Summary of the last chapter or two: Bella was out jogging when she was surprised by James. She went into shock when she learned he was the vampire who killed her father and was taken to the Cullens to recuperate. She found out the truth about vampires and the Cullens from Carlisle. In the last chapter Bella reconnected with Edward after learning he's a vampire and let him take care of her following her illness.

And... we're back to hearing from Edward for this chapter!


Carlisle sighed and rubbed the back of his neck. "Edward, if this James has been tracking Bella for years, it's clear he's willing to wait us all out. I think we have to act quickly and be vigilant."

I couldn't agree more. "Yes, and I want someone with Bella whenever she isn't on duty or in her office. If I could be with her twenty-four seven without attracting more attention to her, I would."

He nodded with an understanding expression painted on his face. I didn't have to tell Carlisle what Bella meant to me. He just understood. He would do anything for Esme and knew I would do anything for Bella. I couldn't imagine a better man, spouse, or vampire to try and emulate.

The wind picked up, rustling the leaves, sending a cascade of them fluttering down on the deck. I heard the water shut off in my ensuite bathroom where Bella was showering. Alice had offered to help her, and I was thankful. I wasn't sure I could behave myself if confined in the small space with her naked body and all that hot water holding her scent in every molecule.

Carlisle shifted his attention toward the door that led inside to my bedroom, and he noted that he should examine Bella this morning, but I knew what was really occupying his mind—and mine—The Volturi.

Knowing Bella would come looking for me any moment, I offered one more comment on the matter. "You would think if James is so messy, the Volturi would be watching him." My thoughts drifted off to territory I didn't want to voice aloud. "Should we—"

"No." Carlisle was rarely that emphatic. "We're already pushing it. Between the size of our family now, and Bella knowing the truth, I don't want Aro or the rest of the guard here. It could mean certain—Bella, good afternoon."

I turned quickly, finding her leaning in the doorway. The fact that that I hadn't heard her approach betrayed how occupied my mind really was.

"Hi, Dr—Carlisle. Edward." She kept her distance for a moment as she looked down at the decking, but she sighed, pasting a smile upon her face and took a step closer. "I, um, hope I'm not interrupting anything."

Carlisle reacted casually, as though she hadn't interrupted a conversation that literally dealt with life and death. The hormonal teenage part of myself struggled to get my body under control. I could never forget how stunningly beautiful she was, but seeing her again after even a few minutes absence made me realize my memory did not do her justice. It was easy to forget the serious nature of my conversation with Carlisle when I looked at the beauty and innocence that came naturally to her expression. As I tried to breathe, move, or say something, Carlisle spoke up. "Not at all, dear. Do you mind if I give you a quick checkup?"

Bella shrugged. "Okay."

He was every bit the dedicated doctor with an amazing bedside manner. "Good, I'll just get my bag."

He jogged at a human pace just as the wind gusted again. Bella stood at the threshold, quirking her brow at my father. Perhaps she was curious as to why he didn't dash away at vampire speed. As always, I wished I could read her mind and know what she was thinking.

Impossible to resist her, I walked over and pressed a kiss to her forehead, inhaling deeply, breathing in her sweet scent and feeling the bouquet rattle through my dry lungs, filling them with warmth and meaning. Hi."

"Hi," she breathed.

"Did you sleep well?" I asked, taking her hands in mine.

She gave my hands a little squeeze, and the sensation felt so human, so intimate. "Yes, thank you. Too well, I don't even remember waking up during the night. I feel much better today." I wondered if she really felt as good as she claimed or if she was just being tough. Hopefully Carlisle could tell. "Did you stay with me long? I'm sorry I slept so late."

I took a step closer, abandoning her fingers to caress her cheeks. Her skin warmed my palms. "All night, I promise. I only left a few minutes before you awoke," I confessed, letting my thumbs graze the apple of her cheek. "And don't apologize, you needed the rest."

"Does Carlisle really need his doctor's bag?" she asked, raising an eyebrow. "I mean, if you can hear my heartbeat from across the room and smell my blood…" Her voice trailed off in speculation as a smirked graced her lips.

Chuckling, I tapped her nose. "Right you are. I think it was his way of giving us a moment of privacy, though the instruments are still particularly useful, and we vampires do like our leftover human habits."

Bella took a step closer, grasping the fluttering hem of my T-shirt. "Okay, go back to that moment of privacy stuff. I think I like that better."

I couldn't help but laugh again and leaned down to rest my forehead against hers. She exhaled and smiled, relaxing into my touch. I couldn't help but marvel at her willingness to let me touch her, the amount of trust she put in me. I had known that she would be terrified upon the revelation that I was a vampire, but I had no idea that one of the people she loved most was brutally killed by one. At that point, I thought I stood absolutely no chance with her and that this renaissance of my existence was over before it had even really begun. But I was wrong, some part of her could understand, could forgive, and she had the amazing ability to trust me and put her life in my hands.

I pressed my lips quickly to her skin before drawing her back toward my bedroom. "Let's get you back inside. It's chilly today." I wished I could say I was only looking out for her well-being, but her accelerated heartbeat and erect nipples had me experiencing an erection of my own. I wanted her desperately, but now was not the time.

I ushered her back inside the bedroom, closing up the deck behind us. Carlisle reappeared, knocking gently on the bedroom door before walking in with his unnecessary doctor's bag.

Bella flopped down on the end of the bed, and Carlisle sent me a sideways glance.

"I'm not doing a full exam, but I still think you should ask if she wants you to stay. It's only polite."

He was right, and I hated to admit it. "Bella, do you want me to step out?"

She reached for my hand as Carlisle retrieved the blood pressure cuff from his bag. "No, stay," she answered.

I smiled triumphantly at Carlisle as he velcroed the sphygmomanometer around Bella's bicep. He shook his head at me subtly, but I didn't care, I was too elated that she wanted me with her.

Carlisle took her blood pressure, pulse, and listened to her heart and lungs with his stethoscope—though Bella was right, he really didn't need it—while I kept a slight distance, not wanting to interfere because I knew the way her body behaved around me.

"Well," he said optimistically, setting his tools back in his bag, "everything looks good. I'd like you drinking more fluids though. At this point I don't care what it is—water, juice, even some weak tea." He patted her shoulder gently and offered up a smile.

Bella nodded. "Is there any reason I couldn't go home?"

And there it was, the phrase I had been dreading. It tumbled from her lips with such ease, such hope, that I was sure there was a fracture in my cold, dead heart. I knew that I wouldn't leave her alone, but I hoped that she wanted to be with me beyond the borders of this house.

Carlisle picked up on my anxiety. "I don't see why not, but I don't think you should be alone, and I don't think you should go back to work this week yet. You need much more rest and liquids first. Do you have a headache still?"

Bella cringed. "Just a very little. Honestly."

Carlisle moved toward the table at the bedside and retrieved the bottle of painkillers that had been there the better part of the week. He handed Bella two pills before looking over his shoulder at me. "Edward, water?"

I grabbed Bella's glass from the same table and darted into the ensuite bathroom, refilling the glass with cool water before I hurried back before her heart had beat five times. I handed her the glass with a smile.

"I'm still getting used to that," she admitted with a shake of her head before placing the pills in her mouth and tipping her head back as she drank. I watched her throat undulating, forcing the water down, before I had to make myself look away.

Carlisle offered an encouraging smile. "You're doing amazingly well with everything, Bella. I can't imagine what a shock it must be for you, but remember that we want to help you with your case if we can."

Bella returned the smile. "Thank you. We need the help. I don't know how to catch a vampire."

"You don't," I said somberly, thinking ahead to the only acceptable fate. "You kill them."

The glass slipped from her hand, and my hand shot out to catch it before it shattered, but the water sloshed over the sides, cascading down onto the carpet. Bella turned toward me, her hair swinging over her shoulder sending a waft of her delicious scent in my direction. The wide-eyed expression on her face betrayed her shock. "What?"

Carlisle, ever the diplomat, interrupted with a false cough. "I think we'd better discuss some things. Would you like to stay here where you can relax or come downstairs?"

Her mouth hung open for a moment and her eyes darted between me and Carlisle gauging our very different reactions. Carlisle was so calm and measured, but I cared for her enough that I couldn't bear to be untruthful with her. There was no way this could be glossed over or turn out alright. It could only end in death. Her mouth eventually snapped closed and a look of curious determination steeled across her face. "Let's go downstairs," she said, straightening out her rumpled clothing. She didn't give me a second glance as she followed Carlisle from the room. Her bare feet stomped resolutely over the padded carpeting, and I could just imagine her face drawn up in the most perfect bullheaded scowl. Perhaps if the situation hadn't been so damned serious, I'd have laughed.

I joined the little procession on the stairs, my siblings silently advancing from their rooms and following Carlisle and a bewildered Bella down to the living room. I fought with myself not to push Rosalie and Jasper aside and insert myself between them and Bella, especially when she turned and looked for me over her shoulder. Instead I mouthed the words, "It's okay," and watched as she cast suspicious glances over both shoulders at the horde of vampires around her.

Esme and Alice were already sitting together in the living room, whispering conspiratorially when the group arrived. Rosalie quickly took a seat on my new piano bench furthest away from the center of the room, and Jasper moved to stand behind Alice and Esme on the loveseat.

Bella hesitated briefly at the foot of the stairs before sniffling loudly and squaring her narrow shoulders. She took a couple hesitant steps into the living room, her eyes seeking out the only unoccupied piece of furniture opposite Carlisle and Esme. Her eyes darted over to meet mine as Carlisle gestured for her to take a seat. She plunked into the corner of the sofa and momentarily drew her knees up before correcting herself and sitting more erect. When I approached, she reached out for my hand with both of hers and drew me to take the seat next to her. I didn't know if this was false bravado or a real determination to prove to herself and me that she could handle me, this life, her circumstance, but I was ecstatic that she was here, trying.

Exhaling a breath as she drew our conjoined hands to her lap, my family continued to sit in silence and simply stare at her. Esme's and Alice's smiles were bordering on terrifying, Jasper looked as tense as usual, and Rosalie looked simply put out to be here at all. Poor Carlisle was racking his brain for acceptable and light topics of conversation, but he was far too preoccupied with our current situation to give it the old college try.

Instead, I looked over at Bella, catching her eyes with my own. I stroked her hand with my thumb, mimicking the rhythm of even respiration. Her skin was so soft, so warm, and I couldn't help but think of other soft, warm skin I'd touched on her body. I exhaled softly, willing her to calm her fears; no one in this house would harm her. "Breathe. Just breathe."

She nodded slightly, calming whatever residual nerves remained as I continued to let my thumb graze her skin as her breathing evened out and her heartbeat began to slow to a more relaxed rhythm.

"Where's Emmett?" I asked, giving Bella's hand a gentle but reassuring squeeze.

"He'll be in, in… thirty-seven seconds," Alice began, her face scrunching up slightly. "He's out running a patrol."

"Thirty-seven seconds?" Bella wondered aloud looking between me and Alice.

I nodded slightly; I hadn't mentioned the others' abilities. "Remember how I can read minds?" She nodded affirmatively. "Well, Alice can see the future and Jasper can manipulate emotions."

Bella's eyes went wide as she snapped her head back toward my sister. "For real?" she asked, completely stunned.

Alice smiled a little more genuinely now. "Yep. It works pretty well most of the time anyway. Like with Edward, you're still a little hiccup for me though. I can see your short-term future pretty well, it's the more distant future I can't see. Oh, here's Emmett in five…four…three…two…one…"

It was then that Emmett's thirty seven seconds were up, and the door flew open, slamming against the doorstop and nearly splintering off the hinges. "C'mon, let's do this!" Emmett boomed, clapping his hands together in a cheer more appropriate for a football game, not a tactical mission to bring down a vampire.

Bella jumped, startled by the loud noise and my even louder brother. "Hell," she said, clutching her chest, "not all of us here are dead."

"Geez, you big ox, can't you tell the human is scared? You don't have to come barging in," Rosalie snapped from the corner, folding her arms across her chest as Emmett lumbered into the living room. I echoed her sentiment, even if I didn't say it out loud.

Emmett's lips twitched up in a smile. "Sorry. Hey, what's up, Bella?" He came closer and held his fist out, nodding and encouraging her to bump it. Bella's cheeks reddened a little as she too fought not to smile and untangled her fingers from mine. She raised her hand tentatively and tapped Emmett's fist with her own.

"Awesome." Emmett went over and stood at Rosalie's side. He clapped his hands together and rubbed them vigorously. "So, what's the plan, kids? I'm geeked to get us a vampire."

Jasper sighed in an all too human gesture and shook his head. "It's not going to be that easy." The frustration was evident in his voice, and we could all feel it wafting through the room. I could see the furrow forming over Bella's brow mixed with the confusion of the moment.

Carlisle leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees and tenting his fingers. "I want it on record that this isn't a game. There is a lot at stake here."

"No pun intended, right?" Bella asked, making a stab at vampire humor to break the awkward tension. She forced a smile and shrugged her shoulders.

"Bustin' out the vampire jokes?" Emmett asked, the wide smile splitting his face. "Atta girl. See, Edward, she can hang with us. I like her."

I liked her too, and I wanted to keep her forever and forever and forever, but I still gave Emmett a dirty look for meddling.

Carlisle flashed Bella a little smile too. "Bella, you would be good for this family. All joking aside, this is a serious situation. One, it gives Bella the opportunity to seek long-overdue justice for her father's murder, and two, there is undoubtedly a chance to protect Rochester. They've been terrorized by a sloppy, injudicious killer for too long. Protecting Rochester helps us protect ourselves and limit exposure to all vampires. While I have no doubt we are doing the right thing by protecting humans and taking out a threat to us all, we must be mindful of the Volturi."

Bella wasted no time in asking the question I wished she wouldn't. "What's the Volturi?"

Seven vampires sat frozen, unsure of how to answer the simple question. Bella looked around the room, glancing from face to face waiting for the reply, her anxiety rising with each passing moment.

Esme reached over to rub Carlisle's back as he made eye contact with Bella and began to speak. "The Volturi are a coven of vampires in Italy. They've been around for centuries, and they're considered to be the ruling class of vampires. They're extremely powerful and enforce the rules of the vampire world. Due to their own unique gifts and talents, they are very well-suited and equipped to find problem situations and deal with matters swiftly."

Bella seemed to digest his statement for several moments, narrowing her eyes and tenting her fingers against her lips as she considered Carlisle's remarks. "And you said we'd have to be careful with these Volturi? Have we violated one of their rules?"

The fact that she said 'we' thrilled me to no end, despite the rampant fear that the Volturi could show up any day, and Bella was facing down something she couldn't possibly survive or defeat alone. Carlisle had walked a fine line by telling her about us. Technically, he hadn't revealed anything Bella hadn't already learned from James himself, but according to the Volturi Bella's fate had one of two ends—death or transformation. I dreamed of a future where Bella was less fragile and we could truly be together with no limitations. Change her, my subconscious repeated like a mantra, but how did you bring up the death and rebirth by fire to the girl you thought you were falling in love with? The same girl who watched her father savagely die at the hands of the very creature she would become.

"That depends," Carlisle responded to Bella's question, "on how generous they're feeling on any given day."

Bella waited, urging him to continue with just an arc of her eyebrows.

"There is really only one real rule in the vampire world, keeping our existence a secret. Most subsequent rules return to this larger issue. Hunting should be inconspicuous—the kind of people who shouldn't be missed. Remains should be disposed of, not left in plain sight for anyone to find. This James is absolutely flaunting that law with no concern for humans, other vampires, or the fate that surely awaits him should the Volturi hear of the goings on here in Rochester."

"And what might the punishment be for James, since he's violating cardinal law?" Bella asked hesitantly, gazing from face to face around the room.

Carlisle met her gaze when she finally looked to him. "Certain death. A slip up might be forgiven if humans weren't made aware of vampires, but it's unlikely. You can always count on the Volturi skewing things in their own favor, and they'll make an example out of you if it helps keep them strong and powerful."

Alice interjected. "Carlisle, I've not seen the Volturi react at all. They're still in Volterra, and they've made no move to leave."

Bella didn't ask about her own fate for having learned about vampires, and she seemed to be relaxed despite the grim news. I gave Jasper a subtle incline of my head in thanks, assuming he had some part in keeping Bella calm. She was handling this far better than I'd hoped. I was surprised when Jasper shook his head in negation.

"It's all her, Edward."

She was so brave, so tough. She'd seen horrible things in her life, things no human should see. And on a daily basis, no less. Murders, rapes, abuses of all kinds. And now vampires were being thrown in the mix. Still, she was handling this like just another case, calmly processing through the details and trying to solve the crime.

"So that means vampires can be killed then, right? Edward said… I mean, since I've seen them run across tree limbs three stories up and claw a hole in a human chest, I'd say jail isn't an option. How do we do this? I'm not going to be dumb enough to suggest stakes or silver bullets or something, but there is a way? I'm sorry if this is difficult to address."

The ease at which she discussed the matter at hand was equally liberating and terrifying. She was confident, calm, and above-all, interested. I knew this could be the culmination of an extremely painful chapter in her life, and the aspiration to get some amount of restitution was all-consuming. That desire drove her and simultaneously explained the plaguing sadness in her eyes. I couldn't help but be absolutely awed by her strength.

"No, it's a fair question to ask, Bella. Frankly, it's not easy to bring down a vampire, and it would take the whole of us working together as a family to do it with some measure of quiet. You can imagine how a vampire fight could attract attention. This would largely have to be a battle of wits, where we could lure him away from the city and ambush him."

She nodded, and I was glad that she didn't demand specifics. Regardless of her strength, there were things she didn't need to immediately know.

Bella continued nodding and appeared to be processing the conversation in her mind, considering questions and what to do next.

"So, what do we do now?"

And this was where we failing miserably. We'd been doing the same things for weeks now with absolutely no luck. Each of them had considered using Bella as bait, but thankfully none of them had the poor sense to utter it aloud. I couldn't imagine the fight that would commence. Though I knew none of them meant to endanger Bella and thought we would undoubtedly win any confrontation, that just wasn't an option for me. So we were back to square one. We had no idea if James would go further into hiding or redouble his efforts and be twice as bold. Poor Alice was still struggling to see my human girlfriend, something still so foreign to her, and felt she was failing miserably. She hoped if she fostered a closer relationship with Bella, her future might be revealed. Until then, my family would be vigilant, and I would protect Bella come hell or high water.

"We'll continue on as we have been," Jasper admitted. "We've been trying to track him for weeks, and we'll keep after him. He can't keep evading us. One of these nights we'll stumble across him or his scent and know exactly where to go."

"And someone will continue to keep you safe, Bella," Carlisle added.

There was only silence for several moments as everyone considered if there was anything more we could do. Eventually, I stood and extended a hand for Bella's. "If you're going to try and go home, we'd better get you going. Carlisle is only a phone call away, and we could always come back if you're not comfortable at home. Okay?"

I could tell she was still deep in thought by the way her teeth worried at her bottom lip and her brow furrowed over her dark eyes. "Yeah, okay," she said absently, snapping out of her reverie and taking my hand.

Alice stood up too and hesitantly approached us. "Bella, I'll get you your clothes that you were wearing, you know, when you were attacked. It's a little chilly out today, so I'll lend you something comfy to wear home."

Bella returned Alice's tentative smile and started toward the stairs with my sister. I knew nothing would please Alice more than to have Bella as a true friend—something she coveted dearly. As I ascended the stairs behind them, Alice's mind was going a mile a minute considering things she and Bella could do together as friends.

"And you're more than welcome to borrow any of my clothes any time. You're a little taller than me, so pants might be a problem, but I have a whole closet full of skirts, shirts, dresses, and sweaters."

Her enthusiasm was so genuine, so sweet. I really did hope for both of their sakes that they could become lifelong friends. And, of course, sometimes Alice had the fast track on the answer to that very question.

Bella nodded by way of thanks and followed Alice into the bedroom around the corner on the first landing. I lingered at the doorway, waiting, watching as Alice invited Bella to sit down. I desperately wanted to see how Bella interacted with the others in my family. Was she fearful? Anxious?

Neither, it seemed.

Alice flitted around the room, zipping from closet to bureau and back again, looking for something she deemed perfect for Bella. For her part, Bella seemed very alert, but simply looked around the room appraising Alice's shabby chic handiwork. Her eyes drifted over the little wrought iron and crystal chandeliers, the white-washed vanity dotted with Alice's favorite perfume bottles and trinkets, and the preserved magnolias that reminded Alice of an earlier time and place.

The familiar sadness had returned to Bella's eyes. Not in the sense that she coveted the possessions that my sister had, but rather it seemed a longing to have a history, a place in this world. Her dark eyes were wide and glassy behind unshed tears and she pressed her trembling lips together. Not for the first time, I was reminded of the little girl alone in the world without a soul to care for her. Little did Bella know that Alice had once been in the same position and didn't find her place until she met Jasper and saw the rest of our family. Maybe I would encourage Alice to talk more with Bella sometime.

"Here we go, how's this?" Alice said, handing Bella a burgundy hoodie and a pair of black yoga pants. "And here's your shorts and T-shirt, I washed them for you."

Alice handed Bella the pile of clothing and simply stood with her arms at her sides smiling gently. A thin smile stretched across Bella's face too, and she shrugged, taking the pile of clothes and held them to her chest.

"Edward, can I please hug her?"

I knew Bella was safe and Alice was so full of compassion and caring that I couldn't say no.

Seeing the outcome, she stepped forward and enveloped Bella softly in her arms. Bella's face betrayed the utter shock behind the gesture. Her eyes widened, and her mouth dropped open as Alice rested her chin on Bella's shoulder. It took her a moment to react, and she shifted the bundle of clothes to the crook of one arm and tentatively put her free arm around my sister's shoulders.

"I'm so glad you're okay." Alice gave Bella a little squeeze and leaned in to whisper in her ear. "You're really good for Edward. He's a really good guy, and he was worried sick about you."

I shook my head at Alice's meddling, but I was touched all the same. Those days that Bella was semi-conscious were the worst days of my existence since I'd met her. Just when I'd finally won her over, just when the truth was finally coming out, the thought that she might unwell, that she might not handle the news, that she might reject me—it was nearly unbearable to consider. Waiting for her to wake up and come back to me had been torture.

"Um, thanks," Bella replied awkwardly, patting her shoulder, "for saving me and stuff."

"I'm just sorry I couldn't see it sooner. I'll have to work on seeing you," my sister admitted, tapping her own forehead.

They parted, and Alice smiled as Bella rejoined me in the hall. We continued down the corridor to my room at the end.

"Your sister is really nice," Bella admitted, sitting down at the foot of the bed.

I grabbed my backpack from the closet and set it down near Bella. "No one can argue that Alice's heart isn't always in the right place. There just isn't a selfish thought in her."

Bella nodded and folded her hands in her lap. "I can tell."

We both remained unmoving, wrapped up in the awkward moment. I didn't know how to broach the subject of staying with her for the foreseeable future. "Um, my father thinks I should stay with you for a while." I paused there and scrubbed a hand across the back of my neck, slightly embarrassed about what I was going to say. "And to tell you the truth I have no intention of leaving you alone until James is caught. Can I bring a couple changes of clothes with me to your apartment?"

"Of course."

I was happy there was no argument on her end, and I began to gather some necessities for a few days. As I crossed the room to retrieve some socks and boxers from my dresser, I noticed Bella grab the hem of her T-shirt and slowly tug upward.

I paused again, knowing full well I should take leave and give her some privacy. Certainly at some point I had been instilled with decent manners. "I—I'm sorry—I can, you know, step out for a minute."

She stopped just before revealing her breasts and looked over her right shoulder at me. Her cheeks were slightly flushed and her hair was loose and wild. Her eyes held a hint of mischievousness that I had seen on so many other occasions.

"It's okay, there's nothing here you haven't already seen."

And would like to see again and again.

She pulled the shirt over her head while I stood, simply gazing at the perfection of her body. Her skin was creamy and pale, and I could see the gentle curve of her breast peaking underneath her arm as she folded the borrowed T-shirt and set it in a pile at her right side. When she turned toward me, she caught me staring and smiled, letting her teeth sink into her lip and turning her eyes down to the discarded fabric.

When I saw the pale pink peak of her nipple, I forced myself to turn away and swallow back the temptation lurking within me to just knock her back on the bed and take her body. I tried to busy myself with packing my underclothes and adjusting my hard-on, but when I heard her shimmy out of her pants, I had to look back.

Her legs were so long and lean, and I could see the grey shading of her tattoo peaking above the waistband of her panties. I could count the days, the hours, the minutes since I had been inside her. Her safety and health over the last days was at the forefront of my mind—as always, but from day one, I could never, never ignore how badly I wanted her.

Groaning, I adjusted myself again as she stepped into the yoga pants, which did very little to help curb my desire. The pants were extremely form-fitting and hugged her curves in the most delicious ways. I desperately wanted to run my hands down over her hips and thighs and linger at all my favorite places.

Bella rose from the bed, situating the waist of the pants low on her hipbones before turning to pick the hoodie up off the bed. Her hair was long enough to partially hide her breasts, but I know I didn't imagine the rose tint of her skin beneath the wavy strands. She slowly draped the jacket around her shoulders and slid her arms in the sleeves before she gathered her hair and pulled it out of her way, affording me a glimpse of her nipples again. Instinctively, I licked my lips.

I shook my head. It was unfair to ogle her in this way after the week she had, but I just couldn't seem to help myself. I continued to watch as she zipped the hoodie and folded her discarded clothes in a pile. It was only then that I forced myself to look away and resume my earlier task.

When my bag was packed and Bella's few belongings were collected, we made our way downstairs. I didn't resist the urge to rest my hand on the small of her back as she descended the stairs, my index finger seeking out the sliver of exposed skin above her waistline where the sweatshirt had ridden up slightly. She leaned into my touch.

Carlisle was waiting at the foot of the stairs with a small bottle of medication and a pack of Gatorade.

"Bella, I want you to take it easy the rest of the week. You're excused from work, take advantage of it to relax. Keep your fluid intake up and take some Tylenol for the pain. I'm only a phone call away, don't hesitate to get in contact if you have questions, and I want to know if that headache gets any worse."

Bella nodded obediently as Carlisle directed his attention toward me. "We'll be in touch. I know you're more than capable of handling any medical issues that come up."

I regrettably removed my hand from Bella's back and accepted the Gatorade and pills from Carlisle as our conversation switched to a silent one. "We'll be out patrolling tonight, and let us know if the Police Department notifies Bella of any other attacks." I gave him a slight inclination of my head and directed Bella toward the living room where the rest of my family was waiting to say goodbye.

Before I could step away, he bumped my elbow with his own. "And take it easy on her, tiger. She really does need rest."

He smirked slightly and joined the family in wishing Bella the best and reminding her she was welcome in our home any time. Alice and Esme both hugged her lightly, Emmett extended his fist for another bump, and Jasper and Rosalie gave her a polite nod.

We said our final goodbyes and walked outside where Bella's car was waiting at the apex of the driveway. I dug into my pocket for the key fob and unlocked the doors and popped the trunk. Bella squinted up at the dark grey sky as I put my bag and her Gatorade inside.

"What time is it anyway?"

I looked down at my watch. "4:30."

She nodded. "Okay, well, what would you say to finally having our movie night that never quite happened?" she asked, reaching into the trunk and retrieving her badge and gun. She quickly disabled the safety and checked the clip to see how many rounds were left. Seemingly satisfied, she put the safety back on and tucked the gun into the waistband of her yoga pants behind her back. She tucked the badge in the front pocket of her hoodie. I watched with awe and fascination. Bella was strong and even though a gun wouldn't stop a vampire, she wasn't going to give up. She needed my protection, but she was independent and wanted to fight.

I smiled down at her, unable to help myself. "I think that sounds great."

~oOo~

Bella and I drove across town to her apartment, stopping along the way at her favorite Chinese restaurant for Sizzling Rice Soup and Mongolian Chicken. It smelled hideous, but she was happy and smiling as she peaked into the bag and inhaled the aroma.

The last mile or so, her hand rested on the seat between us, her slender fingers twitching and fidgeting as she cast sideways glances my way. Did she ache for my touch the way I ached for her? A true glutton for punishment, I reached across the seat to hook my little finger around hers. Her finger curled tightly around mine and she seemed to let out a nervous breath. "I needed that," she replied softly, staring out the passenger window.

I needed it too. I liked that Bella was independent and brave, but a guy—even a vampire—likes a little reassurance too.

For the duration of the ride, she drew my hand to the middle of her lap, and I could feel the heat of her body against my skin. She slowly drew her finger around on my palm, tracing the thin creases still adorning the flesh there, following the loops and whorls down to my fingertips. Sometimes she altered the pace of her finger—slow, quick, slow—and her touch made my skin tingle with stimulation. I tried, with increasing difficulty, to ignore the growing pheromone response from Bella. I had a precarious grasp on my control, and my choice to stay by Bella's side instead of hunting this week was taking its toll. I swallowed back venom, but all I could taste was Bella's scent on the air, and I was desperate to have it on my tongue.

I wasn't sure if it was a blessing or a curse when I pulled into her parking lot. I asked her to remain in the car while I quickly surveyed the area for anything unusual. It also afforded me a few moments of fresh air in the nick of time before I ravaged her in the back seat of her car.

Since I had officially met James now, I knew his precise scent, and I scoured the lot for anything that smelled unusual. When I determined the coast was clear, I grabbed the contents of the trunk and helped Bella from her car. Slipping my backpack on and tucking the drinks under my arm, I took her hand, her palm sliding against my own, as I led her up the stairs.

Stuck to her apartment door were two bright yellow notes saying recent deliveries had been left with a neighbor. Bella seemed mildly interested as she pulled the adhesive paper from the door before unlocking it. I edged into the room first and taking a deep breath. It smelled stale and undisturbed.

"It's okay," I replied, giving Bella's hand an encouraging squeeze.

She let out a sigh of relief and came into the room, looking around at her familiar, humble belongings. Engaging in familiar habits, she locked the door behind her, stowed her gun on the shelf by the door, and turned up the thermostat. She excused herself to the bathroom, and I took the brief time to plate up her dinner and pour the soup into a bowl. When she returned to find me busying myself in her kitchen, she simply stood at the entryway smiling.

Without wasting a minute, I scooped her up and dashed to the couch, propping her up against the pillows in the corner. "Blanket?" I asked.

She giggled. "Yes please. There should be one in the closet in the hall."

Racing to the narrow closet in the hall, I retrieved a blue fleece from a shelf near the top and hurried back. She laughed when she saw me return. I almost asked what was so funny, but I realized it as I unfurled the blanket over her body. It wasn't a blanket at all. It was a Snuggie with the likeness of Wonder Woman on it.

Bella slipped her arms into the sleeves while I returned to the kitchen at a more human pace and brought back the takeout food.

"I can tell you don't eat," she said, smiling down at the offering. "Everyone eats Chinese straight out of the carton."

I touched the end of her nose. "Perhaps I just thought you deserved better. Now what movie are we watching, Detective?"

She made her selection, The Dark Knight, and I settled in at the opposite end of the couch, placing her feet in my lap. I couldn't help but watch her as she quietly sipped the soup and handily used the chopsticks to eat her Mongolian chicken. Perhaps she couldn't understand it, but everything she did fascinated me. I'd seen the movie many times, and I couldn't spare it one moment's thought. I took notice of everything from the way her throat constricted when she swallowed a bite, to the way her legs squirmed when she caught me staring. I couldn't help but lick my lips in anticipation and want, causing a fresh burst of desire to blossom within her, causing a response in me. I wasn't sure what I was going to do, cooped up with my little human in this warm apartment for the next few days if I couldn't have her. Assuming she still wanted me that way at all.

Things were tense between us since she learned—no, understood, that I was a vampire. We'd been under the careful observation of my father and the rest of the family since Bella's accident leaving us little time or privacy for frank discussion about the direction of our relationship. I wasn't used to feeling so vulnerable, and I wanted answers, but I wasn't about to pressure her. Not only was I worried about the fragile state of her health, but if we simply kept on hovering near the edge of the status quo, I could delude myself that we were still something. My instinct clung to the telltale signs her body exhibited when I was around, but it wasn't enough, I wanted to hear her say the words, and I wanted to tell her how desperately I wanted her in return.

After some time, she dozed off and when I got up to take care of her dishes, I heard a familiar mental voice.

"Edward, let me in, I'm here to relieve you for a while."

It was my sister, and I couldn't fathom why she would be here now when we'd left the house only a short while ago.

I met Alice at the door, letting her in and pressed my finger to my lips in an attempt to keep her silent. She rolled her eyes and tapped her temple as if to remind me that she already knew what was going on in the first place.

"Trust me, Edward. Go hunt. Bella will sleep for two to three hours. She needs the rest and you… need the… stamina." She jerked her thumb at the door and arched an eyebrow at me. "Now scoot."

I regretfully left without a fight after she dropped my keys into my palm and all but pushed me out the door. I drove quietly through the city, but when I hit the highway west of Rochester, I quickly found myself racing nearly one hundred miles an hour toward an area where I knew I could find some easy prey. The faster to hunt, the faster to get back to Bella.

It didn't take me long to find some deer after I got to the park, but I couldn't make myself enjoy the hunt today. True, I didn't like hunting during daylight, but I couldn't seem to get Alice's thoughts out of my head. Stamina? What did she mean? Would Bella be testing my patience? Would there be an accident? Would her blood be spilled? I gorged myself on several deer worried that Bella's blood would prove an instinctual temptation yet this evening.

The entire drive back to Bella's apartment I wondered if I should call Carlisle and put him on alert that something might go wrong with Bella overnight. But surely if Bella were at risk Alice would have told me straight out, not skirted the issue? I tried not to think on it. Alice wouldn't jeopardize Bella in any way, but I found myself driving even faster on the return trip.

When I arrived back at Bella's, I quickly checked the perimeter once again, but found nothing out of the ordinary, so I hurried upstairs. Just as I was about to enter Bella's apartment, a nosey neighbor at the opposite end of the hall stuck her head out and began to watch me. I was going to enter the apartment directly, since Alice surely knew I had returned, but I thought better of it and lightly tapped on the door.

Alice answered before I could worry if I would wake Bella. She barely opened it a crack before dashing back to the couch at vampire speed where a very alert Bella was sitting with a mug of what smelled like coffee. She was still wrapped in her blanket and smiled behind the rim of the cup when she saw me. I returned her smile and slipped inside, leaving the curious neighbor to wonder.

It was clear that Bella and Alice had been in the middle of a discussion, and my sister had fibbed slightly about Bella sleeping three hours. It looked as though they'd been huddled together in discussion for some time, but I couldn't be too upset with Alice. She'd taken care of Bella, and Bella looked happy to see me return.

"Feeling better?" Bella asked when I sat in the chair adjacent to the couch. "Not thirsty anymore?" Her hair was twisted up into a bun on the top of her head and secured with the unused chopsticks from her dinner. It exposed her neck, and I had to check myself before answering her question.

I smirked, still amazed at her ability to discuss something so intricate to being a vampire after what she had been through. "I'm fine. How do you feel? Rested?"

She nodded and shrugged. "For now. I've felt tired for days, even when I sleep a full night, so I guess I'm still recovering or whatever."

Alice patted Bella's knee before rising and slipping on her coat. "Carlisle said that's normal and not to worry. You'll be feeling a little more like yourself every day. He said short walks up and down the hall would help your endurance too."

She crossed the room to the door, and I tossed her my keys. I didn't know what she was up to or what she and Bella had been talking about, but I trusted her.

"Give me a call if you need another hunt. Carlisle suggested we all stay well-fed until we, you know, catch James."

Bella looked up but said nothing. I nodded at Alice in response. "Okay, I'll be in touch. Who is out on patrol tonight?" We decided to stick together in small groups. Even though we wouldn't cover as much ground, we'd stay safer together. It was clear that James was willing to take two of us on with no hesitation.

"Emmett, Rose, and Esme."

I nodded and Bella spoke up. "Please tell them to be careful, and thank them for me."

Alice smiled. "No worries, Bella. Good night, guys."

I stood and let Alice out. The sun was just setting, and although it wasn't too bright, she flipped up her hood before descending the stairs. I shut and locked the door and was about to ask Bella about her afternoon when there was a knock on the door. It wasn't Alice.

The smell outside the door had a slightly sour odor combined with something that smelled like stale flowers. It didn't occur to me immediately until I heard the thoughts on the other side of the door.

There's something strange about that man. He's too handsome and looks like he has money too. Perhaps he's a gigolo?

I laughed to myself as Bella climbed slowly off the couch eying me cautiously. "It's your neighbor. She thinks I'm a male escort."

Bella snorted and shuffled across the room still wrapped in her Snuggie. She handed me her coffee before answering the door.

"Oh, Bella dear, you are home."

I rolled my eyes.

"Hi, Mrs. Harris, how are you?"

The elderly woman craned to see inside the apartment as she thrust a flower arrangement Bella's way. "Fine dear. These flowers came for you earlier in the week but you weren't home. The delivery girl left them with me."

Bella took the proffered flowers and smiled. "Thanks so much. I've been away. I hope it wasn't an inconvenience."

"I wonder if that man left."

"Oh no, dear, not at all. Get well soon."

Bella retreated inside the apartment and shut the door behind Mrs. Harris. She set the flowers down on the bar top between the kitchen and the living room. "How did she know I was sick?" she asked with a slight frown.

It was my turn to snort. "I'm pretty sure she read your card."

Sure enough, when Bella checked to see who had sent the flowers, the envelope had been torn open and hastily taped back together.

I couldn't deny that I was mildly interested in who sent the flowers. If it was that despicable partner of hers—who was married but still had the most disgusting and impure thoughts about his partner, and most other women—I would have to assert myself. Until she told me otherwise, Bella was my woman, and she was my mate and there was no misgiving that.

"The flowers are from Angela," she said, smiling and tucking the card back into the arrangement, casting a knowing glance over her shoulder.

Perhaps Mike Newton could live for another day.

I rejoined her on the couch and we watched another movie, but the mood this time was far different than during the first film. The television cast a lavender-grey hue throughout the room, and Bella shifted from sitting next to me to resting her back against my right shoulder. She took my hand in hers and draped our conjoined hands across her abdomen. It was the most intimate gesture we'd had in days and it left me wanting. The heat of her body, the rise and fall of her chest, the gentle thrum of her heart, and the absolute siren call of her scent. I wanted her.

When the movie was over, the credits rolled but neither of us made any inclination of moving. Bella had slouched more comfortably against me, her back resting against my chest. I had shifted to allow her to sit between my legs and she had continued to hold my hand, tracing my knuckles and the back of my hand. As the sweeping score of the film played on, Bella looked over her shoulder and reached back, slipping her fingers through my hair, pulling my head down to hers.

Our lips were close, sharing breath as we panted in anticipation of the kiss we both wanted. She licked her lips, and I felt her tongue brush against the corner of my mouth. It was my undoing. I fused my lips to hers, parting them instantly with my tongue. It was a desperate, needy, and I drew her tighter to my body, feeling the curve of her ass against my groin. She whimpered and moved our tangled hands from to the zipper on her hoodie, quickly tugging the pull-tab down. As I heard the teeth separate, she pushed our hands inside to cup her breast.

Her skin was hopelessly soft and almost feverishly warm, and God forbid, I could not resist her. She pressed my palm over her nipple and squeezed my hand harder. I couldn't contain the groan that slipped out, causing her to tug my hair ever tighter in her little fist and arch her body against my hand. It only spurred me on because surely this wasn't enough. I'd had a taste of intimacy with her before, and I knew how sweet it could be. I wanted more.

I could smell the rush of pheromones in her body indicating exactly what she wanted. The temptation of her blood was inferior compared to lure of her arousal.

She broke the kiss panting loudly and writhing against me. "Edward, please."

My taste for her was nowhere near quenched. Could it ever be? And my mouth instinctively traveled to the juncture of her neck and shoulder inhaling deeply, catching a hint of the pomegranate soap she'd used that morning. Though the smell paled in contrast to Bella, it complimented her nicely. My lips fused over the pulse point there where I could feel her body's response to me. Her pulse vibrated eagerly against my skin like an electrical shock.

She had fully unzipped her hoodie as my lips traveled up behind her left ear and across the back of her exposed neck giving her chills. Her hands kneaded my thighs as she continued to shiver with what I hoped was pleasure. The sweatshirt she wore caught between us as she shifted against me and pulled the fabric revealing more of her body with each movement until it slipped from her left shoulder exposing her arm to the elbow.

Just as my tongue swept over her carotid artery, I smelled the familiar fresh, sweet tang of her blood.

My hand stilled on her breast, and my eyes darted to the large bruise marring the crook of her left arm where she had forcibly removed the TV out several days before. She was still healing and recovering from her attack in the forest, and I was pawing at her like a common deviant. I wanted her, but I would not jeopardize her to take what my body desired.

"Edward, please," she begged again, her voice no more than a whimper.

I growled in frustration. "Bella, wait. I want this, I do, but you're still unwell." I removed my hand from the warmth of her chest and pushed it through my hair.

She sat up a little, turning and looking over her shoulder at me. "What?" she snapped, unclenching her hands from my thighs where they had been temptingly close to where I'd wanted them. "I'm fine, Edward—well, I was more than fine until ten seconds ago. I'm a little weak and tired, not dying. I want this, I want you."

Though the words were elating, I was unconvinced she wasn't as fragile as she claimed. Wouldn't Carlisle have warned me though? Is this why Alice had come over?

Bella took my silence for acquiescence and relaxed against me once again. Please?" she asked, picking up my hand and laying it against her cheek. "Please?" She kissed my palm before guiding my hand down over her throat. "Please?" she breathed, ghosting my hand over her décolletage and down between the valley of breast to her navel.

I was so close to giving in and letting us both have what we wanted, but I hesitated one last time, wanting her reassurance. "B—"

Withdrawing her hand from mine, she quickly silenced my protest with her finger against my lips. Or so I thought. She pushed her finger between my lips, sliding it over my tongue before removing it just as quickly before plunging her hand inside her pants.

She sighed with pleasure, and I could see her fingers moving beneath the fabric and smell the bouquet of her arousal. I began to tremble, my ability to resist her waning with each whimper.

I could deny her no more.

I pushed my hand beneath the waist of her pants and slid it in place over Bella's busy hand, feeling the moisture covering her fingers.

"Jesus, you are so wet," I hissed, pressing my lips against her ear, letting my tongue dart out to taste the skin there.

"Oh God," she panted, letting me guide her fingers toward her release. "You—you're—this is all I've been about to think about for days." She planted her feet flat on the couch and bent her knees using the increased leverage to grind against my erection. There was no doubt I'd have to take care of that after she went to sleep. This moment, with our interlaced fingers slipping together over her clit would be the only fuel I'd need to aide my masturbatory fantasies for the rest of my existence.

I inhaled deeply, catching a hint of her arousal in the air. "You have no idea how badly I want to taste you," I whispered, sweeping my tongue over her earlobe. She had nothing to say but the bucking of her hips against our fingers increased, and she brought her other hand up to pinch one of her nipples.

Her panting and rocking increased, and my lips fastened once again over the place on her neck where her carotid artery trembled beneath her translucent skin. The act was the final provocation her body needed to tumble toward the ultimate ecstasy. I increased the pace of our fingers stroking smoothly across her aroused flesh before she gasped aloud one final time, and her body convulsed with strength of her orgasm. I was sure I'd never grow tired of her sighs of pleasure, the way her eyes fluttered closed, and how her lips parted when she experienced this kind of satisfaction.

Utterly relaxed now, she melted against me so soft and warm. I could feel the accelerated rise and fall of her ribcage as she tried to regain her breath. I stilled our fingers, still tangled together between her legs and slowly withdrew them from beneath the waist of her pants. Without over thinking, without hesitation, and with no guilt, I lifted our hands to my mouth and curled my tongue around our still-damp fingers. I moaned upon tasting the essence of her, the sweet tanginess so much better than I could have imagined that day at the café mere weeks ago. I suckled at our fingers until I could taste no hint of her there. I looked down to find her looking up at me. She withdrew her hand and rolled over onto her stomach while leaning in to kiss me. Her tongue passed languidly along my own, and I couldn't help but wonder if she could taste herself in our kiss. The thought made me impossibly harder.

Without provocation, she slid down the length of my body and onto her knees on the floor. I stilled her hands at the waist of my jeans when I realized her intent. "Bella, I don't expect—"

"Shh," she breathed, shaking her hands free. "I know you don't expect it. But I want it."

Ugh, how could I say no?

She popped the button and slowly slid the zipper down, her dark eyes never deviating from mine. I lifted my hips as she eased the fabric down to my knees, freeing my erection. Bella wasted no time in raking her hands up my thighs and leaning in, loose wisps of hair tickling my skin. My hips bucked in anticipation, and she paused only to lick her lips before taking me in her mouth.

A groan caught in my throat as I watched and felt her hot mouth descend upon me. "Oh Jesus, Bella." She took her time, alternating between licking up the length and sucking, her lips wrapped tight around me. I missed the connection of touching her and unfastened her hair so I could thread my fingers through it and help to set a rhythm. She whimpered, and the only thing I could do was close my eyes and throw my head back.

Eventually she began to increase her pace, sucking harder, using her teeth, and my hand drifted down from her hair over her temples and down to the hollow of her cheek. "I'm close," I grunted, stroking her smooth skin, feeling her take me in even farther. I let myself watch, seeing dark brown eyes looking up at me as my whole body tensed and shuddered with my release. She grasped my hips firmly and swallowed, humming, as I gasped for breath and rode out the aftershocks.

She rested her head on my thigh as she attempted to catch her breath, her panting warming my cold skin. The distance between us proved to be too much, and I hooked my hands under her arms and lifted her back up on the couch, letting her slump next to me. She was tired, I didn't heed Carlisle's advice to take it easy on her, but her lips were already turning up into a smile.

"I feel better than I have in days," she huffed with a breathless chuckle.

Smiling with her, I nuzzled her nose and stroked her cheek. "Me too."


Author's Note: My heartfelt thanks to duskwatcher2153. She definitely makes this fic better with her edits and suggestions. Go support her and read her fics.

I know it's been a while since I've updated, and for that I apologize. I'll reiterate that I will NOT flounce on writing this fic. It's no lack of interest on my part. It's been a busy school semester for me, I've had some health issues this winter, and I generally suffer from a lack of energy 24/7. I promise I'll keep updating til we're done! :-)

I have a couple of questions for you guys. Where do you get your fic recs at? What websites, communities do you follow?

I hope you are well. I'm busy finishing chapter 20 already, so hopefully we'll see each other soon!