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Chapter 17: Il Mio Cantante

"I can explain," Edward said quickly when I stared at him in accusation.

I found it hard to pay attention to what he was saying, however. The frightened boy's blood seemed to have been made for me. I could hear it pumping through his veins, coursing quickly, fueling him, warming him. My mouth opened and I could have drooled, but it was impossible for me to notice anything besides the boy in front of me for the moment.

Bella! The blood was calling my name. Surely, I needed it. Just this once, I could… It was imperative. I crept closer to the boy, not wanting to frighten him any further. Bella! it called again and again. Edward blabbered on about something in the background, but it didn't concern me.

I plotted dozens of ways to get the boy away from Edward as I crept. I could lure it into the trees with false promises. I could allow it to follow my scent; convince it I was human; that I was rescuing him from certain death; that I was, in fact, the good guy. As it sang to me yet again: Bella!, something stirred inside me; a memory or recollection of sorts.

"La tua cantante," I breathed. "Il mio cantante," I said again, louder.

"What?" Edward stopped, mid-sentence, whatever he was saying. "Bella, are you even listening to me?" Then his eyes widened as he processed what I said. "Latua cantante? Yours?" He looked incredulous and a little bit scared.

"Il mio cantante," I confirmed again in a tense whisper. My eyes set fiercely on the body that housed the blood that sang to me. I began to walk steadily towards him, confident of my abilities.

Before I could so much as say a word to the human, Edward was standing protectively in front of him. I jumped to the left and the right, trying to get past him, but he blocked me every time. I was no longer a newborn and he was faster than me.

I crossed my arms and glared at him. After all he had taken away from me, couldn't he let me have just this?

I turned my back in feigned indifference and stood still for a long moment. The blood continued to entice me, and it was all I could stand not to drop my façade and rush right to it. It would be so easy, Bella, go on… But it couldn't be. Edward was in the way as he always had been. Only this time I could see it. I knew he was merely a barrier, an obstacle that I would just have to overcome.

"Edward," I asked to distract him, "Since when have you taken to feeding on humans? I have known you to be much better." My lip curled. "But then again, it seems I barely knew you at all. The real you."

His voice was startled. "Weren't you listening to anything I said?"

My silence was enough of an answer.

"I—I couldn't bear not being with you, Bella. I was broken. So—well, you could say I've been mourning. It was intended to be a sort of retreat; Rose and Em lent me their villa—and the forest around it. So I could be away from everyone and the endless reminders of you that I couldn't take anymore. But, Bella—" He swallowed hard. "I lost myself, these past three years."

"You've been here—three years?" I still hadn't turned around to face him.

I heard him nod his head. "Before the first month without you was over, I left to find someplace. I moved from location to location, but nothing seemed to ease the pain. Finally, Rose suggested this place to me. It hasn't repaired me, but at least numbed the ache. Although—" I heard the smile in his voice. "—Em and Rosie still come to visit their little villa sometimes. Whenever they do, I have to run far, far away if I don't want to be around for the earthquake they cause."

I nearly laughed; remembering when Edward told me how destructive Emmett and Rosalie could be in bed.

"In fact," Edward continued, "I had to do so today."

I frowned. "Today?" I had gotten the impression from Rosalie's letters that they wouldn't be needing or using the villa while I was here. I supposed they may have wanted to make sure it was perfect for me, and gotten distracted while they were there…Their activities then--that was what had altered the tilt of the photographs and furniture. But why hadn't they fixed it? I had not known Rose to be careless.

"Funny, though." I could hear a frown in Edward's voice as well. "They ran away when someone else arrived. Er, I mean you," he added sheepishly.

I was utterly bewildered. Why would they do that? Perhaps they didn't want to be embarrassed that they had been making love in the villa I was soon to be staying in. I would be too…that is, if I had anyone to do it with. But it did explain why they had left everything askew; they would have been too rushed to fix anything. I made a mental note to joke about it in a future letter to Rose.

I stayed quiet and calm as I could. I wanted Edward to be caught off-guard when I jumped at him, but the blood was making my whole body lean backwards toward the human and I couldn't focus on the conversation. I needed to end this soon.

I'll attack Edward if I need to, I thought, and was surprised at the vehement of my conscience in responding, No, you won't. I sighed. No, I guess I wouldn't. At least, I hoped I wouldn't have to.

"Um…interesting," I said quickly to cut through the silence when I realized I should say something.

I felt his eyes boring a hole through my back. "Yes," he said slowly. I wondered if he knew what I was up to. Remember, Bella, I had to reassure myself, He can't read your mind. That hasn't changed.

"Bella," Edward finally sighed, "I can't let you feed on this boy. You can't take away an innocent life. Think, Bella! If I had succumbed to my cantante, you would be dead." His voice wavered. "You can't give in. Struggle against it. It worked for me." His arm reached out for my shoulder but I stepped away and he pulled back meekly. "Be strong."

"You talk of taking away an innocent's life, yet you were the one to bring the boy here," I said with disgust.

"I wasn't going to do it. Bella, I—I'm very weak right now, but seeing you again has strengthened me. I won't let you do this. You'll regret it afterwards, I know from experience." There was a bitter note to his voice.

"It'll be worth it," I said flatly.

"Bella," he pleaded, "I'll take this boy back, somewhere he'll be safe." His voice softened. "You're not a murderer."

I was barely paying attention to his words. Distract him, Bella. Give him something to think about. It was as if the blood were directing my every move, thought, and word.

"So—Edward," I began hesitantly, trying to think of a conversation-starter. Then the boy's blood put the idea in my head. "You claim you still want me back? After everything you've done to me?"

"Yes," he replied unflinchingly. "I would do anything."

I slowly turned to face him. "Even—share?" I directed a hungry, pleading stare at the human.

Edward swallowed hard but there was no hesitation in his answer. "Yes."

I steeled myself, and before he could change his mind, I kissed him square on the mouth, wanting to make it seem passionate. I hoped it would distract him long enough for me to snatch the boy.

I tried to rip away quickly, but my lips wouldn't let go. "Mmph, Edward." He pulled me tight to his body. Something hot flared up inside me and I felt the human's blood release its grasp on me. Of course. This is what I had wanted all along. Why hadn't I seen it before? Never mind that stupid human, I was strong enough to resist its pull.

I sucked on Edward's lower lip. I hadn't tasted him in years, and couldn't imagine how I had survived without that taste for so long.

I slammed him against a tree and he let out a little yelp. "You've gotten strong," he managed to sputter nervously and a little giddily. I kissed him all the harder.

Never mind what he had done to me in the past, that could wait 'til later. For now, all I cared about was the present: his lips on mine and mine on his. I could stay here forever.