A/N: What was supposed to be a little one-shot in honour of katinki's birthday turned into this monstrosity of a chapter, my version of Chapter 20 of Eclipse, re-imagined and re-told from Edward's POV...as though we hadn't all been cockblocked! As is inevitable when the lemonade is injected, I've no doubt strayed from canon with this one...but it's the way I would have liked to have read it the first time.

Hope you enjoy... Happy Birthday, Kate!

Bella was nervous.

There was no mistaking her accelerated heart rate, the sound of her shallow breaths, the agitation in her eyes as she scanned the road while she drove. I might have insisted on driving if it hadn't been that driving her ancient behemoth of a truck from her house to mine seemed to calm her at least a little bit, giving her something on which to focus her attention.

I was pretty sure I knew why she was so nervous, too. She was afraid of the battle to come, what might happen to a member of my family or one of the wolves at the hands of Victoria and her newborns. She knew she'd be completely helpless, unable to lend us a hand. And perhaps the small, sane part of her was even a little nervous for her own safety for once.

But we had tonight, just the two of us, and I was absolutely determined that we would enjoy it. It seemed like it had been so long since we had a stretch of hours to ourselves, no one else around, nothing else we needed to be thinking about or doing. We could be selfish for a little while, and just concentrate on each other.

I couldn't wait.

My anticipation had been fuelled somewhat by Alice's knowing grin when she and Jasper were readying to leave the house earlier. Although she was blocking me by concentrating on the aria from some kind of Russian opera, she couldn't hide the smug and rather excited look on her face, or the distinct twinkle in her eyes.

"Make sure you enjoy yourself tonight, Edward," she had smiled. "You know, try not to be totally anal retentive?"

I had felt my brow crease slightly at the knowledge she was hiding something. "What are you up to, Alice?"

"Me?" she asked with mock innocence. "I'm not up to anything. Nothing at all. Bella on the other hand…well…" She let her voice trail off and shrugged her tiny shoulders.

When Jasper snickered, I narrowed my eyes at him. He was thinking of the same damn opera…coached by my annoying sister, no doubt. "What's going on, Jazz?"

His shrug mimicked his wife's from a moment ago. "All I know is that in my opinion, you should listen to Bella for once, Edward."

A familiar feeling suddenly started to creep over me…a not unpleasant sort of tension, a warmth in the pit of my stomach, tugging at my insides. I knew that feeling.

It was what I usually felt when Bella was in my arms, kissing me.

I opened my mouth to say something else, but Alice pre-empted me by stepping up on her toes and craning her neck to give me a quick kiss on the cheek. "Have fun, Edward."

Jasper clapped me on the back. "Yeah, Edward. Have fun. At least try, huh?" He winked, then disappeared out the door behind Alice.

A small smile turned the corners of my lips upwards as Bella pulled up in front of the house. I took from Jasper's hint that at least part of the evening tonight would involve more kissing. I could handle that. I could more than handle that. I couldn't wait. There wasn't much I liked to do more these days than feel Bella, soft and warm in my arms, her sweet lips moving against mine. It made me feel warm; almost human.

As soon as Bella cut the truck's engine I raced to her door to open it for her, lifting her from the cab before she could move on her own. I grabbed her bag and slung it over my shoulder, bending to kiss her at the same time as I kicked the truck door shut behind her. Lifting her easily into my arms, I kept my mouth on hers, gently skimming our lips together while I walked us inside. I could feel the tension ease out of her shoulders as she melted into the kiss, tangling a hand into the hair at the back of my neck.

I chuckled quietly when she was finally almost limp in my arms. I pulled back so I could see her face, and chuckled again at the sight of her flushed cheeks. I loved that I could make her feel that way.

Having just carried Bella over the threshold, cradled in my arms bridal-style, I allowed myself a moment to fantasize about doing just that for real. In my mind's eye, I pictured her in white silk and lace, wearing my ring, pledged to be mine forever. My dead heart swelled with emotion at the thought. "Welcome home," I murmured, thinking of the day that I would bring her into my home – our home – as my wife.

I'd become such a sap.

"That sounds nice," she smiled in reply, breathless.

When I set her back on her feet she kept her arms wrapped around me and pressed her face into my chest. I could feel her warmth radiating through our clothing, along with the familiar tug in the pit of my stomach.

She seemed to be feeling particularly affectionate. Perhaps it was just the right moment to coerce her into accepting the gift that I had for her. She had already accepted one from that dog; surely there was no basis now on which she could refuse to accept one from me.

I pushed away the irritation I felt at the presumption of that dog in giving my Bella anything, especially something so personal. He simply couldn't seem to accept no for an answer. What was it going to take for him to realize that Bella was mine and would never be his, not in the way he wanted?

It made me want to beat the message into his miserable furry body. Limb by stupid, obstinate limb.

I pushed the urge to be violent into the same space that now held my irritation. This was no time to be thinking of mangy animals.

"I have something for you," I said to Bella, deliberately keeping my tone light so that she wouldn't think it a big deal.

"Oh?" She eyed me suspiciously.

"Your hand-me-down, remember? You said that was allowable."

Her face cleared, but only slightly. "Oh, that's right. I guess I did say that."

I chuckled again, this time at her reluctance to accept anything from me, even when she had no idea what it was. "It's up in my room. Shall I go get it?"

Inexplicably, her eyes brightened. "Sure. Let's go." She laced her fingers through mine, indicating that she intended to come with me.

I had to take advantage of this moment of Bella-compliance while it lasted. Scooping her back into my arms, I sprinted up the stairs to my room. I set her back on her feet at the door and dashed into my closet, hurriedly flinging open the locked steel box I kept at the very back under some old clothes – or rather, what Alice considered old clothes, being the ones that I had dared to wear more than twice.

I had had this box since 1918, shortly after Carlisle changed me. It held pretty much every possession I had that I considered precious. Until I met Bella and tucked such things into it as a certain lemonade bottle cap, those precious items had included only the pieces of my mother's jewellery Carlisle and I had managed to save, and a single black and white photograph my mother had had with her when she died in the hospital in Chicago: my parents' wedding picture. While it was formal, posed as had been the style of the day, it was still obvious from their faces that they were radiantly happy, ecstatic to be married to each other. I still had vague recollections of my mother speaking of that day, always with great joy in her voice.

I didn't linger on the picture now, however; I was on a mission, before Bella changed her mind. I snatched what I was looking for and quickly re-locked the box. I was back at her side before she'd even taken a further step into the room.

Ignoring me for the moment, she walked over to the bed and climbed on top of the gold comforter, sliding herself into the very center. She pulled her knees up and wrapped her arms around them as if preparing for some kind of onslaught. "Okay," she grumbled. "Let me have it."

Now there was the reluctance I had been expecting.

But no matter. She wore the dog's token, I was determined she was going to wear mine, too.

I laughed at her expression and climbed up onto the bed beside her. I heard her heart beat loudly, presumably another sign of her discomfort with accepting presents.

"A hand-me-down," I told her again, reaching for her left wrist and the dog's silver bracelet. It was attractive enough but cheap. I would have at least found her something in platinum, something worthy of resting against her perfect skin. But at least it's not a goddamn collar, I thought bitterly as I added my gift to the other side of the bracelet.

Gingerly, as though she thought it might burn her, Bella lifted her arm so she could see what I'd done to the bracelet. On the opposite side from the dog's carved dog was a single heart-shaped diamond. My mother had worn it on a necklace – platinum, of course. My father had given it to her when I was born.

Bella gasped as she examined it in the light from the lamp, shining and sparkling in even that small amount of illumination.

"It was my mother's," I shrugged, hoping to appear casual so that she wouldn't refuse to accept it. "I inherited quite a few baubles like this. I've given some to Esme and Alice both. So, clearly, this is not a big deal in any way." I certainly didn't intend to tell her that it was a three-carat diamond. She would probably assume it was crystal, and I was content to let her continue under that misapprehension.

She smiled slightly, so I pressed ahead. "But I thought it was a good representation. It's hard and cold." I laughed. "And it throws rainbows in the sunlight."

"You forgot the most important similarity," she murmured quietly, still inspecting it. "It's beautiful."

My heart clenched and I sucked in a breath. That she thought of me that way and not as a monster still never ceased to amaze me. At times, it still made me doubt her sanity. "My heart is just as silent," I finally replied. "And it, too, is yours."

She held her wrist up and twisted it so the diamond caught another beam of light. "Thank you. For both."

I grinned. She had said thank you…which meant it wasn't a refusal. Success—at last. "No, thank you. It's a relief to have you accept a gift so easily. Good practice for you, too."

She ducked under my arm and snuggled into my side, resting her head against my shoulder. I wanted to squeeze her to me with the force of all of the love I felt for her, but of course that was impossible—unless I wanted to crush her. Instead, I just wrapped my arms around her and carefully pulled her closer.

This time she was the one to suck in a breath. "Can we discuss something? I'd appreciate it if you could begin by being open-minded."

I couldn't help but hesitate. When she said this kind of thing, it was usually a prelude to her asking me to allow her to do something dangerous. I hoped we weren't heading for an argument, not tonight.

"I'll give it my best effort," I said finally.

"I'm not breaking any rules here," she continued. "This is strictly about you and me." She paused to clear her throat and then pressed ahead. "So…I was impressed by how well we were able to compromise the other night. I was thinking I would like to apply the same principle to a different situation."

A smile flickered at the corners of my mouth. Her formality was endearing, like she was negotiating a business deal. "What would you like to negotiate?"

Again she paused. I heard her swallow heavily and her heart rate increase yet again. Her body got slightly warmer in my arms. "Listen to your heart fly," I murmured, curious now as to what had her nervous yet again. "It's fluttering like a hummingbird's wings. Are you all right?"

"I'm great," she said flatly, hardly convincing.

"Please go on then." Damn her silent mind. This would be so much easier on both of us if I could just know what she wanted to say.

"Well, I guess, first, I wanted to talk to you about that whole ridiculous marriage condition thing."

My heart clenched again, but this time it was in a way that was not so pleasant. That she thought of marrying me as some kind of bother, something she hated to consider, hurt me more than I would ever let her know. I tried to remind myself that it was because of her upbringing, everything she'd seen between Renee and Charlie, but it was difficult not to believe that there was something else behind it instead. "It's only ridiculous to you," I managed to reply. "What about it?"

"I was wondering…is that open to negotiation?"

I frowned, feeling my cold heart crack a little. She hadn't outright refused before. Was this going to be her refusal? I swallowed hard, bracing myself. Hadn't Alice suggested that this evening would be fun? Had she missed that Bella had made her decision about this? "I've already made the largest concession by far and away—I've agreed to take your life away against my better judgment. And that ought to entitle me to a few compromises on your part." Couching it as some kind of quid pro quo, a business transaction, made her reluctance somewhat easier to take.

But only somewhat.

"No." She shook her head firmly. "That part's a done deal. We're not discussing my…renovations right now. I want to hammer out some other details."

Now I had no idea what she was getting at. "Which details do you mean exactly?"

She hesitated and took a deep breath through her nose. "Let's clarify your prerequisites first."

"You know what I want."

"Matrimony." She practically spat the word, like it was an expletive.

I disguised my reaction to her use of the word with a smile. "Yes. To start with."

Her eyes widened. "There's more?"

Of course there was more, it was all part of the same package. I knew that drawing her attention to those things would likely make her all the more reluctant, but I couldn't see the point in being dishonest about it. If she was going to refuse me anyway and ask Carlisle to change her, she may as well know all the details of what she was refusing.

"Well, if you're my wife," I tried not to savour the word rolling from my tongue, "then what's mine is yours…like tuition money. So there would be no problem with Dartmouth."

She scowled. "Anything else? While you're already being absurd?"

"I wouldn't mind some time."

"No," she said flatly, without a second's hesitation. "No time. That's a deal breaker right there."

I couldn't help sighing. She was so inexplicably eager to throw her human life away as soon as possible. It seemed to me as though she still had no real grasp on how long 'eternity' really was, that looking back a few extra years as a human was going to seem like nothing at all.

"Just a year or two?"

She shook her head again, her lips pressed together tightly. "Move along to the next one."

"That's it. Unless you'd like to talk cars…" I knew that one would make her grimace, so now I was just teasing. Sort of. That truck had to die eventually...even if I had to put it out of its misery myself.

I took her hand and caressed her fingers, each individually, enjoying the feel of their softness against my own stone flesh. I had once considered the fragility of humans rather irritating, but now even that had changed.

My cards were all on the table now, although she'd known all of these things before. But now she had implied there was something else she wanted, in addition to being changed. I couldn't imagine what it could possibly be. Being so completely in the dark was insanely frustrating. "I didn't realize there was anything else you wanted besides being transformed into a monster yourself. I'm extremely curious."

She was silent for a long moment as she watched the movement of our hands together. As I monitored her facial expression for any sign of what she was thinking, a blush started to rise in her cheeks. She was embarrassed? "You're blushing?" I asked, surprised. She still didn't look up at me. "Please, Bella, the suspense is painful."

Painful barely described it. While her quiet mind was a blessing to me at times, giving me moments of much-needed silence in the chaos of thoughts that sometimes threatened to overwhelm me, most of the time it was a source of frustration. I simply wasn't used to not knowing what someone else was thinking. When her thoughts affected me so profoundly, it was ten times as frustrating.

She bit her lip but still didn't speak.

"Bella."

She inhaled deeply. "Well, I'm a little worried…about after." She glanced up at me through her lashes.

Was she having second thoughts? A moment ago she had insisted that her change was non-negotiable. I wasn't sure whether to be pleased or worried. She was already resistant to the idea of marrying me. Was she questioning 'forever' altogether?

My heart dropped into the pit of my stomach, and I struggled not to betray my reaction. I would not force her to do anything she wasn't completely comfortable with, no matter how much I wanted it. "What has you worried?" I asked, fighting to keep my voice even.

"All of you just seem so convinced that the only thing I'm going to be interested in, afterward, is slaughtering everyone in town." I felt myself wince at her choice of words, making it sound as monstrous as…well, as it was. "And I'm afraid I'll be so preoccupied with the mayhem that I won't be me anymore…and that I won't…I won't want you the same way I do now."

She was afraid she wouldn't want to be with me at all? I hadn't even considered that. It wasn't a possibility Alice had ever mentioned; quite the contrary, in fact.

But if she didn't want to marry me and she was questioning transforming...yet a moment ago had insisted that her transformation wasn't up for negotiation…

I didn't know what to make of any of this, but I was starting to feel a little nauseous.

I decided to go with the most obvious meaning of her words – that she was simply concerned about being an out-of-control newborn.

"Bella, that part doesn't last forever," I said quietly, hoping I sounded reassuring.

She looked away again and stared back down at her lap. "Edward…There's something that I want to do before I'm not human anymore."

Now I was even more confused. If it was just something she wanted to do while she was human, I certainly wouldn't stand in her way. Why did she still seem so nervous? I waited, watching her blush deepen and listening to her heart rate speed even more. I didn't even know what question to ask.

"Whatever you want," I finally managed, unable to conceive of anything she could ask for that I wouldn't agree to. Unless it endangered her in some way. Was that why she was anxious about it? She knew I wouldn't allow her to risk harming herself. Could it have something to do with the wolves? With Jacob?

The thought made me feel even more nauseous. I didn't even want to consider any possibilities which might have something to do with him.

"Do you promise?" she muttered, still not meeting my eyes.

"Yes," I said recklessly, desperate for her to get to the point before my head exploded. I knew as I said it that I might have to break that promise if whatever she was getting at was too risky, but I needed her to just tell me. Now. "Tell me what you want, and you can have it."

She managed to lift her head enough to look at me. "You." The single word was mumbled, and would have been barely audible to human ears.

Me? She had me. She had me completely. She had to know that.

I was getting more confused by the minute, and it was an entirely uncomfortable and irritating feeling.

I forced a smile and tried to hold her gaze, hoping that some kind of explanation would make itself apparent in her expression. "I'm yours."

Suddenly she took a deep breath and pulled herself to her knees so that she could wrap her arms around my neck. Tentatively, she leaned forward to press her mouth to mine.

I wondered what this had to do with anything, but wasn't exactly about to complain. A moment ago I had been worried she didn't want me, and now she was kissing me. I happily returned the kiss but was preoccupied with trying to figure out what in the world was going on here.

Bella shifted slightly and relaxed her hold around my neck. Her hands slid forward over my shoulders to the collar of my shirt.

It took me a moment to realize that with trembling fingers, she had started to undo my buttons.

Worried she wouldn't want me afterwards.

Something she wanted to do while she was still human.

The something she wanted was me.

Holy shit.

I froze, then pushed her away, easily breaking her grasp on my shirt.

Sex. She wanted to have sex.

I cursed myself for not seeing it sooner. But I had already told her it was impossible. It hadn't even occurred to me that she might question that.

"Be reasonable, Bella," I said, my brow furrowed in consternation.

"You promised – whatever I wanted." She tried to sound insistent, but her voice betrayed her. She knew it was a weak argument.

"We're not having this discussion," I growled, quickly refastening the two buttons she'd managed to get open before my idiot brain had caught up with her. There was no point in discussing it. It was impossible.

I heard her teeth click together in annoyance. "I say we are," she snapped, now moving her fingers to her own blouse to yank open the top button. It was the kind of blouse that was already low enough that with the top button undone, I could just see the top of the lace of her bra underneath.

I looked away and focused on grabbing her wrists, pinning them to her sides. "I say we're not."

We glared at each other for a moment. "You wanted to know," she said finally, breaking the short silence.

"I thought it would be something faintly realistic."

"So you can ask for any stupid, ridiculous thing you want – like getting married – but I'm not allowed to even discuss what I –"

I was too annoyed now even to wince at the way she described the idea of getting married – annoyed at her for even thinking to pursue something so dangerous and so impossible, and at myself for not clueing into what she wanted earlier. Even the smug smirks on Alice's and Jasper's faces when they'd left earlier – I should have known.

I gathered her wrists in one hand and clamped my other palm over her mouth to stop her words. "No."

She drew in a breath through her nose at the same time as the flash of anger in her eyes quickly faded. They turned back down again, away from mine, back to her lap. I felt her body quiver slightly. The blush rose in her cheeks again, but this time it was different. I could tell from the way her shoulders started to slump.

I sighed and removed my hand from her mouth so that I could put a finger under her chin, tilting her face up so I could see her eyes again. "What now?"

"Nothing," she mumbled. Unable to move her face back down, she simply averted her eyes so she was looking over my shoulder.

I held her while she tried to twist away, studying her expression. The blush was still there, but her eyes…they were glistening. With tears.

I felt as though I'd been punched in the stomach. I knew that expression, and I hated it. It was insecurity, self-consciousness…

She thought I just didn't want her. That I didn't desire her in that way.

She had no idea.

"Did I hurt your feelings?" I demanded anxiously.

"No."

I yanked her into my embrace, cradling her head against my shoulder so that I could stroke her cheek with my thumb.

Silly, beautiful girl…

She just had no idea. None at all. She had no idea the thoughts I had, the thoughts of any seventeen-year-old male, only that much more enhanced by decades of listening to the thoughts of others, and by over a century of celibacy.

She had no idea how much, how desperately I wanted to see her, to feel all of her, to have her in that way and share that with her like a normal couple.

She had no idea how often I thought of it. How uncomfortably hard I got, watching her sleep beside me night after night while she sighed my name. The mornings I'd had to leap from her bedroom window before she noticed the cause of my discomfort, the mornings I'd had to sprint home for a solitary shower and some kind of release before I could get in my car and go back to pick her up for school.

I mean...I was dead. But not that dead.

Still, she had no idea – because I'd never told her. And I'd never told her because I was afraid it would lead to this – to her asking me to do something about it, forcing me to hurt us both by refusing.

"You know why I have to say no," I murmured, instead of offering her any of these other thoughts. "You know that I want you, too." I couldn't say more about it than that. It would be unseemly, ungentlemanly… and it might make her think there was a chance.

And there wasn't. There couldn't be. Not while she was still human.

"Do you?" she whispered back, her voice so full of self-doubt it felt like a dagger through my chest.

"Of course I do, you silly, beautiful, oversensitive girl." I forced a laugh, hoping to deflect the seriousness of the conversation. "Doesn't everyone? I feel like there's a line behind me, jockeying for position, waiting for me to make a big enough mistake….You're too desirable for your own good."

That part was certainly true. Even more often than I had to make my way into one of those solitary showers, I had to endure the thoughts of every other male who came within twenty feet of her. Especially Jacob. And Mike. And…

I pushed those thoughts away. They made my whole body tighten with fury. She was mine. If I admitted it to myself, it was yet another reason why I wanted to be with her in that way. I wanted to make her mine in all ways, so that everyone else would know it, too. I wanted to marry her, change her and make love to her – and not necessarily in that order.

"Who's being silly now?" she asked weakly.

"Do I have to send a petition around to get you to believe? Shall I tell you whose names would be on the top of the list? You know a few of them, but some might surprise you."

She buried her face in my chest and shook her head. "You're just trying to distract me. Let's get back to the subject."

I merely sighed. What else could I say about it?

"Tell me if I have anything wrong. Your demands are marriage" – her face puckered as if she'd just bitten into a lemon – "paying my tuition, more time, and you wouldn't mind if my vehicle went a little faster." She pulled back enough that she could look at me and raised her eyebrows. "Did I get everything? That's a hefty list."

I tried not to smile while she went through the list, enumerating each item as though it were a Herculean labour. "Only the first is a demand. The others are merely requests."

"And my lone, solitary little demand is –"

"Demand?" I couldn't help interrupting her there. Demand?

"Yes, demand."

I narrowed my eyes at her. She was going to try and make something non-negotiable non-negotiable? Talk about an impasse.

"Getting married is a stretch for me," she stated. "I'm not giving in unless I get something in return."

I had no idea what I was going to do now to get around this one. Were my powers of persuasion over her enough to talk her out of this?

I mustered my silkiest voice and leaned down to whisper in her ear. "No. It's not possible now. Later, when you're less breakable. Be patient, Bella." If I could wait over a hundred years, surely she could manage one or two. I couldn't say it was pleasant, but it was doable.

"But that's the problem," she said insistently. "It won't be the same when I'm less breakable. I won't be the same! I don't know who I'll be then."

"You'll still be Bella."

She frowned. "If I'm so far gone that I'd want to kill Charlie – that I'd drink Jacob's blood or Angela's if I got the chance – how can that be true?"

"It will pass. And I doubt you'll want to drink the dog's blood. Even as a newborn, you'll have better taste than that." I tried to make a joke out of it by pretending to shudder, although the idea of her placing her mouth anywhere near his body actually made me want to throw her to the bed and ravage her right there.

I was hardly better than he was. I may as well just pee on her leg if I was going to have thoughts like that.

She ignored my attempt at humour. "But that will always be what I want most, won't it? Blood, blood, and more blood!"

"The fact that you are still alive is proof that that is not true," I pointed out.

"Over eighty years later. What I meant was physically, though. Intellectually, I know I'll be able to be myself…after a while. But just purely physically – I will always be thirsty, more than anything else."

I had no easy answer to that. She was right. She had listened to me and my family explain it, and knew that for the first year, maybe two, that would be her focus. There was no doubt it was going to be a difficult time for her. For both of us. She would finally be less fragile and I still wouldn't be able to have her. I could find the patience in exchange for eternity, but I wasn't looking forward to it.

"So I will be different," she concluded from my silence. "Because right now, physically, there's nothing I want more than you. More than food or water or oxygen. Intellectually, I have my priorities in a slightly more sensible order. But physically…"

She twisted her head to kiss the palm of the hand I still held against her cheek. A bolt of electricity shot from the place she touched her lips directly to my groin. I shifted a little, trying to ignore it.

But she had never made such a declaration before. I had heard her heart race when I kissed her, felt her body heat, saw her cheeks flush…I knew she wanted me, too, but if she was telling the truth now about how she felt…I guess I hadn't had an idea, either.

The idea was tantalizing.

But still impossible, I reminded myself.

I took in a deep breath, still working to distract myself from the feelings her lips on my skin stirred in me. "Bella, I could kill you," I whispered. I had to remember that. Surely that should be sufficiently distracting.

"I don't think you could."

I frowned. That statement was simply denial on her part. Wilful blindness.

To demonstrate the point, I took my hand from its place at her cheek where it had gently cradled her fragile skin and bone, and reached behind me to snap one of the wrought iron roses off the bed frame. It was about as difficult for me as I imagined breaking a toothpick in half would be for her.

I brought my hand back around to show her what I'd done. Just as easily, I closed my fingers around the piece of metal in my hand and crumpled it like a piece of paper. When I opened my palm, it disintegrated into metallic dust.

Would that be enough to get her attention? To drive home the seriousness of my point?

Apparently not. She glared at me. "That's not what I meant. I already know how strong you are. You didn't have to break the furniture."

"What did you mean then?" I asked darkly, tossing the iron shavings into the corner of the room. The metallic rain-like noise they made as they fell mocked me. The sound was as unnatural as I was.

"Obviously not that you aren't physically able to hurt me, if you wanted to…More that, you don't want to hurt me…so much so that I don't think that you ever could."

I shook my head. She overestimated my control. Refraining from drinking her blood was one thing. But restraining my body's physical urges in a moment when I might be too overwhelmed by sensation to keep track of how firmly I touched her, how tightly I held her…That was another matter altogether. She simply didn't know how difficult that was, even when I was simply kissing her.

"It might not work like that, Bella."

"Might," she repeated. "You have no more idea what you're talking about than I do."

"Exactly. Do you imagine I would ever take that kind of risk with you?"

She stared into my eyes for a long moment, no doubt searching for some sign of weakness there, some kind of hesitation.

There was weakness, all right. She had no idea how much I wanted to give in to what she was asking. But the possibility that it could go so terribly wrong was more than enough to counteract that desire, and to allow me to hide it from her.

"Please," she whispered finally, sounding defeated. "It's all I want. Please." She closed her eyes and tipped her chin back downwards, toward her lap.

God. She so seldom – never, in fact – wanted anything. She so seldom asked me for anything, when I wanted to give her so much. That all she wanted was me, in that way, the way I wanted her, too…it was unbearable. Why did it have to be the one thing we couldn't do?

Have fun, Edward. Alice's words.

All I know is that in my opinion, you should listen to Bella for once, Edward. Jasper's words. No doubt with knowledge of whatever Alice had seen.

The feeling Jasper had sent floating my way before they had the left the house, the tightening, the tension of physical want.

They had both known exactly what was on Bella's mind tonight, and not one word of warning or discouragement had been spoken. Quite the opposite, in fact. They had encouraged me to enjoy the evening.

Didn't that mean that Alice hadn't seen anything negative happening? She certainly would have warned me if she had. My cell phone would be ringing right now.

Bella looked up again, no doubt curious about my continued silence. Something on my face made her breath catch in her throat.

"Please?" I heard her whisper again, just as her heartbeat accelerated once more. Her next words tumbled out in a rush. "You don't have to make me any guarantees. If it doesn't work out right, well, then that's that. Just let us try…only try. And I'll give you what you want. I'll marry you. I'll let you pay for Dartmouth, and I won't complain about the bribe to get me in. You can even buy me a fast car if that makes you happy! Just…please."

I'll marry you.

She'd marry me. Had she just said that? Of course she had. I wasn't that confused. She'd marry me, and all I had to do was do what I wanted to anyway. What I had always wanted to, since the first time she had touched my arm in the meadow, all those months ago.

Just let us try…only try.

If it got to be too much, we could stop. She would understand. I knew that.

As if of their own volition, my arms tightened around her and my lips found their way to her ear. "This is unbearable. So many things I've wanted to give you – and this is what you decide to demand. Do you have any idea how painful it is, trying to refuse you when you plead with me this way?"

"Then don't refuse," she replied breathlessly.

She made it sound so simple.

"Please," she said again, repeating the one word that made it so difficult to say no.

"Bella…" I shook my head slowly, but gently brushed my lips back and forth across her throat as I did so. It was one of my favourite places on her body – so far. So fragrant with the scent of her skin, the strawberry of her shampoo…and, of course, the ever-compelling scent of the blood pumping through her carotid artery just below the surface of her tender flesh. Her breath always caught in her throat when I kissed her here and her heart started to race, accentuating all of the smells I associated with her.

This time was no exception. The thump of her heartbeat grew louder in my ears and her breath started to come in short pants. The scent of her like this…the feel of her soft body pressed against mine…I could feel my resolve start to crumble. I could feel the tightening in my abdomen, spreading down to where my pants were starting to feel uncomfortably tight.

My phone was just across the room on my dresser. I could see it from the corner of my eye.

And it was silent.

Alice would call if there was a problem. I knew she would. There was no way she would miss it.

Bella suddenly twisted her body in my arms, sliding herself upwards so that her lips could find mine, crashing our mouths together almost frantically. Without thinking, I reached for her face, pressing my palms to her cheeks to hold her in place, unwilling to allow so much as an inch between us.

Greedily, I continued to kiss her, pressing my lips to hers with less care than I had ever shown before. I was still conscious of my movements, hyper-conscious of them, but I knew I was not being as gentle as I usually was. She didn't show the slightest sign of discomfort, however; to the contrary, she pulled herself even more tightly against me, locking her arms around my neck, pressing her breasts against my hard chest.

It was with obvious reluctance that she drew her mouth away so that she could gasp for air. The sound of it should have made me pull away, the way I always did when it became obvious we were going too far. Her fingers clutched at me desperately while I returned my attention to her neck and throat, bunching the fabric of my shirt in her fists. Her heart was racing now.

She wanted me. She wanted this. As much as I did.

When her fingers reached for my buttons again I made no move to stop her. She was remarkably dexterous – and quick – in unfastening them, and I practically groaned aloud when her hot palms fell to the skin of my chest, exploring, tracing the lines of my pectoral muscles before skimming lower to my abs. The familiar tension increased, the tightening low somewhere around my stomach, still spreading toward my groin.

I needed to feel the heat of her body against me, more than what I could get from the small surface of her tiny palms. When she tilted her head back up to kiss me again I pulled her to me with one arm, the other hand cupping her chin to hold it there. The full length of her soft torso pressed to mine, but hers was still frustratingly covered by fabric. I briefly considered tearing it off.

But then, as if reading my mind…she was reaching for her buttons herself, her fingers awkwardly finding the top one in the virtually non-existent space between us.

And reality hit me.

She would do this. She would do this if I didn't stop it. Alice's silence now had me convinced that I could, that it was possible without killing her.

But there was something else nagging at me.

Something almost as ingrained as the paralyzing fear of harming the woman I loved so much.

Suppressing a sigh, I pulled my mouth away from hers and pressed my lips to her ear. "Bella," I murmured softly, striving for the gentlest tone I could manage, hoping that she would not be hurt again by what she would no doubt perceive as rejection. "Would you please stop trying to take your clothes off?"

"Do you want to do that part?" she asked, clearly confused by my sudden change.

God, yes. My mind flooded with a vision of my hands slowly removing each garment she wore, revealing each inch of beautiful pale skin.

I shook the image away with a barely perceptible tilt of my head. "Not tonight," I said quietly, now placing gentle kisses on her cheek and jaw.

"Edward, don't –," she started to say, but I interrupted.

"I'm not saying no. I'm just saying not tonight."

She was quiet for a moment. Her breathing was settling back into its normal pattern. "Give me one good reason why tonight is not as good as any other night."

"I wasn't born yesterday." I forced a chuckle at my own bad joke. "Out of the two of us, which do you think is more unwilling to give the other what they want? You just promised to marry me before you do any changing, but if I give in tonight, what guarantee do I have that you won't go running off to Carlisle in the morning? I am – clearly – much less reluctant to give you what you want. Therefore…you first."

It wasn't the whole story, of course. Would she believe it?

She huffed in frustration. "I have to marry you first?"

"That's the deal – take it or leave it. Compromise, remember?" I tried to keep my tone light, teasing, conscious of hurting her feelings again, the very last thing I wanted to do. To show her that it wasn't that I wasn't interested – the tightening in my groin that had yet to fade was proof of that – I leaned down to kiss her again. My lips brushed over hers gently now, but I hoped I still conveyed the depth of my feeling.

She was breathless again when I pulled away. "I think that's a really bad idea," she managed to gasp.

"I'm not surprised you feel that way." A smile curved the corners of my mouth upwards. "You have a one-track mind."

Of course, I would never let her know how much my own mind travelled the same track.

Her brow creased with her irritation. "How did this happen? I thought I was holding my own tonight – for once – and now, all of a sudden –"

"You're engaged," I grinned.

"Ew! Please don't say that out loud."

Her words stabbed me in the chest again, but I forced myself not to wince. And to remember that she'd already agreed. "Are you going back on your word?" I kept the smile on my face by focusing on the fact that she had promised forever long ago. That it was just this one institution she had an inherent problem with, not me.

She glared at me.

"Are you?" I demanded.

"Ugh!" she groaned, her shoulders sagging. "No. I'm not. Are you happy now?"

Maybe it was coercion, but I was still delighted to hear the words. "Exceptionally."

She groaned again.

"Aren't you happy at all?" I asked, leaning forward for another soft kiss, this time pouring as much sensuality into it as I could.

I was rewarded with the sound of her heart racing again. "A little bit," she said. "But not about getting married."

With yet another kiss, I chuckled. "Do you get the feeling that everything is backward? Traditionally, shouldn't you be arguing my side, and I yours?"

"There isn't much that's traditional about you and me."

"True." She didn't seem hurt this time at least. Frustrated, perhaps, but not hurt.

I shared her frustration, but there were other matters of more importance right now. My body had survived this long without that kind of release, I was pretty sure hers would, too.

Or at least that's what I was going to keep telling myself. And the twitching somewhere below my belt line.

I bent to kiss her again. If I was going to torture us both, why let up now? Within a few minutes, her heart was racing again and her skin was flushed a delicious, rosy pink. It was almost enough to make me say to hell with morality.

Because to be perfectly honest, that was my secondary concern, after her safety: the way I had been raised, couples waited until they were properly married. It would be disrespectful to Bella to consider her worthy of anything less.

"Look, Edward," she murmured when I pulled away and instead pressed my lips to the palm of her hand. "I said I would marry you, and I will. I promise. I swear. If you want, I'll sign a contract in my own blood."

"Not funny," I muttered, burying my nose against the inside of her wrist. I breathed deeply. This was my second favourite place to take in the full effect of her tantalizing scent.

"What I'm saying is this – I'm not going to trick you or anything. You know me better than that. So there's really no reason to wait. We're completely alone – how often does that happen? – and you've provided this very large and comfortable bed…."

Yes, that I had. It hadn't been my intention when I'd purchased it, but I would be lying if I denied that the thought hadn't crossed my mind since. "Not tonight," I forced myself to say.

"Don't you trust me?"

"Of course I do."

She motioned to lift my head with the hand that I still held, my lips pressed to her wrist.

"Then what's the problem?" she demanded. "It's not like you didn't know you were going to win in the end. You always win."

"Just hedging my bets," I replied, working to keep my voice even. I wasn't sure I wanted to try and explain my continued reluctance to do what we both wanted. She was nearly a hundred years younger, born in a different age. I didn't know if I could make her understand.

"There's something else." She stated it as a fact, her eyes narrowing as she surveyed my expression, no doubt looking for some little clue as to what I was thinking. "Are you planning to go back on your word?"

"No," I answered quickly. No, that was the truth. If it was something she wanted while she was still human and Alice remained convinced it wouldn't result in a fatal injury, I would grant her request. "I swear to you, we will try. After you marry me."

She laughed humourlessly. "You make me feel like a villain in a melodrama – twirling my mustache while I try to steal some poor girl's virtue."

Damn. Now she had it exactly. Our eyes met briefly and I was afraid of what she saw there. I quickly tried to deflect by ducking to press my lips to her collarbone.

"That's it, isn't it?" she asked, with a short laugh more shocked than amused. "You're trying to protect your virtue!" She clapped a hand to her mouth to stifle a giggle.

I knew she wouldn't understand. She was from a different era. And she'd been raised by Renee. A quick scan of her thoughts when I'd first met her had revealed her to be quite the liberal. She had actually assumed Bella and I were already sleeping together and wasn't the least bit perturbed about it. If anything, she had been annoyed Bella wouldn't tell her all the details.

I turned my face into her shoulder, unwilling to let her read anything else from my expression. "No, silly girl. I'm trying to protect yours. And you're making it shockingly difficult."

"Of all the ridiculous –" she began, but then shook her head once and stopped herself. She took a breath and shifted so that she could see my eyes, then reached to take both of my hands in hers. She stared at me for a long moment, melted chocolate boring into gold. "Edward," she said finally. "I'm not a complete idiot. I know there are significant differences between the way you would have been raised and the way I was raised, especially with Renee as a mom. Over the last ninety years there's been a fundamental shift in the way people look at certain things…especially this." She gestured between us, lingering when she pointed to me – my shirt still hung completely open, rather suggestively. "But to me it's always been about love and commitment, not marriage."

She pressed her lips together thoughtfully, as if searching for the right words. "I may not have been the most popular girl in Phoenix, but guys are guys. I could have probably found somebody to…do it with, if I'd really wanted to."

A possessive growl rumbled in my chest at the very idea, thankfully too low for her to hear it.

"But I didn't. And it certainly wasn't because I wasn't married to any of them, or that I felt that I needed to wait until I was married," she continued. "It was because I didn't love any of them. I wasn't even attracted to any of them. But you…" she smiled a little and squeezed my hands with hers. "I love you like crazy, Edward. Like stupid crazy. Like life-altering, I'll-give-up-everything-I've-ever-known-and-every-person-I've-ever-met-to-be-with-you stupid crazy. And I'm as committed to you as I can possibly be…as anyone can possibly be, to anyone. That should be obvious from the choice I've made.

"I will marry you, because you want it, not because I think there's anything further it can add to our commitment to each other." She paused long enough to shrug one shoulder. "And, frankly, deep down I suppose I can admit that part of me sort of likes the idea that it means everyone will know we officially belong to each other. But it's not going to make me love you any more, or want to be with you any more. Both of those things are already at full capacity.

"So to me, Edward, no one's virtue is at risk, here. We love each other, we're fully committed to each other…we're engaged, for heaven's sake…" Her nose crinkled slightly at the word, but at least it wasn't a grimace. "I just want…I want to be with you that way. I just love you so much, Edward. I want to be yours. In every way there is to be yours."

She looked away then, down at our hands, still twined together and resting in her lap. She drew her lower lip between her teeth and gnawed at it. Her next words were so quiet no one but a vampire would have heard them. "I had kind of hoped you wanted to be mine that way, too."

"Bella…" My voice sounded strange in my ears, more of a crackling gasp, all I could manage around the surge of emotion that swelled up from my heart into my throat. She had never said anything like that before, never so clearly conveyed exactly what she was thinking.

She really loved me that much.

She was really mine. She didn't doubt it one bit.

How could I?

How could I not show her how much I loved her, too?

I let go of her hands and slid my arms around her waist, pulling her flush against my bare chest once again. She crushed her mouth against mine at the same time, kissing me frantically, winding her hands into the hair at the back of my head as she held my face to hers. I had to remind myself to remain gentle with her while I kissed her back, both my lips against both of hers, then against each of her lips separately, drawing first the top then the lower between mine.

She still wasn't close enough. In a single swift movement, I lay back on the comforter and pulled her down on top of me so that gravity would eliminate any space between us. I lifted one hand to cradle her head in place as our mouths continued to move together desperately. The other palm pressed against her back, sliding up and down over the silky fabric of her blouse. Tentatively, I tugged at it a little, hoping to untuck it from her jeans so that I could have access to the skin of her back. I didn't need to breathe but I was already panting, overcome now by the warm tension in my belly.

Bella quickly lost patience with my careful but inept manipulation of the back of her shirt. Sitting up on her knees suddenly, she pried open her top two buttons and yanked the blouse over her head without bothering with the others. She tossed it aside and fell back against me before I even had a chance to see what the rest of her bra looked like. All I knew from earlier was that it was edged with white lace.

The seventeen-year-old in me wanted to see it, wanted to see her in it. With barely a flick of my wrist I flipped her onto her back and pulled myself up beside her so I could look down at her.

I gasped quietly, unprepared for the sight before me. Her long chestnut hair had fanned out around her shoulders. Her pale, porcelain skin almost gleamed in the light from the lamp beside the bed. It was so smooth, so flawless it hardly seemed it could be real. The bra she wore was a vibrant bright blue, trimmed with white lace and a small white bow between the cups. It fit her perfectly, lifting her breasts just enough that they swelled over the lace. I couldn't help noticing that her breasts were larger than I had expected…even with my vision, the clothes she wore were normally so baggy that it was impossible to tell for certain.

I knew I was staring – gawking, in fact – but she didn't seem to mind. She simply watched me as I drank in the sight of her, her fingers clutching at the comforter beneath her.

Gingerly, slowly, I lifted the forefinger of my right hand and pressed my fingertip to the white bow on her sternum. Just as slowly, I let the same fingertip trace up and over the swell of one breast where it peeked over the white lace. She drew in a sharp breath and closed her eyes.

I spent a long few moments carefully exploring the flesh exposed beneath me. The pads of my fingers skimmed every inch, over the curve of each breast to her collarbone, down her sides, over her ribs to her waist, back up over her flat stomach. I could hear her heart racing, feel it beating under my hands when I passed over the left side of her chest, but apart from the occasional twitch she didn't move – she simply permitted my exploration.

When I got back to my starting point, the white bow at her sternum, I couldn't resist cupping my right palm over her left breast, squeezing gently just to see how it fit in my hand. Her eyes snapped open but her only movement was to arch her back slightly, pressing herself further into my palm. The sensation of her nipple hardening through the delicate fabric caused a similar reaction in my own body, and I could feel myself starting to strain against the zipper of my jeans.

Bella reached up to grab the sleeves of my open shirt, tugging at them to show me that she thought it was time it came off. I slipped it off quickly, and her palms flattened against the hard lines of my chest, tracing over them in an exploration of her own before she let her fingers trail lightly down my arms. If my flesh had been capable of goosebumps, I would have been covered in them at the deliciousness of her touch.

When she got to my hands, she pressed the one that was already on her breast more firmly against it, and took the other to place it over her other breast before pressing that one down firmly as well. She sighed when I took the hint and squeezed both breasts gently.

I needed more.

I bent down to kiss her again, alternately brushing my lips back and forth over hers and pressing our mouths together. With the tip of my tongue, I slowly traced the outline of her lower lip, then kissed her again. My hands boldly searched for her bra straps and pushed them down her shoulders so that I could more easily slip a finger inside one of the cups. With a single stroke I brushed over her tightened nipple and then back again. She gasped and deepened the kiss, going so far as to part her lips in a silent plea for me to do the same.

We'd never actually done that before. While I was confident that my venom wouldn't harm her unless it entered her bloodstream, in the past I had always pulled away and broken our kisses off before we got to that point, always afraid of losing control and letting things go too far.

Tonight…control was still an issue, but so far I was managing. So far, my expanded mental capacity apparently meant that I could focus on the sensations while still concentrating enough to keep my touch gentle and not hurt her. I had never really tested it before.

But tonight…I was ready to do just that. I parted my lips as she had and let my tongue enter her mouth, sweeping against hers. If we did it this way, it would keep her away from the razor sharpness of my teeth.

God…It was as if we'd never kissed before at all. This was so much more intimate, so much more sensual. And the taste of her, especially when she sighed into my mouth…indescribable.

It made me want still more. I hadn't seen the rest of her yet. Suddenly I needed to – it was beyond want.

With some reluctance and a last breathless tug of her lower lip between mine I broke off the kiss so that I could see Bella's eyes. I was about to take the next step, and needed to be sure she was still willing. Watching her carefully, I trailed my hand to the waistband of her jeans and reached for the button. I paused, searching for the right words to ask for permission.

I should have known she would be way ahead of me. In the moment I hesitated her hands flew to my waistband and yanked open all four buttons with one swift movement. I shifted so that she could push my pants down my hips, chuckling softly. "I guess this is okay then," I murmured, popping open her top button and tugging down the zipper.

"Good Lord, yes," she breathed, already squirming and wriggling her way out of them. Since hers were 'skinny' jeans and therefore considerably tighter, it was a bit more of an effort to get them off than mine had been. By the time we finally managed it, we were both laughing at the awkwardness of it.

The laugh quickly died in my throat when I got a look at her, however. Blue lace boy shorts matched the bra she now wore half down her shoulders, fitted snugly over her slim hips. Slender, shapely legs tapered to delicate ankles and small feet, toes painted a soft pink. I was surprised for a moment, never having figured her for a pedicure and matching lingerie sort of girl…until I stupidly realized that she just might have put some forethought into this evening.

The idea sent a fresh wave of warmth into my belly, radiating down into my groin. Thankfully, the boxers I was now left wearing were a little more forgiving than my jeans had been in terms of allowing space for what was steadily becoming a rock-hard erection.

God I wanted her. I drew in a breath to stave off the urge to tear the remaining scraps of lace from her body and just plunge on into her like a Neanderthal.

"Bella…you are so beautiful," I murmured, reaching for her left foot. She blushed at my words, the lovely rosiness spreading from her breasts up to her cheeks. It had never occurred to me before that her blush extended all the way to her chest, too. I'd never look at it the same way again.

I bent her knee and drew her foot to my lips, softly kissing the top of it near her ankle. As I had with her top half, I intended to explore every inch of her lower half, too. This time I used my lips, trailing them over her ankle, across her shin, behind her knee and up her thigh. When my mouth was a few inches from the hem of her panties I lifted my face and moved to kiss the soft skin of her stomach, allowing the tip of my tongue to trace around her belly button.

I was lingering here, getting used to her scent – not exactly a new scent, since I had smelled her arousal before on nights in the past when I let our kissing go a little too long, or when she was sleeping and had a dream that had her panting my name instead of simply murmuring it. Those were nights that had me sprinting for the shower in the morning at an even faster pace than usual.

No, it wasn't a new scent, but it was definitely more intense. I was personally inexperienced, but the thoughts of others had taught me more than enough to know exactly what that meant. While still alternately kissing and licking her stomach, I couldn't resist tracing two fingers downward, over the lace to the spot directly between her thighs. She jumped slightly, but not before I felt the dampness of the fabric.

I suppressed a groan and murmured, "I'm sorry," against her stomach, not really sorry at all. I had thought I couldn't get any harder but apparently I was wrong.

"No," she murmured back, tangling a hand into my hair. "Don't be. I just…sensitive."

"Ah." I hid my smirk in the soft flesh of her abdomen. I probably shouldn't be quite so proud of myself for causing that sensitivity.

Emboldened by her body's very apparent positive reaction, I leaned up on one elbow and gestured toward the blue lacy bra. As beautiful as it was, I was ready to see what was underneath it. "Bella…can I take it off?"

In response she simply reached beneath her back and unfastened the clasp. I slid the straps the rest of the way down her shoulders and tossed the flimsy garment aside.

Again, I was stunned by what I saw. Her breasts were perfect soft mounds, each capped with a rosy nipple the colour of her lips. Both nipples were tight, elongated, and she gasped when I took one between my thumb and forefinger to feel its pebbled texture. I needed to taste it. Without even thinking to pause and ask permission, I ducked my head to suck it between my lips. I rolled it and teased it with my tongue and she gasped again, arching her back off the bed.

"Edward," she murmured. "That feels so…" Her voice trailed off, but when her hand clamped down on the back of my head to hold me in place I assumed that it was something positive. Encouraged, I turned my attention to the other nipple and was rewarded with another gasp.

I teased and tasted her skin for a while longer, moving from one breast to the other and back again, up to her collarbone and throat, up further to her mouth, then back down to her abdomen. I realized I had neglected her other leg and set about to rectify the situation, starting once again from the top of her foot and making my way up to her thigh. By the time I reached the spot below the hem of her panties near the crease of her hip she was writhing against the mattress, hands tugging at my hair urgently.

While I was quite content with what I was doing and in no particular hurry, Bella seemed to have other ideas. She gave up tugging at my hair and reached instead for my shoulders, trying to pull me back up her body. "Edward," she was breathless now. "Please. I need you…I can't take any more…"

I swallowed heavily as I leaned over her on one elbow, my other hand cupping her face so that I could stroke her cheek with my thumb. She was flushed, chest heaving with her breath, eyes shining with excitement and need. God…could I really do this? My phone was still silent in its spot across the room. Alice seemed to think so. But did I?

Sensing my hesitation, Bella twisted her body so that her thighs clamped around my leg. She arched her back so that the damp center of her panties was against my skin, searching for friction, her hip bone grinding against my erection as she did so. The sensation made me suck in a sharp breath at the throbbing I now felt below my waistline. A second, even sharper breath followed when she tentatively reached down with one palm and stroked my length through the fabric of my boxers, firmly from base to tip.

"We only said we'd try, Edward," she whispered. "If it doesn't work, we can stop, I promise."

I marvelled at her bravery, my clumsy, danger-prone girl. And here she was, beautiful, wanting me, spread out beneath me…my fiancée. Mine.

I took a deep lungful of air in through my nose and reached for the top of her panties, gently tugging them down as she took hold of my boxers and pushed them over my hips. I felt myself spring free from the confining fabric, almost comically at attention. Bella was looking down at me and her eyes widened. "Edward…" she breathed. "I've never actually seen…a guy, a man…like this." The colour in her cheeks deepened, this time no doubt form embarrassment. "You're so beautiful. I didn't know it would be so…" Her hand reached out to touch me. "…big."

Knowing what I knew from the thoughts of other men, those who took pride in their size, those who were insecure about their lack of it, it occurred to me that I should be quite flattered by that. I was totally distracted from any such thoughts, however, when the skin of her fingertips made contact with my erection. She barely touched me, in fact only carefully circled the head with the pads of her two forefingers, but it was almost enough to make me orgasm on the spot.

Since I knew from the thoughts of others that that would be downright embarrassing, I nudged her back flat onto the bed with my knee, the angle forcing her to draw her hand away. I focused on her again, gently allowing my palm to trace its way from her stomach downwards, over the patch of soft curls and between her thighs.

My breath caught in my throat and I felt myself get impossibly harder at the feel of her delicate folds under my fingertips. So warm…so unbelievably wet… She jumped a little when I skimmed her clitoris with my middle finger on my way further back, searching for her slick opening. When I found it, I circled it a few times, making her squirm. She grabbed my wrist and thrust her hips forward a little, surprising me when the motion drew my finger inside her.

"Oh, Bella…" I groaned her name at the sensation, the warm, wet tightness of her flesh around me. She moaned in response and tightened her grip on my wrist, pushing my finger deeper inside her as she ground her sensitive bundle of nerves against the heel of my palm.

"More," she breathed heavily, "More. It feels so good, Edward…" I managed to slide a second finger inside her, getting a whimper in response. I was fascinated by the sight of her body writhing against the comforter, her eyes squeezed tightly shut, teeth pressing into her lower lip in a way that looked like it should be painful. I moved my fingers in and out a few times gently but knew I couldn't keep this up much longer – my erection was starting to ache with the need to be inside her.

After a few more minutes, I steeled myself and garnered as much of my self-control as I could still muster. She whimpered when I withdrew my hand from her, opening her eyes to see what was going on, but ceased quickly when she saw that I was pushing her legs apart so that I could settle between them. She drew her knees up and spread her thighs further to accommodate me.

I leaned on one elbow and bent to kiss her, long, slow, deep, taking my erection in my other hand. Experimentally, I brushed the head over her clitoris and further to her opening, then back and forth a few times. When I paused there, I broke the kiss so I could look down at her face for any sign of hesitation or reluctance.

There was none.

"Bella…" I murmured. "My love. Are you sure? If we do this…it changes everything. We belong to each other."

She nodded immediately. "I'm sure, Edward."

"You have to tell me…immediately…if I hurt you, if I do anything wrong."

"I will."

I took in another deep breath and lined up at her entrance, rolodexing in my mind through all of the information I had gathered both deliberately and inadvertently about how to do this right. With excruciating slowness, I shifted my hips so that I could push inside her, just a few inches. Oh God Oh God Oh God...so...so... My eyes rolled back in my head, but snapped open when Bella gasped.

I froze. "Are you okay, love?" I searched her face for any signs of distress.

She nodded again vehemently. "It's just…you feel amazing, Edward. I didn't…I didn't know what to expect…"

Encouraged, I shifted forward again and steeled myself to push a little further inside, fighting the urge to lose myself entirely in the sensation. I had to pay attention to what I was doing, but it was difficult. The warmth, the tightness, the wetness...It threatened to undo me completely.

I stilled when I met her body's natural resistance and heard her gasp once again. Now her eyes were wide. She spoke before I could say anything, her voice a low whisper. "Don't stop."

"Did I hurt you?" I demanded anxiously, my concern just about the only thing that could distract me from the ocean of sensation I was drowning in.

"No...but I think it's inevitable. I'll be fine. Don't stop unless I tell you to," she murmured softly.

"Bella…" Ignoring my body's screaming protests to do just the opposite, I started to withdraw. The idea of harming her was too much, too contrary to everything that had been ingrained in me over the months since we'd met.

Bella's nails were suddenly digging into my backside, trying to hold me in place. "Don't. Please, Edward? Please keep going?"

"I can't hurt you. I just…can't."

"It would be like this even if you were human, Edward. You know that." She arched her hips up, trying to draw me further inside her.

Of course she was right. I knew, logically, that she was right. Although every physical instinct I had begged me to proceed, causing her pain was such an anathema to me I wasn't sure I could. I froze where I was, agonizingly half inside her wet heat and half out.

Once again she pressed her fingertips into my ass. "Please, Edward. Make me yours."

Shrugging off my annoying trepidation, I quickly shifted my hips and pushed the rest of the way inside her. I felt the membrane break easily under the pressure of my stone body, and didn't stop until my pelvis was pressed flush against hers. We had both gasped and now simply stared at each other for a moment, acclimating ourselves to the sensation of our bodies being joined this way. I couldn't remember the last time I had felt so warm, absolutely everywhere.

I reached up to smooth the hair away from her face, searching her expression for even the slightest sign that she was hurt and wanted me to stop. "Are you okay, love?"

She nodded and let out the breath she had been holding. "Definitely," she wheezed as the last of it escaped her lungs. She squeezed her eyes shut tightly and slid her hands from my ass to my lower back, hugging me against her. Despite my weight on her she managed to shift her hips, causing me to move inside her a little. I groaned shamelessly at the slight friction. She seemed to smile at the sound, and shifted to do it again. "You feel amazing."

"Oh, Bella..." The feel of the slick skin inside her slipping against mine had me panting her name. Experimentally, I drew my own hips back a little and slid forward...once...twice... "Bella..." I had completely lost the ability to make my mouth form any words other than her name. The heat...the tightness...the heat...

I was undone. I was going to want to do this with her every day for the rest of eternity. I briefly wondered whether it would be possible never to stop, now that we had started.

She clutched me more tightly against her but exhibited no signs of distress. To the contrary, she had opened her eyes and was looking back at me, still breathless. Her lovely cheeks were flushed pink, but it had nothing to do with any kind of embarrassment. The third time I drew back and then pushed forward she angled her hips to meet mine, drawing me impossibly deeper. I could only moan, burying my face into her neck.

Within moments we managed to fall into an instinctual rhythm. I circled my hips backwards and then forward again, Bella pressing herself up to meet each of my thrusts...again...again... At first, neither of us spoke apart from a low groan or moan, but we kept our eyes locked on each other, her expression of surprise and amazement no doubt exactly mirroring my own.

I had never felt anything – even imagined anything – so exquisite, so mind-numbingly pleasurable as the feeling of Bella's tight body locked with mine, her wetness sliding around me as we moved together. In all the minds I had ever read, so often so completely preoccupied by this very act, the memory of it or the want of it, not a single one had ever done the reality justice.

Not even close.

The tension in me was building quickly. I could feel the tightness, now spreading from my groin, my erection buried so deliciously inside her, back up and into my abdomen. I didn't want to stop but wasn't sure I was going to have a choice in the matter after another few minutes of this incredible wet friction. I tried to distract myself by murmuring in Bella's ear. "Bella, baby...You feel so good. Incredible. I just...I had no idea how it would be...so amazing..."

"I know..." she breathed. "It's so much better than I thought..."

"Do you feel good? Am I making you feel good?"

"God, yes. So much better than I thought. And..." her blush deepened a little, and she smiled as she bit her lower lip. "Edward...I thought about it a lot."

I groaned and reached down to grab her left thigh, bending her knee and hitching it up so that I could grind myself even deeper. My pubic bone pressed into her clitoris and she gasped out an expletive.

I didn't think I'd ever heard her swear before.

It was impossibly hot. I ground into her the same way to see if I could make her do it again. This time she simply gasped my name.

The tension in the middle part of my body was getting to be too much. I didn't want to, not yet, but I knew I was going to have to release it...soon.

Putting to use a piece of knowledge I had picked up somewhere over the years – no doubt inadvertently – I shifted my weight to my left elbow and reached down between us with my right hand, seeking the swollen bundle of nerves at the apex of Bella's thighs. With the pads of two fingers I pressed down and rubbed a firm circle.

"Fuck!" The expletive was back. I grinned and did it again, at the same time maintaining the thrusting of my hips and the exquisite friction of my length stroking inside her. Push in...draw back...push in... The leg I had hitched up clamped around my back tightly, and I felt Bella's whole body tense beneath me. A few more circles with my fingers...a few more thrusts...and she cried out, her back arching as her internal muscles clamped down around me.

The combination of the surprise of the sensation and the look of sheer ecstasy on her face undid me. Abandoning the circles I was tracing over her clitoris, I grabbed her slim hips with both hands and thrust into her hard...once...twice...and I was groaning her name as I came inside her, the hot liquid of my release quickly mingling with her own moisture to create a pool of wetness that seeped around me and the last of my shuddering thrusts.

Barely managing to keep my weight off her, I rested my forehead against her shoulder, panting unnecessary, frantic breaths.

After all these years, I think I've finally come to Jesus...I thought randomly, the inappropriateness of it making me chuckle quietly.

Bella stroked my back with one hand, scraping her short nails against my hard flesh in a way that was astonishingly pleasant. "Something funny?" she murmured, cocking an eyebrow at me.

"Not in the least." I lifted my head so I could press my mouth to hers, sucking each of her lips, tracing them with my tongue.

"You laughed."

"Not because anything was funny," I said between kisses. "Only because I'm...overwhelmed. I..." I pulled back so that I could look down into her eyes, warm and shining with contentment and obvious love. "I thought I had an idea of what to expect, but...no." I shook my head back and forth twice, placing a soft kiss on her lips between each pass. "Not even close."

She smiled an endearingly shy smile. "So...that was...okay? For you?" she murmured, blushing once again.

I couldn't help another chuckle. "That is the understatement of the century." My testicles were still tingling, but I forced myself to focus, suddenly realizing I hadn't even asked her if she was okay. She wasn't acting injured, but it wouldn't be unlike her to try and cover it up if she were. My brow furrowed as I pulled back a little so I could look down at her, examining her in the light of the bedside lamp. "Love...are you okay? Did I...did I hurt you? At all?"

Bella shook her head. "I told you I would let you know if you did. I'm fine. Better than fine." She gazed at me thoughtfully. "Was it...very difficult?"

I considered that for a moment. I had been so caught up in the sensations that I hadn't given it a lot of thought, but the need to be careful was always at the back of my mind...even at the end, when I'd...

I pulled out of her suddenly. She whimpered but I ignored it for the moment, sitting back on my heels to scan her body in the dim light. There were no marks on her, not even a scratch...except...

My stomach plunged when I saw it—them.

The beginnings of bruises, a set on each of Bella's hips, in the shape of my fingers. Where I had gripped her when I'd orgasmed.

Bella saw the look on my face and pulled herself up on her elbows, casting her eyes down to see what I was seeing. In the faint light, the marks weren't obvious to her human eyes. "What?" she demanded. "What are you looking at? I don't see anything."

I pulled the lamp closer to the bed and carefully placed my hands over each mark. "Bella...I'm so sorry," I said quietly.

She snorted. "You're kidding, right? I get worse bruises than that in gym class every Wednesday and Friday."

"I know, but...those ones aren't caused by me."

"Maybe not, but I'll guarantee you that these ones were a heck of a lot more pleasurable to sustain." She flopped back onto the mattress, wonderfully un-selfconscious of her still-naked body for the moment. "Don't worry about it, Edward. It's nothing. Really."

I sighed but forced myself to shake off the guilt. For a first time, not knowing what to expect...it really wasn't that bad. I would be more careful next time.

Mmmm...next time.

I was already hard again but assumed I should give Bella a few minutes to recuperate. Assuming she even wanted to...?

I glanced up at her and found that she was staring at my obvious erection. I couldn't help a low chuckle at the astonishment on her face.

She blushed when she heard me, knowing she'd been caught staring. "Sorry..." she murmured. "I'm just surprised...I thought...Well, I thought guys...men...needed a minute. Or two. Or an hour."

I leaned down to kiss her, slowly and gently. I made my way over to her ear and traced the outline of her earlobe with the tip of my tongue. "Vampire," I whispered.

"Oh." Her eyes widened and her blush deepened, spreading to her upper chest. "Of course."

"I don't know if you realize, Bella, but you've changed me again." I continued to kiss and nibble at her earlobe softly, allowing one palm to trace its way from her waist over her ribs and across to her right breast. I squeezed it lightly.

"Wh—what do you mean?" she stuttered as her eyes fluttered closed.

"We live so long that we seldom change. And when we do, the change is permanent." Teasing her nipple into erectness with the pad of my thumb, I feathered kisses from her ear to her jaw. "Carlisle thinks that's why we only fall in love once, and only if we manage to find our perfect mate." My lips made their way down her neck, over her collarbone to her other breast. I kissed her nipple softly before tracing a circle around it with my tongue. She sucked in a deep breath through her nose.

"And now that I've...that we've made love," I continued, "I've changed again. I'm going to be insatiable. For you." I could already feel my erection throbbing with need against her thigh. The tightness in my stomach intensified and rolled over.

She sucked in another deep breath, exhaling shakily. "Umm..." she murmured. "I think I'm okay with that."

"Are you sure?" I pulled away from her breast so I could look up at her.

She managed a short nod. Her face was flushed and warm. "Are you?"

A fair enough question, given our earlier conversation. "Yes," I stated, without hesitation. I looked at her seriously. "Especially since you've agreed to marry me. You're mine now. No one else's."

"No," she agreed. "No one else's." She reached for me, but I sat back. For once she hadn't made some kind of face when I said the word marry. Maybe now...?

"Bella...It doesn't have to be a big production. I don't need any fanfare. You won't have to tell anyone or make any changes. We'll go to Vegas—you can wear old jeans and we'll go to the chapel with the drive-through window. I just want it to be official—that you belong to me and no one else." Alice wouldn't be thrilled with that plan, but it wasn't about Alice. I'd tolerate her stamping her little feet in disappointment for the next twenty years if it meant Bella would be more comfortable with the idea.

"It couldn't be any more official than it already is," Bella muttered, looking pointedly from her naked form to mine.

"We'll see about that." Her expression was starting to sour again, so I rushed ahead before her mood changed entirely. "I suppose you don't want your ring now?" I asked with a small smile.

Her eyes widened and she swallowed loudly. "You suppose correctly."

There it was—the grimace. I couldn't help a short laugh. "That's fine. I'll get it on your finger soon enough."

She frowned. "You talk like you already have one."

"I do. Ready to force upon you at the first sign of weakness." Which I was hoping would be right about now. After tonight...I needed to see it on her hand, if only for a moment.

"You're unbelievable."

"Do you want to see it?" I asked hopefully.

"No!" she snapped, and I could feel my expression fall before I could control it. She must have seen it too, for she frowned again slightly. "Unless you really want to show it to me." I could hear her teeth grinding together and suppressed a sigh.

"That's all right," I shrugged. "It can wait."

She stared at me for a brief moment, then let out a sigh of her own. "Show me the damn ring, Edward."

"No." I shook my head. Especially not if she was going to be like that about it.

She remained quiet before she finally reached out to stroke my cheek with her fingertips. Even that much contact made my abdomen tighten and my still-persistent erection ache. I would have to learn to get all of that under control or we'd never again be able to go out in public together. "Please?" she said. "Please can I see it?"

Minx. She was pleading with me again, knowing now that I couldn't resist it. My eyes narrowed. "You are the most dangerous creature I've ever met," I muttered, but took the opportunity anyway to retrieve the ring from my bedside table before she changed her mind.

I sat on the bed beside her and balanced the black satin box on her knee. "Go ahead and look, then," I told her, struggling to keep any emotion out of my voice.

She stared at it for a moment as though she worried it would open up by itself and bite her. When she reached out to touch it, her hand was visibly shaking.

Women today, I marvelled. She could give her body to a vampire in the most intimate way possible with hardly a show of nerves, but an engagement ring had her so terrified she actually quivered.

"You didn't spend a lot of money, did you? Lie to me, if you did."

"I didn't spend anything," I assured her truthfully. "It's just another hand-me-down. This is the ring my father gave to my mother." I still remembered the day Carlisle had given to me, several years after he'd changed me. He'd held onto it until he felt I was settled enough to appreciate its significance. He told me he'd considered leaving it on my mother's finger after she died so that she could be buried with it, but had ultimately decided I should have it in case I wanted to give it to my own wife one day.

Many times over the years I'd eyed it with derision, having long since given up on the idea that I would ever have a wife. That anyone would love me enough – given what I was – to want to marry me. In the darkest days of my frustration and loneliness, I'd even considered throwing it into the ocean. More than once.

But all of that had been before Isabella Swan.

She made a surprised noise but still didn't move to open the box. I had a moment of nervousness, wondering if she would hate it. It was nothing like the simple solitaires women today seemed to favour. "I suppose it's a little outdated," I murmured quickly. "Old- fashioned, just like me. I can get you something more modern. Something from Tiffany's?"

"I like old-fashioned things," she replied, and proceeded to open the lid.

Nestled into the black satin lining the box was my mother's ring, sparkling in the dim light. It was oval-shaped, and set with rows of round diamonds. The gold of the thin band tapered into the web of gold which held the diamonds in place.

Her breath hitched as she reached out to touch it. "It's so pretty," she said, almost to herself. But I could see from the shine in her eyes that something about it moved her.

"Do you like it?" I asked anxiously.

"It's beautiful," she shrugged. "What's not to like?"

I chuckled at her attempt to seem indifferent. "See if it fits."

As if of its own volition, her left hand clenched into a tiny fist. I couldn't help but sigh.

"Bella, I'm not going to solder it to your finger. Just try it on so I can see if it needs to be sized. Then you can take it right off."

"Fine," she muttered. She reached for the ring but I was quicker. She might be reluctant about all of these rituals, but there was no way she was going to deprive me of the chance to be the one to put it on her finger. In fact...

I took her left hand in mine, glad to see that she had uncurled her fingers herself and I wouldn't need to pry them apart by force. "Bella..." I began quietly, glancing up at her face. She was staring at our hands, but shifted her eyes to meet mine. "I didn't do this properly before. I'll never forgive myself if I don't correct that now."

I hesitated, focusing on the warm chocolate of her irises, half anxious and half...anticipatory? I could only hope. She waited for me to continue, despite knowing, I'm sure, what was coming next.

"Bella, before I met you, I'd given up on finding true happiness in this existence. I'd spent decades watching Carlisle and Esme, Emmett and Rosalie, Jasper and Alice...so I knew it existed. I just didn't think it existed for me.

"You changed all that. I've told you already how you've changed me. And I know it doesn't mean as much to you as it means to me, but for whatever reason, I need the world to know that you're mine. Mine alone. I want to be able to call you my wife. I want to be your husband. Always.

"Bella, I love you so much. I love you more than I could ever find the words to say, even if I sat here for a thousand years. But I promise to love you forever—every single day of forever.

"Will you do me the honour of being my wife? Will you marry me?" I looked at her hopefully, anxiously, and with as much of the love in my heart as I could make apparent on my face. I had never outright asked her the question, and was nervous that she would still refuse. If my heart had still been beating, I was pretty sure it would have stopped anyway in that moment.

Her mouth opened but no words came out. For two seconds that seemed far too long, she simply looked back at me, then licked her lips. When she opened her mouth again, she whispered a single word: "Yes."

I felt the corner of my eyes prickle and was grateful for once for the inability to actually cry. An overabundance of even more emotion would be too much for us both, especially her. I pressed my lips together tightly instead, and slid the ring onto her third finger. I held her hand out and we both stared at it, watching it sparkle against her pale skin.

"A perfect fit," I managed to say, doubting my voice was as neutral as I hoped. "That's nice—saves me a trip to the jeweler's."

She lifted her hand up, and for a moment I was afraid she was going to take the ring right off. Instead, she fluttered her fingers, perhaps testing out how it felt there. "You like that, don't you?" she asked softly.

I forced a shrug. "Sure. It looks very nice on you." I continued to wrestle with my control as I looked at her left hand and my mother's ring—her ring.

She was mine. She was really, truly mine.

The veil of casual pretence I was trying to keep fixed to my features slipped away, and I felt my entire face break into a wide smile. I knew I was beaming, glowing with happiness. I slid my arms around her and pulled her against me, kissing her frantically. We were both panting when I pulled back enough to whisper in her ear. "Yes, I like it. You have no idea."

She laughed, still fighting to catch her breath. "I believe you. And I love you. And...Edward?"

I looked at her expectantly.

"I'm yours. Forever."

I crushed my mouth to hers and eased her down onto her back, ready to make her mine as many times as I could before the sun came up.