becomes necessary..."
Edward shrugged a shoulder. "It could save human lives," he said.
I traced more patterns on the marble, letting this all sink in.
"What will happen to her? Will she really change?" I asked.
"Well, it seems that she wants to change, so that's a big part of the battle, I suppose."
There was real disinterest in his voice now as he poured the eggs into the pan. He added salt and pepper and a handful of the cheese.
"She's going through a really hard time, isn't she? I think I feel a bit sorry for her. Don't you?"
Edward's head snapped up, a flash of anger in his eyes. "Sorry? Why would I feel sorry for her?" he asked, incredulous. "Why would you?"
"Well, from what you've said before, she was in as much danger from Aro as we were. She was scared, too. And then there's the whole thing with Marc."
"Bella, all the Volturi were in danger from Aro. He ruled by fear, that's how he kept control. As for Marc..." He shrugged.
He focused back on the pan, tilting it back and forth, until the mixture slowly covered the bottom.
"She killed Jane," I reminded him. "At the end, when it counted, we were on the same side."
Edward shook his head.
"She was on her own side, Bella. She killed Jane so she could escape. Did you see her extending a hand to help us out of the building?"
She would have left us to burn. And if I hadn't started that fire, she would have stood by while Aro had Edward and me killed. And now Edward's comments about the all-you-can-eat buffet sent a shiver through me.
"At least she's trying to change," I said hopefully.
"We'll see how that works out." He looked at me closely as he set the pan back on the heat. "You're really trying to find the good, aren't you?"
I frowned, watching him as I tried to articulate my thoughts. Why was I trying to find the good?
"I think...I think it's more about not wanting your family, people I love, in close contact with someone evil. So I have to believe there's good in her. Especially if she wants to join the Denalis, and she becomes one of the cousins. She's not like Marc. I think he was worse."
Edward sighed heavily, let his head roll back on his shoulders.
He murmured something under his breath, something about making him see things differently. Then he brought his head forward again and looked at me.
"You asked if I feel any sympathy for her..." He shut his eyes. "Ask me that question again in fifty years. When nearly losing you isn't so raw and we're sitting together on the deck, holding hands, with our children and grandchildren around us." He opened his eyes and picked up the pan. "Ask me then."
He flipped the omelette. It turned in the air, a perfect somersault, and then missed the pan, catching the handle as it broke apart and flopped onto the stove top.
"Bugger," Edward muttered, and sighed as he reached for the spatula.
We waved the Cullens off at the airport that night.
There were hugs and more hugs and instructions from Esme to look after ourselves and eat well.
"I saw all those frozen pizzas in your freezer," she scolded Edward as she kissed his cheek.
Carlisle promised to keep us posted on what happened in Alaska and Alice hugged everyone one more time, before letting us know she'd started a list of wedding plans.
"I know a designer who would make you the perfect dress," she said. "I'll email you pictures, but she's booked up a year ahead so you'll have to choose soon! And there's a venue in Switzerland..."
"Switzerland!" I shook my head. "Alice, I don't think..."
"Give us a chance, Alice." Edward tousled his sister's hair then pulled her into a one-armed hug.
Jasper did one last trick for Hannah and Max, pulling dollar coins from their ears much to their delight. There was another round of goodbye hugs, and then suddenly, swiftly, the Cullens were gone.
The McCarty's flew back to the Gold Coast the next morning because Rosalie was anxious to get home.
Max and Hannah insisted on a story from Uncle Nedwood before they left.
Hannah was looking hopefully at Edward, who was looking at Rosalie, eyebrows raised in question.
"Well," Rose considered a moment. "If Uncle Nedwood doesn't mind, and if it's short."
Edward smiled. "Uncle Nedwood doesn't mind," he said.
"Yay!" Hannah and Max raced to the sofa and got comfy, faces eager. Edward disappeared into the hall.
"You want to listen too, Bella?" Hannah asked, still shy, but she shuffled over to make room on the sofa.
"Sure," I said, delighted that I'd been invited to listen to what was obviously something special.
"Who's Basil?" I asked.
"Uncle Nedwood's bear," Max said. "He's very old. From the olden days."
"He's over a hundred!" Hannah exclaimed. "And chocolate milkshakes are his favourite food."
"And he's cumsy!" Max giggled and toppled backwards to demonstrate. "But he can't has bandaids 'cause they stick to his fur."
"Clumsy," Hannah corrected her brother before turning to me. "He's only clumsy sometimes," she said. "When his superpowers run out. Then he needs chocolate milkshakes to get them back again."
"He has super speed. Sometimes he runs so fast he flies!"
"And he's super strong!" Max flexed his muscles. "He fights lions. And bad guys."
"Wow." I glanced over at Rosalie. She winked.
"But he was locked away for a long time." Hannah was looking serious again. "In a trunk in a special posit bank where they keep special treasures."
"A safety deposit bank?"
"But Uncle Nedwood helped him escape," Max explained. "They's best friends."
"Okay, here we go!" Edward was back. Tucked under his arm was a bear that was obviously very old. His fur had rubbed off in places and his left ear had obviously come off at some stage and been stitched back on. It stuck out at a slightly odd angle. Around his neck he wore a faded tartan bow tie.
"This is Basil," he said to me as he sat on the edge of the coffee table, opposite Max and Hannah.
"He's a pretty special bear, I hear."
Edward shrugged a shoulder and gave me a lopsided smile. "He tries to be. Sometimes he gets it wrong."
Max was practically bouncing off the sofa.
"Tell us the story!"
So Edward settled the bear on his knee and began a story about Basil and some evil bats that swooped in to town, creating havoc and horror. The bear chased them, firing a slingshot full of sunshine that turned their wings to ash and meant the bats had to walk everywhere.
I watched the man I was going to marry as he did all the voices, and helped Basil do the actions. Max and Hannah were enthralled, sitting wide-eyed for some parts of the story and cheering wildly in others. They climbed all over their uncle when he was done, hugging him hard and begging for another story as he rolled on the floor with them, laughing.
In another whiplash moment, I decided to revise my timeline for having kids.
Maybe our honeymoon would be a good place to start.
The McCarty's said goodbye and we waved until the taxi turned the corner of the street and was out of sight. Then Edward and I were alone.
"Does it feel strange?" I asked him as we sat on the sun lounges, looking out at the sea and finding shapes in the clouds above.
"Does what feel strange?"
"This. Having no-one else here. And no vampires to fight."
He chuckled. "I suppose it does."
"Like, what do we do now?"
"Well," Edward reached for my hand. "We could plan a wedding. And get Alice off our backs and Esme can start looking for a hat."
"She always wears hats to weddings," he said.
"Actually, Renee would probably..." My voice trailed off, my smile fading. "Oh..."
"Bella?" Edward's eyes were concerned. "What's wrong."
"Nothing really." I shook my head. "It's just...I told Rachel yesterday, so probably half the faculty knows that we're getting married, and now I feel bad that my parents don't."
Understanding flashed across Edward's face.
"Of course," he said. "I'm sorry, I should have thought..." He paused. "Should I have asked your father's blessing?" He frowned. "I can't imagine he'd give it, knowing how he probably feels about me, but if you think..."
"Edward..." I leant over and took his hand in mine. "I don't need Charlie's blessing. And we both know he's going to have some reservations but he's always told me he just wants me to be happy so, I'll tell him what makes me happy, is you."
Edward lifted my hand and kissed each knuckle in turn.
"I'll get the laptop," he said. "We can skype them right now. It should be early evening for Charlie. A little later for Renee."
Renee would be watching Downton Abbey right about now. It was her latest passion and every evening she'd curl up with the next episode and a cup of Earl Grey because she said it enhanced the experience.
Suddenly, I missed my mom. And my dad. Especially after the events of the past week.
I could have died, and I would never have said goodbye, or told them that I loved them.
They would never have known what happened to me.
I was hit with a wave of something like grief.
I wanted to hug them.
I wanted to tell them our news in person, and have them share it with us.
Like we'd done with Edward's family.
"Bella?" Edward was on his knees beside me and he wiped away the tear that had fallen onto my cheek. "What is it?"
"I was just thinking about Renee. And Charlie. And about your family, and how happy they were for us, and the hugs and everything, and..."
"And skype won't be the same." He nodded. "You're right."
"But it's okay." I wiped at my face. "It's just the way it is, I know that. I'm being silly."
"No, you're not."
He went and got the laptop, flipping it open and settling back on the sun lounge.
"How busy are you for the rest of the year at work?"
"Um, not very busy." I remembered what Rachel had said. "Everything's pretty quiet now until January."
Edward turned the laptop around so I could see the screen. He was on an airline booking site.
"We could fly out of here next weekend," he said. "Spend Thanksgiving in Jacksonville. Or Forks. A week in each place. What do you think?"
My jaw dropped as I stared at the screen.
"Those...those are first class seats," I stammered.
"I don't fly any other way."
I looked up into Edward's face. He was serious.
"We can't. Can we?"
"Of course," he said, beaming. "Planes fly every day. We have passports and we don't need visas. It only takes an hour to pack. We could even go tomorrow if we wanted to."
"Tomorrow?" My head was spinning. "I can't go tomorrow. I need to get approval from work."
"What about your work?" I asked and he waved a dismissive hand.
"Nothing I can't do remotely at this stage. I'll just let them know I'll be out of the office for a couple of weeks."
This was so sudden. And unexpected. Kind of like Edward. And I loved him for it.
"Maybe Wednesday?" I asked.
"Wednesday it is then."
"I'll see my Mom and Dad?"
"Yep." He grinned. "And we'll tell them our news in person. Although,..." He pulled a face of mock seriousness. "Now I'm human, I'm more vulnerable to Charlie's gun."
I laughed, and fresh tears spilled onto my cheeks. Edward put down the laptop and pulled me into his arms.
"It's okay, love," he said, settling me in his lap and kissing my temple. "I'll take you home."
A/N: The wait for this chapter was ridiculously, stupidly long, I know, and I'm sorry. But I appreciate your patience and also your support and encouragement, so much more than I can say.
Thank you all xx
I've had issues with the laptop over the past couple of weeks and my SpellCheck and GrammarCheck have vanished for some reason and won't come back. I just thought I was doing really well with my spelling, until I found a mistake. Anyway, I've read through over and over, but please excuse any mistakes I might have missed (or let me know so I can fix).
One more chapter and an epilogue to go!