Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.

A/N: This story is rated M for "Maybe you should come back when you're 18."

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Chapter 1: Time May Change Me

The thick towering heels of her brown leather pumps thudded against the wooden floor as Bella walked the length of her new loft. Her one stipulation for helping Aro yet again had been getting this loft on the top floor of a renovated department store in the middle of Chicago's Canaryville neighborhood. Examining the space, she was impressed with the lengths to which Aro had gone to make her happy.

Just buttering me up for the next time he needs my help.

The wide, open space was divided into sections by large bookshelves. One bookshelf, which divided a sitting area off one end of the main space, was full of CDs, including a large amount of the 70s rock music to which Bella preferred to listen. She fingered the discs lovingly, finally selecting a David Bowie album and placing it in the nearby player. Soon, sounds of the Ziggy Stardust era echoed off the bare, white walls, and Bella smiled, humming along to the music.

Walking across the loft, she passed a kitchen full of shiny new appliances and countertops. She laughed, knowing she'd never personally need to use anything there. Then again, she thought, the quickest way to a human's heart is through the stomach. And, in any case, her thoughts continued, she could feed and fortify the blood of anyone she thought she might want to drink later.

The steady rhythm of her shoes on the floor continued past the small dining table and living area until she faced another bookshelf, this one larger, reaching from the floor to the ceiling and across almost the entire width of the room, and loaded down with hundreds of books. Again, her hands brushed trails along the rows of books as she committed to memory the titles and their order. She cackled when she saw a particular small book, older than the rest.

Dracula. Well, at least Aro still has his sense of humor.

Stepping around the end of the expansive bookshelf, she found it concealed a king-sized canopy bed, made of dark walnut. The canopy was bare, and the bedding was simple white cotton. It occupied almost the entire area bordered by the bookshelf. Against the wall facing the bed was an antique chifforobe, made of beautiful cherry wood, and it contained a few items Bella could wear her first few days in Chicago. She made a mental note to go to Saks and Nordstrom the next day to buy new clothes and bedding.

Inside the chifforobe door was a large mirror, and Bella stood, taking a long look at herself. She noticed how deceptively innocent she looked, in her rumpled linen dress, her mahogany hair pulled back in a messy ponytail. She appeared only 21 years old, although sometimes she felt every day of her 212 years. Her face was soft and rounded, her eyes a deep burgundy. The pout of her full lips lessened only slightly as she grinned wickedly at her reflection.

Kicking off her heels, she walked barefoot up to the rooftop deck. There, in the dark, she looked over the city to which she'd longed to return. She jumped onto the ledge and sat, her legs swinging casually over the edge. Sighing, she picked at the building's pale brick, which had been laid in 1918, the same year she met the beautiful boy.

Aro had not approved of her plans to return to Chicago, but, after all her help, he'd owed her a favor. She owed Aro her very existence, but she'd long since repaid that debt. Aro had conceded as much the day she left Volterra.

"Bella, my child," he said, his fingers lightly brushing her cheek. "We will all miss you terribly when you go back to America."

Bella looked over his shoulder at a scowling little vampire. "I don't think Jane will miss me at all."

Aro smiled. "She is just jealous that you are my favorite. I knew, the first time I saw you as a wild newborn, you were special, undeserving of destruction. And I was more right than even I knew at the time."

"I am so grateful you spared me, Aro," she said, leaning into his touch. "You and the others taught me so much, but I'm not always with you. When I am on my own, I'm lonely. I've been alone much too long"

"You could stay with us permanently."

Bella heard the low hiss from Jane's direction. "Yes, well, I like life outside of Volterra. All I need is someone to keep me company."

"And you will find this in Chicago?" Aro asked worriedly.

"I hope so," Bella said, knowing Aro had seen all her memories of the beautiful boy she'd known when she last lived in Carnaryville many years ago.

"Well, so be it," Aro declared with a flourish of his thin, pale hand. "It is not necessary for you to feel obligated to stay. Although I can't promise we won't call on your help again in the future."

Bella laughed, peering down on the dark neighborhood. She knew they'd eventually need her help again; they always did. She often wondered how they'd ever survived before she was changed.

She wasn't exactly sure yet how she'd hunt. Carnaryville was well-known for distrusting newcomers, and it wouldn't do to have people suddenly disappear as soon as she moved into the neighborhood. The last time she fed was in Volterra; he was a lovely young Italian. Aro disapproved of her tendency to play with her food, but she could never resist. In addition to giving her prey one last pleasurable experience on Earth, it gave her a chance to see, when she looked into their lust-filled eyes, if there was the spark she'd found in the eyes of the beautiful boy. She gave them one brief chance to prove they were worthy of eternity, then, when they failed, she drank.

Wishing now she'd hadn't taken off her shoes, she jumped lithely to the pavement five stories below. Her new Volante, a gift from Aro's wife, was parked at the curb, and she climbed behind the steering wheel to begin the hunt.

***

Several hours outside Chicago, Bella found a small neighborhood bar. It looked welcoming enough, with its friendly flashing neon sign beckoning customers to come inside for a cold beer. As she walked through the heavy door, she heard a Doors keyboard solo soaring through the air, and she smiled in approval.

She surveyed the barroom, noticing several small groups of college-aged men hunkered around the pool tables, while the older clientele stuck to the stools around the bar. Tonight she would be a passive hunter, waiting to see who would approach her. She perched on a stool in the center of the bar, placing her bare feet on the upper rungs, and motioned for the bartender. He was a handsome, muscular man; his dark skin and black hair reminded Bella of the Cherokees back home.

"Miss," the bartender said, eyeing her skeptically. "Can I see some ID?"

Bella looked at him intently, never blinking. "You don't need to see my ID. I look plenty old enough. Just get me a Dos Equis."

The bartender blinked once. "On second thought, you look plenty old enough now that see you up close. I'll just get you that beer."

"Why, thank you," Bella said, batting her eyelashes and giggling.

She considered waiting for the bartender to get off work but decided she was too thirsty, reaching back to pull her hair free from the band that held it. Her hair cascaded down her back in long, gentle waves, and she shook her head to spread it over her shoulders. When the bartender sat her beer in front of her, she noticed he was licking his lips as he walked away.

Maybe I can wait until closing time.

Nursing her beer, she was playing with a handful of peanuts when she felt someone walk up behind her and sit on the next bar stool. She didn't have to look to know he was eyeing her hungrily; she could hear the increasing speed with which his heart beat as he sat next to her.

"Why don't you have on any shoes?" he asked.

Bella swung her head around, whipping her hair to the side, and looked at the young man. He had a wide smile and blond, messy hair, and his cherubic face made him appear much younger than his strong, lean body said he was. "I'm not a fan of shoes. I like to have my toes free sometimes, you know?" She smiled broadly, hoping the handsome young man tasted as good as he looked.

"I'm Mike," he said, extending his hand. "What's your name?"

She shook his hand firmly. "I'm Bella."

He held her hand, using his other hand to rub it vigorously. "Wow, you are cold. I guess that's what running around without shoes will get you," he said, winking.

"Well, I guess I hoped to find something in here that would warm me up." Bella smirked as she watched him swallow hard, his eyes changing from surprise to want in a millisecond.

I'd forgotten how effective the voice could be.

"I...I..." he stammered, "I would be glad to warm you up if you'd like to, um, come to my hotel room with me."

Ah, a tourist. Even better.

"Why don't I meet you outside as soon as I settle up with the barkeep?"

He jumped up from the stool. "Yes, let's do that."

When he didn't move, Bella waved him toward the door. Dazed, he walked outside, and Bella could feel the cool breeze blow into the stale room. She left a hundred dollar bill on the bar and weighed it down with a salt shaker. She slowly stood up and walked out of the bar, drawing out the anticipation of what she was about to do.

Mike was standing right outside the door, and, as Bella passed him, she grabbed his hand, leading him into the darkened alley between the bar and the laundromat next door. Heat from the laundromat's dryer vents filled the gap, and the warmth made her skin tingle. Once she led him back into the darkness, she pushed him against the wall.

He opened his mouth to speak, but she was on him, her lips insistent against his. His lips were pillowed and soft, and, when she ran her tongue between them, the taste of red wine surprised her. He opened his mouth, allowing her to plunge her tongue inside in search of his. As they kissed, his hands began to wander over her body, stopping briefly to cup her breasts before resting on her hips. He pulled her into him, grinding his hardness into her hip.

She smiled against his lips. "Oh, dear, let me take care of that."

Mike gasped as Bella fell to her knees in front of him, making quick work of his belt and zipper. She pulled his jeans and boxers down just enough to reveal what she'd felt pressed into her. It was glorious, she thought, much nicer than the Italian's, but she was too thirsty to enjoy it slowly. Dispensing with foreplay, she pulled her lips back over her sharp teeth and took him into her mouth.

"Fuck!" His scream was low and guttural, and he immediately buried his hands into her hair. At first, she set the rhythm, moving her tight mouth slowly up and down his rigid length, enjoying the salty taste of his skin. Soon, though, he was holding her head steady and thrusting between her lips. Beginning with shallow movements, each stroke went a little deeper, testing her, until he realized she could take him fully into her mouth. She hummed around his cock appreciatively as he sped his thrusts, tightening her lips around him. It was enough to send him over the edge, and he came hard, moaning unintelligibly. He was still clutching handfuls of her hair as she slowly pulled off him, and he tilted her head up just in time to watch her swallow.

"Damn, girl, you are so fucking hot." He looked at her, still lusting, but she saw nothing special in his gaze, no spark to let her know he was the one. She pulled up his boxers and pants, not wanting him to face the indignity of having his body found half nude.

She stood and leaned into him, pushing him back against the wall. She kissed a trail from his jaw down his neck until she felt the pulse of his jugular against her lips. As he sighed, she sank her teeth deep into his neck.

His thick, sweet blood filled her mouth, and she felt his body tense. Knowing the screams would come, she covered his mouth with one hand as she continued to pin him against the wall with the other. While her time with the Volturi had taught her not to become attached to her meal, she found no need to prolong his terror and agony, and she drained him quickly, greedily swallowing every drop in huge gulps. Finally, his body went limp, and she felt his pulse cease.

She normally left a body where she drained it, but she thought she might want to return for the bartender some night. She lifted the body easily, wrapping its arm around her shoulders as she supported it with her arm around the waist. Anyone passing her on the street would think she was stumbling around with a drunk friend rather than carrying a dead body to its disposal. She walked a mile from the bar and left the body propped up against a non-descript building, wanting it to be easily found. No need, she believed, to have a family somewhere wonder what happened to him.

Driving home slowly, she savored the warmth the feeding had given her. She could not remember savoring any human food the way she did human blood, and the taste of each human was unique. However, no taste was as exquisite as that of the beautiful boy's blood, and she often thought back to how heavenly drinking him had been. She wondered if her mate's blood would call to her the same way; she worried that the beautiful boy would be the only human whose blood ever did.

Walking into the loft, she realized daybreak was near. Three towering windows were at each end of the space, and she moved quickly to pull the thick drapes closed. Preparing to spend her first day indoors, she pulled the twelfth book off the third tier of the bookshelf. Reading the title, she rolled her eyes.

Wuthering Heights? Again? Heathcliff and Catherine are such whiny bitches.

She pulled her blood-stained dress off over her head and lay on the bed, rolling over onto her stomach and propping the book up on the headboard. As she began reading, she made a mental note to buy a laptop and get DSL, then settled in for the daylight hours.