She looked up from her book, watching me from beneath her lashes. I didn't have to look up to know she had something on her mind. "Do you love me, Edward?"
I gulped, trying hard not to swallow my tongue. "What, Bella? I'm taken aback!"
"No, I mean, I get it, you love me and all. But…"
"Dear wife, please do continue," I quipped. I couldn't fathom how she could ever believe in less than my full and utter devotion. If only I could hear the machinations of her mind, I might have some clue of the warped thinking that spurred this question. "Can you lift your shield and explain, please?"
"No, that's just it, Edward," she replied, her brow creasing with pain.
Her words cut me to the quick. What could the matter be with my sweet, beautiful girl? I dropped my journal and shot to her side, pulling her into the circle of my embrace. "What's it, Bella? What's bothering you? Have I hurt you?"
"No, no," she shook her head slowly, but the pain never left her face. "It's just that… Well, now that I can control my shield more, I feel like that's all you want. Not me, really, just my mind."
I pushed her to arm's length and chuckled a little. "Well, that's certainly a first. Most men face the accusation of wanting a woman only for their body."
"Most men don't read minds," she pouted.
"True enough." I pulled her into my arms again. I rested my cheek against the top of her head, considering.
Bella had always doubted her hold on me when she was human. I'd accepted it, knowing the fullness of the vampire's frozen heart was nearly inconceivable to the human mind. I could occupy myself with many lines of thoughts and activity simultaneously, not something humans did well. That she so completely overwhelmed my thoughts, my actions, my entire being – well, it spoke volumes she did not know existed.
But to hear her doubts now? She knew our capacity for love and thought; how could she doubt my heart?
"Bella," I murmured, pulling her to the couch. "Come sit with me. Tell me what has you confused about my love for you." We moved to the couch, hand in hand, and sat closely, as was our way. I wrapped my arm around her shoulders, reaching for her hand as she reached for mine.
"It's not confusion, Edward, really," she mumbled, her gaze in her lap. "I mean, I know you love me, I guess."
She looked up, searching my face for the hurt in my expression she'd heard in my voice. "No, that's not what I mean. I mean, I know you love me. And I love you."
"But… ," I goaded, hoping she would continue.
"But, it's just that so often when we make love, you want me to move my shield. Sometimes, I think you might not love me just for me, but because you want to hear my thoughts, too."
"I'm unclear about the difference between you and your thoughts, love."
"I'm not explaining it right." She furrowed her brow again, and immediately her thoughts sang out clearly.
It's just before when I didn't realize I had a shield, you used to make love to me then and you seemed happy. Now… And her head filled with the many times she'd lifted away the barrier between our gifts, driving me wild with the passion I felt for her amplified back with the desire she felt for me. Her worry rested in fear, fear that who she was without the benefit of my talent was not enough any longer, that I had somehow become complacent and bored with her absolute beauty, the allure of her skin.
I released her hand, bringing my palms to her cheeks and pressing my lips to hers. "Sweet love," I whispered. I slid my hands down her arms to grasp her hands, sinking to kneel before her. "My most perfect mate. Everything you are, everything you say… your touch," I turned her hand in mine. "Your breath, your mind, your heart – these are what I love most in this world. It's you, every aspect of you, that rules me so completely. Hearing your thoughts – especially when we make love – it's my way to have even more of you, more than anyone else in the world. That you give it to me so freely is another gift; I am already besotted with your body, your heart, your mind. But the gift you give me, the gift of yourself? That, my darling, is my undoing.
When we are intertwined and you lift your shield, I am immersed in everything that is Bella. I could lose myself in the heady ambience of your essence. Yet your mind holds me, savoring my essence, my thoughts, my heart. It is only your love that affirms my soul. And when we join physically," my hands skimmed up her arms as I rose to a kiss, "I can attest to the existence of God."
I held her face in my hands, kissing her fervently yet gently. Her need was plain, and my desire was obvious. Her mind was quiet, but her kiss spoke all the words of love I ever wanted to hear.
"Oh, Edward," she sighed as I lifted her from the couch. She rested her head in the hollow of my neck, her arms wrapped me.
"Bella, let me worship at your temple," I said, speeding to the bedroom.