A/N Thanks & love to my amazing beta Saritadreaming. Your advice and guidance are invaluable. I made some tweaks and adjustments late in the game so if you find any mistakes, dear readers, those are all mine.

Thanks & love to my awesome prereaders Popola, RubyLou & Doobawrites. I was a demanding author this time around. Your contributions are appreciated more than I can say.

. . . . . .


Prey for the Wicked

Temptation

One foot in the ground

. . . . . .

Chapter 17

Temtasiwn

. . . . . .

Edward forces her to eat. Well, force would be a strong word. He doesn't cram food down her throat or make threats; he simply places her down on the sofa when she's recovered from her half-faint. With ridiculous ease, he manipulates the chopsticks, gathering up small bites of shrimp Lo Mein and feeding them to her with that same look he wore at the rest stop earlier today. As if providing her with food pleases him, as if he cares that she chews and swallows, and yes, even enjoys every bite. It's that look that has her mouth opening and closing around the chopsticks more than a desire for the food itself. She tastes little.

After only a few bites, her stomach rebels. Shaking her head at him, he tries to insist.

"You need more."

"I can't."

"You've hardly consumed anything."

"I'll throw up. I can't."

He puts the chopsticks down and studies her. "You feel unwell?"

"Yes," she answers emphatically, unable to hide her exasperation. She doesn't understand him. He claims to want her soul, yet he feeds her like a gentle, doting lover. He shows concern for her well-being, yet he's the very thing that threatens it, both mentally and physically.

Trying to put space between him and the way he makes her feel, Bella rises and returns to the fire, legs trembling, willpower lagging. Her equilibrium has settled somewhat with the food at least, meaning he was right about her needing to eat. And even though she's told him she feels sick, the truth is her stomach feels more settled now that it isn't empty.

The flames feel very warm as she lets the heat buffet her in waves. Still clutching the blanket, she notices her clothes have begun to dry. The house is cooler than outside but still stuffy, making the fire unnecessary. She wonders why he lit it. For her? Because her clothes were wet, and he didn't want her cold?

She looks up, not surprised to find him watching, and likewise not surprised he isn't where she left him. She's growing used to the way he does the unexpected. Maybe.

The food is gone, the table back in its place beside the chair, though she never heard him move or take anything out of the room. He stands near the doorway that leads to the kitchen, leaning a shoulder against the frame. His shirt is rumpled where her hands fisted the fabric in the meadow. The way his jeans hug his hips remind her of how they felt against the inside of her thighs. A shiver skips down her spine, filled with desire and the heat of arousal.

How does he do that? she wonders. How does he make her feel this way when all he's given her are games and demands? He's tilted her world on its axis, and a part of her wants to spin herself dizzy in this new slanted place, cave to the insanity.

He smirks, like he knows what she's thinking. "Come here, little lamb."

"No." The refusal comes from her pride only. Her body lashes her with little whips of pain, the memory of the ache she feels when he's not there taunting and punishing her for not giving in.

You can't have my soul, she thinks, though she doesn't dare say it out loud. Not yet. She isn't ready for more confrontation.

He smiles, the gorgeous curves of his lips almost cruel—almost. "Come here, Isabella."

Her heart pounds, her body humming with adrenaline as she tries to lock her muscles in denial. They scream in protest, joined by her screeching, craving, traitorous nerve endings. Her skin burns, wanting the cool feel of his touch, wanting to be covered and blanketed by him. She wants to tear her skin off and give it to him. Maybe then her mind will be her own again.

Hot tears burn behind her tired, dry eyes.

"So beautiful, so headstrong, little lamb." His smile twists wryly, amusement dancing with the almost-cruelty. The humor vanishes in the millisecond it takes her to blink traitor tears away. It's replaced by determination, the cruel slash of his mouth softening with something tender she cannot define, though it makes her stomach clench with the sweetest, most needful ache. His velvet voice softens cajolingly, sliding over her body like a whispery touch. His expression turns serious, as though he sees and understands her—the real her and not the one she shows the world.

"Enough of this, Isabella. Stop fighting me. Come to me. Let me ease you, let me hold you. I can feel and see how done in you are. Come and sleep in my arms, for I am weary of fighting and it will ease me as well. Let me feel you close and know you are safe."

"Safe?" she asks, sarcasm rolling off her tongue.

The line of his jaw clenches, strained muscle ticking as those black, red-rust eyes flash in displeasure.

"Safe," he answers, his tone firm, insistent.

The last of her resistance begins to topple like a weak house of cards. She holds onto the threads, though her heart is no longer in it. The shelter of him isn't anything she truly wants to deny herself.

He reaches out his hand, and the threads snap, freeing her feet to move and cross the short distance between them. She touches her fingers to his, and he draws her close, slowly, his arms encircling her until she is pressed against him. A euphoria of relief washes over her, pain, emptiness, fear, and anger vanishing like they never existed. Her overtaxed muscles sag in sweet respite, and she feels him, once more, catch her before she can fall.

"Safe, my Isabella," he breathes in reassurance against her hair as she trembles in the sudden letdown of pent up adrenaline and encroaching exhaustion.

Safe. Yes. She feels exquisitely safe for the first time in her entire life. It's a bitter moment for her, realizing she's never felt sheltered or protected. She's always felt as if her safety balanced on some precarious edge, a lesson learned too young at the hands of an unstable parent, a lesson she's never forgotten. Confused, she stares at him, this man, this vampire, wondering at the strangeness of feeling safe in the arms of the most dangerous creature in the world.

Edward lifts her up, cradling her and carrying her out of the room and up the ornate, winding staircase. A part of her wants to demand he put her down, walk under he own power, another part finds it easier in this moment to bend to his will.

Turning her face into the lingering damp of his shirt, she drags the smell of him as deep as her lungs will allow, paying no attention to the rooms they pass. Everything is dark anyway, and she feels the peaceful shadows brush away the last of her anxieties. It doesn't matter why she feels safe; it only matters that she does.

She needs this.

She needs him.

God help her.

Sleep begins to drag her inexorably down as soon as Edward lays her on cool sheets. Warm, moist air from an open window touches her skin as he undresses her, the sound of the rain a soothing background lullaby. She fights to stay awake, to stay aware, to stay in control, but his fingers ghost over her bared flesh and steal her resolve.

His mouth touches hers, not a kiss but a light dragging back and forth that makes her lips tingle as his sweet breath floods and sparks her faltering synapses of consciousness.

She whimpers, wanting and lost and found—oddly complete, yet, oh, so needing.

"Hush, my little beauty," he exhales. "Hush."

Strong hands that could snap her like a brittle twig move her gently, carefully. One slides under her back and lifts her, arching her spine, while another slides up her inner thigh, palm and fingers igniting and inflaming even as they cool and soothe. So many oxymorons to devil her...

She tumbles in that precarious place between sleep and wake, warm desire flooding her, melting her against cool, sure strokes of clever, knowing fingers.

"There, little lamb. Open for me, that's it. Let me ease you, my sweet exhausted exasperating beauty. Let me please you." Soft coaxing swirls up the most deliquescent of pleasures, creating shards of sparkling light behind her eyelids. She cannot move, her body drifting deeper into sleep, but, oh, the sensation of his touch is sweet and good...

Tension curls lazy and delicious inside, lifting her, spinning her. Her inner muscles flutter, too tired to clench as she melts further into his touch.

"You belong to me, Isabella. You belong with me, by my side for eternity," he murmurs in her ear, so quiet and soft she isn't sure he's truly speaking, perhaps she's dreaming...

"Safe with me, cherished by me, protected and adored, always."

Her body floats up then hovers, bliss and relief right on the cusp. She cannot open her eyes.

Safe...

"Open your eyes, Isabella."

What she cannot control, Edward apparently can. Sleep maintains its tenuous half-hold, and still her weighted eyelids lift at his request. She feels awareness battle back the wispy beginnings of dreams. Pale, weak, intermittent lightning illuminates him as the touch between her thighs becomes more demanding. It feels so good, she isn't sure she can bear it.

"You can. You will."

Did she speak out loud? She didn't mean to...

Pleasure crests; her eyes fall closed. She's swept up and over, free falling—white waves and decadent rolling sensations—and down and under she slides. At the edge of her consciousness she hears more whispered words, though she's long since passed the ability to grasp meaning.

She thinks she hears, "You are mine, and I am yours, little lamb."

But maybe she's dreaming...

. . . . . .

Edward watches Isabella sleep, the tiny lines of stress around her eyes vanishing the deeper she slips into her exhausted slumber. Her lips part and she sighs, whisper soft, turning into him, curling against him. All her guards slip, and in this moment he sees how right they are, how much she needs him when her pride and confusion lose their dominion over her. She exudes peace and contentment as he holds her close.

Edward envies her such peace. Even while his pride swells for being able to offer it to her, the rest of him finds little comfort. The fragile nature of the bond he has with her is too apparent. Combined with this situation, this interminable, damnable situation, it would be enough to keep him awake, were he capable of sleep.

His mind races.

He never thought he would find a mate. Never mind a human one. Living with mated pairs during his time here previously, Edward had always felt the odd-one-out. His gift made it harder, privy as he was to so much intimate knowledge. He was an unwilling peeping tom, as much victim as perpetrator, and it caused him to sequester himself away from them more often than not. He'd delved little into the connections between them. They were an enigma to him, and their strange bonds to their mates seemed...a weakness. And still, those moments of invasion he was unable to avoid left a mark upon him, made him all too aware of his lonely existence.

His time away from familial associations hardened him. Years passed swiftly, and former loneliness turned to acceptance and cold calculation.

Until now that is. Edward feels the thaw, feels his attachment to the fragile creature in his arms growing inexplicably. She is strong, stubborn, intelligent, and willful. He...likes her.

Change is so rare for his kind, and this 'thaw' comes with its fair share of discomfort and confusion. He still doesn't know what it all means, what it all entails. He's flying blind, and the feeling does more than unsettle him, it makes him angry. For the first time in a century, Edward almost wishes he could speak with Carlisle.

Quickly he banishes such thoughts. Old wounds itch, making him scoff at whimsical desires. Judgement and recrimination is hardly the thing he seeks, and likely all he would find should he chase such a foolish impulse.

His thoughts return to the issues at hand.

He knows he brought Isabella here to this house on instinct as old as time. Instinct that bade him to cosset and shelter her in his own domain, to keep her from the world outside that would attempt to take her from him. She was his after all. The action made sense. But more than simple instinct, he wants her here, and that feeling confuses him. Since when has he ever 'wanted' anything?

Edward growls quietly, frustrated at all this introspection. It hardly matters why. His little beauty is perhaps more clever than him in this regard. Why is a useless question, nothing more than a lead-in to more infernal questions.

The problems remain however, because his instincts have raced ahead of his preparedness.

The house is not ready to shelter her. She cannot be here among unfinished rooms and construction chaos for any length of time. He doesn't even have food for her here, never mind the dozens of other items and comforts humans need.

He discards yet again the idea of taking her away, simply running. As much as Isabella defies him and his possession of her, Edward knows deep into his core that her fight is waning. Her full submission is as inevitable as the rising of the moon slowly banishing the cloud cover above this house. If he ran with her, took her away, she would struggle. Eventually though, he would convince her, make her forget the life she leaves behind and embrace the new one he will lay at her feet—given enough time.

If only things were that simple. If only he had that luxury of time. He doubts he does.

Edward brushes a stray strand of hair away from Isabella's pale, shadow-kissed cheek. His mind spins faster.

So many complications.

How long could they run before encountering someone of his kind? How long could he keep the secret of this unnatural bond? How long before the wall that blocks his sister's visions crumbles?

Even more pressing, how long before the not-quite-a-wolf tracks them? Edward already senses the halfling-dog on his tail, a stench-ridden sensation based on centuries of acquired experience and predator-based instincts rather than actual knowledge.

His instincts never lie.

Frustrated and restless, Edward tucks a light sheet and blanket around Isabella, withdrawing from her embrace. She whimpers at the loss of his closeness, making him smile.

He feels it also. The pull, the draw, the need to have her as near to him as possible. "Sleep now," he tells her, attempting to ease. "I won't be far." He speaks in near silence so as not to awaken her, and he's pleased when she settles, as though her subconscious mind hears him. Perhaps it does.

In the room across the hall, Edward sits at a simple chair and desk taken from a room that used to belong to Jasper. The wood on the surface of the desk is pitted and warped from years and damp, termites and mold, but it serves its purpose as Edward turns on the glaringly modern-by-contrast laptop. He navigates past the home screen and types in encrypted pass codes to an email address that few in the world could access. It is virtually invisible and safe-guarded in ways that would make any who could instantly sorry. He checks first to make sure no one has made attempts, then opens several messages.

Jenks, letting him know Chief Swan has been in touch with Lieutenant Samuels. Their brief phone conversation was recorded, and Edward listens to the forwarded audio copy, frowning, though not surprised. Charles Swan could prove to be more difficult than Edward previously imagined.

Replaying the recording, Edward closes his eyes, listening to more than the conversation. He easily, despite the limitations of the recording device, picks up the sound of another person in the room with Isabella's father. Edward hedges his bets and decides the breather is most likely the pup. His lips curl upward, baring teeth on a low growl of displeasure.

Moving on, Edward finds more proof of the mutt's growing interference. Unsophisticated tracers have been placed on Mike Newton's known sources of identification. Jenks, under Edward's orders, has been monitoring all police actions regarding the search for the dead cretin. The shady lawyer is never one to cut corners, so he's widened his coverage and picked up an outside source also searching for signs of Newton's whereabouts. The identity of the person making the search took some time to deduce but eventually yielded the name Seth Clearwater.

Edward smirks as Seth Clearwater's image appears on his screen, along with a list of information regarding everything from the boy's age and address to a lengthy list of minor crimes in the cyber world.

"Well, young Quileute hacker," Edward muses quietly, "do your best." He tags the email, sending it back to Jenks. Jenks will now know to more closely monitor this new situation. Edward won't yet shut the child down. His activities are most likely related to requests given to him by Jacob Black, or possibly even someone else in the Quileute tribe. Certainly, by now, if any history exists concerning the century old treaty, they'd be getting curious.

Yet another complication.

Edward adds it to the list. For now all he can do is keep tabs.

For now.

. . . . . .

The rain finally stops as Jake exits his car. The familiar smells of wet pine, resin, and wood mix with cooking smells and motor oil as he makes his way to Seth's home away from home. The run down garage shows light bleeding out from under the battered door, letting Jake know someone's 'home.' Slipping a key from his pocket, he lets himself in, greeted by the stench of pot and the blaring sound of metal rock music.

Seth, headphones glued to his head, oblivious to anything except whatever he's watching on the six computer monitors crowding a long, narrow table, doesn't hear him. Jake snorts in derision and gives Seth a sharp finger flick to the back of his neck. The kid yelps, scrambling to remove the headphones before spinning his chair around. The wheels squeak in protest, loud in the now quiet room as the music shuts off.

Seth breaks out in a grin when he realizes it's Jake and hooks the headphones around his neck.

"Shit, man, you scared me. What are you doing here?"

Settling down on the old couch, Jake scowls at Seth. "Obviously I'm here to see you, dumb-ass."

Seth looks like a kicked puppy. "Hey, what's with the names?"

"I can smell pot six blocks away, Seth."

Looking guilty, Seth fiddles with a loose piece of duct tape that's come unraveled from the arm of his chair. The crisscross pattern of silver tape peels up at the edges doing a piss-poor job of fixing whatever it's concealing. As Seth scoots the chair to the right a few feet, the loose tape strand flutters like a tail.

"Pot? What?" Seth asks, managing to look guiltier despite the wide eyes and baby face.

Jake blows it off. He has bigger fish to fry. "Never mind. Look, I need you to do a little more digging for me. You up for it?"

Seth grins and cracks his knuckles. "I'm always ready, man. What do you need?" He spins the chair around and wheels it down to the far end. Whatever video game the kid was playing vanishes off the numerous monitors to be replaced by blank screens with green blinking cursors. Another kick of his feet and Seth wheels back to the opposite end, duct tape tail fanning out behind him. He turns on a small black box. It boots up with a loud hum, red lights blinking in a long row.

"I want to know who's taken up residence in the old Cullen house."

Seth spins to face Jake, scratching his head, looking alarmed.

"Cullen house?"

"That's what I said."

"As in...the Cullen house?" Seth makes air quote signs around the sentence, expression twisted in surprise. Jake can practically see the gears in the kids head turning.

"Is there another Cullen house?" he asks dryly.

Seth swallows and looks uneasy. "Shit, I hope so, 'cause I don't think I want to go messing around with the one I think you're talking about."

Jake feels a weird mix of annoyance and amusement blend with an unhealthy dose of impatience. Christ, it's been a long day. He's tired and hungry. He wants food and sleep. He doesn't want to deal with more superstitious Quileute bullshit. He'd like to think Seth is more clearheaded than to buy into the crap peddled out around here, but he knows better. Seth might love his high-tech world, but underneath his smart, analytical mind beats the heart of a boy raised from birth in a community that force feeds this shit down kid's throats by the shovelful.

"I'm not asking you to go there, Seth. I just want you to find out if it's currently occupied..."

"I already know it is," Seth mutters, cutting Jake off. "Everyone around here does."

Jake leans forward. "What?" That he had to learn this by eavesdropping on Charlie is a kick in the teeth.

Seth shrugs. "Hell, dude. If you came around a little more often and actually paid attention the few times you stroll home, you'd know that, too. There's been a crap-load of construction going on over there all week. It's all anyone's been talking about." Seth fidgets nervously with the loose tape, trying to rewrap it around the cracked vinyl that leaks foam padding yellow with age.

"No one has said a word to me," Jake grates out, pissed. Seth looks back up, surprised, dropping the tape that's too dried out to stick. "Well, damn, Jake. Don't act all mad and surprised. What do you expect? You pretty much take off anyone's head who dares talk to you about stuff like that!"

Jake clenches his jaw wanting to swear a blue-streak. Of course Seth would think in terms of bogus treaties and not in the real world where a newcomer to a town as small as Forks would be an interesting tidbit of information. Reining in his temper, Jake crosses his arms over his chest. "Are you going to look, or are you telling me you already know who's over there doing the work and living in that house?"

Seth's eyes widen. "No, man, I don't know who it is. No one does. You know we can't go anywhere near that property. There's been some meetings, but so far, no one knows much."

"Meetings?" Jake uncurls his arms, fists clenching. "What kind of meetings?"

Holding up his hands up, greasy hair flopping over his forehead, Seth's lips compress. "Don't ask me. I'm just a kid, remember?" A touch of bitterness paints Seth's tone in veiled hostility. Jake remembers that up until his death, Seth's dad was part of the tribal council for the reservation. His mom, Sue, has since taken his place. Jake wonders if the hostility is over the council deeming Seth too young to have a position. Without a doubt, the meetings Seth's talking about have to be council meetings—with Jake's dad Billy at the head.

Shit. Jake is out of the fucking loop, big time. By his own choosing, yeah, but that doesn't make the fact he's been walking around clueless any easier to swallow.

Billy calling Jake to the house and giving him that speech about responsibility is making more sense by the minute.

Damn it!

Resisting the urge to sneer and lecture Seth about the stupidity of buying into Quileute myths, Jake points at the row of computer screens. He deals with facts, not fantasy, and the fact is someone is living in that house, and Charlie is looking into him for some reason.

"You can figure out who it is, Seth. Why haven't you?"

Seth looks freaked, though he tries to hide it, messing with the headphones around his neck like he's fixing the collar of a twisted shirt. "Why would I? I don't care about stuff like that; you know I don't, Jake. It's nothing to me who lives there or whatever." A compulsive swallow gives away Seth's nerves, negating the lies he wants Jake to buy. It's fear—pure, stupid, superstitious fear—that keeps Seth from putting his considerable talent to use, nothing more.

"Well, you might not care, but I do. I need you to work your magic and get me a name. A basic bio, too, if you can."

Seth scratches his head, avoiding meeting Jake's eyes. "I don't know, Jake. I feel like...I don't know, like I'm breaking rules here."

"You're always breaking rules, Seth."

"Yeah, I know, but not...these kind of rules."

"Christ, Seth. Tell me you don't buy all this bullshit?"

Snapping his head up, Seth scowls. "Don't pawn your shit off on me, Jake. I mean, what I do and don't believe doesn't matter. What matters is there are rules I gotta follow. So do you, whether you like it or not. I can't just dig up information on a guy living in a house on land our people aren't allowed on. There's a treaty..."

Jake, losing control of his anger, gets to his feet. "The treaty says Quileute can't go on the land, not that we can't know who is currently living there. God damn it, Seth, get your head out of your ass. You have a great mind, so use it. Don't let some excuse for a tribal council lead you around by your nose!"

Seth goes quiet, and Jake instantly regrets his words.

"My family has been a part of that 'excuse' for a tribal council for hundreds of years, man," Seth says calmly, though a hint of his hurt leaks into the tone. "So has yours in case you forgot. And you might have no respect for anything about our people, but don't think you can tell me what to do or what to believe."

Cursing, Jake drags a hand over his face, feeling every one of the long hours he's been awake.

"I'm sorry, Seth. You're right. I'm just edgy." Jake's muscles twitch as if to offer visual proof of his claim. "Look. I'm not asking you to break rules. Just find out who's in the house. You'll be doing the tribe a favour, giving them answers, think of it that way."

Seth's eyes gleam a little, liking the idea, further cementing Jake's notion that Seth has hurt feelings about not having a place on the council.

"Yeah. I guess." He studies Jake suspiciously for a minute, opens his mouth like he wants to say something else, then thinks better of it.

"All right," he finally agrees. "I'll look, but, man, you're gonna owe me big. Like, I mean, huge."

Jake grunts out a grudging short laugh. "Yeah, what else is new?"

With a slow shake of his head, Seth laughs, his easy-going nature never one to hold a grudge. "Nothing. Just status quo, my brother, status quo." He spins back to his computers and cracks his knuckles. "Might wanna get comfortable. This is going to take a few minutes."

. . . . . .

Edward listens to the night. It's quiet around the house, even the insects choosing to give his dwelling wide berth. The storm has passed. He hears the sound of lingering rainwater dripping off the roof and sliding through the eave troughs, the rustle of damp leaves. Far off, the sound of occasional tire tracks from vehicles on the roads. All is quiet otherwise, yet his unease lingers.

Across the hall, Bella stirs, the sheets rustling as she shifts and sits up. Her heartbeat quickens slightly as awareness of her surroundings deepens. She's only slept a few hours, but the unfamiliar home and bed probably trouble her ability to sleep deeply.

He hears the sound of her feet hit the floor, the slight noise of the mattress giving up her weight, the fall of fabric as she drapes herself in the sheet. He wonders what she'll do, left to her own devices. Will she wander the house as she did before while he attempted to play out his frustration on the piano? Would she seek to escape?

Would she look for him?

He waits and listens, curious about her the way he's never been curious about any other person or thing in his existence, immortal or otherwise.

Doors open, and by the sound he knows she's found the closet. She'll find little inside, his needs being few. She lingers only a moment, then her feet pad across the room in the other direction. She pauses in the doorway that leads to the hall. Edward left it open, though he didn't turn on any lights. Only shadows will greet her view. She moves on and finds the door to the ensuite. Edward is grateful it is one of the few rooms in the house completely finished. He has stocked it in anticipation of any need she might have.

When Isabella exits the washroom minutes later, Edward powers down the laptop and rises to his feet. The walls are closing in, the time he has to coddle Isabella coming to an end. He feels the pressure from many points. The Quileute dog, Isabella's father, his uncertainty about his former family's meddling—it's all there, and it's only a matter of time before his hand is forced to make decisions he's barely begun to ponder.

For now, his priority is Isabella's safety and well-being. He will help her accept her fate and position by his side, then he will deal with the rest. Right now, he just wants to feel Isabella close to him. Perhaps he can ease her as well, soothe her restlessness.

He makes his way back to the bedroom and finds her sitting on the edge of the bed. She holds the sheet to her skin, hands fisted in the Egyptian cotton over her heart as though she's protecting the tenacious little organ. Her gaze lingers upon her feet on the floor, a tiny furrow on her brow. What he wouldn't give to know her current thoughts, to understand the war she wages with her internal struggles.

She looks up as he enters, watching him lean against the door frame. Her gaze skips down his body, taking in the lines and muscles. The notice of her approval of his shape and form shows in her softening expression. His attractiveness pleases her, and in return it pleases him. He's given little thought to his looks over the many years he's walked this earth. The beauty graced upon the ultimate predator, who hardly needs such a petty lure, is never one he's used to his advantage. Here in this moment though, if his appearance pleases her, draws her to him, he's more than willing to use it.

He shifts to allow her sight full view. The moon is at its highest point, flooding the room with silvery-white light, soft and ethereal now that the storm has passed. He knows how he appears and smiles a little as she loses the regular pace of her breath.

"You should sleep more," he admonishes gently. Moving from his place to her side, she startles at his sudden touch on her face, then settles as he strokes a thumb over the dark circle beneath one tired eye. She turns her head into the contact and inhales against his palm.

"You left me here, alone," she accuses, eyes searching his face. He wonders if she hears the need enveloped within her words, if she's cognizant of the plea her heart and breath speak as they both speed up, calling to him, rushing her blood through her veins.

Siren. Singer. Lover. Life.

How he aches for her. Such a strange, foreign longing.

"Only for a moment," he tells her. "Only across the hall, mere feet away." Does she hear what he wants her to hear?

I'm bound to your side, now, always, forever. I would never leave you vulnerable, open to harm.

"I was afraid..." Her words trail off, her gaze falls, and she shakes her head.

"What are you afraid of? Tell me." Tenderness is still such a new emotion for him, yet it's undeniable how she draws it out, makes him want nothing more than to see her...happy.

"There was a moment when I first woke up that I thought...this was all a messed up dream. Then I saw where I was and..." She shakes her head, her lips firming into a tight line, perhaps to keep herself from speaking more. Her liquid gaze tempers him, mesmerizes him as a silent tear spills down her cheek and lands upon the crux of his thumb and finger. A sizzle of silk-wet heat against his cold skin. "I keep wondering if I'm...crazy, because you can't be real."

A protective growl vibrates deep in his throat. Her exhaustion makes her vulnerable, the darkness of night makes her brave, and finally, finally, she speaks things he understands.

"I've asked you to accept much in a short time, but you should have no fear for your sanity. It's intact."

"I don't know," she whispers, all seductive innocence as she turns her face once again to his palm. The touch of her tongue makes him hiss.

"Do you not feel me, taste me, Isabella? His other hand rises and slides deep into lustrous hair, cradling her skull, thumb scraping over her delicate nape. "Look at me. I'm real. I'm here with you."

Edward tips her chin and lowers to her mouth. His thirst ignites but it makes no claim on him. Hunger is easily ignored in favor of other treasures, namely her acceptance of what exists between them.

"There is more in this world than your eyes have seen. Open them now, lamb. Open them wide, and see what I offer."

"And when you get bored with me?" she asks, hands leaving the clutch of sheet and rising to wrap tightly around his biceps. Fabric slides down moonlight-kissed skin, supple breasts heaving with rapid breaths as she searches for more air, more clarity of mind.

"I will never grow tired of you." The reassurance is easily given, but no less devout for the ease of the promise.

Exhausted, she releases a frustrated sigh.

"You try too hard to understand things your sleep-deprived mind cannot grasp. Now is not the time to question everything, Isabella." Edward leans her back and lies her down on the bed, his body moving over top of hers. She shudders and sighs as their bodies align, relaxing beneath him. Whether she knows it or not, her skin craves him, her muscles know him, her bones soften and mold to him.

Her hands glide down his arms then back up, stroking over his shoulders and around to his chest. He seeks to seduce her, to remind her of how perfect physical union is between them, but she turns tables and wraps him around her finger. One of many that glide over his jaw, caress his mouth. He takes one inside and bites the delicate pad, soothing his desiccated mouth with the perfect burst of her blood against his tongue.

She moans, wanton at the sight of him suckling her life's essence from her flesh. "How can you make me feel this, want this?"

"The same way you make me feel and want this. You tempt me so. Perhaps it's me who should question my sanity?"

She shakes her head and whimpers needfully as he sucks a fresh droplet from the wound before lapping his tongue over the tiny cut, sealing it closed.

"This is so...wrong." Her heart quivers; her flesh trembles.

Edward smiles against her flesh. "Is it? Or is it the one truly right thing in your entire world, lamb?" She shakes her head, and he laughs darkly. "Little temptress, so lost in your denial," he murmurs to her. "Close your eyes, Isabella. Stop your mind. Feel—just feel." It's gentleness she needs now, yet another thing that's new to him. He finds it easier to give than he expects. Perhaps he needs it, too. Something sweeter and warmer than the cold berths he's known—something slow and reverent to anchor them both.

She shivers beneath him as he strokes down her arm to the hand that folds over his shoulder, fingers fluttering as she tries to learn his skin. He draws it away, up over her head, linking those restless fingers around the vines and rosebuds replicated in black wrought iron. He repeats the same action with her other hand, pleased with her sudden greedy whimper.

"That's it, beautiful lamb. No more thinking. Not tonight. You've been too long without my body against yours, without me inside you. You ache for it. Let me give you what you need, remind you how perfect this is between us."

He presses his mouth to her heart, his teeth aching to bury deep and take straight from the wet, red, pump. He lets his teeth nick instead, relishing her quiet cry of pleasure pain as he lifts his head to watch her blood well and trickle. Down it goes, spilling in a decadent crimson line over milky skin. He follows it, his tongue flicking softly, gathering every luscious drop. A bead quivers directly over her nipple, the tiny bud hardening in anticipation. He doesn't make her wait. A soft cry spills from her throat the second his tongue touches her there.

His licks and kisses are slow, smooth, never faltering even when her back arches off the bed, little wordless cries begging him for more.

He gives her more. A slow, sweet suck, the teasing scrape of teeth as he sensually rubs the blunt side of razor sharp incisors over and over the taut tip. First one breast then the other, until she writhes under him, her damp palms making slick noises against the metal she grips. She cries his name and he smiles, lifting his head to take her in.

The lines of her body please him; stretched out like this, she's more than sublime. How has he lived centuries without this? Without her?

His hands relearn her flesh and bones, all the unique angles, knowing he will never tire of touching her.

Moving back from her is painful yet necessary. She whimpers at the loss of his body against hers, and he's quick to stop hasty action.

"Keep your hands where they are, Isabella." On his knees between her splayed thighs, he unfastens his jeans. His movements are slow, methodical. He wants her to watch and she does. He wants her to relish what comes next, so he takes his time, dragging the button free, gliding the zipper down, spreading the denim wide and pushing it off his hips.

Her hands fist harder on their holds, and he smirks as she takes him in, pink tongue wetting dry lips. Thighs on either side of him tremble as though she wants to clench them, ease the ache he knows rages there.

He moves fast now to free himself, kicking the stiff rain-washed jeans away, gliding his hands up her calves, her thighs, stopping just short of touching her intimately. His lamb squirms, torn between wanting his touch and wanting to hide from his perusal.

"Exquisite," he groans, his approval all too evident in a voice tinged rough with lust. "So many decades of life and never have my eyes lain upon a sight more lovely than you."

His touch moves up over her hips, across the cradle of her pelvis, the tiny patch of soft hair above her tender sex. The little slit is so delicate, pouting and flushed, glistening. He wants nothing more than to touch her there, open her, spread her, dip inside with fingers and tongue and feel her shatter in bliss, but not yet. He wants her out of her mind first.

"No one is more beautiful than you," she whispers, shaking her head. He laughs because she pleases him so.

"Shall I get a mirror, Isabella? Again?"

She blushes from head to toe as he lowers his body to hers. The heat of her is a sensation unlike any other. Truly she burns him, and in the flames he feels reborn. He takes her mouth, roughly, hungrily, needing her taste. Her tongue dances with his, dragging him from reason to hunger.

His gorgeous mate is eager.

His body rests between the crux of her thighs, and her arousal is a slick, gratifying thing. That she wants him as much as he wants her feels like a gift. For all her denial and fight, this right here is truth.

She was made for him.

"Do you feel how your body craves mine, beauty?" he demands.

"Yes," she whimpers, hips lifting, twisting, driving him mad as her sweet heat envelops him, rocking up and down. God, he could come this instant, his cock so hard, precum leaking over her, drenching her even more. Her mouth opens, panting breath warm and sweet, little body heating further, legs clamping around his hips. He doesn't move, just lets her take.

"Yes," he encourages her. "Take what you want, ease yourself on me—rock harder, faster—there, right there. Stroke that pretty clit against me." Growling he strives for control. "Make yourself come, Isabella."

Her cry is shattered, broken with the need for air and the muscles that clench as she spills so sweetly over him—feminine honey and little pulses and spasms that make him nearly desperate to be inside her, but not yet.

"There, such a good girl. That's it, though it's not enough is it?" She cries out softly, head tossing against the pillows, hands dropping from the headboard and clinging to his shoulders, dragging across his back as she rides out the little climax that he knows won't come close to satisfying her.

"God, Edward, please. I need..."

"Oh, I know what you need," he growls, rocking his hips now, taking over when she falters. He has needs of his own, and they wage war upon him. He smells the still seeping blood from the tiny cut above her heart, mingling with the erotic smell of sex, her desire blending with his, her sweat, her perfect flower-fresh-flesh.

Her nails try uselessly to dig in as his teeth scrape over her pulse point, laving it with his tongue as his hands slide beneath her, under her succulent little ass, dragging her up harder against him.

She's coming again when he bites, unable to stop himself, unable to resist. The pure bliss of feeling her climax combines with the sublime ecstasy of her blood hitting his tongue, drenching his burning throat. It undoes him. His cock explodes, jetting release in pulses that feel never-ending, and God, it's not enough.

He roars, tearing his mouth from her neck, healing the bite quickly before dragging kisses down her body, scraping teeth anew over the cut above her breast, reopening it for a slow, deep draw. He licks it closed after only a second and groans as he moves lower, across her sweetly sloped belly, over her sharp little hipbones, down to her thigh. One more bite right there, hard and deep as his hand cups her drenched-in-him-and-her-heat. Her divine rose-bud sex opens wider to his questing, greedy fingers, and it's so good it's a sweet kind of torture. The feel of her, the desire storming his body, taking over, are sensations nearly eviscerating in their strength, for he's never known anything like it.

Her swollen clit is the perfect jeweled bead, all red and starved for more touch. He gives it eagerly, stroking in quick little pulsing circles with his thumb while he fills her with one finger, two, stretching her until she must burn, adding one more. She's crying out when his teeth puncture deeper, femoral artery nicked, his mouth filling to overflowing just once. He only allows himself that one mouthful, decadent heat and red-gushing life so perfect in flavour, and still it's only secondary to the feel of her clenching, rippling around his fingers, spilling her release over his palm. Her musical cry of pleasure and climax drives him to lick and suck the punctures closed, lave and lave again to heal, to stave off pain, for she will never suffer under his hand.

He's up and rising over her, dragging his arms up behind her knees, opening her wide, wider before pressing in. She's heaven and hell. So tight he must slow down, pulse and urge and demand until she lets him in, still rippling, still coming, making him burn with the desire to be deeper.

He doesn't stop until his balls press to her ass and even then he rocks, pushing for more, taking her to the edge of her tolerance. She opens all the way and he stills, letting her feel him, feel the burn of his possession.

Her eyes are glazed, her hands low on his back, pressing, though he can get no closer save if he crawled beneath her skin.

"Look at me," he demands gruffly, wanting her focus.

"Edward, oh, God, Edward. It's not enough. I want more. Bite me again. Take me; let me be in you. I want to be in you." She's lost but he has her.

He smells fresh blood and knows she's hurt her hands on his skin, trying to scratch. He reaches back and secures them, pulling them up above her head, locking them there as he pulls back then drives forward, deep, so deep. She groans and her head twists upon the tangled bedding. Her frantic need matches his, and he gives her one last tiny bite on the sweet little pillow of flesh just outside the curve of her inner arm. She clenches and spasms, coming hard around him as he presses his pelvis to hers, dragging up against the tight, taut little knot of her clit. She's so swollen, so perfectly ripe. The crown of his cock rubs perfectly on the sweet spot inside of her, keeping her coming and ratcheting up the fiery heat of desire so unknown to him before her.

He takes little blood. She can't spare it, and he won't endanger her ever again. He just lets her feel his teeth, his possession, because even though he doesn't know why, he does understand it seems to be something she needs, almost as much as him. She gives all of herself even if she doesn't yet know it.

She belongs to him. His treasure, his fragile, sweet, human mate.

He rocks slower, seals his bite and cradles her closer, kissing her panting mouth, the edge of her jaw and down to her throat. Groaning her name, he fills her and in return he feels filled. So full of life and warmth he wonders if his heart will suddenly start beating. It feels as if it could.

"Isabella, my beautiful, sweet, lamb. Feel me..."

"I do," she murmurs, her arms wrapping around him once more. The desperation recedes and it's only them, rocking, fucking slow and warm and sweet, giving and taking. He groans against her breast, lapping at the tiny nipple—so sweet that little bead of flesh he can hardly stand it. She feeds him, nurtures him, without blood. Just this. His thirst is nowhere near sated, but it doesn't matter. This is enough.

"Centuries," he groans, lifting his head to look at her. "Centuries of life and death and nothing compares to you."

She shakes her head, tears filling then escaping, her conflicting desires confusing her. He kisses them from her skin, one at a time, whispering praises and erotic promises as her body quickens again.

He lifts her closer, moves to his knees and takes her with him, holding her without effort, moving her on him, warm hips in his hands as he watches her expression and listens to her breathing and heart to ensure he pleases her. She trembles and he praises her more, guttural and rough.

"Perfect, little lamb. You feel so damn good around me. So tight and warm. If you could see what I see..."

"Tell me," she whisper-pleads, lush mouth so red, equally lush breasts pressing against his chest. Her tight little nipples scrape against his cool skin, so much heat imparted where it has no place. "Tell me what you see."

He growls, cupping her bottom in one hand, wrapping the fingers of his other into the riot of her tangled hair, dragging her head forward until his forehead is pressed to hers and he can smell the silk strands. Rain, sun, flowers, sweat and sex all over her, even there.

"I see a creature so beautiful and rare she shouldn't be real. I see a woman taking and giving more pleasure than I ever knew existed. I see ripe, kiss swollen lips and eyes dark with passion. I see pretty breasts, perfect for sucking and caressing and hips made for my hands, thighs perfectly shaped to wrap around my waist. I see you're ready to come again for me."

She gasps, and he laughs darkly, voice low and sinful. "Oh, yes, you are, aren't you. I can tell, Isabella. You're so tight and getting tighter by the second. I feel you, soaking me, rippling around me, your pretty clit thumping like a heartbeat, ready to explode." She shudders like a tempest, and he growls against her lips, teasing with kisses, slowing his thrusts to drag out her pleasure, keeping her on the edge this time, all the better to watch her tumble over it.

"Edward...oh, my, God, yes."

He's unable to deny her for more than a moment. She clamps down around him, and her back arches, hands tugging at the hair on his nape, rocking on him, faster and faster until he loses the fight to her perfect insistence.

She's coming and he is, too. He's lost in this connection between them that drowns out all reason and all difference. It's perhaps not sane or holy, but it so very, very, right.

They slow, and she collapses against him. He catches her, his breathing fast though he needs no air. He does need her scent, though, and it gives him what oxygen cannot—a momentary feeling of peace.

He cradles her limp form against him, relishing the connection that sparks over them both. Cupping her head, he kisses her slowly, sweetly, and when he's done, he whispers, "I see courage and strength and tenacity. I see honesty, integrity and vibrancy. I see a life barely lived and shadowed with hurt, a heart in need of succor and shelter. I see you, Isabella."

She shakes in his arms, buries her head in his shoulder, new tears, cathartic tears spilling hot and abundant over his shoulder. Edward cradles her closer and whispers again, "I see you."

. . . . . .