Well, it's been less than a month this time. That's something...
Thank you Susie and Kathie for their beta touch, and Morgan for being such a faithful pre-reader! To everyone else, thank you for all the reviews! It's nice to hear when you enjoy reading this as much as I enjoy writing it!
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, brands, etc. are the property of their respective owners. Any original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.
Eyes fluttered. Toes twitched.
She sighed, and her heart hastened in its rhythm.
Turning on her side, she rolled towards me. Her t-shirt twisted loosely around her exposed middle while one leg kicked out from beneath the covers. The flannel rode up along the flesh of her leg in her efforts.
I smiled and took in every rumpled detail. Her hair was a crow's nest atop her beautiful head. Her eyelids were smudged with the make-up left behind even after her shower last night. There were creases on her cheek from the sheets beneath her. The corner of her mouth was parted and a miniscule amount of moisture collected there against her pink lips.
She was bedraggled, but utterly gorgeous. And tempting.
Mine... a voice within me cried.
Not yet, I reasoned.
Soon... the voice insisted.
I shook my head at my inner dialogue. I was feeling very impatient – in more ways than one.
Leaning over Bella, I ran the back of one finger over her cheekbone. Normally, I would fear her wrath for waking her, but it was nearly eight now and she'd been asleep almost twelve hours. She'd fallen asleep early and then woke only briefly at two when her pain medication had worn off. Since then, she'd been virtually silent.
Without the company of her sleep-talking, it had been quite lonesome. I missed her voice... her little sighs... the faces she usually made.
A small part of me thought I should be embarrassed, pining for her when she lay right next to me, but I wasn't. I couldn't be. Not when she responded to my touch the way she did, turning her face towards mine and leaning into my hand. She whispered my name.
Unable to hold back any longer, I cupped her cheek fully, causing a small smile to tease at the corners of her mouth. I stroked her silken skin with my thumb, causing her whole face to light up. Yes, her eyes remained closed, but I knew she was finally returning to consciousness... and to me.
She inhaled deeply and hummed.
I leaned over her again and this time, ran my nose along her cheekbone to her ear. "Still sleepy?"
She nodded. "Mm-hmm..."
She shifted closer to me and burrowed her face into the material of my shirt. "What time is it?" she mumbled.
I chuckled. "Not quite eight."
"In the morning?"
"Wow..." she yawned. "The last thing I remember, it was around eight last night."
I ran my fingers through her tangled locks. "You were exhausted."
"Or it was the..." She yawned again. "...the drugs."
I laughed and kissed the top of her head. "Yes, that too. How are you feeling?"
She leaned back a little and looked up at me with an adorable expression. "Fine, I think."
I heard the sheets rustle as she moved her injured ankle around.
"Does it hurt?"
She shook her head. "It's just a little tender."
I smiled, hiding the apology I know she didn't want to see or hear. Brushing a few stray hairs away from her face, I placed a soft kiss on her forehead instead.
"How was your night?" she asked.
"Wonderful. I was growing impatient waiting for you to wake up, though."
She laughed breathily. "I bet. I still think it has to be boring just watching me sleep."
"No... not usually."
"But you were last night?"
"No, you were unusually quiet, but no. I wasn't bored. I just wanted to be able to do this again without waking you."
I lowered my mouth to hers slowly, savoring the hitch of her breath and the widening of her eyes as realization hit her. Her lips were tight against mine initially. No doubt she was concerned about her breath, but I much preferred kissing her first thing in the morning over kissing her first thing after brushing her teeth. The peppermint was obnoxious and masked her own delicious flavor.
Eventually, she relaxed, melting into my arms with a moan. It escaped her as she parted her lips and wrapped her tiny arms around me in return. The feel of her warm limbs against me sparked a fire in my belly that exploded as she slipped one hand up my back to the nape of my neck and pulled down. Every muscle in my body tensed with the restraint it took not to give in to her silent request. Heaven knows I wanted to feel all of her against all of me; it just wasn't something I could trust myself to do.
Instead, I gently slid one hand beneath her head, wrapping the other around her waist and pulling her up to me. It was safer this way, I told myself, despite the easy way her body melded to mine.
Her free leg moved to wrap around my calf as she endeavored to hold herself to me. I'd panicked when she'd done the same last night, but trusted her now not to test me any farther. It hadn't been my finest moment, but I'd had to explain that her hands and arms alone were enough to drive me out of my mind. Not to mention her kisses. She had no idea what those did to me.
Venom flooded my mouth every time. Her taste overwhelmed me, heaven and hell together. Her lips mesmerized me, always softer than the softest silk, yet strong enough to guide my movements, telling me what she desired. Her tongue tortured me, occasionally peeking out to set fire to my lips and my desire.
I knew what she wanted in those moments, I wanted it too— to be able to kiss her without restraint— but I was too afraid to try. Her blood already beckoned to the darkest of my animal instincts, and while my love and reverence for her held the monster at bay for now, I wasn't willing to take any chances with the girl who'd become my whole world and my future.
The sensation of my future's toes sliding up my leg brought me out of my haze, at least enough to realize she was practically gasping for air. I released her mouth to allow her to catch her breath and groaned softly when she pulled at my hair, turning her head and offering her neck to me. My mouth trailed along her jaw and then down, lingering over her pulse point. I felt the fast thump, thump, thump against my lips. Swallowing heavily, I pulled back and lowered her body to the mattress below us. I needed a moment to gain my composure.
I needed a moment for Bella to regain hers as well. Her chest heaved and her heart pounded as she lay there, completely exposed and trusting.
She closed her eyes and sighed, smiling a happy, mischievous smile. "Wow... I should propose to you more often."
I laughed loudly, grateful for the distraction of her words, and leaned up on my elbow to gaze upon her.
"Oh, Miss Swan... I thought we discussed this last night. That was not a proposal."
She blushed. "It might as well have been."
"I can show you a proposal... if you like." I winked at her playfully.
"Oh, I'm sure you can," she giggled. I joined her in her laughter.
She was so very beautiful; her eyes shining and joyful, her hair wild and thoroughly tousled, her lips rosy and plump. I couldn't take my eyes off her, nor stop grinning. Even when our laughter faded, the smiles remained. A blissful calm filled the space between us as we stared at one another.
Slowly, she lifted one small hand to my hair, pushing it back where it had fallen down a bit. Her fingers slid along the side of my face until her palm cupped my cheek. She traced my bottom lip with her thumb while her eyes danced in thought. The only thing that kept me from purring in satisfaction was the burning desire to know what she was thinking. And for once, I didn't have to ask.
"When?" she whispered.
"When what?" I cocked my head to the side.
Her heart beat faster. "When do you think... you'd... be ready for that? To um, to get married? Or engaged...? Or whatever."
I grinned crookedly. "Is today too soon?"
Her eyes bulged.
"Kidding, Bella. I'm kidding." I laughed.
She slapped my shoulder. "That wasn't nice." Her smile belied her rebuke.
"When do you think you'll be ready?" I asked, playful still, but serious.
She shook her head. "I don't know. The sooner the better, I suppose. Before I'm too old for you."
She didn't look too pleased with the idea, and I didn't care for her answer.
"Bella, please tell me that's not why..."
"No. No, that's not why I want to," she swallowed. "...marry you."
"You're not very convincing when you can barely say the word."
Her eyes softened, her expression grew tender. "It's just new."
"And?" I asked, sensing there was more.
"And..." she sighed. "I am wondering what my parents will think. Renee might expect it if what you told me is true, but Charlie will be blindsided. He believes I'm too much like him to do anything impulsive."
"Technically, we're discussing this in advance, so it's not impulsive. Not to mention your father did run away with your mother to Las Vegas."
She looked thunderstruck. "How did you know that? Did I tell you that and forget?"
I debated lying, wondering if the answer would upset her at all.
"No, love, you didn't tell me. Charlie was thinking about what they were like when they met when we all went out to dinner together. He was trying to remember what it was exactly that had prompted him to run off to Vegas with Renee all those years ago."
I nodded and Bella's eyes grew moist. "He still loves her, doesn't he?"
"I think he always will in a way, but he wasn't pining after her. He's very fond of Sue, actually."
Bella smiled and tucked her head into my neck. "That's good. I'm happy for them." She sighed. "You're very handy to have around. Do you know that?"
I rubbed my hands over her back soothingly. "I only care that you think so."
Eventually, she pulled out of my embrace. "I guess I should take a human minute or two. I'm supposed to have breakfast with Caroline and her grandparents this morning."
She kissed me once before I rolled over and let her up. She placed a hand on my stomach when I attempted to assist her.
"Let me just test it out."
It was difficult to watch her go, despite the fact that much of the swelling had abated during the night. She wobbled as she tried to put some weight on her ankle, but after a few steps, turned back and smiled.
"It's better today."
I grinned back at her. "It looks that way."
Everything looked better today.
While Bella dressed and took care of her needs, I called home for an update and located my suitcase, which had been delivered by a bellhop at some point the day before.
"Hey, hold on," Alice said, breathlessly. She'd picked up her phone before it had even rung on my end. I heard the sound of air rushing by for a few seconds. "Okay, I can talk now."
"Good morning, Alice."
She squealed happily and began chattering away.
"Yes, it is. Do you have any idea what I've seen? Gah! Of course, you do! And I'm actually really glad that you're in another state because I wouldn't want to spoil everything, but, my God, Edward, she's going to be exquisite! You have no idea! And it's soon, too. The leaves were turning, but just barely! It was outside, at the house. Stop me if you don't want to hear anymore."
I laughed. "Stop. I don't want to hear anymore."
"Really? You don't want to know?"
"One: I'll experience it when Bella experiences it. And two: I'm afraid you'll jinx me, Al. The last twelve hours have been too perfect."
She sighed dreamily. "Yeah?"
I grinned. "Yeah."
We were both quiet a moment.
"How is everything there?" I asked.
"The same. I'm getting frustrated, but not giving up. He's a newborn, he'll make a mistake soon enough."
"The question is, how soon? I told Bella I could have her home by Friday."
Alice huffed. "Yes, well that's your problem. I told you that it's completely unnecessary. I'm shocked Bella didn't read you the riot act for wanting to keep her locked up."
"I want no such thing. I just want her safe."
"Same thing... Not that I see her going back to work until next week anyway, so take your time, but so help me... if you run off to Vegas with her–"
"Who said anything about Vegas?"
"One of you must have at least considered it."
I was stunned silent for a brief moment before the water shut off in the bathroom.
"I'm going to have to go, Alice. Is there anything pertinent I need to know about?"
"Well, you can count on the weather being rainy all day today and tomorrow but the rest of the week is supposed to be sunny. You may want to re-think the hotel. Oh, and Esme wants to have Bella over for the Fourth of July. She was also considering inviting Bella's father and his girlfriend as well, but I can't see whether or not they'll come."
"Did you tell her–"
"Esme? No. I haven't said anything to anyone. Not even Jasper, but I think he suspects. We were together when the vision of your wedding hit me."
My body thrummed at her words.
It hardly seemed real. I suppose it wasn't real, not just yet. If only I'd known things would work out like this.
"By the way," Alice stated mischievously. "You should open your suitcase."
I spotted it across the room from me. "Why? What did you do?"
She giggled. "Well, if you'd changed clothes at all last night, you would know already."
I moved across the room in an instant, placing the suitcase on the bed in the second bedroom in the next instant. I could hear Bella getting dressed in the master bath, but tried to ignore those sounds and pay attention instead to what I was doing.
"What am I looking for?"
"A pair of socks. The ones you usually wear to keep your feet from making Bella's feet cold..." Her tone was teasing, but happy.
I rolled my eyes, but found the socks in question. One pair was too large. At second glance it appeared as if something was rolled up inside.
"You're welcome," she said, even before I'd revealed the item that I'd believed to be hidden away among my things in Washington.
"How did you know?"
I could hear her shake her head, her earrings jingled in the background.
"I didn't know. It was just a feeling I had. When you came home saying Bella never wanted to get married, it didn't feel right. I'd had glimpses, but nothing was set in stone either way. Then I remembered what Bella told you about how Jessica's wedding was the second wedding she'd be attending inside of a year and I thought I heard some longing in her voice. I asked Jasper about it and we figured that, at the very least, seeing your mother's ring might motivate you to discuss the topic with Bella. I never really imagined you'd be able to get it on her finger." She practically squealed the last word.
I smiled and sighed simultaneously. "Alice, as much as I'm thrilled by that prospect, I have to ask... What would you have done if my suitcase had gotten lost or damaged? Or if the ring had been stolen?"
"Never would have happened. That I was sure of."
"I think you're awfully confident for someone who can't find one lone little newborn vampire."
Alice gasped dramatically. "That's hitting below the belt, Edward Anthony!"
I laughed, knowing from her tone that she wasn't really upset.
"I really do have to go now, Al. Bella just finished in the bathroom."
"Okay, okay... Go on back to her."
"Nope, don't bother checking in with us again. I'll call you if something comes up. Have fun."
"You're very welcome, dear brother. Tell Bella I can't wait until we're sisters!"
I shook my head as I hung up and quickly rolled my mother's ring and its box back inside the socks Alice had stowed them in. Bella appeared in the doorway not a moment after I'd concealed them.
"What are you doing in here?"
I smiled. "I was just getting some fresh clothes. I think I'll shower, too, if you don't mind."
Bella tilted her head to one side. "Okay... but why did you come in here? Why not use the main bedroom?"
I mimicked her pose, watching her the way she was watching me. "I came in here because I needed a place to open my suitcase and I didn't want to intrude on you."
"Right, of course."
When I'd removed what I needed from the suitcase and then secured the zipper and lock, I moved to stand in front of her. Her skin was slightly flushed and her body language was exuding anxiety again. I moved one finger along her cheek. "What is this?"
She shrugged. "It's nothing."
I lifted her chin gently. She looked into my eyes only a moment before raising her arms and wrapping them around me, hiding her face in my shirt under the guise of a hug.
"What is it, love?"
"It's really nothing. Just..."
She hesitated again and I complained. "Bella..."
She laughed quietly. "All right, all right... It's just that you wouldn't be intruding. If you had come in, that is. It wouldn't have been an intrusion."
The heat in her cheeks increased, at the same time I felt a little flip-flop inside my abdomen. It took me a moment to think how to respond.
"That's very gracious of you. I appreciate the sentiment."
She lifted her face to me. "But you aren't going to take me up on that, are you?"
I thought a moment. "I don't think it would be right of me to take such liberties at this juncture. At the very least, I would wish to knock and gain your permission before entering."
She laughed. "I love your more formal nature sometimes. Do you know that?"
I grinned sheepishly. "No."
"Well, I do. Although, I really wouldn't mind it if you took a few liberties now and then."
My initial inclination was to frown, my long-established ideals bristling at the suggestion. Bella must have sensed this as she sighed and pressed her face to my chest once again.
"I'm just saying that I wouldn't mind if you put your suitcase in the same room as mine."
"I don't think that's all you're saying."
She shrugged. "I want you to be comfortable around me. I want us to be comfortable around each other."
I sighed. "Bella...I think I've demonstrated that I'm all too comfortable around you –sometimes, dangerously so. I lie in your bed with you almost every night... I put my hands on your body, in places no gentleman from my time ever would have..."
Her heart fluttered as I demonstrated, one hand wrapping around her waist, my fingers flexing against the skin of her warm back. Her breath escaped her unsteadily when that hand slid up her back and into her still damp hair. I leaned closer and nuzzled the tendrils starting to curl near her ear.
"You smell so good like this," I confessed.
"Good good? Or bad good?"
"Both," I sighed. "Always both."
"Never be sorry, love. I'm not. But I must take precautions so as to never forget myself around you. You are far too alluring for your own good."
She shivered and wrapped her arms around my waist. "You, too."
I sucked in a breath as her warm fingers skimmed beneath the hem of my un-tucked shirt.
She sighed. "I'm sorry."
"No more than I. Please believe me."
I held her as close and as tightly as I dared until she eventually squirmed and leaned back.
"I have to go, the Stanleys will be waiting. I also wanted to say goodbye to Angela."
"I know. Let me wrap your ankle for you."
I swept her into my arms before she could protest and took her into the main bedroom before placing her on the large, rumpled bed. If it were possible, I know my heart would have stuttered at the sight of it. Memories of the words we exchanged last night pulsed through me as I wrapped her ankle. When it was done, her heart was racing for the both of us, as if she'd known where my thoughts had turned. I ran my thumb up her calf, then tugged playfully on the hem of her Capri pants.
She smiled and reached for me. I remained on the floor, but rose up on my knees to meet her at eye level. Automatically, she parted her legs to make room for me. It was an extraordinarily intimate gesture, and my disquiet must have shown.
"What are you thinking?" she asked, touching my cheek.
I smiled timidly. "I'm thinking this is yet another liberty you're granting me, Miss Swan."
Her cheeks colored prettily. "Well... don't think too badly of me. You are irresistible."
"I could say the same for you."
She shook her head. "Sweet-talker. You're going to make me late for breakfast."
"You're free to go anytime," I teased, arching an eyebrow but doing nothing to allow her to rise from the bed.
She laughed and ran her hands through my hair. "As if I could walk away from you..."
"I'm counting on that," I whispered, pressing my lips to hers once and then again and again until she was, in fact, late for breakfast.
I spent the rest of the morning after Bella left making plans for the next several days. The urgent priority should have been securing more suitable accommodations for when the sun inevitably returned later in the week. But even while I considered the many options, my mind kept wandering to other plans, plans I was more eager to make.
My mother's ring beckoned me while I was on the phone with the first of several realtors that dealt with vacation rentals in the area. I envisioned it in its box, having long been neglected. While I looked at a map the second realtor sent via email, I considered what, if any, restoration would need to be made before placing it on Bella's finger. By the time I found a place I believed might be suitable for both my needs and Bella's during the next several days, I'd already moved on mentally to the list of other things that would need to be done before I could realistically propose.
While everything in me screamed to drop to my knees and beg for her hand the moment she got back from entertaining little Caroline, I knew that was not the judicious thing to do. For one, I needed to speak with her father first. At least, I would prefer it that way. Of course, considering that paying him a visit would mean crossing our current treaty line with the Quileutes and returning to Forks, I might have to reconsider, or get creative.
Then again... Bella seemed to think she'd already proposed marriage to me.
I chuckled as I recalled her face when she'd emerged from the bathroom last night. I couldn't understand what had caused her to become so suddenly anxious, and when she explained that she'd been thinking about the unexpected way she —in her words— "basically proposed," she'd grown chagrined.
"It was such a bold thing for me to have said. I mean, it was so... so... brazen! And how could you possibly trust anything I say tonight anyway? What with the drugs, and the champagne, and the dancing...?"
She blushed. "Yes, the dancing. Couldn't you tell I was completely dazzled the whole time?"
I chuckled. "Maybe a bit... but if it makes you feel any better, I could also tell that you weren't dazzled when you spoke the most beautiful words I've heard in all my existence."
"You could?" She blinked. "They were?"
"Yes, and yes... Your words were like a breath of fresh air after a century of captivity."
"So... it didn't freak you out? I mean, isn't that the kind of thing that guys typically, well... freak out over?"
I laughed softly. "I guess I'm not your typical guy."
She nodded and laid her head against my chest. "I guess not."
After a moment, I broke the silence. "And Isabella?"
"Just so we're both clear... as meaningful a moment as that was, it was no proposal."
I smiled and kissed the top of her head. "When the time comes, I promise you'll know the difference."
It had actually taken some creative distraction techniques to get her to let the issue go without having to demonstrate what one says and does when proposing. Which brought my mind back to the ring sitting open on the table before me.
I was probably making Alice dizzy with all the different ways I imagined presenting it to Bella.
"Am I making you dizzy, darling sister?" I said out loud.
It was a game we'd played countless times in the past. I didn't truly expect an answer, but it was fun to put that out there all the same. I wondered if she would actually attempt to help me, or if she would stay out of it as she'd indicated when we'd spoken earlier.
A slight buzz on the sofa cushion next to me answered my question and made me smile.
I picked up my phone and opened the message.
Yes, you're making me dizzy! Stop it! ;-)
PS- She doesn't really care for orchids.
If that matters...
I laughed, but immediately the list of suitable choices in the floral department shifted in my mind. I put my phone down after sending my thanks back to Alice and considered again the many options before me. They all ended the same way, of course, with the same words, and the same significant piece of jewelry. Otherwise, the opportunities were endless.
If I could determine the right time and place for Bella, I had a feeling the rest of the details would fall into place. At least, I hoped they would.
Bella returned late Sunday afternoon, but just moments after I confirmed our plans for the next morning.
Unless she decided she wished to spend our sojourn somewhere else, a realtor would meet us to look at two homes that were both available to rent on a short term basis and remote enough to allow us some freedom during daylight hours. They were both on the water, which I hoped she would enjoy and would be a rare privilege for me as well.
The coast line in that area provided a few natural attractions that might fill Bella's waking hours, should she grow bored, and I planned on taking her to see at least one of them while it was still overcast. The others she could explore herself, or we could wait for twilight and attempt to squeeze them in together at the end of the day. There were also some historical sights nearby and I wondered if she would be interested in seeing those as well.
Her smile was kind, but she looked rather overwhelmed when I began listing them.
"You're not interested in this at all, are you?" I asked as soon as I noticed. We were sitting together on the small sofa in the living area of the suite. She was on my lap, her arms around my neck.
"I'm not uninterested, I just need a moment to recoup. Three year olds are exhausting."
"Was Caroline difficult for you?"
Bella laughed. "Oh, no. She's just busy and I was chasing after her on one foot!"
"I shouldn't have let you go alone."
"I wasn't alone the whole time, it was fine."
"Would you tell me if it hadn't been?"
She shrugged. "Maybe... maybe not. It doesn't matter though. I had a good time and said my goodbyes." Her face grew serious. "I don't know when I'll see her again. Or Jessica."
"You'll miss them."
She nodded and laid her head on my shoulder. I sighed.
Had she any idea that this sort of thing would be par for the course if she shared her life with me? In the long run, would she be able to stomach saying goodbye to people she came to care for? Again and again?
"You're super still," she whispered, breaking the silence. "What are you thinking about?"
"That's my line, isn't it?" I asked, shifting my arms around her slightly.
She laughed quietly. "Well, I can't read your mind either."
"That's probably a good thing."
"Now, that's my line." I could hear her smile.
"Indeed it is."
"So, will you tell me? I tell you what I'm thinking all the time."
I sat up and moved her back to we could see one another.
"I was wondering whether or not you've truly considered what a life lived with me might entail?"
She frowned, so I expounded.
"We'd have to move a lot, at least once every ten years, and you must know that when we leave the Seattle area, it won't be safe for us to return for decades. Forks is the same, even more so with the added complication of the Quileute nearby, and... No matter where we go, Bella, you'll eventually have to say good bye to people you care about and leave again."
"I know," she said in a sad, small voice.
She nodded. "I've thought about it a lot. I mean, I'm at a juncture in my life where it's only natural to consider setting out on a life of your own. A life away from the places and people you've known before. I certainly wouldn't be the first adult child who left her state of origin only to return a handful of times to visit in the years that follow."
"And the frequent moving? What about that?"
"That would be okay, I suppose. As long as I have something to keep me busy wherever we set off to, then I'll be okay." Her eyes flickered to mine. "As long as I have you, I'll be okay."
Bella napped through most of the afternoon while the tropical system that had made my presence at Jessica's wedding possible sent more and more rain up the coast. When the rain broke briefly in the evening, she insisted we take a walk on the beach together, which more of less amounted to me giving her a piggyback ride down to the water's edge and back again after a few minutes of playing barefooted in the surf.
Monday morning broke with scattered, but fast moving clouds covering the sky. I feared our outing with the real estate agent would have to be delayed, but the clouds slowed and thickened by the time Bella finished breakfast.
As we neared the neighborhood where the first house was located, Bella began the first of her protests.
"I just don't understand why Virginia is any safer than Washington. There are vampires all over the world, aren't there? What makes the East Coast any different from the West Coast?"
"It was more my concern for where this particular vampire's hunt for his maker might lead him. Your scent is incredibly tempting, Bella, and should he find any number of the trails I've left leading to your apartment, I don't think he'd be able to resist."
"So why didn't you just invite me to stay with you, at your house? Wouldn't your family be more than a match for him?"
I blinked in surprise. "I never thought you'd consider such a thing."
"I've stayed over before." Her tone was too careful, and from the corner of my eye I saw her biting her lip.
I had to question my own motivations. "Perhaps I was being selfish. I'd rather not share you if I don't have to."
Bella stared at me as I made the final turn approaching our destination. I slowed the car and looked at her. She was frowning.
"That's a very... normal reason."
I chuckled. "Yes, it is. I had to stop and think about it for a moment."
She smiled slowly. "So... selfish and overprotective?"
"Also a symptom of my selfishness."
I smiled crookedly at her and she laughed.
Our good humor carried us through the rather tense meeting with the realtor who was at first taken aback by my supernatural allure, and then overzealous in her response to it. I think it was safe to say that Bella was more annoyed by the woman than I was, and before she could even show us the kitchen I had to insist she step outside while we looked around.
Unfortunately, her thoughts didn't exactly go outside with her and the décor and location of the house were not nearly enough to distract either Bella or me. We took the stairs slowly and I winced when the realtor peered inside just to ogle my backside.
"She is insufferable," Bella hissed when she saw. Of course she saw...
I smiled at both her adorable anger and her observant nature as I steered her towards the master bedroom, where she would be sleeping. "Ignore her, and tell me about the house. Would you be comfortable here?"
She shrugged noncommittally and then stopped short just inside the large, cavernous bedroom.
It was upscale, but very dark. It was all indigo walls, espresso colored wood trim and furniture, long, thick curtains in a similarly dark fabric. The four poster bed boasted comfort, but my superior eyesight told me it was not nearly clean enough for my love, which was a disturbing thought in and of itself.
Bella stepped hesitantly towards it and ran a finger up one of the columns. Her eyes followed her finger and she gasped, staring up into the tray ceiling.
"What is it?" I flashed to her side.
"Umm..." She pointed, but I was looking already.
A large, ornate mirror filled the recessed surface above the bed. In it, I could see Bella's scarlet cheeks as well as my own tight expression. There was no mistaking the purpose of such a decoration.
I was horrified. "I assure you, Bella, I had no idea."
She met my eyes in the mirror, hers still wide from surprise. "I kind of figured that."
We stared at one another a moment longer before I took her hand in mine and led her away from the atrocity. She leaned against me slightly and I felt her shoulders begin to shake with silent laughter.
"I'm guessing that wasn't in the brochure."
She laughed harder. "You should have seen your face, Edward."
I smiled and chuckled a little myself. "You should have seen yours. I think I can still feel your blush from here."
She rolled her eyes. "I'm sure you can. That's not something you see every day."
We walked toward the stairway, a silent agreement between us that there was no need to see the rest of the house. I had thought it would be the least favorite of the two, so I wasn't entirely surprised to be leaving so soon. I only hoped the second house would be in better taste and in better repair than the first.
When we arrived, I was pleased not to be disappointed on either front.
While more remote, this home was newer and decorated in a more minimalist fashion. It was still luxurious and opulent, but had a cleaner appearance in addition to actually being clean. Between that and insisting the realtor let us give ourselves a self-guided tour this time around, Bella was infinitely more interested in this home.
The great room made her eyes go wide.
"This is amazing..."
"You like it?"
She smiled weakly. "It's amazing, but it's too much."
"It's for me, as a much as it is for you, love," I reminded her.
She sighed and turned slowly in a circle. "But it's so big... It's more frivolous than the hotel room."
"It's not my fault the hotel was sold out of regular rooms."
She made a face. "So what's the excuse this time?"
"Simple," I shrugged. "Privacy. There are few neighbors here and the pool area has a covered patio area."
"There's a pool?"
"But the house is already on the beach."
"I didn't build the house, Bella. I simply thought it would meet our mutual needs and make our time together more enjoyable."
She heaved a breath. "You never do anything small, do you?"
I grinned. "I often find myself having to rein in my desires when it comes to you."
Her face was embarrassed. "So you've said."
I stalked towards her. "It's true."
She trembled lightly. I took her in my arms and kissed her gently.
"Do you remember when your laptop fell off your bed?"
She blinked, confused at the apparent change in topic. "Yes."
"I was planning on replacing it with a new one that first night. I already knew exactly which one I wanted to purchase for you, but Alice called while you were sleeping and told me that you'd be unhappy with me, so I refrained.
"And when it came time to plan our first official date, there were all kinds of grand gestures I wanted to make— everything from hiring a personal chef and a band for the evening, to renting a yacht for a personalized tour of Puget Sound.
"I held myself back then, as well, because I guessed those things would make you uncomfortable."
She swallowed heavily and blinked. "The park was the perfect first date. I think the only thing that could have been better was the mountainside you took me to."
I smiled wistfully. "I understand that with you, simplicity is best, that doesn't mean I don't wish to lay the world and everything in it at your feet, Bella... if only you would allow me to."
"Edward..." Her voice quavered.
I smiled and ran my thumb over the crease between her eyebrows.
"I'm not telling you this to make you feel guilty, Bella, but it is difficult for me to restrain myself from spoiling you. You have no idea how it pained me to not buy you a gift for your graduation. I was happy to see that you allowed your parents the indulgence of replacing your laptop to mark the occasion, but I was also supremely jealous because you forbade me from spending a single dime."
"I didn't know they were going to do that, Edward. I told them the same thing I told you and your family."
"Yet, you accepted your parents' gift without protest. As well as a gift from my brother. How would you have responded if I'd blatantly disregarded your wishes?"
She inhaled sharply. "That's not fair. That's Emmett, and they're my parents, and you're my..." She huffed. "Well, we're in a relationship. It's different."
"Why? Why should it be?"
"Because... I don't want you to give me lavish things when I can't reciprocate!"
"Are you being serious, Isabella?" I dropped her hand, my voice sharper than I intended.
Her eyes darted to mine, wide and surprised before I sighed in remorse and pulled her to me.
"Sweetheart, I had nothing that truly mattered to me before you accepted me into your life. I promise you... there isn't a thing on earth I could give you that would ever come close to matching what you've already given me; what you give me just by breathing. "
Her breath left her in a rush, her body betraying the way my words affected her. "I don't..." she whispered shakily. "I don't know how to respond to that."
I chuckled. "To start, let me spoil you a little. Say yes to the house."
Her chest rose and fell twice more before she ducked her head and hid her face against my neck. "Okay," she mumbled.
She nodded and lifted her head, her liquid brown eyes shining. "Yes."
One yes down, one to go. (Unless you count Edward saying "yes" to changing Bella and then we have two to go. ;-) That boy is stubborn with a capital "S"!)
Next update will likely take about as long as this one. I will always endeavor to work quickly, but my head is a crazy place, as is the home I share with my hubby and kids.
**If you need something to read in while you wait, the Twilight round of The Canon Tour is going on right now! If you haven't heard of this unique contest, you need to check it out! There are 26 top notch canon and AU entries up for your consideration right now, and yes, one of them is mine. :-) Voting runs until November 4th and winners are announced the next day.
Visit their profile for more information or to read the stories:
http : / / www. fanfiction. net / u/ 3041014/ thecanontour [just remove the spaces]