She bolted from the room, racing out into the cool night. She had to get away; it was all too much. His kind words lingered in her ears. His gentle touch remained on her skin. And yet, she still waited for the other shoe to drop.
Things had to change with Carlisle Cullen. She knew they had to. They always changed with Charles. One moment, he would say he loved her, and then, in the next moment, he would smack her for saying or doing something he didn't like. She was always so careful, never knowing which Charles she would get. Even though Charles was no longer in her life, she kept her eyes on Carlisle, waiting for the same reaction.
Esme Evenson tore through the forest. She shouldn't have been able to see the trees and the undergrowth this late at night, but her new eyes could see everything as clear as if it were day. It was another thing she was having a hard time accepting. She was stronger and faster than she had ever been. Her senses were sharper and her craving for blood nearly crippled her.
She shoved those thoughts to the back of her mind as she reached the middle of the silent forest. She stopped in a small clearing and crumpled to the ground. Everything inside of her wanted to cry, but the tears wouldn't come. Instead, she sat in the clearing, listening to the stillness surrounding her.
"Esme?" Her head snapped up, the familiar fear pooling in her stomach. How long had she been there? A few minutes? An hour? It hadn't seemed like much time. She turned her attention towards the edge of the forest and waited for the inevitable anger. She knew what Charles did any time she disobeyed him. What would Carlisle Cullen, a being much stronger than Charles, do?
He emerged into the clearing. Her breath caught in her throat as she watched the moonlight reflect off his blond hair. An angel. That's what she thought he was the first time she ever saw him. She had been sixteen and careless, breaking her leg by falling out of a tree. He had been so kind to her as he set it.
Ten years had passed between the sixteen-year-old carefree girl and the terrified twenty-six-year-old woman who could see no way out. She wasn't as niave anymore. She knew what lurked behind beautiful masks. What lurked behind Carlisle's? They had only been together for a short time. How much did she really know about him?
Esme climbed to her feet and gathered her skirt into her hands, ready to run again. Her long, brown hair had already pulled free of its loose bun.
Carlisle paused a few feet away from her. He held out his hands and took a step toward her, as if he were afraid of frightening her. "I'm only here to talk," he said.
Esme squeezed her eyes shut, waiting for the blow. Instead, she felt a smooth hand take her one of her own. Her skirt fell from her grasp, brsuhing her leg. Another cool hand rested on her cheek. She opened her eyes and met Carlisle's gaze.
"Don't do that. It's over, Esme. I swear on my life no one will ever hurt you again," he said.
"How do I know you won't?" Esme asked, her voice cracking. "Charles could be the sweetest man in public, but when the doors were closed, he would..." She couldn't bring herself to actually say the words.
Carlisle gently lifted her chin. "We've known each other for three months now. In all that time, have I ever raised a hand to you?"
Esme shook her head. "No."
"Why did you run?"
She found herself lost in his warm, golden gaze. The cold hand of fear disappeared, loosening it's grip on her heart. But a part of her couldn't completely trust Carlisle. "When you pulled out that ring, I remembered Charles. Before we were married, he was sweet and wonderful. But the moment after we were married, all that changed. He nearly broke my jaw while we were on our honeymoon." She took a moment as she remembered how much it hurt to eat the next day. "I can't. I won't go through that again."
Carlisle brushed a strand of brown hair back from her face. "It won't be like that. I could never hurt you. You're too precious to me. Esme, don't you realize I've loved since you were sixteen years old?"
"What?" This was not the answer she expected to hear.
"It's true. I saw you lying there, tears streaming down your face, and I thought you were the prettiest girl I had ever seen."
For the first time in a long time, Esme laughed, long and clear. "How could you have loved me?" she asked. "I was a skinny, awkward teenager."
"Who has grown into a beautiful woman." Carlisle smiled. "Esme, you mean the world to me, and I want to be with you forever. I can honestly say I've never felt this way about anyone in eighty-one years. When I look at you, I know forever will never be long enough for us."
A warm feeling began to grow in Esme's heart. All thoughts of Charles and his beatings left her mind. While the fear would never completely go away, a small sense of safety seemed to grow inside her heart. She felt her lips part into a smile of her own. "Do you mean that?"
"Every word." With that, Carlisle pulled a small, black box out of his pocket. He knelt down on one knee and opened the box. The tiny diamond ring she had been so frightened of sparkled in the moonlight. "Marry me, Esme. Be more than my lover. Please be my wife."
Esme met those golden eyes once more. Could this be real? Could every word he said be true? She thought about the time she had spent with him. He was right. He had never so much as raised his voice to her, much less a hand. Maybe...maybe he was telling the truth. For some reason, she wanted to trust him.
She nodded. "Yes, I will marry you." At that moment, she knew she wanted to stay with him and not run anymore.