Pen name: SavageWoman & belli486

Rating: M

Pairing: Bella

Title: Red

Fandom: Twilight

Disclaimer: Everything belongs to Stephenie Meyer with the exception of the computers we used to type this on… and the motorcycle.


Red

What would you be willing to risk to be with the one true love of your life? What would you give up? And to what lengths would you go? Would you risk your closest friendship, hoping everything turned out in the end?

As she shook her head at the flurry of questions swirling in her head, Bella knew she would receive the answer to some of those questions tonight.

Stepping out onto the balcony of her high-rise apartment, she looked out across the nightscape of Seattle bathed in the soft light of the full moon. The city looked kinder, somehow—safer—hiding all its dark secrets in the shadows. The cool night breeze felt good as it cooled her too-warm skin, but thinking about the man she loved always caused heat to spread throughout her body.

She sat down on one of the padded chairs and sipped her glass of wine before setting it on the side table. As she pulled her hand back, her engagement ring flashed a dim red in the moonlight, causing her to sigh. She leaned back into the soft cushions and admired the ring she had grown accustomed to wearing. It really was a beautiful piece of jewelry and was the envy of all the women at the architecture firm where she worked. And if her co-workers thought her ring was something, it was nothing compared to her fiancé, Jake.

Oh, Jake.

Bella felt a pensive smile tug at her lips. He really was something else. She remembered the first time they'd almost met. It was right after she'd graduated from University of Washington with a degree in Architecture. She was rushing to an interview.

"Hey, Mom. Can I call you back later? I've got a job interview, and I've really got to book it if I'm going make it on time." Bella quickened her pace as she listened to her mother ramble on as if she hadn't heard her only child's request.

She rolled her eyes and tried again. "Mom…That's nice…" Did she really need to know that Mrs. Johnson's son wasn't gay? And then it dawned on her why Renee would be telling her. Better nip this one in the bud. Felix was nice and all, but a little too squirrelly for Bella's taste. "No, Mom. Don't even think about it. Look, I've really gotta go. I'll call you later. Bye!" She quickly closed her phone before her mother could respond.

Bella looked at her watch and grimaced, mumbling under her breath, "Shit. I'm not going to make it." Frustration furrowed her brow—of all the days for her transportation to die. At least her old dinosaur of a truck chose to die a few blocks, rather than a few miles, from her destination. Vowing to buy herself a reliable vehicle if she got the job, she picked up her pace and cut across the newly-mown grass of the park.

It was a beautiful fall day—summer's last gasp. You could almost feel autumn pressing on the edges of the atmosphere, waiting to swoop in with a cold wind and turn the dark green leaves a multitude of fiery colors. Bella always loved it when the leaves turned red. It was her favorite autumn color.

As she hurried to her destination, she promised herself she would come back and take advantage of the last of the warm sun. She envied her fellow humans as they reclined under trees, lounged on blankets, enjoyed games of Frisbee or football, made out with their latest hookup or significant other, pretended to study while laughing with friends, chased kids, played fetch with dogs, or bought unhealthy but delicious snacks from street vendors.

As she rounded a rather large tree, she barely had time to see the wayward pigskin barreling down on her. She quickly dropped her satchel to catch the ball, thankful Charlie had taken the time to teach his daughter the finer points of contact sports in a misguided attempt to bond with her every other weekend, half the holidays, and six weeks in the summer, the standard visitation schedule of the non-custodial parent.

She was lucky enough to have both her parents remain in the Seattle area, so she always had access to her father. She doubted they would have been as close as they were now if her mother had moved to the other side of the country after the divorce.

Looking around for the owner of the football, she spotted a group of men –scratch that - good-looking men, jogging in her direction and waving to her. Several of them looked like they were of Native-American descent.

"Hey!" a rather large man yelled, "Over here!"

"I don't think she can throw it that far, Sam," one of the guys, she would later come to know as Paul, scoffed.

Bella smirked and threw the perfect spiral right at him, catching Sam by surprise.

"I think I'm in love!" another one declared. She laughed and shook her head before picking up her satchel.

"Care to join us?" Paul yelled, his voice hopeful and full of mischief.

"Sorry, guys. Maybe some other time," she returned with a smile.

"Damn, Jake's gonna be so mad he missed her," she heard Sam say as she hurried past them with a wave.

When she finally met Jake, they laughed about how close they'd come to meeting that day.

Jake was a natural fit, their friendship grew quickly, and soon they were best friends. Everything in their lives seemed to click. When Jake threw a Superbowl Party, Bella invited Charlie. He bonded with Jake's father, Billy, over a mutual love of sports and fishing, and finally Charlie had a partner in crime for his favorite pastimes.

And then, there was Renee. Let's just say she seemed to have a bit of a crush on Jake. Bella found it rather amusing, even if Phil, her mother's long-time boyfriend, did not. But that was all water under the bridge, now.

Jake and Bella's friendship continued for a few years, while secretly her feelings for him morphed into something more. It became increasingly difficult for Bella to watch Jake date other women while she dated other men, all the while wishing he saw her in a different light. And yet, the thought of changing their friendship scared her more than anything. She would rather have Jake in her life as a friend than as a lover only to have it end badly, thus losing both. So, when Jake finally confessed he had feelings for her, Bella was thrilled and terrified all at once.

Of course both their families approved of the match, and when Jake asked for her hand in marriage, Bella was pretty sure she was the last to know.

But it wasn't until after her engagement that Bella fully understood the concept of a soul mate. Someone who could be everything you needed. Someone who, regardless of whom or what they were, could bring you fulfillment, not only on a physical and emotional level, but on a spiritual level as well. Every part of you attuned to that one person who was created in the entire universe for you and no other.

It really took Bella by surprise, considering how their relationship started out. Oh, she'd felt the pull, but never quite believed in the idea of someone whose existence was, quite literally, your other half.

As she took a sip of wine, she heard the low rumble of a motorcycle in the distance. He was close—the man she loved above all others. Her heart skipped a beat for the one she had pledged herself to, the one she would forsake above all others.

The first night she realized the depth of her feelings, the first night he kissed her, everything in her world changed. She could never go back, and never undo it. And she'd have to live with the consequences of her choice forever. But what other option did she have? And was the choice ever really hers? When fate had so generously arranged for two soul mates to actually come together, was there ever any question as to what you would do? A tiny smile graced her lips and she relived the memory…

"Isabella." The use of this name, rather than her preferred Bella, caused her to take notice.

"Bella," she reminded him with a smile.

He simply shook his head and caressed her cheek in answer, then gazed into her eyes for a long moment. It was the look of a man in love. She recognized this, and as much as she knew what it meant—because somehow, against all odds, she felt it too—this new feeling scared her to death. It would bring with it a firestorm of change. Not all of it good.

As he opened his mouth to speak the declaration she was almost sure he was about to make, she placed her fingers on his lips to silence him. But when he pulled one of her fingers into his mouth and sucked, she let out a moan of delight, betraying her desire for him that was now rushing through her blood.

He got a mischievous look in his eyes as he gave her his most wicked smile. When he gathered her up in his arms, she felt like a mouse in caught in the hypnotic trance of a python, and she willingly went to her doom.

Just before lowering his head to kiss her, he breathed her name again, "Isabella."

What followed was unlike any kiss she'd ever shared with another. It contained the purity of a first kiss along with the promise of untold passion from the man that was destined to become the only man she would give everything to, give up everything for if he but asked it of her.

As they continued to kiss, an animalistic passion overcame her. And judging by his reaction, the feeling was mutual. She let out an embarrassingly loud moan of approval. He growled in return, and the vibration shook her to the core, changing her, filling her with an almost feral need for this man.

He broke away from her lips to attack her neck with equal fervor, eliciting a shudder of passion as his mouth sucked on the pulse point, giving equal amount of pleasure and pain. Nipping and licking and kissing his way down her neck to her shoulders and back again, she hitched her leg around his hip and ground herself into his obvious erection. He answered by grabbing her ass and pulling her hard against him.

The thought that she could affect him like this made her head swim with confidence, and she matched his need with her own, plunging her hands into his hair and pulling, hard. He let out a grunt of approval, her actions spurring him on, encouraging him. His hands were everywhere, squeezing and caressing their way to new discoveries, and the feeling that she couldn't get close enough to him overwhelmed her. She needed more, and wanted all that he could give.

His mouth continued on its path down her body and settled just above her breast. He paused, looked up, and gave her a devilish grin. She watched as he released his breath across her nipple. It was strangely erotic to watch, and his breath was surprisingly cooler than the air around them. She moaned as her eyes rolled back in delight and she pulled his head into her chest.

"Bewwa," he mumbled against her chest. When his shoulders shook with laughter, she realized her mistake.

"Oh, shit! I'm sorry." She immediately released his head so he could breathe.

He came up for air laughing softly and caressed her blushing face. They slowly loosened their hold on each other, and she dropped her leg back down to the ground.

He pulled back a little and looked into her eyes, searching for something. Acceptance? Confirmation? Submission?

She ran her fingers through his soft hair, earning another groan of unadulterated pleasure from him. She laughed.

"Will you purr if I scratch you behind your ears?" Her eyes twinkled playfully.

In a somewhat menacing voice he said, "I. Don't. Purr." Before she could react, he buried his nose in the crook of her neck, tickling her skin with his lips and teeth and tongue, causing her giggles to blend into sighs of contentment.

His voice whispered in her ear, "You belong to me, and I to you."

Her soul sang with sheer joy at his declaration.

He pulled back and she gazed into his dark eyes. "I am yours, Bella. All of me, as I am." His voice shook. He was nervous, and she couldn't fault him for that. She was nervous, too, and terrified of what this meant. Terrified of what choosing him would mean. "I will never belong to another as long as I live. You are my other half, my mate, the one woman made for me as I am made for you."

Her heart swelled at his declaration, and for a time, they existed in their own bubble apart from the world. But slowly, reality started to encroach on their little utopia. It began with a tingling sensation on her neck. She touched the spot he had lavished with attention not so long ago.

Realization slowly invaded her mind. "Did you mark me?"

He chuckled, but immediately stopped when he saw the worry on her face. "I'm sorry." He tightened his arms around her. "I got carried away."

"Is it bad?" Her voice held an edge of panic. What would she do if others saw? How would she explain it? What if —"

He cut off her worried thoughts by repeating those all-important words that had changed her life forever, "Bella, I love you. Only you."

As she searched his anxious eyes, she merely saw the truth. And the truth of her feelings for him stared back at her.

How did this happen? When did this happen? The gravity of the situation hit her hard.

How could she do this? What would they lose? Who would she lose? No one would understand or approve. How could she do this without causing pain? Without loss? How could she gain a lover and lose her dearest friend? Her mind continued to swirl with crazy questions until finally settling on the one person…

A sob escaped her throat and she covered her mouth as if to silence the sound and keep the pain from being real. When she pushed against his chest, he released her.

With a face full of fear, he whispered her name, "Bella?"

Shaking her head, she continued to back away from him. "I can't. Please. I… I…" But in her heart she knew it was a lie. She also knew if she stayed there with him, she could and would give up everything she had for him immediately if he asked her to.

"Please tell me what you're feeling. What you're thinking." The pain in his voice almost crippled her, but she had to be sure she could live with this choice.

"I need time to figure out what I want; what I should do."

His shoulders sagged with her declaration and her hesitation to return his feelings and sentiments. He'd bared his soul to her, and outside of lust-filled passion, she'd given him no reassurances of her feelings for him. But if she did that now, would she be giving him false hope if she couldn't make this leap of faith? Would she ever be willing to give up what she had, give up what was comfortable for something more, something unknown?

She stepped closer to him and caressed his cold cheek. It was as if the life-force had left him. "Just give me some time." It was the only assurance she could give him, and she prayed he wouldn't press her right then for an answer for fear she'd throw caution to wind and commit to him and this new future.

As she walked away, her heart broke, and she couldn't take it. She never knew denying him would hurt so bad. She could only imagine what he was going through. He'd handed his heart over to her, and she'd left him hanging with no answers, no returned feelings.

She turned around and ran back, searching for his retreating form. When she spotted him, he looked smaller, diminished, as if fatally wounded.

"Stop!" she cried almost hysterically as she ran to him.

He spun around to face her and barely had time to react as she launched herself into his arms, wrapping her arms and legs around his body.

"I love you!" she declared with tears in her eyes, on her skin, and in the kisses she peppered over his face. "I. Love. You," she continued to declare until he silenced her ovations with a hungry kiss of his own.

As he pulled away, the smile on his face lit up her world.

But only a short week later, Bella was in turmoil again over her choice. And Jake knew something was wrong. To think she could hide anything from him was foolish. Nothing escaped his notice. There was no concealing anything from him.

"Why, Bella?" The anguish in his voice broke her more than anything. "Why are you doing this?"

"Please, Jake. I need you to understand. It was never my intent to lead you on or hurt you. I'm just so confused. And..." she took a deep breath before she plunged the dagger in, "I'm scared and confused, and I need some time to decide what I want to do."

His face twisted in pain and anger as he spat, "But this? You said you loved me. Was that a lie? Was it all a lie?"

A sob bubbled up, unbidden from the depths of her torn heart. "I've never lied to you, Jake. I do love you, but I…I…" Shamed, she dropped her head into her hands and cried.

She felt his hand lovingly stroke her hair and felt another wave of guilt crash into her body.

"You know where my heart lies. And I will wait for you to decide what you want to do. But if you come back to me, Bella, you need to be sure. You need to mean it. No second-guessing, no coming back later saying you made a mistake. If you're with me, it has to be all of you. I won't take anything less." And with that, he raised her face to his and kissed her teary eyes before pressing one last kiss to her mouth. Then he silently left the apartment.

The sound of the motorcycle cutting off pulled her from her thoughts, and she glanced down just as he looked up at her from below, his hair drifting into his eyes in the breeze. She smiled, motioning for him to come up before she walked back into the apartment.

She looked around at the living room, taking in the evidence of her life with Jake in the pictures and shared memories. She absentmindedly twirled her ring around on her finger as she acknowledged that the unknown still scared her. She wrung her hands and prayed she'd made the right choice. She hoped that the sacrifice and potential fallout was worth it, especially if this choice didn't turn out as she hoped. It felt like a lifetime of shared experiences.

She walked through the room to the entryway and looked down at the folded piece of paper sitting unassumingly on the table there. With a sigh, she ran her hand across it before she left it behind with the token. She felt a sad tear run down her cheek before a sound from behind distracted her.

She looked over to the balcony, but saw nothing but the white sheers billowing in the light breeze coming through the French doors. But almost immediately, she knew he was there in the room with her. Her heart calmed, and peace settled over her.

He was close, so close she could feel him standing at her back. She smiled when his arms wrapped around her torso, and she leaned her head to the side offering her neck for him to kiss. He quickly obliged, and she knew to her bones that she'd made the only choice she could.

oOo

Bellisima. Bella.

The first time he saw her, she wore red; the color that he preferred above all others. A color very well-suited for the ire she was directing at a cab driver as she robustly argued with him about whether she'd handed him a twenty or a fifty. His first inclination had been to intervene, but she seemed to be faring quite well on her own.

Apparently, the cabbie thought she would be an easy mark and had been lulled into a false sense of security by her demure girl-next-door visage and gentle unassuming nature. Whatever the case, he almost felt sorry for the guy as she eviscerated him with her words.

The annoyed bite of her voice, the fire burning deep in her brown eyes, the delightful shade of pink caused by the blood rushing under her skin from her agitated state, appealed to him in ways he barely understood.

In all his years, he'd never seen a woman who piqued his interest at first sight as this creature had.

She was fascinating to watch. Her long brown hair and creamy skin were in stark contrast to the deep flaming-red business suit she wore. Red. It was his favorite color. Its vibrant nature signified so many things to him: life, love, passion, anger, beauty, pain, lust, blood. If there were a life-force, a spirit, he often envisioned it as red, too.

He watched with growing amusement as her frustration level grew and the flush on her face darkened. The skin on her neck was nearly translucent, and he could almost see the blood pulsing under the surface, spreading out and coloring the cells of her skin. The unseasonable temperatures from a heat wave had curled the ends of her hair. The individual strands glowed with a red tint in the last of the dying sunlight.

With a frustrated huff, the woman pulled out her cell phone, looked at the phone number on the door of the vehicle, and dialed the number of the cab company—thus ending the argument. The cabbie held up his hands and gave the woman the correct change before squealing his tires as he sped off, leaving the acrid smell of burned tire rubber in the air.

He watched with rapt fascination as a triumphant grin spread across her face. She turned on her heel and headed up the steps of the old two-story, just one house away from where he stood, spying on her. "Dad! It's me. Open the door already!"

For the first time in years, he smiled a genuine smile. He felt alive.

There was a stir of something altogether thrilling and unnerving coursing through him, yet tinged with something he'd never felt before, something he couldn't quite define. Could she be? He chided himself for even believing for a second there was a thing called hope for the likes of him and he retreated into the shadows, just seconds before she turned to look around as if she'd felt his eyes upon her.

Seattle was home to more than a half-million in a world that held more than six billion people, yet there were times when he felt like he really was an island. If he desired companionship, he need only beguile some hapless, quixotic female who was smitten by his extraordinary charm. And while the distraction they provided was entertaining and often temporarily sated his physical and physiological needs, he found that he tired of them quickly, because they did nothing to assuage the loneliness he felt, watching countless people find their other half, their perfect "one."

He had been all but resigned that this was his lot in life, as it were; to be in the world without anyone to complete his existence, to give him meaning and purpose, until he saw the brown-haired beauty again one night at the Blue Moon Tavern. It was happy-hour, and she was having drinks with a couple of friends. While the blonde she was with was beautiful, if a man were interested in the Marilyn Monroe type, and the short-haired brunette was a stunner, if a man were into pixyish, well-packaged attractiveness, the brown-haired beauty was exquisite because she needed no enhancements to accentuate her.

Thick black, curving eyelashes adorned her deep-brown eyes. Her lips were such a dark shade of pink, she needed no additional lip color, and her skin was like cream. Her face was made all the more interesting by dimples that creased her cheeks just so when she smiled. She was the definition of classical beauty, and for the first time ever, he felt like he had to know this woman.

Between rebuffing the annoying advances of females who were drawn to him like bees to honey, he was able to watch her surreptitiously from his vantage point at the end of the bar. He nursed a beer that would probably go warm. Beer was not his drink of choice anyway, but it served to give him the façade of belonging. It did nothing to calm his system, but he used it as a social accoutrement like any other male frequenting a watering hole.

She had looked at him a few times, and he was careful to look elsewhere when she did. Her face registered recognition, appreciation, and undeniable attraction, but she was not blatant about it. In fact, she seemed irritated by her reaction to him and kept willing herself to turn away and move back into conversation with her friends. With his awareness to her, he zeroed in on her smile, her voice, her smell; every nuance of expression caught his attention as he surveyed her from his perch at the bar. He was careful not to be overt about it as he took in all that he could about her from afar. Eventually he got a chance to make his move. When her friends got up and headed out the door a few seconds later, he slid off the barstool, and with beer in hand, sauntered over to her.

Another predatory male from a table next to her stood and tried his luck. She glared, frowned, and looked past him. The predatory male followed her eyes as she watched him wending his way to her, and she raised her voice.

"Sweetheart!" she exclaimed with a huge smile, silently willing him to approach her booth.

"Darling!" he said with equal fervor as he slid past the hopeful predator, and joined her in the booth, smiling dismissively upon the rejected suitor.

The disappointed guy reluctantly returned to the table with his friends.

She was grinning so widely, her dimples were deep and adorable. "Thanks for playing along," she said. "Usually my bitchface is enough, but he seemed undeterred."

"I can't say that I blame him. Bitchface aside, you can't fault a guy for having good taste."

"And what if I have the personality to go right along with that bitchface?" she asked.

"There is no way that is possible. Anyone who has dimples like the set you own has to have a pleasing personality."

She covered her cheeks with her hands, struggling not to smile. "Damn, I'm busted," she said in mock incredulity. Then she offered her hand to him.

They exchanged pleasantries, and as her name filled his ears, he could barely remember what his name was or whether he'd even said it. Her name, Isabella, or Bella as she preferred, repeated like a mantra in his head. Conversation came quickly and easily. He could tell that she was slightly nervous because she chattered incessantly, but her voice was like music to his ears. He could have listened to her all night.

She was the only child of divorced parents, a graduate of UDub, and an architect with a top Seattle firm. Her love for bold lines and color came partly from her mother and partly from her father. Charlie Swan was a civil engineer, and her mother, Renee, was an artist. She also shared that while her father had wanted to hate Phil, her mother's boyfriend, they bonded over a love of sports because Phil was a sportscaster with the local ABC affiliate. Bella was an avid reader of both contemporary and classical literature and a music aficionado who, for her age, owned a rather eclectic music collection. While his interests were varied and spanned many years and eras, her interests mirrored his in ways that he didn't think possible for someone so young. They both loved Mozart and Shakespeare.

Bella drained her beer and laughed. "I've been a real Chatty Kathy. The least I can do is buy you another beer before I leave."

He did not necessarily want another beer, and he was more inclined to be the gentleman and buy for her, but if it would keep her with him a little while longer, he'd take it. For the first time in a long time, he was having a conversation that made him feel whole, happy, and alive.

They exchanged phone numbers and made plans to keep in touch. As much as he would have loved to kiss her lips, he settled for kissing her hand instead when they parted. He closed the cab door and watched as it carried her away into the night, and he did not move from the spot where he stood until the red brake lights disappeared around a corner.

oOo

He found a rhythm in the days and weeks to come, meeting Bella at the library, wine tastings, concerts, theater events, and rare happy-hours at local haunts. He wanted to talk to her in the flesh every day, but her schedule became increasingly busy, so they had phone conversations when they couldn't get together. He told himself that she had become his best friend, and that was the extent of his attraction, but his attraction became an obsession.

He got the feeling that the time they spent together was becoming increasing difficult for her, and it only compounded the issue. She told him so when they met over dinner one night. His appetite was not for food, and he could barely contain the feelings that had taken residence in his heart. He never thought he could feel love, but his heart sang for her—it gave him hope. Then her words dashed that hope.

"We can't be anything more than friends." She moved her food around on the plate. Her nervousness bred a fear that stole her appetite.

"Is this what your heart tells you?" he demanded. The place in his chest where his heart resided ached to the point of misery.

"My heart is divided, and I don't know how to order it to choose, when the choice will only bring pain in the end. Either way, I stand to lose a dear friend." A single tear escaped and slid quickly down her cheek.

He whisked it away with the pad of his thumb.

"I am so drawn to you, it's confusing. I can't deny that my feelings are in conflict."

She looked so wan and sad he wanted to take her into his arms, to comfort her, but there had been minimal physical contact between them. They'd only shared platonic hugs, and kisses on cheeks and hands. Now that he knew he loved her, he wanted to hold her the way a man held the woman he loved, but he didn't want to scare her away.

"I am here for you always, whatever your decision."

He realized he was saying words to soothe her. But the selfish side of him, the monster, knew what he must do to make her his forever. While he wanted to see her happy, there was a darker part of him that selfishly wanted to completely seduce her, consequences be damned. He caressed her hand, touching each of the rings on her fingers and pondering the significance of each one. What made them special to her? The animal caged inside of him was restless because, for all intents and purposes, it had identified its mate, the one that would become its other half. He wanted to replace the rings there with one of his own.

oOo

Time away from Isabella had now become excruciating, and his body was crying out for her when they were apart. He would have to begin the transformation, or he would suffer greatly in physical pain. Fate had made an appointment for them, and he intended to keep it.

She was so beautiful as he looked upon her that night; there was no way he could leave without tasting of her lips and the sweetness that he knew awaited him.

"Isabella." He lapsed into the formal, entreating her with her given name.

"Bella," she corrected with a smile, her dimples hypnotizing him.

He was certain that his eyes betrayed his love for her even as he bestowed it upon her with all the power of his allure. He saw the love returned in her eyes, but it was mixed with fear and trepidation. He could not find it in his heart to care about the havoc that this moment would wreak. He was throwing down the gauntlet and there would be no turning back.

Her fingers covered his lips before he could utter the words, and before she could retrieve her fingers, he caught one in his mouth and gently sucked it. The moan that escaped from her lips was almost his undoing.

He murmured her name again, an exercise in composure. "Isabella."

Their kiss was heady with emotion, but so passionate, so potent that if he chose to exert just the right amount of pressure, they would be lovers that night. But at what price? Would she despise him for her weakness? He knew that her feelings for him were real, but they were not yet wholly solidified. He would bide his time until the transformation was complete and she could make no other choice.

He would take what she was able to give in that moment; a kiss that awoke parts of him that had long lain dormant. The gentleman in him could not be sorry for his reaction to her. Her answering response to his continual tasting of her succulent mouth was an amazing moan. He growled and she anxiously tasted him back.

Moving his lips to her throat, he felt her trembling with passion as he sucked the pulse point on her neck. He could taste the very essence of her and it made him greedy for more. He used his tongue to assault more of her neck and shoulders. She took him by surprise when she raised her leg to encircle his hip and ground herself against him. He cupped her derrière and pulled her flush against his erection.

Her need for him was as great as his need for her. She laced her fingers through his hair and tugged so hard, he grunted and increased the movement of his hands over her soft and yielding flesh. He wanted her so badly, he was aching.

When his mouth reached the crest of her breasts, he looked in her eyes to make sure that he wasn't overstepping his bounds. The pleasure in her face made him smirk. She watched as his breath made her nipple harden, and her eyes rolled back in her head as she moaned as if on cue, and then pulled his head into her chest.

Although he would have given up life and breath for her, she might not be happy if she thought she were killing him, so he just said her name to gently let her know she was crushing him..

"Oh, shit! I'm sorry."

He chuckled and touched her face where the blood pooled, pinking up her skin. This had to stop, or he would not be able to, and they both realized it simultaneously.

When he looked into her eyes, he wanted to ask and tell her so many things, but where would he begin? The mark he left on her neck began a chain reaction. There would be questions and perhaps problems for her. He wanted to feel sad about it, but couldn't bring himself to do so.

Her eyes were tracking his as if she were trying to read his mind as well. Then she gave up and ran her fingers through his hair, and once again, he could not form any words, but could only groan as she laughed at him and teased him about purring like an animal. If only she knew his true animalistic tendencies. Would she pull away from him? He nipped, tickled, and played with her, causing her to giggle and sigh.

When his mouth came to her ear, he had to tell her the true depth of his feelings. "You belong to me, and I to you."

He held her at arm's length so he could look into her eyes. "I'm yours, Bella. All of me, as I am." The emotion was so raw that he couldn't control the shaking in his voice. "I will never belong to another as long as I live. You are my other half, my mate, the one woman made for me as I am made for you."

He could see the love in her eyes and the elation she felt at his words, and he held her in his arms again as they both basked in the glory of their feelings. He released her when she wriggled and brought her hand up to touch her neck.

Her eyes widened. "Did you mark me?"

He laughed softly, but saw her concern and held her close again. "I'm sorry. I got carried away." He had to admit to himself that he wasn't sorry for the act, but about her guilt.

"Is it bad? What if—?"

"Bella, I love you. Only you." He could see the turmoil in her eyes. Her face contorted and a sob fell from her lips. It frightened him to see her pain.

In a hoarse whisper, not ashamed of his own fear, he spoke her name, "Bella?"

She backed away, shaking her head. "I can't. Please. I…I…"

He was desperate to know what she thought. "Please tell me what you're feeling. What you're thinking."

"I need time to figure out what I want, what to do."

Perhaps he had misjudged the power of a love bite and a few whispered words of declaration. He felt defeated. He could see the conflict roiling behind her eyes, and he tried not to make it any more painful for her, but he could not control the desolation he felt from her inability to give him assurance of her feelings.

She softly touched his cheek. "Just give me some time."

Her words were like a death knell because he could not fathom how she did not feel the strength of their pairing in the same manner that he had grown to accept from almost the moment he'd met her. When she left, he felt his heart shattering. All he could do was walk away and hope that it would mend and he could exist just breathing the same air she did. This is what it seemed he would be relegated to.

His misery was so acute he did not hear the footsteps that were swiftly running in his direction. But then her sweet voice punctuated the air when she cried, "Stop!"

As he turned to face her, she jumped in his arms and her arms and legs wrapped around his body.

"I love you!" she screamed and sprinkled kisses over his face. "I. Love. You." Never had he heard sweeter words spoken.

Even though she had told him that she loved him, there were still words that needed to be said, which could make or break any future they might have. He knew when they talked again that things would change. She would have to tell the others she loved that she had given her heart to him and he just needed her to know the truth.

They sat in the booth at the Blue Moon Tavern where they first became friends, and he told her all his truths.

"Bella, I am not like other men."

She smiled. "I know this. No mere mortal could complicate my life so much."

"That couldn't be further from the truth," I mumbled under my breath. She quirked an eyebrow at him, but he continued, "If you love me and want to be with me, could you embrace all that I am?"

There was no hesitation on her part. "Yes. Isn't that what people in love do?"

"You have others in your life that you love. Could you give them up as well for this all-consuming love?" It was the question she needed to answer. She needed to know what she would have to give up.

"How much of my life could loving you consume?" He realized she didn't fully understand what he was trying to say, so he decided to just tell her.

With a deep breath, he locked his eyes with hers. "All of it." Then he told her what he really was.

If she was surprised or weirded-out by it, there was no indication on her face, but he could almost hear the stuttered beating of her heart.

"I just need time to say goodbye," she whispered.

"I'll come for you in a week. If you change your mind, call me. Tell me to stay away."

oOo

As he approached her, he marveled at the sight. She was simply exquisite, her red shirt playing up the highlights in her hair and giving her skin a healthy glow, indicative of the warm-blooded creature that she was.

The energy that passed between them was undeniable. How could he ever believe that she wouldn't be here, waiting for him, ready to commit to a future with him? It gave him hope.

As he wrapped his arms around her and pulled her against him, she tilted her head to the side in silent supplication, baring the smooth skin of her neck ready to receive his kiss. And without having to utter a sound, she gave him everything he wanted, everything he needed.

He didn't hesitate to accept her as his, and lavished her neck with passionate kisses. A week was far too long to be away from her presence, her love. She gave everything of herself and his heart filled with love and gratitude that she could see past her fears of the unknown, to a future with him, to making a life with him, and the sacrifices that she would make because of it.

No words were spoken. It was understood. He took his beautiful Bella by the hand and led her out of the apartment and down to the street below, never breaking eye contact. Her eyes took him in the same way as the first time she'd seen him. He gave her a loving smile before starting the motorcycle.

He climbed on first before handing her a helmet. She gave him a grimace, but complied. He threw his head back in laughter and she swatted him playfully.

"You just wait," she warned with a bit of a sad twinkle in her eye before she settled on the back of the bike, alive with power.

"Looking forward to it," he teased back, hoping to alleviate what he saw there with light humor, but he knew what he was asking of her. He'd be lying if he said her pain wasn't his pain. And even though she would suffer for this choice, he couldn't, he wouldn't, ask her to reconsider. He'd waited too long for her, and she was his to take. He was nothing without her—nothing but an empty shell.

As she wrapped her arms around his body, her thighs against the backs of his, her body hugging his back, he pulled away from the curb to start their new journey together.

"Bella! No!" The sound of Jake's pained voice howled, filling the air with his anguish as he watched his fiancé drive away.

Bella's shoulders shook with her silent cries and Edward's heart filled with the pain she had to bear because she chose him over the man she'd promised to marry.

And for a moment, Edward wondered if he should turn the bike around or simply stop and let her off. But when her arms tightened their hold on him in spite of her cries, he knew her choice had not changed.

He understood that the pain she had endured for her choices were his fault. She gave up everything for him. Not just her fiancé, but her parents, her friends, her career. All of it so she could spend a multitude of lifetimes with him as his mate, becoming what he was—a creature of the night.

As they sped away, her voice floated on the wind, "Please understand, Jake. There was never a choice for me. Never."


A/N: We hope you like our contribution to the Fics for Nashville fundraiser. And thanks to belli486 for her eleventh hour push to get me involved! We've been patiently waiting to share this with everyone. ;) Enjoy! ~ SavageWoman