Disclaimer: Twilight belongs to Stephenie Meyer, and no infringement is intended.

Author's Note: This story is set immediately after New Moon.

It was just once touch as his cold palm and icy fingers pressed over my skin. But I could still feel the roughness, the strange flinty rasp of his hard flesh, so different from the smooth, marble quality of Edward's gentle, loving hands. Even now, days later, the memory of Aro clasping my hand and wrist made me wince.

I don't know when I had started rubbing at the area; at first the feeling was just a minor itch, a muted tingling. However, in the three days since I had returned from Italy, the sensation had changed to a harsher one. Now it was hotter, prickling uncomfortably all the time. I had resisted admitting to the term that best described it, but as I slowly pushed up my sleeve with a shaky hand to study my arm, I couldn't suppress the truth any longer: It burned.

Equally troubling was the redness covering the tender skin inside my wrist. The visible signs of irritation had begun the day before. It looked much worse today. I took a quavering breath then turned on the tap, running cold water over my arm. It didn't help much.

So far I had managed to hide the site from Edward. Over-sized, long-sleeved shirts kept my wrist well-covered, and I had tried very hard not to rub or scratch the area when he was watching. But I knew he would discover the truth soon. If nothing else, he would probably note a change in my scent as the venom spread further.

I didn't understand the mechanics of it. The bite inflicted by James had had immediate results. His teeth had broken the skin, slicing into numerous vessels and veins, sending his venom throughout my body almost instantly. Maybe Aro's contact, so much more subtle, caused a different sort of damage, a slower, more lingering one.

My eyes blurred with tears as I gently pressed a clean towel over my arm. This wasn't the way it was supposed to happen. This wasn't what I wanted. Yes, I'd been willing to be changed the moment I returned from Italy, but not like this, not at the hand of such an insidious creature.

I couldn't tell Edward yet. I wasn't sure how he would react. There was a possibility that he would do something that could place his life in peril again, and I would not risk that. There was the chance, too, that he would be utterly repulsed and turn away from me again. If that were the case, I wouldn't wish to exist any more, yet I would be immortal. A sob escaped me as I thought about the irony and unfairness of the situation.

I needed help. I needed sage counsel and good advice. There was only one person with whom I could share this terrible secret—only one individual who might know what to do.

I lowered my sleeve then walked slowly downstairs. I knew that Edward was en route. He would arrive at precisely 7:00, as he had the previous day, to spend as much of my restricted time with me as possible during the limited hours in which Charlie permitted his presence.

I got into my truck and drove, taking a side route so that I would not risk passing Edward on my way. I wasn't sure how much time I would have before he began looking for me, inevitably tracing me to his own home. But I didn't really have a choice; there was no other recourse.

To be continued...