No, your eyes do not deceive you. WDH is back from hiatus.
Many, many apologies for the long wait, and for the shorter chapter. If you refrain from reading until I add a few more, I wouldn't blame you. I also recommend you review the last few chapters if you're one of my original readers. It's been a LONG while since this has updated.
"Yes: Part 2"
We had a quiet first evening together in our newly acquired rental home. After returning to the hotel to check out, we made a trip to a grocery store for some necessities and then familiarized ourselves with the designer kitchen.
We worked together to cook a light meal for Bella, and while she ate, I filled her in on more Cullen family history. She was especially fascinated with Alice's background.
"I'm surprised she didn't tell you all of this herself," I said after recounting the tale.
Bella shook her head. "She only said she didn't remember anything about her human life. That she woke up completely alone with only her visions to guide her."
"That's the long and short of it."
"Have you tried to help her remember? With your mind reading?"
"Once. At her request."
"There was only darkness and vague emotions. Nothing I could pinpoint to help her concentrate on. She doesn't even remember being bitten, or the pain afterward."
The crease between her brows deepened. "Surely there must be someone, somewhere that knows about her."
"One would think, but it remains a mystery, and Alice is willing to let it be. She's happy with her life now."
Bella nodded. "That's all that matters, I suppose."
"It is, and, well . . . she may very well uncover the truth someday."
I was still a bit reluctant to raise the subject of eternity with Bella, but she smiled and I knew I could relax for tonight.
"Any other great"—she yawned—"Cullen family mysteries?"
I chuckled and shook my head. "Not really. Unless we're counting you."
"Yes, you are a very great mystery indeed."
She'd scoffed at my words, but seemed secretly pleased by the sentiment behind them. Then she yawned again. "I think my pain pill's kicked in."
"I think you're correct." I took her plate from her before she could attempt to stand.
"Don't worry, I'll wash it later."
"No, you won't. It's my mess."
I said nothing as I placed the offending dish in the sink.
She hobbled off her chair and started to bring over her nearly empty water glass.
"Refill?" I asked, meeting her less than two steps from where she'd started.
She handed me the glass. "Do you think I'll need it? I'm likely to be comatose in five . . . minutes."
The last was said on a yawn, and I laughed as I placed her glass in the sink next to her plate. "You have a point."
She smiled a lazy, oxytocin-induced smile and wrapped her arms around my neck. "Are you going to carry me again?"
That she didn't argue told me how close she really was to passing out on me. I scooped her into my arms, relishing the small sigh she released in my ear.
"Comfy?" I asked.
"Yeah," she said, laying her head against my shoulder.
"Good." I ghosted up the stairs and into the master suite. "Will you need a human minute?"
She nodded and tried to stand.
"I've got you, sweetheart," I said, moving toward the dresser. "Just tell me what I can get for you."
Her skin heated beneath my shoulder. "My pajamas. Second drawer down."
I shifted her weight onto one arm and used the other to retrieve the shorts and T-shirt she often slept in at home.
Twelve minutes later, she emerged from the bathroom with damp skin and minty breath. She was asleep almost as soon as her head hit the pillow, and like the previous night, she was more silent than usual. By the time she woke, I was ravenous for her attention.
Every touch, every look, every word from her mouth was like water to a dying man. Necessary. Sustaining.
She didn't complain, and even seemed to enjoy my hovering, but it was clear she couldn't comprehend how grateful I was that she was mine, or what it meant to me to have her all to myself for a few precious days.
"I could get used to this cuddly version of you," she said, when she'd fought off the last vestiges of sleep while I'd caressed every inch of her face with my fingertips.
I smiled. "I could get used to this period."
"True. It's nice waking up together. Well . . . starting the day together, I guess."
"Yes, it is. That's not what I meant, though."
"What did you mean?"
"That I could get used to being alone with you. I like the quiet."
Her eyes lit with understanding. "Oh. I hadn't thought of that."
I brought her hand to my mouth and kissed a freckle on one of her knuckles. "I know I've said it before, but it's a miracle to me. The ability to be alone with another person, and be alone with my thoughts at the same time."
She raised her free hand to my cheek. "I'm sorry."
"Don't be. I've been happy enough. Just not like I've been since you came along."
With glassy eyes, she kissed me—kissed me until she was gasping and I was drowning in her scent and taste.
"Me, too," she whispered against my mouth. I trailed my lips down her neck and spent the next hour with my head on her chest, listening to her precious heart while the sun stretched long rays across the room.
It beat—sometimes slow and steady, sometimes fast and wild—while she played with my hair and traced patterns on my back. When I could finally take no more, our fingers danced a chaotic waltz as we tangled them together again and again. It felt as intimate an act as any between lovers, despite the fact that we were both fully dressed, and I never wanted the moment to end.
When it did, it physically hurt not to murmur the words on the tip of my tongue. For without any effort, or any warning, I had finally figured out where, and when, and how I would ask her to be my wife.
It just wouldn't be today.
The rest of our time in Virginia was an exercise in contrasts. I was eager to get home to Washington, but not at all eager to leave our haven on the beach. We spent our mornings lazing about the house, our afternoons by the pool, or—when there was enough cloud cover—on the beach, and our evenings exploring the coastline together. Much to my surprise, Bella continued to allow me to dote on her while she recovered from her sprained ankle.
Alice and the others kept us abreast of the situation back home. To my very great frustration, not much had changed there. Victoria's rogue newborn remained on the loose and off my sister's radar. It was the one kink in my plans for when we returned, but there was nothing to be done about it for the time being. I wasn't going to let it ruin the rest of the quiet time I had left with Bella.
We spent the morning of our final day out by the pool. Bella's ankle was finally strong enough for her to attempt an actual swim, and after a few tentative laps, she settled near the edge with her arms folded over the side, her hair floating in the water behind her. The dark strands glinted in the sunlight, beautiful and fascinating. The sight was almost as captivating as her skin glistening beneath the oily barrier of her sunscreen.
Fortunately for me, the majority of her slim figure was concealed from where I was sitting on a lounge chair on the other side of the deck. She was a siren in her dark blue two-piece, despite the fact it was modest by modern conventions. And she had no idea.
Well, she might have had some idea.
"You're staring again," she said without opening her eyes.
I smiled, feeling somewhat less embarrassed after being caught for the twelfth or thirteenth time.
"How can you tell?"
"I can feel it." She opened her beautiful, brown eyes and smirked. "See?"
I chuckled and watched one slim, pale leg kick out behind her and sink back down again.
"You should come in," she murmured.
"So you keep saying."
"You should listen to me."
I smirked. "If I do that, all the sun I've soaked up will seep away and you'll be left with a cold fish to cuddle up to."
She laughed, but we both knew it was an excuse. After all, she shared some of my discomfort with the growing level of intimacy between us. Though it was hard to believe she had a shy or insecure bone in her body when her eyes bored into mine with such intensity.
"Come here," she said.
I raised a dubious eyebrow. Part of me wondered if she was all too aware of the power she had over me.
She huffed. "You don't have to get in the water."
"What do you have planned?" I asked, rising slowly from my lounge chair.
"I just want to talk to you without having to squint up at you," she said, kicking her legs out behind her once again.
I hesitantly joined her at the side of the pool, stretching out on my stomach on the concrete in front of her. Her eyes lit up as I rested my chin on my folded arms, mimicking her position.
She smiled. "Much better."
Reaching out, I curled a strand of her wet hair around one of my fingers. "What did you want to talk about?"
"Nothing in particular."
"Well . . . we go home tomorrow," I offered. "Are you planning to go straight back to work? Or will you start fresh on Monday?"
She shrugged. "I'll leave that up to my boss. It'll be an adjustment though. All this lounging around has me completely spoiled."
I grinned. "Then I've done my job right."
"That is not your job."
She rolled her eyes. "Duly noted."
Letting go of her hair, I ran a finger over her sun-kissed cheek. "So stubborn."
"And you're only now figuring this out? I thought vampires were supposed to be quick."
My eyes widened in surprise and then I laughed harder than I had in a long while. Even her silly, drug-induced stupor the night of the wedding couldn't compare to my current amusement—I'd been too worried about her health then.
Bella let out a self-satisfied giggle in response and lifted herself from the water just enough to place a kiss beneath my jaw before sinking back down. She let go of the side of the pool, treading water for a few moments, and dipping her now dry shoulders and neck below the surface. I was sorely tempted to follow her in, but lowered my chin to my arms instead and settled for staring at her. She stared back, still smiling, but otherwise silent.
After a few minutes listening to the wind and waves, I could take no more.
"What are you thinking?"
She laughed softly and then blushed. "What I'm always thinking about."
Her voice was earnest. Her expression so full of adoration that it humbled me.
She loved me. I didn't deserve it, but she truly loved me.
I gazed deeply into her eyes. "What about me?"
To my surprise, her cheeks turned red and her pulse raced faster. "Umm . . ."
"Another secret? Or the first one again?" I asked, my voice light and teasing despite the fact I was dying inside. Was she trying to drive me mad? Had we not taken this little game as far as we could without crossing the boundaries we agreed upon?
She shook her head and smiled. "No, not a secret. Just . . . what are your um, plans for when we get back?"
"I don't know yet," I said. Was she deflecting? "Why do you ask?"
She shrugged and swam toward me, resting her arms over the side of the pool again. "I just wondered how much you'll be around."
I tried not to let my imagination get away from me. "I plan to be around as much as you want me to be. I may need to hunt, but unless you think you need a break from me, I won't be going far."
"I don't need a break from you," she said, "Unless you need a break from me."
She smiled. "Well, good, because my lease is up at the end of next month."
"And I sort of need to make a decision about where I'm going to move to. I've been putting it off." She gazed steadily up at me, biting her lower lip.
I leaned onto one arm and then pulled her lip gently from between her teeth. "Because of me," I said.
She shook her head. "No, not just because of you. Seth and I were talking about him moving into Jessica's room this summer. Obviously, that isn't going to happen now, but it might not have worked out anyway. The place is kind of starting to fall apart, if you hadn't noticed."
I laughed despite myself.
"Shut up. It's not that bad."
"Oh, really? It's bad enough I've considered buying the place."
Her eyes shot up. "You wouldn't!"
"Why not? I could hire a competent manager, evict the drug dealers in the next building, have the whole place fumigated and the wiring redone so it's not a health or fire hazard. I'd be doing a public service."
"My god, you've really thought about this."
"The first night I saw the place."
"Holy crap," she said under her breath. I laughed and sat up, dropping my legs into the water beside her. She looked up at me with a dazed expression.
"You okay, sweetheart?" I asked.
"You're not buying my apartment. Let's just get that straight right now."
"All right. If you're moving out there's no point, I suppose."
"You're not buying any other apartment I live in either, okay?"
"What if Alice says it's a good investment?"
She pushed up on her crossed arms. "Be serious for a second. I wanted to ask you something, but I need you to promise not to get any wild ideas."
I raised an eyebrow. "I'll do my best. What's the question?"
"Well, I was wondering if maybe . . . you might want to help me look for a new place. You know, pick something that works for both of us?"
"Are you asking me to move in with you, love?" The modern notion felt strange on my tongue. Not that it should. My parents lived together for several years before they were officially wed. Alice and Jasper only married recently. And, of course, Bella wasn't raised the way I had been in my human life.
"It's okay if you don't want to," she said when I didn't reply right away. "I was just thinking that you stay over so much anyway, and since we would still be spending most of our days—"
"—apart, you could still—"
"Isabella," I said, reaching for her chin and lifting it ever so gently.
She fell silent, blinking up at me almost as if surprised to see me there.
I could have laughed at her bewilderment, except that I could see her body shaking slightly with each beat of her heart.
Leaning forward, I dipped my head and lifted her lips to mine. I didn't kiss her, but exhaled my breath before inhaling her heavenly scent. Her warmth. Her love.
"Edward," she sighed.
Slowly, though I had sworn I would not tempt myself this way, I slipped gently into the water next to her. She barely had time to register the movement before I was facing her, one arm thrown over the side of the pool to hold me in place and the other reaching out to pull her closer to me.
"Do you want me to live with you?"
"Yes." Her heart gave a little lurch. "I mean, I don't want you to leave your family for me or anything. You can still live live with them, but—"
"All right, then. It's decided."
She smiled, her eyes brightening with sudden intensity. "Yeah? We'll look for a place together?"
She let go of the side of the pool and slid her arms around my shoulders. The move naturally brought her body in greater contact with mine and made me more nervous than the plans rapidly forming in my head for the following day. I stifled a groan as her lips met my neck and her chest pressed intimately against mine.
If she pushed my restraint at all—
"I'll want to pay my half of the rent anywhere we choose, so we can't get too carried away. Nothing like this." She leaned back and gestured indiscriminately at the property surrounding us. "And no buying buildings to control the rent either."
I laughed, but inside I was sighing with relief. For the moment, it appeared she would be pushing another issue altogether.
"So, no waterfront pool homes," I said. "And no sneaky, underhanded rent-control maneuvers?"
Smirking, I adjusted my free hand around her waist as her legs brushed against mine. She seemed to become aware of our proximity then and leaned back, blushing. I was wholly unable to stop myself from following the spread of her blush as it traveled to parts of her body I'd managed to avoid staring at prior to now. When her breath hitched and then sped up, it made it almost impossible to look away from her.
Swallowing a mouthful of venom, I clenched my eyes shut and shook my head. "Forgive me."
She exhaled a bit shakily and ran her fingers along the nape of my neck. "There's nothing to forgive, sweetie."
My body was a hurricane of sensations as I cringed and tried to push her back without injuring her. "No, believe me, there is."
She said nothing else, but continued rubbing my neck in what I knew was meant to be a soothing gesture, but was at this moment one of the most arousing things I'd ever felt.
"Edward, it's okay."
Her fingers slid across my nape again, then down the side of my neck until she was touching my jaw. Then my lips. They parted without a conscious effort. If she only knew how I wanted her. If she had any idea, she would—
"Does it offend you that I look at you sometimes? That I just see you and . . . want you in every way imaginable?"
God help me, but I shook my head. It didn't bother me at all.
Her thumb slid along my lip enticingly. "So, why would I be offended when you look at me the same way? I'd be destroyed, to be honest, if I thought you didn't care, or didn't like . . . what you . . . saw."
Her words were so soft at the end. All her bravery and confidence washed away. The silence that followed reeked of insecurity, and it was more than I could take.
Opening my eyes, I swallowed the venom back again as I met her gaze. Her expression was worried, but in the seconds it took her to read mine, she began to smile again. I couldn't imagine what she'd seen that had comforted her, but I could feel my own shame and self-condemnation slipping away as I looked at her.
"You know that I want you," I said. "I just don't want to objectify you."
She swallowed and nodded, agreeing, but after a pause long enough to reveal a shocking level of doubt.
"Bella, you have to know it isn't a matter of not wanting you. I want you very much, I've not even hid it well."
"Well enough," she said in a small voice.
I almost laughed. "Have you blocked the last few days out of your memory?"
She did laugh. "Not even close. But that's exactly what I mean. You're always so controlled, so . . . aware of my safety. Sometimes it feels like you're just humoring me."
My mouth hung open. "I've been trying not to kill you."
"I know," she said, quickly. "I do know that, and I hate that it's so hard for you, but maybe that's why I need you to look sometimes. Maybe I need a little harmless proof that I affect you the way you affect me."
I felt like an idiot even as I said, "You need proof that I desire you?"
"Sometimes," she said, blushing. "I can't read your mind either, you know."
"Well, thank heaven for small favors. I assure you, if you could read my mind . . . you would be horrified."
She raised her brow. "Maybe. But I could say the exact same thing to you. The only difference is my body gives me away all the time. Yours is like Fort Knox. I have no way of knowing what's going on inside there."
She tapped my chest with her finger, which I caught quickly. For a split second, I was shattered by her words and embarrassed, too. My body gave me away frequently, she just didn't know it. And then, I realized that was the problem. She didn't know.
I used my careful grip on her finger to pull her closer while simultaneously pressing her palm to my sternum. Lowering my head, I looked her in the eye. "You are what's going on inside here, nothing else. And if I haven't been clear about that, then I'll start making it up to you right now."
I pushed off the wall and spun us around, careful to keep from banging my legs into hers. She squealed and grabbed my shoulders, but before either of us could question what I was doing, I stopped in the chest-deep water and brought my lips to hers.
A surprised gasp passed from Bella's mouth to mine and I welcomed the accompanying rush of venom. Yes, it burned, but my body and heart burned for her more.
Flexing my fingers gently against her waist, I steadied her as she found her footing and rose up to meet my kiss. Her hands slid from my shoulders into my wet hair, and within seconds, the feel of her chest sliding against mine sent me reeling. I had to fight the urge to part my lips and taste her fully as she moaned and arched into me. The movement caused both of us to bob in the water as I adjusted my hold on her.
Lips parted, she let her head fall back. I moved my mouth to her jaw, tasting the skin there until I reached the spot just beneath her ear that drove her crazy. She gripped my hair with both hands and my muscles ached with the desire to wrench her against my chest, which had begun to rumble in a low growl. Instead, I slid one hand over her hip and down to her thigh.
"Oh, God," Bella breathed as I gently gripped her hot skin and lifted her leg around my waist. The other followed and I pulled my mouth away from her skin with a gasp as she linked them behind my back.
"Christ," I said, too low for her to hear. Images of pushing her up against the side of the pool, of lying her down on a lounge chair, of running with her straight to the master bedroom, assailed my mind. I could only pray that she would have the wherewithal not to encourage me, because I was lost.
My hands moved apart from me, holding a part of her that I'd never before touched. Gently, I reminded myself, even as she moaned my name and pressed her fiery lips to my neck. The heat and electricity of her kiss seared my skin and nearly severed what was left of my self-control. I opened my eyes and glanced at the balcony above us. I could have her upstairs in less than five seconds. It would be so easy to give in. She was so willing, and she wanted proof. God, I could give her that and more.
"Kiss me," she said, begging, moving against me in ways I'd believed would kill us both. "Please kiss me. I believe you."
With a moan, she moved her lips to mine, but I was still trying to make sense of her words. I was all sensation, no thought. Or, more accurately, too many thoughts. Forcing my eyes away from the balcony and the bedroom beyond it, I let my head fall back and sucked in a breath.
Bella, salt, chlorine, Bella, sand, sunscreen, Bella.
Her scent was the most powerful thing in my universe, but my throat felt like a distant burn in comparison to the fire raging in my heart and mind at the moment. The realization was sobering. I had never imagined a desire powerful enough to make human blood seem like a consolation prize, yet here it was. And this fragile, alluring, downright sexy creature in my arms had needed proof of it.
At least I had succeeded, I told myself as I realized what she'd been mumbling about—she believed me now.
I almost laughed as I adjusted my hold on her backside and brought my mouth to hers once again. I was suddenly desperate to put some space between us, but I didn't want to do anything to risk the progress we'd made in these last reckless minutes.
Lifting one hand to her face, I brushed her cheek with my thumb and then slid my fingers into her hair, tilting her head back. "Bella . . ."
"I love you," she said between short, soft kisses. "I love you. And I'm sorry for doubting you."
I slid my nose along hers as I removed my hand from her bottom. "You are my world. It goes against my nature to let you see this side of me. It's not respectful. But I forget that I have you at a disadvantage sometimes."
Bella shook her head. "You're a gentleman. Don't beat yourself up over that, but don't hide things from me either. Please. I want—no, I need—to know that we are equal in this one thing at the very least."
"We are," I said, holding her gaze. "We always have been."
"Good," she said, adjusting her arms around my shoulders and gripping my hair. "Just don't forget to remind me once in a while."
I laughed and carefully removed her legs from my waist. "Oh, no problem there, love. I'm fairly sure I'll be unable to help myself from this point forward."
To everyone who has reviewed, PM'd & FB'd me: thank you for all the support over the years. I've now surpassed OCDIndeed as the slowest writer in all of fanfiction, but she's a part of the reason I am still at this, so I would like to thank her, along with my amazing beta team: Katmom, Linguist & JazzGirl. They've seen this chapter through about ten revisions in the last year and a half. I'm eternally grateful.