Angels Are Golden

I am about to die. I was struck by something dark and huge and terrifying. My breath and brain stopped and I plunged downward.

*****************

Hell was real and I was in it. From my mouth came a wailing shriek that arched my agonized spine with its force. Again I released the scream as my body burned and I twisted in agony. Blessedly cold touches came to both sides of my face. Frosty breath fell on one scorched ear as a gentle voice said quietly,

"You are safe now. Nothing will harm you, and you will heal. Be calmed and rest."

An angel was rescuing me from the fires of hell. I surrendered my pain and lost consciousness.

*****************

"Sparrow. Can you hear me?"

It was the voice of the angel. I desperately wanted to look into its face. My eyes weren't working very well. I couldn't lift the lids. After a moment I focused on the right eyelid, willing it to raise just a little. It lifted ever so slightly, enough for me to see the angel leaning over me. The Christian religions were usually in agreement, and it seemed they were mostly correct. Angels are golden and wear white robes. They are also gendered, and this one, beautifully and decidedly male, had spoken to me. Called me by name. I hoped the tiny lift at the right corner of my upper lip served well enough for a smile in response to his question. For now it was all I had to offer before drifting off again.

*****************

I became aware of being touched. Cool hands were touching my face, my neck, my hands, lifting my arms, touching my ribs, my belly, my hips and feet. The skin they touched was sore and felt bruised, but the touch momentarily soothed before moving on. There was a fragrant coolness to my right, scented of pine and mint and sweet herbs and something different, hard to describe. I turned my face into it, inhaled, and released my breath on a slight sound. The hands had completed their journey, but one returned to lightly enclose my wrist. Other sounds and smells began to push their way into my returning awareness. I felt my brows draw together in a frown of confusion. A gentle voice spoke to me.

"You are awake."

"Not dead?"

"No, not dead. Very much alive. Are you able to open your eyes?"

I thought I might be, and cautiously lifted my lids. Odd. I wasn't dead but my angel was apparently still with me. He smiled beatifically down at me as if I had done something wonderful.

"I am Dr. Cullen. You were in an accident and are now in hospital. Do you remember what happened?"

Almost. I almost remembered. The memory was floating just outside. Something about dark death striking me made me flinch, momentarily panicked. His face again filled my view, his cool hands loosely clasped my shoulders.

"You are safe. Nothing will harm you here."

I locked on his eyes, and began to remember. Not death, a machine, a vehicle. I tentatively opened my mouth and in a whispery, parched voice briefly told him what I remembered.

"I remember a sound. I looked up and saw something big and dark falling slowly at me. I raised my arms to fend it off, someone screamed, and it struck me. It threw me aside, and then rolled and bounced and fell crashing on boulders and through brush on its way to the ground. I remember seeing and hearing it as I went rolling and crashing through brush, sliding over boulders and onto the wet sand. I felt broken. That's all."

I was getting very tired. My eyes wouldn't stay open, and my mouth wasn't working anymore.

"Very good Sparrow. You sleep now, and heal."

*****************

I'd been dozing and was just on the edge of sleep when I felt him come into the room. There was a coolness, then I caught his scent. I didn't open my eyes, I just wanted a few moments to enjoy breathing him in.

Pulling the tale together, I am a freelance writer for travel books and magazines. Six months ago I leased a house in Forks, Washington, as my base to work from as I traveled around the Olympic Peninsula. I had already visited Ruby Beach and experienced a perfect sunset out beyond the sea stacks. I promised myself a return visit when a storm was expected. Raging elements wind my clock. On Sunday afternoon my computer dashboard showed a storm coming in on Monday, so I packed overnight camping gear, tossed it into my jeep, and drove the thirty-five miles from Forks. When weather is expected, I don't set up camp outside, but inside my excavated jeep. As long as I have my big thermos of hot coffee, then a sleeping bag, big Garrity flashlights, and cold sandwiches do me fine.

Dreary cold October nights aren't a real crowd draw so I parked in the empty tourist parking area and set out for a walk on the beach. The air I breathed in deeply smelled of ocean, cedar trees, and the approaching storm. I walked my fill, truth be known, I danced a little too on that deserted sand, then returned to the jeep and moved it away from the beach, tucking into the trees near the cliffs. The storm hit around 2 a.m. It was a proper storm. Lots of lightning, thunder, wind, and pouring rain above, pounding waves on the beach below. I fell asleep with that sure knowledge that one sometimes gets that you are exactly where you should be at a particular time, doing exactly what you should be doing.

The morning was glorious. The clouds were still dark and threatening, but the rain had stopped and the wind whined instead of howled. New driftwood was all tumbled about on the beach, along with some flotsam that I was drawn to explore. After a long, slow cup of coffee, I stuffed a netted hemp bag into a pocket and I started my descent to the bottom. The cliff at this point had a twenty foot drop, and there were lots of fallen rocks and damp low brush that made the going easy enough if you zigged and zagged and watched out for the slippery bits. Reaching the bottom, I struck out for the nearest flotsam pile, checking for interesting shells and sea glass along the way.

Eventually my stomach growled loud enough that I noticed and it occurred to me that I really was hungry. As I had come downbeach several miles, climbing over piles of driftwood and seaweed, and fording a few swiftly moving run-off streams I thought it made sense to climb the cliffside here and take the easy walk down the road to my car. The cliff was a bit higher with a steeper slope, but there were still lots of climbing rocks and brush to hang onto. I slung my net bag, now lumpy with pieces of driftwood, shells, some moss from somewhere, securely over my shoulders like a backpack. I smiled and patted my pockets which housed some nice pieces of sea glass and started up. The rocks here were slippery. I was concentrating on placement of hands and feet and didn't pay attention to the cliff above me. I was less than ten feet from the top when a shower of little rocks came slithering down and I ducked my head to avoid them. It was then that I looked up into the dark underside of a vehicle.

*****************

I knew he knew I was awake. Before it got embarrassing, I spoke and opened my eyes.

"Good morning Doctor Cullen."

"Good morning, Sparrow."

He was Dr. Carlisle Cullen, resident everything doctor at Forks Community Hospital. I'd never seen a man so, well, so beautiful. Deep golden eyes, angel fair hair, pale almost translucent skin, straight aquiline nose, firm square chin, long slender strong hands, broad shoulders, and lips so sensuous I needed to not think about them. Even though looking at the man could have increased the heart rate of the dead, he projected an air of certainty and serenity and made me feel safe. Just now he was filling in the missing parts after I crashed into the driftwood.

"A couple above you on the cliff had stopped to take pictures of the beach and never saw you on the rock face. They had parked their atv near the edge, and didn't secure it properly. It was creeping slowly forward and finally, over it went, front first, its back wheels still on firm ground. Its brush guard caught you squarely chest on. The impact must have thrown your arms and head forward, dislocating both shoulders, elbows, jaw, and causing massive bruising to your face, as well as concussion. It may also have caused your right hip dislocation. The scream you heard was the woman's, who by then had heard their atv go over and saw what was happening to you. She thought you would be caught under the plunge and go down with the machine. Somehow your bag got caught on some scrub cedar and you were flung out of the way and down the embankment. Miraculously, despite concussion, dislocating almost everything you could, and being bruised head to toe, nothing is broken, and there is nothing that will not heal quickly.

"I apologize for the agony you experienced at first. We had not yet determined the extent of your head injury, and I didn't want to administer sedatives until we did. Dislocations hurt like hell, and the reduction of them, even worse."

"I thought I was dead, you know, and in hell, and that you rescued me, and told me I was safe."

Although a slight smile curled his lips, a look of sadness passed through his eyes. As a doctor I guess there were some he couldn't rescue.

His voice took on a brisk "doctor" quality.

"So, now that you are awake and quite lucid, how are you feeling?"

"Like I've been run over by a truck, but nothing is throbbing or burning, and I can open my eyes."

"Yes, the swelling is going down quite nicely and some of the bruising is beginning to fade."

He began to examine my parts as he spoke. His touch as cool and delicious as always. Oh Lord. It speaks to how badly hurt I really was, that it only now occurred to me that I must look awful. Like a big, misshapen purple eggplant. It also speaks to how pragmatic I really am that I heaved a sigh and went on with life.

After checking me over, apparently pleased at the progress he'd seen, Doctor Cullen pulled up a chair, sat, and began to chat.

"We found your identification in your jeep and the note that your daughter was only to be notified in case of your death, or imminent death. You were never in that danger, so we didn't contact her. Why is that your choice? Wouldn't she want to be told that you were hurt?"

"Right now she lives in London with her husband and baby. Unless it's absolutely necessary, she doesn't need her life to be disrupted. She'd worry and think she ought to come here, even though she knows that I don't like people fussing over me when I'm out of sorts. We don't talk everyday, so she shouldn't be worried."

"Perhaps you had better give her a call. You were brought in eight days ago."

Dr. Cullen fished my cell phone out of the canvass bag someone had deposited my belongings into, turned it on, and handed it to me.

I raised one hand to rub my forehead, and took the cell in my other, thanking him. Doctor Cullen smiled and left the room. It took quite a while to convince my daughter to remain in London, that I was not dying, but in fact, healing quite nicely. She had left messages, which remained unanswered and it panicked her. I allowed her to vent her frustration at my hard-headedness, but soothed her with a promise to come over soon for a holiday. Feeling invigorated by my little success, I rang for the nurse and requested a bath and a shampoo, but not a mirror. Tomorrow would be another day.

*****************

The following morning as the orderly was changing my bed linens, she told me that Doctor Cullen was away for the next three days on a camping trip with his family, and that Doctor Harmon would be covering for him. I had seen Doctor Harmon a time or two. He was a nice man, but smelled only clean, and his hands were too warm.

Finally it was time to take a peek into that mirror. Bad choice. I almost didn't recognize myself. The eggplant was a mottled purple and green and still rather puffy, but I felt better. And hungry. With help from a pink lady, I ordered New England clam chowder and oyster crackers from the patient menu.

It was probably the best food I had ever eaten. A little bland, but, hallelujah, thick and chunky. My belly full, I levered the bed to a sitting position and requested my laptop. My fingers were stiff and a bit sore, but after a few minutes typing they limbered up and felt better. I'd been seen by the doctor and the nurses were making their early afternoon rounds elsewhere so I thought it would be safe to nosily google Doctor Cullen. He was pretty impressive on virtual paper too. Several higher degrees from prestigious medical universities, both here and abroad. He must have been somewhat of a prodigy (which didn't surprise me any), to have received those degrees when he appeared to be about thirty and he'd been working here in Forks for seven or eight years now.

He had been married, but lost his wife, Esme, three years ago when she was tragically killed in an animal attack in upstate New York. This piece of information had my stomach turning and my breath coming unevenly. Her picture showed a lovely honey haired woman, deserving of a man like him. I remembered the sadness that sometimes showed in his eyes and thought I might now understand why. He had children. Three adopted children, a son and two daughters, and their spouses. Good Lord, he had a granddaughter as well! This man has done a lot of living in his short span of years.

After finally admitting to myself that I was truly infatuated with him, I decided to use these three days of Doctor Cullen's absence to work on some self improvement. I wheedled my way into using the hydrotherapy tank and did a little water aerobics. Whined until the nurses allowed me to shower, shampoo and shave my legs. I had to really be careful over a few lumps and scabs, but, boy, did that feel good. I had no tubes in me, no meds of any kind. The nursing staff wanted me to continue the pain meds, but I swore I really didn't need any and promised to ask for something if any real pain recurred. I rubbed vats of vitamin K into my skin hoping to fade the bruises more quickly. And when I wasn't doing anything else, I slept. A lot. Good restful, healing sleep and waited for him to return.

Thursday night rolled around. I was tucked up for sleep with my eyes closed, my back turned to the door, listening to streaming classical music on my laptop when a wave of cool piney herbal scent drifted in. His scent. Tonight there was an additional underlying smell of something earthy, something wilder. Definitely appealing. I smiled into the darkness.

"Welcome back."

"I don't mean to disturb you."

"You're not. I'm listening to the Ancient Voices program from my favorite Texas classical station. This is the 1692 Ode to St. Cecelia by Henry Purcell."

I heard a slight exhalation and craned my neck around to see a smile on his face. His teeth are beautiful and perfect even in the dark.

"Sixteen ninety-two, ancient indeed."

"Did you have fun camping with your family? Are you tired? Would you care to relax a bit and listen?"

"I did, I'm not, and I would, but I need to finish rounds and my daughter Alice might be finished with the washing machine by now. Camping takes a toll on clothes. You seem to be doing well. Tomorrow we'll do some assessment on how soon you can think about going home."

"Wonderful . I'm glad you had a good time, but I'm glad you're back."

"I'm glad I'm back too. Sleep well."

The thought of this angel doing his own laundry was ludicrous, but kind of sad as well. Esme would no doubt have had his laundry all washed, fluffed, and folded by now. She'd meet him at the door, all washed and fluffed and ...down that road I refused to go. Totally inappropriate jealousy of a poor dead woman, but if I was going to fantasize, and I was, it was going to be with me as the loving lady. I had to go home soon. The presence of this man was doing strange, wonderful, and dangerous things to my peaceful little libido.

*****************

I woke up early, anticipating of course. I ordered and consumed coffee, fruit, and yogurt. I showered and put on as good a face as I could currently get. I still looked too much like a poster woman against domestic violence, but mascara and lipstick made me feel like I looked a whole lot better. I had graduated from hospital gowns to some confiscated scrubs and had a particularly fetching hospital green set on this morning with the no-skid footsies to match. Pitiful. Ah well, he'd seen me a whole lot worse.

Not long after, he came breezing down the hall, accompanied of course by his delicious scent. The wild smell was fainter, but still there, still exciting. He stopped outside the door and read over my chart, then entered giving me a warm golden smile that started in his eyes and made my heart tap dance.

"Look at you! You have very little swelling left and your bruises are fading remarkably. I hardly recognize in you that battered woman who was brought in almost two weeks ago."

"Thanks, I'm feeling a lot like going home as soon as possible. I heal faster when no one is hovering over me and these nurses do like to hover."

I had noticed that his eyes crinkled a little at the corners when he was amused, and they were crinkling now.

"Well then, I'll try not to hover, but I do need to check you out. Then, we'll go for a walk."

He hovered a bit then over my face as he took my jaw gently in his hand and shifted it from side to side and felt around the hinges. The nearness of his face to mine had me breathing a little shallowly again, and I had to suppress a flush of heat as I felt his breath across my chin and neck. He ran those hands down either side of my neck and across my collarbones to the shoulders and probed and rotated those joints gently. He shifted, examined each elbow, bending and straightening, and then slid his hands to my hands, looking at their healing scrapes and bruises. Meanwhile I was thinking about his checking my hip socket. Before I'd felt so awful I just wanted his cooling touch everywhere, now my stupid modesty was reasserting itself, but I still very much wanted him to touch me.

The man was a professional and a gentleman, and if I hadn't already been ridiculously in love with him, I would have fallen in the next moment. He raised my shirt just enough to check my ribs, running his hand lightly over the skin, raising goose bumps. He controlled a smile.

"Sorry, I guess my hands are a little chilly this morning."

"No, it feels good. Em, the coolness...feels good on my skin (shut up, shut up, shut up)."

He smoothed my shirt back down, then held my hip steady with his left hand as his other ran over my right hip. He lifted my knee so my right foot was flat on the bed, then gently pushed my knee across my left leg, back to center and opened out to the side, and back to center, all the while his educated left hand assessed the socket movement.

"I think all is doing very well. Very well. Ready to go for a little walk?"

All this proximity was not good. That feeling that I hadn't felt in a long while, the one where my womb got tingly with desire was alive and well. I could feel heat running in my veins and arteries. I thought to myself that I had much rather go for a ride...good Lord, abort that thought!

"A walk would be wonderful, thank you."

I swung my legs over the side of the bed and rose smoothly to sitting and stretched my feet to the ground and voila, was standing. Directly beside him. I had not realized how very tall Carlisle was. He extended at least a foot above me. I felt very small, not delicately small, insignificantly small. I also felt a little tentative, like I'd been broken and the put-back glue hadn't set yet.

He extended his arm to me, hand palm up. Oh Lord, now I got to touch him. I placed my arm along his forearm and my hand in his and looked up into his face. I couldn't help smiling, my heart felt so very full of happy.

"Ready?"

"Onward!"

He smiled, closed his fingers a bit around mine in support, and off we went.

We walked down the corridor, past the nurses station. I could tell the nurses and assistants were all very aware of him as a sublimely handsome man, but they controlled themselves nicely and continued with their work. Maybe familiarity did breed, certainly not contempt, but greater ease in working with, well, someone like him. I, on the other hand, would have done anything up to and probably including murder to be able to stay this way, going about the halls, in physical contact with him forever. I'd met handsome men before, dated a few, lusted after a few more, but never have I experienced the way I felt about this man. I couldn't even explain it to myself.

All too quickly my stroll with the angel had to end. He had other patients who needed him, and I was just too well to demand any more of his time. He returned me to my room and made a quaint little bow over my hand left. I inhaled deeply and held my breath for as long as I could to keep his scent with me a little longer. Eventually I had to breathe, very aware of how flat the hospital air now seemed.

I kept myself very busy the rest of the day. I packed and folded my things, thinking that he would surely drop by to discharge me, did a little on-line banking, some googling, anything to keep away the thought that I would be leaving him soon. I'd probably never see him again, after all, I'd never seen him before the accident, but I'd wait to get home before letting that pain bite my heart. Evening mealtime came and went and still no word either to me or the nurses station. The nurses who had seen me brought in were concerned that I was trying to go home too soon.

"Relax honey, you were really hurt. Don't rush on home. You've still got some healing to do. You don't want that hip to go out on you."

I decided that I must be staying the night at least and pulled a paperback out of the little stack of books my cute pink lady had brought by. After a couple of hours of rather dull characters, and being lulled by my streaming classical station, I drifted off to sleep.

*****************

Sometime later I awoke knowing that he was in the room. It was dark, and he was so very still, but easy to locate by his cool fragrance. He was sitting in a chair and very near. Something felt wrong. I spoke into the darkness.

"Doctor Cullen? Is everything all right?"

I heard a shift of weight, then a sigh, then his voice, filled with sadness.

"Forks lost a child tonight."

"Oh no Carlisle, how horrible…"

I was out of bed and crouched in front of his chair. Tears already in my eyes, I reached for his hand and held it. I could see that his fair face was drawn in sorrow and I wanted to take him in my arms and kiss his pain away. The darkness gave me courage and I dropped a soft kiss on the back of his fingers.

"Would you like to tell me about it?"

"It's a very sad short story, really. His name is Scott and he is eight months old. Scott's mother put him down to sleep in his own room, in his own bed. When she went to bed two hours later, she stepped into the room to check on him and tuck him back in. She said he always kicked his blanket off. He was dead. Their only child was dead. Just gone. They rushed him here, but, there was nothing we could do. I could not bring this child back, and it sickens me."

He lowered his forehead into his free hand. I was careful with what I said next.

"There can be nothing that sickens a parent, any parent, more than the death of a child. For you, the helpless, powerlessness has to be soul scouring. But Carlisle, the child was already dead when he got to you. You could not have brought him back. You are not God. "

He was quiet for a moment, then took my hand to his cheek and whispered.

"Oh Sparrow, don't I know it."

After a few moments, he raised his head and released my hand.

"It's very late, you should be asleep. Come, off the floor and into bed."

On his words, he scooped me up and set me back in bed. I'll never be able to describe the feeling of his arms lifting me as if I weighed nothing, but I'll never forget it as long as I live. Maybe beyond that.

"Stay a while if you like."

"I think I will, thank you.'

"I'm here if you need me."

I relaxed and slept.

*****************

In the morning I woke up early and grabbed my laptop. A quick search got me the address of the local KidsHealth foundation. I wrote out a check and set it aside. After breakfasting, I showered, put on actual clothes, cords and a sweater from my camping gear, put on a little face, and took the elevator downstairs to the information desk. When I explained what I wanted to do, the admissions clerk gave me the information I needed. I popped into the gift store for a blank note, on which I indicated that this gift was being donated in the name of Devin Coates, the child who had died last evening. I mailed it then and there. The Coates would eventually get a note back from the foundation. As a stranger, it was all I could do, but it helped ease my heart a little. I stopped in the chapel for a few moments to offer prayers for the parents, and Devin's little soul as well, although I was sure it was at peace.

As I was already downstairs, I decided to purchase a good cup of coffee from the kiosk in the waiting area. I had sugared and creamed it to my satisfaction and was standing at the bottom of the stairs debating whether to climb them, or again take the elevator. Enough being a lazy bum, it was only two floors. The first floor felt good, the second had me feeling it and huffing a little. Blast bruises and two weeks of bed rest! As I continued the last leg of the climb, I could feel a coolness from above that had nothing to do with the a.c. Sure enough, looking up, there stood Carlisle, a frown in his eyes, brows pulled a little together. I couldn't help myself, but smiled very warmly at him.

"Good morning Doctor Cullen."

He was assessing my ascent, and must have found it acceptable, because his face relaxed and he greeted me as well.

"Good coffee?"

"Absolutely fabulous. It's amazing that caffeine is legal."

I had finished the stairs by now and stood with him. He turned and began to accompany me back to my room.

"Do you know how the baby's parents are this morning?"

"Deeply grieving. The father's parents live in town and have been here all night. The mother's parents are arriving later today. They need family to share grief and comfort."

We were quiet for a moment, then he spoke in a much lighter tone.

"I think you are ready to go home."

I knew that, but my spirits sank to the bottom of the tank. I was actually going to leave him today. A little emotional bleeder began inside me.

"I'm packed and ready. If you will sign me out, I'll call a taxi and be out of here."

"Actually, I've been here all night and was just getting ready to leave. I've already signed your discharge papers, so can drop you at your house on my way home if that's okay with you."

My heart started a little tattoo…"a little longer, a little longer…"

"That's very kind of you, but I couldn't take you out of your way…"

"This is Forks, Sparrow, nothing is far out of the way. Besides it could be nightfall before the taxi got around to picking you up."

"I can't resist that reasoning. I'll go get my stuff."

He was right behind me, my guardian angel. My canvass camping bag was sitting on the bedside table along with my computer.

"I'll get those, you just bring your coffee and your flowers."

My daughter had sent a lovely arrangement of lavender and rosemary, two of my favorite herbs and I scooped them up and held them under my nose for a moment. I was stalling to gather my wits about me for the short ride to my house. With him. Alone, together, in his car. Thinking about it was only going to rattle me worse, so I stood tall and said I was ready.

As he was escorting me, I didn't have to ride to the exit in a wheelchair. He easily held the laptop under one arm and carried the canvass bag with the hand of that same arm, leaving one hand free to settle at my back to guide me out. Happy, tingly back!

Exiting the hospital into the doctor's underground parking garage, a cold blast of damp air smacked me and I shivered. He moved his hand from my back and replaced it with his arm around my shoulders, pulling me closer to himself.

"Sorry. It's not but a few steps to my car and you'll be warm in no time."

I had no doubt of that. My skin was cold, but inwardly I was warming up nicely. Being inside his car would undoubtedly send my internal heat sensor into an upward spiral.

He opened the passenger side of his sleek black Mercedes and I slipped in. He went around and opened his door, placing my gear in the back, and slid into his own seat. The car purred immediately to life at his touch, and he turned on the heater, which instantly began pouring out lovely warm air. The windows were tinted dark, the leather seats hugged one gently, and the satellite radio was broadcasting music from Phantom of the Opera. His fragrance filled the air. I wanted to wrap this ambience around me like a blanket and stay here forever.

"Are you feeling warmer?"

"Yes, yes I am quite comfortable, thank you."

"You live off the highway, out on Blackberry Lane, correct?"

"I do."

"I live a few miles out of town off the highway so I pass it going to and from the Hospital. It's right on my way."

We rode in companionable silence. I was experiencing that mixture of excitement and contentment and didn't want to say anything stupid to break the mood. He drove easily and very fast. In no time we were turning off onto Blackberry. I roused myself from my nirvana to guide him to my house, obviously unnecessary as he spoke quietly.

"172 correct? That little blue and gray cottage?"

"That's currently home."

He pulled into the driveway along side my jeep, which the sheriff's office had brought home for me and stopped the car.

"Let me bring your things in and make sure everything is in working order before leaving you."

I didn't like the sound of his leaving me at all. That little emotional bleeder gushed a bit more.

The man was fast. I hadn't gotten my seatbelt off when he was opening my door, with my stuff stashed under his arm. He took my hand to assist me out of the car and held it as we walked up the pretty old stepping stone path to the front door. My porch settee looked inviting even in the cold, and someone had neatly piled the papers which had been delivered. I pulled the keys out of my pocket, opened my lace lined glass front door and invited him in. He entered my living room and by doing nothing else, took complete possession of it. His six feet of slender muscle looked right here. Had I ordered the perfect man to go with my house, this one would have been delivered. Lord! I've got to get over this feeling about him. My child was only slightly younger than him!

As I flipped on the light switch, he put my bag and computer down in the rocking chair. My house was warm and still smelled fresh after two weeks of my absence. Probably why my electric bill was so high.

"Would you mind if I took a look around to make sure everything is as it should be?"

"Not at all, I'd appreciate it, although I have always felt perfectly safe and comfortable here."

He quickly went through the house, and finding everything in order returned to the front room and approached me, smiling.

"Everything looks good, no roof leaks and no stray squirrels down the chimney."

I offered up my hand for a handshake and he took it in his.

"Thank you for everything, your excellent care and your kindness."

That truthful part of me had to speak up and spoke a little unsteadily.

"I will miss you."

I'd heard about people looking like they wanted to say something, but hadn't experienced it first hand until now. He did look like he wanted to say something...maybe something important.

"You do have an appointment in two weeks, and you will call me if anything should feel wrong or begin to hurt, right?"

That's not what it looked like he had wanted to say.

"I do and I will, I promise."

He released my hand and was gone. He took the light and warmth with him. I closed the door behind him and sat heavily in my old arm chair. I felt that emotional tear get a little broader and hurt a little deeper. For the first time in a long time, the very first time in this little house, I felt lonely.

*****************

For the rest of the day I wandered around doing odd chores, the laundry, a little dusting, and tossing out some salad makings, long since past their prime. In the evening after a long lavender scented bubbly bath, I made a lovely conflagration in the fireplace. Sipping Earl Gray, I began a mental list of all the things that had not gotten done in the past two weeks, and tried to prioritize them. I wasn't yet willing to hop back into my jeep and start working, so planned a course of sorting and organizing the pictures and notes I had been taking prior to the accident. Much as I was ready to be home, I was still recuperating, and fatigue set in. I gave up trying to produce useful thoughts and let my mind wander over the past few days and a certain fragrant, golden haired man with a smile to die for. Somewhere in replaying the time spent with him in his car, sleep claimed me.

*****************

Thin watery little rays of sunlight woke me in the morning. An anticipatory thrill went through me, slightly ahead of crushing reality. I was home, safe, healing, and could be miserable if I succumbed to it. How could I feel so monstrous a loss over something, someone, that I never had in the first place? This way led madness. Tossing the covers aside, I got up, set the coffee to brewing, and made toast. Toast with pure honey is a wonderful panacea for the doldrums! However stirring the coffee my synapses played a backward hopping game...stirring, the scent of the coffee, his scent overlying the coffee's scent, his scent in his car, in my home...

Enough. I made myself sit and focus on work related organization for several hours before stopping. I washed my face and brushed my teeth, not bothering with any makeup, the bruises were still colorful enough, then popped out for some greatly needed grocery items. I had managed to keep his image pushed back in my brain while I was working, but shopping was dicey. Wonder what his favorite food is? What does he like to drink? Had I ever seen him eat or drink? And of course I was looking around the store for him although I'd never seen him here, and found it upsetting. I paid for the groceries and quickly left the store. I refused to look for his car in the parking lot, and fled on home. It was going to take some powerfully endorphin producing activity to get me through the rest of today.

*****************

Fortunately, the gym was close and this crazy little town had aerobics classes on Sunday. I pulled on some exercise clothes and covered it all up with some soft sweats and a hoodie. The sun had disappeared, and drizzle was setting in, but the sweet, clean air of Forks was invigorating and I climbed into my jeep and off to aerobics. Not being entirely stupid, I knew I'd have to take it slow, or at least slower. I wasn't my usual dervish self and lightened the handweights, but the driving music and youthfully enthusiastic instructor had my heart rate in the zone. My face actually felt like smiling, and I finished the hour with sweat dripping from my hair and a body filled with happy little endorphins.

I waved goodbye to a couple of ladies as they headed off right to their cars and turned left to go to my jeep which was parked under the street lamp. It was drizzling harder now, and colder, almost sleeting. A car swung into the parking lot and abruptly stopped behind mine. The door opened and a tall figure in a black raincoat hurtled itself out of the car and into my path. Momentary fright turned into bone dissolving delight as I recognized Carlisle. At about a foot from me he stopped and began softly shouting.

"You've been to an aerobics class, I can feel the heat pouring off of you. What were you thinking? Yesterday you had to drag yourself up the stairs in the hospital after two weeks in bed, with dislocations and bruises everywhere, and here you are racking your body about doing it, no doubt, great harm."

I could feel cold anger coming from him. He was furious. In a soft and what I hoped was a diffusive tone I cut in to defended myself.

"I was not dragging myself, I was pacing myself, and found me to be quite steady. You said I was ready to go home and dismissed me."

He slid right in without missing a beat and continued his mini diatribe.

"I dismissed you because I thought you were a sane woman who would go home and make microwave dinners and watch t.v. for the next month, not a masochistic lunatic who would try at first opportunity to undo all the good that we've done for you these past weeks!"

I really hate it when people raise their voices against me. It makes me shake inside, and feel nauseous. I was shaking now and my empty stomach was beginning to churn. I stepped up closer to him, almost touching his right side and whispered very succinctly at his ear.

"Stop. Shouting. At. Me."

He took a step back and stood almost eerily still staring at me with those golden eyes, then astonished me by clutching me by both shoulders and kissing me soundly. Just as abruptly he took his mouth away, released me and stepped back with a shocked look on his face. I can only imagine what mine looked like. He put his hand to his forehead, rubbing it for a second and then spoke, to no one.

"My God, what am I doing?"

He then turned, re-entered his car in a blur, and sped away into the dark. I remained where I was for perhaps two minutes, or a lifetime, until I got my shaking and stomach under control. As I drove home, it took my adrenaline a long while to dissipate. It's not every day one gets kissed by an angel.

*****************

The following morning, I stopped at the hospital on my way to Port Angeles to drop off a note to Dr. Cullen. I left it with the morning clerk. I really didn't want to run into him just now. In it, I apologized for causing him worry, and restated what I had said the night before about not overdoing, and explained that I genuinely considered my aerobics as physical (and mental) therapy and thanked him again for his concern. I did not go near his aberrant behavior.

I didn't need anything in Port Angeles, but needed to get away from Forks for a few hours. My next assignment would be the Port Angeles Waterfront Trail, a part of the Olympic Discovery Trail which would eventually run from Forks to Port Townsend. I stopped in a couple of boutique dress shops, but didn't see anything I couldn't live without. Truth be told, I couldn't concentrate. I kept replaying the gym scene with Carlisle. What had that been all about? It was weird from start to finish. Especially the finish. My breath got shorter and I got tingly and flushed thinking about it. It seemed a good time for lunch. Port Angeles has some great places to eat. Today I chose a soup and sandwich restaurant with an outdoor deck. The sun was out here, and I wanted to take full advantage.

Belly satisfied, I climbed back into the jeep for the hour drive home. I could time this just right and get back for the aerobics class.

*****************

The weather had deteriorated and now by evening was blustery and rainy. I had showered and was getting ready to flop into my big armchair with a fat book and a hot cup of tea, when my doorbell rang. I could see Carlisle through the sidelight window. I approached, but stopped and took a deep breath before opening the door, and meeting his eyes straight on. He spoke first.

"You wrote me a note of apology. I acted the jackass."

I bit my lip and looked down momentarily to hide a smile. He was far too beautiful and polished to be any sort of jackass.

"You were worried about me. Your perception was that I ignored your instructions and full tilted into an exercise that could well have re-injured any number of my parts. I needed to stretch and move and even lift light weights, but I promise you I didn't overdo. In fact, I went again today, and I feel close to normal."

"Then I need only apologize for the kiss from left field."

I had to speak lightly and take in a lot of oxygen. My heart rate had increased and I had to stifle the flushing impulse.

"You're a man. I'd angered and thwarted you. Chalk it up to an excess of testosterone. You probably needed to either strike me or kiss me. Lucky for me, you're not the striking kind."

"I kissed you due to an angry male hormonal build up?"

I just lifted my eyebrows and shrugged a sort of "if the shoe fits...".

Neither of us seemed to know what to say next.

He spoke first.

"You are holding your right shoulder stiffly, does it hurt?"

"A little, I'm out of shape and my muscles are letting me know."

"That's the shoulder with the worst dislocation, perhaps I could come in a take a look at it?"

I moved out of the doorway and gestured for him to enter. He pointed me to a chair and I sat and slipped my arm out from under my sweatshirt, offering my shoulder. Leaning over me, he gently prodded and rotated the limb. His scent flowed across me and I wanted to tuck my face into his neck which was so close. I got a good grip on my self control, but just barely.

"It's not swollen, just a little warm. I suggest a short course of ibuprofen and laying off the weights for a while. While we're at it, let me see your foot."

"My foot?"

"The one you're limping on and trying to hide from me."

I released a small exasperated sigh. Doctors!

"It's just plantar fasciitis. It acts up when I haven't exercised it in a while and then start up again."

He crouched beside me and held out his hand, waiting. I stuck my bare foot into his hand. The coolness of his skin felt wonderful to my heal. He touched it here and there, then flexed my foot, pushing up my toes and stretching my achilles tendon. It hurt good.

"The ibuprofen might help a little, but rolling a cold drink can back and forth on the floor with your foot will probably help more."

He gently let my foot down and stood. I replaced my arm in my sweatshirt and stood as well, trying to think of something not stupid to say.

"Thank you for your concern, and thanks for not scolding. Can I offer you a snack or a drink?"

His eyes crinkled and his mouth quirked.

"Ah, no, I think not. I need to be going."

I offered him my hand, which he clasped gently, and then he was gone. I looked around the room. It felt a bit empty, and of course, lonely.

*****************

Seven days passed. Long days loaded with many hours of me getting back into my life without him. I missed him painfully, but I could do very well without him. Of course I could.

A woman who greatly enjoys intimacy with a man, and who for a long while has not been with a man, either finds herself another man, goes bonkers, or has a very imaginative fantasy life. I am one of the latter. I can take tiny threads of reality and weave them into an entire tapestry. Currently I was in aerobics enjoying one of my favorite fantasies. We were doing a set choreographed to Human, by The Killers.

Deep 90 degree torso bends with drop and recovers, ("pay my respects to grace and virtue, send my condolences to good"), triplet ball chain forward and back ("give my regards to soul and romance, they always did the best they could"), two slides right, hop, leg lift, repeat left, (and so long devotion, you taught me everything I know, wave goodbye, wish me well") up on toes with lifted arms around twisted right around the straight spine drop into plie and repeat left... ("you gotta let me go, are we human or are we dancer, my sign is vital my hands are cold and I'm on my knees looking for the answer, are we human or are we dancer"). Carlisle is close behind me. From the front we present the drop shadow effect. It's no longer an exercise, but a dance. We are two moving as one, touching, responding to touch. His breath on me, my pulse pounding against whatever part of him is touching me. I am happy. We are happy. We are lovers.

I got totally immersed in my fantasy and kept it and him with me as the music and movement changed. I scooped up my handweights and effortlessly moved into the next set, Lionel Richie's ,Just Go.

Deep lunge left, weights right, left, right, hold, reverse, repeat ( "It'd be so nice, If you didn't have to feel so lonely, It'd be so nice, If I could sneak you for a moment, I know you like to get away, go away, far away, To a place where there's just us two Got a busy day, everyday but not today, Cause I'm Here to take that stress from you"). Lunge front, right leg, swing weight forward, pull elbow back, 4 reps, ("So you can just chill And clear your head And let me do everything for you cause you deserve it, Prepare your meal And make your bed Well lets just switch places with you cause you are so worth it") reverse and repeat all... ("I just want us to go...Cause there is no rush for you to come back and face the rain cause there is plenty sunshine where I'm takin' you, and I'm here to reduce the pain.")

And as I dreamed my way into the right forward lunge with my weighted arm extended out front of me, his body against my back, his arm reaching under and beneath mine, his hand held my hand, supporting the weight, his scent enveloped me as fantasy and reality collided violently in my mind. Momentarily disoriented, I pivoted 180 degrees to look Carlisle squarely in the face. I was breathing heavily, and sweat from my hair streaked across his gray sweater. I felt a little faint, and my eyes must have lost focus because he grasped both my elbows to steady me. His golden eyes never left mine as I struggled with the reality of the situation. What in God's name was he doing here? I struggled to speak.

"What…"

He at least had the grace to look a little uncomfortable and released my left elbow.

"For that movement, the weight was too heavy for your shoulder."

Having completely lost it, I motioned to the bleacher where my water was and started toward it. Still holding my right elbow, he came too. I couldn't say anything just then, but set down my weights and gulped down some water. I was hot and my heart rate was up, so I needed to keep moving to bring it down slowly. Fat chance with his hand clutching me and his fragrance all around me. I headed us both out the door and down the hall.

I took a huge breath, and opened my mouth.

"What were you thinking? I was completely zoned in and could have had a heart attack when you were suddenly there surrounding me."

I was dripping with sweat, and my heat and scent must have been radiating all over him. It was well earned sweat but this was not how I'd have preferred a next meeting to begin. I just looked at him and continued walking the hall with him in tow.

He looked nonplussed for a moment, then slowly smiled at me. My mind remained firm, but the rest of me began a slow melt.

"You look like an angry little bird. An angry wet Sparrow."

I wasn't about to let him know he was forgiven, so I still didn't say anything.

"I apologize...again. I saw your jeep in the parking lot and as I haven't seen you in a week, I wanted to know how you are. I also admit curiosity about your fascination with this gym. I didn't fully understand your face until you turned around, so missed the obvious observation that you weren't with us but on some other plane entirely. You really do love it don't you?"

I was cooler now, so had stopped walking and was facing him. Thinking about who had been on that plane with me was a delicious little secret. I had to bite my lip to keep back a giggle.

"I do indeed!"

Being once more in possession of most of my faculties I appreciated the fact that he was with me, and still held onto my elbow. A wrinkle crossed his perfect brow as he looked at me.

"When I touched you, where had you gone?"

"That sir, is far too personal a question."

I had cooled down to the point of a shiver slipping down my spine. The heart rate, of course, was a different matter. I turned abruptly, dislodging my elbow from his grasp, and headed back into the gym. He clasped both his hands behind his back and sauntered after me, stopping at the door. I pulled on my sweats and hoodie over the snug workout clothes and picked up my keys, weights and water, waved to the instructor without disturbing her, and headed toward the outside door.

Beside me he kept pace and we both exited the building. He stopped abruptly, so I did as well.

"May I take you for a cup of coffee?"

Surprise! Thinking that he could take me for anything he wanted, including the next weekend or twenty years, I responded politely.

"Why thank you, I'd like that very much."

"Would you like to go back into town to the diner?"

"Actually there's a coffee shop two blocks over that has specialty coffees and teas and offers a little more in the ambience department than the diner. It doesn't offer much in the way of food though if you are hungry."

"I'm not. That sounds just right."

He herded me toward his car and settled me inside. As he was rounding to his side, something occurred to me. I usually look gosh-awful when I leave the gym, no makeup, dripping hair. My sweats were clean and not ratty, but the body inside was still damp. As soon as he got his door closed I spoke.

"You know, I'm probably gross from exercising, but I didn't expect to be going anywhere, so I'm sorry."

He didn't speak for a moment, or start his car, and I began to wonder if he was having second thoughts, so I began to worry, but before I fell into too deep a morass of doomful thoughts, he looked carefully at me, took a deep breath, and then replied.

"You know, technically you are still under my care. As a doctor I have to avoid certain topics or issues with patients to avoid possible unpleasant lawsuits. But, I've got to say that looking at you in that sweatsuit, all wet haired and steamy vividly reminds me of how you looked in that gym. You're a dancer. You dance those aerobics. Every move is full of grace and full out pleasure. Even your hair dances. Big confession coming. I didn't think that weight was too heavy for you, I just wanted to touch you and for a moment join you in your joy."

My pounding heart had, for the moment, apparently stopped. I dared not move. I was afraid if I did, I would jump him and unleash the cub hunting cougar I feared I had become. He was waiting for me to say something. Astonished, I lifted my eyebrows and whispered.

"Wow!"

"Do you still want that coffee or for me to drop you off at your car and disappear?"

"That coffee shop is two blocks right behind us, and I'm parched."

His faced relaxed into his familiar smile and he brought his car to life. It seems he could do things like that to cars as well as people.

We'd not spoken in the three minutes it took us to get to the coffee shop. As we pulled in, dark roasted bean fragrance reached out to us in the parking lot. I inhaled deeply and held it before releasing my breath. I grinned a little at him.

He smilingly shook his head at me and came around to open the door. He offered his hand and I took it although getting out of his car didn't require assistance. He tucked it into the crook of his elbow and we followed the scent into the building. I scooted into a booth and he slid into the seat across from me. The server was there and offered us both a menu of beverages.

I looked over mine then looked up at Carlisle. He was looking a question at me.

"Large Italian Roast?"

"Actually, I switch to tea about noon. The coffee aroma here is the draw, but their teas are amazing. I'm going to have the Lady Grey. It's a delicate Earl Grey with a citrus jolt. A lump of sugar and slice of lemon, and you have palate heaven."

He asked if I'd like anything to go with the tea, then ordered a pot of the Lady Grey. Our server returned almost immediately with two blue china cups and the pot of tea. He reminded us to let it steep three minutes, then took himself away.

Carlisle sat quietly looking at me across the tabletop. I felt the need to make some noise, so commented on his choice in joining me for tea.

"A sweeping statement would be that the majority of men don't drink hot tea. I gather you do?"

"I was born in England, and the English do love their tea."

"Where in England were you born?"

"A village outside London."

"Do your parents still live there and do you have any siblings?"

He appeared to be weighing his words.

"Both of my parents have passed, quite a long time ago now. I never was fortunate enough to have brothers or sisters. You?"

"I am sorry about your parents. I had parents until two years ago. They both passed within two months of each other. It was very shocking, to say the least. I have no siblings either."

He nodded his understanding. And I poured tea. I fiddled with sugar lumps, and lemon slices, offering each to him, until we were both companionably stirring our respective cups. I loved watching his hands. One gently holding the delicate china cup while the other deftly stirred with the silver spoon. He lifted the cup to his lips (I held my breath) and inhaled quietly. Then placed the cup back on the table without having tasted it. I lifted an eyebrow in question.

"Smells delicious. It's too hot yet to drink."

I teased him.

"Ah, the English tepid tea drinker."

And took a long, slow, drink, savoring every molecule of flavor, eyes closed.

"Perfect."

"Do you use your other senses as fully as you use your sense of smell, taste, and obviously hearing, after watching you move to music?"

"I guess I do. Life is so rich when you embrace all your senses. Being a doctor, I imagine you rely heavily on your senses as well as your brilliant brain to ferret out illness and determine a patient's condition. Although, I don't suppose tasting a patient is often a good move."

Carlisle's face relaxed, and he shook his head and voiced a warm chuckle.

"Not a good move at all!"

I drained my cup and poured another. His remained untasted.

"I understand you have children. Do they live here in Forks?"

He settled back and folded his hands together on the tabletop.

First off, all my children are adopted. My wife and I could have no children of our own. You are aware that my wife, Esme, died three years ago?

I nodded gently.

"I'm sure you and your children miss her dreadfully."

"She was very loving, patient and kind. Our children, being older at the time of their adoption, were never easy. Rosalie, my eldest and most difficult daughter, is married to Emmett. They currently live with me. Edward, the son most like me, is married to Bella, daughter of Police Chief Swan. They have a young daughter, Renesme, and they live in a cottage on our property. Alice, my charmer, is with Jasper, the wild child. They are on holiday in Australia. Jacob Black, a Quileute and close family friend, runs tame at our house most of the time as well, although he has family in LaPush. All in all we have a busy household. You have only the one daughter?"

"Yes, just the one. Anne has always been a jewel and very independent. Her husband, Owen Tilsit, is a mover and shaker at the American Embassy in London. Emma, their baby girl, is almost two, and bright as they come. I spend a while with them when I can, and they come over here as well. There's never a lack of communication with cells, and internet ichat."

He hesitated, then asked anyway.

"And Anne's father?"

"Anne got her independent streak from both sides. My husband used to tell me all the time to lead, follow or get out of the way. He wouldn't be lead, and following a goal-less man around the country got old. One day I'd had enough and told him to get out of the way. He's content enough and lives, for the time being, in Florida. I began to write for the travel industry. I've been to some fascinating places and I've never looked back."

He picked up the teapot and began to pour more tea into my cup. I looked pointedly at his cup before meeting his eyes.

"You're not going to drink that tea are you? "

He carefully set the teapot down and added a lump of sugar to my cup.

"Actually no."

I absently picked up my spoon and began to stir.

"I've never seen you drink or eat anything."

"I'm on a rather restricted diet and tea isn't on it. It's a long standing condition, that I have learned to live with."

"You needn't have ordered anything on my account."

"It gives the hands something useful to do while the brain is deciding what to allow the mouth to say."

As I finished my tea, and declined more, I wondered just what it was that he was not allowing his beautiful mouth to say to me. He was definitely an intriguing man, and permitted to have his secrets. He signaled our server and settled the bill. We rose and left the warmth of the coffee shop.

Outside the wind had picked up and we quickly got into the shelter of his car. Far too soon we were back at my jeep. He was out of the car before I could tell him he needn't, and had my door open.

"Thank you for the tea and company. Both were exceptional."

"Thank you for the opportunity to sit and talk with you. May I call you?"

Heartleap!

"I would love that."

"And Sparrow... I would never have allowed you to succumb to a heart attack."

There he was, thinking god-like thoughts again.

He handed me into my jeep like a princess into a limo, and before closing the door, kissed my hand. I'd swear his chilled lips had seared a brand into my skin. He returned to his car and waited until I had started up and rolled onto the highway before pulling out behind me. As I turned off onto my street, he sped by and disappeared into the darkness. Tonight I had much to mull over in my bed. I happily replayed the evening a dozen or more times before settling down with Morpheus.

*****************

The ringing phone under my pillow shocked me into rude and sudden wakefulness. Six-thirty four a.m. according to the clock radio. Heart thumping madly, I wondered who, as I fished for the phone, was calling me, with what bad news. No good news came this early on a Tuesday.

"Yeh, hello?"

"Sparrow, are you a morning person?"

"Carlisle? What's wrong?"

"Nothing is wrong. It's a beautiful morning, of course it's raining, and cold, but it's still beautiful. I'm on my way to work and heard on the radio that there is a classical guitar group performing in Port Angeles tonight. Do you like guitar and would you like to go with me?"

The brain hadn't totally engaged, but I got the point. Anywhere....

"Sure, yes, love to! What time? Shall I meet you at the hospital?"

"No, I'll be off in plenty of time to go home and back to get you by seven. From what I know of these musicians I may have to tie you to your chair to keep you from dancing in the aisle."

"Well either event could be interesting, but I'll try to behave. No guarantees though."

"Wonderful, I'll let you get back to whatever you were doing and I'll call for tickets. See you tonight!"

"See you too. Have a glorious day. Oh, and Carlisle, I'm so not a morning person."

I heard his chuckle before the disconnect.

I lay there thinking, astounded. Is it just possible that this wildly beautiful man enjoys my company? Of course, he's not perfect. It's a serious flaw to be that cheery this early in the morning. But, near perfect is perfect enough. I snuggled down further in my comforter and held the memory of his happy voice close to my heart. There was very little Doctor Cullen in his voice this morning...and a lot more Carlisle. I dozed and dreamed until the alarm woke me properly at eight. Plenty early enough for a free lance writer to rise, if not shine, for hot coffee.

I got some writing done, ironed a few pieces, dusted and vacuumed, and cleaned my bathroom. I had to keep the mind and body working to avoid sinking into a fantasy I had no business entertaining. Tonight's reality was going to be more than I'd ever thought possible. Then I visited my closet. I hadn't asked where the guitarists were performing, but I imagined a club or other small venue. Port Angeles didn't have a performing arts center. Their symphony even played in a high school auditorium. So dress or upscale pants? My bruises were gone, all but a few tiny resistant places, and I was rested and excited by this invitation. It did not escape me that I had never exactly looked my best in Carlisle's presence. He'd seen me first as a purple pulp with limbs angled incorrectly, then through a colorful palette of mottledness and puffy flesh in hospital dress code, and a couple of instances of sweaty, wet haired, no make-up and/or dressed in sweats. I was going for the gold, so to speak, and decided on a slinky, touchable, emerald silk sheath, bronze heels and bag, and gold jewelry.

I rarely spent a lot of time on fussing over myself, but tonight was a different matter. I was giving this my best shot, so at four-thirty, I ate enough to get me through, but not enough to make me sick. Eating when nervous tended to do that. Belly taken care of by five, I drew a hot, bubbly bath and soaked and sipped on a cup of Earl Grey. After removing every bit of stubble from my legs, I let the bath water out, turned on the shower, and washed my hair. All the hair required, or was going to get, was towel drying, some moisturizing conditioner run through it, and a good shake. I moisturized the body as well and by six, I was ready to tackle the face. Not much going on there either. I brushed on bare minerals, lengthened the eyelashes just a tad with mascara, glossed the cheeks, and polished and plumped the lips. On went the gold ear hoops, the chain with my mother's wedding band on it, a couple of gold rings on my fingers and a few sprays of Night Glo perfume at my pulse points. During this getting ready time, I had pushed the actual event to the back of my mind. Now a golden haired, golden eyed, pale skinned image of a fragrant man filled my thoughts. It was almost my undoing.

He would be here in half and hour to pick me up and take me to be with him for the evening. All evening. I sat abruptly on the edge of my bed. The blood drained from my head. Encroaching blackness crept over my vision. My breath came shallowly and then not at all. I was passing out.

I was most certainly not. If he even suspected I'd fainted we'd not be going anywhere. He'd most likely clap me back in the hospital for observation. I leaned forward, elbows on my knees, drew in a long and deep breath, released it slowly, and then drew in another. Pioneer stock wins again. The blood returned to my head, and vision returned to my eyes. I made sure I was whole before standing and slipping into the dress. There's nothing more empowering than the feel of a silk dress slipping over silk undies. I stepped into my heels and turned to face the mirror.

I took a critical look and decided that's as good as it was going to get. I was done. By the time I'd put a few essentials into my bag, it was seven and there was a soft knock on my front door.

There stood an angel in a charcoal gray Armani suit, soft blue silk shirt and gray patterned silk tie. I wondered if he felt the same way about silk on skin that I did. I could have worn sackcloth or nothing, and no one would have noticed with this man by my side. However, he was noticing and seemed not to know what to say. He looked fabulous, but I was getting used to that. I opened the door wider in invitation.

"Well, you look amazing. You've definitely got the cover shot for Doctor's Quarterly."

He didn't blush, but had the look of someone who should have been blushing, and his eyes crinkled a bit. He reached for my hands and leaned in for a kiss on my neck, just under my ear. I could hear him inhaling and I had the feeling his eyes were closed. After a long moment he straightened and looked at me.

"I don't know what to say. I thought you were pretty, but you're breathtaking. You might at least have warned me."

His glance, his tone, his touch, guileless. He meant every word. He was visually feasting on me! The man was a dazzler and he made me glow.

He gently assisted me into my coat and into his car, his eyes appreciatively lingering on my legs as my skirt rode up sliding in. Almost before my door was all the way closed he was in his side of the car. I'll never understand how he does that, but it's uniquely him and I love it. He drives exceptionally fast, as I've observed, but carefully. The Mercedes is so smoothly riding that I never got a feeling of dangerous speed, but I made sure never to look at the speedometer either. We didn't talk much during our ride, just listened to the classical music that surrounded us. I relished his scent mingling with mine. Shortly before eight, he seemed to side slip into a tiny parallel parking spot, as elegantly and effortlessly as he did everything else. Out of his side and opening my door, he extended his hand for mine. I felt particularly feminine tonight and placed my small, nail polished hand lightly and deliberately into his. You Tarzan, me Jane. His quick look showed me he knew close enough what I was thinking.

He swept me out of the elements (rain of course), and into a small subtly lighted club. We were shown to a well placed table, near enough to see and hear, but not so near as to be conspicuous. Anyone looking at us would have been hard pressed to describe our relationship, maybe they would think he was my gigolo. That thought had me nervously giggling to myself under cover of the surrounding voices.

A waiter came to take a drink order. As I wasn't driving, I ordered a Jack and Coke. Carlisle ordered mineral water with lime. Shortly after our drinks arrived, the musicians came out to the tiny platform. They were three Spaniards with highly polished guitars. The performance pieces were all by Albeniz from the late 1800s. Mainly solos, the pieces had been arranged to spotlight one performer, while allowing the other two to weave their magic throughout. They were excellent. During the third piece, I looked down at Carlisle's untouched drink which was next to mine on the table. I casually lifted his and left my half empty glass in front of him. He watched my swap, watched me drink from it, scooted his chair closer to mine, and wrapped an arm around my shoulders.

"Smooth move. I think I'd better hang onto you. You're already beginning to dance in your chair and I didn't bring the tie downs."

About three quarters through the program I sought the ladies room. Drinking for two was having its effect. As I was emerging from the lady's, a tall stocky man blocked my way. I thought he was just in the way and moved to go around him. He moved as well keeping me from advancing into the club. He was looking down at me and waved a card in front of my face. I didn't like his expression. His other arm extended past me, hand resting on the wall behind, lightly confining me.

"I see you with the pretty boy. You get tired of him and want a real man, you call me. I fix you up with a good time."

Before he had gotten the last word out of his mouth, Carlisle was there slightly in front of me. His face was controlled, but his eyes were narrowed, dark and dangerous. The man stepped slightly back and took his hand from the wall. Carlisle closed his hand over the man's wrist and squeezed. The card fluttered to the ground and the big man flinched and made a distressed grunt.

Without taking his eyes from the man's face, Carlisle spoke softly to me.

"Did he touch you?"

Somewhat shakily I replied that he had not.

Softly but with no doubt that he meant it, Carlisle spoke.

"How fortunate for you. This lady belongs with me. If you come near her again, I will tear you in half and drop the pieces in front of a speeding truck."

He released the man's hand with a look of distaste and the fellow rapidly removed himself through the back door. I released my tension and sagged slightly letting my head rest against Carlisle.

"Thank you for coming to my rescue. That could have been ugly."

He wrapped his arm around me and pulled me close to his side. As we were threading our way through the tables we both felt the vibration of his phone in his pants pocket. He looked concerned and fished it out. It was the hospital. There had been a four car accident on the highway ten miles south of Forks, multiple injuries were reported. The accident was still being sorted, but alcohol, speed, and crossing the center line seemed to be part of the equation. Carlisle wasn't on call, but with the possibility of so many injuries, he had to get back. We left quickly. It only took half an hour to reach the hospital. Port Angeles was sixty miles from Forks and I couldn't help working the math. At the outskirts of Forks, he slowed and pulled to a stop at the hospital emergency entrance where two EMT vehicles were parked, lights on, doors open, bays empty.

"I can't tell you how sorry I am that our evening ended this way. I enjoyed every minute of your company. Take my car on to your house. I'll no doubt be here all night. I'll call one of the family to pick me up and I'll retrieve my car from your house tomorrow."

"Or you could call me. I'd be happy to come and get you."

"Depends on what time it is."

He reached in to caress my face.

"You're so not a morning person. Go now, I hear more sirens coming. Be safe."

He turned, immediately all doctor, and hurried through the emergency doors taking off his coat as he went.

I got out and went around to the driver's side and looked at the lights, dials, and buttons. I'd never flown a 747 before, but no time like the present. Releasing the brake, I took off smoothly into the night.

In no time at all I pulled into my driveway and parked beside my little jeep. I felt traitorous getting out of this magnificent vehicle. I locked it up tight, and left it there for the night.

I slipped out of my silk dress and into my tank top and pj bottoms, made a cup of tea and pondered the evening. Every moment with him is a gift. True, the latter part of the evening wasn't planned, but was interesting none the less. We had really been enjoying the music, sitting sort of leaning into each other. There was something intimate in knowing that I was drinking his drink as well as my own. The big man episode was just plain thrilling. I believe that Carlisle was ready, not completely unwilling, and able to do the guy great bodily harm. For me. Perhaps what I have here is a warrior angel.

*****************

I had fallen asleep in the old armchair and woke refreshed. The dark day wasn't much help, but a glance at the clock told me it was 7:30. I hadn't heard from Carlisle, so figured that he was either still hard at work at the hospital or had had one of his kids pick him up. His car was still sitting prominently in the driveway, so it had all been real. I got up, had my coffee, and started the day. I was readying some copy to send to my current editor and thinking about lunch when the doorbell rang. A delivery van from the Forks flower shop was sitting at the curb. A girl was standing at the door with a huge bouquet of fragrant in and out of season blooms.

"Sparrow Fortis?"

"Yes."

"I have a delivery for you."

She certainly did. I signed for them, thanked her and hauled them off to the kitchen. The Forks flower shop receives its daily abundance from Seattle flower growers. I think I had half their daily order! They were magnificent. I added a little water to the bowl and flagrantly displayed them on the half wall between the living room and kitchen where they couldn't be missed. I went diving amongst the blooms for the tiny card. White, silver edged envelope with my name on the front; Sparrow Fortis. Matching card inside; Carlisle. Just a tiny little piece of paper that I would treasure for as long as I loved.

*****************

I ate a piece of chicken while dancing around my kitchen admiring my bounteous flowers. I wanted to call and thank him, but didn't feel right calling him at work, or home, for that matter. Our relationship, whatever it was, was still too new, tentative and private for possible public airing. My phone rang. Of course I had saved his number into my address book the first time he called, and CARLISLE showed up clearly on the caller screen. My heart bounced and that now familiar thrill went through me.

"Hello Carlisle."

"Hello to you. I hope I haven't disturbed you."

Ha, I thought, only every atom of me was disturbed by him, delightedly so!

"Not at all, I was just...enjoying...the beautiful flowers."

"Ah, they've arrived."

"Yes they have and are alive and well, completely magnificent and taking over the front part of my house! Thank you so much."

"Too many?"

"There is no such thing as too many flowers!"

Like too much love, I thought in my happy place.

"I hoped they might replace the memory of last night's abrupt ending."

"But that's a doctor's life isn't it? When you are needed, you go. How is everything with the accident? Are you still there from last night?"

"I'm still here, but everyone is out of danger. There were some pretty nasty head and chest wounds from windshield glass and steering columns, and whiplashes from the cars behind ramming into the initial crash, but nothing, thank God, life threatening."

"And that's the reward isn't it?"

"Exactly. Sparrow, can you come to the hospital?"

"Of course. I could be there by two with your car, can you drop me back home?"

"I'd like to go ahead and do your final exam releasing you from my care. I know you're fine, but we need closure for your insurance company. Then, I can leave for the day and take you home."

My appointment was scheduled for a few days later, but this was convenient. Of course the thought of being "released" by him in any instance was a depressing one.

"Okay, I will be at your office at two o'clock."

"I'll be waiting."

*****************

I parked the Mercedes in the underground doctor's parking lot, entered the hospital, and located Carlisle's office. He was speaking with an elderly couple who were supporting each other in the sweet way that only people who have lived together forever have. We briefly made eye-contact and I continued up to the nurse at the desk and told her who I was.

"I've got your file right here Ms. Fortis. Come on into the examining room and we'll get you ready for Dr. Cullen."

She took some vital readings and commented on my heart rate.

"Your heart rate and your temperature seem a bit elevated. Have you been ill or under any stress since you left the hospital?"

My heart was responding to being in proximity to Carlisle. It knew he would be coming through that door any moment. I explained the truth to her, a version of the truth anyway.

"I'm fine, although I must confess that I have white coat syndrome. I can drive by a doctor's office and my heart rate goes up. My temperature is normally ninety-nine-ish. It always has been."

She commiserated with me about the syndrome and nodded her understanding about the temperature. Then she handed me a paper examination shirt and told me to strip above the waist and put this on, and that the doctor would be right with me.

Good Lord. Here I was again about to present myself to Carlisle in hospital attire! I took off my sweater and bra and put on the crinkly thing. At least I held onto a little dignity by leaving on my jeans. I impatiently began to drum my fingers on the examining bed as I sat at the edge of it.

Three minutes at most passed. I could hear Carlisle's soft voice outside the door conversing with the nurse, and then he came inside. How could this man manage to look like a GQ model wearing blue hospital scrubs? Good thing the nurse wasn't monitoring my heart rate now. She'd probably call a stand by on a crash cart.

His eyes were brimming with humor, and his lips did that little amused twitch.

"Ms. Fortis, you look well."

"Thank you doctor, so do you."

His lips relaxed into that smile I loved and his golden eyes looked like dark warm butterscotch.

He rolled up a stool, sat directly in front of me, put on his doctor face and began touching me. He touched my face, manipulated my jaw, untied my paper shirt in the back and exposed my shoulders (the nurse would definitely have called for the crash cart), rotated and prodded both of them, and retied my shirt. He bent and felt my elbows and checked out my hands. Then he directed me to lie down and scoot back so he could check my hip joint. I thought for one horrified moment he was going to have me remove my jeans (maybe she should get that crash cart), but no, he just pushed my knee into my abdomen and rotated it fore and aft and pronounced it good. A couple of weeks ago he had seen most all of me, probably even all of me, but now is a whole different ball game. He pulled me up to sitting, and got his Carlisle face back. He smiled at me as he told me what I already knew.

"You are remarkably well. Whatever you're doing, keep it up. I am fully discharging you from my care, just watch out for falling vehicles."

He lowered his voice and continued.

"I'm going to give this file to my nurse, and let those who need to know that I am leaving."

"I'll meet you at the car?"

"Five minutes."

He left and I double timed it out of that paper and back into my sweater. Running a hand through my hair and grabbing up my purse, I left the office and thanked the nurse at the desk.

I was in the car waiting for him when he came out of the building. He had changed back into his suit and looked as though he hadn't had a sleepless night patching people up. He got in and sat for a moment, eyes closed.

"Tired?"

"No, just mentally leaving the hospital behind. I want to fully enjoy my time with you."

The man knew how to speak to a lady. I sat quietly, inhaling him, waiting for him to find his peace.

"Do you have to go home right away?"

It was just after three p.m. and I had no place I needed to be, other than right here with him.

"No, there's no place else I need to be."

"I'm thinking a walk on the beach would be what the doctor would order. What do you say?"

"I say whatever the doctor orders is what we'd better do."

We headed off to Ruby Beach, the original sight of my near disaster. It didn't take us long, and Carlisle brought the car to a stop near the beach access. The first week in November certainly assured us a private beach. I had a jacket stashed in the car and pulled it on, but Carlisle had only his suit coat. He took off his tie, and opened the collar of his shirt, then got out of the car and came around for me. His neck was as beautiful as the rest of him that I had seen. He took my hand, to help me out and closed the door. As we ambled down to the sand he continued to hold my hand and guide me past knots of weeds and tumbled rocks.

The tide was out and the beach smelled pleasantly of salt and fish. We walked peacefully for a while, then separated and I searched the exposed tide pools for interesting flora and fauna while Carlisle climbed to the top of a large outcrop. Although the day was cloudy and cold, the wind was light, playful, and ruffled his hair as he raised his face to the sky. Even though he was the gentlest man I had ever met, Carlisle was not tame. With the shadows playing across his face he looked almost feral, and not a little dangerous. I felt a primal desire for this man and abandoning my tide pools, sat on a driftwood log watching him.

He looked down at me, and gave me one of those meltingly slow smiles, that settled over me like a baby soft blanket. In a heartbeat he was sitting beside me. His eyes were very dark, and I could see deeply into them. We were only a few inches apart, and I dropped my eyes to his perfect mouth. It wasn't smiling. My lips went dry and I moistened them with the tip of my tongue. His mouth tensed. I looked up again into his eyes. We had closed the distance between us even more. I could feel his sweet breath on my face. I wanted those lips and whispered.

"Do it."

He breathed a whisper back.

"You do it."

Before he had completely voiced "it", my mouth was on his chill, firm lips. He remained utterly still. Only our lips were touching, and I adjusted my kiss, better fitting my lips to his. I had taken great pleasure, and was pulling away from him when he seized my upper arms, moved me to sitting across his lap, and possessed himself of my mouth. A growl emerged from his throat and he deepened our kiss, wrapping his arms around me and pulling me closely against his chest. Long seconds (minutes, years) passed before he raised his head from mine. He held my head against his shoulder with one hand as the other pulled me even tighter into himself. I could hear nothing over the roar of my heartbeat. My arms slipped around him and held him just as tightly.

He began to caress my back, running his hand slowly and sensuously from shoulder to hip, around hip and back up again. My womb clinched, heat flowed from it, and my breath started coming faster. He lowered his head again to my face for a deep kiss, followed by others. I met his ardor with burning eagerness of my own. A low insistent throbbing started inside me and grew into an outward tremble.

Carlisle felt me tremble and lifted his head. The day had darkened, the wind was now blowing harder, and icy drops of rain were beginning to fall on us. He looked down at my face, his eyes black. Picking me up in his arms, he carried me swiftly over the sand back to the car, tucking me warmly inside. He crossed around to his side of the car and stood a moment outside, breathing deeply. I could see the slow rise and fall of his chest, obviously getting himself back under his own control. My world had changed and would never be the same.

What do you say after that kind of exchange? Neither of us knew. He held me as close as the console allowed and I settled into him as we silently rode back to my house. It was raining heavily by the time we pulled into the driveway. He reached to turn off the key, but I covered his hand with mine.

"Don't come in with me. I need a little time alone."

His face was drawn in concern.

"You regret…"

"Never! I just need to process."

He looked my face over very carefully, and slowly nodded his assent.

We mutually leaned in for another kiss. One lead to another, and another until our breaths were coming in gasps and our lips were clinging insistently demanding more. I broke off the kiss and leaned my forehead against his neck. I inhaled him for a moment, then opened the door and was out running through the rain to my porch. I pulled the key from my pocket and unlocked the door. As I went in, I turned, kissed my palm and raised it to him in goodbye. I closed the door and heard him roar out the driveway.

The evening's events were still too recent, the emotions too exposed and overwhelming for me to review them just yet. I wandered through the house, enfolded in my jacket that held his scent. I avoided mirrors that would have reflected a completely vulnerable woman. A woman deeply in love with an exquisitely passionate, beautiful angel man.

That night I lay awake for a very long time.

*****************

The morning brought rare brilliant sunshine into my bedroom.

I stretched luxuriously and watched the leaf shadows play on my walls. The numbness seemed to have left my brain as I reviewed last nights memories in detail. I reached the part where I prevented him from stopping the car. Had I done the right thing? If he had walked me to the door, come inside, what then? Would I have awakened this morning with him by my side, a new knowledge of him inside me? Would he have awakened me with kisses and touches and urges? Possibly. Or more possibly I would have become so overwhelmed by our combined emotions and desires and come unraveled in hot tears or been lost entirely in subjugation to his masculinity. These crazy thoughts were too speculative and unsettling. It was time for coffee and a shower.

It was noon when the phone rang. I stared at it a moment, wondering how he would sound. How I would sound. What I would say.

"Hello?"

His amused voice lightly teased me.

"It's no longer morning. Is it safe to call?"

"You are the exception. You may call me at any time before noon, and I will try to be quite civil. Just don't ask me for anything requiring more thought than one brain cell can handle. Who stole Forks during he night? It's brilliant outside!"

"It is, and I would like nothing better than to be there with you today, however Emmett requires my presence with him in Portland. I drove down early this morning and will be meeting him and Rosalie in a few minutes. I believe he saw a car or, worse yet, a boat that he wants to purchase but knows that I will probably disapprove of, and was hoping by my being here, he could wheedle me into letting him buy it. It has been my experience with Emmett and Rosalie that it is best to face them down in person, so here I am.

It was amazing how bereft I felt knowing he wasn't in town, a few minutes from me.

"Oh dear. How good are you at redirecting? Maybe you could turn his desire to purchase 'things that go' into a new, what, lawn tractor?"

I rarely heard Carlisle laugh out loud, but was pleased to hear it now.

"Emmett on a lawn tractor, that I would love to see! The look on Rosalie's face alone would be worth the price tag. Sparrow, you have an exceptionally lively sense of the ridiculous. Thank you for sharing it with me."

I thought we were going to make it through the conversation without referring to last night's sudden ending. I couldn't decide whether to be glad or sad, when that notion was dispelled. His voice became pensive.

"Did you sleep well?"

"Eventually".

"Was it all too much for you?"

"If you recall, I was the one who started it."

"I recall that clearly. I, however, was the one who continued and, I'm afraid I frightened you."

"I was frightened of my own wildly out of control feelings and Carlisle, could we please not talk about this now? I dislike talking of emotions, especially mine, over the phone when I can't see or touch you."

"Then we will not. I dislike not being able to be with you as well. Depending on what the issue with Emmett is, we'll probably stay through the weekend, and I may need to attend to some business of my own here on Monday. At the latest I should be home by Monday night. I'll call you tomorrow with an update."

"Okay then. It's supposed to be sunny all weekend, so I'll soak up some sun for the both of us. Have a good time."

"I miss you."

"I miss you too."

*****************

I decided to go somewhere and take advantage of the rare sunshine. I hadn't been to LaPush since I first got here seven months ago. I remember it as being a beautiful beach, easily reached, with long stretches of walkable sand and remarkable sea stacks jutting into the sky.

I dressed warmly, November at the beach was cold. Many people had had the same idea as myself, and we all stayed until well past the brilliant miracle of the sunset. I stayed a bit longer than most, watching the night deepen, and listening for the night sounds, deer rustling in the tall grasses, a bird disturbed and fussing, the wind roaming in and around the trees, the ever shifting surf. It filled my soul with contentment. I was happy. I also knew that I wanted to bring Carlisle here to share it with me. Like I said, I missed him.

I occupied myself with all things domestic on both Saturday and Sunday, making time to visit the gym. After all, I had to make do with my fantasies till he got back. I spoke with Carlisle each day, and he said that Emmett's "desire to purchase" frenzy had fizzled, that they were now just enjoying the city, and did I want him to bring anything back for me. I refrained from telling him the only thing I wanted was him—and soon. The rare sunny weather held, and everyone in Forks was outside at every opportunity. Sunday had started out sunny and bold as well, but by four in the afternoon, the weather had returned to normal, cloudy with the temperature hanging around 40 degrees. The sun wouldn't actually set for another hour, but the point was moot as it had long since disappeared behind ominous clouds. The forecast was rain. Big surprise.

I settled in for a relaxing evening. I had lots of firewood piled in my fireplace and it was burning merrily. I'd put on my peach satiny gown, and was wrapped snugly in my fluffy robe. My bare toes were on their own. Being in a rather sentimental mood, I pulled my Wuthering Heights off the shelf, and opened it to a place I go when moods like this overtake me. I rather hate both Catherine and Heathcliff, they make their own misery, but feel sorry for them at the same time. Exchanges between them were so terribly sad they rung my heart and still made me cry. It didn't help that I had on some richly romantic music or that I was missing Carlisle hugely.

Sometime later, sharing deep agony with Heathcliff at Catherine's death, a soft knock sounded on my front door. I hadn't heard a car and wasn't expecting anyone, but got up and peered out the front window. A black Mercedes was sitting quietly next to my jeep. I yanked open the door, and there he stood. Angelically fair and beautiful with a lovely smile just for me. I closed the door behind him and he dropped his coat over the rocker.

"Is that our song I hear?"

He took my right hand in his left, placed his right hand at my back and we began to dance. The music was slow and sweet and perfect. Moving together in reality was the greatest of all feelings. Ever. As we danced, we moved more and more closely together. He unwrapped me from my robe, letting it slip to the floor, and pulled me back into his arms. He spread his hand on my back, covering it with the span of his fingers. My breasts were pressed against his chest, and he placed my hand around the back of his neck, where my other hand was already resting against his hair. He pulled me even closer. It was difficult to dance now, my belly and hips were so tightly up against him there was no doubt that he was aroused making it almost impossible for me to stay standing. We stopped moving. He lowered his head, his face to my face, looked me in the eyes and kissed me. At some point during the kiss, I closed my eyes. My other senses were vibrantly alive, touching him, tasting him, listening to the soft rustlings of his clothing, and drawing his scent deep into my lungs. I was almost lost. Just before giving up all and sinking into the quicksand of his embrace, I broke the spell and moved back from him.

"This is wrong. Very, very wrong."

He allowed my step back, but did not release me, and looked into my eyes, his own hurt and confused.

"Do you not care for me? Do you dislike like my kiss or my touch?"

"Everything I am cares for you, wants your kiss and craves your touch."

"Surely you don't think I am playing a foolish game with you?"

"No, I don't think that at all…"

"Then what? You give me happiness, Sparrow, and that's all I want to give to you."

I searched his eyes and saw nothing but truth. My eyes brimming with hot tears, I spoke softly to him even though what I had to say would tear the heart from me.

"Stop it! For heaven's sake, look at me. You are young, and virile, and outrageously beautiful and I'm old enough to be your mother!"

He said nothing for a moment, as a look of enlightenment spread across his face.

"Ahhh, so that's what this is all about. I know to the day how old you are. I'm your doctor."

He let his gaze travel slowly over me, face to feet and back again. His mouth quirked for a moment, and then with those crinkles showing at the corners of his eyes he spoke gently.

"Not even remotely like my mother. You stir my mind and my body. You comfort my... soul, if I have one. I want and need you near me. Forgive my arrogance if I am mistaken, but do you not feel similarly about me?"

When he left, and he would, it was going to hurt far worse than the accident. I only thought I was in hell then. But for now, I wanted the paradise he was offering so generously. The gathered tears fell anyway but I smiled beneath them and said the only truthful thing I could say.

"Only every minute of every day."

He lifted me up against himself, I wrapped my legs around his waist and melted into him as our mouths met and fused almost seamlessly together. His uniquely cold, mine feverishly hot, creating virtual steam at their meeting. He raised his mouth from mine and let it travel touching, kissing, and licking its way down the side of my neck to my collarbone and out to my shoulder. I let my head fall back a little, allowing him easier access and curled my fingers into his golden hair, so soft and fragrant. He effortlessly knelt with me and lowered me onto the carpet. He pushed the tiny straps away from my shoulders and began again his sweet assault. His silky hair brushed across my skin sending a shiver through me.

"Was that a shiver?"

"Only of anticipation."

He sat up, removed his shoes and socks and pulled his sweater over his head. He began to unbutton his shirt, but I wanted to uncover him. I knelt up and moved his hands to his sides. Then with infinite care I slowly unbuttoned each little pearl button. After each was undone, I spread the two sides of his shirt and kissed the newly exposed skin. Eventually I pulled the shirt tail from his pants, and completed the final two buttons. Placing my hands side by side at the center of his chest, I pushed the shirt over his shoulders and off. It fell to the ground in a little heap.

The fair skin of his body was faintly luminescent in the firelight. I leaned in to kiss his belly and felt the muscles under his hard cool skin contract, as he inhaled sharply. As I reached for the button on his pants, he quickly clasped my hands in his. His eyes looked troubled, and he hesitated as he began to speak.

"I need to explain something to you right now. Touch me."

I needed no further prompting, but smoothed my hands over his body and looked questioningly at him.

"What do you feel?"

"You."

"Let me describe the me you feel. My skin is cold. Much colder than it ought to be. It's unusually pale, and smooth, but hard to the touch. Correct?"

I knew we were on some new ground here, and I was a unsure of where it might be leading.

"Yes. This is all part of that long standing condition of yours isn't it."

"It is. Understand that all of me is this way."

He paused a moment to let me consider what this meant. Having come this far, and never having been known for subtlety I asked straightaway.

"So, can we have a physical relationship?"

"No doubt one that takes us right out of our minds, as long as I remain vigilant about my strength and your fragility. If you ever feel that I am holding back, it will be that I need to for your safety. If I ever begin to hurt you, tell me and I will immediately stop no matter how far I'm lost in passion. Much as I want to make love with you, I could never live with myself if I hurt you. Do you understand?"

"I understand what you're saying. I trust you more than I have ever trusted anyone and I can't imagine you hurting me. Make love with me."

He stood and moved out of the firelight for a moment, scooping his shirt and sweater off the floor and onto the chair. Then he unfastened his pants and slipped out of them and his black briefs. His hips were sleek, and muscular. He turned to face me, and I could clearly see that he was fashioned in the image of a god. Heat instantly began to pool in and flow from my center. If he was cold, I was concerned about going up in flame. We might come together as matter and antimatter and blow ourselves off the face of the earth. God, what a way to go.

He knelt in front of me, took both my hands and pulled me against his body for a long kiss, his cool lips against my hot ones. Then he reached down for the hem of my gown and lifted it up and over my head. It joined his clothes on the chair. Both of us quite bare, our bodies humming with mutual need. I closed the tiny gap between us to press myself fully against him. Almost.

"Is he usually this rampant? "

"No, he's usually quite docile, but he's never before had you bared and against him either. He can't be blamed for his unrestraint."

"I may touch you?"

"You may do with me whatever you desire."

I pressed him to sit back against his heels, our knees almost touching. I placed my hands at either side of his neck and drew them slowly down and across his shoulders, allowing my thumbs to caress the little hollows beneath his collarbones, and moved down the outsides of his arms to his hands and back up along the inside of his arms to his chest. Spreading my hands wide across his chest I brought them down until I reached bands of taut muscle on either side of his waist and followed them down to his groin. Carlisle's eyes were closed, his hands, resting on this thighs, curled into fists. I covered one fist with my hand, and ran the fingers of my other hand through his dark golden nest of hair, lifting the weight of his heavy sacs, letting them settle into my palm. The rampant one convulsed slightly. Fascinated, I leaned down and placed my open mouth at the base of him. His scent held that wild, exciting smell I recognized. I tasted, and drew my tongue up the underside of him to the tip.

Carlisle arched his spine, an almost painful expression on his face, and in a second I was on my back his eyes looking into mine from above. Not tame eyes. Not domesticated, this one. My knees were up, feet on the ground on either side of him. His hips were almost but not quite resting in the cradle of my thighs. He was supporting his upper body on his hands on either side of my shoulders. I wrapped my arms around his back. The rampant one was waiting impatiently to be invited in. I teased him.

"Are you hovering?"

"I am hovering with good reason. Are you ready for me?"

One of his hands swept below to discover that I was hot, slick, and extremely ready for him. He began entering me, sliding slowly, carefully, watching my face for any trace of discomfort. What he saw there was pure bliss. He moved into me until the front of our bodies met, then stopped. We weren't there yet. There was more of him, I wanted all. I tilted my hips up and pulled him in. Our pubic bones banged. He was home. He waited, still, for me to release, to adjust my inner self to his joining. I drew a heavenly breath of him and smiled into his eyes. He stroked, I purred. Long strokes, my purring changed to soft rhythmic sounds. Longer, slower, deeper strokes. I could feel him struggling to hold on to his control. I whispered with ragged breath.

"Let go. Let go for me. I'm climbing, come with me."

His breathing was heavy and his voice hoarse.

"No, I will hurt you."

I wrapped one leg around him, pulling the base of his spine closer to me and held him there. I began to move my hips more aggressively against him pulsing to his rhythm.

"Come with me. Don't send me alone. Come. Come."

His will broke. His body sank onto mine as he gathered me into his arms, growled low and savagely, and met me thrusting and pumping. We rose together, caught breath, lost breath, a moment of infinite stillness, then we fractured together, wildly exultant sounds issuing from both of us.

We came back to earth slowly, still joined, and wet with sweat and sex. He was a very heavy man, lying bonelessly on my torso. I loved the feel of him there, but air was becoming an issue.

"Carlisle, roll over."

"I am hurting you."

On his words we rolled over still joined, his face all concern.

"Crushing the air out of me yes, but believe me, not hurting at all. That was glorious."

His eyes were all over my face, checking for signs of distress.

"I'm perfectly fine you silly man. You've been a doctor too long."

For some reason he seemed to think that amusing, his face relaxed into his beautiful smile.

"You certainly are perfectly fine, mi amante."

His words went directly to my heart and had a thrilling effect on other parts. I involuntarily clenched him inside and was rewarded with a new arousal filling me.

I smiled into his golden eyes and moved my palms to either side of his head. I was hungry again for his kisses. He was ready for my eager mouth, and obliged me in every way. My breath became rapid and shallow as his clever tongue set up an insistent rhythm. I ground my pelvis into him and began a slow circling, then settled into the measured flow of the ancient dance. I eventually lost the pattern of our kissing and lifted my head to draw in a long breath. He shifted his hips up slightly and pulled my hips into him adjusting them a tiny bit and held me there. The pleasure washed over me so rapidly and intensely I had to bite my lips to keep from screaming. I shuddered uncontrollably, and felt him cresting beneath me. The little death took us both.

I came back to life with his hand lovingly stroking my back. I lifted my face from his chest and softly kissed his lips, his chin, his jaw.

"How do you feel."

How did I feel?

"Impossibly happy."

"Impossibly?"

"Nobody could possibly be this happy, not to mention content and filled with joy."

I looked into his face, and impressed every plane and angle of it into my heart's memory.

"You?"

"I feel wonderful. Certain that this was meant to happen, that we were meant to be together, and that this is only the beginning of many such passionate exchanges."

I nestled into his side. His arms encircled me securely. In this perfect place, I fell into a deep and dreamless sleep.

*****************

A some point during the night, Carlisle carried me to my bed. I was aware, but not really awake. He rustled the covers aside and laid me down. I reached for him and he lay down beside me, holding me closely. He spoke softly to me.

"Sparrow, I must leave soon. I have to be at the hospital by seven, and drove here directly from Portland. I will come to you when I get off work. Sleep now, love. I'll hold you until I have to go."

Assured that he wasn't going far away, I mumbled something incoherent, burrowed deep into those arms, kissed his chest, and slept the sleep of the loved.

When I awoke hours later to the smell of freshly brewed coffee, he was gone, but my gown and robe were neatly placed across the foot of the bed, and he had set the timer on my coffee pot to brew at eight a.m. Ridiculously happy, I sipped my coffee and thought about our night and the new relationship we had begun, the touch of him, his perfect body on mine, in mine, his scent surrounding me, and looked forward to another day in what had become paradise.

*****************

It was shortly after noon and I was deep in outlining my study on the Port Angeles Waterfront Trail when the phone rang. His soft voice filled me with delight.

"Good afternoon, my not a morning person."

"Good afternoon yourself, way too cheerful in the morning person. Have I thanked you yet for putting the coffee on?"

"Is that the first thing that pops into your mind about last night?"

I actually blushed alone, at home by myself, thinking about what had gone on last night.

"No, but speaking of you sinking into me that last half inch and us coming together and falling apart in exquisite passion isn't going to do either of us any good just now is it? "

I think I heard him swallow. I'm sure his nostrils flared.

"I asked for that didn't I? Now I've got to go through the remainder of the afternoon wearing my white coat buttoned up. Thank God it's loose fitting."

Listening him refer to concealing Rampant that way made me giggle.

"So, you're coming here after work?"

"Undoubtedly!"

Oh the joy of the double entendre!

"I will be here, waiting."

I grinned foolishly to myself. He was so much fun to tease. And to love.

I worked feverishly until five, confining the thought of our impending meeting in a brain quiet zone, then decided it was time to close shop. Carlisle usually worked a twelve hour day, and he got to work at seven, so, I planned on having enough time to get fed and polished before he got here. I shoved a Lean Cuisine pasta in the microwave and poured a glass of tea. After eating most of the pasta and refilling my tea glass, I brushed my teeth, shaved my legs, showered, and shampooed. I had just lavishly massaged moisturizer into my skin and wrapped up in my robe, when his knock came on the door. For a split second I toyed with the idea of not answering, then I regained my sanity and went to let him in. It was raining outside (of course) and his hair was wet too. Closing the door behind himself he dropped his top coat over the rocker back, and looked me over appreciatively, as I was looking at him.

He always looked as though he'd just stepped from the pages of an expensive magazine. Tonight he had on charcoal flannel trousers, light blue shirt, and soft gray pullover. I know he had shoes on, but I could not drag my eyes away from the rest of him.

"A very wanton look, Sparrow."

"I've always loved that word, so wicked and abandoned."

As I spoke I pressed myself up against him and wrapped my arms around his neck. He lifted me and licked the rivulets that were running from my hair down my neck and into the hollows over my collarbones. Instantly my heat flared, and I murmured into his ear, breathing a little more than necessary.

"I didn't expect you this early."

He spoke while nuzzling my neck.

"I was hungry for you. Shall I leave and come back later?"

In answer, I tugged his head up and planted my lips squarely on his. A few pulse pounding kisses later, he lifted his head enough to look me in the eyes. His were dark and hungry looking.

"Last night I was starved and went straight for the main course. Tonight I thought we might begin with an appetizer."

I thought for maybe a second, not knowing quite where he was going with this.

"I like appetizers."

"Then let's start with a small savory snack."

He shifted me in his arms to carry me like a child, one arm beneath my knees, and the other around my back. Again I was amazed at the easy strength of him. It was delightful to feel so delicate and feminine. He made his way to my bedroom where he deposited me on one side of the bed and swept my robe away. I was still damp from my shower.

He inhaled deeply and smiled his slow, seductive smile, as he sat beside me and placed his hands on either side of my shoulders.

"A perfect, freshly prepared appetizer."

His lips descended on mine once more, and kissed me deeply, sucking my lips, his tongue comprehensively tasting my mouth. He moved to my chin, under one ear, down my neck. I was getting light-headed. He continued traveling at a leisurely pace until stopping between my breasts to speak.

"Hmmmm, I have a dilemma."

It was difficult to concentrate, what with his traveling lips and his silky hair brushing me. I managed a somewhat brainless question.

"What dilemma?"

"Which of these two lovely ladies to taste first."

I was never much of a breast enthusiast, but I'd never been indulged by Carlisle before either.

"Choose one, the other will wait, I guarantee."

I felt his hair tickle my chest, before his cool lips closed with exquisite delicacy on my left nipple. I could not keep from a slight writhe, it felt so wonderful. He circled with his tongue and suckled gently, circle, suckle, alternating until my nipple was peaked, and on the verge of being over sensitized. The clever man licked his way to the right nipple and repeated this torture. I had begun to moan slightly and breathe heavily when he decided to continue sampling his figurative smorgasbord. He nibbled, licked and kissed his way down my body, continuing on a midline progression. He paid tender homage to my belly's button. At this point, he shifted his position to kneeling between my knees, lifting my hips slightly in his two hands. The skillful mouth and tongue continued to travel my body through my woman's hair to the beginning of my cleft. My body knew now where this was all heading and tensed. My breathing turned deep and slow. The pearl concealed inside the opening had begun to throb rhythmically as if begging, "touch me, touch me". He spread my knees wider, exposing my now swollen inner flesh. He drew an uneven breath, and covered me with his mouth. His cool tongue touched my fevered body. My hands which had been gripping the sheet now gripped his hair, and I fought desperately not to pull his head closer. His tongue cooled and excited my hot folds, dipping into me, deeply, repeatedly, and then pressed into the begging pearl, circling, pressing, again and again. I arched high and muffled my screaming climax by biting hard on my lower lip, bringing blood. Frantic now, I grabbed his hair, tugging his head away and up to my lips. I kissed him desperately, mingling the tastes of my sex, my blood, our mouths. His breath was coming faster and harder, his hands held my hips. I needed him now, urgently. I reached for his zipper and had it down and him in my hands in seconds. He was rigid with desire, and cool in my hot hands. I brought him to my opening and he thrust in, not hesitating this time to go deep and entirely.

We rode together, a wild and primal ride, each giving all of ourselves, and accepting all that was given. We had both lost all sense of sense, time, or place. We were one incendiary element, and came together in white hot fusion.

Moments later as we were both shuddering from after tremors, Carlisle, pulled himself from within me, breathing raggedly, and moving away from me, hoarsely whispered.

"I must leave you."

"Now?"

I clutched at him, but he held my arms at bay, kissing and licking briefly across my injured lip, before rising from our rumpled bed.

"Immediately."

I snapped into reality.

"Have I done something…"

"Shhhh, you are incomparable. It is my own devil I must deal with. I will return to you."

He adjusted his clothing and was gone.

I was bereft. Alone had never felt so bad.

After allowing my body to settle, my brain still in confusion over his abrupt leaving, I got up and walked through the house. Too quiet. Too empty. I idly placed my hand on the rocker back as I stared through the living room window at the dark, rainy night. A slight smile curled my lips as my fingers realized what they rested on. He had left his coat. He really would return, at least for his coat, but what drove him away so abruptly?

*****************

I met Tuesday early on. Through the incessant rain before anyone else was even on the highway, I drove to LaPush, with the deep need to not think, to walk the beach, and let the sweet, pure elements blow around me. I was there when the sun rose, a weak lessening of darkness, and I was there hours later when the cold pelting raindrops finally drove me back to the shelter of my car. Thoughts encroached. Why had he fled in what seemed to be panic. Was it something I had done, even though he said not? But what? He spoke of his devil, what had he meant by that? I had no answers. It was up to him. I returned home, got dry and warm, and went to my haven, the gym.

Possibly attempting to subjugate some of my inner turmoil with moving faster, lifting more, pumping harder, I threw myself into class. Endorphins did happen. I was feeling not good, but almost human again by the last set. It was kind of pretty bending and arching until the final movements when we dropped into an animal crouch, (a few of us usually snarled at this point further releasing our "inner animal") dropped our torsos forward, and hands flat on the floor extended our knees fully and rolled up to a standing stretch. A few of these in either direction had great positive effect. Sweat pouring off me in rivulets, I picked up my towel and mopped my face, neck and hair as I started to the bleachers to pick up my sweatshirt, bag and keys.

I saw him then, sitting near the door on the end of the bleachers, looking bleak, elbows on knees, hands clasped together and chin resting on them. I didn't speak as I approached, he didn't either, but rose and held the door open for me. We left the building together and walked toward my car. His was parked beside it. Other people from class passed around us in a hurry to get out of the weather. He stepped in front of me, pulled my sweatshirt more closely around me, drew my hood over my wet hair and stood back a few steps. Giving me room to make a break for it, I guess. Instead, I slowly stepped toward him, he raised his arms slightly in an open, defenseless gesture, and I moved into them wrapping my arms around him, my face nestling into his chest. His familiar scent welcomed me. An arm went round my shoulders and the other gently cradled my head. He held me tenderly against him. He lowered his head and spoke just above my ear.

"My little Sparrow, where have you been? I came by your house before dawn, but your car was gone and you didn't answer my knock. I called you twenty times today and left nineteen messages before admitting that you might not want to talk to me. You weren't in the hospital, there were no unidentified people in accidents for a hundred miles in any direction. You had me almost frantic."

My ears loved the sound of his voice and his words were a balm to my soul. I whispered into his chest.

"You left me."

I looked up, straight into his eyes.

"After the intimacies, our shattering coming together, you left me. Or maybe it wasn't our anything, Carlisle, was it just my mistaken delusion?"

I could hear a huge breath catch in his throat.

"Don't. Don't Sparrow. It was our everything. There are things about me that you do not know, that I wish I could share with you, but that involve other people. I need to keep them safe. I need to keep you safe. Nothing but absolute necessity took me away from you last night. This I swear to you."

His eyes held only golden honesty.

"Then I seriously need a kiss from you, please."

As the rain continued to pour unheeded from the sky, our lips gently clung in the sweetest of kisses.

A sudden clap of thunder startled us apart. Euphoric I laughed into the night.

"Carlisle, we are those people you always hear about, the ones that don't have sense enough to get in out of the rain!"

He flashed a bright white grin at me. Pulling me along, he opened my car door for me and I hopped in. He got in his, and we both started our engines. I yelled at him, "Race ya!" and took out down the highway. In two or three seconds he blew past me and was waiting on my front porch a few minutes later when I pulled in beside his car.

"It must be nice knowing that Chief Swan won't be ticketing you...I've never seen anybody drive so fast."

"Charlie would probably love to give me a ticket, but I fly under the radar."

We were both drenched and I was shivering. Carlisle took my key from me and opened the door. I dropped my sopping sweatshirt on the porch floor. We both pulled off shoes and socks and left them in a heap near the door, and hurried inside. My teeth were chattering, but I managed to say that I needed a hot shower, and I would get him a towel from the linen closet in the bathroom. I was taking down a large beach towel when an arm went around me and pulled me against his chest. He started kissing under my ear and down my neck.

"I think we could both benefit from a nice, hot shower."

My heart started tripping over the possibilities.

"That could be arranged. Also, I could use a cup of tea. I need a moment, would you mind putting a cup of water into the micro for two minutes? "

"Of course. Earl Grey, one lump, and do you have lemon?"

"It's all right there on the tray next to the fridge."

He disappeared, I did what I needed to do, dropped my wet clothes in the basket, lit a few candles and started the water in the shower. I stepped in and had adjusted the temperature to hot when he came back into the room and set my tea down on the sink top. His scent mingling with tea and candles was a heady experience all its own.

I put a tight rein on my lust and turned to see him taking off his undershirt. His slim muscles rippled as he raised his arms over his head. My arteries dilated and blood started pounding through them. He had to know I was watching him through the steamy shower glass, but deliberately didn't acknowledge me, and continued. He hung his shirt on the hook over he door and went straight to his trousers, unbuttoning, unzipping and slipping out of. These got placed on the hook as well. Seeing him now, pale and beautiful in nothing but a pair of sleek black briefs made my breasts tighten and my irises disappear in dark desire. He made short work of the briefs and took the few steps to join me in the shower. I have a fairly large shower, but he and I seemed to fill it and needed to press close together to have enough room to lather up the soap. Our hands full of foamy bubbles, we lavishly spread it all over each other, stopping for kisses along the way and missing nothing of importance. We stood pressed lightly together letting the hot water run over us. My skin was almost sweating in the heat and his took on an unfamiliar warmth. Carlisle reached around me and turned off the water.

Stepping out I picked up a towel and wrapped it around myself like a sarong. He had picked up the other and was beginning to ruffle his hair with it when I reached up and began to assist. Two sets of hands weren't needed so he lowered his to lightly rest on either side of my ribs keeping the connection. I dried his face and continued very thoroughly down to and including his slim feet. Something about kneeling at his feet had me feeling a little yielding. Indulging further in this rare submissive mood, I straightened up on my knees and nuzzled those parts which had given me such pleasure. I felt a jolt go through him, and heard the hiss of an indrawn breath. I kissed his belly, ran my hands along his taut thighs, and caressed his hips. I pressed soft kisses on the sacs lying close at the root of him. I wetly drew my tongue up the underside of him to the head and slipped my mouth around him. His hands had moved to my shoulders. One now moved to the back of my head, clinched, and brought me in closer. He filled my mouth a little more. I ran my tongue around the tip, and protecting him from my teeth, moved up and down his shaft. He stiffened even more and arched into me. I took in what I could, and caressed the rest. I could feel him tensing and my own body was responding to the passion that was building. I loved the rhythm we were creating, and picked up the tempo, mesmerized by the feel and taste and scent of him.

Suddenly he stilled, stopped breathing, and softly shouted my name. The next second he had torn my towel from me, lifted me up, impaled me on himself and was deeply inside. I wrapped my legs tightly around his waist my arms tightly around his shoulders, my head to his head, and met his thrusts with great abandon. His breath stilled and his seed jetted into me. I had a second of sorrow over the fact that I could never conceive with this man, then he shifted me slightly and thrust once bringing me to a place of pure ecstasy. We clung together holding each other until the earth stopped shaking. Lifting me slowly off and down, Carlisle picked up my towel and finished drying me. I folded both towels and hung them neatly, side by side, over the towel bar.

*****************

I glanced up at his clothes hanging on the door hook. I spoke a little unsteadily.

"Your clothes are still very wet. Let me put them in the dryer for a few minutes. I think the delicate setting will be okay for them."

I pulled his trousers and undershirt off the hook, snagged his briefs off the floor and went searching for his sweater. I found it and tossed everything in the dryer in the kitchen.

He stood with a grin on his face watching me suddenly become very domestic.

"Thank you Sparrow."

I was a little shy about going around bare with this beautiful man in the house, but I could learn to live with it. I went into the guest room and brought out a robe.

"I have a robe of my Dad's you could put on if you like."

He raised his eyebrows at me.

"I'm comfortable if you are."

I smiled at him and hugged Dad's robe, but didn't put it on.

"I'm very tired. It's been a long emotional roller coaster of a day. Come sit in bed with me while your clothes are drying?"

"Would you rather me to go now so you can get some sleep? Wet clothes won't kill me."

"No, I don't want you to go just yet. Let's talk to each other. We need to understand today."

"Yes we do. We will talk as long as it takes."

He took my hand and we went into the bedroom. He detoured into the bathroom and retrieved my tea cup.

"Is this tea still drinkable or shall I make you fresh cup?"

"The tea is fine, thank you."

I drank half of it, sighed happily, and set the cup on the bedside table.

He sat with his back against a pillow at the head of the bed. I lay down with my head resting on his thigh, and Dad's robe pulled over me. A mirror surrounded by tiny white lights hung over my bed and cast a soft glow over us.

"Will you tell me about today and why I couldn't reach you?"

He toyed with my hair. I took his other hand and idly played with his fingers.

"Backing up to last night, after you spoke of your devil and fled as if a dozen of them were after you, I was afraid that you weren't coming back. That our relationship was over and I couldn't figure out what went wrong. I tossed around in bed for a couple of hours, but sleep was not going to happen, so I got in my jeep and went to LaPush to walk on the beach. It's so elemental, and makes my troubles seem so petty and unimportant. I'm a speck in the grand scheme and the universe does not revolve around me. I get my perspective back. It took hours today, and wasn't until the cold rain started pounding on me that I gave into it, and if you'd left me, you'd left me, and I was still alive and functional. I had had those extraordinary days and nights and nothing would ever make me forget them or you."

He shifted lower in the bed and closed his arms around me so that my head was on his shoulder his head touching the top of mine.

"You are that unsure of me Little Sparrow? You shouldn't be. You needn't be."

"Carlisle, I have a plethora of insecurities, the you and me concept isn't an exception."

"When I left last night you were only half conscious. I did tell you I'd be back, and left my coat so you knew I meant it. I did have to leave you, and I had to leave in a hurry. What I can say is that our passion created in me a huge hunger. A real and desperate hunger, and when I am that hungry, it can be...unpleasant. I had to get home. I thought you would be sleeping, so I held off until just after dawn to come over. I wanted to reassure you. You weren't here, so I started calling. It finally occurred to me that maybe you didn't want to talk to me. Maybe I had lost you. I even thought that maybe you'd been in an accident while going somewhere. Through our EMTs I found that you were not in any hospital, and not in any know accidents. Now that I know you were all alone at LaPush during a storm, I'm frantic all over again. You are such a little mite, a wave could have swept you out I would never have found you. That horrifies me."

We were quiet then for a while, softly touching whatever parts were available of each other. Each of us thinking our own thoughts, mulling and digesting what the other had said. A fact rolled around in my mind.

"You knew where to come looking for me."

"I knew that if you were all right and in town you would show up at that gym. Its your drug."

"It's definitely my snake oil."

"Besides, I like watching you in those skimpy little exercise clothes."

"Lech."

"I'll show you lech!"

Carlisle tossed me off him and began kissing me in all sorts of wonderful ways and indecent places. This was fun, he was fun. I really love this man. Even better, I think I can trust him.

One kiss landed on my mouth, and stayed there a while. We slid and rolled until he was stretched out on top of me, our arms flung wide, hands clasped, his long legs between mine. He slipped slowly into my body, and ever so gently we rocked in the primitive rhythm until we reached a different climax, a closer, more intimate release, shuddering close in each other's arms.

Without moving his body he spoke first, in his doctor voice and close in my ear.

"I know that you are an independent soul. But now I am in your life, and I mean to stay in it. If we ever part, it will be with mutual and very clear understanding. Otherwise, all partings are temporary. Are you hearing me?"

"Yes."

"If either of us decides to, or has to, go somewhere out of the ordinary or at an unusual time, it is the responsibility of that person to let the other person know about it. Is this clear and acceptable?"

"Yes, completely."

His voice changed back to the meltingly sweet one I knew.

"You mean too much to me, amante, I can't bear it if you disappear."

A few hot tears rose in my eyes as I returned his avowal.

"Your disappearance would surely break my heart. I am so sorry for frightening you."

We stayed together for another while, then Carlisle sighed and spoke.

"I have rounds to make at the hospital yet tonight and long shifts the rest of the week."

He reluctantly rose from the bed and went into the bathroom to wash away some of the scent of our lovemaking and make order of his hair.

I wrapped my robe around me, retrieved his clothes from the dryer and brought them to him.

"These are still a bit damp and creased, fortunately your top coat is dry."

He flashed me an impish grin and dressed quickly.

"I have other clothes at the hospital, no one will notice that I am less than my usual impeccable self."

We linked arms and walked to the front door. A swift kiss goodbye.

"Until tomorrow. I'll make a mad dash in the rain. You stay safe and warm in here, mi amante."

He was gone and out the driveway.

My emotional equilibrium again in balance, I waltzed my way into my little office. I opened my laptop and smiled at the stolen picture of him that I'd sent myself from my phone. I'd taken it that day in the hospital when he was standing talking to the older couple. Lucky, lucky me. Not at all sleepy I began to plan my schedule for the travel piece on the Port Angeles Waterfront Trail. I had deadlines even if they were self imposed. For the next few hours I lost myself in calendar, outlines, and proposed topics.

By three a.m. I had a plan. If Carlisle was going to to busy this coming week, I might as well get some work done. I texted Carlisle telling him that I was off to Port Angeles for a few days to write and take pictures and would be staying at the Indian Valley Motel, a charming old fashioned single level structure with parking right in front of the door, and bougainvillea climbing the white porch supports. I threw a weeks worth of clothes in my

canvass bag, stacked my camera, laptop, printer and plenty of paper by the front door. I went to bed, a woman content.

*****************

When I awoke at nine, I poured a cup of coffee, checked my phone and found several text messages from Carlisle. The first one thanked me for telling him, and wished me a productive time and said that he would see me soon. The second warned me to be careful, not to get lost in the woods no matter how beautiful, not to go alone to the beach if it was either stormy, at night, or both, no matter how much I was drawn to it, and that he would talk to me soon. The third was a little sad and made my heart squeeze. It said only, 'Be Safe. I miss you already'.

I texted back that I would heed all of his advice, be very safe, and that I missed him more. I ended with lots of silly x's and o's and hit the send button before I could change my mind. I got ready, grabbed my stuff and set out for Port Angeles.

Driving my own jeep, it took about an hour to reach the motel which is located some thirteen miles west of Port Angeles. I checked in, stashed my stuff, stepped out and headed for Granny's Cafe, right up the road from the motel. Granny's had the reputation for having the best breakfasts anywhere, and she didn't let me down. Ridiculously full and content, I returned to the room and set up shop. I had divided my areas of exploration into five sections, and set out on the first one.

Port Angeles got a lot more sun than did Forks, even though only 60 miles separated them. It was a sunny yellow day, and I figured I could get most of the six and a half mile Waterfront Trail covered. In fact I wrote some really good copy and snapped great pictures, thanks to the sunshine, of the entire trail by 7 p.m. I took it all back to the motel, then headed over to Granny's for supper. They made incredible onion soup and garlic bread. I feasted, and hauled myself back to the motel for the night. I was propped in bed by ten with a decadent cup of tea. I texted Carlisle saying that I was restless, and sad not to be able to share events of the day with him, and kiss his face, and that I definitely missed him more. His reply came not ten minutes later. He wished that people in Forks would stop having accidents that left them needing to be repaired and stitched, wished that the flu virus had not decided to visit early this year, that he could come to me, and that he most assuredly missed me most.

Precious little love letters. I stuck my phone under the pillow and slept.

Thursday and Friday found me up and down the completed portions of the Olympic Discovery Trail on either side of Port Angeles, Elwha River to Ediz Hook on the west, and along the Strait of Juan de Fuca on the east. I had spoken to Carlisle only once yesterday, they had been besieged at the hospital with flu, even Dr. Harmon had succumbed to it, and there was a virtual epidemic of broken bones, but we were getting very good with quickie texts, all ending with who missed who more. There was no doubt in my mind that I missed him most, it was a nagging ache that was always with me. Looking across the strait at tonight's sunset of nothing less than biblical magnificence I would have given years of my life to share this with him, to have his arms around me, to feel his strength and deep caring.

I settled for the next best thing and fished my phone out of my bag, snapped a picture of the sunset, and sent it to him along with a brief concise voice message.

"The way I feel watching this sunset is how I feel every time I look at you. Miss you most."

I remained there well into darkness feeling the peace of the area mingle with my loneliness for Carlisle. My phone rang softly to life, a silly old sentimental ring that I used exclusively for his calls.

"Hello!"

"Why am I not there with you?"

"Because you are single handedly keeping Forks from perishing. Without you they would all become ash and vanish in the wind. Have you even left the hospital since Wednesday?"

"No, I've been here along with those of the staff who haven't also come down ill. This flu is especially virulent. The good news is, the antiviral works extremely well. Even better, the Clallam County health department is sending in reinforcements as soon as they can find any, but for now, we'll have to do. Ordinarily it wouldn't be so bad, and I can accept missing the brilliant sunset, but your sweet siren voice has me close to the end of what I can endure."

He melted my heart.

"Do you have any idea what it does to my insides when you say things like that? You unravel me. I can be back in two hours."

"Absolutely not. You stay out of Forks until this outbreak slows down. I mean that."

"Is your family well?"

"Edward and Bella took Renesme to Seattle and will stay as long as they need to. No one else is worried. We are a remarkably healthy brood."

"You are in the thick of it, please take good care of yourself. I'll let you go, I know you're more than busy."

"Sparrow?"

"Yes?"

"I love you."

"I love you too."

We disconnected. His words had shocked me, changed me, and I was uncertain just how I felt about that.

I held the phone to my heart, as if it were an extension of him. It was cold, but I found a local coffee shop and sat bundled up outside for hours, in the clean, pure air, hearing in my mind the words he had actually spoken to me. And, of course, the great truth I had replied.

*****************

I awoke Saturday to icy wind and rain squalls, and a "Good morning, lovely. Miss you most of all" message on my phone, so after breakfasting at Granny's, and armed with a thermos of strong coffee, I used the time to plug the information I had been gathering into templates. I had some good copy, and really spectacular pictures, or more correctly, some pictures of really spectacular scenery. I needed a break around four p.m. and made myself drive east into Port Angeles instead of racing back toward Forks. I found a dark little Italian restaurant and had some wonderful pasta. While reading the local scene newspaper, I ran across an ad for classical guitar music at a nearby church. The musicians were the same Carlisle and I had heard before. This Monday, day after tomorrow in fact, they were performing selections from Joaquin Rodrigo's Concierto de Aranjuez, including the Adagio, probably the most exquisitely romantic composition ever. As I would not be returning to Forks, I would go and fill my soul with music and pretend that he was sitting beside me. Every tiny piece of me wanted to talk to him, but I knew that would just make it harder for him to stay and do what he needed to do. Instead, I sent him a little text message, "Wish you were here, but stay there, they need you more. Miss you infinitely."

Revived by excellent food and not wanting to lie awake and wallow in useless longings, I continued working until a little after 2 a.m. when I felt satisfied with this section of the study. I turned off the light, snuggled down in the warm bed, and let the thunder lull me.

Pulled from a dead sleep, I could hear Carlisle's ring, but couldn't find the phone in the dark. I listened under the covers, then over the side. Louder. It had fallen off and somehow gotten under the bed. I was able to retrieve it before it went to voicemail and answered somewhat breathlessly.

"Carlisle? Is everything all right?"

"Yes! Clallam County Health Dept. sent in a whole team and most of our staff were told to go home, get some rest, and not come back for at least 48 hours. Numbers of new patients with flu symptoms are leveling off, and although it's early to tell yet, we are optimistic that the outbreak has peaked."

"That's wonderful news. Have you gotten the new team sorted out yet?"

"Fortunately, our administrative and clerical people had remained on proper work shifts, even though some of them were flu affected. There is a fresh, well and rested shift in now, so sorting went smoothly. The county medical staff are competent and highly efficient, although a bit pushy. They sent me home as well."

"I'm sure your family was delighted."

"They were. However, I surprised them by leaving again."

My heart started to hammer in hope.

"Where are you?"

"In my car parked beside your car. I don't know which room you're in…"

I'm sure I squealed, but disentangled myself from the covers, and had the door open before he even finished his sentence.

Then mercifully, he was out of his car and embracing me. How glorious he smelled and felt. Four days without him was an eternity. Brought to my senses by the lightning, I tugged him the rest of the way into my room. He shut the door behind him with his foot, and we held onto each other for a few moments more. He brought his delicious lips to mine. That slow longing ache started low in my belly. Feeling those lips turn up into a smile, I looked into his glorious golden eyes. He murmured.

"I really did miss you most."

I licked the outline of those lips and murmured back.

"Did not."

It was only a few steps to the bed. Before we reached it, we had shed our clothes, and were pressed firmly together, his cool, hard body to my rapidly overheating soft one. Into the early morning we lay touching, tasting, loving, being, together.

Eventually I, replete and exhausted, rolled off of him and flopped onto my side of the bed. Amused I thought about that. My side of the bed. Only a few hours ago it had been my bed. Now he had full possession of one side of if. His side. Our bed. I mentally hugged that thought close to my heart. He certainly had changed everything. He had rolled to his side, had his head propped on his elbow and was looking at my face.

"You are happy aren't you."

It was a statement, not a question.

"I am definitely and without doubt the happiest woman in the universes known and unknown."

"Pretty vast."

Emotional tears filled my eyes, one spilled over and rolled across my cheek. His hand wiped it tenderly away, the one man in forever who didn't ask the stupid question, 'why are you crying'. I needed to leave our nest for a few moments to get control of myself or I would start spilling passionate words of love all over him. I gently disengaged from him and kissed his hand.

I padded into the bathroom and leaned against the sink, trembling, amazed at the incredible power this love thing had over me. He asked nothing from me, just generously gave of himself, and he was rapidly becoming the sun around which I orbited. Pulling it together a little I finished up in the bathroom, and returned to bed. He was sitting, his back against the headboard, watching me. A slight frown crossed his face.

"You're favoring your foot again."

"I've been walking miles for days, it'll be fine."

"Lie down and give it to me. "

I plopped down on my stomach faced away from him and presented him with my foot. He massaged it until I was purring, then moved on to my calf. He then worked on the other foot and calf and then slowly worked his way up, long strokes on my thighs, kneading into the big muscles of my hips, and palms and thumbs running up and down my back. It was deliciously sensual. He was loving my skin with his firm talented hands. I was drifting off when a little reality struck me and I rolled over to speak to him, his hand sliding to my belly.

"Blast Carlisle! I'm a hedonistic sloth. You've got to be exhausted and I'm allowing you to pamper me."

"But I get to pamper you so very little. It's pleasurable to me as well, you know."

I slithered around until I was sitting next to him. Looking into his peaceful eyes, examining his calm face, I couldn't see weariness, but it had to be there.

"You've been working nonstop since Wednesday and it's early Sunday. Aren't you tired?"

He started to speak, then seemed to rethink and, in a somewhat surprised tone answered.

"You know Sparrow, I have been working a very long time. I think I might be tired."

"Then let's do this the right way. Lie down and put your head on the pillow. Let me scoot down and get my arm under your neck, tuck your head under my chin and your cheek can rest on my breast."

He sighed and spoke, his lips against me.

"A much softer, more fragrant pillow."

I stroked his soft hair, his angular jaw, his shoulder, then laid my arm across his chest.

"Rest yourself, my love."

He pulled the covers over us and tucked the blanket in around me, then settled his arm outside the blanket, securely over me. He relaxed and I fell into a blissful slumber.

Some tiny sound woke me. I yawned and stretched and felt incredibly serene. What time was it? Had he left yet? I raised my head to look at the bedside clock through the dim daylight. Nine thirty. The drapes were open just enough to show another cold, mizzly day. He didn't seem to be in the room, but he'd be back, or leave me word. I knew this now. I got up and went into the bathroom. There on the side of the sink sat a few men's toiletries, and a comb that wasn't mine. I ran a finger reverently down the spine of that comb. A slow smile started in my heart. I walked out into the main room and there, hanging in the little cubby closet was a set of clothing that was definitely not mine either. The smile grew until it felt like one huge grin that wanted to bubble into laughter. I put my robe on, wrapped my arms around myself and went to peer out the window. His leaving the room must have been what awakened me, because he was now on his way back from Granny's carrying a large, steaming cup and a small bag.

I hugged myself tightly to keep from bursting with joy. This truly exquisite man was coming back to me. What on earth had I ever done to deserve him?

I met him at the door, opening it enough for him to slip in while keeping out the cold. He leaned over for a quick kiss, set the cup and bag down on the nearest table and removed his wet parka.

"Good morning sleepy head. What? You look like a particularly happy little bird with a question."

I whispered.

"Are you staying?"

"Unless you toss me out, I'm here and yours today and tomorrow."

I hugged him close and sent to heaven a heartfelt and grateful thank you.

"All this and coffee too."

"And biscuits".

The joy did bubble over then in exuberant laughter in which he joined me.

He passed me my coffee. I took a long drink. Strong, sweet and creamy. Perfect. The biscuits were hot and slathered with butter. A tiny pot of blackberry jam accompanied, the contents of which quickly joined the butter. I offered him the first bite, as one does with all gods, he of course, politely refused. I took a mighty mouthful and chewed slowly, while making appreciative sounds. It was nothing short of divine. He sat watching me, his smile relaxed and eyes holding that twinkle he has when he's happy.

"Watching you enjoy your food is almost a religious experience."

I licked a stray crumb from my lip and studiously ignored his comment. I often wondered when and what he ate. I'd seen all of him and never come across any tube or port for food, and I would have noticed. Did he have to inject his nutrition? Unpleasant for him if so, but he never seemed stressed about it, so whatever, it worked for him. In time, if he so chose, he would tell me.

I could eat only one biscuit, and sighing in contentment, put the other away for later.

"Thank you, that was heavenly. Is there anything you particularly wanted to do today?"

"Well…"

He glanced wickedly toward the rumpled bed.

"We can rest later (he interjected a loud hoot of laugher), I have some gorgeous places to share with you. Pity it's miserable out today, we'll miss the sunset."

"We'll share a sunset together soon, I promise."

He waited patiently while I dressed for weather. I won the toss to drive and we climbed into my jeep. I drove us to Pillar Point County Park, west of Port Angeles and parked on a rocky beach access. We climbed out of the jeep and met at the front to clasp hands. Together we walked along the water's edge skirting the forest, then following a sharp bend in the terrain, we were confronted by a bay filled with seabirds. Last night's storm had brought these birds out in the hundreds and now they were peacefully riding the waters. As we stood watching, an eagle soared overhead, disappearing into the tall trees. Loons sang their mournful song to each other across the bay.

We stopped close together, I leaned into him and shared my thoughts.

"It's such a mental rolfing, standing at this bay between immense sea and towering forest, being just another of God's creatures."

He quoted quietly into the Sunday,

"All things bright and beautiful,

All creatures great and small,

All things wise and wonderful,

The Lord God made them all."

Neither of us moved, not wanting to break the spell of unity with our surroundings, until a dozen white winged scoters rose into sky on some mission of their own. Other birds, alarmed, followed suit. We too moved away from the shore and up into the forest.

As we walked, we could hear water rushing along swollen creeks to the Pysht River and birds rustling and grumbling in the wet canopy. My hands had loosed his, and were busy touching the texture of bark, the fronds of the fern. HIs were casually clasped behind his back. Avoiding its nasty thorns I leaned over to inhale the fragrance of a late blooming rosa nootka, the wild rose that would soon produce beautiful red hips that would make excellent winter tea. I brushed my lips across a scarlet scented petal.

"You kissed that rose?"

"I kiss everything that I...hold dear."

"And you also kiss that which you love?"

"As often and as thoroughly as I can."

He reached out for me and gently enfolded me in his arms. He touched my lips in a kiss as soft and sweet and cool as the petal of that rose. I quickened inside as always with him, and wrapped my arms beneath his coat, around his rib cage. Our kisses deepened, heated, until we were both shaken, then parted lips and rested forehead to forehead. I loved this man with a madness, the intensity of which I could never have imagined.

We ambled a while longer through the forest and into the late, chilling afternoon, until we emerged near where the jeep was parked. I tossed him the keys, and climbed into the passenger's side retrieving a partially filled bottle of water from the back seat and draining it. He got in, fired up the engine and we retraced the miles to our motel.

"If you'd like, we'll ask Rosalie to tune this up and put a little more power in it. She'd enjoy the challenge."

"Rosalie is the mechanic in your family?"

"All of us love fast cars and drive accordingly. Rosalie has the skill and patience to take any of our cars apart entirely, repair anything, and put it back together better in the least possible time. "

He started to say something else but stopped, pressed his lips together, glanced for a long moment at me, then decided to say it after all.

"Sparrow, my family wants to meet you."

There. That land mine was finally out in the open.

"This weekend away from home was a little too much for them to ignore, was it?"

"The weekend and other things. I am more distracted than usual, a little less receptive than normal, and there are the unexplained absences. Nothing of note individually, but Edward is very attuned to my emotional state and told me as I was leaving to come up here that they knew I was 'seeing someone' who meant quite a lot to me, and that they wanted to meet you."

My head had begun to pound. Was this to be it then? They would be expecting someone youthful and beautiful like Esme, like him. What could they think but that our pairing was ridiculous and family up on him to end it. It was always dangerous to rise to the crest of happiness, it was that much farther to fall to the bottom.

I didn't say anything the rest of the way back, but huddled deep into my parka and tried to keep my face neutral. He didn't push me but his face held a look of concern.

I was shivering by the time we pulled into the parking lot, cold as though I had ridden all the way back on top of the jeep instead of inside it. I was almost sick as I got out and waited for him to open the door to the room. He took me by the shoulders and gently pushed me into a chair. From the closet he took down a wooly blanket and wrapped it all around me, then went into the bathroom and started drawing water in the tub.

"I'm so sorry, Carlisle. You know they're going to think I'm horribly wrong for you."

"They would be wrong and they're pretty good about not jumping to conclusions. Don't move from that chair. I'm going to get you some food. You're cold, hungry, and I shouldn't have blurted it out like that. I forget that you don't see yourself as the lovely woman I see."

He left for Granny's.

I didn't move except to crumple my head down to rest on my knees. I had emptied myself of all thoughts. If I could just keep it that way. That old emotional bleeder had burst open again, and if he stayed away long enough, it just might drain me dry.

It seemed only seconds though before Carlisle was coming back in the door with hot, aromatic potato soup and tea. He bent down on his haunches in front of me lifting my face. His face so full of compassion it was almost my undoing. God knows what he saw in mine. He put the tea down and wrapped my fingers around the soup cup.

'Take this and drink it carefully, it's hot.'

He watched to make sure his instructions had registered, then went into the bathroom. As I drank the thick, rich pureed soup, I could hear him rustling around. I heard my bath salts being splashed into the water, being swished to dissolve them, and soon smelled the soothing lavender fragrance. He came back into the bedroom, opened my laptop, and started streaming beautiful music. I had been right all along. He truly was an angel.

And I was an idiot. This man loved me. This kind man who at this very moment was standing in front of me stripped to his trousers, bare chested and footed, his hand held out, loved me. I put my mostly empty soup cup on the table and my hand in his. He pulled me to my feet and into his arms. I pressed my face into his chest and inhaled deeply. His fresh piney herb scent renewed my soul. He picked up my tea cup, rid me of my blanket and jacket, and drew me with him into the steamy bathroom. Sufficient light was coming in from the bedroom, no additional was needed.

"I feel very foolish. They are, after all, your family, who love you very much, not ogres."

"Don't apologize for having intensely human feelings. It is, after all, what you are."

The cup he set on the corner of the tub. He pulled the sweater over my head and dropped it on the floor to join his shirt. My bra followed. I kicked off my shoes and he peeled off my socks to join the growing pile of discarded clothes. He unzipped and I wriggled out of my jeans, and undies. He drew a quick uneven breath and with both hands stroked each side of me shoulder to hip. I unzipped his trousers and knelt to draw them down. I made a second trip to peel his briefs from his slender hips. Rampant was waiting for me, expectantly. I gave him a quick kiss in passing.

"Bide your time, Rampant."

Before leaving that neighborhood, I looked a question up at Carlisle, who was looking at me with darkening eyes. His lips quirked, as he smiled down on me.

"Bide your time, Sparrow, bide your time. Let me get in first and warm up, my body is too chilled tonight to hold you comfortably."

He stepped in and sank beneath the bubbles stretching his lean muscular arms along the sides of the tub and resting his head at the back. A jolt from the womb hit me. This beautiful golden man, up to his neck in lavender scented bubbles, was wanting me, expecting me, to join him.

I sat on the edge of the tub and in the shadow play of light from the other room I devoured his face with my eyes. I sipped my tea, and was content.

When he thought he'd absorbed enough heat, he sat up, held out a hand to me and I joined him. Old bathtubs were the absolute best, enough room for two to settle comfortably. I stepped carefully into the tub between his legs and sat down. I snuggled back against him, and we both slid down just enough so that we were mostly covered by the hot fragrant water with our feet propped up on the opposite end of the tub. I turned my face and nuzzled the jaw that was pressed up against it. His arms came around me under the water and one thumb stroked serenely across a breast. We didn't speak for a while, enjoying the music, enjoying each other. He spoke first.

"I'll tell them they'll just have to wait to meet you."

"Oh, it's got to happen sooner or later. It may as well be sooner, but not tomorrow, please. I want us to have a simple, ordinary, day together."

"A day together sounds perfect. Simple pleasures, my Sparrow."

"The best kind, my Carlisle."

His caressing hand changed, became more arousing, his other hand followed suit with my other breast. Then both hands began to sweep down my body as far as he could reach and back again. Soapy slick and sensuous. I could feel Rampant begin to throb against my lower back. I arched, pressing closer to him, and raised my arms up and around the back of Carlisle's head. Lethargy struck my legs, and they fell slightly apart, my outer thighs settling against his inner ones. His right hand flattened and slid down the front of my body, settling over my mound. His longest finger slid deep into me while the palm of his hand set a rhythmic circling over the pearl. His left hand secured my hip so I couldn't move very far away from the pleasure, I began a slow contract and release in my lower back as well as clamping hard on him with my inner muscles. His lower body was responding to my back's friction against him. I could feel his tension coiling. He was creating a tempest inside me that would soon erupt into chaos. Seconds away, pulsing, riding the wave, almost painfully, I clutched his hair, then in a blinding release I keened his name and shattered into a million tiny fragments.

He brought me with him out of the tub, and within heartbeats we were across the bed with him inside me. Riding, almost uncontrolled, dark eyed and breathing heavily. I reveled in his excitement. His arms were above me, gripping the edge of the bed, as he thrust into me, touching my womb. I thrust back, matching his cadence, coming close to matching his wildness. My arms were around his chest, my fingers clutching his back. I slid my hands to his hips and filled my hands with him drawing him ever closer, shortening the thrusts, I could feel his hair on my face, his face rubbing along my neck, his mouth on my skin. His breath shortened, quickened. He stilled, gasped a harsh, rumbling sound, clinched his teeth, and dropped his head on the bed beside me as he came into me. I followed him over the edge into the abyss.

He surfaced first, and in a hoarse whisper spoke.

"Sparrow…"

I dragged in a huge breath and felt his kiss on my mouth..

"I need to leave you for a little while. Just a short while. Stay here, stay warm, I will be back soon. I promise. I love you."

He had dropped a blanket over me, dressed and was out the door before I fully regained my senses. I only knew he had to leave. For a short while, then he would be back with me. He said so. He loved me. I rolled over to my side on the damp bedspread, pulled up the blanket and slept.

*****************

I didn't awaken until morning, and then found myself snugly tucked under the covers. Carlisle was sitting in the chair across from me, reading the paper. He heard me rustle and looked over, his face relaxed and smiling, his eyes that buttery golden that meant he was, what, happy, content, at peace?

"Good morning, beautiful man."

A look of slight pain crossed his face and his voice sounded a little appalled.

"Really Sparrow, beautiful?"

"Well, you are."

He rolled his eyes and shook his head, but grinned at me.

"And you, look very sleepy, warm and delectable."

He proceeded to come over and nibble me until I giggled and pounded him over the head with a pillow. This disintegrated rapidly into an inevitable pillow fight. Would have made a really weird video...an impeccably groomed and dressed man trading pillow swats with a naked, wild haired madwoman. Late night t.v. maybe.

Eventually I had to stop for breath and flopped onto the bed. He grabbed my pillow away, tossing them both behind him. Shaking his head he looked at me assessingly, possessively.

"Wanton woman…"

I grinned. I loved being described that way.

"Up. Get dressed. A simple, ordinary day awaits us, but only if you get up. You're going to start with breakfast at Granny's, but if you get up within the next 10 seconds, I'll go get you a cup of coffee. 10."

I lay there thinking about that.

"7, 6…"

Pushing it, I remained.

"5, 4…"

"I'm up! I'm getting dressed."

l said while hauling myself off the bed and into the bathroom.

A few minutes later as I was stepping out of the bathroom an arm reached out to me bearing a cup of steaming, fragrant coffee. I seized it.

"Oh, I adore you!"

"The coffee?"

"No silly, the coffee bearer."

He chuckled and left me to my getting ready. It didn't take long. I hadn't expected to go anyplace especially not with him, and had brought mostly hiking clothes. Fortunately I had one nice deep red jersey top, and a clean pair of brown cords. I never left home without several pairs of shoes, however, and pulled on a pair of brown socks and chocolate brown flats. I brushed on a little mascara, and colored lip gloss, rumpled my hair, shook it out, and called it good. Humming with a cup of coffee inside me, I emerged from the bathroom, ready for the day.

He had resumed his place in the chair, and was again reading the paper. He had on black socks and loafers, dark charcoal wool slacks, a light blue-grey pullover on top of a pale blue shirt, open at the collar. His perfect hair was slightly ruffled, probably happened rushing back with the coffee. No one should be allowed to look that good.

We put on our outer coats and walked to Granny's where I had a wonderful breakfast. Mindful of how he felt about my eating, I tried to avoid eye contact with him, but was, of course, unsuccessful. I couldn't keep my eyes off of him. He was watching me with that quirky smile.

I finished in good time, and sighed my contentment. I went back to the room to visit the bathroom and brush my teeth. The day was cold and cloudy, but still. Probably working up a real storm for tomorrow. I met him at the door, and off we went.

We held hands and strolled along the waterfront, watching seabirds dive for their breakfast, and making up stories about who was on boats we saw off in the distance, and where they might be going. We talked of the music we would hear tonight at the church. We visited the Feiro Marine Life Center and dabbled our fingers in the water, playing with little crabs in their borrowed shells, and gently stroking sea cucumbers and starfish in the indoor tide pool petting zoo. It was time for a cup of tea for me, so we headed for the tea room we had seen earlier. Being in no rush, we window shopped on the way, sharing our opinions on pieces of art, new cell phones, ladies and menswear. Something caught his eye beyond the window in the clothing boutique.

"I'd like to go in here."

"Nothing in your size here."

"No, but maybe in yours."

We went in, glancing at the merchandise on either side. He had a destination, however, and we soon stopped in front of a dress hanging on the front end of a display. It was lovely. Sleeveless, low cut sweetheart front, and lower curved back, fitting snugly through the waist and over the hips, then flaring to a slightly stiffened ruffled knee length hem. It was the color of a tequila sunrise Golden apricot on top blending to flame at the bottom.

"Sparrow, try this on."

"I would, it's gorgeous, but I can tell you that this dress, in no matter what size, will be too long for me. It's got to hit just at the knee."

The saleslady, having seen his interest, heard our words, and came over.

"She's correct. It does have to hit just right. So, how about looking at it in a petite size?"

She gestured behind her and sure enough, there was a rather extensive petite section, complete with the dress in question.

She pulled a couple of sizes off the rack and headed toward the dressing area. I could only assume I was to follow. Carlisle came along, and lounged gracefully in a chair just outside the fitting rooms.

I tried on the first dress. The color warmed my fair skin, and looked great with my dark hair. Unfortunately, I am rather well endowed on top, and it was a little too snug, although it fit perfectly through the waist and hips and the hem was right. I tried on the next size, figuring that if the bust fit, everything else was sure to be too big and long. The saleslady had been several steps ahead of me. This dress was a size larger, but in a short petite. I held my breath and slipped it on. The bodice fit like a glove, and the skirt flowed over my hips to the perfect hem length. It was an absolute dream of a dress. I have to admit, I looked pretty good in it. I checked the price tag, and only grimaced slightly. I could do it. It was really reasonable for such a bewitching article. I'd be a little overdressed, but I could wear it tonight, for him.

The saleslady knocked softly on the door. I opened it for her. She ran a professional eye over me and then her face relaxed into a smile.

"You've got to show him this."

I made a move toward the door...her upheld hand stopped me.

"Lose the shoes and socks."

I quickly shed shoes and socks, and in bare feet I stepped out of the dressing area to where he was sitting. He was watching me and stood as I arrived. I felt slightly embarrassed and flushed a little. He was looking at my face, and I could see his pupils dilate. His eyes ran appreciatively over me then returned to my eyes.

"That dress was created for you."

I ran my hands lovingly down the fabric.

"It is something isn't it?"

He ran his hand lovingly down my arm.

"You are something. The dress lets you shine. You know, with those bare feet you look a little…"

"Don't say it!"

Wanton, he was thinking wanton. Dear Lord, when he looks at me like that…

I thought the saleslady might swoon. I thought I might. I looked over at her and nodding my head, spoke.

"I will definitely take this."

I went back into the fitting room to remove it. The saleslady came in to take it from me for wrapping up.

"Do you perhaps have a wrap of sorts that will go with this?"

"I certainly have...you'll need something around your shoulders even inside in this weather."

She was leaving, hesitated, then spoke her mind.

"Honey, hang on tight to that one. There isn't another like him."

We exchanged heartfelt, old as Eve woman-to-woman looks.

"Don't I know it."

I scrambled back into my clothes, shoes and socks, and tidied myself, hugging the thought of wearing that dress for him close to my heart.

He was waiting at the sales counter and the saleslady had a very smooth, blank professional look on her face. I came over to see what kind of wrap she had. It was a soft, delicate cashmere shawl in the same rosy apricot as in the middle section of the dress. A delicious confection. I wrapped it around my shoulders and asked Carlisle.

"What do you think?"

His eyes spoke before he did.

"Definitely tempting."

"And I will have the shawl as well."

"He thought you might."

She had already folded the dress in tissue paper, and boxed it. She did the same for the shawl, put both in a bag, passed it to me by the handles, and thanked me as if we were finished.

I figured Carlisle had flustered her. It could happen to anyone.

"Um, I haven't purchased them yet."

She spoke, and as she did, glanced at Carlisle.

"They have been purchased."

I swiveled around and stared up at him, my color rising.

"You paid for them?"

He answered softly, staring down at me and raising an eyebrow.

"I did."

I turned back to the saleslady and thanked her for her assistance, then started out the door. He was there before me and opened it. I sailed out, headed for the nearest bench and sat down. He came and sat beside me.

"I can't let you pay for these."

"Why?"

"They're too expensive, for one thing."

"I'm a doctor, I make way too much money anyway. You paid for the room we are staying in."

"That's different. I was already staying there, and I can certainly afford to buy my own clothes."

"What's the real reason?"

"Okay, having you buy clothes for me makes me feel, well, a little kept."

"Kept."

He searched my face, and discovered embarrassment there. He touched my cheek with the back of his hand.

"My Sparrow, how foolish the men in your past must have been. How wise you were to have chucked them. We are lovers. It is the prerogative of every man to give gifts to his lover. What makes you happy, also makes me happy. You, kept? Never happen. Your independent spirit is in great part what drew me to you in the first place."

My argument quickly crumbling in the gentle honesty of his words and the look of sincerity on his face, gave one last effort.

"But the shawl…"

"Goes with the dress. How about shoes?"

I rallied.

"I have those here, and they will be spot on with this dress!"

I flung my arms around him in a huge, tight hug.

"Thank you very much for the most wonderful dress and shawl. I truly love them, and you, most wonderful lover ever. I can hardly wait to wear them for you. Now, I am parched and in dire need of tea. You may buy it for me if you wish."

Carlisle laughed one of his rare and wonderful whole hearted laughs, I joined him, and we ended by sharing a brief intense kiss.

*****************

After tea and a cookie, we ventured forth again, lolling about at the Black Ball Ferry terminal, watching the ferries come and go.

"Shall we take the ferry to Victoria in the spring, Sparrow?"

"We could. We could go to Butchart Gardens. I've seen them in the fall, but not the spring."

It began to rain, a slow drizzle, so we decided to shelter in the Clallam County Museum. We wandered through, arm in arm, enjoying the native art and artifacts, including a comprehensive exhibit on fishing lures. Fascinating little things.

The darkness was by now full upon us as we left the museum and headed back to the car park. His heater felt good and the music sounded wonderful as we raced down the highway to the motel. When we got back, I quickly unboxed my shawl and dress, hanging the latter up to shake out any stray wrinkles. There weren't any. I pulled my shoes from the closet. They were a strappy bronze heel, and went perfectly with the dress.

I needed some fuel, and left Carlisle making some phone calls. He was scheduled back at the hospital tomorrow, and was calling to find out how all things were. Granny had made chicken and dumplings, all thick and creamy with tarragon and sage. Scrumptious. I was rather glad Carlisle wasn't with me, he would have been absurdly amused at my divine interaction with my dinner. I finished, paid my bill, and carried my tea back to the room. He was watching the local news but turned it off as I came in. I inquired about the state of the world.

"Hello my love, is all well?"

He opened his arms to me as he spoke and I set my tea down.

"Amazingly enough the hospital remains intact, the numbers of new flu cases have dropped dramatically, and everyone wants me back tomorrow at the crack of dawn, if not before."

I groaned, flopped onto his lap and was immediately wrapped tightly in his embrace. I mumbled against his shoulder.

"These past two days have been inexpressibly wonderful."

He looked into my face, and stroked my hair.

"They truly have been."

We sat sharing the silence. Eventually the sound of a ticking clock penetrated my daydreaming and I made myself get up.

"Well, if I'm going to wear that dress properly, I'm going to wash off a layer of tourist dust first."

I took the dress with me into the bathroom and drew a warm shower. I spent an unusually lengthy time getting ready for our evening. He was getting directions to the church, and, I admit, I was primping. I don't do much in the way of make up, just a dusting of mineral powder, light eyeshadow for tonight, and mascara. I decided against any bronzer, I was excited, and my color was high enough. Having scrunched an extra bit of curl into my hair, I spritzed on a little perfume, and slipped on the dress. It still looked good. I put on my necklace and gold earrings, took a deep breath, left the safety of the bathroom, padded out to get my shoes and stopped dead. When my heart kicked in, I could hear the blood surging through my arteries.

Carlisle in pale colors is beyond expression gorgeous, but tonight he was wearing black pants with a black dress shirt and gray silk tie. His golden hair a halo in the lamplight. His face as perfect and serene as any seraph painted by Michaelangelo Buonarroti.

"Dear Lord Carlisle, you unravel me. Every woman in town is going to try to slay me to get at you."

He twitched an eyebrow upward and with a grin said,

"You'll just have to protect me."

Looking around I pretended to search.

"Where did I put that sword of Damocles?"

"If you've got the sword I'll have to take the mace to clear the area around you. You look like a particularly melt-in-your-mouth dessert. And you are barefoot again.…"

I clapped my hands over my ears and stepped into my shoes.

He pried my hands from my ears and whispered softly, making a thrilling little breeze across my right ear.

"You really don't understand how lovely and desirable you are."

Making his point, he flicked his tongue into that ear and kissed that sweet spot beneath it, making me shiver delightedly. His hands tightened on my arms, and he drew me closer, then sighed and stepped back a pace.

"I think if we're going out this door tonight, we'd better go now."

There was no accounting for taste, he obviously felt I was beautiful. I didn't understand it, but I was reveling in his appreciation.

The church, like everything else in Port Angeles was easy to find. We slipped into a parking space, got out, and bought our tickets at the door. The church was old, and a little worn around the edges, but was clearly a well loved place of worship. There were plenty of spaces yet available, so we chose a pew down front and sat close together. He picked up my hand and held it on his thigh. I leaned my head against his shoulder.

Shortly, the performers mounted the stage. They began their program with Joaquin Rodrigo's Fantasia para un Gentilhombre. They were excellent, and it was impossible not to tap rhythm with my foot, well, leg and part of one side, really. They played several more pieces before taking a short break. I took a deep breath and remarked to Carlisle.

"They're wonderful aren't they?"

"They definitely are, but they're not nearly as entertaining as watching you trying to be covert in joining them rhythmically."

It was getting a little chilly, and I snuggled down deeper in my shawl and closer to him. He put his arm around my shoulders and gathered me close.

The performers returned and gave us more spirited spanish works from Granadas, and Rodrigo. They ended their program with the intensely joyous and sensual Concierto de Aranjuez. The applause was enthusiastic and they rewarded us with a short encore, the Fandango, that sent us all away light hearted.

I was whistling the adagio from the Aranjuez and slowly dancing in circles around Carlisle. He was trying to corral me to the car before the wind blew us away. A storm was definitely brewing, but the music still held me captive. The simple expedient of picking me up and putting me bodily in the car worked for both of us. I loved being held in his arms.

He pulled slowly away from the parking lot and drove down a back way toward the main street, his fingers entwined with mine on the console. A couple of blocks down, he slowed and turned to me, asking,

"Sparrow, how's your salsa?"

Still caught up in the night, the music and him, I was unsure of what he was asking.

"What? My salsa?"

He pointed with our hands out the window. Looking like a bright port in the storm, a building sat back from the street. Neon named it Baile!. Dance.

"Minimal, my salsa is minimal, but it loves to come out and play."

"Fair enough."

And he stopped, parking next to a metallic purple truck with lots of chrome. I left my shawl in the car and he dashed me inside out of the cold. Inside were people having fun. It was colorful and warm, and noisy with loud latin music and laughter and song and movement. He took my hand, wrapped his other around the top of my hips, pulled me to him and we began to dance. I knew the basics and even a few fancy turns and direction changes, but I wasn't used to dancing with anyone who knew what they were doing. Carlisle had style, and was a master at leading, I had style and if pushed hard enough, would follow. The music was insistent, blatant, and sexual. Dancing with him flipped a switch in me, I felt as though I might be having a glimpse of myself as he saw me...powerful, female, something to be cherished, protected, loved. As he held me, my flame dress swirled around his black clothing. Brilliant sun against the dark of infinite space.

There was no break between dances, music changed, but the rhythm, like life, flowed on. I would have danced like this with him forever. He was wiser.

"My Sparrow, you need something to drink, you're overheated."

"Dr. Cullen, you may well be correct."

An empty chair was found near the wall and he saw me securely in it before going off to get me a drink. I leaned my head back, smiling and listening, waiting for his return.

"Sparrow?"

Not the voice I live to hear. I opened my eyes to see the face of an acquaintance.

"Hey Saul. How's it going?"

"Great. Er, Sparrow, you look, I mean, you're...you're…"

"Stunning? Incomparable? Unique, rare, and perfect?"

There was the voice I was waiting for. Carlisle had come up on the opposite side of me and Saul's eyes widened looking at him.

"Well, yeah."

Carlisle's smile was on his lips, but not in his eyes. He put a possessive hand on my neck. I tingled with feminine delight at the way this was playing.

"Carlisle, I'd like you to meet a coworker of mine, Saul Gilman. Saul, Carlisle Cullen."

The two men nodded in greeting, not shaking hands as Carlisle's were occupied with my neck and my drink.

"Saul and I are currently contracting for the same travel journal company. He's a graphic artist. Carlisle is the resident physician at Forks Community Hospital."

And that was basically all there was to say. Carlisle handed me my drink, then placed that hand on my shoulder, I sipped. Sparkling mineral water and lime. Hydrating. Delicious. I covered his hand with my own and smiled a thank you into his eyes. Saul, watching this interplay, decided it was time to go and took a deep breath.

"Well, I'm with a friend so, I guess I'll see you around Sparrow. Nice meeting you Dr. Cullen."

"Mr. Gilman."

He watched Saul disappear into the crowd while I drained my glass.

"I am refreshed and ready to return to the dance floor, if you are."

He sketched me a tiny bow, took my hand as I rose, and set my empty glass on the tray of a passing waiter.

Our dancing turned more intimate than before. Our clasped hands were in close to our bodies, his hand on my back lowered and held me tightly against himself. I knew full well why this type of dancing was dangerous, hips moved against hips, breasts against chests, libidos loosened. I looked up at him. His eyes were roving over my face.

"Tell me about Saul."

"There's not much to tell. I met him just after moving here. He's intelligent, usually, and attractive. We went out a time or two. That's it."

"So what happened?"

"Nothing. There was absolutely no chemistry between us. Flatline."

His face relaxed into that perfect smile, lips and eyes.

"And between us?"

"Dow, DuPont and BASF."

A wonderful roar of laughter burst from him. I giggled.

He held me even tighter, well, breathing was overrated.

"You are priceless, my Sparrow."

"Au contraire, my Carlisle, today I have been very pricey!"

Kissing and salsa dancing simultaneously on a crowded floor should have been difficult, but amazingly was not. Eventually, I began to tire. The feet were begging to be released from the heels.

"Carlisle, this is wonderful, but I very much fear I am flagging."

"I'd begun to wonder if you were human. It's one-thirty. They'll be closing their doors in a few minutes."

"Oh Lord, and you have to be at the hospital early don't you?"

"Not for a few hours yet."

He grinned and swept me out the door and into the car. It had gotten colder, and the wind was whipping, but the heater was instantly warm, and I wrapped my luscious shawl tightly around me. At the motel, he parked, had me out of the car and into his arms before I could protest, had I wanted to. Effortlessly holding me, he unlocked and opened our door, kicking it gently closed behind us. We moved to the center of the room between the end of the bed and the closet. He held me for a moment, breathing in my scent, allowing me to breath in his, then let me down slowly along the length of his body. My pulse spiked, and inside heat began to generate. He bent down and took off one of my shoes, then the other, and put them in the closet. Heavenly liberated feet. He turned me around and unzipped my dress, kissing his way down my back. I slipped it off and stepped out of it. Carlisle took it from me and hung it in the closet. I stood there in my silk bra and panties thinking that this was a game for two.

Turning around to face him, I loosened his tie and removed it, placing it over a hook in the closet, then set to work on his buttons. Once before I had unbuttoned him. It seemed forever ago, I was more confident now. I quickly tugged his shirt out of his pants, and had it open, releasing his coolness and piney scent. I took his shirt and hung it neatly in the closet, beside my dress. Turning back, I kissed his chest, nipples, and belly before pressing my hot body to him. I rested my heated face to his shoulder, cooling both sides. He smelled and felt so incredibly good. His hands were roaming over my skin. I was losing focus...whose turn was it? Apparently still mine. As he stepped out of his shoes, I dropped to remove his socks and placed both in the closet next to mine. As long as I was here, I thought I'd even the playing field and unfastened his trousers, slipping them down to the floor, and waiting until he stepped out of them. I hung them on a hanger, neatly. My heat had reached every part of me and I was pulsing with the hunger that I always had for him. As I turned back to him, and reached for his black briefs, it was game on. He captured me and the rest of our clothes were lost. He pulled me up into his arms and sank back into the bed. His beautiful head on the pillow, his eyes golden, his voice sweet and seductively low.

"Your foot must hurt, Sparrow, would you like for me to rub it?"

"My foot can wait, I need you inside me right now."

My eyes, my face, must have shown my absolute need. Before I finished speaking, he was there, hard, and silky and cool, at my entrance. I was soft and hot and ready for him. I slid slowly down his length, burying him deep, keeping my body pressed against his. We rode together, unhurriedly, rhythmically, enjoying this the best, most intimate of dances, kissing deeply, drinking each other. Our passion mounted, tenderly, gradually, but inexorably, higher, nearer the pinnacle, I held my breath and let it take me with him into paradise. Timelessness. Exhaustion. I slept securely across the chest of my beloved.

*****************

I was awakened sometime later by soft kisses raining up on my face. I was still on top of him, surrounding him. He wrapped me in his arms and rolled over. Now the kisses rained down. I ran my hands along his smooth, sides.

"Mi Amante, it's nearly time for me to go. I have to leave you now."

I groaned softly as he withdrew from inside me.

"It's like losing some vital organ, the rest collapses and folds in on itself."

"I feel loss as well, Sparrow, it leaves me....alone."

I opened my eyes and in dim light searched his face. I couldn't glean much beyond the simple truth in his words, he was a difficult man to read. He rolled to sitting and rose in one graceful movement and walked into the bathroom to start the shower. I pulled on my robe and began taking his clothes out of the closet. By the time he had showered, I had everything folded or hung together in sets. He looked at me a little puzzled.

"I didn't know what you'd want to wear, I just folded everything. Your family will want you home after work."

"I could easily return to you tonight."

"I know. And I want you to, but your family needs you. I'm sure they think I've abducted you as it is. I've had two glorious days and nights all to myself with you, and they haven't gotten to spend any time with you in almost a week. I'll stay here a couple more days and finish up the research on this section with text notes and megs of pictures. I'll have lots of compiling to do when I get home."

"Thursday. Come home Thursday. I will arrange for you to meet my family then. I've had enough of keeping you separate."

He selected suitable attire, dressed, and put the rest of the clothing in his case. He took the hanging clothes out, minus the black dress shirt.

"Keep it next to the dress in your closet. I need to leave something of me with you."

"Carlisle, you are in my every cell."

He took my face in his hands and kissed my forehead, my eyes, and my lips. I clung to his lips for a long moment before letting them release mine. He enfolded me in an embrace so close and tight I was immersed in his coolness, his scent filled my lungs and I was content. He would be there waiting for me in Forks.

"Go back to bed, and sleep a while longer. I will call you later today. It looks to be very stormy...be safe."

"I will. I love you."

Each time it became easier to say.

"As I love you, mi amante."

He released me and quietly left. His car was gone in a few seconds, and I did go back to sleep, to dream of a golden angel man who loved me.

*****************

I was just on the edge of a dozy wakefulness when there came a knock on the door. A glance at the clock showed me it was nine on the dot.

"Ms. Fortis? I have your breakfast."

Intrigued I pulled my robe around me and opened the door. There stood a waiter from Granny's with a tray of covered dishes for me. The rain had started in earnest in the past few hours and his car stood a few feet away, door still open and motor running.

"Dr. Cullen said we were to deliver this to you at nine promptly. Here you are ma'am."

He handed me the tray, hopped into his car and headed back to Granny's.

I placed the tray on the table and reached for the coffee pot. Having prepared a rich cup and sipping it, I further investigated my breakfast. Cold glass of o.j. Ham and eggs, toast and jam. A woman could definitely learn to live with this level of being cared for. I texted the man a loving thank you.

After breakfasting, I showered and gathered my things together, checked out, and headed off to Sequim's Dungeness River, Railroad Bridge Park. Sequim means "quiet waters" in the language of the S'Klallam tribe, but was anything but quiet today. The rain having fallen for hours upstream, was now pouring under the bridge in torrents. The Sequim area has the driest Pacific Coast climate north of Los Angeles, and I was getting rain pictures. Oh well, I'd do a little first hand research now and maybe get some sun later on.

As I drove farther east, past Johnson Creek trestle, the rain stopped and I had hopes of sun. I was rewarded at John Wayne Marina. The sun broke free of the clouds, and shone down all over the little jewel of a bay. Much heartened, I continued hiking in and back out, writing and shooting pictures all the way to Blyn, where I stopped for a hot sandwich and tea. I had a decision to make here. The roughly thirty miles from Blyn to Cape George Trailhead was only a proposed not finalized route. This was the part I really wanted to document. It looked as if the weather might hold, and I could stay in the little community where Hwy 101 met the waters of Discovery Bay, and then tomorrow go through Cape George to Port Townsend and be back in Forks by midday on Thursday. Forks on Thursday. Carlisle on Thursday. My Carlisle.

Eerily enough, my phone rang at that moment. Carlisle's ring.

"My Carlisle! I was just thinking of you."

"I hope so. I have been thinking of you all day. Where are you?"

"Way up the peninsula, in Blyn. The sun is out and it's wonderful. Cold, but wonderful. I miss you hugely. How are you and what have you been doing?"

"I'm glad you're enjoying yourself, and I miss you hugely too. I'm fine, busy, putting everything back in its proper place. The people from Clallam were excellent care givers and record keepers, but never put back a thing they got out. The flu outbreak seems to have settled down. We've had only two suspected new cases today, schools are closed for the rest of the week, and people are basically staying home and taking care of themselves. How's your agenda looking?"

"Well, tomorrow starts the difficult part. The area is harder to get to with the jeep, it's mostly incomplete, so I'll have to hike a lot. I'll overnight at or near Discovery Bay. Then I pick up the completed trail again into Port Townsend, and stay the night. If the weather is good in Sequim, I need to get some sunny pictures, but I should be home, barring any unforeseen events, Thursday late afternoon. Is Thursday evening okay for meeting with your family?"

"Sparrow, that's a very aggressive schedule. My family can wait."

"I'm not thinking of your family, Carlisle, I don't want to be away from you any longer than that."

I heard his intake of breath. He spoke with quiet intensity.

"Was it only this morning I held you? Time passes very erratically when we are apart."

"Distance too. My heat for you is rising as if you were standing close beside me."

"Mi amante, here's an idea. Tomorrow continue your plan only so long as you feel that you are not overdoing. If you don't make Port Townsend on Wednesday, there are surely smaller places along the way. On Thursday, take your time returning, and I will meet you in Port Angeles at the Indian Valley Motel. How does this sound to you?"

Like blood pounding in my ears hungry for you, but this I kept to myself.

"A second tryst with you in less than a week? Like Heaven."

"Then for now, you return to your work and I'll return to mine."

We shared gentle words of affection, and ended the call. Whistling snippets from the Aranjuez, I paid my bill and set out, again. Heart light, I mostly followed 101, zigging and zagging off the road to investigate the trail proposal sites. It was going to be a spectacular hiking and biking experience, but visually much like highway 101. I found a tiny motel at Discovery Bay and settled in for the night, answering a text message from Carlisle about where I was, and sending kisses.

Wednesday I rose early and set out. Carlisle had left me a message, saying he would most likely be in surgery when I awoke, that he loved me and wished he were with me. Much of this leg of the Trail was quite remote, and either dirt trails or old railroad bed through cedar and fir forests, and freshwater marshes. Frequent lengthy hiking side trips were necessary, and I was tiring by the time I reached Lake Anderson. I drank a cup of tea with an energy bar and some nuts, briefly enjoyed the pristine scenery, and pushed on. By the time I reached the finished trail that ended outside Port Townsend, I was footsore, scratched from elbowing through brush, hungry, dirty, and just about at the limit of my endurance. I had used every bit of daylight for picture taking, it was now quite dark, and a cold rain had begun to fall.

Welcoming lights of a diner drew me in. I pulled into the almost deserted parking area and parked close to the door. Another traveler came off the street and parked next to me. Glancing over, I smiled. It was a black Mercedes like Carlisle drove. Figuring it for a good omen, and warmed of heart thinking about tomorrow when I would be with him again, I pushed my door open against the rainy wind and got out. Turning from locking the door, I was startled to see two men approaching me out of the dark. I produced a quick surge of adrenaline, but was indecisive about whether I would flee or fight, when one of the men stepped into the light from the diner. No mistaking that bright golden hair or intimate smile. Weak from relief and overjoyed to see him, I threw myself into Carlisle's welcoming arms with a weary little sob. He enfolded me tightly. I had never before felt anything as wonderful as his arms on this night.

"My Sparrow, I am so sorry we frightened you. I called you, but no answer, so we waited at the town line until we saw your car and followed you in."

"Couldn't hear the phone. I was getting sleepy and was afraid I might doze off, so I turned my music way up and opened the windows. I'm so glad you're here. How are you here? You worked today, it's nasty out, and it's a hundred miles from Forks!"

"Edward drives even faster than I do."

I'd forgotten the other man, and pulled my face away from Carlisle's chest to look around for him. He was standing a discreet distance from us, still in shadow then moved into our pool of light. Edward, it would seem, was almost as beautiful as his father. A young man in his late teens, very fair angular face, with dark gold hair in the lamplight, and his father's kind eyes and smile.

"My father was very anxious about you, and didn't want to wait until tomorrow, so I picked him up at the hospital, and here we are."

Adopted he might be, but these two men were obviously kindred souls. Edward's voice was as gentle and soothing as Carlisle's.

My indelicate stomach took this opportunity to grumble loudly and rumbly. Carlisle's exasperated voice broke my stare at Edward's face.

"When did you last eat? And, here we are again standing outside in the cold rain. Come inside."

And he shepherded me into the diner and into a booth. Edward sat across from us as Carlisle and I sat as close as public decency would allow. A waitress came over, greeted us and supplied us with menus. Carlisle ordered two cups of Earl Grey to be brought right away before allowing her to leave us to look over the menus. She was back with them immediately setting one in front of each of us. As they steeped, Carlisle popped in sugar and lemon slices. I sat quietly, absolutely content to let him fix tea for me. Absolutely content that he was here. Absolutely content.

"Sparrow? Do you know what you want to eat?"

I had been mesmerized being so content and watching him stir the tea, but focused now. The waitress had returned and was waiting patiently.

I glanced at the menu announcing the daily soup specials. Wednesday was tomato bisque.

"Um, yes, I would love a bowl of the tomato bisque and a piece of cornbread, please".

The two men, of course, declined anything to eat.

"Edward, thank you so very much for bringing your father all this way. He's a marvelous surprise at the end of a very long day."

I was too tired to care what Edward thought of the way I felt about his father, as I rested my head against him. I was just hoping I wouldn't fall asleep in my soup bowl. Carlisle's arm was around me and his hand was stroking the side of my head, my neck, and he pressed a soft kiss on my forehead.

"Gentlemen, I simply will not survive if I have to drive any farther tonight. Please tell me it's not so."

"You are not going anywhere except to bed."

Such a simple statement. Such connotation. My eyes caught Edward's across the booth, he looked a little startled, then he grinned.

Fortunately my soup and cornbread had arrived and I could with good grace drop my eyes. The soup was rich and flavorful and I took a mouthful then buttered my cornbread and poured honey all over it. Ambrosial. The tea was ready and I took long drinks of it. I rallied and did great justice to the cook. While I ate, Carlisle told me of the plans for the evening. On the way up here, he had arranged for a night in a local bed and breakfast. We would get up tomorrow when we felt like it, and slowly wend our way back home. Edward was going to take my jeep and return to Forks tonight.

"Oh Carlisle, Edward drove all the way here, surely he can't be going back tonight!"

Edward lifted an eyebrow, and explained that he loved driving and often drove to Seattle and back again just for an outing.

"I'm guessing you don't drive an older model jeep on your little jaunts."

"Well, no, but I'll survive."

I turned over my keys to Edward, and while I continued to eat, he transferred everything into Carlisle's car. By the time he again slid into the seat across from us, I was finished and had casually picked up and started drinking Carlisle's cup of tea. He exchanged a glance with Carlisle that I didn't understand, but it made Carlisle smile. It was only then that it occurred to me what a strange picture we must present together. Two beautiful and pristine men taking care of a grubby half-wild looking woman. So much for first impressions on his family.

I was down to the final dregs of my tea, when Edward decided it was time for him to leave.

"I'm off then, before Bella sends Emmett after me. Sparrow, I'm looking forward to seeing you again soon at our house."

"Hopefully I won't appear like such storm wreckage! And thank you again Edward, I can't tell you how much it means to me to have Carlisle here tonight."

He reached over and gave Carlisle's shoulder a squeeze.

"Goodnight, father."

"Goodnight Edward. Thank you, son."

Through the window we watched Edward start up and drive away.

"So what does Edward drive?"

"A hot little Volvo."

"Oh my, the jeep drives well until 80, but beyond that, not so well."

"He'll try not to break anything, and if he does, there's always Rosalie."

Carlisle paid our bill and we left. I folded gratefully into the leather carseat. He seemed to know exactly where he was going, and within a few minutes we were pulling into the parking area of a lovely old Victorian home turned B&B, situated on a little promontory sticking into the water. Even on this cold night, its wrap around porch was softly lighted and inviting. We took out only what we needed for the night, one bag apiece. Carlisle retrieved the key from under the front mat, and we went in closing and locking the door behind us.

"Are we the only guests tonight?"

"We are. I gather the November cold is not a good mid-week draw for tourists. I selected our room for a couple of specific reasons, but it is on the third floor."

"Don't suppose I could take a short nap in the parlor first, could I?"

"I could take our things up and come back for you.…"

"Nope, I'm not that pathetic. Let's do it."

There were a lot of stairs to the third floor, but the staircase was broad and elegant and the pictures on the walls, ladies and gentlemen in the fashions of a previous era, were captivating. Besides, Carlisle was carrying the bags, God bless him. I must admit by the end of the climb, I was dragging my feet. Ours was the only guest room on this floor, and the door was open. Bedside lamps were on, casting romantic shadows on the canopy, and white bed linens. The bed was topped by a huge, down duvet. Beyond the bed had to be why Carlisle had chosen this room. The entire back wall was a row of windows, in the middle of which was a pair of french doors. I walked to the doors and looked out. It was still raining hard, but I could see a deck, and a waist high wall outlining it's perimeter.

"I'll bet there's a spectacular view of cities along the strait out there."

"It should stop raining a little later, we'll be able to see quite a long way."

I caught his reflection in the door glass as he came toward me and teased.

"I always suspected you were omniscient."

"Alice told me about the rain."

"Ah, she's omniscient."

He wrapped his arms around my middle and whispered in my ear just before kissing it.

"She checked the weather forecast."

I didn't care if there was a hurricane, blizzard, and tsunami outside. Inside I was safe, warm, dry and with the man I adored. And I was dirty. I reluctantly pulled away from him.

"Oh my, Carlisle, I am truly a pig person! I'm getting trail grunge on you. Save those kisses for after my shower, please."

"Enjoy, my Sparrow. I'll be right here."

I grabbed my bag, blew him a kiss, and disappeared into one of the loveliest bathrooms I'd ever seen. Sea glass green tiles on floor and walls, deep whirlpool tub, oversize shower with dual heads, twin pedestal sinks, over which hung oak framed mirrors and wall sconces. Thick green bath and shower mats cushioned the floor and luxurious long loop cotton bath towels and fluffy robes hung on hooks behind the door. The toilet in a tiny room all its own had its tank above like would have been in early w.c.'s. I was far too tired tonight to properly appreciate anything but the w.c. and the shower. I ran the water, it was hot and abundant. Using an herbal scented wash, I lathered and rinsed until I felt human, albeit a tired one, again. Wrapping up in the robe I emerged from the bathroom to find Carlisle out on the deck. It would seem that Alice had been correct. The rain had stopped, for now, but no stars were daring to show themselves. I stepped into my shoes and followed him out. He had changed into flannel pants and a soft knit pullover top. This relaxed look became him, and gave him a certain appearance of vulnerability. He turned and reached out a hand to me, his face anything but vulnerable… strong, powerful, invincible. I took his hand and walked into his arms. He curled me in front of him as we both looked out over the Strait of Juan de Fuca. We could see twinkling lights from distant shores, a large grouping to our left would be Victoria, in front of us, Oak Harbor and Everett, and to our right, Edmonds. The waters of the strait picked up and reflected lights from all along its shores and flung them about tonight in its choppy waters.

I broke the silence.

"Have you ever been to Disneyland?"

"No."

"In Fantasyland, there's a ride called Peter Pan's Flight. You climb into these flying boats and enter through doors into darkness. You appear to sail through Wendy's bedroom window and fly high above London on your way to Neverland. Below are lights of the city and the River Thames. It was magical like this. When I was very young, I used to think rather wistfully, that it would be so romantic to be in that boat with someone you loved."

"And is it?"

I tilted my head back against his chest and looked up to see the smile on his beloved face.

"Absolutely the most romantic thing ever."

I turned to face him and put my arms around his neck. Standing on my toes, I reached my lips to his for a sweet kiss. He gathered me in and lifted me so that our mouths melded more easily. Our kisses were gentle, tender, content in just being together.

Eventually my shower warmth wore off and I shivered. He lifted his head and swept me off my feet.

"That is our cue to go inside."

The warmth in our room now felt delicious. He walked with me over to the bed, set me on the edge and sat down beside me. We were on what I termed "my side" of the bed. He seemed to prefer the left side. I loved this simple piece of intimate knowledge. He leaned across me to the bedside table. I had not noticed the covered cup.

"While you were showering I made a foray down to the kitchen, where I found tea."

He made a show of removing the teacup cover and wafted the fragrant cup beneath my nose.

I reached for it, wrapping my hand around his.

"Have I told you in the past ten minutes that I adore you?"

"No, and I was beginning to worry…"

"Well, worry not. I adore you. Clearly you are the most wonderful person on this or any other planet, and I love you dearly."

"And all because I bring you tea."

"There are possibly a million reasons why I love you. This is one very specific reason. You think, "What could I do to please her? She enjoys a cup of tea. Therefore, I will make one for her, and prepare it just the way she likes it." Do you have any idea how rare that is? How rare you are?"

"Probably not as rare as you think, but I accept the compliment from your heart."

My tired body chose this moment to yawn. I clapped a hand over my mouth, and apologized.

"Oh my Carlisle, I am so sorry. It's not boredom, I promise you, I'm just beat. I don't even want to think about how many miles I must have walked yesterday and today."

"Then next on the agenda is a therapeutic massage from your doctor."

He allowed me to sip on the lovely tea, then asked if I would be warm enough without my robe.

"Are you going to touch me?"

"Far easier to accomplish a massage if I do."

"Then I am getting warmer already."

And I slipped out of my robe.

He pushed me gently back onto the bed, and rolled me over. Beginning on my troublesome foot, he massaged deeply and unhurriedly, slowly moving up my leg to the achy hip muscle, his thumbs pressing firmly releasing the tension and allowing me to relax. It was glorious, and I was purring. He worked across my lower back, paying great attention to my spine, as he kissed the indentations on either side of it, then began the whole process on my other leg.

I remained conscious but not functional until I'd received the second set of kisses on the little back depressions. As his hands moved up my back, I faded to black.

*****************

My eyes opened to Carlisle sitting on a loveseat, reading in the half light from the lamp on the table beyond him. The lamp cast a golden glow over his head. Like the angel on top of the tree.

"Mmmmmm Christmas morning."

Carlisle lifted an eyebrow at me.

I rose, dragging my robe on, padded over behind him, wrapped my arms around his shoulders and whispered in his ear.

"Santa has brought me a very early Christmas present. I must have been very, very good this year."

He raised his hands to stroke them along my forearms.

I started kissing him, found him delectable, so I continued. I kissed my way around one ear, down his neck and across to his other ear. Without stopping, I unbuttoned the three little buttons of his pullover and moved it away from his shoulder so I could kiss it without hindrance. That allowed me to access more of his upper back and across to the other shoulder. He hadn't spoken but was obviously enjoying my attentions. Wanting a taste of his throat and collarbones, I slipped around the end of the loveseat, took his book away from his lap, and put myself there instead. He placed his arms loosely around me, not impeding my progress at all. I kissed my way from the proximal end of his shoulder across the collarbone to the side of his throat. I could feel a little rumbling deep inside that throat. I kissed up along the underside of his jaw to his chin, then made a slight detour down the middle of his throat to the hollow at its base. I spent a little time there, tasting and nibbling then traveled up again to his chin and under his jaw to other side of his neck and down to his collarbone and out to the other shoulder. Having completed that portion of my travels, I lifted my head to consider the next segment of my journey. Carlisle's head was tilted back, his eyes closed, his lips barely parted. I swallowed hard. The womb clinched and heat flooded me.

In an instant I had him stripped of his shirt and half reclining against the loveseat. His beautiful chest was bared to me. I kissed, licked, tasted my way across the fragrant expanse, my hair lightly stroking him as I passed by. I'd reached a nipple, a slightly raised peak that I lightly raked my teeth across, and heard the soft hiss of his indrawn breath. I soothed with my tongue, and kissed around that small peak, before putting my mouth over it and slowly and softly sucking. His hands clutched my thighs. I dragged myself away from that nipple and paused briefly at his sternum before giving equal attention to his other nipple. He was awaiting the gentle onslaught, and his breath quickened at my approach. His rumbly growl was louder now, and he was beginning to move a little restlessly. The band of muscles below his chest and above his belly were taut, expectant. I moved across them with hot, open mouthed kisses and from time to time blew across them, making the muscles further contract. His tight belly drew me. I ran tongue and teeth across the full width of him, kissing ever lower. My lips reached a certain spot, his hips bucked and he held my head against him. I breathed him in deeply. The fragrance was his piney scent combined with the wild exciting smell he had when aroused. I was far beyond stopping, mindless, wanting to touch, to taste, every part of him, especially one part. I slipped from his grasp and stripped the flannels from him, down and over his strong white feet. The rampant lion was reaching for me, and I took him in my hot hands, stroking and loving him. I ran my face down his satin smooth length, kissed the sacs at his root, inhaled again and was taken by a slight madness. I growled low and lifted my face only far enough to take him fully into my mouth. I held his hips as I pulsed on him, stroking, stroking, I could feel him tensing, tensing, his grasp on my shoulders tightening, bruising, my body and his in perfect rhythm, moving together, almost there, I sucked hard. He roared and had me on my back on the carpet, my robe open and cushioning us. My hungry mouth had lost him but my hungry womb gained him in less than a heartbeat. We rode frenzied, both in a wildness of emotion and physical elation approaching insanity. His mouth on mine, deeply kissing, driving, his tongue filling my mouth as he was filling my body. My hands clutched his head, his shoulders, his hands gripped my hips, holding them against his own. We rode, we climbed, higher, deeper, rational thought was impossible, breathing was impossible, intensity of feeling was all and it was....ecstasy. We held on for seconds, eternities, then exploded into a billion tiny shards of shimmering joy.

It took a while for the after tremors to quiet. We lay together, allowing them to take their time, getting our breathing back under control. I lay half across him with my head tucked under his chin, and idly playing with his skin. He mindlessly stroked my back. Creature comforts. He spoke first.

"Who are you, wild women, and what have you done with my Sparrow?"

"After that little demonstration of shared affection, you tell me who else I would be."

"Point taken, but my Sparrow is not a morning person and it is not quite seven."

"Ah, I see. Morning is relative. What time did I pass out last night?"

"I finished massaging your lovely body around ten thirty, but you were out by ten."

"I've been awake about and hour, so that's eight hours. Eight hours from point of sleep makes an appropriate morning. And my body feels wonderful, thank you for taking care of it even though I wasn't there."

"I will remember the eight hour rule. And you are welcome. It was my pleasure. Truly."

We laughed softly at our silliness. As we still lay on the floor, I had an excellent view of the entire room. It was very Victorian in color, wallpaper, furniture, and comfort.

"This room is beautiful Carlisle. The view is amazing. Thank you for choosing it for us."

"Remember that I said I had two reasons for choosing this room?"

Yes."

"One being for the view and the other because it is the only room on this floor, and not directly over another guest room. We are remarkably noisy when we make love."

That struck me as being terribly funny and I lay there and laughed till tears ran from my eyes. He thought that was funny and lay there laughing right along side me. Finally, I drew a breath and sighed.

"This is surely the only way to welcome a breaking dawn."

Carlisle spoke in a teasing tone.

"I keep thinking that you will eventually realize that we are still on the floor."

"Floor, you, bed of nails, you, fiery furnace, you. As long as the one constant remains, the rest is inconsequential. "

"You will have bruises."

"Probably. Haven't you ever had bruises before? You know how quickly mine fade. And making love with you is so much more fun than having an atv fall on me."

We remained on the floor and laughed a while longer.

When we began to hear noises from downstairs, Carlisle heaved a mighty sigh and got off the floor, offering me a hand up.

"That would be our host getting ready to prepare breakfast. I requested it for nine, not then knowing the eight hour rule."

"Nine will be perfect. Hmm. Where is breakfast served?"

"Here in our room."

"Excellent, I just hope he doesn't present us with far too much for me to eat."

Carlisle clasped both my arms, and looked square into my eyes.

"Sparrow, I appreciate your supportiveness of my...condition. I know it must seem very unusual."

"And Edward shares it as well."

"Yes."

"Do all your children?"

"Yes."

Of course, it made perfect sense that all of his adopted children would share the same condition that he did. My heart filled with pride in him. Being different, these young people had probably had a difficult childhood and he and Esme rescued them into a life as normal as it could be.

"You are a very kind and good man, Carlisle, it's why I love you. It can't be easy, can't have been easy all these years, and must be even harder without your wife. I am honored that you have chosen to share these things with me. I know that you take in nutriment somehow, probably when you rush off in great haste, but if there is anyway I can make it easier for you...leaving the room, getting you anything, whatever, just tell me. I'll ask no questions of you."

I'd never seen his eyes tear, and they didn't now, but I'd never seen such softness and vulnerability in them either. His body was fit, seemingly indefatigable, and impervious at least to minor injuries. My passionate clutching would have scored ordinary skin. I had begun to realize Carlisle's emotional assailability, and my own need to protect him.

He was looking at me intensely. I don't know where the conversation may have gone had there not been a knock on the door. I spoke softly snatching up my robe.

"I'll go."

"You look entirely too delightfully bedded, my wanton, I'll go."

He snagged the robed from me and wrapped it around himself. I went into the bathroom. Looking in the mirror, I understood what he meant. My hair was all on end, not that his looked a lot better, but my lips were kiss swollen, my eyes still passion bright, my color high. Indeed, I thought I'd rarely looked better, but perhaps our host would have been embarrassed. I took the other robe off the hook and pulled it snugly around myself. While I tidied up a bit, I could hear Carlisle and another male voice in conversation. After hearing the door close, I stuck my head out to make sure we were again alone.

"Is that coffee I smell?"

"It most assuredly is. I told our host on the phone yesterday that my wife needed her morning coffee before breakfast to get her heart started."

Color fled my face.

"You said I was your wife?"

"Sometimes a small lie is easier. It troubles you that I called you my wife?"

"No."

"Not true."

"Sometimes a small lie is easier. I seriously need that coffee."

Our host had provided a tray with two cups and a generous carafe of fragrant, and, if I could go by the aroma, strong coffee. I took the tray from him, placing it on the little table and began adding sugar and cream. It was evident that Carlisle would have continued the topic of conversation, and equally evident that I had closed that door. He let it drop.

I breathed deeply of my coffee, then took several long appreciative mouthfuls.

"I know that this coffee just goes into my stomach, but I'd swear that I feel it in my head, and out to my fingers and toes."

I smiled at him, my color and equanimity having returned with the strong hot beverage.

"For a woman who often forgets to eat, you have the most wonderful appreciation of food and drink."

I waggled my eyebrows at him.

"My appetites are all hale and hearty."

"That they are, my Sparrow."

"Oh look, morning is trying to happen."

A wan light was showing its face out our door. I strolled over with my cup and stepped out into the fading night. Cold and cloudy, with fresh and clean scents off the strait. I could still see lights on other shores, although they were fewer and less fairylike than last night. Carlisle came up behind me, snuggled me against his chest, mindful of my cup, and wrapped his arms around me.

"I apologize for making you uncomfortable. "

I set my cup down on the railing and turned to look up into his face.

"It's not you. You did nothing to apologize for. It's all me. I apologize for making an issue of it. I just have a few devils of my own to contend with."

He raised a hand to stroke the side of my face. I turned into it, kissed it then slipped my palm into his, clasped his fingers, and brought our hands down to swing between us.

"You know, I figure we have just about enough time before breakfast arrives to play in that fancy shower."

I lead the way and we spent a half hour splashing, soaping, rinsing, and kissing in that most splendid of showers. After which we dried each other off, and rubbed body lotion all over to ward off the winter cold.

We had begun to get dressed, and I was rooting around in my bag. My hand closed over something I had picked up yesterday, I hesitated and chewed my lower lip.

"That's a look I don't recognize, Uncertain Sparrow? What is it?"

"I got you something yesterday, but I don't know if you'll like it."

"Why wouldn't I like it?"

"I've never looked in your clothes closet, but I'll bet you don't have many of these in it."

I lifted out a dark blue and black plaid fitted flannel shirt with a band collar.

"I may have a flannel or two in my closet for camping trips, but none so smart as this."

He took it from me, unfolded it, and slipped it on. It was well tailored and looked wonderful with his fair coloring. He tucked it into his jeans. It fit along his slim lines as if it were made for him. I let out the breath I hadn't realized I was holding.

"Oh my, you do rustic well."

"I do like it very much, my Sparrow, thank you. The fact that you chose it for me makes it all the more special."

I'm sure I was beaming foolishly, I so enjoyed looking at him.

Our timing was good. We could hear footsteps on the stairs, and I cleared off the little table of the rest of its knickknacks. Carlisle answered his soft knock and invited him in.

"Good morning Mrs. Cullen. I'm Richard Meyer. I hope you enjoyed your coffee?"

My hair did a little standing up at the base of my neck at that "Mrs. Cullen", but I behaved well and wouldn't look at Carlisle.

"I did indeed Mr. Meyer, it is a lovely brew, rich and bold. Thank you very much for bringing it up earlier."

"I have more for you. Along with fresh fruit, bacon, shirred eggs, muffins and jam."

As he spoke, he laid everything out on our table, and set a small basket with plates, napkins and utensils along side.

"If you need anything else, just call over the stairs and I'll hear you. You folks are our only guests this morning, but we expect a full house for the weekend. I will be in my office just off the kitchen."

We thanked him, and off he went.

Carlisle took the chair opposite mine and poured me a cup of coffee while I set out the plates, napkins and cutlery.

"This is a marvelous looking breakfast. Thank you for the coffee. I shall start by eating our fruit. Would you tell me a little about your family? I can see that Edward is a charmer like his father."

Carlisle settled in his chair.

"Edward lost his parents from influenza when he was quite young. He was himself ill with it, and it took him a long while to recover. He transferred all of his affection to Esme and myself. He's extremely intelligent as well as sensitive to the feelings of those around him, and still has that extreme loyalty to our family. Until he met Bella, we had all been concerned that he spent too much time alone. Then Bella came along and everything changed for him. They are exceptionally happy and are alternating between college classes and traveling. Renesme is unique and you will just have to form your own opinion of her."

Carlisle paused to pass me the bacon and then resumed his tale.

"Rosalie has always been beautiful and grew up vain and selfish. She was badly hurt and abandoned by those who should have loved and cared for her. She continues to crave attention, but surprisingly has taken to running the household quite efficiently."

"In addition to keeping your cars in top notch shape?"

"Yes, that too. It was she who found Emmett, another lost soul, and brought him home to us. Emmett's strengths are his ever youthful exuberance and his ability to deal with Rosalie. He loves her. They have been married for a number of years now. Eat some of those eggs or the Meyers will be distraught."

I rolled my eyes and tucked in a few forkfuls of egg. I would not be bullied into eating the muffins or I would surely explode, but I wasn't ready to stop listening either, so I sipped on a little more coffee.

"Alice is unique. Her history is her own to divulge, but her early life was a pit of misery. She is extremely bright, keeps us dressed according to the latest fashion, and has an uncanny ability for playing the stockmarket to our great advantage."

"Aha, the omniscient Alice!"

"Sometimes I have to wonder. Alice found Jasper, who also suffers from a form of post traumatic stress disorder, and they both found us. They are inseparable, and either would do anything to keep the other safe and happy."

"And then there is you. I would very much like to hear about Carlisle Cullen when we have a lot of undisturbed time. I think there is much to discover."

"And I would like to learn more about Sparrow Fortis. You are definitely an intriguing little woman."

"Well, this woman has had all to eat that she can possibly hold. We'll have to hide the rest of the eggs and bacon, and I'll sequester a couple of the muffins for later."

I shut up a moment, and looked at him with a smile that I know was all over my face. I reached over and covered his hand with one of mine.

"You know, this is such fun, sitting across the breakfast table from you."

He turned his hand over and wrapped his long fingers around my mine.

"It really is. We could do this more often. A lot more often."

"Does it truly not bother you that I'm eating and you're not?"

"Not at all. I am used to my situation and watching you take pleasure in your food is quite fascinating. Simply being with you is always a joy no matter the venue."

I sent up to God another silent thank you for sending this man to me, then made an announcement that surprised even me.

"I'm ready to meet your family."

He studied my face carefully.

"Are you sure?"

"Yes. At their earliest convenience."

"Very well, I will arrange it. Would you like to stay a while longer in Port Townsend for any reason?"

"No, I'm obviously not getting any sun pictures around Sequim today either, so I'd really just like to go home. To Forks."

"Then let's pack up. We can have a leisurely drive back…"

I gave him a look that asked who was driving. He flashed me a grin, but otherwise ignored the comment.

"...a leisurely drive back, stopping if anything strikes us as particularly interesting, and be home in the afternoon. I go in tonight at midnight to start a double shift. Pat Harmon covered part of my shift today."

"I'm exerting a bad influence on you. Inciting you to play hooky."

"And I am enjoying it tremendously."

We rose from the table. He tugged my hand to himself, the rest of me followed. I lightly rubbed my face against his flanneled chest and inhaled. Nice. I sighed contentedly.

"You are still happy my Sparrow?"

"I am happier than any one person has a right to be. I have you."

He tightened his arms around me and whispered into my hair.

"And I have you."

*****************

I brushed my teeth and finished packing my little bit of stuff while Carlisle tidied up the breakfast remains and we were shortly on our way. Taking the highway in Carlisle's car was vastly superior to my outward trek, but much of what hikers and bikers sought wasn't found on the asphalt byway. We stopped periodically at tourist viewing spots, and generally whenever we felt like it. We were in no particular hurry, and were enjoying being together. His satellite radio ran a set of spanish guitar pieces which had me dancing in my seat. We laughed and shared silly anecdotes about our lives. The bond between us was tightening, getting stronger. I reflected on what my life had been like before Carlisle. I hadn't found it wanting in anything...then...but now, I would be lost without him. How very dangerous all this joy was.

We reached my house around three. The jeep was sitting in the driveway looking none the worse for wear. I found the key, where else, under the doormat, and opened up the house. It took only a few minutes to unload my baggage from his car and transfer it to the kitchen table. I needed to let him go now. I knew he must need to go, to be home, to do something that needed doing around his house, to touch base with his family. Our hands reached out and connected. Our eyes each searched the other's for guidance, direction. Like gravitational pull, our bodies came lightly together, our arms wrapped around each other and held on. One head lifted up, one lowered to allow our lips to meet and meld. We shared the sweetest of kisses. It seemed neither of us was quite yet ready to let the other go. Our kisses led to greater wanting. I made a soft sound and leaned fully into him, admitting my need. He lifted me and carried me in to bed. He sat with me, and we both stretched out on the soft comforter. Without haste, without hurry, we undressed each other, and lay skin to skin in my bed. Our coupling was easy, sweet, slow, as much emotional as physical, needing to be as close as two separate beings could be. He surrounded me with his arms, his hands, and held me to his chest, I surrounded him with my body, and held him to my heart. Joined, we spoke to each other in the language that lovers use. The afternoon deepened around us into the darkness of a late November evening.

Eventually he sighed and nuzzled my neck.

"I don't want to leave you."

"I don't want you to leave me either, but other people need you, and I will be here for you when you leave them."

"That is sweet logic, mi amante. I can go then, for a while."

He rose in one graceful movement and began putting his clothes back on. I loved watching him. I chewed my bottom lip, seeing those slender white hands zip and button. It was almost as exciting as watching him undo them. His hands stopped moving. I looked up and met his eyes. They were twinkling and his lips twitched in that way he had. He knew exactly what I was thinking.

I smiled, only minutely embarrassed at being caught lusting after him, and rolled myself up to standing. I fished around for my clothes and put them on as well. It was no fun being naked alone.

"May I borrow your comb?"

I looked at his golden hair, which was tousled provocatively. I swallowed hard thinking about how it had gotten that way.

"You may borrow anything you need. I could use a cup of tea."

I wandered off to the kitchen before my unruly hands and lips were tempted into taking possession of him.

He came into the kitchen as I was pouring hot water over my tea leaves, looking neat, tidy, delicious, and wrapped one arm around my waist.

"I'll just be off then."

I put my kettle down, and wrapped an arm around him as well.

"I'll walk you to the door."

Unhurriedly we made our way to the front door, kissed deeply, and he was gone.

I unpacked my bags and threw the clothes into the washing machine. Tomorrow I would begin putting all my text and pictures together, tonight was definitely a bubble bath night. I passed through the kitchen to collect my tea, put on a peaceful c.d., and then into the bathroom. As I was running the water, my eyes fell on my comb and my lips curled into a smile. There was something very intimate about his having shared my comb. I picked it up and held it against my heart for a moment before gently placing it back down. I soaked a long time replaying the time we'd spent together. Then knowing I would be with him again soon, I slept peacefully.

Carlisle phoned at nine. I was already deep into editing and his warm voice was a welcome shift of gears.

"Good morning my Sparrow. Did you sleep well?"

"I did, although I must admit my bed seemed to be a lot bigger last night. There was a great deal of empty space in it."

"I missed you too."

"Was your night peaceful?"

"It was almost eerily quiet even for a Thursday night. I hope that doesn't mean things are gearing up for the weekend."

"Maybe they're all waiting for next weekend. Thanksgiving holidays are notorious for being deadly."

"That they are. Are you still ready to meet my family?"

"Yes."

"Then I'll pick you up at eight. That should give you enough time to get in a fortifying class at the gym."

"You, sir, are beginning to understand me way too well."

He chuckled softly and said he had to go make mid-morning rounds, that he loved me, and would see me tonight.

I was going to put in a lot of hours today putting my materials together and trying not to think about the coming meeting. I was ready, but couldn't honestly say I was looking forward to it.

By six p.m. I was at the gym nervous and twitchy. By seven, I was full of endorphins, and ready to face an entire firing squad if necessary. I kept this high through a steamy shower and into slim black pants, a soft moss green charmeuse top, and spike heels for added height. A little gold at my ears and around my neck and I was armed for bear. Carlisle was punctual and gave me a very appreciative look as he put his arms around me and bent for welcome kisses that started at my lips and worked their way down my neck.

"You are a lovely, desirable woman, my Sparrow. Maybe we should just let them wait a little longer."

With his cool lips on my rapidly heating skin, I would normally have concurred wholeheartedly, but I was primed for this meeting, and meet we would.

I stepped back a little out of kissing range.

"Meeting first. I've got my nerve up and it won't last forever, so let's do it. Now, please."

He nodded his head, offered his arm, and out the door we went.

*****************

We made a final turn down the long, wooded drive. Even in the dark, I could tell that his house was straight out of Architectural Digest; exquisite, wood, glass and modern. He parked and moved quickly to my side of the car. He knew I needed him if I was indeed going to get out of the car tonight at all. He reached in a hand, took mine firmly, and out of the car I came.

It was but a moment to the big glass front door, and in we went. The inside was wood and off white walls, tastefully decorated with pictures and artifacts that I would dearly love to examine. There was a large very old wooden cross hanging near the entrance to the living room that caught my eye, and I had walked near it, when behind me, I felt a coolness and a total absence of sound.

I wanted to break and run to anywhere but here. Instead I turned around, faced into the room and saw them all. Perfectly still. Perfectly quiet. Perfectly beautiful. Looking at us. Their eyes were all shades of the same golden color, and their skin all variations on pale. I straightened my spine, lifted my chin and looked right back. Someone in the crowd took a breath. Someone else shifted, someone twitched, scratched an ear, looked away.

Carlisle was right behind me, his arm lightly around my shoulders.

"Family, this is Sparrow Fortis. Sparrow, my family."

We approached the group from the left. A very large, very muscular dark haired young man was sitting on the edge of a sofa, his baseball cap dangling between his knees.

I extended my hand to him.

"You I believe are Emmett?"

Emmett looked at my hand, then up into my face, nonplussed.

"Um…"

The girl I assumed to be Alice, gave a delicate huff of disgust and stepped over between Emmett and myself.

"Oh get over yourself Emmett, she knows what we feel like, they're lovers!"

I closed my eyes momentarily and felt Carlisle's arm tighten around me, as he said in a low wry voice.

"Thank you for clarifying that, Alice."

When I opened my eyes, Alice's pert perfect little face was before mine. Behind her I could see Rosalie rolling her eyes.

"Welcome, Sparrow! It's very nice to meet you."

Her little hand was stuck out, waiting to grasp mine. I took it and we shared a firm shake, then she surprised me by giving me a quick hug before she stepped back. She looked very pointedly at Emmett, who stood quickly and offered his hand as well. He shook it gently, my hand lost in his huge cold paw. He grinned and released me, sinking back onto the sofa and plopping his cap brim backwards on his head.

"Nice to meet you."

"And you."

Turning to the beautiful stiff blonde woman standing beside him, I didn't offer my hand, her arms were crossed in front of her in a don't-even-think-about-it posture. This was the girl who worked on the cars?

"You must be Rosalie. Carlisle said you were lovely, but he didn't do you justice."

She arched an eyebrow, and nodded to me.

I turned next to a distressed leonine looking young man. He had stood when Emmett had.

"Jasper, I believe?"

I hesitantly extended my hand to him. He took it and made a quick little bow over it as he was greeting me.

"Pleasure to meet you ma'am."

He released my hand and remained standing, somewhat uneasily, glancing at Alice. She was beaming at him.

Next in the queue were an extremely attractive together young couple. The bronze haired man smiled at me and readily took my hand.

"Hello Edward, it's nice to see you again. Thank you for bringing my car home safe and sound. I hope it wasn't too uncomfortable a trip."

"You are very welcome Sparrow. Driving your car is an adventure. Has it no shocks at all?"

"You are very like your father."

He grinned a crooked smile, glanced at Carlisle, then back to me.

"I'd like to introduce you to my wife, Bella."

The dark haired young woman smiled warmly and touched my arm with her cool hand.

"You have a champion in Edward, Sparrow. We all love Carlisle and are very happy that he has found someone that he enjoys spending time with. He's not meant to be alone."

"Thank you, Bella. I enjoy his company as well."

I looked around the room and spoke to them all.

"Thank you all very much for inviting me into your home."

My face relaxed into a real smile as I looked up at Carlisle who had remained at my side. His expression reassured me.

"Now that everyone has met, I'm going to show Sparrow the rest of the house. You can all go on doing whatever it was you were doing before we got here."

It was a politely obvious dismissal. Everyone began to disperse and move in various directions, giving us sideways glances as they did so. Carlisle took my hand. I laced my fingers with his.

"Carlisle, may I look again at the cross by the door?"

He looked pleased as we walked toward it.

"Of course. You like it?"

"Very much. It's uncomplicated and elegant. Hand carved. I'd guess much love went into its creation. May I touch it?"

"Please."

I lay my hand flat and ran it along the smooth wood, as I leaned in to inhale it's scent. I examined the joints where the pieces were put together. No modern tools created this. It was all hand hewn, pegged, and rubbed smooth. He spoke in a quiet voice.

"I treasure this cross, and have carried it with me for a very long time. An ancestor, an Anglican minister, made it. He carved it from a tree that fell in the church cemetery, and he mounted it on the outside of the rectory wall at the head of the spot where his wife was buried. By the time I came across it, the church yard had been desecrated, the tombstones broken and tossed about, and most of the rectory had been burnt. By some fair twist of fate, the cross was still mounted unharmed on one of the few walls that remained."

"How remarkable to have found it at all. I can see why you treasure it."

Aware of the house full of people, I tightened my hold on his hand, and placed a quick kiss on his chest. I felt his swift inhale. With a last loving stroke on the cross, I indicated my readiness to move on. We went upstairs into the kitchen. Someone had made tea in a china teapot, and the fragrance was mouth watering.

"Who drinks tea?"

"You do."

"You've told them things about me."

"Yes. It appears that you've made a positive impression on someone."

"They did it for you. They love you very much."

I raised my voice a little and spoke to the house.

"Thank you whoever made the tea, that was very kind of you."

"Your thanks will get to the appropriate person. The cups are in the cupboard on the left of the sink. Sugar's here in the sugar bowl. I'll check the refrigerator for lemon, but I won't promise...oh-ho!"

I looked up as he held out a fat yellow lemon. I held my breath and caught my lower lip between my teeth. This picture of Carlisle at the refrigerator was a completely new concept. My face must have registered surprise and caught him off guard.

"What?"

"I just didn't have the concept of you rummaging around in a refrigerator."

"Actually I'm quite a good cook. The hospital staff are all very appreciative anyway."

"You never cease to amaze me."

He cut the lemon and placed a thin slice in my cup. The tea was perfect. I poured it into a delicate porcelain cup, made it sweet, and Carlisle proceeded to show me the rest of the house.

Respectfully we didn't go into any individuals rooms, but he took me into his study. The moment I stepped inside, I knew this was where he really lived, his scent lightly filled the room. I moved to the center, wanting to take it all in. Lamps cast a subdued glow. A thick, deep red aubusson carpet lay on the floor, hushing our footsteps. An unruly vision of sinking into this carpet and taking him down with me sprang fully born into my mind. I shot a look at him, found him looking at me, and quickly looked away, heat rushing through me. Deep leather chairs, gleaming dark wood paneling and heavy carved furniture that would have overpowered any other room, were perfect in this one. The walls were lined ceiling to floor with books and manuscripts both new and extremely old and smelling of ancient leather. Some of the titles I could see were in other languages, some Italian, I thought, some perhaps something earlier. Fascinating, faintly unsettling paintings, apparently disparate in nature hung on the walls. A journal lay open on his desk, and a stack of several books and magazines waited next to it. All was neat and orderly. I left this room having gained a deeper sense of intimacy about him.

Carlisle hesitated, and would have shown me his bedroom, but I wasn't ready to visit the room in which he and his wife had shared their personal lives. I stopped him by laying a hand on his arm and slightly shaking my head. Downstairs someone began to play the piano. I listened. The melody was played with great feeling and artistry.

"Who plays so beautifully?"

"Edward. He's playing a piece he composed for Bella when he first met her."

It was a haunting piece of doubts and dreams and longing, and love.

"He loved her from the beginning then?"

"He did. He fell hard and fast, but their relationship was, to say the least, complicated."

"It appears to have worked out well. They seem extremely happy together."

"Cullen men do not love lightly and we are a tenacious lot."

I held his eyes but I could feel my heart rate increase and my color rise. I looked away first and started down the stairs. Carlisle took my now empty cup to the kitchen. Edward had moved into another piece, equally as lovely, and as unfamiliar. Carlisle was behind me and I could feel a slight tension in him.

"Edward wrote that piece for Esme. She loved it for itself, and because he had written it for her, but mostly because when he played it, she knew he was happy."

We completed our descent and quietly entered the living room where Bella was sitting with Edward at the piano. Carlisle sank into the plush sofa and pulled me down beside him. He settled an arm around my shoulders, hugging me close. I nestled into his side and rested my head against his chest. I whispered softly to him.

"Your home is beautiful. Elegant. Tranquil. Like you."

He responded, drawing the back of his fingers down my cheek.

"It gives me great pleasure to share it with you."

Edward played on for nearly an hour, flowing from one movingly executed piece to another. He had barely begun DeBussy's Claire de Lune when I felt a change. His playing became more intense, more intimate. Bella had moved closer to him and was slowly running her fingers through the hair at the nape of his neck. I watched Edward's head respond to her touch and felt a little like a voyeur. It was time for us to leave them. We slipped from the room as quietly as we had entered, and out the front. The wind had picked up and was whipping saturated air around us. Carlisle's car was a solid warm haven.

Before we reached the end of the driveway I addressed the subject that must have been in both of our minds.

"That didn't go badly at all, do you think?"

"Not at all. I think they were quite favorably impressed with you."

There was a slight something, a fleeting feeling of distance, in his manner that I couldn't quite comprehend, and let pass. Whatever it was would surface or go away.

"I was just hoping for not giving them a great dislike of me. Beyond that, anything else is icing on the cake. They are certainly attractive and fascinating. Each one unique, and yet the whole is strongly united. I would never lay odds in favor of anyone trying to drive a wedge between any of you."

"It has been tried, unsuccessfully."

The rain had begun to fall and we drove quietly the rest of the short way to my house. I was thinking about each of those drop dead gorgeous children of his, and wondering what manner of person had tried to come between them. Surely no one in their right mind.

Carlisle pulled into my driveway and stopped the Mercedes. He turned to me and spoke very earnestly his deep honey gold eyes looking at me intently.

"I'm going to walk you in and then leave for the evening. I have some reading to catch up on and I am at the hospital at seven in the morning for some scheduled out patient surgeries."

I felt a stabbing sense of loss, but kept my face neutral. After all, he did have a life apart from me.

"Of course, but you don't need to walk me in, Carlisle, I take myself in when you're not here."

"But I am here, Sparrow, and it's my privilege to see that you are safe when I leave you."

I was struggling with the word leave even knowing it was just for tonight. I didn't like it anywhere near thoughts of the two of us. It was too terrifying.

He was out and had my door open before I'd finished that last thought. He gently took my hand as I got out and tucked it into the crook of his arm. On the porch, I fished around in my bag for the key, which he took and opened my door. It was very unlike the Cullen house, tiny, not at all modern, my walls in browns, greens, and blues. My furniture was all about comfort rather than elegance, and it suited me well. I thought though, and not for the first time, how very perfect my tall, fair lover looked standing in the middle of it. I disengaged from his arm stepped a little ahead of him and spoke lightly.

"Well, as you can see it's literally, safe as houses in here tonight."

He closed the distance between us and placed both his hands on my upper arms, steadying me, as he kissed my neck. A really old song came into my mind and stuck there playing over and over the bit about "go now, before I beg you to stay". He wrapped his arms around my rib cage and moved to the other side of my neck, kissing beneath my ear and moving down to the hollow of my collarbone. I relaxed back onto his chest and let my arms drop to my sides, reaching back to lightly stroke his thighs. The familiar languor stole over me and the heat started to rise. I said a little thinly,

"Your reading is not getting done."

He responded a little hoarsely in my ear.

"I wouldn't be able to concentrate without your sweet kisses to tide me over."

I turned easily in his arms and lifted mine around his neck, offering up my mouth to his cool hungry lips. His eyes darkened and deepened before closing. Clinging kisses. Licking, sucking, tasting kisses. Deep plunging mating kisses. Intense soul stealing kisses which left me brainless and gasping for air. He inhaled deeply and pressed his forehead to the top of my head. Exhaling slowly, he loosened his hold around me. I relished the sweet scent of his breath as it flowed by me. I let my arms move from his neck to his forearms, and little by little we separated. My heart was pounding, my head was pounding, my breath was erratic, and my womb was tied up in knots, but I could do this. I could let him go tonight. The rest was up to him.

He gently moved himself apart from me, the breath still heaving in his chest. He whispered.

"I will see you tomorrow, my Sparrow."

"Goodnight then, my Carlisle."

He kissed both my hands, and left. Fled more like.

I leaned weakly against the back of the door and waited to hear his car come to life.

A minute passed. Two. Too long. I opened the door. He was just standing there motionless in the cold rain, halfway to his car, his back to me. I called to him softly from the porch.

"Carlisle?"

No response. Something wasn't right. I kicked off my heels and quickly picked my way around puddles to where he was standing, still motionless. I moved around in front of him and placed a hand on his chest. His eyes were closed, and his hands were clinched at his sides.

"Carlisle, what's wrong? You're just standing out in the rain, are you ill?"

He spoke so quietly I almost missed it in the sounds of the falling rain.

"I can't do it."

"What can't you do?"

"I can't leave you like this tonight. I need you.""

He opened his eyes, and for a moment they glowed hotly from within.

He couldn't go because he needed me? He couldn't go because he needed me!

I took his hand and led him back into the house, closing the rain outside. His glowing eyes now focused steadily on mine as his arm went round me and his hand opened widely across my back pulling me closer to him. He was whispering now, our faces only a breath apart.

"I need you Sparrow. I need to touch you, to be in touch with you, all of you, all of the time, to hear your laughter, to share your joy of life.

I need to surrender to you, to be surrounded by you, to be buried deep inside you. I need you to come home to, to be there when you come home, to be with you when you go to sleep and when you wake up, to face the world with you, to go through forever with you. I had fallen into darkness, you are my light, my love."

I was stunned. I could neither utter a sound nor move a muscle.

His quiet voice spoke into the silence.

"Is it all just too much for you?"

That one sentence was my undoing. I turned sharply away, covering my mouth with my hand, muffling my cry. I squeezed my eyes tightly shut, hoping to hold back the torrent of tears that were already rising. I began to tremble. Every atom in me was shuddering, increasing in tempo. I was the epicenter of an earthquake.

Alarmed, Carlisle held me more tightly.

"Sparrow!"

I held him back with a hand against his chest. I turned my tearful face to him, my flooded eyes found his agonized ones, and spoke brokenly and from my heart.

"All is what I have always wanted. What I always got was tiny bits of love. Love for who someone else thought I was or who they thought they could make me into. Love because I made them look good, because it was the right thing to do, because they knew the buttons to push and could make me believe it. But always the reality was there, and the false love went away and each time I hurt a little more. Until, finally, I put love away, except for my parents and daughter. My parents died, and my daughter needs to live her own life. So, I built myself a rich, full, and happy life without it.

"But deep, deep inside still lives the need for love. Music unleashes my passion and I pretend and imagine, to make love right. And then there was you. I tried keeping you as a fantasy, my imagination loved playing with you. You were more insistent. I began to open again to the possibility of love, knowing that it would end badly, there were too many differences, too wide a chasm between us, but willing to settle for it, to love you and have your love as long as I could.

"Now you offer me your all. Think well. If you don't mean this with everything you are, leave now and never again come near me. If you do, then stay, but fair warning, if you ever after withdraw your love, my heart will break and I will bleed to death in front of you. There will be nothing you can do about it."

There was a moment, when the air was charged with something beyond either of us. Then he spoke in a firm low voice.

"God is my witness, Sparrow, I will love you forever."

He loosed me for a moment and dropped his dripping jacket onto the floor. He picked up my hands and kissed each palm, pressed them to his chest, then took my head in both his hands, looking into my eyes, into my soul. His perfect mouth came down on mine and softly kissed it. I slipped my hands around his body and up to caress his shoulder blades. His head lifted, eyes closed, a satisfied sigh escaped him. When next he opened his eyes they shone with smokey amber desire. He lifted me up against him and with a hand swept the neckline of my blouse off my shoulder. He rubbed his cheek along my skin, trailing kisses on my sensitive flesh. I murmured low and indistinctly, surrendering to him. A rubicon for us had been crossed. Going back was not an option, the only direction now was forward.

The night was ours for exploring each other, finding new pleasures, new levels of intimacy, being vulnerable without fear, needing and taking, being needed and giving.

*****************

I awoke draped bonelessly over his cool hard body. I yawned, made a sleepy sound and rubbed my face across his sculpted chest. My lover's hands swept slowly down my back kneading the muscles as they went. Lifting myself to prop my forearms on his chest, I looked into his face and saw enough love there to melt the heart in my breast. Joy filled me and I ran my arms around him holding tight to all I could gather in.

"How very much I love you, my Carlisle. Sadly, I'm almost positive it's time for you to go repair somebody."

"Almost. There's time for a quick morning briefing."

"Mmmmmmm…"

I ran a hand down his sleek, bare flank and across my own bare bum.

"Sorry, no briefs here."

One of his rare chuckles rumbled through him.

"Ahhh, that was awful."

"It's early. What dark secrets do you want to pry out of me this very early morning?"

"What are your plans for the day?"

"That I can handle. It's Friday, so I need to fire off some copy to my editor, work on the rest, pick up a few groceries, and go to the gym before my man gets off work and if I'm lucky, comes to be with me. How about you?"

"I must do those repairs you spoke about, make my rounds, then if it's all right with her, I'm bringing some of my things to my lady's house and try to find a place to put them."

My mouth fell slightly open, but I recovered quickly to ask.

"You're bringing things to my house?"

"Some of them, if you permit. You keep me captive until even I am hard pressed to get to work on time if I have to go home first to get fresh clothes."

"Okay, rethinking."

I know I must have pounded happily on his chest, he is a very indulgent man.

"After sending copy, everything else can wait. Bring anything you want, as much as you want. I'll clear you space."

"This pleases you."

It was a statement.

"This pleases me. Very much. Now get up and be gone my love, I have things to do."

I bounced out of bed and into the bathroom. When I emerged a few moments later, my gown tossed on, he had dressed, had Strauss playing on the radio, and was putting coffee on for me.

"Oh, I am so going to like this!"

I danced over to where he stood, collected him and danced toward the door. As we approached the door, he took a turn which danced us down the room again. One more turn, a few sweeping twirls and we were back at the front door, laughing. I had the door open and swept him out into the pre-dawn, kissing his beautiful face all the way to his car. He fired up the Mercedes and backed out of the driveway. I blew kisses to him until he disappeared down the road, then ran lightly back inside, trying not to let my feet touch the cold wet ground. As I said, I had things to do.

*****************

His surgeries lasted until 1:30, then he called.

"Hello my Sparrow."

"Hello my love. How are your patients?"

"Thriving, thank you. What is that racket?"

"Just people. I've come into town for a few items and it seems everyone else is here with their very impatient, very loud children."

"We could have gone later."

I was getting a weird image here. Carlisle with a shopping cart, comparing labels on different brands of yogurt while five feet away, three kids squabble heatedly over cereal.

"Carlisle.....have you ever been inside Thrifty Mart?"

"No, I don't think I have."

"It's a war zone. I'll just keep this purview mine. I ran in for plastic storage bins and I'm almost out of here, unscathed. Do you need anything? I've got to pass the hospital on my way home."

"Then stop and have tea with me."

I stared at my phone. Surprises were coming thick and fast today.

"Really?"

"Yes. Someone, is bound to notice sooner or later, and probably sooner, that my car comes and goes at all odd hours from your house. We might as well let them see we're not sneaking around."

"Okay. I'll be there as soon as I check out."

"Good. Come in the emergency entrance and I'll be somewhere around there. Sparrow?"

"Yes?"

"Don't fret. Just remember that I love you."

"I know you do. Love you too. I'll be there shortly."

I had made it to the check out while we were talking, and very soon I was piling my bins into the back of my jeep. I was also talking to myself about the coming venture. I'll just be casual, dropping in to have tea. It is, after all a public place, pda's not high on his list, I'd bet. He is head guy at the hospital. I'm a friend of the family. It's all good. I can do this.

Calm attitude in hand, I parked in the visitor parking near the emergency entrance and checked the rear view mirror to make sure I didn't look guilty. Nope, looked like a woman dropping by. I just had to keep anyone with a heart monitor far away from me.

I squared my shoulders, and walked casually into the ER.

'There you are!"

His rich voice sounded very clear in the quiet of the hospital.

Carlisle wrapped an arm around me, tucking me against himself, and kissed me quickly but firmly on the lips. When he kisses me, I kiss back, so the friend of the family idea was out. He headed us in the direction of the cafeteria. The cafeteria that was located at the opposite end of the hospital, down the main, very occupied hallway.

I raised my eyebrows at him and murmured for his ears only.

"Subtle."

He gave me an innocent eyed smile, with just a hint of a twinkle in it.

All along the way, he greeted and was greeted, it seemed, by everyone living in or near Forks. They must all have come here directly from Thrifty Mart. No one seemed shocked or even unusually interested in our close association. I decided to take a note from Alice's book and "get over" myself and just enjoy his company.

Finally reaching our destination, Carlisle picked up a tray and asked for a dish of the hot apple crisp from the woman behind the counter. No, he didn't believe he would have ice cream on it, thank you. To drink? Yes, he thought he'd have a cup of tea, and one for me as well. I followed in his wake, completely bemused. He paid and found us a table, thankfully near the back of the dining area. He handed me a fork, put a forkful of crisp into his mouth and chewed it.

I gave a covert glance around and asked softly.

"What are you doing?"

He swallowed.

"Eating apple crisp. I gather it's quite good. Have a bite."

I did.

"It's very good."

He put another forkful into his mouth. He seemed to have a little more difficulty swallowing this time.

"That's not going to make you sick is it?"

"No, but you will have to eat the rest."

"Can you wash it down with a little tea?"

He took a sip. A slight grimace momentarily touched his face. I was shocked to discover that seeing him put regular food into his mouth looked wrong to me. I reached a hand across the table and laid it over his.

"Do you often pretend to eat here?"

"Rarely. I usually get something to go, then leave it in the break room."

"So no one here is aware of your eating situation."

"No."

I had steadily been eating the crisp. I don't believe anyone noticed that we hadn't shared equally. The styrofoam cups were small and side by side on the table. I would easily be able to make their contents disappear.

"So, talk to me about your morning while I drink my tea."

He turned his hand under mine, and held onto it as he spoke of the tonsils, the hernia repairs, the resetting of an improperly healing bone, and two gall bladder removals while I consumed the tea.

I set the second empty cup on the table and smiled at him. The crisp was also gone.

Noticing the lack of contents, he flashed me a brilliant smile and tightened his hold on my hand.

"You are a gem, little Sparrow."

"You're welcome. I should be going. Thank you for the crisp and tea."

"We're public now. Are you comfortable with that?"

"Now that it's done, I actually am."

We disposed of the dish, utensils, cups and tray in the proper places. Carlisle took my hand again and kept me close to him as we retraced our steps back down that endless hallway. At the ER door, he took my chin in his hand and placed a lingering kiss on my lips. The familiar heat spread through me. Somewhat short of breath I asked what time he planned to be finished with work.

"Unless something else comes up, my shift is over at four. I'll be going home to pack some things to bring to your house."

Outwardly, I was a little flushed but relatively calm. Inside, I was doing the great Snoopy dance.

"Then I will see you this evening. Just in case…"

I slid a hand into my pocket and held up the shiny new key I'd had made for him.

He grinned, took it, dropped it into the pocket of his white coat and gave it a pat.

He gave my cheek a final caress.

"Until this evening."

I made good my exit.

The afternoon consisted of pulling out unnecessary items from my closet, drawers and shelves and repacking them in plastic under bed bins or in my office room. Not knowing what or how much Carlisle would be bringing here, his space still looked a bit sparse. I took a second pass at downsizing and finally around three thirty I decided I had done all I could do. I threw a load of laundry into the dryer, and was sitting in the front porch swing when he pulled into the driveway. Would the blood ever stop rushing to my head and would my heart ever learn to behave whenever he appeared? I seriously doubted it.

For the next hour, we put away the things he had brought. They occupied the spaces I made, but didn't appear crowded. His books, papers and miscellaneous fit neatly onto one shelf to the left of the computer. He set today's newspaper and a book he was reading on the lamp table in the living room. Life had changed again. This was "our" house now, even if it was a part time state of affairs, so to speak.

"You have gym tonight at six, right?"

"Yes, and I need to get a move on don't I?"

I headed into the bedroom to pull out exercise clothes from the dresser. Carlisle was right behind me.

"While you're there, I'm going running with Edward."

"So that's how you stay sleek and fit."

"That and all the exercise I get with you."

I rolled my eyes at him, color heightened.

"Carlisle Cullen, the things you say!"

We met in the closet. He was pulling out black running gear, I was hunting for the other aerobics shoe. It's really a small closet. Bumping into his beautiful body was inevitable. Hadn't left the house yet and my endorphins were already grinning and slapping each other on the back.

I could not stop smiling through the cardios, the lunges, the kicking, punching, leg lifts, the weights, the floor progressions and the ab curls. Dripping and smiling now with anticipation, I was pulling on my sweats when the instructor approached me.

"Girl, you must be in love."

"Matter of fact I am."

"Is he that drop dead gorgeous blond who looks at you like you were an eclair?"

"Matter of fact he is."

She held up her fist, we banged knuckles, in complete understanding. I chuckled all the way home.

I was first home and quickly hopped in and out of a hot shower. When Carlisle came in a half hour later, I was watching Syfy and folding my laundry. I put the folding aside for his hug. That wild scent was added to his natural fragrance. So it was physical exertion that resulted in him smelling a little of untamed and exciting animal. Me it left smelling like a wet and sweaty person. Life was rarely fair.

"Did you and Edward have a good run?"

"Yes. It's exhilarating trying to keep up with him."

"I've a feeling you can hold your own."

"Most of the time. Sparrow, about your home and me. I sort of dropped this on you. I'm not attempting to move in, or take you over or change the way you live. It seemed to be the natural evolution of our relationship. You appeared to be delighted earlier today...but have you had second thoughts?"

"No, nope, none at all. I just plain think its great and it does make wonderful sense. I don't want to let you go to work or wherever any sooner than I have to."

"Good, I was a little concerned that I might be stepping on your independence. I'm going to wash the run off of me. I'll meet you at the sofa in ten minutes."

He gave me a quick kiss and took his handsome self off to the bathroom.

In ten minutes he was back, looking fresh and ready to share the evening with me. I had put away the clothes, turned off the t.v. and was setting my book down when his phone rang.

Accidents happen, and one had tonight, a bad one. Carlisle was dressed and out the door in less than five minutes, having held me in a close embrace for two of them. He started to apologize.

"Sparrow, I am.…"

"A doctor. It's who you are. Now go help someone. I'll be right here."

A swift hard kiss and he was gone.

*****************

It's not every day one awakens with a cool tongue circling one's clitoris. When it does, I say carpe diem. I definitely seized, though gently, a golden mass of hair and clutched at a solid shoulder. I groaned and tilted my hips forward. He was ready for me and thrust deeper, his hands gripping my thighs, keeping me from entirely rising off the bed. My breath was coming in short gasping pants, my head thrown back, my eyes closed to shut out everything except the exquisitely mounting tension. He was merciless, and my groans got louder and more extreme. Internal pulsing took over, wracking me, and I could no longer utter a sound, just a huge inhalation and everything but intense sensation stopped. He ended it with one concentrated suck, which sent me over the edge first into blackness, then into all colors, shuddering, crying his name as I came into myself again, my heart pounding to get free of my chest. His lips were on mine, kissing them, licking them, nipping them, while he came into me hard and fast. This precious onslaught I could join, and did, pumping, thrusting meeting bang with bang, clutching each other, two savage animals, rolling, one of us ascendant, then the other, terrifying, joyfully, until we both flew loudly into the great crescendo.

He had slipped into one of those absolutely still and quiet phases of his, lying across me. His arms were stretched out pinning mine, and his legs lay along the outside of mine. I could feel every powerful inch of him against me. I turned my face into his sweet hair and inhaled. I loved times like these. He seemed so vulnerable, so defenseless, having spent himself so completely. I knew he wasn't sleeping, I think he was just savoring us. I slipped my arms from beneath his to wrap them around his back and hold him tightly. Carlisle. I loved this man. I would always love this man. I would fight and gladly give my life defending this man. A few moments later he rolled over onto his side, freeing my legs, my arms still wrapped around him. He pulled me over onto my side, my breasts brushing his chest, and stroked me shoulder to hip. His eyes roamed over my face and a tender look crossed his.

"I love your face, mi amante."

My face smiled and blushed.

My mouth reached for his in a loving kiss. I cuddled into him, and for a while we lay there, peacefully content.

*****************

Eventually I stirred.

"That was some wake up call. Most people just get coffee in bed."

"Most people don't sprawl wantonly across a big bed, looking sleep warmed, rumpled, and irresistibly delectable."

I shook my head. I couldn't get used to how I appeared to him. Anything I said would only make me blush worse, so I changed the subject.

"How did the accident victims fare?"

"Not too badly. Three teenagers from the reservation had been partying a little too hard and alcohol mixed with fatigue and poor judgement got their truck wrapped around a tree. One boy was thrown out of the bed of the truck and skidded in the gravel. His skin is going to hurt like fire for a while. The passenger had some head trauma, but had his seat belt on preventing him from further injury. The driver wasn't so wise. He wasn't belted in and the impact hurled his body sideways into the gear shift which injured his spleen. We were able to repair the spleen and when his broken bones heal, he'll be fine. If they would only use the wisdom they have, so much pain could be avoided."

"Were you a wise teenager?"

"I lived in a small village. Everyone knew everyone's business, so I was wise enough to stay out of any real trouble. My father was not a very understanding man, so any transgressions were not lightly dismissed. How about you? Were you a wild child?"

"Lord no. As a teenager I was inert. I became a little more alive in my twenties, but I never drank or did drugs. I was a control freak. If I was going to do anything stupid, I wanted to do it with a clear head and of my own volition. "

"That's the way you prefer to run your adult life as well isn't it, clear headed and in control?"

"There have been times when I've let others run my life, have control over me for a while. It didn't work out well. I'm best at being the alpha dog of my own life. Of course, there is a rather new development. There's this guy in whose presence I often lose complete control."

"I've a strong suspicion he's not in control of himself during those times either. Sparrow, let's go do something fun."

"You don't have to work today?"

"I'm going to check on yesterday's surgery patients and the boys from last night's accident, then we are free. What do you say we take a little hike in the wilderness?"

*****************

And so began the wonderful days. And nights. He discovered that I could drink caffeine until bedtime and beyond and still sleep like a baby. I discovered that he didn't sleep at all, or at least, I never knew him to do so. He found out about my secret stash of Necco wafers, that I doled out to myself very sparingly. I found out that he and his whole family were mad about baseball, hiking, and going camping and that he was brought to purring by my running my nails through his hair along his scalp. We discovered that neither of us could stand clowns, and that both of us lost ourselves in Jeffrey Deaver novels. We became accustomed to each other's rhythms, whether hanging out at home, or on the dance floor, on the living room floor, wherever, however, our bodies happen to come into contact. We were very open about the fact that we were both very passionate about our passion for each other.

We were well into December now, and I was preparing to spend the holidays with my daughter and her family in London. I would fly there on the eighteenth. Carlisle was meeting me there the following week. He'd asked me what he could get me for Christmas. I said that he would be nice, so the evening of the twenty seventh, my daughter, her husband, my granddaughter and I will all be going to the airport to pick Carlisle up, and send everyone else on their way to Owen's parent's house in Llandudno, in northern Wales. There is an overlap in arrival and departure times so everyone will meet. Oh Lord.

*****************

Getting to Heathrow during traffic hours was never smooth going, and tonight was no exception. The M4 was backed up with what turned out to be a jackknifed tanker trailer. Thankfully it hadn't turned over, but was leaking something oily on the already rain-slicked roadway, making traffic crawl along. We had, however, allowed plenty of time for this type of interference. Owen was used to driving in this mess, and Anne was patient. I was a wreck, and not because of the traffic either. As if I was the child again, anticipating introducing my family to my boyfriend. My very young, beautiful boyfriend. Emma and I kept each other busy by playing in the backseat of the BMW, and eventually we approached the airport and headed into the close-in short term parking. Carlisle and I would be using their car and flat for a couple of days, taking a day trip or two around London. Then, on the thirtieth—one of my forever dreams was coming true—he and I would fly to Vienna where we had tickets to a New Years Eve concert.

We got the baggage inside and checked in with British Airways with little ado, then checked the arrival board. Flight 48 from Seattle, on time. Thirty minutes to wait. My heart had started its rate increase. We'd talked every day, but I hadn't seen him, worse yet, hadn't touched him in two weeks. Not since he left me at the Sea-Tac Airport where he'd insisted on driving me. We'd stayed the night before at the Radisson Hotel Gateway. We were both more than a little needy that night, more clingy, hungrier for each other. I'd only known him since October, yet going somewhere without him, being without him, felt very unnatural.

My plane had departed and arrived right on time, and the two weeks with my daughter and her family were wonderful and filled with laughter, old memories, and now new ones. But I missed him. Like missing part of myself. Twenty minutes or so and he would be in the same building as me, breathing the same recirculated air. Ten. I knew he would be shuffled to customs, and with the holiday traffic it might be an hour before he got through. Another hour and I would be whole again. The arrival board was blinking "on time" beside his flight number. My daughter looked at me a bit oddly. I hope I hadn't made a sound. I knew my breath was coming a bit shorter and faster. Needing a little activity, I took Emma to Starbucks, got her a cookie and brought back a couple for Owen and Anne as well. We decided to go on down to the baggage claim area where he would be routed after finishing customs. Owen located the proper claim area, settled into a chair, and started playing a game on his i-phone. Anne, Emma and I walked around people watching. Knowing that he would not be appearing for quite a while didn't keep me from searching the crowd.

Anne couldn't help asking.

"Mom, are you all right?"

I pulled Emma up into my arms and hugged her.

"Mostly. I'm just a little...anxious."

"You really like this guy don't you?"

We'd never discussed men before, not my men anyway. There really hadn't been anything to discuss for a very long time. I met her eyes squarely.

"Yes. He makes me happy."

She smiled her beautiful smile and nodded at me. I could see her relax.

"Sparrow!"

His voice. I paled and clutched Emma, then the blood rushed back, animating me. I immediately located and started toward him. He was moving much more swiftly than is usually acceptable in a crowded public place, doing it with such grace and aplomb that no one had cause to quibble. His arms came around Emma and I and closed tightly. Emma squirmed.

He loosened his hold around Emma, but kept me close, and asked in the soft voice he must use with his own granddaughter.

"Who is this beauty?"

"This is my Emma."

"You are very fortunate little Emma, to look like your grandmother. "

He looked past Emma to where Anne was standing and lifted an eyebrow.

"Did you, my Sparrow, just one day bud and produce this lovely woman who looks so much like you??

Anne laughingly answered his question for me.

"We get that a lot."

Emma reached for her mother. Anne took her and Emma immediately swiveled around to stare at Carlisle. A huge smile spread across her face. I had to laugh.

"Congratulations! You have just been given the coveted Emma Tilsit smile of approval."

Owen had by this time joined us to say that the luggage from the plane was waiting in the claim area. I made introductions all around and Owen took Carlisle's carry-on while we went to pick up his checked through bag.

I had slipped my arm around his waist, happy to be touching him again, and he had not let go of me since our first greeting. As we walked he leaned over and spoke quietly in my ear.

"Sparrow, I am displaying considerable control in front of your family, but I am in desperate need of kissing you."

That was all the encouragement I needed. I stopped in my tracks, turned in front of him and tugged his golden head downward. He closed his arms around me and met my heated lips with his cool ones. Not a gentle kiss. A demanding one. A possessive one. How I had missed his kisses. His caresses. His passion. How easy it was to mold myself against his hard body. How difficult to pull away remembering that we were in the middle of Heathrow Airport with a billion people all around, some of them my family members. Soon. Soon we would be alone, but first, his bag, then smalltalk until it was time for them to go. The bag we quickly located and returned to the family. Their flight was scheduled to leave in a little under two hours from this terminal and as there were no convivial places to chat downstairs, we took ourselves up to the departure level and found a little cafe table near a window for Emma. Carlisle declined anything, saying they had been served several meals and some sort of interim food shortly before landing, and had been plied with beverages since take off. The rest of us had tea, except for Emma who indulged in chocolate milk. Conversation was surprisingly easy. Owen and Carlisle were both professional people, used to talking with virtual strangers. Anne was inclined to accept Carlisle as the man I cared about and also spoke comfortably with him. Emma enjoyed her milk and thought we were all just there for her amusement. Sooner than I would have thought possible, the time came for them to begin the security barrage, and for us to leave. Carlisle gathered up the cups for dumping while Owen gathered up Emma and gave him directions to the Tilsit house. Anne took the opportunity of whispering to me.

"Mom, he's so…"

"Young?"

She looked across at Carlisle as if she'd missed something, then back at me.

"Gorgeous. He's gorgeous and obviously crazy about you."

I shook my head and lifted my shoulders to the great mysteries of life.

"Stop it. You always sell yourself short. You are a beautiful, intelligent, loving woman. It's about time someone wonderful found you. I hope he realizes how lucky he is."

She hugged me very tightly, and we both were a little damp eyed when the men came back to collect us. Owen, Anne, Emma and I exchanged kisses and hugs all around. Anne surprised me by hugging Carlisle as well, then looked into his face and spoke very succinctly.

"You had better be good to my mother."

"I will Anne. I love her."

She was startled by his frank admission, but Owen was calling for her to get a move on. She gave me another quick kiss goodbye, and entered the queue.

"Did I shock her?"

"Yeah, maybe."

"I told her only the truth."

They were through the first security check point. Anne looked back, smiled and blew a kiss to us.

"I think she's good with it."

"Those who love you have given me very clear warning not to hurt you."

"After all, she is my daughter."

"And while giving me directions, Owen said much the same thing."

I lifted an eyebrow at him and said mock archly.

"Well, then, perhaps you'd better watch your step."

He answered back, only half in jest.

"Perhaps I'd better."

Carlisle strapped the small bag to his bigger one and maneuvered them with one hand while, holding my hand with his other maneuvered us through the crowded airport filled with holiday travelers.

We quickly located the car in the car park, and tossed his suitcases in the backseat. Carlisle opened the passenger side and I slipped in, leaning across to open his door as he went around. He was there, sliding inside. Our faces were inches apart. His scent flooded my lungs, filled my senses. Profound need hit me. We were only a breath apart, then our lips docked. A perfect meeting. My every feeling, every nerve, settled in our kiss. Searching lips, sure lips, tasting, claiming, tongues slipping over and twining together. I rose to my knees and wrapped my arms around his broad shoulders, stroking the hair at the back of his neck, letting my fingers touch him, remembering the feel of him. His hands had come from my back to my shoulder blades, and drew me in holding my body to his. He kissed the base of my throat, my neck, under my ear, his breath on me caused violent shivers of delight and desire. I shifted my head to capture those lips and gripped his shoulders hard. He took my head in his hands and pulled it slightly away, enough to look into my face. What he saw made his golden eyes darken and his fine lips lift into a relaxed smile.

"This is a small car, my Sparrow."

"With darkened diplomatic corp windows."

"Are you then as hungry for me as I am for you?"

"My body aches, and my womb throbs for you. I am slick and wanting, but I can wait if you…"

His growl was low and ferocious. Faster than my mind followed, he auto locked the doors, had the seats reclined. His familiar hand swept under my skirt and whisked away the silk barrier. I freed him from his confinement, and stroked him with my feverish hands. He shuddered, and drew in an uneven breath. He shifted to my side of the car and stretched out on his back, his feet resting on the floorboard. I straddled him, still stroking, rubbing my thumb through the thick drop that came from the head of my lovely rampant one. He ran his hands up my thighs until his thumbs were touching over my aching nub. He pressed. I arched, pushing back against his thumbs, a soft sigh escaped.

He spoke the barest whisper.

"Guide me in, Amante."

I raised up slightly and moved my hot aching center over him. His coolness touched me offering surcease and I sank down his length until our bodies settled together. His curve fitted me perfectly, his length tapped the very bottom of my womb, thrilling it. I began to spiral out of myself. He gripped my hips and tilted his upward, pushing me higher, farther into that blinding vortex.

I begged.

"Not yet. Not yet."

I breathed and clutched him inside, and clutched again as his breath caught, released, caught, held.

I came forward over him, my hands resting on either side of his head, and slowly began to ride him. Lifting, then sliding home, holding him with inner muscles. His breath came in a rush. For a while I set the pace, then his breath shortened, his hands gripped me almost painfully, he took over, his excitement became mine, and we rode wildly. Ah, the point of almost madness.

"Now, Amante, now!"

He growled urgently in my ear and going rigid, clutched my hips tightly to his body. His release surged into me, mine flowed around him, and our cries were smothered against each others necks. After-tremors rocked us for several minutes. Shudders eventually ceased and wits returned.

He spoke gently as he stroked me hip to knee.

"It has been a very long two weeks. I have missed you terribly."

Inhaling him, tasting his skin, being with him again, I could only agree.

Something occurred to him.

"Do you know, I have never before made love in a car?"

"Nor have I, and in a public parking lot no less!"

He grinned.

"It was fun wasn't it?"

"Oh my gosh, yes!"

We both disintegrated into happy laughter. As we were still joined, it was definitely an erotic feeling, which only made life more fun.

Disengaging was always a loss to me, and no less so tonight, but we put ourselves back together and set out for the Tilsit's home. The weather was strongly reminiscent of Forks, but the traffic was another matter. I was extremely glad Carlisle was driving. Three quarters of an hour later we had reached our destination. In another fifteen minutes we were settled inside the flat.

We had flipped on the gas fireplace, streamed in our favorite classical station and were settled together on the couch to discuss our plans for tomorrow. Owen had snagged tickets for us to see Phantom of the Opera at Her Majesty's Theatre in London's West End. Before the evening plans, we would have the entire day to ourselves, free and open. I consciously avoided pinching myself, afraid that I really was dreaming and that I would awaken. I didn't want that to happen any time soon. Or ever.

"Carlisle, is there anything you would like to do tomorrow, or any place you would particularly like to go?"

"I imagine much has changed since I was here last. I'm open for anywhere, and I'm guessing you have given it much thought."

"I have, of course, but they're just random thoughts, touristy things. Would you perhaps like to visit the place where you were born? I know you said it was outside London, and we have a fast car."

Carlisle drew in a slow deep breath, looked away from my face and down at my hand which he was holding. He rubbed his thumb back and forth across my knuckles, then raised them to his lips, kissed my palm and held it against his cheek. His eyes returned to mine. They were shielded, completely blank, keeping some emotion deeply hidden.

"I do not want that for this trip. It is a place of sadness, not for joy and laughter and year end merry-making, and that, my Sparrow, is what I want for us. Let's do those touristy things."

I searched his eyes, but they wouldn't share their secret. I ached for his hurt, but he was here with me now, and I would heap upon him whatever happiness I could provide.

"Then I propose a jaunt to Trafalgar Square, and a look at everything around its perimeter. As I have no intention of starting out at the crack of dawn, that should take us a goodly portion, if not all, of the day. It will, of course, be cold and rainy, but would we even know how to act in any other weather?"

"Definitely sounds like our kind of day. What's first?"

We talked far into the night. Sitting close together on the couch, we shared the guidebook pages I had dog eared, and eventually had a plan. Having expended a great deal of passion only a few hours earlier, our nearness generated warmth, comfort and contentment which neither of us seemed to want to change. I curled into his body, he closed his arms around me, and I slept.

*****************

Outside the morning dawned chilly and gray. I stretched, hearing pops and crackles down my back from sleeping in the arms of my lover. He massaged the sides of my neck and shoulders, working out the kinks. I made appreciative sounds. When his touch changed from comfort to arousal, his lips replaced his hands on my neck and his hands began to caress my body. I leaned my head back against his shoulder, and lifted my arms over his head, so they met in his hair. I fell quickly into a shiver of desire. He scooped me up into his arms and whispered for direction.

"Bed?"

I pointed. My bed was easily located, and we slipped languorously over, under, inside, and around each other pleasantly whiling away some early morning hours.

I lay peacefully in his arms and spoke.

"You cannot imagine how much I have missed you these past two weeks."

"Yes I can, if you missed me as I missed you. I will not go into detail, but my family first commiserated, then consoled, then tolerated, and finally losing all patience, told me to go stay at your house, they could no longer stand me in theirs."

I chuckled at his nonsense.

"You ridiculous man, I'm serious. I love my family dearly, but I absolutely hated being away from you. Thank God for cell phones, but not being able to touch you was purgatory."

I ran my hands over him because I could and it felt right.

He raised up on one elbow, enough to look into my face, and captured both of my roaming hands with one of his.

"You think I'm not serious? Ask Alice, no, ask Rosalie, the merciless. I can only make light of those two horrible weeks because they are, thankfully, over, and because for the foreseeable future, my Sparrow, where you go, I go. I will not be separated from you like that again."

I could feel a smile spreading across my face. Exhilaration seized my heart and tears spilled over and rolled across my cheeks.

"This pleases you, mi amante?"

"No."

I kissed his chin.

"This overjoys me."

I kissed his nose.

"Makes me giddy."

I kissed his mouth, wrapped my arms tightly around him and whispered into his perfect ear.

"I know what Ebenezer Scrooge felt like when he discovered Christmas day had not passed him by! Now, arise my lover, tempus fugit, the rest of our lives awaits!"

I bounced out of bed and danced into the kitchen humming Beethoven's Ninth. Coffee was put on. Toast in toaster. Butter and jam on the table. Carlisle leaned against the wall and grinned indulgently at me. I blew a kiss at him.

"If you want a shower, go ahead. It's the tiniest little shower I've ever seen. I'll eat my toast then be in."

He wandered off. I buttered, jammed and ate my whole wheat then poured, creamed and sugared a piping hot mug of coffee before going back into my room, which was also Emma's, to select today's clothes. I decided from the ground up. As it was raining, and likely to continue to do so, my sunny yellow Wellies were my footwear of choice, a set of champagne silk undies topped by sage cords, and a yellow sweater completed me. My hooded raincoat was also yellow, so I would look a little like a canary, but so what. That I was going to be with the man I love is what mattered.

He had finished showering and was hanging up his towel when I tapped on the door.

"Come. You are quite correct about the shower. We could, of course, both fit quite snugly. Perhaps later. What is it?"

I just stood there, coffee mug in hand, admiring his perfect, sleek, strong, maleness.

"You are beautiful."

"You are partial."

I walked forward until my nose pressed up against his chest. I inhaled and allowed my lips to kiss him, then stepped around him to enter the shower, handing him my mug as I did so.

The shower was tiny, but the water was hot and plentiful. I luxuriated for a few long minutes, then shampooed and rinsed everything off. I was handed a thick towel and stepped out onto the bathmat. Carlisle had dressed while I was showering and now looked edible in chocolate cords and pullover, and hiking boots. His hair was still damp and rumpled, which always made my heat rise. I dried, he combed. I hung my towel next to his and went off the the bedroom to dress. It didn't take me long to put on a bit of face, and we were out the door.

Two pounds sterling each would take us to Trafalgar Square on the red double decker bus. We climbed the narrow stairs and sat near the front, pointing at sights of interest, and being total tourists. Of course I brought my camera. My motto on pictures is, why take one when ten will do nicely. We were deposited thirty minutes later at Trafalgar near the column of Lord Nelson. Morning though it was, the day was still dark, and the twenty foot Christmas tree in the center of the square shone brilliantly.

We decided to start at he National Gallery. My favorite was the tiny Italian Landscape of Fabre's, Carlisle was captivated by Daumier's Don Quixote and Sancho Panza and we both felt strangely drawn to the life and death struggle of Vernet's Shipwreck in Stormy Seas. After a few hours walking and ogling I was parched and in need of tea and sitting down, so we made our way to St. Martin-in-the-Fields parish church, as I had heard there was a cafe in the crypt. It was surprisingly light and airy, but the gravestones on the floor were top notch and the tea a hot restorative. As we were leaving, we passed a choir rehearsing in one of the new crypt rehearsal rooms. We stopped to lean closely together and listen for a few moments as their soaring voices filled the vaulted ceiling. Our spirits renewed, we continued our outing.

We strolled hand in hand along Parliament Street to Westminster and halfway across the bridge. Standing together in the light rain we could see London and the Thames in its Christmas finery. An elderly gentleman, noticing that I was snapping pictures, volunteered to take our picture with London in the background. That picture is my treasure. Westminster Abbey was our final goal of today's venture and after paying homage to the burial places of Henry Purcell and Ralph Vaughan Williams, admiring the cloisters, the endlessly fascinating architecture, and climbing up to and down from the Lady's Chapel, I at least, was in need of a rest and some food before the evening began. We stopped at a tea shop for a sustaining cuppa and scones. I happily drank his tea and mine while we talked over all we had seen.

Finding the correct bus was simple enough and forty five minutes later Carlisle stepped down from the bus steps and turned to catch me around the waist and lift me down. It was only a short walk from there to our flat and only a few steps more until I could hang my raincoat on the hall tree, kick off my boots, and collapse on the sofa. Carlisle followed me down, took my right foot in his hands and began to rub the heel.

I mumbled from the depths of the cushion.

"You so know the way to this woman's heart. What did I ever do to deserve you?"

He immediately fired back at me.

"Maybe something dreadful."

I pulled my foot away and crawled into his lap, tucked an arm around his middle and snuggled in.

"No, it has to have been something wonderful. Hold me for a while please."

He gathered me in and we sat and listened to the rain beginning to spill from the skies. I must have drifted off to sleep. When next I surfaced, he was running his hand through my hair and whispering.

"My Sparrow, you have the softest hair. So warm and sweet like the rest of you."

I smiled, sighed against his chest, and would have been content remaining like this all evening, but the insistent ticking of a clock reminded me of the theatre treat in store for us.

I looked at my watch and found that there was plenty of time if we kept focused and didn't slip into a pleasurable digression. I rose from his lap somewhat unwillingly.

"I would very much like to shower before dressing for the theater. Would you like to join me in about ten minutes?"

"Of course. I will bring you a cup of tea. You need to eat as well."

"Tea would be lovely, thank you. I'll throw together a sandwich or something when I get out. See you in a bit."

And with a kiss to the top of his head, I took myself to the bathroom.

As I was going to be wearing my tequila sunrise dress my legs needed to be satiny smooth. I undressed, propped a leg on the side of the bathtub and spread on the shave cream. I was concentrating to avoid nicking anything (not tonight!), but still I was aware of his silent arrival at the door behind me. I finished the first leg, and was spreading lather on the second. He still hadn't moved or said anything.

"You know, if I slice my leg it will be your fault for unnerving me by staring at me."

"I am merely being a quiet observer to a female ritual."

I applied the razor and tried to ignore his golden eyes on me. A few smooth strokes and extra care around my knee, and the second leg was complete as well. I put the razor down and ran my hand over my leg, hunting for any missed stubble. I heard him finally move into the room.

He stood behind me, placing a hand at the top of my hip, running it under the curve of my bottom, down my leg to my ankle. He leaned over my back to speak low in my ear.

"A surprisingly sensual female ritual."

"Haven't you ever seen a woman shaving her legs before?"

"No."

His hand on my ankle began a reverse trip up the front of my leg, over the knee, pausing at the bend where leg meets body. I could feel those fingers hesitating, his breath growing shorter and more shallow, then with great effort he removed his hand from my skin, and kissed my neck before stepping back.

He smiled ruefully.

"Ah Sparrow. When touching you is concerned I have a very thin veneer of civilization."

"I suppose if you must find fault with yourself, that one's fine with me."

We managed to get through a quick shower with minimum time spent on maximum touching. A quick dry off and he left to dress in our bedroom. I applied some face, fluffed the hair, spritzed on some perfume and put on the lingerie before going into the bedroom. My cup of tea was sitting on one of Emma's bookshelves. It was still warm and delicious. I could hear Carlisle puttering around in the other room, although his highly polished black shoes still sat neatly beside mine near our suitcases. I popped the dress over my head and heard the satisfying shussss as it settled along my body. The zipper slid easily up, and I stepped into my heels. I had brought a few modest sparklers to wear in my ears, on my fingers, and around my neck. Checking myself out in the mirror, I decided I did indeed have the happy look of a woman about to attend a London Theatre.

A low whistle came from the door.

"You are beautiful, my Sparrow."

As was he. Heart stoppingly so. Carlisle did black like no one else. Slim single breasted coat, flat front trousers, black and grey pinstripe shirt, black silk tie with diamond stick pin, his heavy crest ring, and black shoes and socks, when he got around to putting them on. I ached deep inside looking at him.

He smiled happily and held out a hand to me.

"Come and eat."

I raised my eyebrows, took his hand and followed him into the kitchen. He had made a grilled cheese sandwich, cut into four perfect triangles. I picked one up and bit into the melty cheese.

He was looking at me expectantly. I licked my lips, savoring the smoky gouda flavor, and "mmmmmmd" appreciatively.

"Delicious. Carlisle Cullen, you are the most remarkable man in the world. Brilliant, beautiful, and you make a mean grilled cheese."

He made that slightly disparaging sound he makes sometimes when I use superlatives to describe him, and rolled his eyes, but still and all, he was pleased. While I finished eating, he finished dressing. I brushed my teeth, applied lipstick, and after putting on our coats, we were ready to leave.

It was only a block to the tube, and very shortly we arrived at Piccadilly Circus which was only a few steps away from the our destination. We stopped a moment at the front of Her Majesty's Theatre to fully take in its magnificence. I stepped up one step and turned to Carlisle. That little height difference made it easy to take his face in my hands and lean in to kiss him. Perhaps I held on to the kiss a trifle overlong, or it was uncommonly ardent of me for so public a venue. He searched my face and said nothing, but took my hand and led me inside.

Our seats were marvelously centered. I flinched as the chandelier sailed from the ceiling, and I desperately wanted to join the "Masquerade" on stage. The Phantom's sorrow never fails to claw at my heart, but tonight, a strong hand gripping mine kept me grounded to a reality I had come to love so very much.

As the curtain finally settled down, and the house lights went up, I breathed deeply.

Carlisle leaned his head close to mine, and commented.

"I think that's the first breath you've taken all evening."

"I do get a wee bit wrapped up in things don't I? Did you enjoy the play?"

"Yes, the music, sets, costuming, all beautiful, although I lose patience with some of the characters."

"I completely agree, Christine, for example, would have been much better off with the Phantom. Raoul is quite the dreary chauvinist."

I stood and pulled him up from his chair, twined my fingers with his and staying very close to him, joined the exiting queue.

The air was cold and sweet. It was a textbook foggy night in London Town. Once out on the pavement away from the theatre crowd, I breathed again, drawing the night scents of holiday London and the dense fog deep inside me.

"Could we walk a bit?"

"Of course, if your shoes allow. The holiday lights are still up all along the Haymarket."

"Yes, let's do it."

I started out at a clipping pace, stretching my legs, enjoying the fog condensing on my face and hair. Carlisle lengthened his stride to keep pace with me. After a quarter hour of ever increasing speed, we ran out of decorations. Here there were only a few shops, now closed, and mostly dark. I stopped and looked around assessing choices for a new direction my breath coming a little faster from the exertion. Carlisle's baffled voice spoke up.

"What is it Sparrow? What's driving you tonight? Tell me."

I faced away from him, stretched my arms straight up, then lowered both forearms across the top of my head.

"For two weeks I've experienced London. I've dined with the diplomatic set, wandered sedately through Buckingham Palace and St. Pauls, explored Harrods with Anne and Emma, enjoyed the sites and the theatre with you. It's all been very wonderful and I wouldn't trade it for anything, but I'm restless.

"I want to run barefoot across our storm tossed beach with the wind whipping around me, the thunder rumbling above my head, the relentless waves trying to grab me and pull me into the ocean; to climb the rocky sea stacks and breathe in the lightning drenched air.

Then I want to run to you and make fiery love until we're both too exhausted to move."

I could almost hear Carlisle smile behind me in the dark.

"Not a very tame little bird are you?"

"Not tonight."

"Unfortunately we are very far away from our beach. And London closes her parks at night, so even a run is out of the equation, but I do have an idea."

He held out his hand and I clasped it tightly. We turned and went back the way we had come keeping the previous pace. On our outward trek, I hadn't been paying much attention to our surroundings. He had been. Quite soon we were standing at the top of a set of stairs leading down into a cellar from which was issuing laughter and some very loud, upbeat music.

"I think there is no sand or lightning, but probably enough thunder, and I promise to keep your head above the waves. Shall we?"

"Absolutely!"

The little dance club was crowded with theatre people apparently from backstage, onstage and the audience. We checked our coats and picked up a glass of wine for me. The cute five boy band was having a terrific time, and sounded great as well. I was watching to see what the dancers were doing, which seemed to be a little bit of everything, when Carlisle leaned down to remind me.

"We are not here as observers."

I accepted that challenge, bolted down the rest of my wine, set the empty glass on a nearby table, and held out my hand to him. We joined the fray. Even though there were a lot of people on the floor, everyone was in a festive mood, and there was always room to move. The music was fast and thunderous punctuated by a few slow dances. During these, I was held close by a finer man than I could have conjured up in my wildest imaginings, one whom I loved and who, inexplicably, was in love with me. My cup was indeed full and running over.

The last set each night was, we learned, always accompanied by a mini lightshow. As soon as the light started flashing around us, Carlisle looked at me and mouthed "lightning" and we laughed and danced until closing.

We caught our train easily and reached home long before my ears stopped ringing. The moment the door was closed behind us, Carlisle grabbed me around the waist and said,

"Now, mi amante, about that fiery love…"

We started peeling off clothing and left a trail of it all the way to the bedroom. It was fiery. And sweet. And consuming. And with one thing and another, lasted pretty much into the wee hours of the morning.

*****************

My brain woke up first and did a mental inventory on the physical body. I could feel every dance, both vertical and horizontal that we had indulged in last night. What a glorious feeling. I stretched, yawned and rolled over on my back, not bothering to open my eyes. He wasn't in the room. None of my senses could detect him in the flat at all, so I rolled into a ball and curled to sitting. It was almost eight. I got up, pulled my robe around me, and padded into the kitchen to put the coffee on, then stepped out on the balcony overlooking the street. It wasn't as dark a day as yesterday, but was overhung with the low cloud cover that was not going away. Returning to the warmth of the kitchen, I was pouring a very large cup of coffee when Carlisle came through the front door waving a bag in my direction and swooped in for a kiss.

"Good morning my Sparrow, you are looking deliciously rumpled after a night of...fun. Did you sleep well?"

"It was definitely quality not quantity sleep. You had as much fun as I had last night, how are you so abysmally perky?"

"Ah, but I am a morning person, remember? And while you were wasting time in sleep, I was out searching successfully for a bakery."

He withdrew a fragrant morning pastry filled with apricots and cherries from the warm bag.

As he held it, I took a fair sized bite and spoke around it.

"Delicious! You are my prince. I thank you and forgive the perkiness."

He chuckled at me, set the pastry down on a saucer, and was reaching for a paper towel to wipe off a large drip of thickened cherry juice from his middle finger. Without malice aforethought, I snagged his hand and popped his finger into my mouth. I swirled my tongue around it getting every last bit of juice off, then sucked it as I withdrew it from my mouth. I looked into his face. Carlisle's jaw was tense, and I saw him swallow a little convulsively. He gripped his hand around mine, and I had to grin at him. He closed his eyes and shook his head, losing that tenseness.

"You may yet be the death of me."

I placed a chaste kiss on his gripping hand and spoke lightly but with all honesty.

"I would never cause harm to a single golden hair on your head."

While I finished my pastry and coffee Carlisle sat down behind Owen's computer and enlightened me on what he had been doing prior to going out for my breakfast.

"I've been searching for hikes to take outside London and I've found a few that look interesting if that is something you'd still like to do."

"It definitely is! I need to work out the soreness from the under used muscles I abused last night at the club and a hike in the countryside with you sounds perfect."

"I hope any discomfort is all from the dancing and not from our far from tranquil love making."

"My body knows that you have been here, and yes, there is a slight , ah, awareness, one that I would not wish away. I revel in the fact that I surrounded you, that you were in me, several times. We're not tepid people, Carlisle, we make love passionately. Would you want it any other way?"

"No, but there is no need to hurt you either."

"You haven't and you never will. We were created the way we are for a reason. You are the thruster, I am the thrustee, that's the way it's supposed to be. AND you are a doctor and know exactly how much or little pressure to exert and where to provide me the maximum pleasure. Don't even try to deny it."

He gave me that quirky look.

"I don't deny it."

"How did this conversation take such an odd turn anyway? Now about those hikes... "

I put my cup and saucer in the sink, ran a rinse over them, and went to lean over his shoulder and put my cheek against his as he pulled up a website.

"Surrey has a number of field hikes, typically English, lushly green, slightly rolling, and may be a bit boggy from the recent rains. There is a ten mile hike which looks excellent, several five to six mile hikes and a few shorter ones. I would very much like to take you on the London Eye tonight, so the ten mile hike might be too lengthy for today. What do you think?"

"Ten miles sounds like a few too many for me today. How about this one?"

I reached past his ear and pointed to a 5.5 mile hike.

"Starts and stops at the Tilford Village Green, passes three pubs, and has a side trip to the ruins of Waverly Abbey. Sounds like our kind of place. Bring your camera."

It took a quick forty minutes to get to the Tilford Village Inn and parking was readily available this time of the morning. The innkeeper said that might not be the case later as there was a cricket match that was sure to bring out a good crowd beginning early this afternoon. We moved the car to the edge of the parking area to assure that we would have easy egress and found our trail head.

The area was truly beautiful. Slightly undulating hills, broad vistas of endless greens, and a few boggy areas to squish through. We side tracked to the ruins of Waverly Abbey, the first English Cistercian Abbey, dating back to 1128. We ambled through what used to be the cloisters, ran our hands along the ancient walls, and marveled at the stone arched windows that still stood so valiantly. There is a particularly picturesque medieval bridge over the Wye River that used to be the main entrance to the Abbey. I was very glad I had brought my camera.

I was also very glad there was a pub at the inn when our hike was finished. I went inside to purchase a half pint of dark ale and a lamb pastie, came outside quickly to where he was sitting and handed him the drink and pastie at the same time saying:

"I need some change for the tip jar, please…"

"Right pocket."

I stuffed my hand into his right front pants pocket. Deciding I was fishing more than was necessary to find change he leaned and whispered in my ear.

"You just wanted to get your hand into my pocket."

Withdrawing the hand plus change, I leaned into his ear and responded.

"The good stuff's on the other side."

His face went perfectly blank for a second, probably assessing the validity of my comment, and then he burst out into one of his lovely rare laughs.

"You're absolutely correct."

We sat on the lawn to watch a little of the very heated cricket match while I ate. I had long since stopped worrying about Carlisle's eating habits, or rather the lack thereof. He was obviously healthy and suffered from no nutritional deficiencies that my careful eyes could discern. It was just another part of his uniqueness.

We ended up staying quite a while and only just escaped the car park before the game crowd. Carlisle whisked us back to London and the flat in time to change out of our muddy hiking clothes into some clean casuals and get, via double decker bus, to the London Eye in time to avoid the after dinner evening queue.

After first stepping on, we wandered the pod, marveling at the engineering that made it possible. Then we just stood together, his arms around me, his head resting on the top of mine, absorbing the beauty. The clouds and wet pavement reflected back the holiday lights, and the fog hadn't yet materialized so the view from the Eye was spectacular.

After stepping off the Eye, we strolled around the area listening to the charming accents in people's voices and Big Ben sounding the hour. We walked along the edge of the Thames, enjoying the quiet night and the beauty that is London, then caught the bus back to our flat.

I tugged off my raincoat and put it into Carlisle's waiting hand. He hung it next to his on the hall tree. Then I hugged him and planted a kiss in the hollow of his throat.

"We certainly know how to have a good time."

He returned my hug with a wrap-around one of his own, pulling and holding me tightly to his chest.

"It's impossible not to have a good time with you. We are oddly compatible, are we not Sparrow, for two such disparate people?"

"We are, and I have no inkling why or how, only a grateful heart that it's so."

He was quiet for a moment, then spoke hesitantly.

"I will be going out for a while. You will be all right alone?"

"I will be fine. You just go and do what you need to do and while you are gone, I'm going to take a long, hot, soak in the tub. I've still got a few kinks from yesterday, and my feet are complaining about the hike."

"That, my Sparrow, I can do something about."

Having scooped me up and deposited me in the corner of the sofa, he knelt and pulled off my boots and socks, then sat himself next to me and took my right foot into his hands. His long talented fingers pressed, prodded and massaged muscles and tendons until they relaxed, then he started on the left foot. When he was finished, I had two happy ready for dancing feet again. He shifted my legs and was about to rise when I sat quickly up and forestalled him with a question.

"Do you have just a few more minutes to spare?"

He answered immediately.

"I have all the time you want. What would you like?"

"First, I would like for you to sit back and relax."

He smiled and complied.

"Now I'm going to straddle your lap, don't worry, I promise I won't start anything we don't have time to finish."

He reached his hands around me and clasped them loosely as I settled across his lap.

"Now close your eyes and enjoy a little attention."

As he did so, I raised both my hands and drove my fingernails into his lush golden crop of hair pushing them gently along his scalp from the very front to the nape of his neck. I worked methodically from the front of his head to over his ears, always ending at his nape, letting my fingers crisscross through his silky hair. Several slow complete passes over his head were all I would allow myself, I didn't want to make his pleasure turn to pain, then I switched to massage, using the techniques that my scalp most enjoyed. Eventually reaching the base of his head, I brought my hands forward to rest on the front of his chest. He inhaled slowly and deeply, then just as slowly released his breath and opened his eyes straight into mine. His smile which had dissolved in relaxation, curved into life across his face. He unlaced his fingers from behind me and covered my hands with his. He lifted first one and then the other and kissed their palms before carefully placing them back on his chest.

"These warm little bringers of peace and tranquility are extremely skillful—and dangerous. They melt away my guard and leave me uncommonly vulnerable."

He seemed, oddly enough, half serious. What was it that he thought might even want to harm him? My brows drew slightly together, I spoke from my heart.

"Fortunate then, that I am also here to watch over and safeguard you until your defenses are back in place."

"You would do that, wouldn't you."

"Yes, Carlisle, I would."

With that unambiguous statement hanging in the air, I kissed his mouth, climbed off of his lap, and settled myself in the corner of the sofa to read my mystery. He leaned across to take my chin in his hand and lift my face so that my eyes again met his. His vulnerability had retreated but the softness in his eyes remained. He spoke quietly.

"Not a tame little bird at all."

And kissed me tenderly, before taking himself out into the night.

I felt a little bereft at his departure and needed to do something even if it was just a wave, so I stepped out onto the balcony. I could see his haloed hair and pale skin glowing in the streetlamps. In a low voice, I called his name.

"Carlisle."

He heard and paused looking up at me.

"Be careful."

He kissed his three middle fingers and blew towards me. I reached out, grabbed the kiss and brought it to my heart before stepping back inside so he could be on his way, wherever.

*****************

I knew when he entered the flat. It didn't really awaken me, just let me know that all was now right with the world. I surfaced again with cool butterfly kisses lighting on my forehead, cheeks, eyes, chin and then settling on my mouth. His breath, his intoxicating scent drifted across my face and I inhaled drawing it deep into my body. I spoke around his kiss.

"You missed a spot."

I touched a place on my jaw half way between my ear and chin.

He rectified the omission and continued past my ear, and buried his face at the back of my neck, beneath my hair. I could feel his inhalation and all the little hairs there rejoiced and stood up. I heard myself making a satisfied cooing sound, then asked him sleepily.

"Did you enjoy your outing?"

His answer was muffled coming through his lips against my neck.

"Yes, but I missed you. I spent much of the time thinking that I would rather be back here kissing you."

"You're back now."

I could feel his lips curl up in a smile. Moving back to my mouth, the butterfly touches changed to lover's kisses, open mouthed, lips and tongue deeply engaged. My sleepy senses were overwhelmed with the sweetness and my lips clung to his never wanting the sensation to end. I brought my arms around his shoulders gently holding him. Softly he licked my bottom lip and dragged his teeth lightly across it, making my breath shorten.

His lips kissed my chin and down my neck to the expanse of tight pectorals across the top of my breasts. He nuzzled the valley between then kissed and nibbled his way over each breast, pausing to take each nipple into his mouth, lick them taut and then suckle them, the sweet piercing sensation causing me to arch my back, pushing each breast farther into his mouth. His slow travels continued down over my ribs, the skin humming in anticipation of his kisses. He reached the plain of my belly and ran his tongue over it, blew softly, further sensitizing it for the touch of his mouth. He kissed his way to the large iliac artery on the right side of my pelvis, then placed his cheek down over it, feeling my blood rush by, its pounding tempo increased by the sweet seduction of his kisses. He turned his face over and rested momentarily against the left artery, breathing in the scent of my skin and arousal, then kissed slowly over my mons and down to one thigh. He nudged my leg open and placed his mouth on the exposed sensitive inner skin.

His soft hair brushing me so intimately sent a quiver through my body that lodged in my shoulder blades through some inexplicable nerve connection. I could feel his teeth grazing my flesh, and then I felt him sucking. Ah, there would be a mark tomorrow, my blood just barely beneath the skin, where no one but he or I would see it. Tortuously he kissed his way down that leg, pausing at my knee, which tickled, and on to the ankle. A stab of desire shot through my womb as his mouth caressed the thin skin of the top of my foot where a billion nerve endings were so close to the surface. A slight groan escaped as he transferred his assault to the other foot, and begin his slow ascent back up that leg. No natural disasters having occurred to interfere, he did, in due course, reach the inner thigh. My hands had the mattress on either side of me in a death grip as my breath was dragging itself raggedly in and out of my lungs. Wanting him to go for the kill warred with don't do it in my tightly coiled body. The wretch paused, assessing my condition, then went for the kill. One slash of his tongue across my aching nub sent me into deep internal fibrillation. At the second pass I keened and shuddered violently, and only his arms now tightly wrapped around me kept me from flying into fragments as wave after wave of intense contractions rippled through me.

When I could wrench my hands from the mattress I transferred them around his body, crushing him closer to me. His hard body reflected my own heat back to me, warming, and his hand stroked my back, calming. Eventually my senses returned to a semblance of normalcy and I relaxed limply in his arms.

"You are a very wicked man."

"Sparrow, you will not tell me that you did not thoroughly enjoy my kisses. I know differently."

"You could at least have spared me that final sortie."

"Ah, but you were aching for me, that would have been cruel."

I smiled at his response, which was of course true, and burrowed my face into the juncture of his neck and shoulder. He secured my head and smoothly rolled over to his side, keeping me close into his chest.

"We have a very early and busy day tomorrow, my Sparrow, you should sleep now."

"I think not yet. I'm far too awake for sleep and I'm quite sure there is some unfinished business, ah, between us."

Having one hand now free, I ran it over his smooth chest and over his shoulder. I loved the feel of him and touching him started that low thrum deep in my body. Articulating my fingers, I caressed his firm bicep and hard forearm down to his wrist and back up again over his shoulder and down to his chest. Seeking now, I touched his chest muscle and followed it to his nipple with its tight little bud. Tracing the areola with my thumb, I felt the bud stiffen and heard Carlisle slowly draw in a long breath. I rolled his nipple between my thumb and forefinger gently, then with greater pressure. A groan or growl sounded deep in this throat. Not releasing him, I slipped my face from his neck to place my mouth over his other nipple and wetly licked it before gently closing it between my teeth. He gave a small lurch. His growl intensified and the hand that had been around my waist moved to my hip and gripped. His voice, husky with growing need, whispered near my ear.

"Touch me. Take me in your hand."

Never good at multi-tasking these things, I abandoned his nipples with both hand and mouth and ran my nails lightly down his body until I encountered a very hard member. I clutched it briefly sliding to its root, where I found the heavy sacs and scooped them up. Holding them, squeezing them gently together, I massaged until I felt Carlisle's tension mounting through his hips and thighs, then released them back into their nest. I paused for only a second, but long enough for a groan to escape him, before claiming him. I closed my hand around his thickness. Cool, hard, big. I caressed him, stroked him, root to tip, over the glans taking its slick drop with me. For endless minutes I stroked him, slipping over, around, down, stroking longer, stronger, his breath, or mine, or both, coming faster, groaning, growling, until he lifted my leg over him and slid inside. We rolled to my back. My hands grasped his hips and held on tightly as his body worked hard at loving me. His face so close to mine, his hair brushing my forehead making me shiver, his eyes closed, an intense narrow furrow between his brows, his lips slightly open, breathing raggedly. Never had I seen anything so beautiful. My heart melted, my body opened to him and took him in deeper, I met him thrust for thrust, grind for grind, until, until…

There must be a place that souls and minds go when such a climax as our is reached.

I reclaimed both soul and mind as he was about to slip from my body. I wouldn't let him go.

"Too soon, please don't leave me yet Carlisle. I will be unwhole if you withdraw now."

"Mi amante, I will stay inside your sweet body as long as you need me. With you I am also whole, complete, content."

We rolled to one side. He slid my leg over his hip, anchoring us. Peaceful, deep sleep claimed me.

*****************

At some point during the wee hours of the morning, my leg having gone numb, I released his body from mine, kissed him, and rolled over into a small ball to sleep a while longer. When I awoke, he was sitting next to me reading, my back tucked up against his side. I stretched, rolled onto my back, and smiled happily up at him. He smiled back, touched my face, and kissed me good morning.

I wrapped an arm across his belly in a hug and kissed his side.

"You are a happy little Sparrow this morning."

"I am happy every morning, because of you. It's not a necessity, mind you, but a lovely added bonus to wake up with you by my side. I love you so much!"

"Love you more."

"Loved you first."

That made him pause. His brows drew together, and he hmmmmmmd.

"I started falling in love with you the night the child died You knelt by me, and reminded me I wasn't God."

"You were so sad, so grieved, that you were unable to make him live. I ached for you that night. Do you remember that I kissed your hand?"

"Of course, I thought that was a comforting gesture on the part of a very sweet woman."

"What a slow top! I started falling in love with you before I could get my eyes open, your voice and scent went straight to my heart. The morning after you came back from your camping trip, and examined me, totally professionally, I might add, you were so close to me, then we strolled around the hospital with my hand in yours, I knew I had fallen completely in love and had to get out of that hospital before I did something stupid."

"Like what?"

Now he was teasing me.

"Oh I don't know, maybe like grabbing your hair as you leaned over me, pulling you onto the narrow hospital bed, and kissing you silly before you called for help with the mad woman."

He smiled, and his lips twitched even as his eyes twinkled.

"That could have been most interesting. So tell me…"

He ran his hand lazily down my middle from neck, past breast, over belly and beyond, finally resting on the inside of my thigh, circling a patch of it with his thumb.

"For starting out a slow top, do you think I've caught up yet?"

Looking down, seeing the purplish mark that his lips had brought up last night, and watching his thumb circle it, brought my heat up and quickened my breath.

"Once you have the notion, you are a very fast learner, my love."

Every loving time with him had the excitement of the first, but intimate knowledge of each other added depth, a richness, a fullness, that increased each time we came together. I love him marrow deep and that's just never going to change.

*****************

We really did have to get out of bed. There was much to do before catching our plane this afternoon for Vienna. After a hot, soapy and high spirited shower we divided the chores: Carlisle went shopping to replenish what we'd used, and to fill the car with gas, while I did our laundry and cleaned the flat. I was humming along with the radio and taking the final load of laundry out of the dryer when he came through the door. He deposited his purchases on the table and went about efficiently putting them away. I had already changed the bed-linens and hauled the basket of freshly dried clothes into the bedroom to fold. He finished putting things away and started helping me with the laundry. Watching him fold towels, which he did as neatly and precisely as he did everything else, was oddly endearing and toyed not a little with my heartstrings. Shortly before one o'clock we had completed everything domestic and were packed and ready to leave. We took Owen's car to the airport and left it there for them to pick up when they returned next week.

Heathrow seemed strangely peaceful to me. Flights were arriving and leaving on time, and no babies were crying anywhere that I could tell. We wandered aimlessly around the airport shops for a while, just being together, then sat for a few minutes at our gate before boarding. The flight was the best kind—uneventful—and we landed in Vienna a few minutes before six. The cab ride to Ringstrasse was short, and by seven we were checked into the Radisson SAS Palais Hotel and in our beautiful mahogany room with its huge bed. I felt a little light headed and my stomach was growling so I ordered some potato-leek soup and bread from room service. By the time it arrived, we had settled in and were trying to decide what to do tomorrow before the evening concert.

The soup was creamy and well seasoned, the bread delicate and crusty. Halfway through I put my spoon down and sat there. Carlisle was reading a street map of Vienna, and consulting a guide book. Perhaps I was still too long, or too quiet, but he glanced up at me, then again more carefully.

"Sparrow?"

I looked up at him.

"I'm really tired, love. I need to sleep."

He came over and sat beside me, looking at me with his doctor face. He placed a hand on my face, on my neck, and checked my pulse.

"Your pulse is a little fast and your temperature is elevated."

This brought a smile to my face and I lifted an eyebrow at him.

"I'm here in romantic Vienna in this elegant room with you, Carlisle Cullen. Of course my pulse is rapid and I'm hot."

"All right, I'll buy the pulse, but you are actually more feverish than usual. Any other symptoms?"

"My skin aches a little. I think all the excitement has finally caught up with me. The two weeks running around with the kids and then you arrived and it's been one wonderful thing after another."

Carlisle brought me two aspirin and a glass of water, and looked a little rueful as he handed them to me.

"I'm afraid I haven't let you rest much either."

I grinned at him.

"So, do I call you in the morning, Doctor Cullen?"

He looked blankly at me.

"What?"

I waved the aspirin in front of him.

He rolled his eyes and made an exasperated sound.

"That will not be necessary Ms. Fortis, I'm not going anywhere. The aspirin are just to take the edge off, and help you sleep if you are indeed overtired, which you probably are."

I popped them in my mouth and washed them down, then hauled myself up to get ready for bed. A few minutes later I emerged from the bathroom wearing my peach gown to find that he had turned down the bedcovers, turned off the lights, save one reading lamp in the little alcove at the far end of the room, and opened the drapes, because I like looking out at night.

He was waiting for me, his smile lighting his face.

"I haven't seen that gown in a while."

I took his hand and drew him with me to the window.

"We don't usually "dress" for bed, now do we? Thank you for turning down the bed and opening the drapes. It's beautiful out there isn't it?"

Vienna was still quite awake. Lights, people, history, and tonight we were a part of it, even up here snug in our room.

Leaning into him with his arms around me was pure heaven. We watched for a few moments, then he lifted me in his arms. Like a weary child I folded in against him.

"I love the feel of you, Sparrow, the shape of you in my arms."

I kissed his throat and let my head rest against him. I placed a hand on his chest, letting it rest there as well.

He carried me to my side of the bed. Laying me gently down, lightly covering me with the sheet, he ran his cool hand again across my face, and held it for a moment against my cheek.

"Sleep, my Sparrow."

And feather soft, he kissed my eyelids, my nose, my lips. In the dark, I inhaled his scent deeply, and reached once more for his lips. I could have kissed him forever, but instead rolled over and curled up into a ball, needing to sleep.

"Goodnight Carlisle. I love you."

"And I you, amante."

*****************

I awoke the next morning like a diver surfacing from a very deep dive. Inhaling hugely, stretching both arms overhead and slowly lowering them to each side I encountered a familiar pair of muscular legs, flannel clad. The owner of the legs put aside his book, leaned over and kissed the top of my head.

"Good morning beautiful Sparrow."

I smiled, not wanting to open my eyes just yet. I rubbed my hand along one long leg.

"Good morning. You're all flannelly."

"Your fever left you around two and I didn't want to chill you. How are you feeling?"

"Fit and well rested, thank you."

He ran a hand down my arm. How I loved his touch!

"And how does your skin feel?"

"Mmmmmmm, if you're not sure, maybe you should touch a little more of it."

I opened my eyes and slanted a look up at him. He closed his eyes, grinned, and shook his head. Looking past him I could see the edge of the bed.

"Why are you on the very edge of the bed?"

He opened his eyes then, and looked at me down the length of his elegant nose.

"Because you were hogging the bed all night."

"Why didn't you just push me over?"

You were restless and hot, tossing and rolling about and obviously miserable. When your fever broke, you unfolded limply and melted peacefully into most of the bed. I wasn't about to disturb you."

I snuggled more closely against his flannel and inquired hopefully.

"Would you like to disturb me now?"

He smiled and I saw the familiar heat rise in his eyes. Suddenly he lowered his eyelids, shielding from me, and said in an oddly detached voice.

"Actually I think it would be good if you were to eat something."

I heaved a slightly disappointed sigh then agreed with him. He rolled quickly out of bed and handed me the phone, pulled a sweatshirt over his head, then began making coffee. I ordered a two egg omelet—cheese, peppers, onion, ham, and whole grain toast with jam and butter.

I lolled about, just enjoying looking at him, then decided that as he apparently was not coming back to bed, I should get myself up and presentable for the day.

"I think I'll dash in and take a shower while I'm waiting, I'm fever sticky."

He handed me a sweet, creamy cup of fragrant coffee, and quashed hopes that he might join me.

"And I will listen for your breakfast to arrive."

I lightly touched my lips to his as I took the cup.

"Thank you, my favorite barista."

He smiled warmly for a moment, hesitated, then looked away busying himself with the sugar bowl and coffee grounds.

I spent the minutes in the shower recounting the morning since I woke up, wondering why he was being so oddly restrained. I wrapped myself in a thick robe and was towel drying my hair when Carlisle tapped on the door.

"Sparrow, your breakfast is here."

I hung the towel up and ran my fingers through my still wet hair and stepped out into the bedroom. My breakfast had been placed on the little table by the window, positioned to afford me the best view of a cloudy, wintry day in Vienna. As I began buttering my toast, Carlisle joined me at the table with his guidebook open for me to see.

"Tomorrow being New Years Day, not much will be open for public viewing, so I thought that today we might visit Schönbrunn Palace if you're feeling up to it."

I swallowed my bite of toast.

"Honestly, Carlisle, I'm fine. I got tired. It happens. I slept and I'm good as new. The palace sounds like an excellent choice...enlighten me please."

While I ate my delicious omelet and jammy toast, Carlisle showed me some pictures of the palace and surrounding grounds and gave me a bit of background as well. He suddenly stopped speaking, then reached across the table to remove a stray trace of jam from my upper lip with his thumb. I watched as he licked it off, then raised my eyes to his. They were rich honey gold and hungry. I could feel my face soften to his look as a smile formed, the familiar needy feeling flaring inside me. As I reached for him, he intercepted my hand, kissed the palm, and placed it down on the table. He rose quickly from his chair and walked away from me into that little reading alcove.

"I'm sure I have more information about the palace around here somewhere. It may take me a minute or so to find it."

Carlisle never lost or misplaced anything. He had simply removed himself from my proximity, and not for the first time this morning. What was this all about? Time to find out.

Putting aside my breakfast things, I rose and walked up beside him, placing my hands over his restless ones that were shuffling through brochures on the desk. He stilled and I spoke softly.

"Come sit with me for a moment. We need to talk about something."

I hauled him by his hand back to the chairs by the window. I pulled mine around the table so I could sit knee to knee with him. I took both of his hands tightly in mine.

He sighed a quiet breath.

"I'm not doing this well, am I?"

I leaned in to look fully into his face.

"I don't know. You're avoiding me, sidestepping my touch, being evasive, things that you've never done before. What is it that you're trying to do?"

He stroked his thumb across my hand.

"I am trying to give you a little much needed rest and it's damned difficult when I want to touch you, hold you to me and celebrate the exuberance I feel because we're together."

I felt my face warm with a relieved and very large smile as I transferred myself from the chair to his lap and wrapped my arms around his shoulders. His went around me where they belonged.

"You precious man. Don't you know yet that you are my energizer bunny? We're grown ups, we don't always need to have wild, exciting sex, although that's invigorating not enervating, but please, don't hold back your touch, your embraces, your lips from me. Don't go away from me like that. It's truly, awfully painful.

He nuzzled my ear, and soundlessly exhaled.

"I meant well."

"Of course you did, but you are like air to me, I need you. How can I make you understand how much I require you?"

A slow, sweet smile lit his face as his hand spread wide across my back.

"You did say I was a slow top."

"I very much would like a real kiss, please, then we can go do our tourist thing."

He complied so beautifully that my insides melted, dampening certain other parts of me. I quickly began rethinking my earlier words, however, needing to prove that I could resist I surfaced from that kiss, unwrapped my arms from him and started to my feet.

He didn't let go, but asked in patently fake innocence,

"So, as grown ups, we can make calm, rational decisions to have exciting wild sex if we want to?"

Really liking the direction this conversation had taken, I looked directly in his eyes and said without the shadow of a doubt,

"Absolutely."

"Then, might you possibly consider…"

Whatever silly thing he was going to say was cut off by my mouth sealing his, as my arms again wrapped themselves around him and my hands began their familiar travels through his soft hair. He unwrapped me from my robe and stripped off his shirt and pants giving my eager hands new territory to plunder.

It is well that our bed was huge. It made a wonderful playground for our intimately tangled arms and legs, low growls and moans, quiet sighs and exultant cries. I ended up on top of his marvelous body, cooling my over-hot skin, drew in a deep, full breath, kissed his chest and kneeled up straddling him, pulling him with me to sitting.

"I am now completely renewed and refreshed. Let's go see some Schönbrunn!"

After one last quick embrace we both rose. I went off to the bathroom while he picked up my robe and his clothes.

I was trying to make some semblance of order out of my untidy hair when he came into the room behind me. His was tousled as well, which always made me grin. I brought to his attention something that had escaped me before.

"Did you notice that the bathroom floor is heated? It feels wonderful underfoot."

"I thought you would like it. The floor is one of the reasons I chose this hotel."

I had to ask.

"What were the other reasons?"

He lifted an eyebrow at me.

"The architecture, historic background, proximity to everything in Vienna, and, my personal favorite, the soundproof rooms."

That sent me off into a great peal of laughter. How very impishly like him.

*****************

Schönbrunn Palace is exquisite. Baroquely, symmetrically exquisite. I couldn't help thinking how right Carlisle looked in these palatial surroundings. That family crest ring he wore wasn't just for show. He absolutely fit. We marveled through all forty public rooms and through a good sampling of the gardens, even though a cold breeze was blowing. The orangerie was fragrant and warm, but the zoological gardens would have to wait for another day.

It was close on to four in the afternoon, full darkness wouldn't be long coming, when we decided to return to our hotel. Tucked close to his side, with his body keeping me sheltered from the cold wind, we stopped a few moments to appreciate its unique architecture. Two residences, or palaces, built in 1872 after Vienna's city walls were replaced by the Ringstrasse, had been joined together to form the one hotel. I was looking forward to that exploration tomorrow. Today, now, I was going to eat, drink, do my nails, and rest a while before embarking on a dream come true—a New Year's Eve concert in Vienna with my lover by my side. Life doesn't get any better than that!

Having done a little mental backwards engineering from the time we needed to set out for the Auersperg Palace, I'd set myself a time table for getting things done. Carlisle had his own agenda. As we entered our room, he took our jackets and hung them in the closet, then wrapped me in a tight hug. I closed my eyes, and spread my hands wide on his sweatered back. He released me and I looked into his dark golden eyes. I put my hands on either side of his face and ran my thumbs under his eyes, across the shadows that were showing there.

"Your eyes look tired."

He smiled his warm smile, and assured me that he was fine.

"I am going out for a while, though. I'm guessing that you wouldn't mind some time to yourself."

"That would actually be quite lovely. I have girl things to do."

"Hmmmmm. That wouldn't by any chance include spreading foamy shave cream all over your legs would it?"

"Go, wretched man. Just be careful and don't get lost."

One lingering kiss later, he released me and turned for the door.

"I will be back by six."

"Don't you want your jacket?"

"No, it would only slow me down."

*****************

According to my well orchestrated plan, I ordered a seafood salad from room service to be brought up at 5:15. That gave me plenty of time to rest in the tub while soaking in scented oil and, yes, shave my legs.

I had eaten, polished my finger and toenails, and just finished rubbing in some body lotion with the veriest hint of shimmer in it (after all it was New Year's Eve and there would be quite a bit of skin showing!) when I heard Carlisle at the door. I slipped my gown over my head and went to meet him, arms out to enfold as much of him as I could. He brought with him, as I knew he would, that wild scent that I found so exciting.

"Welcome! I'm glad you're back, I was beginning to be worried about you."

He caught me up to him and buried his face in my neck, then looked at me with raised eyebrows.

"It's just six."

"I know but it's dark out there, and you aren't completely indestructible, you know."

He flashed me an utterly disarming smile.

"Not completely. I would tell you there's no need to, but knowing that you worry about me is very endearing."

He set me back down on my feet directly under the hall light, and looked me over.

"Sparrow, do I detect a little extra luminosity about you tonight?"

"Too much? I thought it was subtle enough but maybe not…"

He caught my hands in his.

"No, it's only, I, no, you're perfect. Absolutely lovely."

I'd never known him to prevaricate, but I've never heard him stammer either.

"You're sure? I wouldn't want look foolish."

"That would never, ever happen. I was caught a little off guard, that's all. I should have realized you would sparkle well."

His eyes were smiling at me, warmly, approvingly, and I was convinced.

"I'm going in for a shower, assuming you've left me any water."

"I only used a tub full. Besides, you already smell wonderful. Most people sweat when they exercise, you…"

I reached up and licked his neck. His hands tightened their hold on mine.

"Don't even taste salty. You just have this wild scent that, when added to your own personal piney-mint smell, is really quite, ah, stirring."

"Stirring, is it? I'll definitely keep that in mind when I come back in from future runs. Tonight, though, no wild men are allowed in the theatre. Piney-mint will have to do."

He kissed both my palms, released my hands and headed for the bathroom. While he was showering, I sat at the table by the window and took extra care in putting on some face. I was curled in an oversized chair reading when he emerged all damp, delicious and wrapped in a robe.

"Are you wearing that fetching nightgown tonight? I assure you it's all right with me if you do, but the Viennese can be so Victorian."

"I'm running slightly ahead of schedule and really very excited, but trying to be calm. It's not quite time for me to dress, but if you will excuse me, I'm going to go rumple my hair a bit."

He chuckled at me, opened the closet and slipped out of his robe.

I detoured slightly to run my hands down his slim back then continued on my way to the bathroom mirror. Sometimes it takes time for ones hair to appear artlessly rumpled. Tonight, not so much. I slipped my little diamonds in my ears, and put on my necklace and rings. It was time for my dress. I had found it in London on a shopping expedition with Anne and I loved it almost as much as I loved the dress Carlisle had bought for me. It's a rather moody dress, floor length, a curved v-necked strapless except for tiny spaghetti straps, with a pleated bodice. At the center of the bodice begins a panel of fabric that follows the line of the dress and cuts away into two sections, forming an over layer to the skirt. The layer is edged in a soft flowing ruffle, so the overskirt appears to float as one walks across the floor. The color is sea green or sea blue, depending on what lighting the dress is in. It was hanging in it's opaque bag inside the closet, along with its perfectly matched pair of satin slippers. I could hardly wait to wear it for him. However, in order to reach it, I had to encounter Carlisle who even now was probably putting on his last bit of formal wear. Carlisle, the man who was heartstoppingly beautiful in scrubs, was dressing himself in a tux.

He is going to be perfection in whatever he chooses to wear or (heaven help me!) not wear. The thing is, he's mine, and I needed to see him more than I needed my next breath. I exited my bathroom shelter and sought him. Even prepared, his impact was a bomb blast to my heart that sent shards of desire all through me. Archangel Raphael. The Healer. His pale faintly radiant skin rose above a snowy white shirt, gray tie, gray vest, and elegant black tux. His fair hair haloed around his head. His smile, however, was pure sweet Carlisle.

Recovering, I dropped into a deep curtsey before him.

"Your Royal Highness is looking most regal this evening. I, um, notice that you seem to be missing your shoes."

"This from the woman who is still in her nightgown?"

He lifted me from my curtsey and kissed my fingers.

I made my eyes look away from him as I stepped around to the closet, unzipped the garment bag, took the dress off the hook and laid it on the bed. It made a satisfyingly sibilant sound as the layers softly slid across each other. I shrugged out of my gown, which left me in my "no show" scanty lace undies. I reached for the dress, unzipped, and stepped into it. This dress was made for a woman with breasts and its little bodice was engineered to allow the wearer to safely make the most of her assets. Holding it to my body, I looked up to see Carlisle propped against the closet door frame, watching me with his arms folded across his chest. His faced didn't tell me much, but the one hand that I could see was clinched.

"Zip me?"

His cool hands were at my back, zipping smoothly, then transferred themselves to my shoulders, touching softly. His lips lightly caressed my neck, raising the fine hairs there and starting a shiver that ran to the base of my spine.

"Explain something to me, Sparrow. Why is it that I want to take you out and show you off, letting everyone know that you are mine, when at the same time, I want to rip off that dress, lie with you, and keep you under me, all to myself forever?"

My skin, blood, hormones were all screaming, "do it!" My brain, a much more civilized organ, was saying "in good time we can have it all". My mouth was always the rebel.

"Devolution?"

I could feel movement as small shakes began to run through his body and heard the sound of his labored breath. Turning in his grip, I looked into his face at the very moment a great laugh took him. He hugged me very close.

"Thank you, Sparrow. You keep my conceit in check. Let's find our shoes and celebrate, shall we?"

We fished our shoes out of the closet and slipped them on, checked each other out from head to toe and pronounced ourselves ready to party.

As I was reaching for my coat, he caught my hand and stayed it a moment. Reaching into his own topcoat pocket he pulled out a small rectangular jewelers box, and placed it in my hand.

"I have something for you."

He was looking at me anxiously, as if not quite certain of my reaction to whatever was in the box. Curious. His taste was impeccable and he knew what I liked. I lifted the lid. There threaded on a slim chain was a pendant of the Cullen crest in gold surrounded by tiny perfectly cut diamonds. I inhaled sharply as blood rushed to my head and pounded in my ears. I searched his face and then touched the pendant reverently.

"This is your crest. It's exquisite."

The uncertain look remained.

"Yes. My family wears it. Will you?"

What he said echoed in my head 'my family wears it, will you'. So that was it. Accepting the pendant was also accepting a new kinship, another step further into his life, into his family. Was I ready? I drew in a long calming breath and released it slowly. I'd never been more ready for anything in my life.

I removed the necklace I had put on earlier and lifted the new one from its velvet bed. I clasped Carlisle's gift around my neck and felt it's warmth against my skin. I lifted my eyes to his.

"It's done. I thank you with my whole heart."

His golden eyes smiled back at me, uncertainty vanished.

Now it was my turn. Momentary anxiety attacked me as well.

"I also have a gift for you."

He seemed genuinely surprised and, I thought, pleased.

I scooped the little black ribboned gold box out of the bottom of my dress bag and placed it in his hand. He held it, looking at it, but made no motion to open it. After a moment, I nudged him slightly.

"Love, it's inside. You have to open it."

He slowly slipped the ribbon off, set it on the bed and carefully took the lid off the box. Like performing the most delicate of operations, he folded back the two layers of tissue paper to expose the contents and gently lifted it. A hunter case pocket watch, the case carved in delicate leaf and scrollwork.

"It first belonged to my grandfather, then my father, and now it belongs to you."

He started to speak, cleared his throat, and began again on a whisper as he closed his hand around the old gold.

"It is beyond beautiful. I will treasure it."

"You might want to open it. I had a bit added."

He clicked the latch and it opened to reveal an old world face with scrollwork hands. Inside the case was engraved,

Al mio amore

Dal vostro amante

His breath caught in his throat, and speaking came slowly.

"To my love, from your lover. Amante, my thanks from the depths of my soul."

Curving his free hand around my head he brought our lips together, not in passion, or possession, but in the kind of love that dreams are made.

We pressed our foreheads together before parting. He closed the watch and slipped it into his vest pocket, holding his hand over it for a moment. I could barely see its outline, pressed against his chest. I touched my necklace. Then each armed with the talisman of the other, we set out into the fine Vienna night on this, the eve of a new year.

*****************

So many elegant palaces had been built at the turn of the 19th century, huge homes, immense gardens, follies, mazes. Times change, but fortunately the love of these mansions remain allowing the rest of us the pleasure of their existence. The Auersperg Palace was one such. It now lived as a venue for the Residence Orchestra, which tonight brought brilliantly to life the music of Strauss and Mozart. Everything was fairy tale magic from the flowers and mirrors in the hall, to our elegantly costumed musicians, to the perfumed, satined and jeweled audience. Carlisle held tightly to my hand, which did nothing to control my feet dancing subtly beneath my chair. The music filled the chamber and we were in thrall to its majesty. Eventually, it came to an end. After the third encore, the Blue Danube Waltz, the soft house lights brightened, verifying the end of the program. I rested my head against Carlisle's arm and sighing through a joyful smile, hugged his hand to my chest.

"How wonderful it was."

The sound of a chime caught my attention. A door at the far left of the concert room had opened and a man emerged. He held his arms wide, and in a loudly pleasant voice spoke to us.

"Guten Abend meine Damen und Herren, alles waltzen!"

And he grandly gestured an invitation to us to enter the other room.

I looked questioningly at Carlisle.

"What do you suppose that's all about?"

He stood and offered me his hand with an "I know something you don't" look.

"I suggest we go and find out."

I let him lead me into the room, past the man at the door, who asked for our names. Carlisle told him. He apparently found us on his list.

"Ya, Herr Doctor und Frau Cullen. Willkommen!"

We entered a room lined with gilt mirrors, and filled with potted plants and flowers arranged around the perimeter of a glorious ballroom. At the far end rose a dais on which were seated a subset of the symphony musicians, tuning their instruments.

I must have looked a bit bewildered, because Carlisle grinned widely at me and made things perfectly clear.

"I thought you might enjoy some dancing to welcome in the new year."

I breathed a long "Oh…………… " and pressed my lips together to prevent the sound from turning into a huge whoop of joy.

He had his arm around me for support, for which I was grateful, and began towing me toward a space on the dance floor. The musicians made an overture to their first dance. He bowed formally to me and offered his hand, and for the second time that night, I curtsied to him and accepted that hand. For hours we danced around the room; waltzes, polkas, a simplified quadrille, the instructions called like a square dance. Midnight drew near and we were all motioned to halt. Champagne was passed around, and the 11:59 countdown began. At the stroke of midnight, a cheer of "PROSIT NEUJAR!" rang out. Kisses were exchanged, champagne toasted. We had the taste of champagne on our lips as we shared our first kiss of the new year. The evening played on for another hour, paced for lovers. We held each other close as we danced, secure and sure of a future together, stealing kisses and caresses in the seconds between dances. The ball was a fairy tale of the finest sort—I didn't have to flee at midnight, didn't lose a shoe, and got leave with my prince.

Shortly after one a.m. we made our way out of Auersperg into the night and received our first surprise of the new year. A thin fluffy layer of white covered the pavement and clung to the trees and buildings. I turned to Carlisle in mock horror.

"It's snowing!"

I had absolutely no fondness for snow with its insidious way of creeping inside ones coat collars and shoes, melting, and making one cold and wet. But even I had to admit that on this still, quiet evening, with the holiday lights reflecting back from it muted and soft, the snow was fresh and innocent.

He lifted his face to the sky, smiling at the snowflakes and wrapped me in his coat's embrace. Placing his chilly lips in the warmth of my hair, close to my ear he whispered.

"I think, my sparrow, your shoes were not meant for walking even a short distance in snow."

And without discussion, he swept me up in his arms and headed for our hotel. We were only a few minutes from there and I am small, but not without weight. He stretched his legs and walked effortlessly. It seemed the fairy tale continued and I knew where it would end this night. I shivered in anticipation and snuggled deeper into his coat.

"Are you cold?"

"No, just wanting to be nearer you."

His eyes, guinea gold and bright, roamed over my face. He picked up his pace and I could feel the wind rushing by. Bare moments later we had reached the doors of the hotel. The doorman held one wide and Carlisle strode in.

"Is madam unwell, sir?"

Asked the doorman in his slightly accented English.

Carlisle set me on my feet and took my hand.

"No, only poorly shod for snow."

"Very good then. Happy New Year, sir, madam."

We both wished him New Year greetings as well and sought the elevator. As the car came to a stop at our floor, Carlisle again scooped me up.

"This is fun. I rather enjoy filling my arms with your fragrant feminine self."

I wrapped an arm around his neck and settled in comfortably.

"Far be it from me to deprive you of fun."

Sharing quiet words we went down the hallway to our room. Outside our door he paused.

"Key card, inside right jacket pocket."

I retrieved it and stuck it into the door slot, turning the handle as I did so. He pushed the door the rest of the way open with his knee, and it shut securely behind us.

Still holding me, against his chest, he spoke low.

"Hours ago, I played the gentleman. Now, I want what I didn't take then."

He set me on my feet. I kicked off my shoes. By the time he'd unzipped the dress, and I stepped out of it, my heat had risen to the point where snow would have sizzled on my skin. He had so much to get out of. The topcoat was gone, followed by the jacket. As he worked with the tie, I was busy with his vest buttons then started on the shirt studs. My heart was pounding so violently my fingers were clumsy. He helped me remove the shirt and laid jacket, vest, and shirt carefully across a chair. I began on the trousers as he kicked off his shoes. Trousers undone, I pushed them off his hips, peeling his briefs at the same time. I dropped in front of him, he stepped out. I stripped his socks away and pressed myself fully against him as I made my way to standing. The trousers were tossed across the chair and he lifted me up. I wrapped both arms around his neck, legs around his middle, and rubbed my breasts, nipples tight, against his chest. He threw back his head and a masculine sound of pleasure came from deep in his throat.

"How do you want me, amante?"

"Deep. Now."

The bed was close, fortunately. He lunged for it, and I released my hold on him to relax onto the bed. He dropped beside me to place kisses all across my belly and the lace panty. His thumbs traced sensuous circles on my inner thighs.

I managed to speak through my desire.

"Seemingly I am now the one overdressed."

"Easily dealt with."

He placed both hands at the sides of my waist and slid them down under the lace, taking it with him as he continued his downward slide, kissing the parts that became exposed as the lace slid away and was dropped to the floor.

He then changed direction and ran his hands up my legs, thumbs pressing along their inner sides, over my thighs, and along the flesh on either side of my cleft setting off deep womb seizures. His relentless hands kept rising along my body until they reached my aching breasts, closed around them and stroked the tight tips. I arched into his hands. His body moved over me, between my legs. Breathing was difficult. I dragged in his fragrance. His eyes, molten amber, looking into my soul. His mouth claimed mine, his body claimed mine. I lifted one leg over his hips to pull him closer. He slipped an arm beneath my hips to bring me closer. Our joined bodies rocked together, increasing in tempo and depth, until for one timeless moment we crested and held before losing ourselves in an overwhelming maelstrom of pleasure.

Twice more we rang in the New Year in our own way, with great abandon, and much joyous noise. Exhausted, holding each other and completely sated, I lay atop his beloved body and slept.

*****************

I awoke under the weight of another blanket being pulled snugly over me.

"Mmmmm...feels good."

"You were shivering. If I can keep your back warm enough, you might not be so much affected by my chill."

I nuzzled his chest then wriggled my way up to look into his face.

"I love your chill, but even my body temp falls when I'm sleeping. What have you been thinking these past hours, lying here not sleeping?"

"Many things. Mostly how I love the feel of you, your sleeping weight on my body, your little mumbles and sighs against my skin. You stretch in your sleep did you know that? It can be quite, ah, stimulating."

"Darn! Did I miss anything?"

His low rumbly chuckle against my breasts and belly was also quite, ah, stimulating. I was wondering if I had the energy to begin anything fun, when my stomach growled fiercely and quite audibly.

"Wow, sorry! Time out to feed the animal."

I made a move to get up. He slid quickly out from beneath me, pulling on his flannels and leaving me warm in a nest of blankets smelling still of him, of us.

"Stay there, little sparrow, I'll fix you some coffee and order some breakfast. What would you like?"

"Thank you! Just some wheat toast, I think, buttered with jam and a bowl of fruit."

He had room service on the phone and completed the order. The promise of fresh brewed coffee drew me from the covers. I padded to the bathroom a few moments, emerging with a warm robe tucked around me. He greeted me with a kiss and cup of hot brew. Inhaling over it, I smiled warmly up at him.

"Thank you so much. Last night was unforgettable."

"Yes it was. The concert and dancing weren't bad either."

That silliness set me laughing as I sat at the little table in front of the window.

"I knew it, you just love me for my body!"

"It's very difficult loving you without it."

I threw a pillow mint at him. He caught it and placed it back on the table as he took a seat across from me and extended his hand.

I reached out and clasped fingers with him, sipping my coffee in perfect contentment.

"It's a lovely way to start a new year, sitting here like this with you."

"It is indeed, my sparrow. We could call Forks and tell them we're never coming back."

"And you could become chief shaman here in Vienna, and I could do some beautiful travel guides around here instead of the San Juan Islands."

"What?"

"That's my next assignment. The entire San Juan Archipelago. All the forty inhabited islands and as many of the forty three uninhabited ones as my investigation warrants. Not bothering with the three hundred or so additional islands that pop up at low tide."

"And when is this?"

"January fifteenth I take the ferry from Port Townsend to start at Lopez Island."

"Sparrow, do you know how brutal the weather is this time of year in those islands? It's miserably cold, wet, windy, and difficult to get around. What kind of pictures could you take that would make any sane person want to go there?"

"Ah, but I'm going on a fact finding mission, no pictures. I'll be armed with all the known information on dining, recreation, accommodations, whatever, checking them out for validity and looking for anything new. The copy will be ready and in the spring when it's pretty, I snap new pictures as needed, drop them into the copy, and voila, latest information ready for tourist consumption."

"How long do you intend to be gone?"

"That is entirely dependent on what I find when I get there. Truly, I don't know."

"You could be gone a month, or more?"

"Possibly. I would come home periodically and I'm hoping you could get away for a few days here and there to come up and be with me."

He released my hand and stood facing out the window, rubbing his fingers across his forehead. I hadn't wanted to think about this next job just yet, and I certainly hadn't wanted to bring it up now, but the words had been said and I couldn't take them back.

He spoke slowly after much deliberation.

"I don't want you to go."

"Well, It won't be my favorite place to be in winter, but it's my job. It's what I do for a living."

At that moment room service arrived. I started to get up but he stayed me with a hand on my arm and accepted my toast and fruit from the bellman. He placed it in front of me and sat across from me. He rubbed his forehead again and ran his fingers through his hair, a sure sign of inner turmoil.

"How can you contemplate us being separated for that long a period of time?"

"I can't, that's why I plan to come back every other week, and hopefully have you come up a time or two while I'm working. This is a good assignment, a very profitable one. I won't have to leave you again until spring."

He suddenly leaned across the forgotten food and took both my hands tightly in his.

"Nothing is good that keeps us apart. Sparrow, there are many serious things we need to talk about, so many things I have to tell you, as soon as we are home in familiar surroundings. I want you to consider moving in together permanently. You could choose to work or not work and let me keep you close and safe. Thinking of you on one of those islands alone, in a storm, out of my reach, is unbearable."

I must have looked as completely surprised as I was. He added.

"I need to keep keep you safe and with me. I love you so very much."

To say that I was stunned would not have been an exaggeration. Tears prickled at the back of my nose and throat and rose in my eyes. As I lifted one of his hands, still holding mine, to kiss it, hot tears spilled over onto it. Carlisle's compassionate arms came around me and lifted me to standing, then enfolded me to his chest. I rested there. His arms were safe harbor, haven, home.

*****************

I was startled when his phone rang in the stillness. Taking it from the bedside table, Carlisle glanced at the caller i.d. and answered.

"Alice?"

I could hear her excited voice, but not what she way saying. Carlisle's brow furrowed deeply, he looked at me at he listened.

"How soon?"

"I needn't ask if you are quite sure?"

His lips pressed into a grim line.

I heard her very clearly as she told him to be careful, then disconnected.

"Carlisle?"

"Give me a moment, Sparrow."

He released me and moved to the window, pulling the sheer curtain across it. Standing to one side he peered out, quickly scanning what we had enjoyed gazing at just a few moments before. He came back to me and took my face in his hands, his eyes fixed on mine.

"We are in danger. We need to leave here as soon as possible. Dress for the outdoors, I don't know exactly when or where we'll end our day. Pack everything as quickly as you can."

Fear blossomed. I nodded, mulling the obvious question. He turned and began dressing in an incomprehensible hurry. I didn't hesitate but started pulling on clothes, even as I needed to know more before panicking.

"In danger from what?"

"Evil. I'm going down to rent a car. Is your cell phone on?"

"Yes, here it is."

"Do not answer the room phone or the door. I'll be back as soon as I can. I'll let myself in."

He was dressed and stopped on his way out the door only long enough to catch me up in a tight hug.

I took one moment out to touch my pendant and whisper a prayer for our safety, told myself I didn't have time to panic and continued dressing and then packing. He counted on me to get our things together and unless the devil himself walked through that door and swallowed me whole, I would get it done. I started to throw out the now cold toast and tepid fruit, then decided I might need the energy so ate on the move. I tossed a couple bottles of water and some cookies into my handbag, making sure my passport and money were securely inside as well. I had finished our packing and was taking a last check around when I heard a rustle at the door, then Carlisle was inside.

He looked quickly around and nodded his approval.

"Excellent, Sparrow. Let's go."

Taking most of the luggage and my hand, he pulled me almost at a run through the Radisson halls. A bronze Range Rover Sport was waiting out front. We bundled our bags into the back seat and were gone.

A paper had fallen between my seat and the console and I picked it out. It was the rental contract for the car, apparently rented by a Franz Mohren of Frankfurt.

"You rented this car under a false name?"

"I did."

He was testing the car's handling in the muddy snow on the streets.

"Why?"

"Laying a false trail."

Carlisle had a death grip on the steering wheel and I could see the tension coiled tightly in his body. His face looked stern, forbidding, thoughts racing through his mind. I let him continue maneuvering out of central Vienna without a word. To say I was merely afraid would be ridiculous. Terrified yes. Rattled with heavy thumping heartbeats, yes. Petrified with it, no. Within the hour we were racing down the A1 and I needed some answers.

"Are you ready to explain to me why we are fleeing for our lives as if all the demons of hell were after us?"

"Not all of them are, but enough of the worst ones."

"Talk to me. I could be staring right at trouble out the window and not know."

His determined eyes shifted momentarily to mine.

"Oh you'll know. There are so many things I never told you. Some I should have told you by now, some I hoped never to have to tell you. It's the latter that now endanger us."

He stopped speaking, gathering his thoughts, deciding what to say to me. I jumped in.

"First, tell me where we're going."

"We're going back to England."

"Driving?"

"Yes. The family will meet us there. We're driving west, that's the Danube off to our right. We'll be going through Munich, crossing France to Coquelles, taking the Channel Tunnel train to Folkestone, then to Imber, the place of my birth."

"Why there?"

He shrugged.

"It's as good a place as any to make a stand. No one lives there anymore, no one else need get...involved. It will, hopefully, give us the time we need for the family to arrive."

My hair stood on end as I read involved to mean hurt, or worse. I took a deep breath before asking my next question.

"Who, exactly, is after us and why?"

"It gets very unbelievable from this point on, Sparrow."

"Out of the blue, someone is trying to kill us. It can't get any more unbelievable."

He laughed a harsh, mirthless sound.

"That's possibly the only believable part. There is an individual, Aro, who wishes to harm us. He fears that we endanger his way of life. He is the leader of an enormous group of like minded individuals. Singly they are evil. As a group they have enormous power and are capable of unimaginable horror."

"And these people are after us? Why? What can they possibly think we can do to them?"

"Disclose their existence."

"You obviously knew about them already, I knew nothing of them before now. I'm lost here…"

He looked sadly over at me, then straight ahead out the windshield, and every word he spoke next burned into my mind.

"You do know, and are involved intimately with one of their kind."

Momentarily my heart froze, my blood turned to ice and ceased flowing. Horrified I stared at his face. His beloved face. Visions of every look that I had seen cross his face raced through my mind; kindness, compassion, sorrow, sadness, pride, protectiveness, joy, ecstasy, love.

I shouted at him and pounded on the dash.

"You don't have an evil cell in your body!"

I startled him into looking at me. Painful darkness was banked at the back of his eyes.

"But I do. I am as they are, only I have overmastered the desires to do evil. That I love a human woman and will share everything about myself, and therefore them, is their greatest fear."

Three words in my mind echoed without fade.

"A human woman."

"Sparrow, your intelligence is way above average. You know I am not quite...human. Think about what you know."

I swallowed painfully, and spoke, barely.

"I'd rather hoped you were an angel. Guess not huh?"

A sad smile crossed his lips. He hadn't touched me since getting into the car, now he reached over, raised his hand as if to caress my cheek, but stopped a bare inch from my face, the look in his eyes stark.

"For God's sake, Carlisle, don't abandon me now!"

I seized his hand and brought it to my cheek, then kissed it and held it to my pounding heart.

His grasp tightened painfully around my hand. His voice deep with emotion rekindled hope.

"I will never abandon you."

Gathering a few rational thoughts together, I set about putting this puzzle together.

"You are not merely human. I knew that. You are something else, something more. Your skin is cold and very tough. Human nails and teeth have no effect on it."

I lifted an eyebrow at him.

He smiled a small but real smile.

"You can joke now?"

"Abominable human trait, sorry. You are very pale. Your eyes are golden, and change in hue, from dark amber to light buttery honey after you return from one of your solitary forays in the night. Your reflexes are superhuman, no human could drive as fast and efficiently as you, and a few times I've seen you move too quickly. You have great strength and no discernible heart beat. You don't sleep. You don't eat…"

"I do eat. Just... not like you."

He paused too long.

"Now's a good time to explain that."

"I hunt live game. When I go out at night...I'm hunting. Whatever the indigenous wildlife is, boar, badger, cougar, coyote, mountain goat, elk, bear."

"Bear? You hunt, kill, and devour bear with only your hands as weapons?"

"And teeth."

"Jesus! That explains the wild smell, but why aren't you covered with blood when you come back?"

"An acquired skill."

"Aside from extreme sports taken to the extreme, and a taste for meat tartar, I'm not hearing anything so horrible here. What am I missing?"

"The others don't hunt animals."

His words hung in the air between us, then dropped into my mind unlocking the horror.

"They hunt people? They're killers?"

He pulled off the road, parking in the slush, and turned to me. Releasing his hand from my grasp, he rested it along the back of the seat, fingers digging into the leather.

"Worse. They sometimes straight out kill, but often lure their victims into places of no escape, rip their throats out and drain them of blood.

This is their greatest pleasure"

I had to distance myself from this awful knowledge. I was going to be sick. I flung the door open and stumbled out of the car into the dirty wet snow. Carlisle was already at my side. I pushed him away and got a few feet farther before my stomach heaved. I dropped to my hands and knees and vomited up what little was inside, then continued to retch until I became light headed. I rolled onto my side not caring about the slush surrounding me. Carlisle standing a little distance away, anguish on his face, his fists clinched at his sides, was the last thing I saw before losing consciousness.

*****************

I lay there feeling the quiet hum of the engine, not ready to rejoin a world gone mad. The heater was cranked up high. I was bare and warmly wrapped in his coat, my feet in his sweatshirt. His familiar sane scent clung around me. I remembered the look on his face just before I passed out; what he must have thought. With voice a little raspy, I tried to reassure him.

"Carlisle, I wasn't pushing you away, I didn't want to throw up on you."

"I know. I had told you of a shocking hidden reality and you had already separated them from me in your mind and heart."

The gray day reflected off the muscles in his back with a soft sheen. I clutched his coat closer around me and inhaled its fragrance.

"Are you still cold?"

"No, I'm fine. Warm and here with you. I'll get some clothes on in a minute and give you back your sweatshirt."

He glanced over at me, with a ghost of a smile.

"I don't feel the cold either."

He had lowered my seat to almost flat. With little effort I rolled over and reached for my suitcase. I opened it and pulled out the first set of clothes I could find. Dressing took only a couple of minutes. I fished around on the floorboard and located my boots as well as the soggy bundle of clothes I had been wearing. Fully clothed and booted I felt much better about life, even as it currently stood, however my mouth felt as if a nest of rats had been living in it. I gratefully dug a bottle of water out of my bag and downed half of it, swishing before swallowing.

I could not resist touching his back.

"Here, put on your sweatshirt."

It took him—perhaps—a second? We rolled on for a while, silently, alert for anything unusual. I reviewed what I knew, going over each item in my mind and came up with only one, unbelievable but inevitable conclusion.

"So, vampires, huh?"

He nodded and kept his eyes on the road.

"You and they are of the same—what?—species? Why are you so completely different?"

"Because I chose to be. I found that I didn't need to take human life in order to survive. The blood of animals was sufficient. Drinking the blood of wild animals didn't seem so much worse than eating their flesh like everyone else. My family is the same. We call ourselves vegetarians. There are others like us, not a great number, but I like to think the concept is spreading. We are easy to tell apart. Vegetarians have gold eyes. The others, blood red. But of course…"

He trailed off.

I picked up his train of thought.

"But of course by the time you see the red eyes it's too late, right?"

"Unfortunately."

I stared out the window. At any other time I would have been charmed by the countryside we were passing through, snow and all. The speedometer had steadily read 90, with stretches of 120 and according to the signs I glimpsed, we were nearing Munich. It seemed no one else was traveling the autobahn this New Year's Day.

Carlisle pulled into a gas station to fill the tank. We didn't get the best mpg at this speed. We went in together to pay for the gas and I picked up a couple of cokes. He walked me to the bathroom and waited outside, then we hit the road again. I had far too much time to think. Horrible thoughts.

The weather was on our side. It was hovering just above freezing, not raining, but foggy. Carlisle's exceptional reflexes and sensory perception kept us going safely at outrageous speeds while avoiding the local police. Alice had not contacted us since the first message this morning at the hotel. Somewhere near Metz we stopped at a travel center for fuel— for the car and myself. I grabbed a burger to go while Carlisle filled the car. When I came out of the ladies room, he was just finishing up a conversation with, I assumed, Alice.

"Alice says hello."

My heart relaxed for a moment, reflecting aloud.

"Confrontation must not be imminent if she had time to say hello."

"No, she thinks that will come tomorrow. Tonight seems safe enough."

"How does she know these things? Does she have an informant among the group?"

"No, Alice wants nothing to do with the Volturi. She loathes them, as do we all. She is precognitive, but it is subject to change. She sees the future as it appears at a given time, not as it may actually be. The future is fluid, not immutable."

"And will these Volturi be descending on us from everywhere and in great numbers?"

"Most recently she sees Aro and perhaps seven others. They will be coming from the stronghold in Volterra, Italy."

Egocentricity had never been my greatest fault, but it was sounding like I was the cause of all this craziness.

"Is it simply because I am human that you and now your family are in grave danger? If I just got out of the car along the side of the road and let them find me would you then all be safe? Because if that's what it takes…"

"No. The Volturi see you as a reason to again challenge our way of life. They have met us several times in the recent past, confronted us, and been soundly defeated each time. Aro must have hoped to surprise the two of us and destroy us before anyone else could mobilize. He knows Alice's talent, but obviously doesn't know that she regularly scans the Volturi for unrest. We are racing west while the family is racing east. We will choose the place of meeting."

He paused to look squarely at me and took my hand across the console.

"And Sparrow, I would never, ever, under any circumstances abandon you to the slightest harm, much less the foulness of the Volturi."

I nodded, leaving my hand with his.

It was 7:10 p.m. when we arrived at Coquelles. The next Channel Tunnel train was scheduled to leave at 7:30 and we were third in queue to board. Carlisle scanned the cars in front of us, then glanced around at the waiting passengers.

I shuddered and moved closer to him.

"Do you think they could have somehow passed us and gotten here first?"

"I don't believe they know exactly where we're going, anyway it's too public here for them to risk exposure. I think we'll just have two and a half quiet hours to ourselves."

We were being waved onboard the train. After parking, we waited until the doors were secured, then made our way into the passenger compartments to sit in relative comfort for the ride. After the first few minutes, there was nothing to see as we disappeared into a big hole in the ground. Tea was offered and gratefully accepted. In the simple normalcy of holding the hot cup in my hands, inhaling its fragrance, I could almost believe this was all some sort of dreadful mistake. Looking into Carlisle's tense, vigilant face, confirmed that it wasn't.

"Are we going to Imber tonight?"

"I would like to find a small inn for us to stay in tonight and Imber won't have one. Imber is a lost village, a ghost village, it's called now. Nothing much is left of where I was born and grew up except tank tracks and graveyards. I'm hoping Aro will think we've gone back to London, to Heathrow, to leave the country. That could detour them for a while. So we will drop south of London and drive into Wiltshire, looking to stay at Amesbury, which is a small village, about an hour from Imber."

I settled closer to him as he stroked my hair. I stretched out my arm along his leg and rested my hand on his knee. The quiet sounds of the train lulled me into a light doze, but grisly dreams of red eyes and bloody mouths awakened me, heart pounding and crying out. Carlisle comforted me, and wrapped his arms tightly around me, pulling me into his body. I relaxed and slept until we neared Folkestone when his gentle kiss roused me.

We were in England again, and had to make the mental adjustment of driving on the left side of the roadway. The weather was no better this side of the channel. Fog was thick and clung wetly to the windshield. We made a stop to fuel the car once more before speeding off into the darkness. Within the hour we had entered the county of Wiltshire and were a few miles from Amesbury. The fog had given away to a light snow and every now and then a gust of wind would drive crystal eddies across the road. Carlisle slowed down to what must have felt to him like a crawl. I could finally focus on what was passing by the window without getting slightly nauseous.

"Sparrow, be looking for a small inn or bed and breakfast, something warm, homey, and very human looking. Something that those of more exotic tastes might overlook."

I scoured the roadside, looking for signs. I rejected a ten room hotel advertised as being "in the heart of the village" and saw a rather charming bed and breakfast with it's "House Full" sign out. A few miles farther along I saw a lighted drive fronted by a gate with a sign that simply said, Guesthouse Swindon.

"Carlisle, did you see that? A guesthouse sounds like it could be perfect."

"The gate is open, let's go see."

The drive led us to a cottage from the pages of Beatrix Potter. Whitewashed and blue shuttered, its tiny porch a warm glow in the increasingly dismal night. We pulled up in front. Lights were on inside, and a man stepped out of the door carrying a lantern. Carlisle rolled the window down and spoke.

"Good evening. My wife and I are looking for a room for the night. Might you have one available?"

The man crunched through the snow to us.

"Good evening to you! I was on my way out to close up, it's just on midnight. We do have a nice room, sir. We're not fancy here, but its warm and cozy and my wife makes an excellent breakfast."

"That sounds perfect, thank you."

"Why don't you let your wife pop on into the house with Mrs. Wiggins, you can park under the shed, it'll keep the snow from your car, and I'll go turn the light off, shut the gate, and help you in with the luggage."

As Mr. Wiggins made his way down the drive, I quietly asked a question.

"Going into the house with Mrs. Wiggins sounds wonderful. By the way, who are we? The Mohrens? Cullens?"

"We are the Cullens. There is no need to lie to these good people. I will be in as soon as Mr. Wiggins finishes closing up and helps me in with the baggage."

A fleeting smile crossed his face instantly lifting my spirits. I blew him a kiss and got out of the car carrying only my handbag. I'd let the menfolk bring in the other stuff. Treading lightly over the snowy path I stepped up to the porch and opened the door, sticking my head in first.

"Mrs. Wiggins?"

A perky little lady came around the corner to greet me.

"Hullo! Come in and get warm. Harry was just going to close up, how lovely you weren't just five minutes later!"

She took my hand and shook it warmly.

"I'm Sarah Wiggins. Welcome to Guesthouse Swindon."

"Thank you for your hospitality. I apologize for stopping in on you so late, time got away from us. I'm Sparrow Cullen and my husband, Carlisle, is parking our car. Mr. Wiggins kindly offered to help him bring in our things."

"Harry's like that. I'm sure you're tired, let me show you to your room."

She led the way down a short hall to an open door. Inside, the room looked as though Laura Ashley herself might have decorated it, all chintz and charm.

"It's lovely, Mrs. Wiggins! We'll be so comfortable."

She set about lighting the wood that was piled in the fireplace.

"There you are, you'll be toasty in just a few minutes. Sleep well. I'm up long before the chickens and can get your breakfast anytime you're ready."

She bustled out and closed the door behind her.

I turned to the window, watching the snow continue to fall. I had lied to this woman after all. I wasn't Mrs. Cullen, but it was getting easier to say so. Maybe next time I'd try something truthful like "Let me introduce you to Carlisle, my beautiful, tremendously charming, vampire lover. No, no, it's not troublesome at all, he's a vegetarian. Of course some of his acquaintances..." Shaking my head at that nonsense, I muttered that I must be tired. I wanted him to come inside, into our room. I was getting anxious again and I needed him near me. Before I could work myself up into a good panic, I heard the men's voices in the hallway. Harry wished him a goodnight and went off into another part of the house.

Carlisle brought in our bags, closed the door behind him, and turned to look at me. The room was tiny, intimate, warm and romantic. I was standing by the window, very still, grateful for his presence. He stayed where he was at the door, his brows drawn together in a frown.

My heart gave a great lurch, as I started adrenaline production.

"Oh Lord, Carlisle, are they near?"

He shook his head.

"I don't detect a trace of them, Sparrow. I spoke with Alice while waiting for Harry and she still doesn't see them arriving before tomorrow. The Volturi aren't sure where we are or where we're going, but they are excellent trackers."

"Where is Alice?"

"In a plane on her way to London with the rest of the family. It's going to be all right Sparrow, they'll arrive in a few hours, head straight for Imber and wait there for us."

He still hadn't made a move farther into the room.

"Then...why are you still there by the door instead of here with me?"

His frown relaxed, his warm golden eyes smiled at me, a hint of reserve still abiding there.

"You do still want me then, knowing what you now know?"

"Want you?"

I looked up at him through my lashes, and allowed a slow smile to grow. It was the most overt come-hither look I had ever even thought of giving anyone, but he needed me to want him now. Not being at all the slow-top I had teasingly called him, he was instantly by my side, holding my upper arms, pulling me close to his body, scanning my face for any trace of doubt. Seeing none, he exhaled the breath he had been holding, and kissed me deeply. Our ever simmering passion flared. In his newly revealed speed, he had us naked and lying across the bed before I had taken three shaky breaths. I was lying on top of him and ran my hands over his chest, marveling as always at his beauty. I put my lips very near his and whispered.

"Very impetuous. I like it."

His soft growly laugh caught at my heart.

Hot met cold as we kissed, sharing breath, inhaling each others scents, silently speaking our love with lips and tongues, tasting each others textures and being joined by hands, caressing, sliding across, over, excited, aroused skin. Hips bucked and rolled in anticipation. His cool hardness thrust against me. I filled my hand with him, wrapping my fingers tightly, lightly stroking, then guided him to my heat. He pushed home, I welcomed him in, until our bodies were completely mated. One thrust, again, I was losing my self in him. I lifted my head and chest enough to focus clearly on his face. Seeing him bring his passion filled eyes into focus on my face as well, I asked of him a terrible thing.

"Promise me you won't let them have me."

"Sparrow, it's premature to even think…"

"Promise me."

He looked at me for a long solemn moment, hearing what I was really asking, then nodded.

"I promise you that before I allow that to happen, I will kill you myself."

A cold river of terrifying relief ran down my spine. I seized his shoulders and rode with him recklessly, with passionate abandon, knowing I couldn't hurt him, and he wouldn't allow me to hurt myself. My supporting arms shook and sweat dripped off my hair, all the time watching his beloved face watching mine. I stilled as he brought us to the brink. For one suspended moment we merged in exquisite pleasure then plunged over the edge, shuddering in our mutual release. Panting and nearly spent, biting my lips to keep from letting all of Wiltshire know how glorious it was, I clutched him and rolled, pulling him over to rest heavily on top of me. His heavenly cool weight tempered my hot skin.

Ragged breaths forced themselves in and out of my lungs, my heart pounded, thudding loud against the quiet stillness of his.

"You must be exhausted my Sparrow, you need to rest."

I kept my eyes on his face, committing it to my heart's memory.

"If tonight should be all we have then I want to be filled with you, to take your feel, your scent, the imprint of your body, the memory of your love with me into wherever I go."

He stretched my arms above my head, placed his over them, our fingers entwined.

"I prefer to think that we will have a lifetime of such nights, Amante, let me love you gently and calm the frantic beating of your heart."

He lowered his face to my chest and pressed his lips against the skin over my wild heart. Slowly, sensuously he rubbed his body on mine. My skin craved him. My breathing changed from ragged to slow and deep, the familiar everpresent ache for him within me grew slowly to intense heat, burning away any fear of tomorrow, leaving only yearning, hunger, and joy of tonight. Whispering words of love, he slipped easily, tenderly into my body.

I relaxed beneath him, letting him work his magic.

In time, he stilled, holding me, his face very close to mine.

"I will be going out, to hunt, but mostly check the scents. I will be out much of the night, keeping watch, keeping you safe. We will rise early and go on the short distance to Imber where Alice, Edward, and the others will meet us. You will be safe here, Amante, I swear it."

He dressed quickly and left our room. I was alone. Feeling very lonely, insignificant and afraid, I curled up in the bed that still held our mingled fragrances and let the hot tears come.

*****************

I no longer slept well without him near me and certainly wouldn't tonight. We were safe for the night, he had said so, which left me with hours to think over the events of the first day of the new year. Finding out the truth about Carlisle and his family explained quite a lot. I loved him too well to be shocked or disturbed by what he was. The evil ones, however, were a different matter. The fact that they were actually coming after us, to destroy us, because a Cullen was once again defying their conventions was not something I could even begin to get my head around. Would Carlisle's family get here in time? And if they did, in time for what? What was going to happen? I didn't envision sitting around a conference table discussing the issues, gang violence would probably be more accurate. I could be dispatched instantly, but how did vampires kill each other? My mind touched briefly on Carlisle's bear hunting, then shuddered and left it. If somehow good won, how would we explain the bodies lying about? Would the Volturi retaliate by coming to Forks and threatening everyone we knew and cared about? I wished I could join Carlisle outside on patrol. Tossing around on the bed, thinking terrible thoughts did not a restful night make.

Around five a.m. I gave up and got up. I wandered out into the chilly hallway in search of the kitchen, and perhaps, hot coffee. All was yet quiet and unbrewed. Soft light from the parlor drew me. The Christmas tree was lighted and glowed softly in the early morning darkness. The star on top shone benevolently. I began to pray. I simply asked that this gentle man and his family be allowed to survive his day, that I would like to be counted in that number, but if my life was needed in exchange for them, then so be it. I had already received the blessing of his love and I was willing. I went quietly back to our room showered, applied the makeup I usually wore on special occasions, took pains with my hair and carefully selected clothes for the confrontation. A warm green tunic, brown cords and hiking boots is what I would wear to meet the devil. I could hear rustlings from the kitchen and went in search of caffeine. Mrs. Wiggins wished me a quiet good morning and offered a huge mug of heart starter. Rich with cream and sugar, I held it between both hands, warming them, inhaling, breathing in the normal, sane scent of it. I heard a rooster crow and looked out the window. It was still very dark, surely too dark for a rooster to wake on his own. I asked a bit nervously.

"Are your chickens early risers?"

"No, but Mr. Wiggins is. He's out in the coop gathering eggs."

"May I go see the chickens?"

"Of course. Harry will enjoy the company. Go out the back door and you'll see the lights. Mind your boots, it's slippery outside, and the coop can get a bit mucky."

I slipped quickly out the door, letting out as little of the kitchen warmth as I could, and picked my way carefully across the snowy ground to the lighted coop.

"Mr. Wiggins?"

"Come in, come in! My you are an early riser, a morning person like myself."

I answered him truthfully.

"Not really. There are things we need to do today that we'd rather not, but lying about waiting for trouble is not our way."

"That's truth. It's always better to get a good run at rough ground. Here you go, I'll lift the girls and you see if there are any eggs under."

I reached under the first hen who kept a beady eye on me.

"Got one!"

"Good. Here's a basket."

We companionably hunted for eggs in the warm coop until we had fourteen tucked in the little basket. As he spoke kindly to the final hen, I turned to see Carlisle standing in the doorway, a heart-meltingly sweet smile on his face. He held a steamy cup of coffee in his hands as well. He shifted the cup to one hand and he opened his arms so I could walk into them and put my arms around him.

Harry chuckled and took the basket of eggs from my hand.

"If we drop those eggs, Mrs. Wiggins is going to have a fit. I'll just take them in. You two finish your cuddle and come on in before you get too cold. Close the door behind you, so the foxes don't get in, won't you?"

"We will."

Carlisle looked into my face.

"I was quite surprised when I came into our room a few minutes ago to find you up and out already. Couldn't you sleep?"

"Not much. I thought about coming to find you, but I figured I'd just be an unnecessary distraction if I didn't get lost before I found you."

"I'm glad you didn't try. I only left you alone in our room because it was safe. It was a lonely watch, though. I missed you. Mrs. Wiggins told me you were gathering eggs with Harry and supplied me with a cup of her stout coffee. She said we were obviously made for each other as we both drank impossibly white sweet coffee. I told her I thought so too."

His sweetness tugged hard at my heartstrings. I reached up to stroke his smooth cheek, and leaned up for a kiss. His lips felt so good on mine. Would this be the last time? I pressed my face into his chest, held him as tight as I could, and pressed against him as close as I could. He stroked my hair, kissed the top of my head, and lifted my face to look at his.

"Don't be afraid. I am with you now. You need to have breakfast, then we'll leave for Imber. I spoke with Edward an hour ago. They had arrived at Heathrow but were being slowed down by customs. Not many passengers were at the airport, but still fewer agents were working. Jasper was getting agitated by the delay and Alice was calming him. Sparrow, the Volturi are still a good way behind us, but Aro knows where we are and he is on his way."

My heart constricted painfully. I nodded. He shifted me slightly so the hand with the coffee in it came to rest before my face.

"Here, this cup is still quite piping hot. Yours is probably cold by now."

I took it and drank deeply. It gave me heart. I straightened and stood a tiny bit back from him.

"I think I could use a couple of those eggs. Let's go see if Mrs. Wiggins is cooking."

He nodded approvingly, took my free hand and picked up my cold coffee cup with his other, chucking the brew under a tree. We went into the warm and fragrant kitchen.

Mrs. Wiggins was indeed cooking. She had ham sizzling in the frying pan, and scones hot from the oven in a basket on the table. Raspberry jam sparkled in a cut glass dish, and fresh clotted cream sat in a twin bowl next to it.

She looked up as we came in and smiled her warm smile.

"Sit down and make yourselves comfortable. Your ham and eggs will be ready shortly. There's juice on the table and more coffee in the pot. And these scones are ready to be eaten."

Carlisle spoke to her, a regretful tone in his voice.

"Please make nothing for me, Mrs. Wiggins, I ate very heavily late last night and won't travel well if I eat again now. Sparrow, however, did not eat properly yesterday, and will do justice to that wonderful breakfast you are preparing."

"I certainly will. Are those the eggs Mr. Wiggins and I gathered?"

I asked while reaching for a scone.

"The very ones. Will you have two, dear?"

"Please."

I busied myself with my scone, pleased that I could contemplate eating and that my hands were steady. It was going to be all right. It had to be.

I relished every bite of that delicious breakfast. Hot juicy ham, golden yoked eggs fresh from the hens, and fluffy scones stuffed with cream and jam. And then it was time for us to go.

Carlisle had sat with us, his charm warm and encompassing us all. That same honest charm had us out of the guesthouse in a hurry without hurting any feelings. As we drove away, I longingly watched the little house until it was out of sight, then turned my face to the road ahead and whatever was at the end of it.

Sunrise, a relative term this time of year, didn't occur around here until eight. It had stopped snowing during the night, but looked as though it could begin again at any moment. In the quasi-morning we drove toward Imber. It took us less than an hour, and if Carlisle hadn't told me we had arrived, I wouldn't have known. He had said it was a lost village, a ghost village, and he was unfortunately correct. Abandoned houses, bombed out buildings left from at least one war ago, or two, decayed overgrown graveyards with sad broken tombstones and as far as the eye could see only two decomposing churches, opposite each other, stood guard, keeping lonely vigil. He drove past the churches and turned down a trail which followed the edge of a heavily wooded area. A mile or so down, the trail turned into the woods. So did we. A few minutes later the trail ended at the edge of a large field completely surrounded by tall dark trees. There was an outcropping of an old wall and tumbled stones here and there poking above the shallow snow. Carlisle turned the car around to face the direction from which we had come and turned off the motor, leaving the key in the ignition. He got out and came around to me, opened my door and extended a hand. I took it and slid out standing close to him. We walked toward the crumbling wall. He placed his free hand on the stones and spoke quietly, with grief in his voice.

"This was my father's church."

Stunned, I looked around seeking some answer to why it was all in such ruin.

"What happened to it?"

"It died a slow, agonizing death."

I looked up into his beloved face. His eyes locked with mine. Not for the first time I looked into those eyes and thought how unusual they seemed in such a young, almost boyish face. Eyes that could smile and twinkle and hold passion and tenderness, and also infinite sadness, and occasional despair. Ageless eyes. Eyes that had seen too much.

"How old were you when you left here?"

"Twenty-three or four."

"How is it possible that in so short a time this all …"

I was still looking into his face and did not miss the almost imperceptible lift of his eyebrow. Of course. The obvious finally hit me.

"Ah, and when was this?"

"Sixteen-sixty-three, give or take a year or two."

My mouth fell agape. I didn't gasp, that would have required a breath being taken. I pulled my jaw up and walked a little apart, running both of my hands through my hair.

"Sparrow…"

"I need a minute to sort this."

"Don't go too far away from me."

I'd momentarily forgotten why we were here today. It all rushed back.

"Right, I won't."

I walked in a tight little circle rubbing my forehead. This was logical. He was, after all, a vampire. He didn't get ill, being hit by a car wouldn't dent him, he couldn't drown, or suffocate, only something bigger and more ferocious could do him damage, and there were bloody few of those. So he was three hundred fifty-ish years old.

I stopped and called out to him.

"I guess this explains why you were so amused by my angst over being older than you."

"Yes, it does."

I closed the distance between us again and stood in front of him with my hands on my hips.

"Well damn, you look good for a man your age.'

A smile crossed his face and he reached for me. I walked into his arms. His wonderful strong arms. This unique man who loved me.

His cell rang. Whipping it to his ear, he listened. It was Alice again. He asked where she was, then disconnected and turned back to me.

"The Volturi will be here soon. They have our scent and are on the hunt."

"How soon is soon?"

"Perhaps minutes."

"And where is Alice and everyone?"

"Near. Sparrow, when they arrive, Aro will be flanked by bodyguards. Bodyguards with special talents. These talents can disable or kill even other vampires. Don't allow them to touch you, don't make direct eye contact."

"I won't. You remember your promise."

His mouth drew into a grim line.

"I remember. Aro may ask to touch your hand. If he insists, we will let him. He will read your mind, everything that you are thinking or have ever thought will be shared with him. It won't harm you, and may actually help our situation. You love me, and are fiercely loyal. He might see that you would bring no harm to any of us."

"You don't believe that. I don't even believe that. If your family doesn't get here to even out the odds a bit, we're toast."

A strange look crossed his face. Almost a look of humor, gallows humor.

"Actually, that's exactly what I'd be."

The hairs on my body stood on end.

"My God, Carlisle, they'll burn you?"

He nodded and I moved as close to him as I was able and still give him room to move, and move quickly.

Abruptly he stiffened and faced the field across the stones of his father's fallen church.

"They're here. Be strong."

He looked swiftly into my face.

"I love you."

"And I you, always."

I drew myself up and faced the field. The family had not gotten here in time. Flight was no longer an option. Submission never had been. Fight was all that was left, even if only for swift death. I allowed adrenaline to flood my arteries. I encouraged my heart to pump hard and fast to oxygenate me. I would not go quietly.

I could see them as they passed the treeline into the field. There were nine altogether. The leader, Aro, was easy to spot. He was in the center, the others spaced evenly in an inverted wing formation, all somehow appearing to lean toward him. They were dressed in gray cloaks, hoods up. Their faces were difficult to see, being far back inside those concealing hoods. My skin started to crawl nonetheless, as they advanced silently with a rolling, almost gliding gait, across the uneven field.

We held our position at the wall.

*****************

As they approached, I could see features emerging. Aro himself looked pleasant enough in a horrifying way. His skin deadly white and thin looking. His dark shoulder length hair was swept back from a high brow and widow's peak and his blood red eyes were as compelling as they were repelling. His lips were even now curling into the parody of a genuine smile. On his right stood a tall man, dead lusterless red eyed, deep carved lines running from nose to mouth, an apathetic look stamped on his gaunt white face, and arms hanging limply at his sides. On Aro's left, a quintessential vampire in appearance. White hair flowing past his shoulders, and white parchment skin, piercing tilted eyes so red as to be almost black, and the full lips of the evilly satisfied. On this man's other side was a young woman, fair haired and beautiful, and whose vermillion eyes bored into us with unhuman intensity. On her other side, a very pale young man with similar features.

There were four others, all large and deadly looking, flanking these five. At a raise of Aro's hand the group's outer curve stopped twenty feet from us. I fancied I could smell them. Aro tilted his head to one side and spoke in a light chiding tone.

"Carlisle. What have you done now? Gotten married with never an invitation to your old friends?"

Carlisle stiffened, lifted an eyebrow and responded in a carefully controlled voice.

"Why are you and your contingent here, Aro? What do you want?"

"Merely to offer congratulations, and to see what manner of mate you have taken. Dear Esme, after all, was so perfectly suited to her position."

If possible, Carlisle stiffened even more. Aro shifted his eyes to me and looked me over way too thoroughly. Then pursing his lips he commented.

"Human, of course. What is it with you Cullen's? These human's you choose, so fragile, weak, uninteresting. And this one... "

He looked hard at me again.

"This one hasn't even that many years left to her and yet…you are breaking the rules and, ah,…"

He let his voice drift off leaving the thought unspoken.

I didn't know what the rules were, but the penalty for breaking them was bound to be terminal. Unwittingly I took a step closer to and forward of Carlisle.

"Oh how sweet."

Aro's voice dripped with sarcasm.

"She's protecting you. My dear child, had I wanted either of you harmed, or dead, it would have been fait accompli before you ever knew I was here."

Carlisle put his arm around me and moved me back beside him.

"She is no harm to you, any of you, and she's no child. She understands the necessity for secrecy. We are returning to Forks where she will live with us, under our protection."

Aro waved a hand in the air.

"Oh, that makes it all right, does it? You'll take the human into your household and explain to her friends and family, what? Her network is already too expansive, she'll expose the lot of you. And once the vampire is again known of...no, Carlisle, I think not."

The group as a unit began to move in toward us. I stiffened and tensed myself against their advance, beside me Carlisle sighed in relief.

The look on Aro's face turned profoundly surprised and not at all pleased. There were suddenly not two of us, but ten. From the trees behind had quietly and instantly moved Carlisle's family plus two giant—dogs? Wolves? Bella was on my right, one of the wolves on her other side. Edward and the other wolf were on Carlisle's left. Alice, Jasper, Emmett, and Rosalie were spaced behind us, close to our backs.

I drew a breath. The pure untainted smell of the Cullens combined with the earthy smell of the wolves. I inhaled them, grateful to have my lungs filled with their clean wild scent.

The expressions on four of the leading Volturi underwent changes, from great disappointment in Aro to great disgust in the young woman. Only the bored man had no change of expression.

Carlisle spoke sotto voce.

"Bella?"

She nodded without taking her eyes off the Volturi.

"We're all fully protected, Carlisle."

The wolf at her side, baring huge white fangs, bristled and gave a deep growl. I felt the group dynamic shift.

Carlisle spoke barely above a whisper.

"Is it a good day to die, Aro?"

"Who knew you would bring the dogs, old friend. At best we are at a stalemate."

The wolf growled a sound remarkably like a laugh. A look of resignation briefly touched Aro's face.

"Perhaps, for now, we will let you go. All of you. We will be watching, and listening for any hint of rumor."

No trace of emotion showed in Carlisle's face.

"You won't hear any, there won't be any. I promise you that."

Aro looked once again into Carlisle's face.

"Promises have been broken."

Carlisle quickly interjected.

"But not by me."

"No. Not by you."

He stretched out a hand.

"One touch Carlisle? To assure us she is merely the harmless one she appears?"

Unease rustled behind us. Edward spoke up quickly.

"I'd advise against it, Carlisle. I wouldn't let him touch her."

Bella too spoke.

"I can't keep her surrounded if she is to make physical contact with him."

Carlisle looked at me, deep concern in his eyes.

"Sparrow, are you willing to let him see into your mind? To see every thought you have ever had?"

Revulsion filled me at the thought.

"If you think it necessary."

"I think I do."

I nodded then. My trust in Carlisle was infinite.

Carlisle turned his face to Aro and spoke clearly.

"You will come alone to the center spot between us. Jacob will come with Sparrow to meet you. You have my word that no harm will come to you if it is only to touch her mind that you want."

Aro stiffened, and the woman hissed.

"You ask much, my friend, but I will do it. As you say, you have never broken your word to me."

As he started forward, the Volturi shifted slightly to a guarded position, unseen weapons at the ready.

Carlisle turned to me and took both of my arms tightly in his hands, I could feel him quiver slightly. Looking into my eyes he told me what to do.

"Go into the center and extend your hand. Do not stand between Aro and Jacob. His mind will be an invasion, but you should feel no pain. We will get through this, Amante, and then I will take you away."

Words wouldn't come. I only nodded again. The wolf, Jacob, was waiting for me. I stepped to him and we advanced to the center where Aro was waiting. Jacob stopped. I took two more steps, taking care not to get between him and Aro, but not cowering either. Aro's breath smelled of sickly sweetness, antiquity, and blood. I extended my arm full length and offered my hand. Aro placed his hand over mine, then jerked it slightly away.

A look of repugnance crossed his countenance and he spoke scornfully.

"All this intense passion, this ridiculous human love, she would willingly die for any of you, you know."

He rubbed his fingers against his palm and with obvious distaste clamped his hand over mine. His eyes closed.

I felt his mind. Nasty little mind, poking and prodding. Cold and lonely mind. I softly asked.

"Have you never loved anyone Aro? Has no one ever loved you?"

He snapped at me and painfully tightened his hand on mine.

"Stop it!"

I felt a name as he searched and read me.

"Didyme, your sister. You loved her."

"I said stop it!"

His eyes flew open and he stared into my eyes with loathing, but did not release his crushing grip on my hand. He wanted to know me entirely and thrust his evil mind farther into mine. His greed would be his undoing.

There was a sudden burst of exchanged knowledge. We both gasped at the same moment and released our hands. I stepped back several paces and felt Jacob at my side. Aro's face looked stricken. There was one last thing I needed to know.

"Why did you kill her?"

The tall bored man's head swiveled toward us. I watched as his dull and lifeless eyes began to glow with a hellish light. His lifeless hands curled into ugly claws. In a deep voice he questioned.

"Aro?"

Aro hastened to answer.

"It was necessary, Marcus, this is neither the time nor place for discussion."

Aro gave me one last loathsome look, then swept it over the Cullens as he turned to leave. He strode back through the Volturi line and kept on walking. The rest turned to join him. They increased their pace until they were, to me, only a blur, and then nothing, on the horizon.

I was shaking and had my hands in Jacob's warm fur. I dropped my face into it and I could feel his loud, steady heartbeat. Strong arms came around me. I would know those arms anyplace, anytime, on any plane of existence. Carlisle held me tightly, taking me away from Jacob and up into his own arms. I curled into his chest and breathed him in for a moment, easing my terror.

"What happened between you and Aro? How could you know about Didyme?"

"I don't know. He just pushed his way into my mind with his, so I had a look around. Ugly place. Didyme's murder was a secret he desperately wanted to keep."

Edward's voice spoke up.

"Didyme was also Marcus's wife, Sparrow. Aro is not pleased. I think we would be wise to leave soon. We can get to Heathrow in less than an hour."

Alice's voice broke in.

"Oops. Eyes closed."

Carlisle inhaled sharply.

"No, it's time. Sparrow, look at me."

I unburrowed from his coat front and smiled up at his face in the sunlight that had broken through the cloud cover. I blinked. The sun was sparkling on the snow around us, and on the skin of my beloved. I stared at him, letting the fact that he was indeed sparkling like diamond dust sink into my already overworked brain.

To my eyes he looked a little sheepish as he explained.

"It's what happens in the sunlight."

My smile grew into a joyous laugh.

"I knew it! You are an angel! Oh Lord, so are they!"

All the Cullen's were sparkling in the sunlight. Emmett hooted and gave Jasper a high five.

"Okay, maybe not all of you, but Carlisle is."

I continued through my laughter.

"It all makes perfect sense. If a fallen angel becomes a minion of the devil, then surely fallen vampires become angels, eventually! It may take a while for the rest of you."

The others were, to say the least, a bit baffled by my logic. My Carlisle, however, roared his rare and wonderful laughter as he hugged me tighter.

The wolves had disappeared, but two lanky non-sparkly bronze skinned teenagers had taken their places, one girl, one boy. Carlisle caught my gaze. Nodding his head to the girl he explained.

"Sparrow, this is Leah Clearwater, and you've already met Jacob Black."

Getting into the spirit of the thing, I ventured a guess.

"Werewolves?"

Jacob kindly corrected me.

"Actually shape shifters. We're handy to have around. We can take down vampires."

I was in awe. All I could manage was an amazed, "Wow!"

Carlisle turned into the direction of our parked car.

"Let's get out of here before others, not so discerning, see us."

Alice was frowning.

"I'm not completely sure we're out of danger yet. Aro is trying to delay the coming storm between himself and Marcus by planning vengeance on us. We need to stay wary and alert, at least until we're safely on our way back home."

Edward drove the Range Rover with Bella riding shotgun. I snuggled between Carlisle and Jacob in the backseat. The others had parked away and come in on foot. They now piled into an immense BMW—Emmett driving with Rosalie in front. Jasper, Alice and Leah in the back. Emmett lead the way back to the main road, driving insanely fast as did they all. The clouds had closed in again and a freezing drizzle was falling. I was glad I didn't have to drive on that road.

Thoughts in my head were whirling. Jacob was talking to Carlisle, I needed to focus.

"You aren't really married are you? I mean, you wouldn't not tell us would you?"

Carlisle smiled at me.

"No, not yet. And we definitely are not inviting Aro. You are going to marry me aren't you?"

"Am I?"

"Forks is very provincial. Consider their concern over the most eminent Dr. Cullen, living in obvious sin with a woman who was not his wife. I'd be thrown out of the Lions Club."

For only a second I thought he was kidding, before I realized that Carlisle would most assuredly be one of the Forks Lions!

The car was filled with happy beings. There was much I didn't understand, so much I looked forward to learning. I was just about to answer Carlisle's question when I saw Alice in front of us whip her head around, splay her hands on the back window, a look of horror on her face, and scream something at us. At the same time Edward swore and looked behind us. There was much chaos and the sound of squealing tires and shattering glass. Bella was screaming, Jacob was howling and trying to get out of the car, Carlisle was looking wild, clutching me, saying "No, no, no" over and over again.

I had the urge to cough. I raised my hand to cover my mouth, and coughed. The spray of red on my hand caught my attention. I coughed again and the red increased. I looked down beyond my hand and saw a foot of rebar sticking downward out of my chest. I started to touch it, but Carlisle grabbed my hand. His face went a little out of focus, but I could still see his panic.

"Sparrow, we'll get this out, you'll be fine. Stay with me, Amante! "

He lifted his face to Edward, who had pulled over and stopped the car. His arms were around Bella, her expression was horrified.

"Edward, I need Jasper now."

I had seen Jasper and Emmett and Leah run past our car a moment before. Funny thing that. Alice and Rosalie were outside and Jacob had left the car. Curious. They were staring at me. Oh. I shouldn't have that metal sticking out of me. I wanted to tell them it was okay, but that didn't sound right. I couldn't move either. Nothing was working. I saw Carlisle talking to Jasper, but couldn't hear them, then Jasper looked at me, deep inside me really, and took my hand. How peaceful. Carlisle's face came between us. His lips touched mine, he placed his forehead against mine, and shuddered with anguished tearless sobs as if his stone heart was breaking.

Tears came to my own eyes. I whispered to him.

"I love you. I wish there had been more time, but the time we had was heaven. You are my beloved angel."

I could hear Edward, Bella, and Alice all making frantic sounds at Carlisle. Phrases. Words. "Do it!" "Dying!" "Hurry!" "Too late!"

I slipped away.

*****************

Someone was driving a stake into my heart, while someone else stabbed me in the back. A woman screamed. I opened my eyes onto a gory hand pressing over a hole in my chest. Blood burbled underneath it and pulsed between the fingers. Arms lifted and held me. The hand, Carlisle's, kept its merciless pressing. My head rolled back and looked directly into his grief darkened eyes. As I looked at those eyes, a different look came into them. Defiance, determination, resolve. He put his face almost on mine, and breathed.

"I love you Amante, perhaps too much. I can't let you go."

His hair drifted across my face as he kissed my eyes, my cheek, my lips, my throat. I smiled, leaned into his caress, and fell into darkness.

*****************

I was on fire. Every cell was burning. Every heavy thump of my heart pumped acid through my veins. Had I in truth died this time and was I now in hell? The unendurable pain said yes. The gentle voice singing argued the point. My torture wracked body knew someone was holding me, rocking me, placing light kisses on me. Carlisle. There was no love like this in hell. He was talking to me now, crooning words I could not understand near my ear while hot knives pierced me. My body contracted beneath the torment. The knives twisted clockwise and then counter clockwise, hotter and hotter as they screwed into me. I arched trying to get away from the firestorm inside me. The anguish only increased. I burned bone to skin. Marrow boiled, bubbling, molten, pushing through the end joints, melting the tendons, the muscles, then racing for the skin. I could feel it crispening, blackening, flaking away only to start over with the next layer. Unimaginable torture.

*****************

How long now had I borne the unbearable pain? Through the incineration, above the noisy thudding of my heart, I heard music. My brain was on fire, but now I could think a little around the inferno. Guitars. I would listen. I would remember the church where we heard the music. I would rise a little out of the burning. I felt a caress across my hair. What would have been my hair. Surely it had burnt off long ago? His voice spoke near me.

"Remember, mi Amante? Are you hearing and remembering?"

*****************

He flooded my mind with music, soothing it, while the rest of me continued cremating. The Latin music. The waltzes. I remembered dancing in his arms. Happiness. Yes, beloved, fill my brain with remembered joy.

*****************

My heart hurts, it races loudly. He is still holding me. He is speaking to me. I can barely hear him above the noise of the pain.

"Only a little longer now, my Sparrow, my love."

*****************

The burning has taken second place. My heart is sprinting madly toward some finish line. I can no longer hear the music or him above the din of it. I breathe only in short gasps, trying to catch air, but forgetting what to do with it, a fish out of water, suffocating. I recognize this, I have witnessed death before.

I feel his touch and grasp his hand. I am burning so hotly that his hand feels warm. I pull it to my chest. Maybe he can calm the frenetic pace. I think that it cannot last much longer, but on and on it goes, faster, wilder, arrhythmic, rattling through my burnt out husk of a body.

And then it stops.

*****************

I wait.

No racing.

No pounding.

No beating.

At all.

No burning.

No pain.

Thank God, I had finally died.

*****************

I didn't feel dead. I felt very much alive. I could hear sounds I'd never heard before, individual snowflakes as they fell to the ground, sleeping snuffles of hibernating animals, the movement of distant water, and the life swimming in it.

I breathed in locating him at once. I inhaled again, through my mouth and tasted the sweetness of the air. I felt each thread in the warp and woof of the spread as it lay across me. I hadn't opened my eyes since the beginning of this ordeal. I opened them now and looked into the radiant face of my lover. He was beautiful beyond compare. That had not changed. But I could now enjoy the sight of him with infinitely greater clarity.

"Welcome back, Sparrow. Do you understand what has happened to you?"

"I think so. Yes."

I looked at our hands, both now very nearly the same perfect pale shade. His felt warm as mine. My heart was still now and quiet, like his. I sat up. Remembering, I pressed a hand to my chest where the cruel metal had pierced it. Under the soft silky gown I felt smooth. Undamaged.

Carlisle took that hand and held it lightly.

"You are healed. Flawless."

"You did this for me?"

"I did this to you. For myself. Can you forgive me?"

"You didn't want to."

"I wanted you to live the rich full life you were meant to live. When your blood was slipping through my hands and your life was ending far too soon because of loving me, I couldn't let you die. I need you to live. I need you."

I caressed his cheek with my free hand, marveling anew at his beauty and spoke to him the truth.

"It was terrifying and painful. I thought I was in hell, but you were with me. You sang to me, played music, spoke loving words and rocked me in your arms. You never left me. You kept me sane."

He pressed my fingers to his lips, still waiting for the answer. Carefully, I gave it to him.

"In some religions, if you save a life, you are responsible for it from then on. I suppose if you change a life the same thing applies. There is nothing to forgive, but you have to keep me forever."

He caught me up in a tight embrace.

"Ah, mi Amante, it will be a pleasure. To keep you with me forever…"

His voice faltered and his lips caught mine in a tender kiss. I wrapped my arms around his neck, and pressed closer to him, deepening the kiss, wanting him with a rush of desire so overwhelming it startled even me. I pulled back from him with extreme difficulty and looked into his face with dawning wonderment.

Is everything going to be like this? So intense, so powerful?

He smiled, nodded, and hung on to me while I pulled myself together.

Looking around, I gathered that my changing place was a church. Very old, and very decrepit, but definitely a house of God. How like him, my vicar's son, to have brought me here for healing.

"Where is everyone else?"

"Jacob and Leah are running patrol, watching over us. The others are preparing to get us home. Alice knows you have recovered and they will no doubt be here soon."

A slow smile grew on my face as something wonderful dawned on me.

"Will I sparkle in the sun?"

"Like a diamond."

I executed a slow waltz turn under his arm.

"Will we still go dancing?"

He closed me in waltz position and took a few turns about the dusty chamber.

"We will dance as long as we want, tirelessly."

"And...other things?"

He pulled me fully against his very warm body. I could feel the answer hard against my belly.

"As long as we want, tirelessly."

A delicious shiver of familiar heat for him ran through me. I slid a hand under his shirt and ran my nails lightly down the now yielding flesh of his back.

"There will be scratches."

He lifted his face to the sky, closed his eyes and shook his head.

Joy bubbled up inside me and I exhaled in a huge sigh of contentment.

He looked at me carefully.

"Are you hungry? Or, thirsty?"

I thought a moment.

"No. No I'm not."

Food had always come in second with me if there was anything more fun to do.

*****************

Epilogue

I spent the next few months in Forks learning how to be a proper vampire. Carlisle said it usually takes longer, but because I was an adult at the change, I had a fully developed limbic system, the controller of emotion and behavior. I said it's because I had the perfect role model. The human scent was actually slightly unpleasant to me. Certainly not something I wanted to smell while eating. Carlisle contacted a friend of his, a vegetarian and former Episcopalian priest, to perform our wedding ceremony. It was held by special permission of the Quileutes and guarded by Jacob's friends in a very tiny secluded area of the beach at LaPush on the only sunny day April had seen in years.

After the celebration, Carlisle and I laughed, kicked off our shoes and ran down to the water, not stopping at the edge.

Who knows, we may walk all the way to the Juan de Fuca Islands.