A/N: Thanks so much to the usual suspects: Shug for beta'ing the original, Songster51 for beta'ing this iteration, and Renee Aubin for pre-reading. You all rock!
Any mistakes made are all mine, as I tweaked it a bit more after they sent it back to me.
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Without Renee underfoot, Edward endeavored to be the most exceptional post-surgery caregiver and spouse he could be. In fact, he'd gone overboard a few times and hadn't given Bella enough leeway to test her own limits when she began to feel better.
"You know, I will eventually have to get out of this bed on my own, right?" She'd said the day after her mother left and he'd carried her to the bathroom a half a dozen times.
He had been sheepish and nervous. "You're right. My training has gone out the window. Just don't overdo it, okay?"
"Okay," she said, but shook her head as if to say, I can't believe you.
It only took a few days for her to insist that she could walk to the bathroom without assistance, and a week for her to take over her own toilette. She allowed him to continue to change her bandages, only because it was awkward for her while she wasn't one hundred percent ambulatory.
"It's ugly, isn't it?" She asked the first time he changed the dressing after her mother left. She blushed a shade of crimson that competed with the angry redness surrounding the incision.
"No. It's still healing. Dr. Yang's surgical suturing technique is like a work of art. The scarring should be minimal once the staples are removed and it heals completely."
"But there will be a scar." She sounded resigned, and the fact that he couldn't do anything about it made his motionless heart ache.
She didn't inquire about it again, but he noticed she never fully bared her scar to him when the bandaging became unnecessary. He had to ask her to see it to make sure it was healing properly, and then she would immediately put her pajama top or shirt back on. He tried to get her to talk about it, but she refused to engage.
Never, since he'd known her thoughts were closed to him, had he wanted to read her mind more. It hadn't occurred to him that she would have to deal both physically and emotionally with her recuperation. He might have been lost were it not for Carlisle who talked him off the figurative ledge more than once, and coached him on how to deal with his wife's rapidly changing emotions.
"She needs your loving support more than anything, Edward. Be her sounding board if she wants to talk, and a strong shoulder if she wants to cry," Carlisle advised. "Let Dr. Burke be her physician."
Only twice had he needed to hold her through tears. Once when she'd tried to go too long without her pain meds, and later when the incision itched to the point of insanity.
One thing he found easy during Bella's recuperation, was getting her back into her studies. Their professors at UW had been understanding and allowed them to do their coursework via the internet and administered their exams by proxy.
Finally, she had recovered enough in two months to resume going physically to class again. Edward doubled as a personal bodyguard while their devoted vampire family provided a protection detail that Bella was yet unaware of. Edward knew he wouldn't be able to keep his concern for her safety secret much longer. He feared Bella would spot their family members shadowing them, so he decided to come clean at the end of their first week back to class.
It was a Friday, and he'd made her chateaubriand for dinner and sat with her at the table watching her eat.
"Baby, this is so good. Is there some special occasion I've forgotten?" She smiled and took a sip of red wine.
Edward was confident she knew full well what the occasion was, but was playing coy. For two weeks she'd been clamoring to resume their physical relationship, but he'd remained adamant that she needed the additional time to allow her body to heal.
He smiled and played along. "I just thought we might celebrate your recuperation and return to school."
He moved to top off her glass again, but she held her hand over the rim of the glass. "Are you trying to get me tipsy so you can have your wicked way with me, Mr. Cullen?"
If vampires could blush, he would've been doing so at that moment. Instead, he grinned, re-corked the wine bottle and ran a nervous hand through his hair. It took all his willpower not to pace. He was looking for the perfect opportunity to broach the subject of her safety.
Bella put her fork down and looked at him in that knowing way she'd possessed from the beginning and had perfected since they'd been married.
"The sooner you tell me what it is, the sooner we can finish dinner and move on to dessert," she said with a devious smirk. Then her eyes widened, "Don't tell me you're still afraid I'm not up to it?"
"It's not that." Edward sat back down and took her hand in his. "I wanted you to get better before I told you something else, and now it's time." He saw concern in her beautiful brown eyes and wished he didn't have to put such a damper on her happiness. "Alice's visions are in agreement with what Madame Diwata said when we were in Hawaii."
"Are you talking about the fortune teller who approached me in the marketplace?"
"Yes." Edward felt a pain that he'd never experienced in all his years as a vampire. "Her prediction is credible, so our family is determined to keep you safe."
"At least two of them will shadow us at all times, now that you're back at school."
"Really?" Bella pushed her plate away. "Oh, wow…"
Edward caressed her hand and implored her with his eyes. "Don't be afraid, we've got you covered."
"But for how long? Your family shouldn't have to babysit me forever."
"Believe me, it's no problem. We can do this for as long as long as we have to—as long as there's a threat to you."
She moved out of her chair and found solace in his lap. "Is there any way to pinpoint when this occurs so we can better prepare?"
"Alice watches every conceivable threat source, but there haven't been any decisions made that can help her pin it down."
She frowned. "So, does this mean that I need to quit school now and be changed immediately?"
"Not immediately, but I think we need to consider doing it sooner rather than later," he said. "I know the decision to become one of us has been a source of contention. Well, for me especially, but if it means the difference between you being weak and vulnerable, or strong enough to protect yourself, I go for the latter."
"So do I," Bella said. "But I didn't want to leave my parents so soon. Could we possibly put it off until after the summer, when we're leaving for school anyway?"
"We can stop by tomorrow and run some scenarios with Alice—also see what Carlisle thinks we should do."
"Good plan," Bella said, and straddled him on the chair. "I think I'm ready for dessert."
She could feel him growing and she wriggled sensuously on his lap.
"Bella," he groaned in warning. She ignored him and peppered kisses over his face and neck.
"It's been eight weeks," she panted. "We're good right?"
"Right—" Her next movement rendered him at a loss for words as she rocked against his groin. Edward stood, holding her against him with one hand under her bottom and another around her torso, and took off for their bedroom.
He had never carried her at breakneck speed through their home when she'd been recuperating, but this was an exception. Bella was on the bed and undressed before she realized what was going on, her slight body weight absorbed by the down comforter. There had been no full-on lovemaking to speak of since the surgery, and he was as anxious as she was now that they'd reached the first hurdle of her recovery. They could resume all normal activities.
It had been too long.
Bella looked up at him as he pulled his shirt over his head as his broad shoulders and perfectly sculpted chest came into view. Her eyes lingered on his pecs, remembering how his cool chest felt against her breasts.
She realized she would not be satisfied until she had his hard body braced above hers, until she felt him inside her, but she would force herself to wait for that treat. When he dropped his pants and she saw his need, she changed her mind. She reached for him as he moved to join her on the bed and wound her body around his like her limbs were made of rubber. Joining their mouths, she kissed him with an eagerness that made him pull away.
"Bella, we should go easy," he said. "It's been a while and I don't want to lose control with you."
When he looked at her scar, her cheeks grew warm in embarrassment, and she crossed her arms over her chest. Edward gently moved her hands and kissed the incision from top to bottom.
"I love this," his cool lips murmured against her skin. "It's what saved your life for me."
He tweaked her nipples with his long fingers, drawing them into hardened peaks, and pleasure rippled from her sensitive buds to the tips of her toes. Bella moaned, and found herself arching into his hands as he palmed and kneaded her breasts again and again. He moved his lips to her neck and she stretched to give him better access. She could hardly breathe as his lips nipped, licked and teased her throat, sucking her pulse point into his cool mouth, the sensation laying waste to all the nerve endings in her body.
Edward seemed to sense her need building. He slid down from where he hovered, inches over her body, hands traveling down her sides, her waist, her hips, until he was between her legs. His hand slid between her legs, where his cool fingers claimed her swollen clit and teased it. Bella's breath caught in her throat at the action, and her mind slipped beyond rational thought. She reveled in the pleasure as her husband's fingers slid into her sensitive folds, and pleasured her to the brink of frustration.
The tension that built low in her stomach demanded more, causing her to rock against his fingers. But as she pressed against his hand, he took it from her reach. Her first thought was to object, and it was on the tip of her tongue, but the most she could manage was a gasp when the coolness of his mouth closed over her.
With gentle precision his tongue lapped at her with delicious insistence, making the tension in her stomach knot, and build again, until her muscles clenched and a flutter of spasms delivered staccato bursts of pleasure as she cried out her release. The pleasure seemed to go on and on, until the last flutter passed, leaving only the beautiful sensation of satiation and satisfaction.
"Oh Edward," she said, laughing, almost embarrassed by how intensely she came. "That was…" She decided no word was adequate to complete the thought.
Edward chuckled and moved up on the bed to hover over her again, but then maneuvered her on top of him. She grasped his hard length in her hand and lifted her gaze to his eyes, searching for his reaction, and finding the response she sought.
She wanted to explore the effect her mouth might have on him, but his hand covered hers. "As much as I'd love you to touch me like that, I need to be inside you right now."
He didn't wait for her to acquiesce, but pushed up, and his erection slipped into the slick heat of her arousal, and his mouth captured hers in a searing kiss. Hot desire poured through her as she felt the twin sensations of their tongues and lower bodies tangoing in a wicked dance of need.
Reaching downward, she laced her hands through his hair and held him captive as best she could, fearing that he would think it was all too much and leave himself unsatisfied. She needn't have worried as Edward thrust as deep as he dared given her fragility. Then they moved together in concert, a slow seductive rhythm of their bodies melding together back and forth. Hands caressing, exploring, touching as if starving for one another.
Bella felt as if she were a kid again on a carnival ride, so adventurous was their shared passion. Nothing existed for her except the consummation of their love—Edward moving beneath her and the storm of another orgasm building within her. She met the pump of his hips with her own, her kisses as demanding as her body. Edward met each stroke of her tongue and thrust of her hips with his own, which pulled her deeper into a fog of need. Soon the ache of being so very near her release catapulted her into frenzied movement, and he palmed her ass with his hands to anchor her and hold her steady, striving to keep his tenuous control.
They moaned together as she exploded, her muscled walls massaging his hard length, milking him for their mutual pleasure. He pumped up as she ground down and he shuddered through his own release.
"Love you," Bella said, as her body softened into satisfied bliss. His naturally cold body felt hot everywhere their skin touched.
"I love you, too," he said, as he shifted her to place a blanket between them, then held her close again. He kissed her softly and caressed her back until she drifted off to sleep.
Bella was excited to be able to get out and visit their extended family Saturday afternoon. During her recovery, she was largely housebound, so they'd visited her. The Cullens' home in Seattle was as different as night and day from their Forks property. This one was a brick Tudor-style on five acres of formal English gardens and lawns with another fifteen acres of undeveloped land around it. She marveled at Esme and Alice's keen eye for decoration—how they intuitively accentuated each home's style with the perfect furnishings.
This one boasted a formal living room with decorative leaded celerestory windows and a banquet-sized dining room. Carlisle had a large charcoal-gray library with a gorgeous crystal chandelier behind the center hall, which accessed the terrace and gardens through the same French doors she'd walked through with Charlie when they were married.
Edward used the key Carlisle and Esme had given them when they'd moved in, and they found Rosalie and Emmett in the game room on the third floor playing Resistance: Fall of Man 3 on the PS3. This was Emmett's second favorite game, because he sometimes forgot his own strength while playing the more physical games and had destroyed five previous foosball tables, until Esme put her foot down and wouldn't order another one.
"I've run out of excuses to give the dealer, Emmett," she protested.
"Aw, Mom, I'll be more careful next time – I've got it figured out now."
"That's what you said the last time."
Bella couldn't help but smile at how much like a real family they were, despite neither of them having ever been blood relations. Well, actually they kind of were blood relations, come to think of it.
"Hey!" Emmett said as they entered the room. Rosalie took advantage of him looking away, and her Chimeran soldier creamed him. "Damn, my mate just killed me again."
Rosalie laughed a devious little laugh and then addressed them. "Hi guys. I'm just teaching my over-confident husband a lesson in humility. Are you going to be here a while?"
Bella giggled. "Heck yeah. I want a turn." She plopped down on the couch next to Rosalie, who gave her an air smooch and concentrated on the game again.
Emmett was incredulous. "You play video games?"
"Please—my dad raised me on old-school games like Pinball and Ms. Pac Man. I dragged him kicking and screaming into the electronic age."
Edward, with a shocked look on his face, bumped fists with Emmett, who also went back to defending himself from Rosalie's attacks.
"We have a PS3 and Xbox 360, which you've not even bothered to look at since we've been together," Edward teased.
"Can I help it if my husband is so—distracting?" she said with an embarrassed smile.
"Never thought I'd see the day when my little bro was getting some on the regular," a filter-less Emmett guffawed.
Rosalie looked away from the game with a commiserating smile for Bella and then scolded Emmett good-naturedly. "Babe, you promised not to tease them."
"Maybe I should tell Bella how many pieces of Esme's furniture you've destroyed," Edward said, and smacked Emmett on the back of the head, then stood behind the couch over Rosalie with his hands in his pockets, humming.
Emmett growled and took a fleeting look back at him. "Stop helping her, dude. Rose has already got three kills to my one."
"Baby, let the best vampire win," Bella mock-reprimanded. "Cause this human's gonna beat whichever vampire emerges victorious."
"Bad ass!" Emmett boomed.
Edward chuckled and moved to where Bella sat and leaned down to kiss her on the top of her head. "Okay, I'm going to find Carlisle. If he's in his office, he might not have heard us come in."
Alice and Jasper came in as Edward left and Alice gravitated to Bella like a homing pigeon. "Bella!"
Bella stood and gave her as much of a squeeze as she could. "Hey, girlfriend. Hey, Jasper."
"Hey, Bella," Jasper said with a smile. "So, you're good as new now, huh?"
Bella could tell from the golden hue of his eyes that it was okay to hug him, so she did.
"Yes, I am."
Esme joined them and exacted a hug from Bella and they sat in the armchairs facing the fireplace while Rosalie and Emmett continued their noisy play in the background—schooling one another back and forth and talking trash.
Bella had an agenda that she wanted to further and get buy-in from the family before she told Edward what she wanted to do.
"Alice, I've made a decision, sort of, and just wanted to know whether you feel it might be a good idea, considering what could happen," Bella said. She looked from face to face and continued. "I know Edward has had you all taking part in a protection detail for me, so I want to ease your burden, and hopefully change the trajectory of the future."
Alice smiled and answered her unspoken question. "If you guys move in with us, it will bring the odds way down that an attempt will be made soon. I don't see the definitive outcome."
"What do you see?" Esme asked in a serious tone.
Nervous, she shifted her eyes to Jasper. "Let's wait until Edward and Carlisle come down. He should know this, too."
As if on cue, Edward and Carlisle practically beamed into the room. Edward sat on the arm of Bella's chair and Carlisle stood behind Esme's chair massaging her shoulders.
"What should I know?" Edward asked.
"The Volturi have been discussing Bella," Alice said. Rosalie and Emmett moved over to them so fast Bella felt the air stir.
Edward's next question was immediate. "Have you seen any plots for them to abduct Bella?"
"No, actually they haven't made any unanimous nor firm decisions about her yet. Well, Caius has. He thinks she should be…" Alice faltered. Jasper looked deep into her eyes as if to calm her.
Edward took Bella's hand in his and gave it a gentle squeeze. "What?" Bella asked.
"He's always been the irrational one when it comes to meting out vampire justice," Carlisle said. "His decisions are never merciful. Thankfully, Aro and Marcus overrule him a great deal of the time. Our decision to tell them before Tanya did is what's given Aro and Marcus pause, I guarantee you that."
Bella swallowed, but her mouth was uncharacteristically dry. "So, this Caius wants me dead?"
"That's not going to happen," Edward said, a determined yet soothing edge to his voice. He addressed his sister again. "What do you see happening if Carlisle contacts Aro again with an earlier timeline for changing Bella."
"That could work, but it may not be necessary," Alice said.
"Why?" Bella asked.
"Because the Volturi have been tracking three more pressing situations around the world. They expect vampires have been killing locals in and around three large cities. They want to make sure no one has amassed large newborn populations where they would have to step in."
"Given the differing terrains and the territories they would have to cover, it could take several months, possibly a year, for them to resolve these situations," Carlisle said. "Then by that time, they may have tabled a decision regarding you indefinitely."
"I hope that's the case," Bella said. "I didn't want to leave my parents so soon, and I want to go on to graduate school. But I don't want to put you guys at risk, either."
"What are the chances that Caius might sway Aro and Marcus?" Edward asked.
"Doesn't seem likely," Alice said. "They consider themselves the more benevolent of the three."
Edward smiled and caressed Bella's cheek. "Looks as if you'll be going to graduate school after all, my love."
"We should approach this with care and continue to be on the alert for anything that could change the situation," Carlisle said. "The Volturi are capricious at best."
"So, we should continue the protection detail?" Rosalie said.
Carlisle was grave. "Yes, given Bella's vulnerability, I think we should err on the side of caution. Should the Volturi decide to take Bella for whatever reason, they will send their most powerful guards. Edward won't be able to protect her on his own."
Bella looked up into Edward's eyes. "If that's the case, I think we should move in with the family until I'm changed."
Edward spluttered. "What—Bella?"
She took his hand in hers. "I know, we've had an extended honeymoon on our own, but if your family's going to be protecting me, I think they should be able to do it from the comfort of their own home the majority of the time."
"You'll get over the embarrassment of the family hearing your every intimate moment soon enough," Emmett said with a smirk. "It's not like you haven't already heard more than all of us combined over the decades."
Edward shook his head in incredulity, and Bella smiled and took his hand. "Let's look at the bright side. This way I'll get to know everyone better in a hurry."
Emmett laughed, and soon the whole family joined in.
Although it was April by the time they'd returned to the classroom, they were not behind in any of their classes. As a matter of fact, Bella was still up for Magna Cum Laude, as was Edward. He was proud of her accomplishments. They'd completed applications for Dartmouth, Harvard and Yale and expected replies sometime before graduation. If the situation changed and it turned out that they would have to turn her before that time, they would simply withdraw and reapply later, when Bella was able to be around humans.
The rest of the semester became a routine of school with two other family members in tow on a rotating basis, who audited classes and/or hung out with them on campus. Bella used the excuse of catching up on her studies to avoid traveling to Forks, so roughly twice a month, her parents came to Seattle and stayed with them in the condo.
Before they knew it, it was graduation day, and Renee and Charlie made the trek to see Bella and Edward graduate. Alice and Esme were given another reason to throw a fabulous party, and they did so, inviting most of the same people who had been in attendance at their wedding, with the exception of the Denali coven, which politely declined. Alice had a vision that the sisters would quarrel, and Kate confirmed when she called that Tanya lived apart from them, but Edward didn't pry further.
Before the guests arrived, the family converged in the well-appointed living room at the Cullen estate where Edward heard Charlie thinking about his and Bella's future plans. He was always fascinated when he listened to his father-in-law's thoughts.
I'll bet my pension he's about to tell us he's carting Bells off to some swanky upper-crust school on the East coast.
Early on, Edward believed Charlie to be simple-minded, but after spending time with him on more than a half dozen occasions since Bella's surgery, he'd realized that the man had a rather complex thought process. As a law enforcement officer, he'd always experienced some uneasiness about Edward that he couldn't quite put his finger on, but he usually talked himself out of it in the same inner monologue in which he questioned it.
Each time he'd been in their presence Charlie had been so grateful that Bella was happy, cared for, and thriving that he chastised himself for ever doubting his son-in-law. Edward smiled when Charlie decided to give voice to his current ruminations.
"Any word from those Ivy League schools yet, son?" Charlie asked. Bella smiled and squeezed Edward's hand when Charlie called him son.
"Yes, sir. I've been accepted at Dartmouth, Harvard and Yale..." Then he looked at his wife like the cat who'd swallowed the canary. "And so has Bella."
Bella was surprised, incredulous even. "When did we get this news?"
"Just last week. I wanted it to be a surprise. A graduation present of sorts," he said, grazing her temple with his lips. "Congratulations, love."
"Aww," Renee crooned. "Now you'll be together in graduate and medical school. I just mentioned to Charlie this morning what a wonderful husband you've been to our Bella and what a great son-in-law you've been to us." Edward never feared anything less than salubrious thoughts about him from Renee. Her mind was almost childlike in its simplicity.
Charlie kind of rolled his eyes but spoke up anyway. "Yeah, Edward… uh, thanks for taking such good care of Bells. I kinda had my doubts about you in the beginning, but you have proven to be exactly what the doctor ordered for her, so to speak. We tried to play it safe, but we were too conservative out of fear. You made sure she got a new lease on life, and we can't thank you enough for that."
"I can't accept thanks for such a pure labor of love," Edward said, pulling Bella closer to his side.
The vampire in the car rattled off specific instructions while driving past the Cullen house.
"We're not going to get out of the car because they would lock on our scents within seconds." The vampire pointed to the house nestled in the trees about a quarter of a mile away from the road where they crept along.
"The cable guy must have followed my instructions to the letter, or they'd be on to us. The big one, Emmett, couldn't go a day without his precious entertainment, even though they're leaving for Europe in a few days. The technician planted the listening devices in places where it will be difficult for even the keenest vampire ears to discover them, and the receiving equipment in the van will be manned by the human Private Investigator."
"Are you sure we can trust him?" the other car occupant asked.
"The money will keep him quiet until we have no more use for him, then our secret will die with him, just like it did with the cable technician."
"Why can't we just follow them to Europe and take her? Americans are abducted there every day."
"This can't be traced back to me, stupid. The Volturi would not be happy."
Dark eyes flashed with anger. "Just because I don't think like you, doesn't mean I'm stupid."
"Please forgive me. I forget you have such human limitations. How can I make it up to you?" Red eyes implored, as a tongue moistened red lips "Let's go back to the hotel, shall we?"
Anger dissipated, and sullen eyes lit up like Roman candles. "That sounds like a great start."
Bella almost felt guilty, she was so blissfully happy. They'd spent part of the summer preparing for their matriculation into the hallowed halls of Harvard University. The Cullen family all helped with Bella's language requirements. They spoke only French, or Italian, and quizzed her on Latin phrases as they all prepared to take a European vacation.
A few days prior to the summer vacation that would be an extended second honeymoon for them, they discussed their plans for school. Edward prepared lunch for her in the kitchen of the Cullen mansion. The kitchen was a chef's dream. It had a Viking professional range, Northland designer series sub-zero refrigerator with matching beverage and wine cooler, ample cabinetry and granite countertops.
Edward had the supplies for the next few days for her meals worked out exactly, so they wouldn't leave any perishable food in the refrigerator. Bella had the Harvard catalogue and European travel brochures splayed over the island and typed sporadic notes into her laptop.
"I'm going to go with a dual track and get both a master's degree and PhD in Romance Languages and Literature. My concentration will be French, Francophone and Italian traditions working in a range of periods, genres, and approaches. I'll need to get a little more up to speed in Italian and Latin."
They were about to depart on a seven week European vacation, to immerse her in the languages. There would be at least two family members with them in every location. In London, Rosalie and Emmett would be their companions, Jasper and Alice would accompany them in Paris, and Carlisle and Esme would chaperone them the remainder of the time in Rome. That way, if they encountered any Volturi in Rome, Carlisle could run interference. The other family wouldn't be far away should they be needed, since they'd all be in Europe for the whole seven weeks, except Carlisle, who would only be with them for the three weeks in Rome because of his hospital obligations.
Edward made a pass by her and pressed his lips gently to her temple. "I can help more with that, if you want," he said, taking a bowl down from the cabinet in one fluid motion. Within seconds, a beautiful salad appeared magically in the bowl.
"You are quite the salad maker and linguist, oh husband mine," she teased.
"Ninety years with no sleep gives you a great deal of time to learn superfluous things. Some that come in quite handy, I might add."
"I can't wait until I'm able to do that," she said.
"Careful what you wish for." He set the salad in front of her with a beautifully folded napkin and polished silverware and flitted back to the stove to finish her Panini.
Bella breathed deep. "That smells divine," she said and tucked into her salad.
"It has no appeal to me whatsoever." Edward deadpanned.
Bella smirked as she chomped on her salad, then asked, "This being your third medical degree, do you think you'll ever be able to practice?"
Edward looked morose. "It's been twenty years since I got the last one, and there's been no change."
"But you're different now. Even Carlisle says so," Bella insisted.
"I refrain from taking your blood because I love you," he said. "Don't know if I'll be able to extend that courtesy to any other human."
"Then why get another medical degree?"
"Because Harvard is ranked as the top medical school for research," Edward explained.
"I've come to the conclusion that I can do just as much good behind a microscope in lieu of treating patients."
"Good point." Bella sipped her lemonade.
"Research is a worthy endeavor; I would just need to be careful not to bring any attention or notoriety to myself."
"Why? Don't you want people to know if you find the cure for say, cancer?"
"If I became a public figure, there would be publicity and press photos I would not be able to explain away years later when I look exactly the same as I did when the photo was taken."
"Right. How could I forget rule number one: keep the secret?"
"Besides, I could work with well-known researchers with huge egos upon whom I can foist any discoveries I make. They would relish the notoriety." He set the perfect Panini in front of her, and she raised her lips to his to reward him with a kiss.
"Thanks." She bit into the sandwich, chewed and swallowed, while Edward watched, eager for approval. "Yum, this is better than any restaurant sandwich I've ever had."
Edward grinned, relaxed and sat on a bar stool next to her.
"I can't wait to have you enjoy a proper English Tea, dine on French haute cuisine, and taste freshly made Italian pasta," he said.
"Live vicariously through your wife, why don't you." Her eyes grew soft as realization dawned. "This will all be so 'old hat' for you, won't it?"
He took her hand in his. "No, because I will be seeing it anew through your eyes, savoring your first experiences."
Bella cupped his cheek and leaned in to kiss the husband that she loved more every day, despite who and what he was.
Now that Bella was healthy, and Edward made sure she stayed that way, they spent the majority of their time with the Cullen clan proper at the mansion. Bella loved talking to Carlisle about their history and getting his unique perspective on the many decades he'd lived through. He had an extremely large collection of literature and art from the various eras in which he'd lived. She was equally fascinated and repulsed by the stories he told her about the unholy trinity when she discovered the painting of them in his office.
Aro, Marcus, and Caius were all at once beautiful, yet grotesque to behold. Their unnatural red eyes seemed to pierce the very soul of anyone who came under their gaze, even in a painting, no less. They were lethal in the power they wielded over the vampire world. Her unspoken prayer was that she and Edward would never have to come in contact with the Volturi, and she voiced as much to Carlisle the day before they would leave for Europe.
"It would be fine with me if we never met them, Carlisle," Bella said and shivered. Edward put his arm around her and held her close.
"I'm afraid you two may not have a choice." Carlisle's words were solemn. "I contacted Aro last week and he called me back this morning. I didn't want the Volturi to get wind of our European travels and view our avoidance of them as an affront. Aro has asked to have an audience with you two in the fall."
Bella gasped, and Edward growled, his voice hard. "Carlisle!"
Carlisle held his hands up, as if to say hold on. "However, this is what I propose, son. I will go to Volterra alone to try and reason with him. They will contact me again when they are ready to receive you, but it might be a while before we have to do anything. They often get distracted and move on to other things. It's possible they won't remember this for years."
"You said that before, but apparently the newborn situation in Africa, South America and Australia hasn't kept them busy enough," Edward said.
"Baby," Bella soothed. "If we have to go, let's just go. I can face them—we'll manage."
"Alice!" Edward called. No sooner had her name escaped his lips she was there.
Alice knew what he wanted. "I've looked. They will want to see you sometime in September," Alice said.
"Even if we were inclined to go, which we are not, now might be the only time we could go," Edward said. "September is out of the question. We'll be at Harvard then."
The Volturi summons shook her up, robbing Bella of her excitement about their trip. Prior to settling on McGill University in Montreal, Bella's big dream had been to attend the École Normale Supérieure de Paris (National University of Paris), but Montreal had been the farthest her doctor would allow her to travel because of the precarious nature of her health. She managed a faint smile for her husband, because any time she could spend with him was great, but spending time with him in some of the most romantic cities in the world would be epic.
Alice continued sharing the Volturi's thoughts about Bella, not holding anything back. "It's not firm, because they haven't made up their minds yet. Marcus is still intrigued by Edward's devotion to a human, Caius wants Bella dead, and Aro is interested in what Bella might be like as a vampire. Tanya told Aro that you can't read Bella's mind, Edward, so he thinks she might be a gifted vampire once she's turned."
"While we're in Europe, this might be just the time to convince them that I intend to become a vampire, but hopefully after Edward and I are finished at Harvard," Bella reasoned.
"The problem is, you don't get an audience with the Volturi until they are ready to give you an audience," Carlisle reminded her. "Then they could remove the convention of choice from you entirely, or give you a rare reprieve."
"In a perfect world, when I become a vampire, I'd like for it to be at a time of my choosing, and have my husband do the honors. I don't plan on working for the dark side after I'm changed, either." Bella's words were bolder than she felt.
"The dark side?" Carlisle asked, bemused.
She rolled her eyes. "You know, the Volturi trinity's coven."
"Then it's settled," Carlisle said. "I'll take the meeting with the Volturi in September and negotiate with Aro about delaying Bella's date with immortality, as you all relocate the Cullen household while I'm gone."
"You guys are coming with us to Cambridge?" Bella asked excitedly.
"Where else did you think we would be while you and Edward were getting educated, little sis?" Alice asked rhetorically, with the largest smirk her tiny little mouth could muster.
E/N: Thanks for being patient considering all my extra-curricular activities right now.
Review and let me know if you think the Cullens have done enough to safeguard Bella against her future until she's changed? Or will the pair in the car throw a huge chink in the Volturi's plans? I love hearing your theories.