DISCLAIMER: Stephenie Meyer owns the entire Twilight Series, Edward, Bella and all the other characters we've grown to know and love. No copyright infringement is intended. However, any new or unfamiliar characters in the story are figments of my own imagination. And while I'm at it . . . please know that this story's plot is all mine, too. Please do not translate, copy or reproduce any parts of this story without my express permission.

AN: SURPRISE! I bet you never thought this chapter was ever going to get posted. Well, here it is and I hope you enjoy it. As for my friend and Beta, TwilightMomofTwo, I can never say enough good things, but having said that, if you find any stray or missing commas, it's all on me. I sorta hurried her along because I wanted to get this posted. *laughs* ;-)

Chapter 15 – Push and Pull

BPOV

As I sat in class waiting for the bell to ring, I looked around the room. It was nearly the end of the day, and Jessica was smiling, or rather flirting, with Mike. Lauren was glaring at every girl who even remotely glanced in Tyler's direction, and Angela was talking quietly with Ben. I was slightly envious of the fact that they were together all day while at school – but at least I got one hour. Slowly, my mind drifted over the events of the past month.

I had never been a big fan of the lunch period – it seemed like a colossal waste of time. Who needed an hour to eat? Most of the time was spent socializing anyway. If I'd had my way, I would have spent my lunch hour in the library, but Angela dragged me to the cafeteria more days than not. However, since school had resumed after the Christmas break, I loved lunchtime.

I could barely contain my excitement each day as Edward met me in the parking lot, or in the woods behind the school. He always brought me lunch even though I told him I didn't need it. Regardless, he insisted, knowing I wouldn't eat otherwise, much preferring to spend my time with him. And he had gotten quite good at making sandwiches.

In any case, no one really noticed my absence – except for Angela who had initially believed I spent the hour in the library. I tried to make excuses, but after some cajoling on her part, I gave in and told her about my boyfriend who had graduated early. I explained to her that he was shy and didn't want to meet anyone yet, but that he would eventually. I wasn't exactly sure if that was true, but it bought me time. Anyone else would have pestered me, but Angela, being Angela, was discrete and loyal and let it go.

For the most part.

She did tease me from time to time about my imaginary friend, but I knew it was all in jest.

And Edward hadn't missed a day.

Until today.

So Angela seemed a little surprised when I told her that I was actually going to the library. She looked at me funny, as if she wasn't sure whether or not to believe me until I invited her to come along. I couldn't tell her why, but Edward had sent me a text message before I reached school stating that he would not see me at lunch, but rather after school. I had quickly replied making certain that nothing was wrong to which he responded, "The sun." It was then I realized what an absolutely gorgeous day it was – for January – clouds were in the sky, but when the sunlight peeked out from behind those white fluffy pillows in the sky, the sun was bright for this time of the year, and that would indeed cause Edward and his family to stay indoors.

I had never hated sunshine more than in that moment.

Although Edward had mentioned to me that he couldn't go out in direct sunlight, I still didn't fully understand why. He had promised to show me one day, but that day had yet to arrive. It always seemed to be that way with him.

Later.

In the future.

Some day.

I was trying to be patient, but it was getting old.

By the time I reached home that afternoon, I was antsy. I had missed seeing Edward and was anxious for his company. Charlie was pulling a double at the station so Renee was spending the day with Sarah Black which included dinner with the Black family. She had tried to convince me to drive to La Push after school, but I had diverted disaster by telling her about homework, studying and so forth. Unbeknownst to Edward, we would have the house to ourselves until later in the evening.

As I unlocked the door, I felt an immediate sense of relief wash over me, and I instantly knew that Edward was already waiting in my room.

Before I even reached the staircase, Edward had scooped me up in his arms, twirling me around. I laughed, but when he finally set me down, I staggered a bit before he picked me up, carrying me to my room.

"Are you alright?" Edward asked, looking a little concerned as he set me down.

"Relax. I'm just a little dizzy." I glanced up at him just in time to see a smirk on his face.

"Hey – no comments from the peanut gallery," I retorted, chuckling quietly.

Edward put his hands up in front of him as if he were surrendering.

"I didn't say a word," he replied, trying hard to hold back a laugh.

Edward reached for my hand, leading me to my bed as we sat down and, scooted back, leaning against the headboard.

"I missed you today," I said, unsure of the exact emotion I was feeling. I had missed him for years, but it never felt quite as intense as it had today. I glanced down, playing with a loose thread on the bedspread.

"Look at me," Edward said, putting his finger under my chin and lifting it up so my eyes met his. "I've missed you as well – please don't turn away."

He smiled before leaning toward me, kissing my forehead, causing familiar tingling sensations to run down my spine.

I wondered if he knew where my mother was, but I doubted it. He seemed too relaxed, too calm and I was hesitant to mention it, for fear of rocking the boat. A part of me wanted him to know that although I had been invited, I had declined because I knew it would upset him. I wanted him to know that he could trust me and that he was my priority – not Jacob Black.

"So, we have some time...my mother is, uh, at La Push." I ran my fingers through his hair, trying to get the words out quickly, but ended up stuttering instead.

"Really? That's nice," he said quietly. For a moment it almost seemed as if Edward wasn't paying attention, but he always listened to me even when I suspected he was deep in thought.

I smiled shyly. "Yes...she won't be home for awhile."

Edward turned his face to mine as he pulled me closer, his arm wrapped around my shoulder as I leaned into his side. His fingers lightly grazed my arm as he traced patterns over my skin. I tilted my head slightly upward, trying to reach his mouth as Edward lowered his head, slowly taking my lips in his. My body reacted instinctively, my hand reaching up to cup his cheek. My lips parted, wanting nothing more in that moment than for him to deepen the kiss. Before I realized what had happened, Edward pulled me onto his lap, my legs straddling him. I wrapped my arms around his neck and leaned forward against his firm chest while Edward's hands grasped my hips. He moved back ever so slightly, whispering, "Slowly, Bella."

I nodded, a shy smile slipping across my lips as I pressed them against his. My body felt as if it were on fire as Edward's hands moved along my sides. I scooted closer without thinking of exactly what I was doing, my only wish to get closer when I heard a low growl.

Suddenly I found myself on the bed...alone. I wasn't quite sure what to do so I did nothing, afraid to move when all I wanted was to feel his cool lips on mine. As I sat, watching Edward standing as he faced the window, I thought back to where Renee was and his initial reaction. Maybe he wasn't upset after all. In that moment, however, all confusion on my part was cleared up with Edward's next question.

"Were you invited?" Edward turned toward me, his face almost expressionless, but there was a hint of something in his voice. I couldn't quite put a finger on it, but he wasn't happy in the least. Edward leaned back against the window sill, his hands behind him.

"Of course I was…why wouldn't I be?" I replied, looking at him curiously. It was one thing for me to decline an invitation, but it was another matter completely not to be invited at all.

Edward remained silent, but I heard wood creak as he jerked his hands out from behind him, instantly standing up straight. Now it was I who was waiting for an answer, but when I didn't get one I felt the frustration beginning to build. The past month had been peaceful with no mention of wolves, vampires, treaties or enemies, and I had foolishly thought they had worked things out. Obviously I was mistaken, and I was unprepared for Edward's retort.

"No specific reason, but it's a good thing you didn't go."

I thought we had moved past this...whatever this was, and his attitude was grating on my nerves which caused me to instantly cop an attitude. I should have remained silent, ignoring him, or attempted to respond calmly, without sarcasm, but I couldn't stop myself from rolling my eyes as I spoke.

"It's a good thing? Are you my father? I only mentioned it so you would finally get it through your thick vampire brain that I chose not to go with her because you are important to me...more important than Jacob Black. When are you going to understand I don't want him, but you, Edward?"

I turned away, flinging my legs over the side of the bed as I slouched over, resting my elbows on my knees. My hands now balled into fists pressed against my cheeks, propping up my head. I felt the tears well up in my eyes. Why couldn't he get it?

"Maybe I should..." I paused, stopping myself before I said anything I'd regret. The truth was that no matter how annoyed or upset Edward made me and regardless of how forceful or overbearing he could be at times, I couldn't love anyone other than him. I knew the truth – I had known it on some level for years – so I refused to even pretend that there could be anyone else. Even if he left or told me he didn't love me, I would always love him.

Edward was still, unmoving and absolutely quiet. When he didn't acknowledge my last utterance, I knew he was either extremely angry or very contrite. The problem was, unless I turned around to face him, I wouldn't know which he was. Eventually I got up, walking around the bed as I kept my head down. I wasn't quite ready to see the anger, if that's what he was feeling, yet at the same time, I hated the silence. I knew he could hear my breathing and my heartbeat, I just wished he could read my mind. Maybe then he would understand what mattered to me.

He was important.

Jacob Black was not.

My initial reaction was one of reserved excitement even though Edward appeared resigned. I didn't understand why. I thought once we got past the secrets he would no longer be so concerned over how he expected me to react. And that left me wondering if he'd ever tell me everything that was worrying him. As I approached Edward, the sound of his voice caused me to glance up, halting my approach.

"Bella," he started as he sat down in the rocking chair.

I waited for more, but nothing else came. I continued my path toward him as he stared at the floor. I knew I couldn't pry the information from him – Edward was stubborn if nothing else – so I decided to prod him just a little as I crouched down between his knees, resting my hands on his thighs. I kept as still as I could in that position until finally he looked at me. My eyes were glued to his as I watched him silently.

Although difficult, it turned out to be the wisest choice because eventually he started speaking.

"There is so much you don't know –"

I should have kept my mouth shut, but those words set me off as my irritation and frustration over his continued insistence on keeping me in the dark got the better of me.

"Because you won't tell me," I answered, interrupting him as I stood up.

"Bella," he said softly, peering up at me. "Please sit down." Edward tapped on his knee, but when I didn't move, he reached a hand toward mine, gently pulling me onto his lap. He wrapped an arm around my waist, a small conciliatory smile on his lips as he continued.

"I'm going to tell you now."

My initial reaction was one of reserved excitement even though Edward appeared...resigned. I didn't understand why because I thought once we got past the secrets he would no longer worry. And that left me feeling slightly annoyed. I was so lost in my thoughts I almost didn't hear him, but fortunately something in the back of my mind was able to focus as Edward spoke.

"How much do you remember about the first time we met, when you were seven?"

The entire atmosphere in the room seemed to shift. As I looked at him more closely, it occurred to me that he seemed utterly exhausted, if that were even possible. I knew he didn't need to sleep, but he appeared as if he could have used a few hours rest – or days.

There was much about being seven I didn't remember, but seeing Edward for the first time was a memory as clear as glass.

"I remember," I said, a shy smile on my face as I recalled referring to him as my very own Prince Phillip. "Everything."

"Everything?" Edward quickly looked at me as his expression quickly changed from fear to a grimness that I remembered all too well. It was almost the same mask he wore after he lost his initial smile all those years ago.

I had not understood what caused his face to contort into a grimace all those years ago, and I still didn't today.

"Edward, what happened between the moment we met and when you mysteriously disappeared?"

His brow furrowed as he started to look down again, deep crevices evident on his forehead as he closed his eyes. I waited for him to speak, but instead he remained silent, clenching his jaw tighter. His expression was so taut I thought his face would crack into pieces. After a moment he opened his eyes, but instead of looking at me, he seemed to look right through me as he began to speak.

"Bella, the truth is that I wanted you very much."

I smiled, hoping that was a good thing, but then remembered I had only been seven. I gasped, unable to hold back my shock as I thought about what he meant. He didn't want – no, it couldn't be that. Edward was no monster. He never hurt me, always protecting me. Then I recalled the moment his smile became a frown, or was it anger?

"What happened, Edward? Why did your smile disappear that day? You seemed happy and then something changed – you looked so angry."

Edward's expression was difficult to read. I couldn't decide if it was irritation, anger or disgust. I watched him carefully as he finally started to speak again.

"Your scent was unlike anything I had ever smelled before," his voice lowering to a point where I could barely make out his words. "It was more than tantalizing. It hit me like a wrecking ball, and in that moment I felt as if I had lost the last shreds of humanity that I had managed to retain."

His head hung down, as a memory of the day I learned that he was a vampire flashed through my mind. Whatever was eating away at him now made him think that I would leave – just like he mistakenly thought a month ago. I needed him to understand that I wasn't going anywhere.

"Edward, please," I begged, taking his face into my hands.

"I'm not going anywhere. No matter what you felt or thought, obviously nothing bad happened because ten years later I'm still here. Not only that, but you've only ever been gentle and kind to me…I love you."

"And I love you," he whispered quietly. "But you don't understand."

"Then tell me," I pleaded. "Help me understand."

He gently took my hands in his, removing them from his face as he stared into my eyes, shaking his head. I was beginning to feel like he'd never tell me what was on his mind. I knew what he was and I had an idea of what he wanted to tell me so I decided to take the initiative and say it for him. Maybe then we could finally move beyond this. I tried to speak calmly, but I stuttered nervously anyway.

"You wanted...my blood...you wanted…to kill me."

Even as I spoke, I didn't fear Edward, nor did I believe I was in danger. It was very apparent that if he had wanted to end my life, he would have done so many years ago.

He suddenly leaned back into the chair, almost as if he was cringing away from me. I waited for a response, but I knew I was losing him. In that moment I realized he wore the same expression as he did the day when I guessed his true nature. It was the look of utter and complete despair. I reached for his cheek, stroking it gently in a feeble attempt to bring him back to me, but it didn't seem to help. Edward seemed too deep in his own thoughts. I leaned into his ear, whispering his name.

"Edward…"

Silence.

"Edward…" I said a little louder.

Nothing.

x-o-x-o-x-o-x-o

EPOV

The words I hoped to never hear…the realization that I prayed Bella would never come to…that day had finally arrived. Bella knew I wanted her blood, and that I had been ready to kill her to get it.

Today would be the date that Bella would tell me to go.

I had been certain that when she discovered my true nature, she would hate me and dismiss me without a second thought, but she had surprised me. Apparently she could accept what I was, provided I didn't behave like a monster.

But this was different.

Now she knew.

The truth.

I desired her blood above all else.

It no longer mattered that I valued her life more than the fluid that sustained her.

It was irrelevant that I would do everything within my power to preserve her humanity.

All that was left were the words I knew were coming. I didn't need to read Bella's mind or look into her eyes to comprehend the next words out of her mouth would be –

"EDWARD!"

I jerked my head, my eyes immediately scanning the room and inhaling deeply before looking into Bella's face, searching for the cause of her outburst. What faced me, however, was no supernatural being, nor was there a scared, timid girl in the room requiring my protection. What I saw was a furiously angry woman, the likes of which I had not seen since the last time Emmett blew out the engine in Rosalie's car.

"Bella, what's wrong?" No one was in the room other than the two of us so I was unsure as to why she had shrieked.

"You! You are what is wrong," she fumed as her heart pounded loudly in my ears.

I pulled her against my chest, holding her for what may have been the last time, expecting that the moment I had dreaded had undoubtedly arrived.

"Yes, I know," I replied, turning my head in complete and utter disgust, dropping my hand as I awaited her final command – that I leave and never return.

Bella sat up straighter; no longer did I feel her warm skin against my chest as she sneered. "Really? You know? What precisely do you know, Edward?"

"Bella, I will forever regret that day and believe me, I loathe myself more than you ever could." I glanced toward the window as my frozen heart cracked a little more when, much to my complete and utter amazement, warm hands were on my cheeks, attempting to turn my head. I deserved to view the disdain Bella must have been feeling as I found myself face to face with a woman who reminded me of Alice after Jasper had, in jest, shredded her credit cards.

I almost didn't recognize the person behind the seething expression. I could feel the hostility as it rolled off her in waves.

"You. Are. A. Complete. Idiot."

I stared into her eyes. They had always been a milk chocolate brown, but at this moment they seemed black – nearly as intensely dark as mine when I was thirsty.

I could hear her heart pounding in her chest.

I listened to her ragged breathing.

I watched her nostrils as they flared.

I was certain no one had ever looked so angry before. Not even Alice or Rosalie for that matter.

But anger wasn't what I had expected.

Fear, yes.

Confusion, possibly.

Sadness, maybe.

Disgust, absolutely.

But not rage…or fury.

And I could not move.

My body called out to me, urging me to drop to my knees to plead with her to permit me to stay. I would not leave her, no matter what she thought. Just as I was about to give in and do precisely that, soft lips molded themselves around mine.

What?

Bella was…kissing me?

All rational thought instantly flew out of my mind as my arms wrapped around her tiny body, bringing her closer to me. I could feel her as she pressed herself against me, trying to get a firmer grip on my face. Without another thought I stood, picking her up with me as Bella wrapped her legs around my waist.

I should have stopped her.

I should have been appalled at the way my body was responding to her.

I should have been concerned about the venom pooling in the back of my throat.

Yet, all I could do was feel how wonderful it was to have Bella in my arms.

At least until I sensed that she needed to breathe.

I pulled back long enough for her to inhale, which she did, before our lips found each other again.

After a few moments I felt Bella lean back, as she unlocked her legs. I helped her down to the floor so she would not fall, but for once it was I who felt out of sorts. There had not been fear or disgust in that kiss – quite the contrary. I had thought it might have been a kiss good-bye, but instead that was a kiss filled with passion and need. But how could she want me? Didn't she understand that I had wanted to end her life?

I looked down at Bella's face, and what I saw amazed me.

Again.

She was smirking.

At me.

Then it finally dawned on me.

She wanted me to stay, and the biggest, happiest smile spread across my typically somber face.

"Finally," she whispered, sounding rather pleased with herself.

"You want me to stay," I stated, surprised, but never having felt such joy.

"Yes." Bella looked so happy she appeared to be glowing.

Then the doubts began anew.

"But…"

And quickly the stern gaze reappeared as she shook her head.

"No! No 'buts'!" She stared at me, hands on her hips. "I love you – every part of you. I may not completely understand everything…yet," she paused, raising an eyebrow at me, before she continued. "But I will. Someday. Until then I have faith, Edward, that you will not hurt me because I believe you love me, too."

"Oh, Bella…yes, I do, so very much. It just doesn't make sense…"

I didn't want to make her angry, and I didn't really want to leave, but she didn't understand.

And whose fault is that?

Of course that damned inner voice would choose this moment to resurface, but for once he was right. It was my fault that she didn't know. I had kept her in the dark in an attempt to protect her. It was time for that to end. And today was a perfect day to show her.

Looking down at her, gazing into her beautiful eyes – the eyes that held me captive – I leaned forward, placing a soft kiss on the tip of her nose, grinning. Bella seemed slightly surprised at my actions as a soft blush fell over her cheeks.

"Would you like to see why I could not meet you at school today?" I asked, never breaking eye contact with her.

Bella nodded, not speaking. I held back a laugh, but the grin on my face only got bigger.

Bella blinked a few times before her eyes narrowed.

"Hey, no dazzling!"

"Dazzling?" I inquired, smirking.

"Never mind," Bella retorted, sounding slightly irritated, but I could see in her eyes that she wasn't truly upset with me.

"Shall we?" I asked, pointing to the window in her bedroom that faced the forest behind her house.

"Uh...what about the door?" Bella appeared mildly apprehensive.

"Don't you want to learn all about me?" I snickered.

Bella rolled her eyes in response.

"I was only joking," I replied, walking toward the door. Bella looked mildly disappointed. "About the window – I was only teasing you about leaving the house through the window."

The frown that had started to form upon her face slowly disappeared.

"You're not just blowing me off again, are you?"

Pulling her carefully to me, I smiled, running a finger down her cheek.

"No, Bella. It's just easier to walk out the door. Your window is a little...small." I winked at her, suddenly feeling a bit lighter, knowing that I was about to share one more secret with her.

Bella smiled as we walked down the stairs, her warm, soft hand in mine. As we approached her truck, I proceeded to the passenger side door, expecting to open it for her, but as she glanced over at me I was met by a look of amusement on her face.

"You're driving?" I suppose it was rather old fashioned of me, but I had expected to drive.

"It is my truck," she grinned.

"Yes, but…" I tried to think of the proper words. I did not want to insult her, but I had expected to drive. Carlisle always drove when he was out with Esme, although Rosalie insisted on driving when she and Emmett took her car. "It's how I was brought up. It's what I was taught. It's the gentlemanly thing to do." I knew it was old fashioned, but then again, so was I.

"Do you have a thing against women drivers?" she asked, sounding slightly miffed.

"No…no…maybe just human drivers," I teased.

"Are you saying I'm too slow?" she asked, raising an eyebrow at me.

"Well, if you must know the truth…" I hemmed. "Besides, my reflexes are better than yours."

"Is that because you're a man or a vampire?" she said mockingly.

My thought was 'both' but I wasn't about to say that. Not knowing what I should say and not wanting to get myself in any more trouble, I simply watched as she hopped into the truck.

Bella laughed as I opened the passenger side door and took a seat.

"Buckle up," she said, a serious expression on her face although her voice held a tone of jest. "You know what they say about us human women drivers."

"Bella – really – I didn't mean anything by it…"

She just laughed quietly, backing up and headed for the main street out of town.

"Where to?" she asked curiously.

"Take the one-oh-one north," I replied knowing she had never been to my meadow on her own. It was a place I found while hunting. Very few people knew of this particular spot – it would have been difficult for humans to find and the terrain was even more challenging to maneuver. I was mildly concerned about Bella's rather clumsy nature, so I hoped that she would allow me to carry her. If she refused, we might not arrive until nightfall.

"What are you thinking about?" The sound of Bella's voice pulled me from my reflections.

"Nothing," I answered, trying to wipe the grin off my face. "Take a right at the one-ten and continue driving until the pavement ends."

Bella looked at me curiously, but did as I instructed. The forest that surrounded the highway prevented much of the sunlight from passing through, but I was fairly certain that at my meadow the sun would be shining brightly. Although I was still apprehensive for Bella to see the effect direct sunlight had on my skin, I was determined to maintain a positive outlook.

Bella had not run when she learned I was a vampire and much to her credit, she did not order me away or consider me a monster when she learned the truth about our first meeting and my initial reaction to her scent. Although sparkling skin was unusual, I doubted it would upset her. She was a treasure, a gem and each day I spent with her proved better than the one before.

So, why all the self doubt?

That was indeed a very good question. I desperately wanted to believe Alice's visions, but Bella still didn't know everything and until she did, I knew that my greatest fear, Bella walking away, would always be in the back of my mind.

"Edward, what's the matter? Why the frown?"

I had not realized the expression on my face had changed until Bella mentioned it.

"Nothing…it's nothing," I answered out of habit.

"Edward…" Bella's voice held a tone of irritation, one that told me that she knew I was hiding something, and she didn't appreciate it.

I wasn't ready to tell her everything, but there was one thing I could share.

"I hope you won't be too shocked by what you see. Hopefully you won't think I'm a monster."

I was being serious so Bella's laughter caught me off guard. I looked over at her, feeling mildly bewildered.

"Edward, you're not a monster. When are you going to get that through your head? You may be a freak, but you're not a monster," she winked at me and giggled.

I pretended to become indignant at her remark, huffing before turning and looking out the window, muttering under my breath. "I am not a freak."

Apparently, Bella heard me and found humor in this as she laughed harder.

"You find it so easy to believe you're a monster, but you get all pissy because I called you a freak?" she goaded. "You really are something else, Edward Cullen."

When she put it that way, I couldn't help but chuckle along with her. I sheepishly shrugged just as we approached the end of the road.

"So, this is it?" Bella turned off the ignition, looking over at me inquisitively.

"No – there's a trail of sorts."

"A trail," Bella seemed slightly relieved before I responded.

"But we're not taking it."

I got out of the truck, heading toward the edge of the forest.

"How far are we, uh, hiking?" she asked, sounding a little worried, looking down at her feet.

"About five miles."

"What?" Bella looked back up at me, disbelief evident in her expression. "That will take all day. Besides, I'll fall and sprain my ankle or something."

"Well, I had hoped to carry you." I grinned like the Cheshire cat

"Carry me?" she asked as her brow furrowed.

"Yes. On my back. I carried you when you were nine," I replied as memories of her in my arms for the very first time played like a movie in my mind.

"I'm not a little kid anymore, Edward," she reminded me.

"Yes, I know, and I am very glad, but I would like to get to the meadow before the sun sets." I winked, snickering quietly.

I got down on one knee and reached one hand over my shoulder, tapping my back.

"Hop on – it will be faster…and safer," I chuckled.

Bella rolled her eyes at me but did as I requested. For a moment I was overwhelmed with the sensations of her warm body wrapped around mine as I took one of her hands from around my neck and brought it to my lips, kissing it softly. As I placed her hand back, I felt her lips on the back of my head and suddenly had second thoughts about this arrangement. If I was reacting in such a fashion to her now, how would I feel as she clutched me tightly, possibly grinding against me, trying to maintain a hold on me as I ran?

You'd enjoy that a lot.

Where did that come from? I was a gentleman, not some deviant. Perhaps walking would be a better idea.

Just as I was about to put her down, Bella wrapped her legs around me tighter as my eyes grew wide at the sensation that ran up my spine.

"Edward, I feel like I'm going to fall," she said nervously.

"Bella, I won't let anything happen to you, ever." The words I spoke pertained to this moment, but they were true in every way. I would sooner end my existence than ever allow anything to happen to her. She was my life, and I could not be without her. And I would not take some perverse gratification in her inadvertent movements now, either. Besides, I was still uncertain, nervous when it came to her future with me, but I wanted to believe that she wanted me as I did her. Thus far all evidence pointed in that direction, but I still had doubts.

Idiot.

Perhaps I was, but I knew the consequences of that choice and would not allow her to make a decision until she knew all the facts. Pulling myself out of my musings, I reached back, placing my hands under her bottom to keep her in place, but immediately decided better of it. I knelt back down on the ground.

"Hop down. I have a better idea."

Once she was safely standing on two feet, I stood up and then reached down, picking her up bridal style.

"How's this?" I asked.

"Much better," Bella replied with a smile as she snuggled against my chest.

Much better, indeed.

My inner pervert was severely disappointed so I knew the inner gentleman had won out.

"Ready?"

She nodded and I took off running, nearly at a human pace, although a little faster, taking extra special care not to jostle her. It was not long before we arrived at the meadow.

"Exhilarating, isn't it?" As much as I loved running, doing so with Bella curled up in my arms was wonderful. I started to put her down but she held on tighter.

"Hold on. Give me a minute," she answered, sounding a little shaky.

"Bella, are you alright?" I felt anxious – had I harmed her? Just as I began to berate myself for not thinking this plan through, her grip around my neck relaxed, and she laughed quietly.

"Wow! That was some ride. It reminded me of my trip to Disneyland. Instead of closing my eyes on Big Thunder Mountain, I kept them open. I was dizzy and a little nauseous afterward, but I'm okay now."

"You look a little green," I answered, still concerned.

"I'm fine – put me down," she smiled, but it didn't reach her eyes.

"Bella, what's wrong?" Although her mind was silent over the years it had gotten easier to figure her out, and I knew whatever she was thinking and feeling was making her sad. My thoughts immediately turned inward – had I done something? I quickly replayed our conversation, but nothing came to mind. I was at a loss.

I peered deeply into her eyes, trying hard to find the source of her momentary sadness, but there was nothing. The seconds seemed to tick by slowly. I needed to know what she was thinking. Just as I was about to plead for her thoughts, she spoke quietly.

"Chris."

I knew who she was talking about even though she'd never told me about him. I felt my chest tighten as I watched her face go through several emotions. How I wished I could hear her mind.

"Bella, please tell me what you're thinking. The silence is deafening," I pleaded.

She shook her head.

"It's nothing, really," she answered.

"Now who's hiding something?" I retorted acerbically.

"That's not fair," she said, glaring over at me. "And besides, it's a long story."

"Not as long as you might think," I muttered.

"What did you say?" she fired back, scowling.

I didn't want to fight with her and although I did not understand her reference to Chris and Disneyland, I did know plenty about him, and I wasn't really interested in talking about the only other boy my Bella had ever shown an interest in. I inhaled deeply as her scent washed over me, calming me, reminding me why we were here. I didn't answer her, but instead dropped my jacket onto the forest floor, unbuttoning my shirt as I took a step forward into the direct sunlight.

Bella gasped, but she did not look upset, staring at me with her mouth wide open until she finally spoke.

"You…you're skin…it's sparkling…like thousands of tiny diamonds."

Instead of disgust as I initially anticipated, Bella seemed to be looking at me with awe. How could she not see that this was just one more facet of the monster that I was and yet the smile that formed across her face spoke volumes. As apprehensive as I had been to share some of my secrets, revealing this part of me to Bella felt almost refreshing, and I couldn't hold back a slight smile.

"You're beautiful," she whispered softly.

I snickered.

"That's not usually a word most men would want to hear used when being described. It is, however, a word that very accurately describes you."

Bella's eyes shone brightly before she looked away shyly. I quickly took a step toward her, carefully pulling her against me, both of us being warmed by the heat of the sun. Her heartbeat quickened slightly as she extended her hand, tracing the contours of my jaw with her fingertips.

Moving faster than I normally did when around Bella I brought her hand to my lips, kissing her palm and then each of her fingertips. As she pulled back her arm, it occurred to me that she appeared ever so imperceptibly startled. She didn't say a word, only looked at me with an awed expression on her face.

"I'm sorry. It seems the more you learn of me, the easier it is to be myself with you."

"I like it. I want to know all of you – the real you – not just the parts you deem appropriate."

My mind immediately flew to my rebellious years, wondering what she would think of the murderer I had once been. I wanted to believe she loved me, but I doubted she could love him. And yet, he was a part of me. In that moment I wished I never would have left Carlisle. Before I could say anything else, I noticed that Bella was shivering slightly. The sun was still shining, but the temperature had dropped. I felt foolish for forgetting her human frailties.

"I think we should go," I suggested as Bella nodded. "Close your eyes this time," I said, picking her up before running back to her truck.

I set her down by the passenger side door and surprisingly she didn't argue as I opened the door and she sat down. I quickly moved around the front of the truck. When I opened the door, she was snickering.

"Show off," Bella said as I shrugged. "Just hurry and get me home. I'm hungry."

"Me, too," I said joking, but realized after I said it how it sounded. "I'm sorry…I didn't mean it the way it sounded…I'm actually always thirsty – it's a matter of degree…but not for you…" I was stumbling over my words just like a human. It seemed she brought out more of the humanity in me every day.

Bella shook her head.

"Still afraid I'm going to run away?" she asked.

"Yes," I muttered quietly.

"Never going to happen," she replied softly, smiling as she reached for my hand, slowly tracing patterns over the back of it.

"You're already cold," I said as I started to pull my hand away, but stopped when I saw the dejected look on her face.

"Do you mind?" she asked as I closed my eyes for a moment until I heard her yell.

"What are you doing? Keep your eyes on the road!" she shouted, a panicked look on her face.

"Relax, Bella. I'm not going to crash," I stated, looking over at her smugly.

"Well," she huffed before continuing. "I'd prefer it if you kept your eyes on the road anyway."

"I've never been in an accident or even gotten a ticket," I gloated.

"What about when you were human?"

"My human memories are fuzzy, but I don't recall driving."

"What do you recall?"

"Not much…bits and pieces…Carlisle saved some photos of my parents for me and the home I grew up in is still mine. Well, they think I'm my great-grandson but it's still in the family," I said, laughing slightly.

"That's still hard for me to wrap my head around," Bella said as she turned to look out the window. "I'm in love with someone older than my grandfather."

"Yes, but I look better, don't I?"

"Much, since my great-grandfather is dead," she answered dryly.

"That's what happens…after a while, everyone you knew as a human dies. There's no one left to remember you."

"That's awful," Bella said, looking back at me.

"Yes, it is." My chest felt as if a vice had clamped hard around it – if I had needed air, I would have suffocated. Bella had without knowing answered my question. She would never want to be what I was.

I pulled up into the driveway, getting out quickly so I could open her door for her. She looked at me curiously.

"I was sure none of your neighbors were watching." I hadn't meant for my voice to sound so aloof, and of course Bella picked up on it.

"Edward! For heaven's sake! What's bothering you now?" She was nearly shouting.

"Bella, keep your voice down. I'm right next to you. I can hear you just fine – better than fine, actually. There's no need to yell."

"Well, then stop whatever it is you're doing."

"I'm not doing anything."

"Yes, you are – I said something and you're twisting and turning it all around until you've turned my innocent words into something I never said. You get a look in your eye every time you do that and then you withdraw from me. I may be human but I'm not stupid."

"I never said you were."

"Then stop treating me that way." She was deep in thought for a moment as we walked into her house. Bella headed straight for the kitchen, putting up a kettle of water as she prepared a cup of tea for herself. I leaned back against the wall, watching. Alice had said Bella was observant and it seemed Alice was right.

Again.

Bella was human, but she certainly seemed to be able to keep up with me. It was almost if she knew me better than I knew myself. As the tea pot whistled, Bella poured the water and then turned to look at me.

"Now there's the smile I like to see," she said happily.

Yes, it seemed there was still a lot for me to learn about Isabella Swan and I looked forward to every moment…and hopefully forever.