Many people have requested that I write "Compromise" (Chapter 20 in Eclipse) from Edward's POV, but I've resisted, having been tied up with many other projects. When JAustenlover won my services in the SupportStacie auction in March with her very generous bid, she got to dictate what I'd write. The result: she granted many people's wishes and chose "Compromise."
So I present "Seduction." In true Edward form, he's completely ignored the 2,500 word minimum required by the auction, requiring nearly four times that amount to tell the story of his proposal to Bella. I hope you enjoy this somewhat happier Edward, and please send some love to JAustenlover.
Many thanks to my exceptional beta, Struck Upon A Star. If you haven't read her story, Tie Me Down to This World, you are missing an angst-filled, heartwarming Jasper/Alice tale. Go, now, and enjoy.
Well, after reading THIS story…:-D
Mood music: "At Last" by Etta James, 1961 (Not quite 50's, but I think Edward would approve)
Bella turned on to the driveway slowly. She glanced over at me and smiled – proud she didn't miss it, I guessed. Her head turned back to the windshield, but my eyes didn't stray from her.
We hadn't talked at all on the ride from her house; Bella was concentrating hard on driving – and on something else, though there was no way for me to tell what it was. This night was for us, just us, and at first I was worried that she was still thinking about the upcoming battle. But as she stole glances at me her face would pink ever so slightly, and her heart would flutter. No, she wasn't dwelling on her fears.
As we approached the house her heart rate increased, and with it my excitement. For once I could focus completely on her – no nagging whispers in the back of my mind. No one was within five miles of this place; Bella and I were truly alone. If my heart weren't cold and dead it, too, would be racing.
Tonight I was finally allowed to give her a gift. While it wasn't the one thing I yearned most to adorn her with, it was a start. I refused to dwell on the fact that Jacob had already succeeded in giving her something precious – this was my night. He could only wish for time like this…
Bella smiled at me again, her heart fluttering as she pulled up in front of the house. Before her hand left the key I had her door open and invited her into my arms. Wasting no time, I pulled her to me, finding her lips with my own.
As always, there was a moment that the thirst flared, and the memory of the taste of her blood flashed through my mind. But it was eclipsed by a different hunger now. Bella still attracted me as an addict to his favorite fix, but my drug of choice had changed. This new drug was much more powerful, more overwhelming, and more dangerous. It was also more human, and the want I felt was that of a man, not a monster.
As I cradled her in my arms, I brought her to the door. Her kiss filled me with desire, and I struggled to keep the feeling in check. The door opened before us, and though she was not conscious of it, I carried her over the threshold. Our kiss continued, and my mind filled with the image of repeating this action – with Bella as my wife. The price was high for such a future, but after much consideration, worth it.
Hours I'd spent thinking about how I could take Bella's human life away – usually while she slept peacefully in my arms. At some point I'd found an incomplete acceptance, and could now visualize committing such a selfish act. Since Carlisle had promised to change her I'd also felt something else, and it had been hard to identify. The only word I could find that fit was very socially unacceptable. I felt possessive of Bella.
It was more than ownership, or even jealousy…she's mine – and no other's. The idea of Carlisle infecting her made me grit my teeth. She was mine, and only my venom belonged in her. It was childish, I knew, but that was the feeling that consumed me at the thought any other vampire's teeth coming near her.
Gently I set Bella down, but our lips stayed locked together. Would she ever agree to marry me? I would wait forever…
Bella's heart stuttered again, and I stepped back from her for just a moment. I imagined my love in white as I uttered the words, "Welcome home."
I'd stolen her breath with my kisses, so her response was soft.
"That sounds nice."
Her smile widened before she embraced me, surrounding me with her loving warmth. It'd been so long since we'd had any truly peaceful time together – and we hadn't been alone since before I'd…since before. Tonight wasn't about the past, or the future, only the present.
Speaking of presents… "I have something for you," I said as casually as I could.
"Oh?" she said into my shirt.
"Your hand-me-down, remember? You said that was allowable."
"Oh," she repeated. "That's right. I guess I did say that." She sounded like she was confessing a sin.
"It's up in my room," I said between chortles. "Shall I go get it?"
Her sour expression suddenly disappeared and she laced her fingers into mine. "Sure. Let's go," she said.
Emboldened by her excited response, I whisked her up the stairs in less than ten of her heart beats. I placed her inside the door and raced to the closet to retrieve her gift. My exuberance surprised me, but Bella ignored it.
As I watched, Bella deliberately strode to the bed and carefully positioned herself in the exact center. I laughed to myself, seeing her so comfortable on something she'd once called 'unnecessary'. My mind drifted back to that night briefly, and to the torture that this piece of furniture had caused me ever since. The memories of Bella's presence filled me whenever I came home.
I didn't realize until the night after that encounter what the effect would be of returning to my newly decorated room. When I reluctantly returned that night, leaving Bella at her home protected by Alice, I thought I would be able to sit and relax for just a moment before preparing for the new day. How wrong I was.
Her scent had infused itself into the sheets and stunned me when I'd opened the door on those first nights. Then the images came flooding back… Even now, with her sitting in a grumpy ball on top of the comforter, I couldn't help but picture her stretched out under the sheets next to me.
The memory of her lying on me so lightly, and under me, so fragile, haunted me when I was here. It'd been foolish to tease her like that – putting her in a position that was so…dangerous. Whenever I came here, I couldn't silence the part of my brain that begged to experience that again.
And now here she was, right where I'd envisioned her…though her expression was quite different. The blush was fading from her face, and her voice was low. "Okay, let me have it," she groused.
I couldn't contain the laughter; she was like a cantankerous old man. I climbed on the bed next to her and her heart continued to beat erratically. Would this really upset her? Briefly I wondered if Bella had ever seen a diamond up close. She may not even realize what I was bestowing on her.
Matching her tone, I said, "A hand-me-down," and carefully pulled her wrist toward me as I pinched the charm on to her bracelet as far from the dog's trinket as possible. Then I let her go and watched.
Bella's eyes creased together as she found the charm and studied it closely. She inhaled sharply as she twisted her hand around. The diamond caught the light and sent tiny white sparkles dancing across her skin. A taste of things to come, I thought, watching the flashes weave and circle around her beautiful features.
"It was my mother's." My father had given it to her to celebrate my birth, and I could remember it glinting in the dim light as my mother hovered over me in those last human days. It was only appropriate that Bella should have it. Through her love I'd been born again, awakened from my century of undead slumber.
But the past was irrelevant, and I shrugged. "I inherited quite a few baubles like this. I've given some to Esme and Alice both. So, clearly, this is not a big deal in any way."
Her pained smile told me she didn't agree.
"But I thought it was a good representation." A heart formed from years of pressure and heat – just like mine. "It's hard and cold, and it throws rainbows in the sunlight." I laughed at how perfectly the stone mimicked me.
Bella's eyes didn't leave the gem. "You forgot the most important similarity. It's beautiful," she said softly.
Not compared to you, I thought. "My heart is just as silent, and it, too, is yours," I waxed. I searched her face for the deprecating comment that usually followed any generosity on my part, but saw none. Instead she lifted her hand and wiggled it, watching the charm dangle in the light.
"Thank you. For both," she said with genuine gratitude. Her smile shone brighter than any diamond.
My heart sang with happiness. "No, thank you. It's a relief to have you accept a gift so easily. Good practice for you, too." I knew I'd never be able to shower her with gifts as I would like to, but maybe I wouldn't be shunned for indulging once in a while. Truthfully there was only one other thing I really wanted to give her. Could she accept that with any grace?
Bella curled herself against me, resting her hand on my chest and her face on my shoulder. I pulled her close, wishing this moment, this respite could last. Here, in my arms, she was safe – no one could touch her, threaten her, or even distract her. Bella was mine, and always would be.
Her heart skipped, and she inclined her head. "Can we discuss something? I'd appreciate it if you could begin by being open-minded."
The peace I'd been savoring started to slip away as her pulse quickened. Though her thoughts always interested me, her tone was the same one that usually preceded something distressing. Was she thinking about him again? No, not here.
"I'll give it my best effort." I waited, feeling the same intensity radiate from her that she'd displayed on the in the truck.
"I'm not breaking any rules here," she started, "this is strictly about you and me." She cleared her throat; her hesitance squeezing the rock-hard heart in my chest like a vise. "So…I was impressed by how well we were able to compromise the other night. I was thinking I would like to apply the same principle to a different situation."
She sounded like she was giving a dissertation in front of a room full of people; not like a teenager at all.
I couldn't help but follow suit, though I couldn't maintain the serious tone she carried. "What would you like to negotiate?"
Her silence sobered me. What could she possibly want from me that would worry her so? Her physical reaction was one of extreme stress – I could almost hear the blood racing through her veins.
"Listen to your heart fly. It's fluttering like a hummingbird's wings." For a split second I was afraid she might be on the verge of fainting. "Are you all right?"
She sucked in a quick breath. "I'm great."
Okay… "Please go on then."
"Well, I guess, first, I wanted to talk to you about that whole ridiculous marriage condition thing."
"It's only ridiculous to you," I snapped before I could stop myself. "What about it?" I asked a little more politely.
"I was wondering…is that open to negotiation?"
I wanted to sigh. No, yell. Finally alone together, and the wall of her imminent damnation rears itself between us. "I've already made the largest concession by far and away – I've agreed to take your life away against my better judgment. And that ought to entitle me to a few compromises on your part." Even though the thought of Carlisle's lips on Bella's throat drove me to near insanity, I wouldn't back down.
"No. That part's a done deal." She wagged her head back and forth, but kept her face smooth. "We're not discussing my…renovations right now. I want to hammer out some other details."
Other details? I thought I'd made it clear that I didn't care what kind of ceremony we had – Christian, Buddhist, Wicca, it didn't matter, just so long as it was legally binding. I'd even offered to let Elvis take care of the formalities. That'd been a bigger concession than she knew – as much as she wanted me to change her, I wanted more than anything to lavishly and publically demonstrate our commitment. No one could question our connection then, be they human or…not.
But that was neither here nor there. "Which details do you mean, exactly?"
Surprisingly, her argument wasn't forthcoming. "Let's clarify your prerequisites first," she said, almost as a question.
"You know what I want."
Her mouth distorted around the word as if it were doused in lemon juice. "Matrimony," she spat.
Her tone should have offended me, but instead it struck me as funny. "Yes." But there was so much more to it than that. Since she was already perturbed, I continued. "To start with."
Her chin might have bounced off the bed, it dropped so fast. "There's more?" she nearly screeched.
I debated whether or not to enumerate the ways that her status as my wife would change her life. But since she obviously wanted something from me… "If you're my wife, then what's mine is yours." Everything! "Like tuition money. So there would be no problem with Dartmouth."
She pulled away just far enough to glare at me. "Anything else? While you're already being absurd?" Her anger seemed to actually calm her frantic heart.
"I wouldn't mind some time." The irony of my statement wasn't lost on me. All I had was time.
"No. No time. That's a deal breaker right there."
A deal breaker. Did all humans see marriage solely as a contract?
"Just a year or two?" I didn't have to wait long for the answer I knew was coming.
"Move along to the next one," she said with a dark frown.
"That's it. Unless you'd like to talk cars," I teased. Still, I had no idea what she could want. The mental silence I'd relished tightened around me, suffocating me. What I wouldn't give for just a whisper of her thoughts.
Bella groaned, the corners of her lips pointing at the floor in an adorable pout. I took her left hand and toyed with her naked ring finger. If there was something else I could add to sweeten the 'deal,' would she finally consent to marriage?
I tried to bury the hope that flared inside me. "I didn't realize there was anything else you wanted besides being transformed into a monster yourself. I'm extremely curious."
She didn't answer, but her vitals picked up speed again. Whatever it was, she must want it badly – she wouldn't even look at me.
I touched her warm cheek. "You're blushing? Please, Bella, the suspense is painful." In the deafening quiet, I reviewed our deal as it stood. If she'd marry me, I'd take her soul. She found the former embarrassing, I found the latter selfish. We'd admitted our trepidations, so what was embarrassing her now? The only clue I had was her lip securely locked between her teeth.
Maybe it had something to do with the dog? No, she'd said it was only between me and her. Wedding vows, guest lists, dancing? What could be making her so uncomfortable that she couldn't even ask me the question?
"Bella," I said sharply, trying to free the words from her.
With a deep breath and a quick glance at me, she finally spoke. "Well, I'm a little worried…about after."
Her eyes met mine, revealing her fear. After…her transition. Visions of red coloring her lovely eyes danced before me. "What has you worried?"
"All of you just seem so convinced that the only thing I'm going to be interested in, afterward, is slaughtering everyone in town," she said quickly.
I cringed. Damn it, Rosalie, you put your foot in it again, mentioning that bet! Bella continued before I could assure her that I wouldn't let her do any such thing.
"And I'm afraid I'll be so preoccupied with the mayhem that I won't be me anymore…" Her eyes twinkled in the light as tears crept along her rims.
"Bella, that part doesn't last forever," I said. No matter what happened, I'd always be there for her. Surely she didn't doubt that.
She grimaced and inspected her wrist. "Edward, there's something that I want to do before I'm not human anymore."
The blush returned with a vengeance, filling not only her cheeks, but her ears and neck. I'd never seen her like this. I waited, but she didn't finish, and I had no clue.
Her suffering was killing me. "Whatever you want," I vowed.
Bella didn't relax, but mumbled, "Do you promise?"
"Yes." She looked at me then, a tiny flicker of hope behind her gaze. "Tell me what you want, and you can have it." Barring resurrecting the dead, there was nothing I couldn't get her.
"You," she whispered.
You…what? Me? "I'm yours." I smiled, looking for more, but she turned away again. Whatever she wanted was completely obvious to her, but eluded me. Why couldn't I see?
She crept forward and wrapped her arms around me, sealing her lips to mine. Her kiss had a careful edge to it…was this another clue? Was she afraid of hurting me after she'd transitioned? But what did that have to do with her staying human? Not even her warm kiss could erase the questions.
Her hands shook as they descended the back of my neck, then followed my collar. The trail of fire they left distracted me long enough that I didn't notice she'd unfastened my top button.
I won't be me anymore…there's something that I want to do…I'm worried about after…
The honeymoon. Just like I had the first time we kissed, I became motionless.
She was unbuttoning my shirt. She wanted me to…
I pushed her away as gently as I could, disgusted with myself for not seeing the obvious. How many times had I told her that intimacy with me would only lead to pain and death for her?
"Be reasonable, Bella."
She licked her lips. "You promised – whatever I wanted," she said, but she knew she couldn't hold me to that.
"We're not having this conversation." Sexual desire was surpassed only by the thirst for blood in a vampire's world, and she was asking me to loose myself on her? Apparently her lust for danger hadn't waned. I quickly closed my shirt, wishing I'd worn a pull-over.
Her teeth met with a crack. "I say we are," she argued and nearly tore her top button off as she jerked it open.
I refused to look at the exposed skin, staring at her face while I captured her hands and locked them to her sides. "I say we're not."
She looked up defiantly. "You wanted to know."
Yes, my selfishness had led me astray again. She'd picked the one thing I couldn't possibly give her to add to her conditions for marriage. "I thought it would be something faintly realistic."
Her eyes reddened. "So you can ask for any stupid ridiculous thing you want – like getting married – but I'm not allowed to even discuss what I –"
This had gone far enough. I put my hand over her mouth. "No," I said.
I'd never gotten mad at Bella, but her argument was exceptionally juvenile. Marriage was ridiculous, but stealing her soul wasn't? No, in her illogical world, the only way I could get a simple 'I do' was to not only damn her, but to kill her. Hell, if I didn't kill her making love to her, I probably would poison her. One way or the other, she'd lose much more than her virginity and, assuming she survived, would never want me to touch her ever again.
Eternity would be a very lonely place.
Bella's head dropped to the side, but she didn't struggle. She took a shaky breath, and the trembling moved from her hands to her chest. With furious blinks she stared down at nothing.
My anger diminished, seeing her fight back tears. I removed my hand from her mouth and used it to ease her face back toward mine. "What now?" I asked none too politely.
"Nothing," she muttered and tried to turn away.
This game of 'guess what I mean' was wearing thin, and I refused to let her hide her eyes again. She sucked in air through her nose, keeping her mouth clamped shut. Sorrow, shame, and pain filled her eyes. The sight was reminiscent of a much darker time only two months ago, when she still believed I didn't love her. I'd hurt her…again.
"Did I hurt your feelings?"
"No." I didn't need to read her mind to know the truth. Yes I did, deeply.
She didn't struggle when I cradled her against my chest. Suddenly all the emotions I saw in her eyes added up to one glaring total. She thought I didn't want to…after all this time?
"You know why I have to say no. You know that I want you, too." More than you could ever know.
Her voice was quiet with disbelief. "Do you?"
"Of course I do, you silly, beautiful, oversensitive girl." Still she couldn't see her own appeal, and a biting laugh escaped my lips. "Doesn't everyone? I feel like there's a line behind me, jockeying for position, waiting for me to make a big enough mistake," and at the head of the line was that mongrel. "You're too desirable for your own good."
Her face cooled under my stroking. "Who's being silly now?"
"Do I have to send a petition around to get you to believe? Shall I tell you whose names would be on the top of the list?" Jacob wasn't the only dog on the list, and a teacher made the top five. "You know a few of them, but some might surprise you."
None of those children could truly appreciate Bella. None had seen the pure goodness in her; they only saw her surface beauty and intelligence. Any would be more than willing to give her what she asked of me now, though.
Her hair brushed against me as she disagreed. "You're just trying to distract me. Let's get back to the subject."
Clearly, Bella had put a lot of thought into this request. "Tell me if I have anything wrong," she started angrily. "Your demands are marriage, paying my tuition, more time, and you wouldn't mind if my vehicle went a little faster." She leaned away to peer at me, her expression more condemning than questioning. "Did I get everything? That's a hefty list."
Such ferocious ire in her delicate face elicited in me the same reaction it always did. Amusement. But I couldn't hurt her feelings again. "Only the first is a demand. The others are merely requests."
"And my lone, solitary little demand –"
"Demand?" So the negotiation was over. Marriage could only come with a deadly honeymoon.
"Yes, demand." Her voice was hard, unyielding. Cutting, as it ripped through me. "Getting married is a stretch for me. I'm not giving in unless I get something in return."
I'd thought that my changing her was something. I was wrong. Unbelievably, the price for her hand had just gone up.
The ease with which she discarded my sacrifice gave me a full measure of the rejection she'd felt earlier. I hid my disappointment, but couldn't manage to meet her eyes, whispering in her ear instead. "No, it's not possible now. Later, when you're less breakable. Be patient, Bella."
She set her jaw. "But that's the problem. It won't be the same when I'm less breakable. I won't be the same! I don't know who I'll be then." Her voice rose an octave as she spoke.
I didn't want to argue anymore, but she still didn't understand. "You'll still be Bella." Stubborn, sensitive, beautiful Bella.
"If I'm so far gone that I'd want to kill Charlie – that I'd drink Jacob's blood or Angela's if I got the chance – how can that be true?"
"It will pass." Her obsession with age left her unable to see how short a year really was – even for a human. For a vampire, it was little more than a blink. "And I doubt you'll want to drink the dog's blood. Even as a newborn, you'll have better taste than that." I doubted the weak attempt at distraction would work.
"But that will always be what I want most, won't it? Blood, blood, and more blood!"
I deserved her dismissal. I'd underestimated her feelings for me; it's only fair that she'd underestimate mine. "The fact that you are still alive is proof that that is not true."
"Over eighty years later," she snapped. "What I meant was physically, though. Intellectually, I know I'll be able to be myself…after a while. But just purely physically – I will always be thirsty, more than anything else."
She had listened to me – how many times had I explained how enticing her scent was? I took a breath and felt the dry fire that perpetually baked my throat. But I also felt the heat of her cheek against my shoulder, her soft curves against my hard lines, her warm breath caressing my chest. The thirst was strong, but the hunger was stronger. The fact that my desire for her body had overshadowed that for her blood didn't help my case, though.
"So I will be different," she deduced from my silence. "Because right now, physically, there's nothing I want more than you. More than food or water or oxygen. Intellectually, I have my priorities in a slightly more sensible order, but physically…"
Before I could think, she turned her face so that my palm covered her mouth. As she pressed her lips into the center of my hand, I felt them open slightly, letting her tongue lightly touch my so-called life line. The sensation sent a jolt through me that rivaled electrocution, but the burn was anything but unpleasant. The hunger of wanton desire roared, a new beast that pushed the murderous monster aside.
Struggling to maintain control, I took a slow deep breath, but my chest trembled as I did. As her scent filled me again, my physical priorities became confused…but my mind managed to stay clear. I vocalized what had become my inner mantra.
"Bella, I could kill you," I breathed.
"I don't think you could," she said, looking up into my eyes. The innocence I saw, the complete and total trust, scared me. She trusted me more than I trusted myself. How could I prove to her how dangerous I was – how even by loving her I could hurt her, kill her? I cradled her lovely, fragile face in my hand for a moment, then reached back for one of the wrought iron roses on the bedpost behind me.
Such a perfect representation – this intricate metallic flower that had taken so much work, so much artistry to create. I held it in my hand, just where her lips had been seconds ago, and then crushed it effortlessly in my stone grasp. Bella stared at my hand, not seeing the sorrow in my eyes as I tried not to imagine her face in my clutches. I opened my hand, the deformed metal holding the shape of my fist for only a moment before crumbling to dust in my palm. Why couldn't she understand the danger?
When her eyes met mine they flashed in anger. "That's not what I meant. I already knew how strong you are. You didn't have to break the furniture."
"What did you mean then?" She still must not understand how much self-control I had to exert around her, how every breath, every thought was about protecting her, especially from myself. I threw what was left of the rose against the wall, and waited for Bella's response. Her forehead creased as she silently composed her answer.
"Obviously not that you aren't physically able to hurt me, if you wanted to…More that, you don't want to hurt me…so much so that I don't think that you ever could."
My head shook at her words. No, I'm not that strong.
I surprised myself with my answer. "It might not work like that, Bella." She was tempting me again, twisting my control around – and she knew it immediately.
"Might," she snorted, and I regretted my words instantly. "You have no more idea what you're talking about than I do." Truer words had never been spoken.
"Exactly. Do you imagine I would ever take that kind of risk with you?" And just for my own selfish pleasure?
She stared at me, longing for me to weaken and give her what she desired…what I desired…I could kill her… but the words became but a quiet whisper in my head.
"Please, it's all I want," she sighed. "Please…" Then she closed her eyes and let her head fall.
Stunned, I continued to stare at her, my mind whirling. I commanded the words back, I could kill her, but they didn't hold the strength they once did. No, I can't hurt her, my heart screamed. The memory of our last encounter on this bed returned, her beautiful body lying on top of mine, breathing so heavily at my touch… I won't hurt her. She trusts me…
But I don't trust myself. The argument raged on as she looked up at me, waiting for a response. Then she said it again – that word that tore so deeply at my control, "Please…"
Before I could answer, she realized her power over me, and I heard her heart begin to race. Her words flew out of her lips desperately, leaving me paralyzed in my undecided state.
"You don't have to make me any guarantees. If it doesn't work out right, well, then that's that. Just let us try… only try. And I'll give you what you want." At those words she now had my full attention. "I'll marry you. I'll…" the rest of the words disappeared, and my heart exploded. The words I thought I would never hear had just left her lips. Her voice came back into focus with her final word… "please."
I pulled Bella close. She would become my wife if I made love to her, and didn't kill her. There was something terribly wrong with that logic, but I couldn't process it correctly. My skin tingled at her words, I'll marry you. I fought for what thin strands of control could be left, and forced my lips to her ear, exhaling involuntarily. She shivered when my breath met her skin, her body calling to mine. No, wait, my mind whispered. Somehow I spoke.
"This is unbearable. So many things I've wanted to give you – and this is what you decide to demand." As her heat radiated through me, I began to imagine her skin against mine…but I continued. "Do you have any idea how painful it is, trying to refuse you when you plead with me this way?"
I didn't expect her to answer, but she did.
"Then don't refuse."
I couldn't speak – I couldn't breathe. All my focus was on my hands – one wrapped around her shoulder, just an inch from the collar of her blouse, the other at the waist of her jeans. Her skin was so hot, and her clothing was so thin…
"Please," she said again. Not that word… Anything but that…
"Bella…" I started, but couldn't finish. Where had all my resolve gone? I wanted her at least as much as she wanted me. Just let us try, her words echoed in my brain. The only resistance I had left was to shake my head 'no;' I couldn't even think the denial any more. Then her heart became erratic and my willpower began to crumble. Slowly I turned toward her lips, and I realized that it wasn't 'no' I was saying.
Bella realized it as well, and she enthusiastically pressed her lips against mine. Without thought, my hands flew to her cheeks, her flushed skin burning her passion into them. I held her face tightly to mine, pressing my lips to hers, reacting to every beat of her heart. For one, brief, heavenly moment, my world was her.
She wrapped her arms around my neck and pulled me even closer, shivering with pleasure. Any intention of releasing her vanished, and she continued to match my eager kisses. Too soon, she pushed back, hungrily gasping for air, but I only kissed my lips down to her amazing neck. I slid one hand from her face down around her waist as she lifted her chin, reveling in my touch. I could give her so much more…
Bella's hands crept down my neck to the front of my shirt. She was panting as she confidently undid my top button for the second time. Her fingertips brushed the skin on my chest as they descended to the next button, and the next. With each contact, her touch sent a surge of electric energy through my body, and I could barely breathe. Anticipation built in me as she completed her task, and then elation filled me as her hands swept across my chest, pushing my open shirt away. I inhaled as she continued to trace my tense muscles. I didn't want her to stop.
She reached up to my face, though, and our lips met again. So easily we fit together, I thought, and I remembered her words earlier and pulled her close. I'll marry you.
Bella's hand left my face, and I realized she was reaching for her blouse. The thought of being so close to her – skin against skin – ignited a feeling in me that I had never experienced, warming me from the inside out. My mind filled with a different image of Bella though, walking down the aisle toward me, dressed in virgin white; and I suddenly realized that we couldn't continue, no matter how much I yearned to. I wouldn't become a common letch, taking advantage of her perfect innocence in a moment of weakness. Carefully I caught her wrists and laid her back on a pillow.
"Bella, would you please stop trying to take your clothes off?"
Her next words sent a cold shock through me. "Do you want to do that part?"
No fear – there wasn't a hint of fear in her voice. It'd taken no effort on my part to incapacitate her, to pin her hands over her head, and she only looked at me with curiosity.
And yes, I did want to do that part…with my teeth…one button at a time…
"Not tonight," I answered, her hasty promise reining my lust. I'll marry you.
She squirmed uselessly against me, but I held her fast. There'd be no more disrobing this night. "Edward, don't –"
"I'm not saying no, I'm just saying not tonight." She'd won, and yet defeat didn't sting the way it should.
Her brow creased as she caught her breath, preparing another assault on my paper-thin morality. For once I was glad I couldn't hear her thoughts – how she planned to tempt me further.
"Give me one good reason why tonight is not as good as any other night?" she huffed.
Hmmm. Did she really think victory would be that simple?
"I wasn't born yesterday," I laughed. My explanation was simple. She could have want she wanted, for a price. The logic continued along its absurd path – I'd make love to her, possibly kill her, only if she was my wife. Simple, right?
"…you first," I finished.
"I have to marry you first?" she retorted.
"That's the deal – take it or leave it. Compromise, remember?"
She stared back at me, shocked, and I stifled another chuckle. I could see now that she'd been stewing over my seduction for awhile, and yet things didn't work out quite the way she wanted. Very well…two could play that game.
I released her hands and lifted her off the bed, exhaling as she gasped. Her eyes glazed in the second before I captured her lips, sealing the terms of our 'new deal' with a searing kiss.
Reluctantly I released her, and she gulped the air in. "I think that's a really bad idea," she croaked.
"I'm not surprised you feel that way. You have a one track mind."
The wheels continued to turn in her head. "How did this happen? I thought I was holding my own tonight – for once – and now, all of a sudden –"
"You're engaged!" I sang.
The disgust on her face was priceless. I would've laughed, but then I remembered the price I'd agreed to pay.
"Ew! Please don't say that out loud."
Would she complain as much about being addressed as 'Mrs. Cullen'?
"Are you going back on your word?" I asked. Her grimace didn't soften when I gazed into her eyes, but her heart skipped a beat, and I knew I had her. She pressed her lips together, refusing to answer.
"Are you?" I asked again. I was teasing, but I wanted to hear her say it.
She rolled her eyes. "Ugh! No, I'm not. Are you happy now?"
It wasn't the teary-eyed 'yes, I'll be your wife' that I'd hoped for, but it sufficed. "Exceptionally," I replied, not bothering to disguise my happiness.
If only Bella could share it – but she groaned instead.
"Aren't you happy at all?" She was getting everything she wanted. I tried to erase her disappointment with another kiss, letting my joy seep into my touch.
"A little bit," she eventually admitted. "But not about getting married."
I kissed her again, wanting to elicit just one smile from her. An amusing thought crossed my mind. "Do you get the feeling that everything is backward? Traditionally, shouldn't you be arguing my side, and I yours?" I chuckled – many humans saw vampirism as a metaphor for sex – and here I was, denying a willing victim.
"There isn't much that's traditional about you and me."
"True." I continued to ply her with kisses until her heart and breathing reached a frenetic pace, quelling her arguments. I'd switched to her hand when she found her voice again.
"Look, Edward," she said breathlessly, "I said I would marry you, and I will. I promise." I let my tongue explore her palm, delighting in the way her voice cracked when I did. "I swear. If you want, I'll sign a contract in my own blood."
"Not funny." My lips touched the spot where said blood was rushing through her wrist. Would she never willingly accept my proposal?
"What I'm saying is this – I'm not going to trick you or anything. You know me better than that."
Yes, I did. But she knew me well, also, and I wasn't about to defile her.
"So there's really no reason to wait. We're completely alone – how often does that happen? – and you've provided this very large and comfortable bed…"
This bed…the source of so much strife. "Not tonight," I repeated. We'd be alone on our honeymoon, I'd guarantee that.
"Don't you trust me?"
What a silly question. "Of course I do." I nuzzled her ring finger again. It wouldn't be bare for long, if she really wanted my body that much.
Bella slipped her hand under my chin, encouraging me to look up. "Then what's the problem? It's not like you didn't know you were going to win in the end. You always win," she mumbled.
Her pout was almost worth the fight. "Just hedging my bets."
"There's something else. Are you planning to go back on your word?" Distrust was thick in her words.
I couldn't fault her lack of faith in me – I'd abused it too many times in the past – but I locked my eyes on hers and tried to earn a tiny piece back. "No. I swear to you, we will try. After you marry me." Try, that's all I could promise.
She laughed, but the sound was cold. "You make me feel like a villain in a melodrama – twirling my mustache while I try to steal some poor girl's virtue."
Her perception was flawless, as usual, if misplaced. I was the villain, using her virtue to further my own ends.
Her fingers wove into my hair as I found her collarbone. "That's it, isn't it?" she snorted. "You're trying to protect your virtue!"
Her tone hurt more than her words. Virtue, or rather virginity, meant little these days, even to Bella. No wonder she was laughing at me.
"No, silly girl, I'm trying to protect yours. And you're making it shockingly difficult." I was keenly aware that she still hadn't bothered to re-fasten the buttons on her blouse.
"Of all the ridiculous –"
If I hear that word one more time… "Let me ask you something. We've had this discussion before, but humor me. How many people in this room have a soul? A shot at heaven, or whatever there is after this life?"
"Two," she nearly shouted. Her conviction never ceased to amaze me.
"All right. Maybe that's true," I said, meaning it. "Now, there's a world full of dissension about this, but the vast majority seem to think that there are some rules that have to be followed." I felt like I was channeling Carlisle.
"Vampire rules aren't enough for you? You want to worry about the human ones too?"
Vampire rules had nothing to do with virtue. "It couldn't hurt. Just in case." Had she forgotten that she was human?
She scowled, and I groaned internally. This night was supposed to be one of relaxed togetherness, but instead we were at loggerheads…again.
"Now, of course, it might be too late for me, even if you are right about my soul."
Her response was immediate. "No, it isn't." Her innocence was showing again – and I loved her for it.
"'Thou shall not kill' is commonly accepted by most major belief systems. And I've killed a lot of people, Bella." More than any human serial killer, by far.
"Only the bad ones."
Even Carlisle would discount that. "Maybe that counts, maybe it doesn't. But you haven't killed anyone –"
"That you know about," she interrupted.
I managed to swallow my laugh but couldn't stop my lips from curling up. She was incapable of killing a fly, let alone a person. "And I'm going to do my best to keep you out of temptation's way." The smile faded with the imagined sight of a ravenous, newborn Bella.
She bobbed her shoulders, conceding my point. "Okay. But we weren't fighting over committing murder."
"The same principle applies – the only difference is that this is the one area in which I'm just as spotless as you are. Can't I leave one rule unbroken?" Undoubtedly this would be the last clean spot on the tarnished soul that Bella believed I had. But as white would stand out on a field of black, so would the stain of indiscretion scream out on her pure, unblemished soul.
"One?" She still had an idealized view of me.
"You know that I've stolen, I've lied, I've coveted," all since I've known you. "My virtue is all I have left." Staring at her, I grinned. Temptation had never been so sweet.
Bella rolled her eyes. "I lie all the time."
"Yes, but you're such a bad liar that it doesn't really count. Nobody believes you." I pressed my lips together, seeing the chagrin in her face.
"I really hope you're wrong about that – because otherwise Charlie is about to burst through the door with a loaded gun."
The corners of her mouth wiggled, imagining such a scene, I guessed. As if Charlie could ever sneak up on me…but he wasn't about to try.
"Charlie is happier when he pretends to swallow your stories. He'd rather lie to himself than look too closely." He'd suspected for some time that we must be up to some kind of sexual mischief.
Another shrug and another concession. One by one, Bella was running out of arguments; I just had to wait her out.
"But what did you ever covet? You have everything."
I confessed yet another sin. "I coveted you. I had no right to want you – but I reached out and took you anyway. And now look what's become of you! Trying to seduce a vampire!" I did my best impression of Alice whenever she thought about Bella's barren closet – Oh the horror!
She squeezed my hand. "You can't covet what's already yours," she noted. "Besides, I thought it was my virtue you were worried about."
I saw her dressed in white, a thin, pale veil draped over her lovely face. Poised, pure, perfect.
"It is. If it's too late for me," and it surely was, "well, I'll be damned – no pun intended – if I'll let them keep you out, too."
"You can't make me go somewhere you won't be, that's my definition of hell." On that point she'd get no argument. "Anyway, I have an easy solution to all this: Let's never die, all right?"
The circle closed with her reference to her impending change. "Sounds simple enough. Why didn't I think of that?" If only she knew how much I had thought about it!
"Humph. So that's it. You won't sleep with me until we're married." Her cheeks pinked with ire, egging me on.
"Technically, I can't ever sleep with you."
Her nostrils flared as she checked the ceiling yet again. "Very mature, Edward."
I bit my tongue – pointing out that she was physically older than I was wouldn't be wise. "But, other than that detail, yes, you've got it right."
She regarded me with a shrewd eye. "I think you have an ulterior motive."
"Another one?" I'd accuse her of paranoia – if she wasn't right.
I half expected her to poke me in the chest as she spoke. "You know this will speed things up."
I pinched my lips together. "There is only one thing I want to speed up, and the rest can wait forever." Forever…the word stirred so many emotions in me. "But for that, it's true, your impatient human hormones are my most powerful ally at this point."
I vaguely wondered what Alice was seeing – now that I'd agreed to Bella's demand. But then again, the idea that my sister could be witnessing the consummation of our union was…disturbing.
Bella's cheeks reddened again. "I can't believe I'm going along with this. When I think of Charlie…and Renée! Can you imagine what Angela will think? Or Jessica? Ugh. I can hear the gossip now."
If she was so concerned about what people would think, I'd be more than happy to wait a year or two – the time constraints were of her own making. Bella should know that her parents would give her whatever she wanted to be happy – her mother had already decided that Bella and I shared more than a teenage crush when we'd visited three weeks ago. I knew exactly what Angela would think, and she wouldn't say a word to anyone. Jessica was another matter, but I couldn't believe that Bella cared that much about what people thought. The spotlight wouldn't be on her for long, in any case.
I questioned her with a glance, and watched as her thoughts paraded across her face. A scowl told me she knew that gossip wasn't really that much of a concern. Her eyes tightened…with guilt? For doubting the veracity of her friends, maybe? Just as quickly as the expression appeared, it vanished, replaced by wide-eyed terror. Bella actually trembled, fearing the attention she'd be receiving, I speculated.
"It doesn't have to be a big production," I assured her. "I don't need any fanfare. You won't have to tell anyone or make any changes. We'll go to Vegas – you can wear old jeans and we'll go to the chapel with the drive-through window. I just want it go be official – that you belong to me and no one else."
"It couldn't be any more official than it already is," she grumbled, but I could see the idea of a secret ceremony appealed to her.
Not official enough. My eyes drifted to her wrist and the brace that protected it. Would a wedding license be enough to keep the mutt from molesting her? "We'll see about that."
Something more visible might. There was only one other thing I'd ask of her to finalize our agreement – and something that could not be hidden away. No one would ever question that she was mine again. "I suppose you don't want your ring now?" I asked.
The terror returned, and Bella swallowed loudly. "You suppose correctly," she squeaked.
I laughed aloud this time. One diamond would have to do for tonight…or would it?
"That's fine. I'll get it on your finger soon enough." I hoped I'd get to see Jacob's face when he saw the gold on Bella's finger. I chuckled again.
"You talk like you already have one," Bella said with a leer.
"I do. Ready to force upon you at the first sign of weakness." I do…
She shook her head, mixing strawberries in with the freesia and lavender. "You're unbelievable."
No, I'm mythical. Here was my opening – the chance to slide my ring onto her finger. "Do you want to see it?" She'd already given her…
"NO!" she shrieked. The word slammed into me like a Mack truck. I wasn't able to collect myself fast enough, and Bella immediately became contrite. "Unless you really want to show it to me," she hastily added. The muscles in her jaw strained, betraying her true feelings.
I should have anticipated her reaction and mentally kicked myself for getting caught up in the fantasy that she'd somehow want the ring. Why would she? I thought bitterly. It represented everything that she despised – and everything I valued. A tangible symbol of the commitment she was deign to give me, its brilliant sparkle attracted attention and its timeless beauty defied aging. The fact it would fetch a pretty penny on the auction block would give Bella palpitations. Worst of all, it was a gift from me. Nothing could be more repugnant.
She'd marry me, but clearly there would be no celebration in our union. Very well, I wouldn't torture her further.
"That's all right. It can wait." I shrugged. What would she extract from me next?
"Show me the damn ring," she said with a sigh.
"No." I wouldn't suffer her pity. When she wanted the ring, I'd give it to her. I stared at the brown wolf dangling from her wrist, wishing I could crush it. She'd been wearing the bracelet for days. Would she take it off, now that I'd cluttered it?
"Please," she whispered, her voice void of anger or disgust. She traced a fiery line around my eye and across my cheek, then repeated her plea. "Please can I see it?"
I should say 'no' – make her wait – but my resistance dissolved when she used that tone, those words. She had me and she knew it.
"You are the most dangerous creature I've ever met," I growled, but retrieved the ring anyway. What was the point in arguing?
Suddenly nervous, I sat next to Bella, rather than across from her. I wasn't going to be blindsided by her reaction again. She isn't going to like it, I told myself, she hates gifts from me.
Rather than presenting it to her properly, I balanced the black box on her knee.
"Go ahead and look, then," I snapped, sure the first complaint was already on the tip of her tongue.
She reached for the box so cautiously that I thought it might bite her. Once in hand, she touched the satin with an uncommonly graceful stroke, then stopped.
At least she didn't shout this time. "You didn't spend a lot of money, did you? Lie to me, if you did."
Her hesitancy fueled the flicker of hope that I'd thought had been extinguished. No lies were necessary. "I didn't spend anything. It's just another hand-me-down. This is the ring my father gave to my mother."
"Oh." Her eyes widened in surprise – and excitement? No, I wouldn't fall into the same trap twice. She didn't open the box.
I remembered when Carlisle had given me the ring, a week after I'd woken to my new life. Between the thirst and the unending buzz of thoughts, I'd been on the verge of madness. But it was the loneliness that hurt the most.
"Do you miss your parents, Edward? Is that why you're so sad?" Carlisle asked, letting the memories he had of my father and mother fill his mind.
"Why can't I remember them, Carlisle? " I screamed in response. "She was my mother!" All I had was a hazy image of her face, the diamond necklace she always wore shining below her chin.
"Your human memories aren't as strong. You have to concentrate to keep them."
Ignoring his recollection, I concentrated on the blurry picture. Instead of trying to make out Mother's features, I remembered something else…her voice. She hummed as she leaned over me, a soft, lilting song that brought me comfort, even now. Then I remembered how she'd touched my cheek, the band of her wedding ring cold against my skin.
"I do miss her, I just wish I could remember more," I lamented.
"Perhaps this will help." Carlisle opened his hand and revealed the ring I'd just sensed.
Now the ring would carry even more memories with it. The question remained whether the memories would be positive or not.
"I suppose it's a little outdated. Old-fashioned, just like me. I can get you something more modern. Something from Tiffany's?" Whatever she wanted I'd get – just so long as it went on her finger.
Bella still didn't open the box. "I like old-fashioned things." Her words caressed the satin, just as her fingers had. She didn't smile, but she didn't frown either. Ever so slowly she lifted the lid and gasped.
I caught my breath at the awe that filled her face. She touched the diamonds mounted in the filigree setting as if to verify they were in fact real, and her lips parted in wonder. Bella had never been more beautiful than she was in that moment. It was as if the goodness of her soul shined from her face, her hands…her very skin.
Her voice was but a sigh, but it blasted through me, setting my heart ablaze. "It's so pretty," she said.
Only because it's yours. "Do you like it?" I asked like a fool, destroying the moment.
She tried to hide her pleasure behind false apathy. "It's beautiful. What's not to like?"
Wouldn't she even allow herself just one indulgence? But she did like it, and my joy bubbled out in a nearly girlish giggle.
"See if it fits." My hopes dimmed when her knuckles turned white as she made a fist. Sighing, I tried one last subterfuge.
"Bella, I'm not going to solder it to your finger. Just try it on so I can see if it needs to be sized. Then you can take it right off." I knew it would fit, but I longed to see it on her, just once.
Maybe she wouldn't wear it after she'd made her vows. Alice didn't bother with a wedding ring; neither she nor Jasper saw the value in such a human tradition. Rosalie had a dozen rings that she wore on occasion – Emmett proffered a new one every time he proposed. Only Esme wore the same ring, day in and day out. Carlisle had fashioned it himself from a gold nugget that he'd received as payment for services a hundred and fifty years ago. She was never without it.
I was just as old-fashioned as the ring in Bella's hands, wanting nothing more than for her to wear the symbol of my love every day for the rest of her life. And truth be told, I wanted everyone – every thing – to know that she was mine. That she'd chosen me.
I couldn't even apologize for my selfishness this time – not when I was so close to seeing it come to fruition.
"Fine," she said through her teeth and reached for the ring.
Excitement welled in me as I snatched it from her, and took her left hand in mine. My wife, I thought as I placed the ring on her finger. As long as you both shall live…
The gems sparkled when I lifted her hand into the light. If I hadn't known better, I would've said the ring was made for her hand only. It'd been waiting eighty-eight years to find its new home.
Bella stared at the ring, not nearly as abhorred by it as I might have expected. Maybe she just needed time – and that was something I was more than willing to give her.
"A perfect fit," I murmured, trying to mask my growing jubilance. "That's nice – saves me a trip to the jewelers."
Her eyes met mine, her gaze calculating. "You like that, don't you?" She waggled her fingers with a wry twist of her lip.
I glanced at the ring but only saw the promise it represented. "Sure, it looks very nice on you."
Her eyebrows rose, seeing the truth in my eyes, and I couldn't keep up the charade any longer. The elation refused to be contained, and I grinned wider than I ever had in my life. She watched my transformation, first with a knowing smirk, but then with the same look of wondrous awe that she'd had when she'd opened the box. Her radiance engulfed me, and I believed.
Her soul reached out and touched mine with the force of an explosion, but the gentleness of an angel's wing. Words wouldn't suffice, so I kissed her with all the emotion I could muster. Her heart pounded against mine, the pulses seeming to come from within me, I held her so tightly. Finally her chest heaved as she tried to breathe.
"Yes, I like it. You have no idea," I said breathlessly in her ear.
Her hurried pants matched mine, as did the joy in her giggle. "I believe you," she said.
Bella would be my wife. Nothing else mattered any more. I knew that my worries would return – most likely sooner rather than later – but for the first time in my long life, I believed that everything would work out somehow. Even without the romantic proposal I'd planned, she'd agreed to be mine, forever.
With that thought I held Bella even tighter. "Do you mind if I do something?"
I tried not to guess what was going through her mind as she whispered, "Anything you want."
Pulling myself away felt wrong on so many levels, and Bella echoed the feeling. "Anything but that!"
Standing next to the bed, I helped her up. There would be no doubt of our intentions after this, and I turned her to face me so she'd see my resolve. "Now, I want to do this right. Please, please keep in mind that you've already agreed to this, and don't ruin it for me." I only needed one word from her.
I lowered myself onto one knee and her pulse spiked.
"Oh, no," she moaned. A needle of fear pierced me.
"Be nice." Please.
Even without a beating heart, my whole body seemed to pulse as I formed the words I'd wanted to say for so long. With a deep breath I bared myself to the woman I loved.
"Isabella Swan. I promise to love you forever – every single day of forever." I didn't blink, praying she saw the intense love and loyalty I felt as I spoke. "Will you marry me?"
For two excruciating seconds, Bella said nothing, her mouth opening and then closing as she decided how to answer. Then the depths of her eyes swallowed me, erasing any and all doubt.
"Yes," she said, her voice thick with emotion.
My eyes ached, trying to produce even a single tear of joy as I pulled her hand to my face. "Thank you," was all I could manage. I kissed her fingers instead, finally touching the ring with my lips.
I stood again, and she wrapped her arms around me. As she slipped her hand behind my neck, the ring met my skin with a quiet clink.
"I love you, too," she whispered, before kissing me.
I couldn't ask for anything more. Everything I could ever want was in my arms, loving me.
Just a couple of things. Those of you reading Dark Side of the Moon know which teacher was on the list – it was this passage that inspired the Valentine's scene in that story! I indulged a little, adding a werewolf to the list too – I was thinking that maybe Embry might have carried a little torch for Bella before he phased.
In this chapter I deviated from the actual dialog in Eclipse by one word when Bella says, "You can't covet what's already yours." In Eclipse the quote is "You can covet" but until I typed it for this piece I'd always read it as 'can't,' and after reviewing the definition of 'covet' decided that it only made sense that way. Sorry Stephenie – I think your editor missed it!
And a nod to my beta, Struck Upon A Star, for tagging Edward as "Catholic School Girl Edward" for his complete obliviousness at Bella's attempt to jump him. We got a good laugh over that title – sorry Edward!